The other day it happened again.
I was talking to a friend about the eternal issue of having kids/not having kids, when the friend said something like,
“I guess I just care too much about art and changing society for the better. Who has time for that when they have a child?”
“I mean, I guess you do, Natalia. Well, sort of, right? I assume you’d be able to do so much more with your life if you weren’t a mother.”
“I mean, there’s no harm in admitting it. Right? You don’t have to admit it publicly. You can admit it to me. Yes?”
Now, one of my favorite lines in the history of cinema is actually from “Young Sherlock Holmes” (I know, I know). It goes like this: “Never assume anything.”
Some of the more annoying assumptions made about people who don’t want kids are as follows:
– They’re selfish
– They’ll change their minds eventually (Some do. You know, it’s part of human nature to occasionally change your mind. So fucking what?)
– They’ll regret not having children (Once again – regret is a normal part of human experience. Regret also comes and goes. For people with children and people without children. To problematize regret is to problematize human nature. That’s besides the fact that other people’s regrets, or lack thereof, are none of your damn business)
– There is something fundamentally wrong with them (This is particularly applied to women. No maternal instinct?! Why, she’s a succubus)
Why do people keep repeating these idiotic statements? Most of the time, they merely seek validation for their own choices. By labeling someone else’s decision as aberrant, they reinforce their own decisions as correct.
Validation-seeking can work both ways. Even among friends. Especially among friends. The people we share the personal details of our lives with are more capable of hurting us. Proximity equals vulnerability.
It’s an issue that’s bigger than having children vs. not having children.
I have one son. I’d like another baby. Ideally, I’d have three kids. But everything from health issues to financial issues to issues of borders/citizenship/residence makes bringing another human being into this world hard (and makes adoption – something I’ve always wanted to do – even harder).
Does this stop some friends with more than one child from putting me down? Hahaha, absolutely not. I’ve been told that I am “selfish” for having so far failed to produce a sibling for Lev, my son. I’ve been told that there is something “wrong” with me. Sound familiar? Yep, it’s the same kind of policing that people who choose to not have kids frequently encounter.
Insecure people who wish to validate themselves by putting you down will find ANY means possible. The best you can do is ignore the idiots. Really, that’s it.
But I have to admit, it is particularly hard for me when writers/artists/good friends reach out to me merely in order to validate their own decisions about reproducing or not reproducing.
For some reason, I’m expected to sit there and politely nod along as they explain to me how much better a writer I would be if I had decided against motherhood. “Of yeah. You guys are totally right. I’d already have a bunch of Pulitzers by now. Poor, stupid me. I am so lame and uncool next to you guys. You’re out there living your dreams, while I’m suffering from permanent neural damage having had that breast milk go straight to my brain. Oops.”
Obviously, it is silly to suggest that children aren’t time-consuming/difficult/expensive/etc. They ARE.
For example, I am pretty much incapable of making plans spontaneously. If you randomly text me at 11 p.m. and say, “Let’s go get drunk,” I am likely to tell you that I’m already in my pajamas, Lev has been put to bed, the bottle of wine has been uncorked, and I am NOT getting off the couch (unless Lev is currently in a different city, in which case….Hm, I’ll probably still be in my pajamas. But maybe I’ll invite you over for drunken Skyrim-ing, or something. If I like you. I don’t drunk-Skyrim with just anyone).
Seriously, any kind of a relationship with a helpless or nearly helpless dependant involves sacrifice – this doesn’t just go for children (think about people with elderly parents, or sick siblings). And there is a huge amount of emotional vulnerability involved in being someone’s parent or guardian or attentive caretaker.
Having said all that, telling a woman something like, “You could be such a terrific writer if you didn’t have a kid on your arm” is sexist fucking bullshit. I am tired of tolerating it. The next person who tries to pull that shit with me is going to be beaten to death a copy of Anna Akhmatova’s collected poems.
Need I even point out that my husband, who works in film and theater, never gets that treatment?
Of course, the reality of biological motherhood does place more strain on the woman. In the old days, with medicine being what it was, it was that much harder to combine art and motherhood. It was also that much harder to combine physical labor and motherhood, but when we consider history, we barely notice working class women who had babies AND worked their asses off, not to mention, say, slave women who were expected to work themselves to death while also producing the next generation of slaves. The fact is, civilization wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for all of the underpaid (or simply unpaid), unsung women who have toiled and made babies, and were hardly allowed to complain, let alone share their reflections on the matter. The privileged hardly noticed them back then, and they don’t really notice them that much now.
Women are not diminished by motherhood. Women are not diminished by forgoing motherhood. Women ARE diminished by inequality and misogyny, and by living in a world that is primarily tailored to the needs of men. I’m not one of those people who blames all men everywhere for this – just look at the expectations men themselves have to put up with, such as having to kill each other when their governments decide to go apeshit on each other – but I’m just saying, there is a reason why motherhood is still not fully accommodated by most modern societies (empty praise doesn’t count).
On a personal note, I find the statement “I assume you’d be able to do so much more with your life if you weren’t a mother” insulting, because it was motherhood that both toughened me up and made me want to do more with my life. Just to give you one obvious example: “Louisiana,” my best play to date (it was bought by the Moscow Chekhov Art Theater, though the production ran into problems), would not have been possible had I not once been a hysterical pregnant woman, reading about the sinking of the cruise ship Bulgaria on the news – all of those drowned children! – and feeling both a sense of outrage and a need to process that outrage, to see it in a larger context.
“Mommy hormones. They make you so dumb!” Yeah, whatever, fuck off. I wrote most of that play – my scariest play ever – with a sleeping Lev strapped to my chest in a sling. Some of the best work I’ve done in general was done because the birth of my son ultimately made me feel more and think deeper. It made me more aware of the fragility, brevity, and sanctity of both life and love.
This isn’t the way it always works out. I’ve no idea what it will be like if/when I have a second child. In fact, I’m not even going to say something like, “Of course, if I didn’t become a mother, I wouldn’t have achieved anything like that.” That’s also presumptuous bullshit.
We don’t ever really know how a different choice would have played out. We don’t have that power. We do have the power to self-examine. And to accept ourselves if we so choose.
Like every other human being on the planet, I am lots of things. I have many roles. I don’t like being pigeonholed or being forced to validate anyone’s choices. No woman should be in that position. No *person* should be in that position, period.
My own philosophy on the subject of reproduction is Don’t Be An Asshole (TM).
Want kids? Great. Don’t want kids? Great. Not sure what you want? Great. Don’t have any regrets? Awesome. Have regrets? Well, shit. Pull up a chair and let’s talk about it. Can’t have kids and are fucking tired of people’s intrusive questions on the matter? I support you in telling those people to fuck right off. Etc.
See? Not Being An Asshole (TM) is easy. If you try.
P.S. People who are going to show up here and scream at me to shut up about these issues, because the REAL ISSUE is how nobody should reproduce anymore due to overpopulation/strain on resources – let me just say this right away: If you’re from a richer nation, you’re already putting more strain on the environment than, say, a bunch of kids from Bangladesh. Irresponsible consumption and inequality are THE problems to tackle when we consider what we’re doing to the planet. Right alongside reproductive health and family planning (most women who have a lot of babies opt to have less when society *allows* them to – if millions of women were not under tremendous pressure to produce many babies, this would be a major victory for everyone). I also have little patience for the “we should all voluntarily die out” crowd. I think our species should follow the vector of evolution – i.e. *solve* its problems, as opposed to eliminate them by eliminating ourselves. For a species with our intellectual capacity, it seems like a cop-out. And that’s beside all of my thoughts on the meaning of life/humanity’s purpose(s).
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