I was an only child, and my loving mother died of cancer when I was eleven years old. By the time I was in a relationship with a man – a man who planned to “have a family” – I was also working full time. I resented the 40-50 hour work week with ten days paid vacation per year and I resented the “second shift”: my boyfriend and I didn’t live together, but he expected me to provide our meals when we were together.
Eventually I developed the stamina to refuse, and to stick to my refusal. The difficulty of doing so led me to understand more of my resentment of externally-imposed work, whether at a job or in providing for another person’s needs. The resentment came from the fact that I still wanted my own childhood back. I wanted that freedom from mental labor that I’d had as a child, when my mom was healthy, before I had to struggle out from under the loss of her. It had almost erased me.
I wanted full control of my free time. I wanted to explore my own potential, so much of which was lost along with my mother’s love. Or was it? I knew I still had potential as an adult. If I refrained from having kids, I could spend my time continuing my education, reading, writing, riding my bike, taking low-budget vacations, improvising my meals.
I seemed to need all the time in the world to find my direction. My mental labor would be on my own behalf. And for whatever reason, I had always seen having children as 100 percent optional. I’d had little guidance after my mother died, but with the lack of guidance came a merciful lack of pressure to conform.
I married, at age 32, a compatible man who loved me for exactly who I was. He agreed when I said, “I dunno about kids. I expect I’ll want to have one sometime before menopause, maybe.”
Two or three years later I told him: “I don’t think I want to have any kids.”
“Oh,” he said. “I hadn’t been thinking about that. I’m certainly not married to the idea of having kids.”
Well, that was easy. I feel lucky.
We’ve been married now for almost 26 years. We support each other’s projects and we both take the lead in different areas. I know if I’d had a child, I would have adapted and I think I would have found it as rewarding as people say it is. But I didn’t, and I’m thankful for every hour I spend reading or walking or doing whatever I like. I don’t wish I had created a new person in order to explore someone’s potential; I’m glad I’ve been able to explore mine.