RANT: Kids? Don’t Have ‘Em, Don’t Want ‘Em

I made a pretty quick reference to abortion in my last posting, simply stating that an inadvertent pregnancy on my part would, with absolute certainty, end in an abortion.

I have fairly strong views on abortion, and it’s one of my particular irks with America today. Sitting across the great divide, as a Canadian, it’s baffling seeing the land that’s so hell-bent on separation of Church and State on its quest to be its own Holy Land.

I swear, I think that if Bush accomplishes nothing in his time in office other than the radical reversal of Roe v. Wade, and brings about the elimination of abortion as birth control in America today, he will believe he has done his job as a leader. (Never mind that small matter of Iraq, the erosion of personal freedoms, information leaks, etc.)

But this is not the time for my soapbox.

Okay, well, yeah, all right: Any time is soapbox time.

But here, now, I want to talk about this myth of 2.4 kids, a dog, and a picket fence.

I’ve written in the past about the cultural objectifying of relationships – that if you’re single, you’re incomplete. Insert cheesy Jerry Maguire scene here: “You complete me.” [/swoon] Barf.

Not in a relationship? What’s wrong with you? You say you don’t want kids? Oh, give it time! You’ll meet the right person! You’re just being cynical. Everyone wants kids. You don’t know what you’d be missing!

Um, like, YEAH.

I’d be missing spending the rest of my life worrying about what’s gonna happen to my kids if anything happens to me. I’d be missing the complications of trying to find time alone with my lover. I’d be missing the ability to take time out for myself any time I need it. I’d be missing years of diapers, debt, spilled drinks, debt, crumbs in the sofa, debt, heavily soiled clothing, debt, kids crying about playground bullies, yada, yada, yada. Did I mention debt?

I’d also be missing the shaping of a young mind. I’d be missing the direct imprint of my values on another human being. I’d be missing the journey from embryo to adulthood, with all its zany stops in between. I’d be missing the endless surprises and laughter brought about by having kids around the house. I’d be missing the pride I’d feel as I watch my progeny take the world by storm, one small accomplishment at a time.

Don’t you think I know what kids add or detract from a life? That’s the thing that pisses me off. The smug, patronizing, “Oh, give it time, you just haven’t met the right man” bullshit I hear every time I have to explain, “Um, no, I don’t want children.” As if being a woman and shunning my birthright to bear kids is antithetical to nature itself. “Um, NO, I do NOT want children,” I have to say yet again, slowly, as if speaking to a brain-damaged psych ward lifer.

Fuck that, people. I don’t want kids because I’ve already spent too many years of my life patching up other people’s arguments and caring for a sick mother and forgetting who I was in between it all. I don’t want kids because I want to experience my life to the fullest, on my terms. I don’t want kids because, deep down inside, I know I’ll one day resent all the compromises I will have had to make in order to raise them well. I don’t want kids because kids deserve something better than some parent who’s only half-wanting to be there.

I don’t want kids because I have carefully considered all the ramifications, and I simply know I’m not willing to do what needs to be done to raise them well. And kids deserve better than being shipped off to boarding school by some prima donna parent who’s tired of the compromises.

When I was a teen, I was babysitting a fair bit. I had a great attitude, was fun to be around – because I love kids and think they’re an absolute hoot. They crack me up. And I always, always crack them up. I remember two women who made me really, really think about the whole parenting thing.

One had taken extreme measures to make her home a learning castle for her kid. She did everything for her kid, so much so that I wondered how in the hell she ever found time for herself. My guess is, she didn’t. The kid was doted on, and it showed – he was bright, funny, happy, wonderful. He really was a terrific kid, and I knew his mother and father were huge – HUGE – players in that reality. I realized how much then a woman had to forsake (and in theory, the man, too) in order to properly raise a child. I realized then how much my mother put into raising my brother and I. It was daunting, to say the least.

The other woman took the “Well, it’s my life too” method of parenting to a whole new level. I was hired as a babysitter who would come over three to four nights a week at 8:30. I would put the kid to bed, and the mother’s partying would begin. The mother had a one-way radio in case something happened to the kid, but she was in a separate wing of the house, and for all I knew, would never look in on the kid. I’d return at 7am, get the kid ready, and take him to school. I would be paid for 12 hours of work, despite doing only about five – and I was only 17 at the time, and still going to school. This woman was doing blow, drinking like a fish, and sleeping with other men, despite being married. I didn’t need x-ray goggles to figure that much out. I saw what was in the kid’s future – anger, resentment, aloneness, despair, and a lack of self-esteem. Oh, and boarding school. Mom might have been around, but she made it pretty fucking clear where her priorities were.

Having kids is not to be taken lightly. Children deserve love, attention, nurturing, fun, and every kind of support imaginable. I’m a fan of parents who invest in their kids – who are so proud of their kids’ works of art that they frame them. I admire parents who expose their kids to new worlds, who don’t let their tykes crash in front of the TV and remain. I can’t get over, and never cease the admiration of, parents who are actively involved in all areas of their children’s lives, who establish trust and openness at a young age, and who stay plugged in as long as possible, who put their kids where they deserve to be put: First.

But I’m not willing to make the sacrifices in my own life to be that kind of parent, and I’m not going to do a half-assed job, either. The last thing any kid ever needs to know is that you’d rather be lying in a hammock in Bali, working on your novel. No kid needs to know you wish you’d made different choices in the past, and I know that’s how I’d feel, regardless of the highs.

So how in the fuck does my knowing where to draw the line in my sand make me some sort of crass, unplugged woman who doesn’t get what she should be? Society judges chicks like me, still, and I’m tired of it.

Hell, I was watching Oprah the other day and Kirstie Alley was on, talking about dating, and she insists that any man she sees be previously married and even have kids. “If you’re over 40 and you’ve never been married, you’re a perv!” she shouted. Oprah just laughed – but I wonder what went through her mind. She’s over 50, has never been married, and has never had kids. Why? Because she feels she has a different role to play in life, so why limit her potential by being a mother?

And before you get up my ass about the “limited potential” as a mother comment, think about it. If your first priority is NOT raising your child, you’re probably not doing it as well as you could, or should, be doing it. Those are the sacrifices you’ve elected to make. So make them.

Me, I’ll have no kids. I watch my nephew and my friends’ kids with great love and respect. I try to play an important role in their upbringing, as I know I’ll never play that role for kids of my own. I have “kids” out in the world now, going to university, who I taught how to write when they were only 8 or 10 years old, and they still remember all the things I taught them, and they smile at me, and tell me stories about the way I made them fall in love with writing. I cherish the knowledge I’ve been that for those kids, and that I still am that for others, since I’m still having the same powerful experiences I used to have… yet I go home at night, alone, and have a long, lingering bath, a meal I’ve cooked and can enjoy in silence, and I watch what I want to watch on television, and I go to sleep and wake up whenever the hell I want.

Life is about balance. And I have achieved mine, moreso of late with the acquisition of a great relationship, and I have no regrets about my definition of “balance”, and no intention to change it.

If kids are on your list of must-haves, along with item H on page 62 of the latest Restoration Hardware catalog, you better fucking check your motivations and know, with certainty, that you’re able to make the required sacrifices to give that child all the attention and love it deserves. Otherwise, kindly outsiders like me are the ones who’ll be picking up your fucking slack, and really – I’ve got better things to do.