Why I Stopped Telling People I Don’t Want Children

Portrait of a young black woman covering face

Fearful of scaring off new friendships, I quit telling the truth.

It was about 11pm. I was on my way home and needed to run in the grocery store for some creamer. The store was mostly empty of customers except for myself and another woman who stood staring into the dairy case. All the while, two kamikaze pilots, also known as toddlers, ran in circles around her aimless, energetic, wild. They knocked products from the shelves, shouted triumphantly, and grabbed food from the cart and stomped it into the floor. The woman listlessly told them stop. But Madness and Mayhem continued in their plot to destroy the store. I was caught off guard when one of the pilots charged up and punched me square in the vagina. I yelped at them to stop. The punch sort of hurt but luckily drinking tons of creamer in my coffee has padded my pelvic bone pretty well. The woman sneered at me as she rounded them up. It’s OK. I’m used to it; the sneering, not the punching.

I stopped telling people I don’t want children a long time ago. I would only say I don’t have any. And that was only if they asked. Otherwise, I didn’t offer. Growing up in Dallas and openly admitting to not wanting children is as blasphemous as setting a church on fire. In my late 20s and early 30s, many of my friends and work colleagues began getting pregnant. “When you are going to have a child?” they’d ask. I’d laugh and say, “Never.” At first, their faces looked struck with fear, but they quickly laughed it off. I couldn’t possibly be telling the truth. I joke a lot. Surely, I was just kidding. They’d calm a bit and then pity seemed to wash over them. They’d reach out, caress my arm, “Don’t worry. You’ve still got time,” they’d say. Or, “You can always adopt. Or artificially inseminate!” They were so hopeful.

“No, it’s OK,” I’d tell them. “I don’t want any.”

For some reason, not wanting children translated into “I hate kids,” which could not be further from the truth. I found myself immediately uninvited to backyard barbecues and weekend get togethers at the homes of married friends with offspring. “We figured you wouldn’t want to come. I mean, there’ll be children there and you probably don’t want to be around them.”

If someone’s child visited the office, my desk was given a wide berth; an introduction avoided. Stay away from the big bad child hater, I could practically hear them thinking. I wondered if one day I would be the old woman in the house that people ran past, afraid she would eat them.

I stood by as more and more of my friends had children. Visits became fewer and more awkward. I reached out on occasion, wanting to grab a meal sometime. I even offered to drive out to their suburb so we could eat close by their house in the event they have to dash home on an emergency. Tired of being turned down, I stopped calling.

Fearful of scaring off new friendships, I quit telling the truth. If the topic of having children ever came up, I either said I simply don’t have any or the opportunity had not presented itself or I was really focusing on my career. Despite its draw for urban singles downtown, Dallas remains relatively conservative and family-oriented. There’s nothing to do there but eat, shop, and procreate. Then, after you have babies, you feed and shop for them. Having eaten and shopped my way to boredom, it became apparent that I was an outcast in my own hometown.

Why wasn’t it OK for me to be me?

I found myself making friends with older people. Their kids were grown or were self-sufficient teenagers and they were on the lookout for adult friends for the first time in 15 years. These friends would spend a brief amount of time lamenting over the torture of raising children. Then they’d go on and on about how I had done everything right. It was good I hadn’t had children. I didn’t know the hell I had missed. Sure I do, I’d think quietly to myself. I don’t have to be a politician to know that I don’t want to be President of the United States.

But there were times when I wondered if something was wrong with me.

As a child, I never played with dolls. If I was given a baby doll or some type of rag doll, she became my confidant, my ally. We told secrets and made plans. I would put on concerts for her and she loved it. I wrote stories and read them to her. She loved those, too.

In girl scouts, my friends would stitch names for their future babies like “Chad” and “Brittany” into handkerchiefs to earn their embroidery badges. Meanwhile, I was day dreaming of writing my first novel. My friends would turn and ask me what names I liked and I’d give them the names of characters from my stories, like the femme fatale “Ms. Diamond” and the private investigator “Jack.”

“You’re weird,” was always the response.

Is it really that weird to not want children?

No, it isn’t. What’s weird is the assumption that all women want children and that all women who don’t want children, hate children.

It becomes sad when women feel they should have children and have them for any reason other than wanting them. For example, becoming pregnant because their husband wants children, which happens far more often than we’re willing to admit.

Take for instance one afternoon when I was visiting a friend I hadn’t seen in a number of years. She’s an Ivy League grad and noted overachiever who had never put motherhood on her agenda. It became overly obvious that afternoon that it was her husband who had wanted to have kids, her husband who worked 90+ hours a week. “We had an agreement when we married that if we didn’t have kids before I was 35, we would have them. And…well…I turned 35,” she said with the enthusiasm of pavement.

As she sat in the middle of the laundry room floor amidst heaps of dirty clothes, she went on, “I hate kids. I absolutely hate them. You have no idea how good you’ve got it.”

As a person who doesn’t want children, I can assure you that I do know how good I’ve got it. I was leaning in the doorway empathizing with her pain. I leaned down to help with the laundry sorting, but she refused my assistance.

“That must be nice for you to be a woman of leisure,” she hissed, as she rose to her feet. Trying to lighten the mood, I said, “If working for a dollar ninety-eight an hour can be considered leisure.”

“I think you should go now. Just go.”

She never once asked me why I don’t want children. I can’t correct the fact that she hates her life. And my presence was merely shining a light on it.

We’ve never spoken again.

*****

I once had a maternal nature, but it was short-lived.

I spent my childhood taking care of my two younger siblings and my mentally unstable mother. I felt cheated of a childhood. My growing resentfulness brought about a vicious temper and I terrorized my siblings when they wouldn’t do as I said. I sometimes saw this in visions of being a parent.

In college and my 20s, I found boyfriends who needed a lot of care. I made sure they were fed, healthy, and comfortable.

Then, one day, deep into a relationship with a man who needed more care than infant twins on a transatlantic flight, I slipped and herniated a disk in my back during a weekend trip together to San Francisco. On the flight back to Texas, he was hostile and angry that I was in such pain. I stared at the carefully cornered plots of land across the Southwest and wondered: Who’s taking care of me? No one. I wasn’t even taking care of me. It dawned on me right then, too, that I was really damn tired of taking care of everyone else.

Knowing that informed me that I’m not weird for choosing to remain a non-parent. I’m smart in that decision. Smart enough to know that I don’t have the fuel to be a mother. Smart enough to acknowledge that I don’t want to be a mother. Kind enough to myself to know that that is entirely OK.

Lisa McFadden is a screenwriter and storyteller living in Los Angeles where she has performed in a variety of storytelling shows including Piñata, I Love a Good Story, Bada Bing Bada Boom and Tattle Tales. Her new blog EvenCrispier.me debuts this November. Be sure to follow her on Facebook at Lisa McFadden and on Twitter @CrispyPhoenix.

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