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STOP ASKING ME WHEN I'M STARTING A FAMILY
i already have one
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My husband, DJ, recently texted me a meme about Arthur Schopenhauer, a notable antinatalist. Schopenhauer believed that reproduction is immoral due to the inevitable suffering, death, and consentless existence humans experience.
I have always gone back and forth about the “ethics” of having a child. I don’t think having children makes you a bad person, and sometimes I question if there’s selfishness in the decision. I know many parents are breaking harmful generational cycles, and I know every generation is hurting in one way or another. Life is one of the most beautiful things I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing, and I don’t know if I’d want to be born again if I had the option.
After he shared that meme with me, it came up a lot in conversation, and we continued to joke throughout the week about my antinatalist tendencies (please don’t mistake this as child-hating tendencies–I don’t hate children. In fact, I think they are the least supported group in this country and we could do so much more for them). I found myself in a moment of sincerity, saying, “I just can’t envision a child having a happy childhood.” DJ said with the utmost care and empathy, “That’s probably because you didn’t have one. My childhood was great, so it’s easy for me to picture.”
He’s right. Because of my childhood, it’s hard to envision something different–something joyful. Despite my best intentions, and no matter the amount of gentle parenting TikToks I watch, I cannot and have never envisioned myself as a parent. I used to see this as a fault–a fundamentally broken and callous part of myself–but now I see it as another way to reclaim my understanding of family.
My father-in-law mentions kids almost every time we see one another. The lawyer who read my grandmother’s will to our family told me at her funeral that having children is a good “business practice.” My mother often tells me she hopes to “try again” with a grandchild. Strangers in my Instagram DMs rant at me about my current choice to be child-free. Nothing pushes me further away from parenthood than these sentiments.
Despite this, I see my friends having children and am filled with joy. I visited a friend’s new house and grinned ear to ear at the thought of their extra bedroom one day being a nursery. My sister-in-law shared potential names for her kid, and I got giddy. It’s not that I think people should not be having kids, I just don’t understand it. I can’t picture myself not being, at best, annoyed and, at worst, wishing I had made a different choice.
When my father-in-law comments on “starting a family,” I wish he could see his son and me cuddling our cat at night on the couch or comforting him in the shower after he’s barfed all over his crate in the car after some kitty car sickness. I wish he could stand next to Nic and me as we get mistaken for twins and then go back to a hotel to cry on each other’s shoulders about how we can care for one another as long-distance besties. I wish he could see DJ up at 1 am with me, rubbing my back, when I finally cry after weeks of tear debt accumulation so rich in interest. I wish he would read more about queer theory and history and know the importance of chosen families.
Sure, there are so many emotional reasons why I don’t see myself as a parent, but there are practical ones I can’t let go of. Personally, I have vaginismus, so the whole… making a baby part is more difficult for me in general. Also, I’m chronically ill, and being pregnant sounds terrible?! Generally, I see the earth’s climate and shudder in fear. I watch myself and those I love attempt to crawl our way through the unethical systems of capitalism. I watch the news and see a school shooting–again. Child online sex crimes are absolutely terrifying. I see queer people, people of color, disabled people, and other marginalized identities have to navigate a world fundamentally set up against them. People who can reproduce have little support for them–especially if you are a queer, trans, nonbinary, or otherwise gender nonconforming person. And, as I said, children are some of the least supported groups in this country!
Maybe I’m a pessimist. Maybe I sound hopeless. Some people may call me the selfish one. But I am just in a place where I want to put my energy toward creating a better world for the people living in it now, and having a child doesn’t feel like the correct step for me. And I love my family just as it is right now! Because it is that–a family. And my partnership does not suffer because we don’t have a kid! My partner isn’t mad that we’re child-free! We’re thriving, baby!
I know many others like this, so we should stop asking, “When are you starting a family?” When we ask this question, we harm those who may have grief around trying and being unable to. We are asked to defend our autonomy and fend off faces of confusion or disappointment. We minimize the reality that families can take many shapes.
Be clear; I’m not trying to convince you not to have kids in the same way I do not want you to convince me to have them. I’m not trying to make anyone who wants to be a parent feel bad. I admire the parents in my life. I think children are cool, smart, and the most creative, and I’m excited to be an aunt in a couple of months. I just don’t want to have a child of my own.
I leave open the possibility. I had a consultation for a tubal ligation last year and, ultimately, decided against it. But I think we must stop assuming, especially those who present feminine in any way, that kids are an inevitable, required, or the only way to enjoy a full life and love.
I’m done explaining myself. I’m allowing my perspective to change, but I have to honor my current one. I’m speaking up for those who are thought of as heartless, those who have to explain themselves repeatedly, and those who are told they will never experience love until they have a child. You can and you will.
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