My mother and I were sitting at an absurdly tiny table in a suburb of Atlanta, waiting for our tea and crumpets. It was early in my first marriage, and I was telling her my plans for when I have kids. I wanted to teach them to be happy, functioning members of society, I said. Rather than just giving them chores and an allowance, I was going to assign each chore a dollar amount, depending on how often it needed to be done and how badly I didn’t want to do it– you know, just like a real job. I wanted them to understand at an early age that life going to School is not like “The Real World.” I wanted them to think critically and to learn how to make solid decisions after looking at potential outcomes, and to have compassion for others. I had plans, outlines, and even charts (in my head) for all the different ways I had thought of to get these concepts across to little people who don’t yet have life experience.
I must have gone on for a solid ten minutes. And when I ran out of breath, she just stared at me, a little baffled. “I had kids,” she said, “because that’s what people do.”
Somewhere in my teen years, I made a promise to myself that the serious dysfunction passed down from mother to daughter in my family would end with me. This meant that I would either work through my shit, making sure I wouldn’t pass on any more crazy to future generations, or I just wouldn’t have kids.
My first husband wanted kids. I was in, but if I’m being completely honest with myself, I hadn’t worked through my shit. Honestly, I shouldn’t have even been married then. I was still figuring out who I was. How can you help a new hooman figure out who they are, when you don’t know yourself? So we waited, and eventually divorced because who I was, it turns out, didn’t live a compatible lifestyle to who he was. It’s not bad; it just didn’t work. And thankfully, we figured it out early enough that we don’t hate each other.
And now I’m with Honey, who adamantly doesn’t want kids. And I am…on the fence. In the time between my marriages, I was able to witness first hand and in many different settings the absolute commitment it takes to raise children, especially in the manner I’d like to do it.
I probably have more experience living with children (let alone raising them) than 80-90% of people about to transition into parenthood, which is probably a good thing; certainly for some, if they knew what they were in for, they’d just get a hamster and call it good. Hell, when I was caretaking for Pop, who was an 85-year-old child by the end, I wished I had a hamster. I mean, I do realize that caring for someone at the end of their life is psychologically different than caring for someone at the beginning, but really, the actions are the same. Get them up, get them ready for the day, get them dressed, feed them, keep them entertained and OMG!-GET-AWAY-FROM-THE-CHAINSAW-DONT-PUT-YOUR-FINGER-THERE-DONT-EAT-THAT-THE-CAT-DOESNT-WANT-TO-EAT-THAT-EITHER and then do it all in reverse at night, because they cannot do it for themselves. It’s a lot of work. It’s rewarding, absolutely, but it’s still a lot of work.
Thankfully, I haven’t gotten a lot of pressure from any parental figures about having kids. I understand this isn’t always the case: many parents want grandbabies. I’m just… not ready to do that again. Especially while holding down a full-time job and, you know, taking care of my shit.
Sometimes this decision to not have kids is terrifying. At some point, (I hope– I think) Honey and I are going to get old enough that we won’t be able to take care of ourselves. In our culture, when a person reaches that point, their kids are the ones to pick out an assisted living facility and stuff them away from the rest of the world with a nurse and a thermometer. Otherwise, you end up a shut-in who eats cat food.
I was going to say that having someone to care for you in your old age wasn’t enough of a reason to have children, but honestly, neither of the options sounds all that appealing. Me, Honey, and our hamster all eating cat food actually sounds better than the nursing home. (I’ve seen the good ones, sure, but I’ve seen the other side of that coin too.)
Perhaps I should just avoid being incapable of caring for myself. Because, you know, that’s totally doable.
You know, there’s a part of me that really wants to have kids: to be intimately involved in guiding and watching a person come into his- or herself. What an honor that would be. But I don’t think I’m ready. I’ve still got a lot of shit to get through. And really, when I look at myself in the psychic mirror, I think I make a better auntie.
(For whatever it’s worth, Honey thinks he’d make a better auntie, too.)