My almost 2-year-old nephew and his parents (plus Grandparents and another Aunty) have just recently spent about 10 days with my partner and I. We are thankfully a largely functional family when together; however my partner does make reference to “herding wild cats” when a decision has to be made!
During this family visit, in the morning, my nephew’s Mum or Dad would, at an appropriate time (i.e. not before 7am – they are both highly sensible people) quietly open my bedroom door. Into the room my nephew would waddle, with dummy in mouth and Hippo (or as he calls it “Boppo” – a stuffed hippo head with a handkerchief sized cloth comforter attached) in his little hands. I would then hear his delicate voice escape around the edges of the dummy “Shazzie… Shazzie”. It was a blissful way to start my days. My partner (soon to be husband) would remain asleep. Nothing bar a bomb will wake that man! But this didn’t matter, because those moments were mine – those special, quiet, tiny moments. I know my nephew won’t remember this, but those moments are indelibly etched into my neural circuits of memory and emotion. I visit those circuits often.
As I write this and coincidently view a video that my sister-in-law has just sent me of the my nephew dancing at his home some 900kms away (the boy moves better than I do); I can equally say with just as much love and honesty that I ACTUALLY DON’T WANT CHILDREN. I love my nephew with all of my being and a number of other children in my life, but I don’t want one.
I have friends who with all sincerity accept my decision, but (bless them) don’t understand it. To be fair there are times when I still don’t quite understand it; yet I think these friends worry more for me than I do for myself – at least with respect to this issue of children. But as I get older I am getting much better at appreciating that my genuine love for my nephew and for my close friends’ does not translate into my own desire to have offspring. Moreover, the fear that I may regret the decision not to have children does nothing to make me want to have them. In fact, acting out of fear of future adverse consequences (which of course may never happen) repels me. Following the logic, or regretting decisions not made, I may could regret somewhere in the distant future that I never became a lawyer or a high school science teacher. This however is not enough for me to go back and do years more study (after already completing a PhD). And here’s the rub, if I did, I’d be practicing law or teaching adolescents how to dissect frogs well before the child I’m not having is legally permitted to consume alcohol. No thank you, to future regret.
My decision to be childless (I can’t say child-free – sounds too much like smoke-free, fat-free or GM-free) hasn’t always been an active choice by me. Rather, it’s been more of a combination of circumstance and personal growth. Indeed there was a time, about 10 years ago (I’m now 37 yrs old), when I thought I would have children (albeit even at the time this did still seem like a strange occurrence to me – that’s for another blog). But life just happened and between travel, study, work and other pursuits having children wasn’t on the agenda. It really is as simple as that for me – I didn’t go through some big soul-searching, heart-retching journey of discovery to get to this point. However, this is not to minimise the efforts of those who have!
Having a partner who, to say the least is not enamoured with the idea of being a father has also meant that I haven’t had to defend, explain or argue my case – well at least not to him. I have however on many occasions been told by other women, NOT ASKED BUT TOLD, in the format of a rhetorical question – “you mustn’t have had kids?” This proclamation, to me about my life, has been made by women (only ever women and almost always older than me) following either their inquiry (proclaimer initiated) about my work history or in response to what they have read on an online work profile. To be honest, my work history is not that stellar! But when you are teaching people they usually become interested in who this person is in front of them. The proclaimations, of those women could almost make me believe that they know something I don’t, that my achievements are in large part due to the absence of children. Which of course they are not! It still leaves me at a loss to understand how people will happily comment on something as personal as whether you have children of not, having known you for all of five minutes, but then reframe from writing their age on an anonymous questionnaire.
Nonetheless, I have long given up justifying my and my partner’s choice to be childless. I must admit though that in work situations where I am meeting new people (usually my students), I tend avoid morning tea or lunch chitchat and thereby the potential proclamations. Alternately, if I’m feeling like a challenge, I talk about death and dying – you’re always sure to lose the majority of your audience when you bring this up or people become to nervous to ask you anything else.
In saying all of this, I do miss the mornings with that little voice proclaiming “shazzie” and I still have the child seat in my car and the high chair in my living area. I’ve chosen not to move them at this point in time. These items remind me that I have the luxury of choice, the luxury of loving children in my life but not having my own.