Maybe it’s the turn of the seasons, maybe it’s the impending onslaught of family occasions, maybe it’s… something else, but at around this time of year my childfree status often seems to get a little poke.
It’s never been a particularly militant status, but it has frequently been a misunderstood one, as I am approximately the thousandth childfree woman to observe.
It’s not, you see, that I don’t like or don’t want to hang out with children – wrong on both counts (as with, oh, loads of other childfree people), although I’ll admit that as the youngest in my birth family, with no nephews or nieces, the lack of practice does render me a bit inept and awkward with the younger ones in particular. It’s not even that I don’t want to adjust my life to fit around them – my career is interesting and enjoyable but it wouldn’t take priority over a person. How could it?
It’s just that quite simply I’ve never actively wanted my own child; it’s not a presence of Do Not Want so much as an absence of visceral WANT! And for me, while I am lucky enough to have a geographical and socio-economic background that means I can make choices about these things, I can’t square the requirement to steward a shiny new person towards a healthy and happy adulthood with anything less than a total commitment to so doing. Child-rearing is important, yo! So while I’ve continued to experience a lack of active want, that’s what I’ve acted upon. I’ve never said ‘never!’, I’ve merely consistently said ‘nope, not my thing’ and can’t really imagine that changing at this point.
And now that I’m 36 rather than 26, or even 30, people tend to actually believe me when they find I don’t want children (which after years of them not doing so comes as a blessed relief) – something about tipping over the 35 mark did that. Of course, you still get the odd person who treats the revelation as an opportunity to play Twenty Questions because They’re Just Interested In Your Reasons (see also: being vegetarian), but by and large I don’t get the You’ll Change Your Mind speech these days.
What I do get, however, is people asking if I like children (This has always made no sense to me. Children aren’t a single unit, I can’t adore or deplore them en masse. They’re individuals. Do you like people in their 50s?) or assuming I don’t, or don’t have any interest in hanging out with them.
Which puzzles me.
I’ll admit to the aforementioned awkwardness-borne-of-inexperience (I will happily read the thing your child has just thrust into my hands, find a flag app on my phone to entertain your flag-obsessed son or answer questions about the YouTube video about earthquakes with which you’re distracting them while you produce breakfast as best I can, but I’m blowed if I can remember any nursery rhymes or games), but that’s it.
People are nuanced. Childfree might apply to my uterus, but that doesn’t mean I expect or want it to apply to my entire life. Likewise, I enjoy my friends’ kids (I hope that’s mutual, but who knows?) but that doesn’t mean I want my own. There’s nothing contradictory in that, though I’ve heard that accusation a few times.
My closest and longest-standing friends all have kids, ranging in age from around a year to 10, and every single one of them is a joy to be around. And the thing that’s most joyous is that when you have a relationship with their parents you get to watch the child get to know herself, the parents get to know the child, the siblings get to know one another – you see a whole web of relationships flex and grow as each child grows. Just as most people who have ever been around kids do, I’ve had the extraordinary privilege of watching tiny babies – and some of them really were tiny – grow and develop into their personalities, further and further over time. I get those vision-upending glimpses of the world through kids’ eyes. And yeah, ok, I get to see a tantrum or two. I find them easy enough to forgive in a tired and overwrought 5 year old.
I recognise traits from women I’ve known for most of my life appearing in whole new people. I watch loved friends find happiness in their choices and demonstrate skills that maybe even they never knew they had.
I see a small tribe of completely awesome young folk forming and figure there’s hope for us human-types yet.
I am awed and humbled to know so many people shepherding folk towards adulthood so compassionately, responsibly and effectively.
Just don’t ask me why I don’t want a child of my own. I haven’t the faintest idea, quite frankly, but I do know that a) it’s not about me, it’s about the kids to whom I don’t think I’d be doing justice without that want, and b) it’s none of your damn business.