I turned 30 in December. I turned that magical number, when I am suddenly expected to know the answer to the all-important question: do I want children. For a lot of people, this isn’t a tough one. There are plenty of women who have known since they were kids that they wanted to raise a family. There are also plenty of women who are positive that they don’t. And then, there’s me. Me, who loves children, who loves playing with my nephews, and loves snuggling with adorable, sweet-smelling babies. But there’s also me, who loves my life with my partner, who loves sleeping in on the weekend, who loves the ability to pick up and leave town, without making complicated arrangements or paying an absolute fortune. Hell, I can’t even get someone to take my cat for the weekend. How can I possibly do any of that with a child?
I have my own internal debate about children all the time. I am deeply ambivalent, as the clinicians would say. I want both; I want neither. And then, on top of my own doubt, my own indecision, I have the crushing pressure from the people around me. Everyone, it seems, thinks that I should have children.
First and foremost, my mother. My mother was one of those women who dreamed of having a family. Her career was always secondary to the goal of finding a husband and raising children. She did. She did it well, and she was incredibly happy with her choice. So she is absolutely horrified that my partner and I haven’t made a decision. She fears that I’ll never be content with the decision to go child-less (or child-free as more and more people are calling it) and she thinks that I’m only questioning having children because my partner doesn’t want them.
And then, there’s societal pressures. I am told that having children is the most fulfilling act that a person can do. That the love you experience for a child is deeper than any other love you’ve felt. I’m also told that choosing not to have children is selfish (thanks Pope Francis), that it shows a deep character flaw within me, and that my live would be — and I’m not exaggerating here, people say this! — meaningless.
Although more and more people are choosing to go child-free (as evidenced by this awesome article in the NYTimes), there is no pressure to not have children. No one is telling me that I should save thousands of dollars, or that the world is overpopulated already, or that my choice to not have children is good for society. Sure, there are countless articles speaking to the benefits of a child-free existence, but in my everyday life I am only pressured in one direction.
Ultimately, it’s my decision. I know that. And now, as a 30-year old woman, I’m doing the research, I’m having the difficult conversations with my partner, and I’m reading the books. In fact, the book club I recently joined chose Meghan Daum’s collection of essays “Selfish, Shallow & Self-Absorbed” for our April read. I will make a decision that is right for me, for my relationship, and for the life I want to lead.
But it really sucks to deal with all of this pressure. And I wonder, how much — if any — do men feel?