Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Childless by Choice?

For most of my life, I have assumed that I would be a mother one day. I have a wonderful mother, and wonderful grandmothers, one of whom I was particularly close to. Virtually all the women I admire most are mothers, and for well-educated and "successful" BW, there is always the implicit message that it is especially important that we reproduce: that not only our own families, but our community and our people NEED the children that we would rear.

Certainly, too many black children grow up in poverty and with a lack of opportunity; and when one has been blessed with both material good fortune, and a loving, healthy, and supportive family background, it seems that all the crucial ingredients are there to provide a perfect foundation for successful parenting. Indeed at our wedding, both sides of our families cheerfully prodded us for information on when they could expect to see a baby--when my husband stoutly suggested no time soon, everyone laughed and assured him that it wasn't up to him. The assumption was that (1) it was up to me, and (2) I, of course, wanted a baby.

Except, I don't. One of the biggest obstacles I had to overcome in seriously dating before I met my husband was the number of men that I met who were committed to being fathers. This is perfectly natural and to be expected--I certainly don't fault the marriage-minded men I met whose own biological clocks were ticking. It's just that my clock never started. And there is a part of me that will always feel a little guilty for that.

It's not just the "Talented Tenth" pressure to have babies for the Race. It's not just the generalized assumption that all normal women want to be mothers, and that there is something wrong with any woman who doesn't. It's not even that I am an only child, and I know that my mother would love to have grandchildren. It is also the part of me that sees so much need among the young, and realizes that I have much to offer a child(ren) as a mother, including all the wonderful qualities in my husband that our child won't have the chance to experience. I wonder, are we simply selfish?

But then I have to remember that no matter what you have to offer a child, materially or emotionally, what children need above all is to be wanted--passionately. I like kids, but I've never been one of the women at the office who drops everything to coo at a co-worker's baby. They make me smile, in the same way that I prefer cute kittens and cats, and even dogs, to their grown human owners--they're usually so much more pleasant. But that intense, overwhelming longing for a baby that so many women describe--that I have never experienced. Meeting a man that I was compatible with who felt pretty much the same way felt like a miracle for me.

Selfishness, in our eyes, would be to have children simply because we can and because it is expected of us. I see enough children around me being raised almost indifferently by au pairs and nannies because their fathers work 100 hours a week and their mothers, who supposedly "stay home," spend most of their time tanning and shopping, to know that a child can be an accessory, and that money can't make such a childhood "good." I assume that the people I describe "love" their children, just as reporters always insist that Britney Spears "loves" her children. But in my mind, love is action, not just something you feel or don't feel. If I can't know, right now, before I even contemplate pregnancy, that I deeply want to be a mother, then I have no right to bring a child into the world.

To be childless by choice, especially in the black community, feels like the last taboo. The last thing I want is to retreat into a bubble of self-interest, to ignore all those young faces in need. But I've had to recognize that what I have to give must be shared in a role other than mother. And I think that facing that fact honestly, with myself and others, is probably the greatest gift I could give any potential child.

31 comments:

arthur said...

.. The last thing I want is .. to ignore all those young faces in need. But I've had to recognize that what I have to give must be shared in a role other than mother.

Aimee, you are doing the right thing. The world needs women who are free to act, as well as those who time is devoted to children and family. If you and your husband are in accord, then no more should be said.

I have three grown children (and a grandchild), and they remain central to my life, but I have a friend who never married or had kids (not gay) and he is just as happy without as I am with.
You go.

Yan said...

Aimee,
I also have no intention of having children. I have yet to find a like-minded partner though. Fortunately I don't really get pressured about it too much anymore. People used to say to me, "you're selfish," when they found out I didn't want to have kids. That's not the case but my response was, "If I'm selfish then all the more reason for me not to have kids,". I worked at HeadStart for a while and after seeing so many impatient angry parents who resented the children they'd brought into the world, I know for a fact having children is rarely a selfless act.

Lee said...

I still don't understand how not wanting children is selfish.

Having kids for the sole purpose of pleasing others is selfish, in my opinion.

PioneerValleyWoman said...

You are truly courageous for expressing what is very much an opinion that is not very popular in the community.

Daphne said...

I have never understood the "no desire for children = selfish" equation, either. But then again, we are in a culture where being a mother is seemingly second to being a saint. Never mind there are bad mothers, neglectful mothers, selfish mothers, borderline apathetic mothers, abusive mothers - just like there are bad, neglectful, selfish, apathetic, abusive non-mothers. It's not a "one size fits all" thing, and I commend those who know themselves enough to make such a decision. It's not easy.

For the baby questions to start right at the wedding is crazy. Goodness, can you and your hubby enjoy yourselves and married life, please?

For those who desire motherhood, more power to them. I think it's wonderful, and know some fantastic moms. That said, I have never appreciated those who force their desires on me. I haven't decided definitively on children vs no children, but I don't even have a boyfriend, let alone a husband, so it's not really up for discussion at this point. I don't go around rubbing my single status and its' virtues in married women's faces, nor do I brag about the freedoms I have because I don't have children to those who are mothers and have little to no time for themselves. I'd appreciate a little reciprocity.

classical one said...

The world that our future children will inherit, will possibly be a very unpleasant one. The world is already vastly overpopulated and our environment face a deeply uncertain future. You may well be on to something with not having kids.

dottie said...

You know,

My mother always gave me funny look when I told her I didn't want kids. She always asked, "You're not even gonna have one?"

I always told her about being real sure if I wanted kids, I always wanted dogs...

No one ever came into my face telling me I'm selfish...but seriously, why hold it against her if she doesn't want any children?

White male said...

Ha Ha!
I've often wondered what the response to a "childfree" post would be like on these forums. There is a lot of societal pressure, and people who wouldn't blink at the fact my girl is black can be shocked by our unwillingness to have children. I met her through a local chapter of No Kidding, a social club for people who do not have nor want children. That was definitely a much bigger hurdle to get past than race. Heh, of course it does give us great subject change if someone were to approach and say, "Oh, you'll make such beautiful babies."

Evia said...

Aimee, you are indeed courageous for taking this stand. I have an in-law who feels the same way and when she voiced it, she was pounced on. I agree that people ought to want their children PASSIONATELY! I wanted mine in just that way, and I've never personally had a second of regret, except that sometimes I feel bad for them, considering the world I've brought them into. If I had to do it all over again, who knows? I might make the same decision as you.

Zabeth said...

I want to have children. I can't wait for the day- and I don't think our world is really all that bad and I do question the environmentalism alarmists ;-) But if you don't want to have children, don't. More power to you. That's a deeply personal decision between you and your partner that doesn't involve anyone else.

Aimee said...

Daphne said...

I have never understood the "no desire for children = selfish" equation, either.

I don't really follow it altogether. It seems to be not just that being a mother is "selfless," but that not wanting to be a mother must therefore be based in some kind of selfish motive, like wanting to have more time and money to lavish on yourself.

Of course, as you point out, there are plenty of people with kids lavishing themselves, and denying their kids, plenty. There also the wonderful parents like my own--I don't want to ignore them because I'm making a different choice, because they do the whole world a wonderful service. I just think there are lots of ways to serve.

For the baby questions to start right at the wedding is crazy. Goodness, can you and your hubby enjoy yourselves and married life, please?

LOL! I think a lot of it is because my brother-in-law and his wife just had a baby who is actually turning one about a week from now, and of course, he was probably more the center of attention at the wedding than we were! My father-in-law is over the moon about this kid, and my own mother would love to have a grandbaby of her own to lavish with similar attention.

Pamela said...

Two people must prayerfully and seriously consider a decision to have children. I do not have any children. If I'm blessed to marry one day I hope that he has considered the seriousness of raising children. It is a bare minimum of 18-22 years that you will be responsible in training and encouraging your child to develop those gifts and talents that he/she was born with. You will also be responsible in training that child on how to live and relate to the human race. That is more than a notion. If there is a doubt in whether you have the capacity to do that it is best not to have them.

Many people feel that it is a selfish thing because the assumption is that the person sees a child as a burden and they want to be free. Many singles that I have known over the years they sincerely did not feel confident that they would be a good parent. Others just did not have a strong desire to be a parent.

This is a decision that the two people should make without outside pressures interfering with what is a very personal decision.

gatamala said...

You are a compassionate loving person. You are doing what is right for yourself, and what is right for children. More people should be honest with themselves before making decisions that affect others.

sprite said...

It is be your right to make that decision and I commend you for a stance which in some communities (mine for instance) would be viewed as tantamount to insanity. Go figure...
My issue is with those who dregde up questionable examples of bad parenting as a reason not to have kids - yan is one. While there is no excuse for actual abuse or neglect the fact that a parent is sometimes "impatient" does not immediately equate to being unfit to be one. Every human being - including parents gets irritated, tired or grouchy now and again. That's not a good enough reason to right them off as resentful or selfish people who regret ever having kids. You transfer your core character or traits into all your relationships...including those with your kids. So abusive parents are usuaally damaged in some way- and would continue to diplay those abusive traits whether they had kids or not.
All I am saying is - make the decision based on examining yourself and deciding what you want - not by examining the lives of others. They have nothing to do with you.

sprite said...

^^^ It is your right. Not "it is be your right".

Yan said...

Sprite,
you misunderstand me and trivialize my point. I have thought long and hard about my own reasons for not wanting to have children. You should not have assumed otherwise.
I was referring to those who pressure other people to have children even though they know nothing about that person to know if they are fit to parent. The fact that they do not want children should be reason enough. Do I really need to argue the point that there are people for whom having children was a mistake, sometimes tragically so?

You were wrong to assume I wrote those HeadStart parents off as unfit due to witnessing one bad day. I did home visits with these parents and other activities so I spent a great deal of time with them. I am talking about a father who never spoke to his son without snapping, threatened to beat the kid almost every time I saw them together, and when I tried to do home visits, he was too busy smoking and drinking 40 ounces with his homies to participate. And then he asks me if I have kids and tells me I'm lucky I don't. What kind of thing is that to say in front of the child you brought into the world.

I am talking about a mother who I worked overtime to help find an apartment away from her abusive drug-addict boyfriend because CPS was gonna take her kids if she had them around him. The next time I go for a home visit, guess who's there even though he's not even supposed to have the address? A few weeks later, the mother is at home with her new boyfriend, and the 2 kids, she's also pregnant but doesn't know which one is the father. The old boyfriend breaks into the place, the new bf runs away, and the old bf proceeds to beat the crap out of my client.

There are some people who believe every baby is a blessed miracle that is to be celebrated. How can I celebrate a child being born into that kind of life?

I know these examples are extreme, and not even as bad as it can get, but I have to take exception to, "So abusive parents are usuaally damaged in some way- and would continue to diplay those abusive traits whether they had kids or not".

Parenting is a huge deal, and should not be taken lightly. Having abusive qualities that you exhibit with your friends, coworkers, or strangers is NOTHING compared to the effects that has on a small child who depends on you for love and care and has no ability to remove him or herself from the situation.

Don't take it that I have no sympathy for the parents I talked about above. I really do and I hope more than anything that they've managed to get their lives together in the 4 years since I left HeadStart. But when you make the choice to have children, it's not about you anymore. If you can't or won't take care of your own issues, you don't have any business having children. This applies to the neglectful uninvolved wealthy parents who let au pairs and boarding schools raise their children as well as the ones I've described above. It's about what kind of commitment are you willing to make to the children you bring into the world.

People should think about what the heck they are doing instead of just having kids because "that's what people do".

Sorry to get on the soapbox there.

PioneerValleyWoman said...

Some are also so darn irresponsible about parenting, Yan, that they have children they can't even begin to take care of, and as you say, they don't even begin to think about whether they are even capable. They can't even begin to take care of themselves, much less a person they brought into the world. Perhaps they figure that is their means of getting unconditional love and acceptance, have some kids who will love you forever, and who will always be there for you, because you can guilt trip them into it: I brought you into this world, etc....

sprite said...

yan...
I did not intentionally trivialise your points and now that you have further expanded on your experiences at Headstart, I am able to see where you are coming from.
Fact is - we are on the same page, damaged people have NO business having children - their lives are marred by upheaval and kids' above all need stability and love. I agree with you that kids by virtue of being dependent suffer more by having damaged parents.
My point was that people who decide kids are not for them do not have to use abusive parents as an excuse. I appreciate that your stance has very little to do with what you witnessed at work; It was certainly not my intention to imply otherwise - I guess because it was a fairly brief post and I kind of picked up on one or two statements.

Desiree Lovely said...

I have been witness to the having children "just because" syndrome or "keep my boyfriend from leaving" mentality, and so forth. These are not reasons to bring a life into this world.

I have a friend whose sister got pregnant at 16 going on 17 because she saw all her friends pregnant also. It was a blighted ovum, but not a year later she stopped taking her birth control and was pregnant again. This time she carried the baby until 5 mths (it died in her womb). She broke up with her boyfriend and then started being sexually active with another boy 4 wks after her stillbirth and wound up pregnant again after being with him (per her telling "one time and with a condom!) What is so bad, she got pregnant on purpose, but hid her pregnancy from her family. Her father just said, "Are you happy now?"

Let's just say "the thrill is gone" because the father is not around and specifically didn't want the baby to begin with. She is now dating another boy (not even three months after having her baby and she not only is having sex again without birth control but drinking while her child is there).

This story is typical of many young black women in the BC. She came from a two parent home, but attention was what she wanted to receive. The attention that pregnant women get and the baby gets. It is sick and twisted. Because who, in the end, gets hurt by these actions?

I've always wanted children, but never expected to have them, much less marry. (my background is heavily apart of these reasons) But I know that I'm not going to bring a child into this world "just because" or to reap what I have not gotten when I was younger.

Having children is not like buying a house or car. This is a major decision that will effect the rest of your life! It is not temporary...you cannot take it back or pawn it off on someone else when you don't want to do it any longer or when the "going gets tough".

Women who have made a decision to be childless ARE NOT selfish, they already know what it takes to rear a child and know that they cannot or are not able to do so. This country places so much emphasis on women=mother that when a woman decides she is not open to being maternal, the back lash is just as bad as being in an I/R. Understanding and support should come first, before shock and awe.

I applaud the women that make these choices and follow them. Living your life with no regrets and without woulda, shouldna, coulda's.

Dee

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, the word selfishness has been put upon this because the english language is so limited. I realize it is really about the notion that children mean you are ACTUALLY grown up. That you really learned the lessons of life, those around you, and your parents and have decided to grow up and raise a child. And of course the obvious contining of your family's line. I'm making no secret that I do want children but I do understand the greatest thing needed then children is mothers who WANT TO mother them.
I won't be one to judge women who don't want children, but won't let people who don't want children to talk down on those who's circumstances have made them incapable of care for children properly. I too work with those same parents who are not "fit' to be parents: my greatest observation of those people is not only are those individuals not adults (Not know how to be good men and women) it is because they have never meet adults--weren't rasied by good men and women.
Think what you want, but there's truth and there's reality: those parents who are unfit are not the majority, and nor are they the one's who make their child an assessory; they are the people who want to have children. After that, the other ultimate reality to always remember is that children are the only true wealthy really counted anywhere in the world and counted children aid adults in being counted.

Yan said...

Sprite,
I understand you now, too. I had decided against having children back in high school, a long time before I worked at HeadStart. It was my experiences there that started making me really angry about the default mindset being that EVERYONE should have kids. There are too many kids suffering out here.

Anyway, my friend's ex-gf, a 23 yr old ww who has her Bachelor's is just desperate to have children right now. She works as a nanny and has complained about how she gets tired of the kids she takes care of but that would never happen with her own flesh and blood. Mmmhmmm. My friend asked her, "well what will you do if you have kids and they don't make you happy?"

"Oh, I'll just leave them with their father and move away to do whatever I want". What?!!! But she's still convinced having children is the absolute correct thing for her to do. SMH...and scared.

ANA said...

I applaud people who know that they aren't meant to be mothers (either ever or just yet). It's a sign of maturity.

Aimee said...

Anonymous said...

it is really about the notion that children mean you are ACTUALLY grown up. That you really learned the lessons of life, those around you, and your parents and have decided to grow up and raise a child.

I haven't found this to be true. The "growns ups" I know with children were grown up before they had babies, and thus would have been grown up without them. And, unfortunately, I've seen way to many oversized children with children of their own. I think you're describing the ideal process that should go into deciding to have a child, a process that some people who reproduce engage in, and some don't.

Anonymous said...

I don't think not wanting to have children is selfish. I want children, but I have a number of girlfriends who are in their mid-twenties to early thirties who I know have no intention to procreate. It is your and your husband's choice. Children can be a joy but also a major pain.

gatamala said...

here are some people who believe every baby is a blessed miracle that is to be celebrated. How can I celebrate a child being born into that kind of life?

I also agree that not every baby is a blessing. I get concerned when I hear that espoused aamantra. It is usually parroted by blacks in situations where a child should definitiely not be born.

I have watched child abuse first hand and it broke my heart. The woman wouldn't have an abortion, but will raise a serial killer. *smdh*

MystereDancer said...

Having a baby and being a parent are to different concepts. Anyone that is fertile can have a baby....anyone with enough money can even buy a baby from another country...but the committment to raise a human being into a productive adult is another story. I applaud people, who thoughtfully decide not to have children and feel sorry for children who are born to thoughtless people.
I applaud you Aimee, for discussing this personal subject with us.

Ty said...

You have articulated everything I have been feeling regarding having children since I can remember.

I have been called selfish and worse, usually by people who don't really know me. Because the people who do know me know that I love children and have helped my sister raise her six children in the absence of their father. But I have never had any desire to be a mother.

I had an ex-boyfriend once tell me that no man would ever want to marry me since I didn't want children. Well, I'm sure there is someone out there.

Anonymous said...

The Psalmist states that "children are a heritage of the Lord and the fruit of the womb is his reward." The bible also states that marriage is honourable and the bed undefiled. Sex belongs to Married people and they should be the one deciding if they want children,not single women. I really respect all the comments listed. It goes to show that each and everyone is thinking. Remember you don't have to give birth, to be a mother. Your love can flow to a child across the ocean or one in your backyard. In closing, please do not let some unfit parent prevent you from having children. You never know, one day you might find a man who is well educated and financially secure who loves you and would like children. Just think about it and leave the doors open.

Yan said...

Anonymous,
I don't share your religious views and would rather you not try to impose them on me. The decision to have sex and children belongs entirely to me, thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

The last taboo in the bc is not deciding not to have children, it is being a bw and not having a husband or child but you wanted to. That is why many bw see nothing wrong with single motherhood because you will be held in higher esteem for having had a child at all (and becoming a mother....and by association an ADULT) than to be childless and single.

Anonymous said...

black sistas rule.

Don't feel guilty because you don't have a biological clock. I know I don't I never did. It took ten years to accept that part of myself. Know I am childfree and very proud black woman. Yes its hard at times the negativity of other black women. And sometimes brutual honesty about their own mothering abilities. The truth that is never spoken by all parents. That if they could go back and do it all again. THEY WOULD'NT DO IT! So be a proud via-able sistas. Love your self and other the best you can.