There have been a few articles floating around for a while, most recently one by Clem Bastow, on choosing not to have children. This choice seems to offend many people and they feel moved to tell any woman brave enough to speak of a future without children that she will never know unconditional love, that she isn’t a real or whole woman, that she should just go ahead and have a child because then surely she will change her mind. Articles written in response talk about how the lives of those who had children were changed for the better, how they didn’t know what they were missing before they had children. I also didn’t know what I was missing before I have children.
Yes there has been wonder, unconditional love for my children – which while different to what I have felt before I still think I have felt before – and some things which no one seems to talk about.
I never realised how angry, how consumed by anger I could become. During ante-natal classes they warned us that we would have times of frustration with babies who wouldn’t or couldn’t settle and to be aware of how hard we patted their bottoms while trying to settle them. But they never mentioned how angry it was possible to become with a recalcitrant toddler or mouthy children. I’m not suggesting that every parent feels this. But I have. I have had times when I could clearly understand how parents, hunched over and hiding from the cameras as they were taken away from or into court on charges that hurt any parents heart, got to that point. This is where I run not walk away and hide myself and my shame away until I feel able to parent again. When the kids were little this was usually when they came crying after me and I pushed the anger down to that place where I keep it until it is safe to let out at an inanimate object or unsuspecting husband. Now I hide in my room with the door locked until the little sods come with their chopstick to pop the lock and climb into bed with me for cuddles.
It never occurred to me how exhausted I could be from simply being a parent. Some days I just want to hide and not be anything to anyone. But right now that isn’t an option.
There are other things I’m not going to go into because I don’t want to lay myself that bare. No children were hurt in the making of those things.
I admire anyone who knows themselves well enough to know that child rearing is not for them. Even if they do change their mind, or circumstances change and they find themselves step-parenting. Friends who have known me for a while will think this ironic because I used to be one of those annoying people, wrapped up in my baby, who just knew that everyone wanted to be as smitten as I was. I don’t do that anymore. I’m really sorry if I was a smug arsehole to you. I’ve grown up.
It really annoys me when people try to sell parenting as this amazing experience with no drawbacks, that you have to convince everyone to join. The very least we could do as parents is to admit that parenting has its shitty days as well as the good, the amazing and the forever memories ones and respect that while other people might like kids it doesn’t mean that they are remotely interested in having their own and their reasons are as many and varied as your reasons for choosing to have children. I think understand this better now having had my own children and deciding that two was my limit. I will always wonder what it would have been like if there had been more, but in the same wistful way I wonder what life would have been like if I’d married or partnered someone else – an interesting daydream but not something that I mourn for or have a particular desire to change.
A note on inability to have children: I spent some years wondering what my life would be like if I never managed to have children. Obviously this isn’t a path my life took, but I certainly spent a lot of time at those crossroads. While I can empathise but not ever know what it is like, I don’t think this is a good reason for other people to have children – which is an argument I have seen elsewhere – that women choosing not to have children are selfish because other people who desperately want children can’t have them. It reduces women to something between an incubator for children for adoption or children themselves unable to know their own minds.