I spotted Jen Kirkman's book at the Popular Book sale in September and wasn't immediately drawn to it. I wasn't in the mood to read about the trials and tribulations of a Hollywood comedienne. But then, I read the book's title: "I can barely take care of myself: Tales from a happy life without kids".
Kirkman has been interrogated about why she chose to be childfree. And from the memoir, it would seem, almost relentlessly. She discussed some of the condescending remarks that she had received, among the best: But if you don't have kids, who is going to take care of you when you're old? And the old-time favourite, "You'll change your mind."
But it was the smug marrieds with children that are the worst. Don't wait too long to get married, some of them say, because you'd want a kid and your body isn't fertile forever. One night, after being accosted and condescended by a wide-eyed Mom with a suckling babe at her breast, Kirkman was nearly in tears.
"Most people who don't want kids also don't want to be cornered by strangers at parties who launch an information investigation on our psyches and backgrounds and decision making capabilities."
Guys, it's RUDE. I'm not sure what gives parents the license to ask and then judge other people about their personal choices, but it's almost as if society has given them the license to now judge and pester more to join their ranks.
Or perhaps it's the hormones.
Unlike Kirkman though, I am not childfree by choice. I wish I was, though, because it would've spared me my bout of ennui in my mid-thirties when I doubted if I was woman enough because I didn't have a man at my side and hadn't popped a tiny human out of my vagina.
But I suppose if I had been one of those women who really, really wanted to have a baby but couldn't because the body just wouldn't cooperate, I would have had an even worse time of it.
What I am was ... ambivalent. If I could describe my desire for mothering a baby in slacker speak, it would be: "Meh."
I just never really gave motherhood much thought. In my younger days, if people asked me if I wanted kids, I would've shrugged and said, "Oh well, if it happens, it happens."
Eh. What a brilliant way to approach parenthood, right?
Must love kids
I'm not one the folks who don't want kids because they hate kids and brag about it on social media. (I once came across a childfree group on Facebook who had a ban, yes you read it right, a ban on pictures of children as it may be "triggering".)
I don't hate kids. I'm simply puzzled by them. Like they're this different species of human that you need to study under a microscope to better understand them. And since that is pretty illegal, I'll just steer clear of them until they reach teenhood, an age I much prefer because I can hold a conversation with them beyond discussing the latest episode of Teletubbies.
I used to feel guilty for not being in love with kids. Especially when you're part of a patriarchal church system where you're shoved into helping out at Sunday School or the kid's corner, because you know, that's what women do best, right? MOTHERING.
I usually end up looking at the sea of confused young faces, feeling panic rise as I think: "What time is this over?"
Most folks tell me once I have a kid, I'd know what to do and a wave of maternal love will wash over me. That could be true, but I sometimes wonder if I'd end up looking at my children the same way I did with those Sunday schoolers, with a faintly puzzled look and with the question, "When is this going to be over?" in my head.
Only it will not be over once you have children, would it?
So back to Kirkman. Fortunately, unlike Kirkman, I've not been interrogated about my procreative choices that often. Thank God. Most probably because I carefully go out of my way to avoid strangers who'd ask overly personal questions, evade nosy relatives and have a circle of friends - married and not - who don't give three f**** about what people think about their life choices.
Still, it does grate on your nerves when people judge, insult, condescend and grill you just because you didn't procreate.
No Conversation Starter
I know small talk is an arduous endevour at times, but before you pop the question "Do you want to have kids? Why not?" just to fill the silence, realise this:
- Some people prefer to be childfree and it's a personal choice, like how you decided to have a child.
- Some people cannot have children and your question will hurt them terribly.
- Some people are not interested and may be open to it, but do not appreciate being pressured into it.
Don't be THAT person.
Anyway, an addendum: Kirkman's book and the documentary, The Ascent of Woman, made me realise that I'm a rare breed, not only in society but in history: A financially independent woman who is free to make a choice about her marital and procreative status.
So single, childfree woman - own it, and be proud!