The further I get into this parenting adventure, the more I am convinced that parenthood is truly not for everyone. This perspective comes not from any form of regret for my current lot, but more from a perspective seasoned by the emotional and logistical rigors that come with being an attentive parent. As much as I think I perform the tasks at hand with equal amounts creativity and care, I am the first to tell anyone that having kids should not be a decision informed by unequivocal imperative, nor as a means to “fill a void.” The act of parenting requires an enormous deal of selflessness, compassion, and tenacity, in an effort to make someone else’s life all the richer. But there are other ways to enrich lives beyond parenthood.
I had this discussion with a close relative who has, by default, elected not to have children of her own. We spent a few minutes talking about the virtues and drawbacks of our respective lives (she being a single working woman with no significant ties to anyone, and me being tied to a marriage and a young child) before we got to that grass is always greener conclusion about our lives. But there is something else there, something that writer Katie Roiphe, writing for Slate.com, touches upon in her article “Do We Secretly Envy the Childfree?” Roiphe, who is apparently a mother herself, goes to great lengths to indentify with the roughly 1 in 5 women in their 40s (an age where it is presumed the biological clock is ending its tick-tock pattern) who do not have children, instead of pitying them. Even though the childless woman is, while in the minority, nothing totally unique, Roiphe contends that many people view a woman (of this age) without a child as “a tragic or at least disappointed figure.” She claims the judgment is such that “the childless woman has somehow not pulled it together, as if she is damaged or thwarted.” Roiphe, while focusing primarily on women for this article, posits the idea of the childless man in his 40s, and how he is seen, not as sad, but as someone who has refused to grow up and is clinging to a state of arrested development. The thinking by the majority (meaning those who are parents) goes that the act of becoming a parent is such a transfiguring and defining experience, that if you were to opt out, how would you (the childless minority) achieve that transformation?
These generalizations are far from fair, or even accurate, as there are teaming millions of childfree adults who live exceptionally rich, creative, and compassionate lives without having ever changed a diaper, done school pick up, or arranged a play date. So is it fair to say not having children means you have yet to really grow up? Don’t you know some parents who, while tending to their responsibilities, may not have grown up themselves (whatever that means)? Are people who don’t have children too harshly and summarily judged by society? Do we put too much value on parents, over the non-breeding part of the population?