Friday, March 25, 2011

Just Say No

Right now I am sitting in my office biting my tongue because a bunch of women are carrying on in Manic Maternal Mode in the hallway outside my office, trying to convince a young "on the fence" co-worker that motherhood is her destiny.

The young woman in question, Cindy, who is 29 years old, has been fairly open with all of us that she's not sure she ever wants to have kids. I've had personal conversations with her about the issue (she knows I am childfree by choice) and my assessment is that she really doesn't want kids, but is afraid to commit to that stance because everyone tells her she will change her mind, she's supposed to want to have kids, eventually the biological clock will start ticking, she may eventually regret it if she doesn't have kids, her Jewish (and very family-oriented) parents would be really disappointed in her, and all the other hundreds of reasons that have to do with outside pressures and very little to do with the desires of the person herself. It makes me wonder what percentage of people walking on this earth were born of parents who actually wanted to have them, versus popped them out because they caved in to societal and family pressure.

Cindy just became an aunt and returned to work today after taking a couple of days off to be with her brother and family. Her brother's wife gave birth 2 days ago and Cindy is just swooning over the new baby. I overheard her tell the Manic Maternals, "there's just something about this baby. When I held her, I swear - I felt my biological clock start ticking". And that was all they needed to hear. Immediately, the other hens began to cluck - "Seee! We told you it would happen. It just happens on its own. You can't help it. You pick up that baby and your heart melts. It's completely natural. Ah, the smell of a baby! I swear, when I pick up a baby and breathe in the smell, it is intoxicating and almost puts me to sleep." I mean, these hens were really laying it on thick - doing everything in their power to recruit Cindy into the Mommy Brigade.

You are probably wondering why old Firecracker Mandy, the Champion of Childfreedom, didn't jump in and set the hens straight? Well, believe me I considered it. But Cindy already knows my stance, as does everyone else in the office. I make no secret about being happily childfree and have spoken very directly with Cindy about dealing with outside pressures. In fact, just a week or two ago I gave her the exact same speech I posted here - that her life is hers to live and nobody else's, that nobody else knows what is best for her or what will make her life the most happy or fulfilling, that it's far better to be true to yourself and live the life you really want to live then to compromise yourself just to conform and be accepted - the whole nine yards. I even forwarded her some articles about how having children negatively impacts peoples' happiness and marriages. I decided that bursting in on the hens like an erupting thunder cloud at the very moment Cindy was expressing her adoration for her new niece would probably be counterproductive so I left them alone.

What I would have liked to have said to Cindy and the hens is that having those feelings of maternal bliss when holding a baby doesn't necessitate becoming a parent or indicate that a woman is destined to be a mommy. I can speak to this first-hand as I too have had those feelings, and still do from time to time, when a family member or friend has a baby. I feel that warm rush of maternal love flood over me when I hold a baby against me. I love to put my nose against his fuzzy head and breathe in the warm sweetness. I love to kiss and cuddle a baby and stroke his rose petal cheeks. It's okay. I can savor that moment and enjoy it for what it is, while still keeping my wits about me and retaining the full comprehension of just what lies beneath the veneer of baby cuteness: a life sentence of unending sacrifice, strain, struggle, worry and responsibility. For the average woman, though, there is something about a cooing baby that completely precludes her from having a rational comprehension of motherhood. She is only capable of living in that present moment of maternal ecstacy, like an addict who has just injected herself, instantly putting every rational thought completely out of mind.

Whether fleeting infant cuteness is a siren song, an addictive drug or something else altogether, it has powers that seem to render most women completely defenseless. It's only the strongest and most discerning among us that can Just. Say. No.


CeCe said...

I had my strongest maternal urges about 7 months ago when my nephew was born. Oh boy was I in turmoil. He was so cute. He still is. Now, the dust has settled. The long haul she has in store for her is kinda crazy to me and while I won't ever get to watch my own child learn and grow I'm kinda glad I don't have to deal with all the other stuff that goes along with it.

Valerie said...

I think your coworker is already gone. It seems like she has been trying to convince herself to have kids for a while, and the baby rabies finally pushed her over the edge.

sara star said...

When I get to hold a baby, I just enjoy the moment for what it is without deciding I have to have one too!

There are lots of things like that. I enjoy friends hot tubs, oh they feel so good and are so warm (but the electric bill is too high for me to afford to maintain one)

Or petting a friends dog, it is quite nice, but I don't feel up to walking one everyday.

The list goes on and on. I don't have to "own" one of everything I like, especially if I can't afford it (energy, time, money, happiness costs).

That is why it is so great that people share! I can play with a baby, dip in a hot tub, and pet a dog without having to have one!

Anonymous said...

Babies are cute and when they're not crying, I prefer them to any other age group of children, but just because I don't mind holding a baby, or loved my niece the first time I held her, doesn't mean I want kids. In fact, having nieces made me not want kids more!

Childfreeeee said...

Sara, you stated my feelings exactly. There are lots and lots of things that I love that I would not take on. Dogs send me over the moon too....I love them (actually I love all animals) but will probably never get one because they would tie us down too much. A person can love or enjoy something without wanting to make it a permanent part of her life.

And yes, sharing is a great thing. I love that my brothers share their kids with me a few hours at a time and then I can send them back :)

Spectra said...

I think a lot of women are drawn to babies. Babies are cute and cuddly and they don't talk back and drink your beer and crash your car. Babies grow up to be toddlers that test your patience--ask my sister, who is currently trying desperately to potty train a 3 1/2 year old who has no desire to use the toilet. Then they grow into teenagers that get into all kinds of trouble and eventually they become adults who may or may not totally take advantage of you. My neighbor's 36 year old son lives with her and eats all her food, doesn't pay for the utilities, doesn't clean or do laundry, leaves the house a mess, and generally is just a bum. She won't kick him out of the house, but I think she should because he's being such a jerk.

It's the same thing with puppies--sure, puppies are cute. But they are a lot of work and they grow into dogs. One just has to scan through the "pets" section on Craigslist to see all the dogs that are to be rehomed because the owners "don't have time" for the dog anymore.

Daghain said...

I'm not holding anyone's baby. People know better than to even ask me. Sorry, just not my thing. If they were born 5 I may have considered having one, but anything younger than that I seriously can't be bothered with.

That said, I always find it interesting that these manic mothers will badger and cajole a woman into having a kid, and the minute she turns up pregnant these same women suddenly pull out the pregnancy horror stories.

Misery loves company, is all I can figure.

Tabatha said...

I feel the same way about animals right now, I am a cat person, i love cats and I love dogs too but I don't want any b/c I can't afford the expense, I'd have to move somewhere that allowed pets and they are more work than I'd want to deal with right now. So I just enjoy my friends pets and may volunteer at an animal shelter of some kind to get my cat fix.

brettc said...

It's a shame that those women are trying (and have probably succeeded) in bringing her over to the dark side. I hope the co-worker fully understands what she's getting herself into. Otherwise she'll be posting on TruuConfessions in no time.

I'm not really a fan of kids because I have no idea what to do with one of them. My wife likes kids and loves her little cousins and other people's kids, but we've decided that there will be none for us for various reasons.

We do have a Puggle and we love him and treat him like our kid because that's what he is to us. We adopted the poor little guy from a shelter. Even though I'd never had a dog before and wasn't pleased when my wife adopted him while I was stuck at work on a Saturday, we've become best buddies in the past 5 years. Dogs can be a bit of maintenance, but it's still a lot less worry and expense than a human baby. And also a much smaller ecological footprint compared to human baby. So dogs FTW in my opinion. :) (or cats if you don't like dogs)

Almost Alright said...

I think it's telling that these "hens" are trying to convince her to have a baby at all.

I have no desire to have a baby, but when someone I know has decided they want one and actually gets pregnant, I don't have any problem feeling happy for them. It's not for me, but I'll buy shower gifts and suggest baby names like the rest of them.

Why isn't that enough for parents? Why do they have to convince other people that having a baby is the "right" thing to do?

I always assume it's because they need validation of their own choices because they aren't sure if they made the right one for themselves.

shell said...

"Mother's Day is Over" is a book I read decades ago - it's motherhood demythologized by a mother of two.
This book is based on interviews with about 200 mothers & I think it should be read by all women
who are romantic about motherhood --to see what it is really like-- and by all mothers who feel guilty
about being terrible mothers.

The author discusses the overwhelming responsibility and the unexpected feelings that accompany the endless job that is mothering.
Women have all been duped by the media and the code of secrecy amongst those have been there. It's a shame this book is out of print,
Amazon may have some used copies - imperative to read if you're a struggling mom who feels alone - and perhaps even more so if you're a woman debating whether you want to bring children into the world.

This book warns that if you choose motherhood, be prepared for the loss of your personhood brought on by 24 hour per day demands of
childrearing.. Don't let anyone pressure you to have a child if you do not really want to. Get your hands on a copy of this book before
you make the decision to reproduce. It will show you the cold hard facts behind the Motherhood Myth.

Alecta said...

I can vouch for this as well. A friend of mine had a baby last year and she's the cutest thing in the world. I've helped them out with her from time to time, and while I enjoy holding her on occasion, I know for sure that I don't want one of my own, especially when I see what they go through for the sake of the kid.

Babies and kids can be cute, even adorable, and I'm not a child hater, but I know that it's like a wild animal: Look, maybe pet, but don't even consider taking it home.

Temujin said...

Maybe you could share with Cindy how you feel about holding a baby, to show that you have that in common. She may be under the impression that you just don't like babies, and she may not have even considered the possibility that someone could like babies and still not have one. She may not know that she can enjoy babies and also be childfree. And, there's that wonderful moment where you give the baby back and go home!

The Hens tend to act like it's an either/or prospect, like it's either love them and have them, or hate them and don't.

Once again happy to be male and dodge a lot of this pressure. I have had other men tell me that I really should have children (they're fathers themselves, of course) but they tend to be guys already considered pretty weird.

Childfreeeee said...

Temujin - I make no secret to my staff how much I adore my nieces and nephews and yes, I had Cindy in my office the other day and was showing her pictures of the little cuties (and fawning over them). I think you are right that there is this idea that if you have chosen not to have a baby, you must hate them.

I just can't believe that someone would decide to have a kid because babies are cute. I mean, come on. The baby is only a baby for a year or two and then it grows into something much less cute.

Little Type Amy said...

I just want to say that I feel just like your coworker. In the past, I had already touched upon this when I wrote to you on facebook and vented how frustrated I feel to be in her shoes. I will be 30 years old in just a few weeks if not less. I also work with a group of women who sound just like the hens you were describing. Now that I am nearly 30,I still feel the presure more every day and its just bothering me that much more. I am just getting more sick of being treated like I am not yet an adult. I cannot have a conversation with any of them without it having to turn into someting kid related and the overexagerrated gushing to each other about whos the better mom in front of me. Im starting to think they are trying to push my buttons. For instance, the topic of doing dishes and other household chores came up. And this woman HAD to point out that she does more dishes than I do because she has three kids.ITs ridiculous. I guess because Im not a mom, that means that I never have to wash a dish or clean house or do laundry or pay bills while living paycheck to paycheckjust like EVERYONE else.its like they cannot fathom that I have responsibilites to uphold too.
But I will not let them pressure me.Whether or not I choose to have kids will be based on what I think is best for me. Please tell me why I should make such a huge,permanant and serious life change just to impress and fit in with a bunch of women who I am not close frieds with.whom I dont even like, and whose lives would not be affected if I reproduce or not. This has nothing to do with them so Im confused as to why they should even care Those who are my true friends accept me for who I am and no matter what I do. I dont have to have a baby and join the Mommy club to win their love and acceptance. That is what I need to keep in mind and also that I need to have the courage to do what I feel in my heart works for my life instead of worrying so much about how much it fits in what others feel it should be.

Sherri.S said...

I had one of those moments at a get-together my sister was having for her daughter. She and some other kids were playing soccer and the ball hit her in the face and her nose started bleeding. As my sister and husband were helping her, I had a moment of wishing that I had someone in my life who needed me like that, and that I was the most important person in their life.
But then later, as the kids were running around, screaming, crying, whining, etc. I remembered why I decided not to have kids.

shell said...

Yes indeed - when people used to tell me how much they love babies, I'd ask them do you also love toddlers and 6 year olds and 10 year olds and TEENAGERS? I remember a friend of mine urging me to have a baby when her first one was about 3 years old. Now he is almost 30 and still living at home. And her 2nd son is almost 25 and also living at home. She and her husband have been through hell with these "boys" and they can't seem to get rid of them!

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I have never had a maternal instinct pop up simply from being around a baby. Yes, I've had an emotional moment whilst holding a newborn belonging to my cousin, but that did not mean I wanted to go create one of my own or adopt. ;) It was a moment, that's it, and it passed, and I then began to feel claustrophobic sitting in the hospital room as I watched my lethargic looking cousin, and contemplated how her life would be for the next 18 years. ;)
I cannot say I'm not "maternal" in my daily life, but in my case, it is in relation to my friends, family members, dogs, and spouse. There's a difference b/w yearning to parent someone, and simply taking care of/worrying about the people/animals already in my life. I just recognize the difference, and realize that I do NOT have the "parenting gene". :) Well, not for parenting humans, that is. ;)

Temujin said...


I know what you mean. There must be lots of ways for a person to enjoy holding babies without having to give birth to them. I'm sure hospitals and day care centers could use all the volunteers they can get. Cindy can put in a few hours holding babies and then go back to a clean, quiet house.

Looks like you've done all you can with Cindy. Maybe the best to hope for is that she remembers she has a choice and she has lots of options.

Dave said...

I suppose being a single man has made me pretty much immmune from the kind of pressure your friend Cindy has had to endure. I also have a small family which respected the personal lifestyle choices we made. Having a younger brother who got married and did not have a kid until nearly 12 years later also deflected any possible pressure although I don't know how much he got from his wife's family.

But the best way to deflect pressure is to simply live well and be happy with your lifestyle choices. For me, being childfree was the main reason I was able to retire at age 45 two years ago. When someone asks me how I was able to pull that off, I answer it simply this way: "No kids, no debts." And I make THEM jealous of ME!

Chris Shadoian Fossett said...

Y'know, I really like ice cream sundaes. The feeling of the cool glass of the sundae cup against my fingers; that smooth, chocolatey, melty smell; and the taste! Not much comes close to topping (sic) an ice cream sundae.

Still, I have no desire to do those things non-stop for the next twenty years.

Heather C said... smell... I describe it as rotten milk deep fried in baby powder.

Unknown said...

I'm a parent, so I'm not, uh, exactly your target audience, but I've been reading through your archives for about an hour, and I just wanted to say a few things, just to be a new POV.

I'm not offended by the childfree moment (and who cares if I am? That would be my own issue to deal with). The only problem I have is when I see comments pertaining to those "having kids suuuuuxxxx" articles, that tend to generalize and declare that we're *all* fooling ourselves, we're *all* miserable. How can it be possible that we're all in denial? It's very hard to find many absolutes in life. It doesn't seem likely that we can *all* be in such denial. Isn't it possible that some of us truly are happy?

I think, however, (and this maybe ties in with some points you've made) that that happiness directly correlates with your expectations of parenthood. I didn't expect sunshine and puppies. I didn't expect it to fulfill me or complete me (I loathe that notion; I am a pretty damn complete person all by myself, thanks). I had kids because I wanted them, not because society or anyone told me to (my parents definitely didn't push that on me, God love 'em) and I sure hope I'm doing my best by them. However, this does not include 10 different activities for each and "playdates" and letting them run around in public because it's just so darn cute.

They're the most important things in my life, and they enrich it, but I know that I would've been okay without them. Which is not the same thing as regretting them, of course. I think it's just knowing who I am.

I still want to have my life. I am still a person, whole and complete on my own. First of all, I'm me, above all else. I define myself as ME before I define myself as a mother, and I think that's important. My Facebook pictures is my face, and my life is my own; their life is not mine. Maybe it's because of these things that I don't feel harried and stressed. I'm not trying to keep up with the Joneses or anyone else. I still maintain my friendships with childless and childfree, because I like talking about things other than my kids. I love them, I'll talk about them, and then let's move on! I still have the same interests, I still have the same personality. I am not my kids.

I say all this not because I'm trying to protest too much. I realize many of you may think I'm the exception, rather than the rule, or some may think I'm deluding myself again, but I just want to speak up for those of us who are pretty much just regular people who chose to have kids, and are happy we did, and know that it's hard, but honestly, do feel that it's worth it.

I hope none of this was over the top or offensive. No one needs my approval or even my opinion. I just felt the need to say this, and now I'll pipe down!

Anonymous said...

Your response was definitely not offensive, just your personal POV. I commend you for maintaining your own life and some semblance of SELF in the midst of child-rearing. I'm not sure I could do that, particularly in a society that puts SO much pressure (on women in particular) on parents to be "perfect" and do it all. I would not derive pleasure from that, but then again, I just don't have that "biological need" or desire to have a child. I enjoy being around them in limited amounts, though I did grow up babysitting constantly. Perhaps this had something to do with my ultimately not desiring one of my own? ;) Who knows!

Anyone could be "offended" by the child-free "movement" (but IS it a movement? for me, it's just my life), just as anyone could be offended by the "parenting movement". I am not offended that my friends have chosen to raise kids, but I do mourn the loss of some of my closest friendships when their lives are suddenly consumed by parenting. I understand it; it's impossible for their lives NOT to be taken up by parenting. However, I also have a great need for child-free friends (wish I had more!), or at the very least, friends with older children (thankfully, I have a couple of those) who don't require as much time/energy.

Dani, I think it's awesome that you are able to maintain your friendships with child-free folks--I honestly think this is a challenge for many parenting people I know. They think they're doing it, but they're actually pretty sidetracked by baby's needs. It's natural--it's their life choice. I get it, but that doesn't mean I don't feel sad. I'm currently dealing with this in one particularly close friendship--our conversations have shifted (at least on her end) from discussing our work and ups and downs of our marriages to her fretting nonstop over breastfeeding and baby's weight gain... I am supportive of her, but do I miss our former, "normal" topics of conversation? Hell, yes.
It's great to have a variety of POVs here, though. It really contributes to an ongoing, intellectual conversation. :)

Almost Alright said...

ARGH - Dani I hate you for being a parent!!!! (haha - just kidding :).

Sorry if some comments are generalizations (I'm talking about mine here), but I think a lot of us are used to hearing generalizations we hear about child-free folks like we'll all eventually change our minds or regret our decisions or people assuming we aren't "grown up" because we don't have kids.

But good on you for reminding us all to be more specific in our
comments and remembering that some parents are chill and don't try to push their choices on others.

Thank you for adding so thoughtfully to the conversation.

Temujin said...

Little Type Amy,

The people pressuring you to conform and have babies are just working through their own issues out loud. They probably don't even see themselves as putting pressure on you. And who knows, maybe they don't even think about you having a baby at all. Some people are just unconsciously evangelical.

I've had similar problems with coworkers, and it bothered me constantly. What made it easier was my realizing that when they talk like that, they aren't really talking to me after all. I try not to take it personally anymore, hard as that is sometimes.

Besides, if there's a competition to see who has the worst life, I'll let other people win that every time!

Unknown said...

Oops, I wrote my previous comment late at night; I meant that I hope I didn't sound 'defensive' not 'offensive'. (Not that I wished to be offensive, of course.)

TLO and Almost Alright: Thanks for your kind words. I was hoping I wasn't just encroaching where I wasn't wanted, so it was nice to get such positive responses. This blog and the comments here have really made me think, and I like that.

PS. Childfree "movement" was probably the wrong word, huh? I guess all those articles I'd been reading stuck in my head. "Life" or "lifestyle" makes much more sense!