Honestly, I just don’t want to make the sacrifices required.
Making the decision to not have children is a controversial choice for many people. Family and friends tell stories of indescribable love and fulfillment that come with parenthood—convinced that anyone who voluntarily foregoes the experience is making a huge mistake.
What bothers me most about these narratives is that they ignore what’s best for potential children. Who wants an unwilling mother or father? I respect people who have a strong enough sense of self to resist social pressure and remain child-free by choice. Better for all concerned.
Why do we assume everyone will love parenting if they only try it? If I walked into a dog shelter and acknowledged that I don’t really want a dog but am instead succumbing to the pressure of my dog loving friends, I would walk out with a denied application and a lecture on the commitment level necessary to care for a dog throughout his life span. But when it comes to having children, we urge people to take the leap in spite of their misgivings.
I myself am a parent of a 7-year-old boy. My view of parenting is mostly in the superlative. Time with my son Bobby is my favorite part of each day. I like how parenthood has changed me—I am a much more empathetic and balanced person than I was before he was born. I am of course a flawed parent, but so far I like the boy I am raising.
That said, I feel for people fighting off the stigma of a child-free life. I identify because for as much as I wanted my son Bobby, I don’t want a second child. And I don’t want that child because, honestly, I just don’t want to make the sacrifices required.
One child wasn’t the original plan. My partner gave birth to Bobby and the plan was that I would bear the second child. But when it came time to consider this option I was taking lithium and prozac to manage depression and anxiety. Going off the meds was likely to create major issues. Getting pregnant while on lithium was not a risk I would take.
We considered adoption. Bobby has Down syndrome and various medical issues. My first inclination was to adopt a child with special needs. I know so much about navigating the medical system and other services that it seemed a natural fit. But then it occurred to me that every night I spent at the hospital with a new child was a night I spent away from Bobby. I was not willing to split my time that way.
Finally, we considered adopting a child without a disability, but the reality is I have no desire to parent a child without an intellectual/developmental disability. I am not someone who blends into social groups very well. I am better suited to help my son walk a unique path than I am to teach a child to conform. He is my match.
The only reason I can see for having a typical child is that he or she could take care of Bobby some day if necessary. And no child needs to join a family for such a selfish reason.
As a family of three, we have the time to give Bobby tons of attention. We have the finances to take him to amusement parks and theaters and museums. He is a fortunate boy in that regard.
I like being able to do these things for him. While his disability is limiting in some way, he benefits from the only-child status that allows us to expose him to so much of life.
But most of all, I like the wholeness that I feel when my partner, Bobby, and I are together. Our family feels complete. I am convinced that adding another child would only detract from the things I love about our life together. And no child should join a family under those circumstances. Why would anyone want to force it?
Anne Penniston Grunsted writes about parenting, disability, and family life from her perspective as a lesbian mama. She has been published in The Washington Post, Brain, Child Magazine, Mamamia, and won the 2014 Nonfiction prize from Beecher’s Magazine. She lives in Chicago with her partner and son.