I like kids but…

It is probably to do with the fact I’m newly married, but I’ve been recently asked, more than usual, about the fact I do not want children. It isn’t something I’ve kept quiet about over the years, but I still struggle to find an articulate way to respond when people ask “really?” or say “you’ll change your mind” or “I felt the same, but look at me now.”

I don’t have a great answer to any of the questions or statements my position often elicits and I’ve aggravatingly slipped back into using lines like “never say never” or “I like kids but…”

There is, of course, the argument that people shouldn’t ask these questions on this topic, but I’m not too worried about that. I’m very much of the opinion that people should talk about personal issues, in reasonable places and at reasonable times, of course. Having seen the pain not talking about depression has caused so many friends and members of my family, I am a strong proponent for being open and honest when it comes to discussions that should heal and help more than harm.

I expect I would mind the questions if I did want children but was there some physical reason I couldn’t, or if I was trying and not succeeding to conceive, or dreadfully, if I had lost a child. I can understand the distress such questions would cause in those cases.

But none of those relate to me. I have always known I wasn’t going to be a mother. I don’t have language to describe it because it is such an ingrained and natural part of my identity, such as my eyes being the colour they are, or why I love being outside.

I’m not closed to the possibility that my upbringing or my genes have caused me to feel this way rather than it being God’s design, but I do know this is who I am, having given the worries about it to God.  I have examined this part of me deeply.  I do not accept that I am rejecting a path God has planned for me, or even something that all women, and by extension couples must to do, all positions which have been levelled at me in the past.

I would like to have an articulate way to describe my position (I don’t call it a choice.) I’m a reasonably articulate person, but I have noted that when I flap or ramble in response not only do people take what I’m saying less seriously, but I get grumpy with myself for the mess it leaves of the conversation.  I understand why people would believe me to be changeable on this issue because I haven’t yet managed to find language to describe just how immovable I am on this subject.

I also find myself worrying about offending my friends who do have children, or who are planning on having them. I worry that I am insulting or upsetting people who are trying for children or who have suffered loss. But I recognise that I am making gross assumptions about their opinions and positions. I can only be honest to myself, sensible about these conversations as a whole and sensitive and kind where I do have more information about who I am talking to.

I joined a Facebook group for people who are planning to be, or are childless, childfree or whatever word they choose to describe their position. I have to say, I don’t like either of those terms as childless sounds like it isn’t a deliberate decision, and childfree sounds like it is celebrating being without something dreadful.

Yes, Facebook – my first mistake.  I wanted to find some like-minded individuals who perhaps would help me find language to describe what I’m struggling with. I joined this particular group because a writer I admire had reposted a blog by one of their members which I found intelligent and challenging on the precise subject I was researching. I was sorely disappointed not to find similar in the group, although I shouldn’t be surprised. I went back months and months in the postings, and apart from the odd useful blog link, it was full of people whinging. Men and women were raging about how parents let their children behave in public, about mums who choose to breastfeed which apparently is undignified and alarming. They were complaining about their friends who do little else but moan about their kids.  They lamented people who had the audacity to challenge their choices. The irony was overwhelming.

There was also a strange abundance of pet posts. Almost every other post was describing something cute their cat had done that day, RIP posts for dearly departed hamsters, pleas for prayers for dogs with cancer. Again, I have nothing against people who love their pets (I’m a cat woman) but honestly, the unidentified and unintentional metaphor was stunning.

It made me very frustrated because the last thing I want is for people to think I don’t want children because I don’t like them, or that because I think there is something superior about remaining child-less.  I don’t think there is something inherently better than parenting out there for me.

So, although I respect the ideas of the project that runs the group, I’m leaving. Through writing this I’ve focussed my thoughts a little. I really should stick to processes like writing because I know it helps, rather than looking in places I know probably won’t.

So if you ask, I might babble, but that doesn’t mean I’m uncertain. So what do you think? Is it ever acceptable to ask questions on this subject.

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2 thoughts on “I like kids but…

  1. I was really pleased you didn’t say “keep your nose out”. People would spend a lot less time feeling offended that people dared to ask such things if we were more open as a society, and particularly within a Christian community. We’d be more than happy for you to babble at us while you work out how to express what you feel.

    Here’s a few reasons that cause me to worry about your choice, and a few reasons that others who know you less well might think. I’m not putting these up as arguments to change your mind, but more so that you can get inside the head of those telling you that you are essentially wrong.

    1) We don’t want you to have regrets.
    The greatest reason for the increase in infertility and the need for infertility treatment is that people put their career first, and only try for kids when it’s too late. It’s very unlikely that anyone would think you are putting career first, but the end effect would be the same if you decided you did want kids when you were 40. We wouldn’t want you and Rob to go thought that difficulty and heartache. Similarly there are couple that think (rightly) that kids will prevent them doing the things they want to do. I don’t think you are that selfish (but others might take that view of your decision). For those couples I imagine any regret would occur even later in life, that while they are happy with what they did in their youth, they regret not having had everything, including kids. While i don’t see this reason being the reason for your choice, I would hate for you to get to 60 and to look back with any regret. So it’s not that we think you will change your mind, but we worry that if you did it would only be hurt you get, not kids.

    2) You’d be a great parent
    Not sure I know Rob well enough to say the same, but he seems a pretty decent bloke. 
    Some of our friends don’t want kids because they think they would be bad parents, and in some cases they are right. I don’t think you believe that you would be a bad parent, but others might think that is your reasoning. 
    However, there are others with kids, who for various reasons, aren’t good parents. So it seems a shame that there is someone who would be an awesome parent doesn’t have kids, while there are those with kids who probably shouldn’t have gone there.

    3) You owe it to the gene pool!
    Need I say more?

    4) You don’t know what you’re missing out on
    I’m not sure that is true. I think you have a pretty good idea of what being a parent is. However I think it is impossible to fully know until you got kids. I really don’t think I knew quite how much I would love my little terrors until they arrived, and I worried with John that I might not be able to love him as much as Joanna, because it surprised me quite how much I loved her (and still do). That said, at the same time I don’t think anyone really knows what they are letting themselves in for, and just having a kid to find that out isn’t a good motive for sprogging.

    5)There something more to marriage as a family than as a couple
    My turn to babble now as I can’t put my finger on this. You post talked about you and your completeness as a woman, but being a bloke I think this takes away from what marriage is about. It’s both the man and the woman (do you here Mr Cameron?). The Roman Catholic tradition doesn’t like contraception because it separates sex for the possibility of kids. I don’t have the same concerns, but it some way kids do reflect the unity of the parents. Having kids changes the relationship, and hopefully adds to it. Perhaps it could be true that the kids continue to reflect the unity of the parents? I can’t put my finger on it, but it feels like marriage becomes more complete when it becomes within a family.
    While you feel happy that you have this in a happy place with God, I can’t help feel that the church doctrine that marriage is… blah blah… the procreation of children has some theological basis, and that God intends marriage to be more that just the couple. But that could be a whole discussion in itself, and I can hear myself arguing about parenting spiritual children in the context of the church…

  2. Thanks so much for this, it is a brilliant response to my thoughts and helpful. I really appreciate them! As my oldest (longest serving!) friend, you probably know better than anyone else, save family, just how long I’ve felt like this, and I know this advice and comment is from a place of deep love for me and honest concern. That is very touching and humbling.

    I have a few thoughts on your thoughts if you don’t mind  I haven’t had anyone yet come out and tell me I’m utterly wrong. I am glad people are willing to discuss. Opposite to being told I’m wrong, sycophantism, while flattering, doesn’t help in the long run.
    I hope this all makes some sense and to that end I’m going to summarise in advance! I think my basic point is that I don’t want to explain my position through great scriptural and theological arguments, nor through ethical and moral debate. I wanted to address some points you made because I think it was right and honours your thoughts to acknowledge them and to expand on some of mine. But to start defending everything up and down the river, implies it is an intellectual choice I have made. Although I have considered it intellectually, I don’t think it can ever be justified totally though normal discourse. At some point I will always have to say “it is just the way I feel.”

    I’ll use your same numbering to respond 
    1, Regrets
    You’re right about this being a big consideration, so it something I have thought deeply about over the years.

    I do not think I will never have any regrets about this. However, there are many experiences I will never have, but that in itself isn’t evidence to me that I am wrong to not have them. I can only make the best decisions I can at the time, with God and Rob and advice from lovely people. That is all I can do as in a way I have decided in a way to choose not to act against my understanding of my identity.

    The fertility issue is entirely more existential and consequently a pain to put into words! (I should add infertility is something I have thought about a lot as my mum struggled to conceive and needed intervention in her mid-twenties.) Where to start!

    Dis God keep Rob for me, a man who doesn’t want children either, and that in itself is confirmation that my understanding of my identity as a child of God are good? Do I believe Rob is the man I was ‘supposed’ to marry? Or were there other equally workable alternatives earlier in life where I would have had more time to change my mind without the pain an increased risk of infertility could cause?
    I tried on more than one occasion, in otherwise healthy budding relationships, to consider changing myself because it seemed the man was right for me and the only sticking point was the issue of children. It never worked and I could argue it wasn’t meant to because Rob was out there waiting. Or another Rob. And that it didn’t work because this is who I am and to be anyone else would be a recipe for disaster I am sure.

    I hope no one extrapolates form that, that I’m not willing to change or compromise in my life and in my marriage. I am but this isn’t like deciding where to live, or what job to have, or whether to buy a house or rent.

    Folk are welcome to think I am selfish for the way I am (again, I don’t use the term choice.) They could say similar that about the fact I’ve taken my education and expertise out of the job market, not paying back what I’ve been given/taken from society. It sounds dreadfully self-serving in and of itself, but all I can say is that I’m following the path I believe God has set before me and being true to the identity he gave me.

    2, Good parents!
    Thank you, I am humbled that you think I, we, would make good parents. I should probably have put this in my original post as something people have said to me a lot “but you’d make such good parents”…and I know the same is true of Rob.

    It is easy to confess that there are many things about parenting I believe I would struggle with a lot. It was a worry I had for a long time that people would think me selfish about not having children. But I have never worried I wouldn’t make a good mum, other than linked to struggling with some aspects of parenting which as you say, even those who desperately want to be parents find a difficult.

    I also agree that I don’t think any of my time with children has given, or could give me any kind of true and total insight into what it would be like to have my own. That said, it also doesn’t give me any desire to have one at home!

    I thought about the irony of the women/men in the Facebook group who replace their children with pets and I have considered whether or not the fact I am a brownie leader, have done full time jobs with kids of all ages, and not forgetting Ventures, isn’t my way of replacing something. If that was the case, the fact an hour, once a week, with my brownies is more than enough, I don’t think it is calling me any further.

    I used to go off on a self-serving ramble about the environment, and the burden an increasing population is putting on the planet at this point in any chat about having kids. But I don’t do that anymore. It is a nice theory but it isn’t part of why I don’t want them. It would be nice to have a list of ethical and ecological arguments to solidify my view but that all sounds like protesting too much and trying to convince myself of something which I’m not. As the original blog said, I struggle to find the words, and that was one of the ways I could justify myself to people.

    As for having kids because we’d be good at it…well, I’d be good at many, many things (tee hee), but I’m not meant to do them all 

    3.  We’d have pretty amazing kids, I’ll grant you that one!

    4. Missing out? I think you have nailed both sides of the point there for me. Equally, it isn’t really possible for people who have had kids to fully appreciate what kind of life it is possible to have without them.
    Again, I should stress I don’t think a life without children will be better than one with, but just different.

    On another thought in this vein, I don’t want people to think that because I was 33 when I got married, that being a bit longer in the tooth has made me selfish or self-centred in a negative way, set in my ways, less flexible. Or that I have made a choice of career over children (I obviously haven’t and never did. My work took up a lot of my time to the detriment of many things, but never stopped me looking for a man  I met Rob in the midst of the most challenging time of my career such that it was.) Or that somehow I have had a taste of a life that suits me better. I definitely haven’t had that! The position I hold isn’t a feeling I have developed over the years though experience and learning, or watching others have children, or spending time with them.

    And I agree that I definitely wouldn’t sprog just to see if I was right/wrong all these years.

    A quick aside that amuses me is the amount of time I’m asked if I am going to get a proper job soon. I think that had I left full time employment, and a reasonable career to have children, then chosen not to go back, I wouldn’t get half of those queries (That’s a whole other blog!)

    5. More to marriage.
    Before I reply here – you maybe ought to read my comment and the linked blog about the collation for marriage petition.  https://heathermaystanley.wordpress.com/2012/03/31/saturday-stuff-31312/
    I‘m completely with you on the theological debate is probably for another time, but I can’t help but just stick this out there. I would query if procreation was always intended to be a part of all marriages. The lady who told me off for not wanting to sign the marriage petition a few weeks ago, added procreation into the definition listed in the petition (which it probably specifically doesn’t mention.) This is where I get dramatic to illustrate my point but if that is the case, should we be looking at legislating against infertile people getting married as they won’t be able to fulfil that definition? Should women/men who know they are infertile accept they shouldn’t marry? Ok, the legislating bit is probably a dramatisatoin too far but you get my point?
    It is entirely possible to still be Heather and to still be Rob and to also be Mum and Dad so I’m not worried about losing/subjugating my identity to just being mummy and our marriage becoming less because of that, which is also something people have said to me in the past.
    Having children must of course make marriage different, but I don’t think it would make it more complete. I think looking for completeness in other humans is nonsensical and possibly theologically dodgy. If we were to tell people who have lost children, or never had them but wanted them, that somehow their marriage isn’t what it is designed to be, we are getting into dangerous ground.

    We have to get our fulfilment from God, not from anything we have on earth, whether it is marriage or our own families. I feel I didn’t find my husband until I was ok with being me, not being half of someone looking for another half to be completed. This won’t be true for everyone, but it was for me. I don’t think Rob was incomplete until he met me either. We are all uniquely, fearfully and wonderfully made, redeemed through Christ, but the only time we will be complete is in heaven. Saying a marriage becomes more complete with children is a few logical steps away from saying people aren’t complete unless married, and then again not complete until they have kids and I find that all worrisome. And yes, then there is plenty of scriptural evidence to support missional communities bringing up children etc…

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