Choosing the Life I Want: Why We’re Opting Out of Parenthood
I feel like I should preface this post with a bunch of qualifiers (I like kids, really, I do!) which is both annoying and contrary to my strongly held belief that people do not need to justify their life choices. However, given the touchy subject, I would like to assure you that none of my choices are intended as an indictment of yours. I am happy for you to have everything you want. I am also very happy with what I have.
The title for this post also felt like a landmine, so I want to unpack it just a bit. Making Choices to Enable the Life I Want because that’s very much the way I feel about this decision. Pairing I and We because entering into parenthood is rarely a one sided decision, yet at the same time it’s an intensely personal choice. Choose instead of chose because we’re still young enough that it’s an active decision, even if we’ve firmly made up our minds.
When my husband and I got married, we sort of assumed we’d have kids. We were young–19 and 23. Having kids is what you do, right? Even though I never felt a strong pull to motherhood, it just seemed like something that I’d eventually get around to. I thought (still think, actually) my husband and I would make great parents. We loved each other, and kids seemed like the obvious culmination of our relationship.
But early on, we waited. We had other priorities. First finish school. Then, make money. I had a few arbitrary benchmarks for when we’d feel secure enough to start thinking seriously about parenthood. Pretty quickly, the post-honeymoon period blush wore off and we started talking in earnest about our future. When we really stopped to think about it, neither of us were all that sure what we wanted.
There wasn’t a definitive moment we said, “no.” Here’s how my scientist husband puts it: neither of us had strong positive feelings about it, and eventually that turned into an affirmative decision to opt-out. I’d say it was a long string of little conversations. Checking in with one another. I’m good with how things are just the two of us, are you still good?
Around four years of marriage, we had some of our most in-depth conversations. All along I knew that if I were going to be a parent at all, I wanted to be a young parent. Neither of us were particularly interested in having a child, but if we were going to do it I wanted us to make up our minds soon. I occasionally saw kids at work and felt a twinge of uncertainty. They’re so cute! Maybe I want one! Then I’d get home and think, wait, why would I want to do that?
I’ve always been one for long-range planning. It’s one of my better strengths, I think: seeing the big picture, the end goal, and taking steps to make it happen. The question for me isn’t always “what do I want now,” but “what kind of life do I want in the long run?” The question of children was one I was ready to have resolved, since it would lead to the next set of long-range decisions. Like buying a home, or choosing a graduate degree. A serious decision with lasting implications, but also one with no right or wrong answer. Entirely up to us.
So I’d close my eyes and picture us in the future, doing my best to follow each thread of an option to its culmination. What I saw: a vibrant home with a carefully curated collection of modern furniture. Art. And travel. Setting foot on another continent. Visiting the Torres del Paine. Beaches on far away islands. And the clearest vision, each and every time: the two of us standing at the top of a mountain, looking out over the wrinkled landscape unfurling at our feet. The two of us.
There were other considerations along the way, too. A strong familial history of mental health issues. Uncertainty about disappointing our parents. I went through a brief phase where the idea of pregnancy and lactation was repulsive, and another of intense wonder about how it would all feel. After my brother died, an acute feeling of needing to fill a gaping hole. Straight up curiosity about how a child of ours would turn out (I’m pretty sure it’d be cute and smart. Probably tall, hopefully blond). Whatever it was, though, I kept circling back to the vision, a solid rock of certainty in my chest. When I picture our future, it’s just the two of us.
At some point in our conversations, parenthood came off the table entirely. A few years back, my husband opted for a vasectomy. It was a practical (and very easy) choice–I can’t take hormonal birth control, and it leaves far less room for unintended pregnancy. The only thing that gave me pause was wanting to be sure my husband didn’t have any doubts. And he didn’t. Still doesn’t. We look with equal interest at friends’ joyous parenthood pictures and non-parent friends’ travel pictures, and know which camp we fall into.
Truthfully, we now wonder at how we even ever considered parenthood. Parenthood didn’t fit us. Doesn’t fit us. With each passing year, this resolution seems more and more obvious. I’m not adopting the moniker “childfree,” but neither am I “childless”. I am making choices that enable the life I envision for myself.
I’m sure there are ways we could make it all work. Set our child up for success while preserving our own passions. More realistically, we’d find ourselves wrapped up in the world of kindergarten and doctor’s appointments. Shifting our ultimate priorities to our child’s. Perhaps finding our way back to them in our later years. I can’t say what mental state I’d be in, but I’m reasonably certain an intense year of weekly therapy and nutritional counseling would not be in the cards. Same with my husband’s year out-of-state for a postdoc, or my second master’s degree. One scenario isn’t inherently better than the other, but for me one holds far, far greater appeal.
I feel a great sense of relief that I didn’t second guess myself about opting out of parenthood. While I’m sure I would have enjoyed that alternate universe of parenthood, I am in awe of the life my husband and I have created together. Never did I think we’d own the home we do, or have reached the level of education we have. I never thought I’d find myself in a position to go anywhere in the world. Places I thought I’d have to work my whole life to save for. I have the time and space and energy to take care of myself, to explore avenues of creativity that fulfill and excite me. And when I sit in amicable silence with my favorite person in the world, I feel wholly satisfied with our life. Just the two of us. // 7×35