Bullish Q&A: How Should You Decide Whether to Have Kids? (And How to Tell Your Relatives to BACK THE F OFF)

vivi

Hi Jen. I’m approaching 30 and, of course, friends and family are ‘tick-tocking’ at me. I don’t know if I even want kids. I don’t mean “I have decided that reproducing isn’t in my future”, but I also don’t mean “I will feel as though my life is incomplete if I don’t reproduce”. I’m unsure whether I’m ambivalent because I perhaps lack the imagination to see my future with/without having kids, or whether I’ll just be fine either way. Any thoughts?

 

I think Bullish has a pretty high percentage of childfree women. It’s understandable. It seems clear, globally, that when women have career and economic independence, about 30-40% of women have no compelling reason to have children. I was pretty ambivalent myself, right through my early 30s, my pregnancy, and maybe even a few days after that. And that’s reasonable.

I also find my actual child extremely compelling! Moreso the older and more verbal she becomes.

Sometimes people want to sell you on this story where you’re supposed to have some primal, bodily urge to reproduce. And then there’s this other story where the act of giving birth or the oxytocin from labor causes you to feel “a love greater than you’ve ever known” for your newborn baby.

It is no wonder this doesn’t much appeal to those who tend to intellectualize life. I don’t really “live in my body” that much. I didn’t think breastfeeding was a super great way to bond (kind of like how you might feel about sex with no eye contact where the person never speaks to you?)

I didn’t have much of a primal urge to reproduce. I didn’t have an overwhelming surge of instant love and bonding. I love my child as an individual. And, you know … with my mind. The more I get to know her, the more I like her a lot. It helps when they learn to talk, but she could communicate and make little jokes even before that. There was a whole phase where it’s kind of like you’re trapped on an island with someone who doesn’t speak any English and you don’t speak their language, but you can still totally laugh together when somebody falls down or puts something weird in their mouth. There’s pointing, there are meaningful facial gestures, there are grunts that clearly indicate a question and that question is “What the fuck is THIS thing?”

Like I said, she’s compelling. Really compelling.

So, on the pro side, assuming your mileage is roughly like mine: You get to meet an incredibly compelling brand new person! Who will treat you like shit sometimes, but it’s not really their fault. It’s more of a chance for you to teach them not to treat people like shit.

But of course it’s hard. Even with the many privileges I have, including child care and a hardworking feminist partner who splits chores 50/50 – well, we’re still swamped with chores. It’s a hit to quality of life (depends on the components of your quality of life). It makes it hard to travel. (Don’t believe any of those blogs where someone’s like, “I traveled the world with my three kids, in a boat!” I mean, sure they did, but what they consider travel is not what I consider travel. My whole travel game is quietly reading books in cafes and politely chatting with bartenders and being alone for long periods of time and occasionally posting a selfie. Traveling with even one child – it’s like the Crossfit of emotional labor. Not to mention the actual labor. ANYWAY.)

On the other hand, it seems that maybe no one else in our entire family is ever going to have children. As in, my kid(s) will be the only grandchildren either my parents or my in-laws will ever have. That’s harsh. My baby is unlikely to ever have a cousin (or a relative under 30). I do feel that I’ve done a mitzvah.

It’s fine to be fine either way! That’s actually a great way to live; you’re insulated against regret. It’s what Tina Fey’s gynecologist told her: “Either way, everything will be fine.” I felt that way as well when I didn’t get pregnant for 14 months. I was like, “Okay, well now I can do incredibly cool shit for another decade and then I can still adopt if I want.” I would’ve been fine either way.

But in terms of actually making a decision, if you feel that to be in any way necessary (it isn’t, you can certainly just keep living your life):

If you prefer pleasure over meaning, maybe don’t have kids?

If you prefer meaning over pleasure, maybe having kids would be one of the ways to do that?

Of course there’s pleasure in parenting and meaning outside of it. Obviously. Of course you can live a life devoted to meaning without having kids. I could list a hundred ways to do that.

But I think that in the day-to-day of doing task after task in taking care of a little person, that’s really how it stacks up: meaning vs. pleasure.

Relatedly, there are a lot of studies about how parenting causes happiness to drop way down. Yet most of the parents in the middle of this low point of happiness do not regret having children. Basically, asking people mid-child-rearing whether they’re “happy” is like asking people in the middle of med school or writing a novel whether they’re “happy.” Most of them believe that they’re doing something meaningful. It’s not quite the right question.

So that might help you decide.

As for your family, there are lots of fun and cheeky ways to tell them to STFU!

For example:

“Okay, babies, great, let’s do an arranged marriage. Let me know when you have someone for me to meet.” (Only use this one if you are not from a culture that has arranged marriages.)

“Oh no, I’m a spinster! CATS CATS CATS CATS CATS.”

“Are you the government? Because you’re all up in my uterus all the sudden.”

“Oooooh, does anyone smell sulphur? MY EGGS ARE ROTTING.”

Or, maybe more realistically, Oh Aunt Edna, that’s what people of my generation call “awkward.”