Author’s note: I heard an interview with poet Nikki Giovanni a while ago where she said, “If you don’t change your mind, you haven’t learned anything.”
I like that perspective a lot. And I like the way this piece traces the way my mind has changed (and not changed) when it comes to my thoughts about kids in the recent past. It makes me feel like there is a lot that I have learned recently.
1. The kid thing (2016)
I think about having kids a lot.
Not about how badly I want them, but whether or not I could want them.
I see moms in the park with their babies and wonder:
Are you happy like this?
Is this experience good for you?
What made you think this was a good idea?
If you know me even a little bit, you probably know that I’ve always felt pretty ambiguous about kids.
If you know my partner even a little bit, you know he’s the rare kind of 20-something boy who you can already tell will make an amazing father. He is kind and loving and caring and communicative and is not afraid to show physical attention and loves to play and to teach people things. He is a dream dad.
He imagines his children — and sometimes even our children — and it’s something that genuinely excites him. It’s a beautiful, joyful part of him that I would never want to erase.
I am less certain about what I want. I’m not worried about being a good mom. But I wonder if I’ll ever really want to be one. I think anyone can be a great mom as long as they are excited about the prospect of being a mother. And that’s where I get stuck.
The whole thing seems admirable but obscure to me. I see pictures of pregnant bellies and think, “Women’s bodies are incredible and also this seems really weird!!!”
Maybe it’s being a woman and seeing all the ways in which I would have to sacrifice my body and the sense of individuality that I love in myself now to make room for a new being.
I think about raising babies and toddlers and kids and teens and young adults and wonder why anyone would bother creating something in this world that you have to put so much energy into that could never fully understand or appreciate how much you love it. It seems like a task that is destined to destroy your sense of self and your relationship with your parenting partner.
I’m being fatalistic here, but you can see where all my wondering comes from.
Someone once told me that they felt the same way about kids that I did all through their 20s — totally ambiguous, and usually leaning towards not wanting them at all. Then when they were 29, a switch flipped, and they suddenly wanted kids.
I do a lot of things to try to make my flip switch. I try to watch TV shows and listen to podcasts and read Atlantic articles about parenting to expose myself to the idea of motherhood. I try to be mindful of my own digestion of this material, listening closely for any inkling that I might be starting to like the sound of being a parent.
I know in my head that this curriculum makes no sense. You can’t force yourself to want something. But I want to want it. I want a life with my partner, who will be a dream dad to somebody’s kid. I’m just not sure it should be my kid.
For now, my switch remains in off mode. And if you have any recommendations for parenting content, I’ll take them.
2. Maybe babies are like (2017)
I wonder if babies are like weddings.
Maybe they seem awful and anxiety-inducing at first because you have all these crappy memories of going to weddings as a kid and just remember it being boring and horrible. But then you experience them as an adult and realize it’s actually pretty fun as long as you can drink. And it seems nice to have an excuse to do something so big and full of love in an adulthood that can often be so full of endless crap.
Maybe they seem better when your friends start having them.
The more weddings I have gone to, the more I have liked them. I’ve learned that sobbing at the first dance is kind of my thing? I like the free meals and the dancing and the meeting people who are practically strangers and always having something to talk to them about (“what a beautiful ceremony!” “how about those potatoes!” “I love this Pitbull song!”). Mostly I am grateful that the couples who invite me to their weddings think I mattered enough to be there on a day that they will treasure forever.
But weddings are weddings and not new humans. But I still wonder if, as with weddings, as more of my friends have them, the more they will seem normal and I will like them.
My ideas about kids and parenting are mostly tertiary — it may be a fear of the unknown more than anything else. I wonder, and often I hope, that if I just get more exposure to them, I’ll come around to liking them.
3. What am I going to do with my life? (2018)
This is something I’ve been wondering more often recently. I think it’s really the primary question for most people throughout most of their twenties, and I am no exception.
As someone who loves planning but didn’t feel particularly tied down to the idea of marriage or kids, my five- and ten-year-plans have these blank spots in my early thirties where “shit might happen.”
The most decisive thing — the thing I know I want — is to adopt a dog. I wish I wanted anything else in my life with the certainty with which I know I want a dog. It is the feeling I go back to when I wonder what it feels like to really know you want something deep in your heart.
Wanting a dog feels similar to these other big life decisions because, in so many ways, it is impractical in the same way that lifelong commitments like marriage and kids are. When I move, it will limit my options for new apartments. I have to walk it twice a day, and I barely like going outside as it is. I have a cat who hates dogs, and this will cause a mountain of stress for me as I worry about damaging the quality of both of their lives.
And yet, I want the dog. I will get the dog. It will happen. And as all of those trials of varying scales unfold, I know the net joy the dog will give me will make it worth it.
In my prior fantasies of what my future might hold, I used to dream about throwing myself into my work at a sexy job. Something like Google or NPR or Planned Parenthood. Something with name recognition. That meant you were connected to Important People. That meant you did Something That Matters.
A while ago I did this fellowship that, from the outside, looked so sexy. There were a lot of people in my cohort with sexy titles who were associated with sexy organizations — places they worked or learned from, organizations they founded or lead. But when it was over, the biggest and most beautiful takeaway for me was that it didn’t change the way I felt about myself or who I thought was important in my life. I had all of the skills and relationships I needed the whole time. *orchestral music swells*
After that, I let go of lots of things that weren’t bringing me as much joy as they used to. Aspirations toward sexy yet unfulfilling things. And now I’m left with a pretty easy-going job that I really love, a small but incredibly high caliber circle of friends, a family you could write a sitcom about (and, one day soon, a dog). These relationships and responsibilities fulfill my purpose right now. I do good, honest work. I care deeply and show up for the people I love. But I already wonder if I’ll need something greater down the line.
I kind of expected my career ambitions to take up most of the time and energy that might have been dedicated to caring for kids. It’s not that I thought I couldn’t do both — I just wanted the former more than the latter, and, you know, your life needs some kind of greater purpose, right?
But if something in me has shifted and I’ve found a way to do meaningful work that doesn’t take up all my free time — then I suppose I have some unexpected availability for nurturing human life. Perhaps I can pencil that in.
4. Learning to love my parental ambiguity (2019)
There’s so much to write about the topic of not having kids because it’s something I really like about myself. For all of my hand-wringing and anxiety, it also feels like something that is lovely and unique about me.
I like that even though the universe tells women in a million subtle ways that we would be better at being a mother (and a wife first) than doing almost anything else, there is some core fiber of my being that hasn’t been hit by that. In a world full of workplace sexism and Mormon mommy bloggers, the core of my being hasn’t clung tightly to the idea of kids the way it has for lots of my friends and what seems like most women I encounter on the internet.
It kind of makes me a total catch, right? I know there are people out there I could build a life with who would be so completely stoked that kids are something I could take or leave. But they are not the people I am in love with and would be most interested in spending my life with.
We all want to be different, don’t we? We want to be the same enough to fit in but different enough to be special.
So often, I feel like so many things about me are a nauseating level of normal. Upper middle class college-educated white girl from the suburbs. Not wanting kids is something that feels uniquely different, authentically different, a kind of special that I didn’t have to cultivate, it’s just always been there. That’s part of what makes it so lonely, but that’s part of why it’s enjoyable to talk about. It feels like I’m an expert in this tiny little slice of the human condition.
As someone who doesn’t want kids but could see a lifetime ahead of her with a partner that does, it feels like there are two paths I could or should take:
- I’ll stick to my guns and not ever have any babies.
- I’ll have a revelation and realize deep down that I do sincerely want kids and motherhood.
Each path seems like a neat and tidy plot line. In scenario one, I continue being the independent woman I have always been, exploring the world and myself, spending time with people I love, living a life I’ve had an easier time imagining for myself with financial abundance and lots of travel and many paths open in front of me at all times.
Scenario two feels like the movie version of what should happen if Aaron and I decide to be together forever. That one day I’ll look at Aaron wistfully with tears in my eyes and say, “Babe, I want this just as much as you. It’s what I’ve wanted all along.” But I’m a shit liar. So that won’t work.
I think what’s more likely to happen — what’s sort of already happening — is that I will continue to get comfier in my ambiguity. That I will be okay with the idea of wanting a fulfilling life with a person I love and feel confident in the fact that there’s no way I wouldn’t love a kid if I made one with my own body. And then we’d have a kid and I’d never be able to imagine my life without them.
I’m certain there would be days when I would get really frustrated and think, “Damn it, I never even wanted this.” And then I’d nostalgically read this blog post and wish that I spent less time in my twenties worrying about whether or not I should be a mom and more time drinking tequila sodas.
Cheers to that.