QUIT: Explaining Myself to the Cult of Mommyhood

[Part of my mission to “live deliberately” involves ruthlessly cutting out anything that saps my time, energy or money to no good end.  I’m calling these things my “Quits,” and this is one of the many items that have found themselves on my Quits List.]

 

Not wanting kids isn’t a decision my husband and I came to just recently. It’s been pretty clear all along. See: my very first ever guest post as Cordelia, titled Things I Want to Punch in the Face: Baby Worshippers, which will also give you a rundown of the “whys” behind our decision.

What’s new is my finally accepting that crazy mommyhood evangelists will never stop trying to convert us, and nothing we ever say will make an impression on them. The thing I’m quitting isn’t having kids (that Quit set sail years ago), but the irrational sense that I should even be attempting to explain myself to these people in the first place.

I’m cool with our decision, and I’m cool with them not being cool with it—so what’s the point in talking about it anymore?

 

I’m O.K., You’re O.K.—O.K.?

For all the ranting and raving I do on this blog about how evil the 9-5 is and how liberating it is to pave your own path, I rant and rave because I know my audience. You’re here because something about these topics speaks to you.

Maybe you agree with my p.o.v. wholeheartedly. Maybe you’re curious to hear a different perspective. Maybe you hate everything I’ve ever written and get off on reading a new post and counting the many ways you disagree with it.

So be it. It’s your party, to do with what you want. Either way, you’re here of your own volition, so I’ll give you my opinion, uncensored and 100% impassioned. Because that’s what you’ve presumably come here for.

But what you won’t see me doing is hijacking a family holiday dinner to tell everyone at the table why they’re living hollow little sheep-lives and giving in to The Man. Because that’s a dick move, and it wouldn’t do any good, anyway.

If a relative, in the course of some pre-dinner chitchat, should mention how it “must be nice” to work from home, I will gently let her know what freelancing is really like, because the work-from-home stigma is ridiculous, and I can’t stand by and listen to it be perpetuated.

If she sighs and says she wishes she weren’t stuck in a dead-end job, I’ll offer her all the encouragement in the world to pursue whatever her secret dream is, citing the dozens of real-life people I know who have done that very thing.

In other words, if she opens up that topic of conversation, I’ll gladly take part in it.

But I won’t kick off the chitchat with, “So, still kowtowing to corporate America, huh? When are you gonna finally do something about that? No, I know you think you’re happy with your life, but you’re wrong, and here’s why…”

 

Agree to Disagree, Already

Riki: Oh my gosh, I’ve got so much going on. I got my novel published, I moved, I got married.
Kate: Gosh, you know, everything seems so trivial now that I’m pregnant.
Riki: Well, I also helped end gang violence in
Mexico when…
Kate: You know, I can’t even remember what I did before I was pregnant. Everything else seems so meaningless.

~Garfunkel and Oates, “Pregnant Women Are Smug”

 

The husband and I pretty well know what we’re talking about when we say we don’t want to have kids. We’ve had the talks and heard the arguments, and we’re all set, thank you. It’s really not for us. (Again, see here.)

But people simply cannot seem to accept that without feeling the need to try to set us straight. They’re certain we’ve missed something. It hasn’t been explained to us properly. Yes, there are plenty of reasons we might not think we’d like to be parents, but we obviously don’t realize how worth it it ultimately is!

But here’s the thing: What’s worth it to me and what’s worth it to you are not necessarily the same things. Because we are different people. So trying to convince me of the value of parenthood because you personally find it fulfilling is like trying to convince a vegan to try a steak because it comes from the highest-rated steakhouse in America. It doesn’t matter. They don’t freakin’ eat meat.

There are pros and cons to everything. When you want something enough, you deal with the cons and celebrate the pros. They even out in the long run, and for you, it’s “worth” it. Some people aren’t made for the freelancer lifestyle, and if I shared all the positives with them, they’d only see the negatives and think it sounds like the worst thing in the world. That’s how parenthood is for me. I see the upsides you’re outlining, but they wouldn’t be upsides for me, because I’m not wired for it.

I am decidedly lacking in any biological clock, mommy gene, or whatever else it is that drives beings to procreate. I do not find every baby adorable. I actually do not find any baby particularly aww-worthy. I just don’t care. I am baby tone-deaf, just as I’m tone-deaf to the entire parenthood experience.

 

Détente Through Non-Engagement

I don’t “hate” babies, mind you. (The other lovely misperception that comes with this life decision.) I am genuinely happy for my friends when they have babies. I don’t get it—I’d never in a million years do it myself—but I’m happy they’re happy. I get that most people are pro-the-notion-of-raising-children. I would never react to a friend’s joyous declaration of pregnancy with, “Ugh. That sucks. Hope you’ve enjoyed your life up to this point…”

Because, again: Why?

So why can’t we say, “Actually, no, we’re not having kids” and have it be left at that? Why do we need to explain ourselves (often to the same person we’ve already explained ourselves to once before) or be subject to our millionth hearing of The Wonders of Parenthood?

Sadly, I know we will be. It can’t be avoided. Which is why all that’s left to me as a tactical move is to stop engaging when the subject comes up. Question, answer, move on to a different topic.

I hear there’s some stuff going on with Syria right now. Or Miley Cyrus with that tongue thing—what’s that all about? Oh, you have to go check on something? Awesome. You go do that.

My womb and I will stay here and do (or, rather, not do) our own thing.

K?

Image: Elvert Barnes / Flickr

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  • April Blake

    Let me give you a rude line that GENERALLY stops people in their tracks. You ready? “I’m barren, but THANKS for bringing that painful topic up in front of me.”

    Is it true? Not in my case, but people will 96% of the time say, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry,” and then find an excuse to leave your presence immediately. The other 2% are probably nosy family members, and the other 2% are nosy strangers who need to be really ripped into. Let me know your results if you try it!

    And a quick disclaimer, yes I know ladies who really are barren and are miserable with the fact, but this isn’t a politically correct situation, it’s to try and put someone in their place by turning the tables and making them uncomfortable. If you don’t like saying things that aren’t true, just don’t use this line and move along.

    • Oooo, I do enjoy the snark behind that one.

      While I wouldn’t use it with family members or friends, it’s certainly something to keep in my pocket for the random stranger who feels the need to turn polite chitchat into interrogation. I don’t think it’s Miss Manners-approved, but I have to admire the “meet awkward questions with an awkward response” dynamic. 🙂

      • April Blake

        🙂 Yeah I don’t use it with family and friends either because they know, but I think friends that try to keep badgering are friends that start to get much less face time.

  • Cordelia’s Mom

    Ok, you gotta know I can’t leave this one alone.
    First off, I sincerely hope that I am not that relative you refer to who “sighs and says she wishes she weren’t stuck in a dead-end job,” ’cause I don’t think I’ve ever done that, or at least not seriously. I’m very happy for you.
    Second, while you know I support your decision not to have children, I want your readers to know that I’m not one of those “can’t wait to be a grandmother” mommies. Hell, I KNOW how hard raising kids is – you and your sisters are proof of that! I wouldn’t have the energy to go through it all again with grandchildren.
    (Love you, Sweetie)

    • Debbie M

      I laughed aloud at your second sentence!

    • Well, you’re out of the woods with me, but I can’t say anything for the other two. You may still be stuck being a grandma some day!

  • Meg B

    I will never understand people who feel that they get to make decisions in other people’s lives and it makes me so frustrated. Only you and hubby know if you want to be parents and if you don’t then no one should try to shame you into it! I have noticed that some people, once they become parents, think that they are the EXPERT on everything related to children and will explain why every decision you have made is wrong if it’s not what they would do. My personal favorite is the people who think that not only do you have to have children but if you do, you damn well better breast feed or you are a FAILURE! Like April’s suggestion, a little bit of snark goes a long way with these people. My favorite response to the breast feeding question is “Well as a breast cancer survivor, my oncologist has instructed me that I can’t breastfeed as I will be unable to and it will harm the baby but if you know better than my Oncologist (who is one of the top 5 in the country) by all means, please tell me all about it” That usually shuts them up right quick 😉 I tell you that little missive because I have realized that it’s my life and it’s my decision and everyone else can take their opinions and go fly a kite if they don’t like it. So more power to you Kel-… er Cordelia ;), you will probably never change their minds but as long as you are happy, that is what is important!

    • Such a great example, Meg. It gets to the heart of the matter: When people are asking these nosy, pushy questions (or giving nosy, pushy advice), they have NO idea what you’ve actually gone through in your life or why you’ve made the choice you have. I’m sure the breast cancer survivor explanation shuts them right up!

      I am definitely adopting the “go fly a kite” mentality myself. If people want to lecture or judge, let them. I’m quite content with the way things are (and glad you are with yours!) 🙂

  • Bob T. Panda

    Good for you! Of course once you get to be “a panda of a certain age” people will quit bugging you. Or not, in the case of my mother….sigh.

    • Pandas of all ages unfortunately have to deal with the non-panda horde of rude and inconsiderate people. Luckily, we have each other to keep ourselves panda strong.

      (How many other times can I work “panda” into this reply…?) 🙂

      • Bob T. Panda

        I try to work at least 3 pandas into every conversation. SOME people find it annoying.

        • “I try to work at least 3 pandas into every conversation.” Best philosophy ever.

  • Great post, Cordelia! Thanks for writing it. I love the advocacy for people’s abilities to make their own choices in life.

    On the other hand, for me personally, it’s really important to engage in conversations about my choice to remain child-free. Because we so often only see the other side of the coin represented in mainstream media, It feels mission-critical for me to be loud and open about my experience and my choice (without ever putting down anyone else’s choice, hopefully.)

    If I can help someone who is on the fence or who doesn’t want kids but feels pressure from society or family to do so by being a positive example of the alternative option, then I want to be open to doing that for them. I would never try to change anyone’s mind about what they want, but I like to freely share my experience and provide perspective.

    That being said, as part of a marginalized group, which I think child-free people are, one should never ever ever feel compelled to advocate for one’s own lifestyle choices or to educate anyone else about those choices. To each his own.

    For me, I really enjoy talking about it and getting the wheels spinning in people’s heads. I love when people get to make lifestyle choices from a place of knowing all the options, rather than just assuming there’s one “right” path for everyone. But then, that’s why I write a blog about being single and child-free, I suppose!

    Kudos to you for figuring out what feels good for you.

    • Excellent point, Sarah. I definitely am more than happy to share my reasoning with people who are genuinely curious in understanding where we’re coming from. The sad part is that most people I’ve encountered don’t want to hear out of genuine curiosity–they jsut want to hear so they can figure out how to counter our points.

      Good for you for being an advocate! The last thing any child needs is a mom who wasn’t sure she wanted to be a mom but felt pressured into it–and the last thing any woman needs is to feel inadequate or guilty or “selfish” for designing her life however she wants.

      • True! I’ve certainly run into the people who don’t want to hear it. I guess I run with a rather progressive crowd – most of my friends have been pretty interested in hearing about it. 🙂 But I totally back you on not trying to explain to people who don’t want to listen. It can be really frustrating to hear, “Oh, you’ll change your mind,” over and over again.

  • Love this one, C!

  • Courtney Johnston

    I feel the same way about being vegetarian! People react to what’s different and I think it’s good to keep telling people that you don’t want kids and just SHOW them how happy you are. As it becomes more popular to NOT have kids people will stop asking, but until then they will always question what’s novel to them. Often people feel attacked by other people’s decisions to design their own lives because they think that you’re judging their lifestyle (or maybe they regret their decision and are acting out of jealousy). Pave the way, miss thang!

    • Will do. You do the same! 🙂

  • Cordelia – I definitely want children, but have ZERO ISSUE with those who don’t. Imposing my choices on others is not something I do in any aspect of life. And I certainly hate it when it is done to me.

    But y’know what’s worse than someone telling you how life itself had no meaning before they became pregnant?

    – Posting every single picture they ever take of their kids on facebook AND EXPECTING YOU TO COMMENT ON THE CUTENESS.
    – Giving you a phone call and spending most of the their time talking to their children.
    – When they’re not doing that, they’re telling you stories about their children and ignoring the fact that you’ve fallen asleep

    OK. Rant over.

    Glad I got that out.

    • Yes! I don’t recall becoming Facebook friends with so many babies, but apparently I did, because half my feed now is babies.

      I get that it’s amazing to people when their child eats/poops/moves/is dressed in whimsical outfits, but that doesn’t mean the entire world will find it equally amazing. Especially not when there are a dozen other similar babies vying for the same attention. Makes me very tempted to start dressing up my dogs and taking pictures of *their* potty breaks. 😛

  • Well it doesn’t surprise me that you have 19+ comments on this post. It’s a hot topic. Reproduction decisions are private and what one person chooses for their life shouldn’t affect or affend anyone else.
    I recently read “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg and while her book mostly focuses on women in the workplace, she makes some great points about mommyhood. I believe you also said it quite perfectly, “I’m okay. You’re okay.” End of story. That’s all there is to it.

    • Yeah, I’m not surprised about that either. I like pushing the controversy buttons. 🙂

      I haven’t read “Lean In” yet as I’m not sure how I’ll take it, but I’m fully behind the agree to disagree mentality. Some things we can argue about, but if you’re living your life in a way that makes you happy and does not directly make me UNhappy, then what’s to argue about?

  • The whole idea of forging your own path is to forge your OWN path, not anyone else’s. Whether you want to have ten kids or zero kids is entirely up to you. Other people will naturally judge you for your decisions, but there is no reason you should ever have to get into a long debate with them. If they don’t respect your decision, then they’re a shitty person.

    If I had a nickel for everytime someone talked to me about the merits of college, I wouldn’t need to run a business. I’d be rich as shit.

    Ultimately it is our own lives and we can choose to do whatever the hell we want to do in this time.

    • Oooo, the college debate. There’s a good one!

      Amen to all your thoughts. As always, you’re on the level. 🙂