By Nancy Jane Moore
"Is not wanting kids is the last feminist taboo?" That's what the program description read. Since I'm happily childless,* I found the topic compelling, even though the panel was at 10 PM, when any sensible person would be partying.
I wasn't exactly looking for role models -- when it comes to being single and childless, I probably am a role model -- but I was looking for a discussion of what women's lives might look like when motherhood is taken out of the equation, with perhaps a comment or two on overpopulation.
Instead I got a panel of women who had -- for the most part** -- decided very early in life that they would never have children, were enormously proud of this fact, and wanted to complain about their parents, in-laws, relatives, and friends who didn't support their decision. I even caught a whiff of an opinion that people who weren't sure whether they wanted children or not were simply not living the self-examined life.
Perhaps, as a person who sometimes thinks she overdoes the self-examined life bit, I took that too personally, since I never had a strong desire to have children, but also never had a strong desire not to have children. I thought that children were something that might come along if I got married.
Of course, I haven't gotten around to getting married yet, and I'm not taking any active steps to do so, but there's always the possibility that true love will knock on my door before I shuffle off this mortal coil, so it could still happen.
Kids, though, are out of the picture for my life. And I know just when I decided once and for all that I didn't want to have kids. I was 50.
A single friend of mine was adopting a daughter from China. And despite the fact that I had spent many years content in my childless state, I was afraid that when she came home with the baby, I was going to take one look and say, "I want one, too." After all, babies are, for the most part, very cute. And I've always been a sucker for kittens.
I picked my friend and her daughter up at the airport on their return from China. The baby was as cute as I expected, and not even particularly fussy, an amazing fact given she'd just spent 24 hours on airplanes.
But immediately on seeing her, I thought, "No, I don't want a child." I haven't considered adopting since. I've enjoyed watching my friend's daughter grow up, but I'm very happy to be an honorary aunt, not a mother.
And since I've crossed the physical Rubicon of menopause, I'm not in danger of having a kid on my own. There may be some modern magical medical procedure that could conceivably allow me to conceive, but I know I'm not going to do that.
Here's the gist of all this musing: I may have waited until I was past the usual child-rearing age to make my final decision on having children, but I did come to one conclusion early on: I didn't see having children as a particular goal of my life.
I wanted to do things with my life -- to have a career, to study interesting things, to write. Raising children always struck me as a secondary thing, something one might do in addition to following one's own path in life. I never saw having children as a purpose in and of itself.
And I don't think it should be, even for those people who know they want children. After all, most of us live many more years than the 20 or so it takes to raise a child to adulthood. Even those determined to construct their lives so their children get absolutely everything don't have to devote an entire lifetime to the kids. (Let's not even get into a discussion of people who live vicariously through their children -- I suspect that drives as many people into therapy as neglect does.)
What we all need to do -- regardless of whether we plan to be parents or not -- is to make decisions about what we're going to do with our lives: what kind of work we're going to do, what kind of path we're going to take. We all have dreams and ambitions -- destinies of one kind or another. And children aren't destinies.
After all, we don't just live to reproduce ourselves. That may be a biological explanation for life, but humans have moved far enough up the evolutionary scale to create other purposes for ourselves.
Still, baby boomers like me are in the first generation in which being single and/or childless can be seen as a positive choice, not a tragedy. Succeeding generations are probably finding it a little easier than we did. But it's still considered kind of odd.
So I'd still like to talk about what women's lives might look like if parenthood is excluded from the equation. Maybe we can try again at next year's WisCon.
*The panelists seemed to prefer the term "child free" to childless, I think because it implies a choice. But I can't seem to use it without thinking of "fat free" or "sugar free" or other modern consumer alternatives.
**One panelist did not fit this description. She got quieter as the panel went on. The next day she and I were on a panel about overpopulation, to which she contributed some interesting statistics and a lot of thoughtful observations. I rather wish someone had let her get a word in edgewise on the no kids panel.