Nothing more nerve grating than listening to a co-worker talk about what all their kids got up to in school first thing in the morning especially if it’s before you’ve finished your coffee. I usually try to smile and make appropriate cooing sounds (like an awww…but I can’t seem to yet master the art of awwwing yet) before zoning out. Though last Thursday I horned in on a conversation happening in the pod around the Child Care Rebate in NSW for families and how expensive it is to raise a family. “So hold up so ya all get money from the government to put your children in daycare??” 5 pairs of unsympathetic eyes stared at me for 30 seconds then they all turned back to their conversation leaving me well…just there.
My choice not to have children seems somewhat selfish to some of my older co-workers however according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics one in every four households now is child-free. Brisbane author Tanya Williams writes that it’s important to distinguish between “childless by circumstance” and “child-free by choice”. The perception that womanhood and motherhood are one and the same has faded into oblivion, says Williams. Women no longer need to have a child to feel complete or fulfilled.
I think of Suruj’s story when she couldn’t conceive a child in the first 4 years of her marriage. She sometimes when she’s had more than 2 glasses of vino talks about how the extended family and society made her feel then. As if she was an incomplete woman. Having me as her first-born child should have been enough but then I wasn’t a son. It took her another 3 kids and 10 years to complete her womanhood. My mother still till this day is made to feel that she isn’t complete. Because she hasn’t married me off yet!
Surveys show people who forgo parenthood have some form of ongoing connection with children anyway, perhaps as teachers, childcare workers or via close relationships with their nieces, nephews or kids of their friends. Callaghan writes among those who work with children, some opt not to have kids of their own because their paternal or maternal needs are already being met. Being the eldest sibling to 3 scarecrow of a human beings – I often feel my maternal needs are somewhat fulfilled. And for anything not – the midnight horror tales of my friends is enough to put me off. (Saying that it’s not completely off the table – I mean the most gorgeous man in the world might fall in love with me and want to make babies…and so for sure we can put that in the prenup paperwork!)
But even then I’ll have to very carefully think why I would want to bring a child in this world. Last week’s SBS Insight episode, Family Estrangement hit too close to home for me. Few years ago, I wrote an article Dear Desi Parents, Your Children Are Not Your Property which widely resonated with south-asian adult children. Many of us in my generation especially south-asians were raised on this notion of ‘sacrifice’. Our parents making it explicitly clear on the things they’ve had to give up in their lives to raise us hence forever creating this guilt complex of ‘owing’ your parents.
Having children is expensive in 2019 and a decision to have a child is a 18-20 year commitment financially. Government rebates may help but the question you to need to be asking yourself is can I sustain my family without making ‘sacrifices’ for me. Sacrificing things like taking up that overseas job, doing a master’s degree to have children so that you ‘don’t miss the fertile boat’ or because ‘the right time is passing you by’ isn’t going to make you happy in the long run. You might fall short on your mother-in-laws expectations or be outed by your friends for not joining their inner suburbs lifestyle but years down the line your child won’t be burdened with the pressure that “I did this for you.”
Williams writes, having children so they can look after you in later life is not the right reason to have them. Many children move away or don’t have a good relationship with their parents anyway.
Something Sadhguru of the Isha Foundation said that’s always stuck with me that,
“First of all, you need to understand, your children are not yours. You don’t own the life. It’s a privilege they came through you. You enjoyed all that. You laughed with them, you cried with them, you played with them. You enjoyed all that. But they don’t belong to you. They only come through you. Just enjoy the privilege that they are with you now, and that’s about it. You don’t try to raise them.”
It may look selfish to not want children because you’re not ready to give up things for yourself but in 2019 unless you’d like to reproduce human beings simply to love, teach good values and pass on for the continuation of humankind on this planet – don’t have them.