“Your biological clock is ticking…”
Yes, thanks. I’m nearing 30, and there’s no possible way I could have ever been told that before. The choice to have children is a discussion that I believe is far more complicated than simply, “she doesn’t want children” or “she can’t have children,” which seem to be the only two avenues society can conceive for the milestone of procreation. I can only speak about the former, because I don’t pretend to have any expertise or view for the kind of emotional wracking that wanting children, but not being able to conceive your own, must bring. Have you ever considered, perhaps, that it is permissible for a woman to not know if she wants children? No one seems to be willing to consider the major factors and consequences into that choice, instead condensing the argument into a variety of blister-packed judgments. The inevitable: “Oh, you’ll change your mind some day.” The threat: “You’ll regret it.” The pushiness-disguised-as-encouragement: “But you’d be such a great Mom!”
Here’s the thing: I am not the only thing standing in my way. Men have to — not “should,” not “it would be nice if,” not “as long as they pay child support” — have to have equal stock in the parenting game. The largest concern that many single women have these days is not whether or not they will have children, but whether or not they will be able to find a man who will support them in that endeavor. So before you ask me again if I’m ever going to have children, or why I don’t want them, or what makes me hate them so much, or suggest that I’m just scared of the pain of childbirth — consider these factors first.
I need a man who is supportive and committed to me, first, in order to prove that he will be a good father. It would not be difficult for me to find a man who has the proper equipment required to make a child. But it requires a much more particular process to find someone who would cherish me first, and then our children. In the dating world, I have come across absolute hordes of men who say they’re excited to have children one day, and that they like kids, and will teach them to fish, and camp, and scrutinize the game of football. And yet, these men are unable to make plans farther than 6 hours out from the present moment. Some of them make a habit of showing up to dinner 45 minutes late, just as I’m gathering my things to leave. Some of them are fine with being punctual, but have such drastic emotional insecurity that they’re unable to have a conversation about anything that’s not video games, or the shelves of Star Wars memorabilia that adorn their bachelor pads. Some of that emotional insecurity throws them into a pit of people-pleasing behavior, or into child-like tantrums, or sometimes they just shut down entirely. Some of them are perfectly confident, and funny, and wonderful — but require any plans to be at the mercy of their work schedule, causing 4 out of 6 dates to be “rain checked.” I just recently went on a few dates with a man who is very kind and intelligent, but extremely aloof in conversation, causing me to have to “manufacture” any fun that was had for the both of us. He would laugh at my jokes and stories, and then the table would go silent until I either came up with another funny something to say, or a conversation topic he was comfortable with. If we can’t even have a normal conversation in a quiet restaurant, how could we have a normal conversation with a child shouting Barney songs at the dinner table?
Quite frankly, the relationship/marriage comes first, both chronologically and in priority. If a man is not able to communicate with me, respect me, have fun with me, and maintain a healthy emotional state for himself, what kind of message is he going to send impressionable children? I don’t want my children growing up with constant disappointment because “Daddy can’t make it to your dance recital/baseball game…again.” Or, “Daddy doesn’t really mean to yell and call people names — why don’t you go play in your room for a while?” Or, “Daddy isn’t ignoring everyone else, he’s just a little shy.” The other kicker about having children with a man who isn’t stable is that I am automatically everyone’s Mom/therapist. I am forced to “have conversations” or “nag” or any other tactic to try and get the father of my children to set a good example. That, on top of trying to explain my husband’s behavior to my children in a tactful way that doesn’t include the actual truth. No thanks. “Having children” isn’t the real question for many women who are getting older and haven’t taken the plunge yet. It’s “mutual parenting” that becomes the larger worry. I will not agree to have children unless I marry a man who I trust to fully respect and care for me first, who is able to care for our children when I’m not around, and will fill in the holes in their development that I can’t. I’ve been told by many to just “give him a chance,” or assured that he’ll grow up or change, as though the Menopause Train is bearing down on me and I should really just get on with it, lest I be run over. Really? Is that a gamble you would make with your children?
Kids Kind of Suck
My best friend has two kids. They’re awesome, loving, funny little people. But they’re gross, and needy, and socially tactless, too. All children kind of suck in a lot of ways, and I require a partner who is going to jump into the fray, and tired-laugh with me as we clean poop off the walls. I have not yet found a man who I believe would be willing to launder vomit-covered bedsheets so I could take a shower and get the barf out of my hair after caring for a sick child. I have not yet found a man who I believe would walk up and down the hallway with a screaming infant for 4 hours, without being prompted or begged, so that his wife could have a break or a nap. I also find that many men begrudge having to spend time alone with their children, and go so far as to consider it “babysitting.”
You want to have kids? Great. Then you are signing up for the ride of a lifetime, and your contract states that you do not get to hide in your mancave when Little Timmy has the runs. Too bad.
The Ultimate Label of “Mom”
Next time you see a Mom, ask her when was the last time she got to do something for herself. Her response will probably be something like, “Oh, I got to have a cup of tea last Wednesday — it was lovely.” It will be said playfully, but for many women, there’s a deep amount of pain attached to those jokes. I fully realize that having children is a massive sacrifice, but many women find themselves in a situation where it becomes a sacrifice of who they are as a person, an individual. Many women go years without a break, without a weekend, without even an afternoon to themselves to do whatever they want. They feel they no longer have that kind of intangible “permission” to have hobbies, and to want to see new things. Women are not good at saying, “I would like to go do this for myself.” We need a partner who is going to recognize when we need a break, and offer it to us willingly, without making us wait until we’re at the breaking point of our sanity. Many women carry an intense, crippling level of guilt when it comes to asking for things they know are necessary for their own health. I don’t know why, but we do. And without a husband who will pay a little attention to our state of mind, and remember who we were before the kids came into play, it’s a slippery slope that will lead many women directly into a bog of depression and complete depletion of self-worth. We become consumed by the label of “Mom.” We’re no longer “Laura, ” or “Charlotte,” or “the woman who double majored in biochem and engineering,” or “the woman who loved to go to Sunday brunch once a month,” or “the woman who really hates restaurants that allow you to throw peanut shells on the floor,” or “the woman who’s actually an incredible dancer,” or “the woman who hopped 5 countries in two weeks, ” or “the woman who fell in love with you.” We are the mother of our children, and are seen as nothing else, and we allow it because we feel guilty.
Some of us are terrified of the idea of having children, yes — but not because we don’t think we’d be good mothers or because we’re scared the pain and nausea. We’re scared of not having a support system, having to beg our husbands for help because we haven’t slept in two days, being looked at differently by our husbands because our bodies are no longer as attractive as they once were. We are terrified of becoming just another frumpy Mom who gave her soul for the sake of her children, whose past accomplishments now mean nothing, and whose future accomplishments will be saving enough money to send the kids to college. And we know that without support from our husbands, that’s exactly what we will become as we slowly forget who we once were.
He Doesn’t Want Kids…
…but I love him. It’s fully possible that I might find a man who is my perfect match in every way, but who does not want children. As mentioned before, the relationship and the marriage come first. If we’re happy and it’s a conversation that we’ve had, I see no reason to kick him to the curb. I realize that some women want children badly, and that’s great — that can be a very specific criterion in her dating life. But I do not believe in hoping my prince will someday change his mind, and am open to the possibility of a very happy life that does not involve children. It’s possible, I promise. Oh, but you’ll regret not having children! they say. Fine, maybe we will. But do you regret not seeing the world’s wonders, lunching under the Eiffel Tower, walking through the tulip fields of Holland, seeing the Pyramids, or SCUBA diving in the Mediterranean with your husband? Maybe you do. Do you regret not joining a book club, or learning a new language or how to ski, having quiet nights next to a fireplace, or going on road trips with your husband? Maybe you do.
So when a woman answers your questions about children with some trepidation or uncertainty — cool your jets. We are not dumb. We are not ignorant. More than likely, the woman you’re interrogating is far smarter and more mature than you realize, and she is considering whether or not her world is a good one to bring children into. We’re ok biding our time until the right situation presents itself to make a decision. And until that happens, we’re not going to have an answer for you.