April 22, 2017

Childfree? Really?: Common questions and comments (Part 1)

When are you having kids?”, they usually ask. Not “if”. And here are the most common responses to my answer:

1) “But you guys would be great parents!”

Maybe. Not likely. But maybe. Problem is, I’m not sure I know what being a great parent means. I am fairly certain though, that WANTING to be a parent is at the top of the list of great parent things. Please enlighten me if you disagree?

2) “Does Amy (my wife) know/agree?”

My absolute favorite!

Of course.

It came up very early. Not our first date, but maybe the second. We were 27. And the answer to the standard follow-up question is that we arrived in our relationship having made the choice not to have children separately.

Still, the initial conversations were choreographed carefully. We admitted our childfree wishes apologetically, delicately dancing around the word “never”. We quizzed each other periodically; and reassurances came frequently and emphatically, but not absolutely.

For years, we packed an adoption parachute, allowed each other wiggle room, effectively saying “I love you too much to lose you. I’ll do anything else to stay with you, so could, I guess… if you change your mind… oh shit… consider adopting?”

Maybe I could do it, I thought, if that’s what it takes to keep her. And she was thinking the same thing. She wanted to know what would happen if I changed my mind, because “men can always decide to have babies”. I wanted to make sure we were on the same page regarding unwanted pregnancies.

We weren’t. We aren’t. It was the closest we ever came to breaking up, and the discussion forced us to address our childfree choices with more honesty and certainty. It was scary. We argued. Doubted. Couldn’t sleep. Then we both said “never”. Finally. Spared no room for error, we employed belt and suspenders birth control strategies.

We both came to the same conclusion before we started dating and discussed our choices early; but at times we tiptoed along the path to secure, childfree and happy.

We made our decision clear and early, but, at times, tiptoed along the path to childfree, secure and happy

3) A silent head to toe assessment in an attempt, I assume, to determine my health, sanity and sexuality.

 

I know. There’s too much product in my hair. My glasses are suspiciously fancy and my wife is far too pretty for me.

Because we don’t have kids, I have time to read and nap and surf and stay fit. But I’m hetero. And aside from the fact that I habitually heat my testicles with the warm and deadly rays of my pocket-borne cell phone, I am healthy. Sanity is another matter entirely.

Hanging Out With Moms and Why are Dads Having More Fun?

Dad at Play

I’ve learned some things from hanging out with moms and their kids. As we all know, if you want to spend time with mothers, especially new ones,  you’re going to spend a great deal of time with their kids.

Wading through the feedings,  cleanings, clothes changes and scoldings, I’ve gathered along the way an unedited (if slightly abridged) view of motherhood.

What I’ve learned most of all from spending uncensored time with moms and their kids is that I don’t want their lives or anything remotely resembling them. While I admire them immensely, envy them I do not. Okay, in many ways I’m in awe of them because, frankly,  I’m dumbfounded at how they manage, but I’m sure not interested in giving up the freedoms that they surrender.

On the bright side, I’ve picked up from moms (and some nannies I also got to know) some very helpful kid tips which I pass along to new mothers, who look at me in amazement, wondering how a kid-less woman could know so much about how to calm a colicky baby or the best breast-feeding positions.  I have to talk about something at baby showers after all.  You don’t think the ladies are talking about politics at those events, do you?

I also get a great deal of shock when moms see that I actually know how to hold an infant, and that I’m quite comfortable with them.  Well, I’ve held so many of them, that it has become second nature to me, but don’t mistake my comfort with a longing to hold my own.

By the way, why are their husbands having so much more fun? Oh, they’re often exhausted too, but it seems to me that they’re still willing to play more than their wives.  Is the parental division of labor not as equal as we had expected in this era of sexual equality?

Why, for instance, when guests visit us, are the men usually game for swimming and water sports, while their wives are often content to sit on the shore in case a little body might need drying, a mouth might need water or a nose might need blowing?

“You don’t even want to swim in this heat?” I quiz them. No, they seem to prefer the safety of shore. These are sporty women, women with whom I used to climb trees and party all night. What happened here? Is there some unwritten consent that mothers make not to have any more fun?  Must they always sublimate their family members’ needs over theirs?  Does anyone else out there notice that mom’s don’t seem to be getting much more of a break than in the 1950’s and 60’s?

Now, moms are also expected to earn a solid income and agree to multiple volunteer roles, in addition to being the household chauffeur, cook, doctor and maid (even if she has such employees).

We’ll explore more about all of this later.  Maybe those moms have something to say about the benefits of “surrendering” certain freedoms, and Dads, are you really having more fun than your wives, or do I have the wrong impression here?

Upcoming Posts:

  • Friday March 18: Forging My Own Kid-less Path
  • Monday March 21: Dog Mom and über Aunt Will Travel

I’m not infertile. I Just don’t want kids.

Me with my god-daughter and her brother

She slipped a small piece of paper into my hand, closed my fingers around it and allowed her hand to linger on my closed fist.

“I want to recommend someone to you. He can change your life.”

Huh? Why, in the middle of a Northern Westchester Junior League meeting was this woman, whom I hardly knew, handing me some piece of paper that would change my life? I opened my hand and found the answer. It was a card for a fertility doctor.

“Oh, no,” I protested, “I don’t have kids because I don’t want them. I’m not infertile.” Her eyes widened and she looked at me with horror.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, I just figured, since you’re the only one without children…” she stammered.

“No problem. Have you met my husband?” She had not. “If you’d met him, you’d understand. Some people just shouldn’t be replicated.” I added. That silenced her. She never spoke to me again.

I left my husband soon thereafter.

Fast forward thirteen years. I’m now forty-five and live in the Adirondacks on Lake Champlain. I have a new husband who’s incredible – with so many qualities worth replicating.

He’s brilliant and beautiful, charming, kind and hilarious and he’s a great teacher (he was one for a living for a long while). He would be an outstanding father. We share the same values, interests and goals. They don’t however include procreation.

We have a great life. We love our friends and family,  our careers, our outdoor lifestyle and our frequent world travels. We’re also at the point in our lives where we are finally financially able to raise children, emotionally equipped, and have a large house full of extra bedrooms and plenty of land for play plus a world of outdoor sports and a healthy community at our doorstep.

Why wouldn’t we have kids? Well, the short and cheeky answer is: Why rock the boat? We have a great life, why mess with the formula? That sums things up pretty well, but, of course there are more complex reasons for our choice to not have children of our own.

Don’t get me wrong, here. I love kids. I probably have more fun with them than most parents, because having fun is all I need to do with them.

We have heaps of kids in our lives.  We spend a good deal of time enjoying our friends’ many children our god-children and our cousins’ multiple offspring.   In our immediate families we have two nephews (11 & 13) from my sister and two nieces (2 and 4) from George’s brother. They are awesome. We’ve loved watching them grow and marveled at their blossoming brains and talents.

Interestingly, if – God forbid – anything happens to our siblings and their spouses, the kids become ours. Do I have a problem with that? No. I would have a big problem with losing our siblings, of course, but would happily raise their children if need be. I would devote myself to being the best second-best mom in the world for them. They are a part of us already.  They always will be.

So, why wouldn’t I want to have my own? For one, we know how our nieces and nephews turned out and we’re happy with the results. Starting from scratch is a much riskier endeavor with all the physical and mental handicap genes floating around in our population, not to mention the heart disease, cancer and depression genes prominent in both of our family gene pools.

Admittedly, we’d all be hard pressed to find a family that doesn’t carry those genes, but with my 45-year-old shriveled eggs and with the myriad health issues that I sometimes battle, what are the odds exactly of my having a healthy, well-adjusted child that won’t need constant attention for the rest of my life? I’m not willing to find out.

Some time ago a gay friend of mine asked me if I would consider being a surrogate mother so that he and his partner could adopt and raise the baby.

I was flattered but delicately told him that I don’t want to be a mother.

He tried to convince me that I didn’t even have to be a mother. Apparently, if I give my baby for someone else to raise that doesn’t qualify me as a” mother.”  Good to know but no just the same.  Good for a woman who can give her child to another to raise when she can’t do it herself, but I could raise one, perhaps successfully.  I just choose not to.

“Well then,” he concluded, “if you and George accidentally get pregnant, would you consider letting us raise the child if you don’t want it?”

Seriously?

Thanks for the vote of confidence in our reproductive skills but I’ll have to get back to you on that…

Upcoming Posts:

  • Monday March 14: Am I Selfish For Not Having Kids?
  • Wednesday March 16: Hanging Out With Moms and Why are Dads Having More Fun?
  • Friday March 18: Forging My Own Kid-less Path
  • Monday March 21: Dog Mom and über Aunt Will Travel

Why I left my children

Woman in Motion by andorpro, on Flickr
Woman in Motion by andorpro, on Flickr

“My problem was not with my children,” author Rahna Reiko Rizzuto explains, “but with how we think about motherhood.” Her poignant, smartly crafted essay, Why I left my children, is part of Salon.com‘s Real Families series. Her unflinching candor is especially powerful coming from the perspective of a woman, a mother, a wife. It’s an unfamiliar perspective, one that is easily and habitually vilified as she hastens to acknowledge. The redemptive arc of her essay softens the jagged edge of realizing — as a married mother of a three and a five year old — that she hadn’t wanted to be a mother in the first place.

I had no idea what to do with these bouncing balls of energy. Even feeding them, finding them a bathroom, was a challenge. It raised a little issue for me that I have neglected to mention: I never wanted to be a mother. I was afraid of being swallowed up, of being exhausted, of opening my eyes one day, 20 (or 30!) years after they were born, and realizing I had lost myself and my life was over.

She loses her marriage but regains her children and discovers her motherhood. It’s a tidy conclusion with a happily ever after vibe, but the essay concludes without returning to the mother-phobia hiccup. I suspect that I’ll need to read her novel, Why She Left Us, to learn more. Her fear that motherhood would/could exhaust her, swallow her up and erase her sense of self strike me as relevant and important (even critical) concerns.

I’m not a mother. Nor will I ever be a mother. I’m a happily married childfree husband. I’m a dog owner, storyteller, adventurer and unabashed flâneur. I’m a DINK. And yet Rizzuto’s perception that parenting has the potential to swallow up the self feels familiar, like it was conjured up out of my own twenty-something anxiety cauldron. A decade and change later, the ingredients are still there. How do I know? Because friends — parents, mothers, fathers — confirm and reaffirm the woes of parenting. They are exhausted. Swallowed up. Lost.

I know, that’s only part of the equation. “Having children is the best decision we ever made,” they always hasten to add. But it tends to come as an apologetic parenthetical after a laundry list of laments, regrets and frustrations. I don’t mean to diminish the splendors of parenting. They doubtless trump the petty concerns I’ve mentioned, and yet I’m not convinced. Frankly, I don’t want to be convinced. I’m okay with exhaustion, but swallowed up? No thanks!