Here we go.
I started and stopped and started and stopped writing this post ten times because discussions that involve personal life choices with regard to the decision to procreate or not procreate have been known to ruin friendships, generate death threats on “The Twitter”, and take down large monarchies.
So, like most women, when I was between the ages of 18 and 39, I was routinely inundated with judgey questions about when I was going to start having kids. These unsolicited interrogations came from every category of people you can imagine. Family, friends, coworkers, doctors, clerks at the convenience store, strangers on the street – it seems everybody makes it their business to inquire about whether somebody will be taking up shop for nine months in your uterus. The conversations usually go something like this:
“When are you planning on having kids?”
“I’m not planning on having kids.”
“WHAT?! Why not?!”
“Well, it’s just not for me.”
Then I will supply any number of personal reasons, like having zero maternal instinct, or loving my life just fine as it is, and the conversation will usually end like this:
“Well, I guess some people are just selfish.”
I used to try to argue with people that I was not selfish for not wanting kids, but after so many years of defending my personal choices (in arguments that I had not even initiated), I eventually just started saying, “Yes. You are absolutely right. I don’t want to have kids because I am selfish. I am probably the most selfish person who has ever lived.”
This is the answer that works the best if you just want to shut down the conversation.
My journey down the road of childless-by-choiceness started when I was a child. I did not enjoy childhood (who did?). Not even one little bit. I do not look back on it fondly, I do not think it was the best time of my life, and I do not long for the “good old days” of carefree youth, because I was a walking, shaking disaster of anxiety as a kid.
I was one of those kids who was so jacked up that I developed OCD by the time I was 6 years old, and spent an hour every night lining up my piles of stuffed animals in height-order in the hope that if I did so correctly, nothing bad would happen to anyone I loved.
I pretended that I just “preferred” to have them in order, because even at that young age, I knew adults would make you go to a scary doctor if you told them, “If my ET doll and Cabbage Patch Kid aren’t in the correct order, someone will break into the house in the middle of the night and kill my mother and it will be my fault.”
I was extremely good at either hiding my compulsions entirely or presenting them as harmless, kooky little things I liked to do. I used to pretend I was just recreating a disco strobe-light when I flipped the light switches off and on (64 times), because confessing that you’re flipping the light switch 64 times in order to keep the house from burning down is a recipe for a visit to a guidance counselor.
I was a fifty pound bag of walking anxiety, and spent more days hiding in the bathroom than I did running around outside playing. I spent every waking moment of the day worrying, worrying, worrying. What I wanted more than anything in the world was to have a sense of control over my life, but when you’re a kid, control is not part of the deal.
So, no, I don’t associate kids with carefree happiness. I associate kids with a complete loss of control.
Allright! So you’re still with me, right? Sounds okay, and you’re happy I eventually got some therapy, right? That’s good, because here’s the part where I will lose you.
I would be a terrible parent. I mean, monumentally terrible. The kind of parent that ends up being written into a memoir that eventually gets turned into a movie. People are quick to think you’re just being self-deprecating when you tell them you would be a terrible parent, like you’re saying you look fat in your skinny jeans that day. They’ll typically respond with, “Oh, no you wouldn’t! I bet you’d be a great mom!” and while their hearts might be in the right place, they are dead wrong.
Whatever the opposite of “nurturing” is? That’s me. I once returned a fish to PetSmart because I determined it was “too needy”.
One of our favorite movies when we were kids was “Mommie Dearest”, the cult classic starring Faye Dunaway that’s based on Joan Crawford’s daughter’s memoir. The movie focuses on the physical and emotional abuse inflicted on her daughter, Christina, at the hands of a clearly, mentally disturbed Joan Crawford. (It was horrifying treatment of a child, but Faye Dunaway’s over the top, wild-eyed performance made it hilarious and instant camp. It’s a great movie.)
The one scene that I invoke often when my choice not to have kids has come up, is the scene in the dining room, when Christina and Joan are having lunch, and Christina is pushing on the bloody-rare steak and making a face at it, complaining that she doesn’t want to eat it.
Joan says to her assistant, “She negotiates everything like a goddamn Hollywood agent!” Then she turns to Christina and says, “Christina, eat your lunch. You are not getting up from this table until you have finished that meat.”
Christina responds by making that face kids make when they’re starting a battle of wills, and shoves the plate away and glares at her mother. (Oh, heeeeell no.)
Joan responds by making Christina sit in front of that bloody-rare steak at the dining room table all day and all evening until bedtime. The steak eventually gets put in the fridge, so we assume the saga will just continue into the next day.
We thought this was so mean when we were kids. Joan Crawford is a monster!
As much as I was outraged by Joan Crawford’s behavior when I watched that scene as a kid, the first time I watched that scene in the movie as an adult, the one thought that plagued my mind was, “Man! Why’d she let that kid off so light?”
If I put food – that I bought and paid for – in front of you at the dining room table, and it’s not even something gross like squid or the macaroni with the powdered cheese, if I put an actual steak in front of you on a plate? Guess what you’re gonna do, kiddo? You’re gonna eat it.
If you don’t eat it, and instead make a stinkface and shove the plate away? Prepare to sit at that dining room table for the rest of your life, because, unlike Joan Crawford, I wouldn’t even let you up from the table to go to bed that night.
I wouldn’t let you get up from that table to go to school.
You wanna learn how to read and write and do arithmetic? Then I suggest you go ahead and eat that steak.
Don’t come crying to me when you’re illiterate. You should have thought of that before you decided to take it to the mat with me on this steak business because I will make it my life’s mission to wait your ass out.
You’d be wearing your prom dress ten years later, still sitting at that table in front of that steak.
Your wedding photos would feature your spouse on one side of that dining room table, and that steak still right there in front of you on that plate.
You would give birth to all of your children at that table.
You would become a grandmother, and a great-grandmother at that table.
Your first social security check when you reached retirement age would be addressed to “Christina Crawford, Dining Room Table, Hollywood, CA”.
I would pre-pay for a headstone for your eventual burial at a ripe old age, and the epitaph would read, “Just for the record, my mother buried me with that steak.”
Joan Crawford? Joan Crawford let you off light for that shit.
I guess what I’m saying is that if somebody tells you they don’t have kids because they’d be a terrible parent, you should go ahead and believe them.