Being Maternal Is Not An Instinct: One Woman’s Journey To Non-Motherhood

It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized it was okay to hate kids. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with kids. After all, we need them if we want to continue existing as a species. I just don’t particularly like them. They’re noisy, dirty, nonsensical, and really just flat out annoying. In fact, the very presence of children causes me a little anxiety – a lot of anxiety when I’m expected to hold them or interact with them for more than a few seconds.

As a kid I thought my feelings toward children were just a product of immaturity, a lack of readiness for the responsibility of parenthood. Most of my female peers babysat regularly and talked freely about getting married and having X-number of kids, which made me feel inferior, as if I was lagging behind in some part of my development. They seemed naturally at ease around children, happy even, a fact I found confusing and a little embarrassing. I babysat maybe three times my entire life and remember each of those times as torturous hours of boredom and irritation. I never babysat kids under the age of 6 (with the exception of the time I babysat my two-year-old cousin under my mom’s supervision) and blanched at the very thought of handling an infant. I never understood the appeal and instead chose to detassle corn or do clerical work to make a few extra bucks.

As I grew older and became better able to understand the world around me, I started to think there was something wrong with me. I found myself watching my mom and my other female relatives during the holidays – one of the few times a year I was in the presence of young children – and envied the way they handled my young cousins. I remember one Christmas in particular when one of my cousins, who was maybe 6 or 7 at the time, decided to throw a tantrum. He locked his hands around the banister and started screaming whenever anyone tried to get him to sit down to dinner. I remember standing at the bottom of the stairs staring at him, this strange, angry heat rising up into my face. The more he screamed, the angrier I became, until I was mentally screaming for him to shut the hell up and go eat the dinner his grandmother spent hours preparing. Luckily before I could act on what was developing into legitimate rage, my mom stepped in. Within a matter of minutes she calmly talked him into coming down the stairs and to the dinner table, where he started to eat his meal as if nothing had ever happened. I was flabbergasted. Befuddled. And really angry I didn’t know how to do what she just did. After all, I’m a woman. Shouldn’t I just know how to do that? You know, the whole maternal instinct thing?

By my late teens, my understanding of gender roles was very rigid. I truly believed someday I would meet a man who would make me want to have children, as if his very presence would open the bud of my maternal instincts and turn it into this glorious bloom of motherhood. And when I had those children, I’d know exactly what to do with them – just like my mom knew what to do with my cousin. For me, the maternal instinct message became the norm, the default, the single path of womanhood. And any time I had even a modicum of doubt, someone was there to reinforce the message, like a high school teacher who told me my declaration that I would never have kids was the “words of a future mother.” Okay, Teach, I guess you know me better than I know myself.

Then I left home and went to college.

College caused a paradigm shift in my understanding of gender roles and what it means to be a woman. I was introduced to writers such as Dorothy Parker, Mary McCarthy, Virginia Woolf, and, the most influential to me, Lorrie Moore. In fact, it was Lorrie Moore’s short story “Terrific Mother” that started my journey toward discovering the truth behind motherhood: that it’s not for everyone, and that’s okay. Although this is not the main theme of the story, Moore introduced me to the idea that motherhood is in no way an instinct through her character Adrienne, who says in the first paragraph of “Terrific Mother”:

“Holding a baby was no longer natural – she was no longer natural – but a test of womanliness and earthly skills. She was being observed. People looked to see how she would do it. She had entered a puritanical decade, a demographic moment – whatever it was – when the best compliment you could get was, ‘You would make a terrific mother.’ The wolf whistle of the nineties.”

Those were powerful words to me. They affected me. They made clear the real demon of my insecurities: that it was society’s expectation that I want children, understand children, and love children that has caused this uncomfortable feeling within my psyche. My lack of desire to have children or even be around children doesn’t go against the mythical biological clock; it goes against what society has believed to be the norm for hundreds of years. How do you fight that?

At 27 years old, I still haven’t found an answer to that question. The older I get, the more my assertions that I will never have children are met with fervent opposition, usually in the form of condescension and a “you’ll change your mind” attitude. Apparently the whole world knows and understands me better than I know myself, as if they all truly believe that someday my maternal instinct will wrestle my free will to the ground and take over with a Hulk-like baby fever. But contrary to such a ridiculous belief, I am not fighting my maternal-demon. I just don’t like kids.

Mika Doyle is a communications professional based in the Midwest. Read more of her work on her website Her name is Japanese, so it’s pronounced “Meeka.” Follow her on Twitter @MikaDoyle.

Photo credit Leo Reynolds/Flickr

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