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I don’t know if I want to have kids.
I don’t need to know.
I’m 27, but I may as well be 19 or 43. Must there be a number saying when I should consider creating offspring?
First, let’s get the elephant out of the room.
I read Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene several moons ago. He describes in detail the main algorithm that our genes have the duty to execute:
Stay alive and procreate.
The book suggests individual genes are “selfish” because they are designed to survive. In the long-term, a species gets more adept at thriving, using the genes that have successfully reproduced.
“We are survival machines, robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes” - Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene
With that, the elephant has left the room.
There’s more to having kids than our primal instincts.
Genetics are not the only reason why people feel they should start a family. For centuries, this choice has benefitted from advantages due to normative social influence.
The age at which social expectations solidify has changed. Growing political and financial freedoms have loosened expectations. Global birth rates have consistently decreased since 1964.
And yet — in most societies, it is more commonplace to assume that an adult will have children, than otherwise.
Expand choice. Deflate assumptions.
Once, someone I was dating accompanied me to a medical check. When I was called into the room and did not invite him to join, he felt left out.
I was going in for a dermatology complication. Since one of the potential causes was related to my ovaries, my partner felt entitled to attend the conversation. In his opinion, it could affect “us” and “our future.”
Don’t tell me I should feel flattered that someone is considering fecundating my eggs. Don’t tell me how lucky I am to have someone who cares about my health.
I have a say in what my medical investigations are used for and whether or not I want to involve someone else.
My body, my choice.
The conversation is not about “should we?” but “can we?”
Choosing not to have kids is comparable to other freedoms, such as rights to abortion and marriage equality.
Pro-choice does not say “women should always have abortions,” but “women should have the right to a safe abortion if they choose to pursue it.”
Marriage equality does not say “everyone should be gay,” but “those who identify as gay should have the right to marry if they choose to.”
Similarly, I am not saying “everyone should stop having kids,” but rather, “if someone chooses not to have kids, don’t treat them any differently.”
The choice to be childfree may not be restricted by law, but it is restricted by penalty and reward systems.
Choice is not actually choice if one’s environment makes it for them.
Parents might insist that a person starts a family, lest they retract their affection and support.
Friends might choose to hang out with other couples with kids because “they get it.”
With employment, it’s harder to generalize. Working conditions differ based on gender, race, and sexual orientation, amongst other identifiers. Women with children are professionally penalized more heavily than men with children (making it a reason to delay baby-making). On the other hand, being childfree can be used to sustain a wage gap, as in the example of Oprah Winfrey’s underpayment as an anchor on People Are Talking.
We’re told to have children but are not made aware of the costs.
Look, childfree people don’t have it that bad. Societal preconceptions notwithstanding, they are in charge of their financial freedom (generally speaking), career changes, travel plans, and romantic pursuits (relatively speaking).
The loss in potential happiness lies with people who are conditioned or forced into marriage and child-bearing.
Research has been clear that girls who procreate early in life miss out on education and job opportunities, relative to those who don’t. It has also been demonstrated that for women who delay procreation, their income is higher.
I also speculate that whilst children may bring additional joy and love, a parent can suffer psychologically if they’re not fully prepared to forgo some of their own aspirations.
I don’t know about you, but I won’t say no to opportunity and education. I bet my potential offspring won’t mind having better living conditions, either.
“Not knowing” doesn’t mean “never”, but it doesn’t mean “maybe” either.
I’ve talked about genetics, social dogma, and relative pragmatism. At the end of the day, my desire to have kids is about that, and not about that.
It’s a gut feeling — guts don’t always reveal how they make their decisions.
I do ask myself sometimes: do I not like kids? At my age, my mother was pregnant with me and married for 4 years. Am I selfish? Am I refusing to be a cradle for the miracle of life?
What’s wrong with me?
Then I realize these thoughts are not my own — they are conditioned, based on layers upon layers of environmental messaging.
My grandmother — bless her traveling soul — once told me that a woman is not a whole woman until she bears children.
It’s the person’s choice. Period.
It would be disingenuous of me to say I’d never consider having kids, or that money and career are preferable to love.
My mother loved me like I was the last child on earth, destined to rebuild the human race. To this day, I haven’t found a greater love than that.
But the fact is, I’m 27, single, with no idea if or when I’ll have children.
All I’m saying is — accept that and stop asking me about it.
“We have the power to defy the selfish genes of our birth and, if necessary, the selfish memes* of our indoctrination. . . . We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.” - Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene
*Meme: unit of cultural information spread by imitation
Author’s note: the research quoted in this article refers predominantly to females with or without children, as females are generally the primary childcarers (odi.org).