So the latest mainstream media catfight linkbait headline is courtesy of [drumroll] Time Magazine, home of “hey, the breastfeeding toddler cover did gangbusters with the mom bloggers. Let’s go for it again!”
This week it’s a cover article entitled THE CHILDFREE LIFE. When Having it All Means Not Having Children.
When it was brought to my attention, I was asked whether I’d seen “Time’s new cover about how having it all means NOT having children?” And of course, them are fightin’ words to parents who feel like they’re constantly defending every choice they make.
So I ran to the newsstand and grabbed a copy–but when I looked closely at the article, it became clear that it wasn’t about how if you want to have it all you shouldn’t have children. It was about how some people are very happy not having children.
Which makes perfect sense.
(I just saved you a 20 minute read and $4.95. You’re welcome.)
The truth is, not everyone wants to be a parent. Not everyone would be a good parent. Not every parent who is a parent should be a parent, if we’re going to be honest about it. And then there are some people who might have wanted to be parents but things just didn’t pan out that way, so, like all self-actualized, healthy people, they try make the most of the cards they’ve been dealt.
The article does a really excellent job spelling out the potential societal and economic effects of a declining birthrate, all punctuated with stories from various child-free archetypes: The successful career women like Oprah Winfrey, Gloria Steinem, Condeleeza Rice. The woman who simply doesn’t feel the biological clock ticking. The woman who didn’t have her own kids because her husband already did. The woman who thinks she’d be a bad parent. The couple who really just enjoy their lives the way they are. And yeah, the one single woman who perhaps doth protest too much. (If it’s the hardest job in the world, I’m damn happy I don’t have to do it.)
The thing is, all those feelings are valid. And (and I’m talking to you, my parent friends) if our first instincts are to correct those women or somehow convince them to try it our way, then there’s something wrong.
I know that when you’re happy you want everyone to feel it too. That’s natural. It’s why couples fix up their single friends, why your pal just back from Costa Rica won’t shut up about it, why potheads enjoy company around the bong, why evangelicals knock on your door. But I think this is such a sensitive topic, that we–the parents–need to resist that urge to promote parenthood like some cult. Like, you know–the evangelicals.
I suppose it’s just that I relate to the other side too. I lived a fairly satisfying life for 35 years before becoming a later-in-life mom, as the high-risk OB gets to call it. I know that’s not so old in NYC where plenty of the dads in our school could pass for grandfathers, but when I traveled, especially to smaller towns, it was abundantly clear that a 30-something without kids was an anomaly.
Still, I lived my life. And it was good. I was the walking Zagat guide at my office, ready with a recommendation for any Manhattan cafe or bar or restaurant to suit any need. I dated fun people. I dated not-so-fun people that made good stories later on. (God, it was so fun leaving the match.com date in the bar after berating him for talking for 90 straight minutes without even asking me how I was, then making him promise me he’d never do that to another woman again. Yeah, I was feisty at 30.)
I bought art, I bought furniture that didn’t suck, I spent long leisurely weekend mornings with the crossword puzzle. I traveled at will. I upgraded to business class. I dropped a fortune at the Prada store in London when the exchange rate sucked for us, even after the first salesperson blew me off, dying to quote Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman with all my shopping bags in hand.
Indeed as I cracked 30 and kept going (funny how that works) I knew I didn’t want to be single; but it wasn’t for the sake of making babies. In fact, at the time, I thought I could have lived a pretty nice life never having had children at all.
I can only wonder whether that feeling might have changed though, the older I got. The more my phone-a-friend list atrophied, as besties created their own families, leaving me to fend for myself more often at Sunday brunch, or to work our girl time around some baby’s demanding naptime schedule. The more my relatives started to pry as to my future plans. The more the tabloids shouted from the covers every damn detail about every celebrity who may or may not have been impregnated.
The more my body stopped giving me the option.
I wonder how my life might be playing out today, should I be in my 40s, happily coupled (ideally), in a state of moderate financial comfort, and never have thrown caution to the wind with that whole birth control thing. I wonder which of those women in the article I’d be like. I wonder if I would be seriously happy with my life, living with no regrets and no what-ifs. Or a perfectly content Aunt Liz. Or someone who lives with a touch of well-disguised remorse, especially in a world that increasingly commoditizes and fetishizes motherhood and celebrity baby bumps and Marisa Mayer. Because I think that part might be really hard.
The thing is, I will never know.
I’m beyond happy with my choice to have kids. Not a single regret, not even once. But then, I have to remind myself that it’s the only choice I have experienced.
And that’s why I can’t judge how women without children feel either.
They deserve the right to live with no regrets too. They deserve the right to be happy. And it is incredibly clear that a whole lot of women and couples living without children are just that.
More happy people in the world–that’s not such a bad thing.