Childless by Choice (The Normal One, Part 2)Posted: January 21, 2012
More self-analysis today based on a quote from Dr. Jeanne Safer’s book, The Normal One. It was a reference to this quote in a customer’s critique of the book on Amazon that convinced me to buy a copy. The quote is:
It is no accident that a disproportionate number of normal siblings choose not to reproduce.
Yep. That’s me. Childless by choice. I was intrigued to find out many siblings like me make the same decision.
I can’t remember a time when I ever wanted children. I didn’t even like playing with baby dolls. I can only remember asking for two, Mattel’s Baby Tenderlove, because my best friend Julie had one and I thought it might be fun for us to switch up from playing Barbies all the time, and Ms. Peep, because Jerri was so attached to hers, the doll obviously had charms not readily apparent to the casual observer. Neither of the dolls “took.” As a child and a teen, I was rarely exposed to babies and when I was, I was not taken in by their cuteness. They meant responsibility, something I had already had more than my fair share of.
Stan and I dated for 4 years in college and when we started talking about marriage, I was extremely direct about my lack of interest in kids. I said something to the effect, “Do you want kids? Because I’m not having any and if children are important to you, you need to marry someone else.”
In the U.S., particularly in the South, people judge you for choosing not to have children.
“So, do you have children?” they ask.
“No, we don’t. It’s just the two of us.”
“Oh.” Uncomfortable pause. They struggle with how to phrase the next part. Some are more straightforward than others.
“Did you want to have children and just never . . . did?”
“No, I’ve never really wanted them. I guess I just didn’t get the “mothering” gene. (I used to be quite honest. Of course, now I’ve learned my lesson, and I tend to be more vague.)
“Oh. Well. Motherhood isn’t for everyone. It is extremely hard work. There’s a great deal of sacrifice involved. Not everyone is up for that. You can’t really climb the corporate ladder with a kid in tow. You have to put a lot of stuff on hold while they’re young. But it’s so worth it. It really is the most important work there is. I’ve always taken the Bible quite literally, you know. The whole ‘be fruitful and multiply thing’? God is really all about the family. Don’t you think he wants all of us to raise families? You could always adopt you know . . .”
You might as well grow fangs as confess you don’t want children. You are a monster either way. You are selfish, self-centered, superficial, caring only about your career or getting ahead, unwilling to sacrifice your own needs for those of someone else, not valuing the things that really matter in life, like family, a sinner, willfully defying God. No one considers that perhaps you’re scared you just won’t be any good at it or you’ll emotionally damage the child the same way you were damaged or the responsibility might be the very thing that plunges you over the edge into madness or you’ll end up with your sister’s kids down the road and instead of 2 of your own, you’ll wind up raising 6.
Not to mention that your mother has told you repeatedly for years that it doesn’t matter how good a parent you are, it’s the luck of the draw. You can still end up with a child like Jerri who will make your life a living hell. That you’ve heard your mother say so many times “Don’t ever have children” it seems permanently tatooed on your frontal cortex. In case you find this shocking, here’s another quote from Safer that shines some light:
Parents need their children to see the world through their eyes; the more disturbing and precariously held the view, the more threatening a contrary perspective can be . . .
Maybe my mother is afraid she’s responsible for what happened to Jerri whether genetically or because of bad parenting. Her belief that “you can’t help the child you end up with” is precariously held. Maybe that’s why it’s so important for the rest of us to believe it too.
You have to read between the lines a bit in The Normal One to discover the reasons why many “normal” siblings don’t have children. Not surprisingly, they reflect my own.
Dr. Safer reflects that many normal siblings who do have children either go to great lengths to avoid the errors their parents made or don’t believe their parents made any. Either way, they will ultimately see the faces of their damaged siblings reflected in those of their children.
Accepting that to some degree you are inexorably bound to reproduce at least part of the essence if not the form of your original family relationships, and not only in ways you consciously choose (or wish), is a crucial step. This involves giving up the grandiose notion that you can change history.
The truth is my history haunts me and it always will. I had hoped by not having kids I could somehow rid myself of it. Or at least, loosen its grasp. I’m not sure that I succeeded.