Not too long ago I met a 30-year-old man at a networking event. He asked me (age 25) if I wanted children and I said no—a position I’ve developed since moving to NYC a few years ago. His response? “Oh you’re just going through your selfish phase. It will pass.”
His reply reminded me of the way that women tell men that they’re just scared of commitment when they say that they don’t want to get married. Because my anti-motherhood stance is relatively new and more fluid and dependent on current circumstances than etched in stone, I let the comment slide. But since I’ve come to find that this too is the reaction of my family to this choice, I can’t help but question, what is selfish about saying no to motherhood?
Being a mother is often considered the most selfless and thankless job in the world, and it may very well be, but that shouldn’t take anything away from women who don’t dream of baby carriages, first words, and school plays.
In some ways, motherhood has begun to look less appealing to women of generation Y, burdened by hard economic times, supposed limited options for marriage, and a desire for a booming career. On the surface, these issues may seem selfish, but I think the logic behind this thinking speaks to the exact opposite.
People like to say that children don’t need much, that all they need is love, support, etcetera, etcetera. That may be true fundamentally, but they also deserve the opportunity to attend the best schools possible, and to see the world outside of the two-block radius of their home, and to not have to balance school and work at a young age in order to help support the household. If I know that I don’t have the financial means to provide all of the things that I would want my child to have, then it is in no way selfish to say that motherhood is not for me.
Without striking a nerve with women who don’t feel that they need a man to have a child, I subscribe to the two-parent household school of thinking and if I don’t have any fatherly prospects, then I don’t think that I have any business having a child. Yes, single mothers have proven a million times over that a child can be raised well without a father, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she should be or that that is the ideal family situation. If the sound of rattles and nursery rhymes was playing so loudly in my mind that it kept me up at night, I could see the temptation to take matters into my own hands, but isn’t it a bit more selfish to think about what I want more than what my unborn child will need?
And of course there are countless examples of women who balance successful careers and motherhood in ways that seem unimaginable, but for women who already know that their career is always going to be number one in their life—there’s nothing selfish about saying that they don’t want children. They just hear the sound of corner offices and executive titles calling them more loudly than the cry of a newborn.
When I say that I don’t want children now and perhaps never, I’m not saying that I’m so important and cold that I could never nurture another human being. I’m saying that given my personal, mental, emotional, and financial status, it would be unfair to my offspring to bring them into the world. Isn’t the recognition that you’re unable to provide these things, and thus will not procreate, less selfish than the woman who’s always dreamed of having children, and despite the fact that she isn’t ready, decides to have them anyway?
Even without pitting these two types of women against each other, can we just accept that some women want to be mothers and some don’t? Motherhood isn’t the only way to demonstrate selflessness or to give of ones self, and women who choose to contribute to society in a different way should not be looked at as if they have three heads because they don’t want children.
I imagine that this generational shift will likely straighten itself out as time goes on, but until we get to that point, let’s stop using the s-word to describe such women.