On Being Childless by Default, not by Design
Parenting requires two people
Childhood trauma makes for high parenting standards.
So high that those of us who grew up at the hands of abusive parents will forever be terrified of history repeating itself.
To avoid this, some choose not to have children at all while others vow to only have them with someone who will never let us down.
Giving life is the greatest human responsibility there is and one that should never be undertaken lightly. Feeling lonely, wanting someone to love you, or a ticking biological clock aren’t reason enough to have a child.
If going it alone sounds like an appealing prospect to some women, I can only think of how miserable I was growing up so far away from my beloved father. I was raised by a single mom who moved to the other end of the country when she decided she didn’t love my dad anymore.
As a result, I hardly ever saw him and soon became an object of resentment rather than the walking embodiment of enduring love between two humans.
This is why I resolved very early on in life that no child of mine would ever suffer that fate. They would be love incarnate or they wouldn’t be; they would have two parents or they wouldn’t be.
This commitment led to a pregnancy termination during my first marriage.
At the time, both contraception and medicine failed me, almost leaving me without options. My husband seemed uninterested in the pregnancy and the marriage was abusive so the decision to abort was a no-brainer.
And yet, silent tears fell on my cheeks as the nurse wheeled me to the operating room. Having to make such a decision alone crushed my soul but I have never had any doubt it was the right one.
This was soon confirmed by my husband’s behavior, who had scant sympathy for my post-op state and insisted we go to dinner with friends the same night. I was in excruciating pain and bleeding profusely, reeling from the shock of surgery but had to put on a brave face and conceal my distress.
For weeks on end, I would break down at the sight of babies and expectant mothers, which made daily life fraught with obstacles.
But I never once regretted my decision.
I divorced my husband shortly thereafter, relieved not to have brought an innocent life into this chaos. If my parents’ marriage is anything to go by, children don’t patch up ailing relationships and I wasn’t about to name my kid Elastoplast either.
While I’m not opposed to having children, the conditions have to be right.
More than material wealth, a child needs two committed, devoted, and loving parents to model what love is and how to be a human in the world.
One parent can never be those two people, and no amount of technology can ever plug in the person-shaped gap left by that missing other, when they even exist.
If single-parent families happen as a result of death, abandonment, or divorce, it’s generally not by choice.
Fast forward two decades and I am married again, still childless.
After losing five years of my life to major depressive disorder and being left to hold my own hand, I know my husband and I will never have kids.
This household will never awake to the pitter patter of tiny feet that aren’t covered in fur. We have two cats but they’re neither baby replacements nor children placeholders. They are fellow mammals I rescued and who rescued me.
My husband and I both grew up in single parent households, for different reasons. While our childhoods had nothing in common, neither of us knows exactly what a family is made of. In my case, I spent my entire life building an alternate one through friendships, the oldest of which dates back to my high school years.
In his case, he has no friends.
While I am very close to my father and stepmom who are the epitome of commitment and lifelong love, they didn’t raise me. This doesn’t stop them from continuing to teach me what love is as they navigate the daily reality of my stepmom’s Stage IV cancer. They’re in their 70s now and theirs is the kind of relationship I aspire to.
Because they met later in life, they didn’t have children together but that didn’t stop them from being excellent parent figures to each other’s kids. My stepmom is the mother I always wished for, someone I don’t need words to communicate with.
I may never have the chance to pass on this knowledge of love to any child of mine, and I’m not sure how to parse this nor what to feel.
I have no biological imperative to leave my genes behind. But I’m still endlessly curious about what it feels like to look at a fellow human and be safe in the knowledge that they’ll always have your back.
This is what a parent is, someone who can relate so deeply to another human they’re naturally able to put that person’s needs before their own. They’re someone for whom love is self-evident rather than inconvenient.
Because parenting is the most selfless job there is.
In the interest of human evolution, it’s probably not a bad idea to hold off until you can get it right, even if it means abstaining from reproducing altogether.
I’m a French-American writer and journalist living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.