Children and motherhood are the subjects du jour in Norway these days. Women are told we aren’t having enough of them, and that we need to have a lot more babies if we want to keep the country running. We are told to embrace motherhood in order to save the economy and the motherland. I’m not going to throw my two cents into that particular debate, as my feelings have already been expressed by people far more eloquent than me, but I would still like to share a few thoughts on the subjects of kids.
When I first started the job I have now a colleague asked me whether or not I had family. The question caught me off guard – did I look orphaned? Did I look like I had appeared out of thin air some 30-odd years ago, in a miracle rivaling the virgin birth itself? After a moment I realized that this person equated the word «family» with the word «children», and that they were asking whether or not I have kids. I politely answered that no, I do not have kids, and left it at that. But the question has stuck with me ever since, because of what it implied. I have a mother and a father and a sister that I all love dearly, I have a boyfriend of nearly 18 years, a little dog, aunts and uncles and a handful of cousins. But because I don’t have children, some people consider me to not have family.
A lot of times it feels like people think child free women find themselves child free because they simply forgot to get pregnant. Which is funny, seeing how a lot of us can’t open a newspaper or go to a family function without being reminded to have kids, just in case we forgot. The reasons we are given are many:
- We should have kids because we need to produce more workers.
- We should have kids because our parents deserve grandkids.
- We should have kids because what if we regret not having them?
- We should have kids because we might get lonely when we’re old.
- We should have kids because that is what you do.
- One that was previously only uttered in hushed voices or in the darkest corners of the internet, but that now is guaranteed to be found on at least one of your acquaintances’ Facebook profiles: White women should have kids because we need more white children.
- And the underlying one, rarely uttered but often felt: We should have kids because if we don’t, what use are we, really?
I don’t want kids. Not in the way where I dislike children, or would have children if it wasn’t for some other thing. No, that’s not how I don’t want children. I don’t want children in the same way you don’t want to move to Northern Norway to have your own alpaca farm. You respect alpaca farmers and see how being an alpaca farmer could bring people joy, but you never grew up dreaming of moving up north to breed alpacas. Most days you wouldn’t even think about alpaca farming, if it wasn’t for the fact that the world wouldn’t shut up about how you’re not an alpaca farmer. Can you imagine people coming up to you, out of the blue, asking you why you haven’t bought an alpaca farm yet? “It is hard work you know, you have to do it while you’re still young, alpaca farming is not an old woman’s game. Tick tock? You’re not getting any younger.” But you never wanted an alpaca farm.
I also feel like I need to clear up a common misconception. And I can only speak for myself here, because I know that this does not apply to all child free women (we’re not a uniform and homogenous mass, despite what you might’ve heard). I don’t not have kids because I’d rather do something else. You see, this is not a question of “I would have kids if it wasn’t for….” If it wasn’t for my career. If it wasn’t for my wish to travel. To have wild nights out. To drink lattes with my friends after work. To sleep in on weekends. To spend my money on myself rather than on a child. It is none of these things. I don’t have a child because I have never wanted to be a parent, the same way you have never wanted to be an alpaca farmer.
I like kids. But I also know that kids are not babies, or toddlers, not the human version of puppies or dress-up dolls or mini-mes. They are little people, and creating one should not be taken lightly. My own childhood was not a storybook one – I was incessantly bullied for 8 years straight by most of my classmates and I sometimes still have to deal with the lingering trauma. As a parent I would be responsible for a life, a life that does not end after toddler-hood, or the teenage years, or after they leave the nest, despite what people might try to tell me. Parenthood should not be taken lightly. I don’t not have kids because I simply forgot to consider it. I have, as I expect all women have, considered it in great detail.
You should have kids because you want them, at the barest minimum. I have friends who ache to be parents, who have wanted to be mothers since they were children themselves. The closest comparable experience I have was when I was desperate to have a dog, and the very thought of not being allowed to have one in our rented apartment could drive me to tears on a bad day. I like to think that I should at least feel as strongly about having a kid as I back then did about getting a dog. I don’t.
So excuse me if I don’t feel appropriately motivated by the responsibility of producing future workers, or future consumers, adding to the whiteness of my country or having kids so that somebody else can experience the joy of having them visit for Sunday dinner. “Get knocked up for king and country” just doesn’t get my maternal juices flowing, shocking as it might seem.
Alpaca farming was never part of my plan.
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash.