honoring the choices of non-parents

non-parents With Mother’s Day and Father’s Day just behind us, the greeting card industry can enjoy a nice lull until Halloween (sidebar, do people actually buy Halloween cards? Who am I kidding, they probably buy 4th of July and first day of school cards, too). Don’t get me wrong — I’ll welcome any opportunity to celebrate and honor my amazing parents and the other awesome parents I know. But you know what very rarely gets honored? The decision to not have kids. 

If you’re over 25 and unmarried, you likely get peppered with questions about when you and your partner are planning to tie the knot, or if you'd like to meet your aunt’s co-worker who is totally adorable and single. And similarly, if you’re married and don’t have kids, the question is rarely “if,” but rather, “when” you’re planning to start. I consider myself very lucky in that both my family and my husband’s family genuinely respect whatever we decide — which is important, considering we have no idea at this point if we’ll want to have kids someday. All we know is that we're very glad we do not have them right now!

Unfortunately, this attitude feels uncommon, even in our culture where more couples are deciding not to have kids and the “traditional family unit” is becoming less and less prevalent. Which, might I add, does not mean that family is less important… it just means that it doesn’t look like a Normal Rockwell painting! (PS, Norman Rockwell was a badass.) Many couples who decide not to have kids have a much more difficult time than Chris and me. I’ve heard the horror stories and the passive-aggressive remarks; whether it’s from family of origin or a complete stranger, people seem to think they have a right to weigh in on the most important decision you’ll ever make in your life, with little to no regard to tact or respect.

So, to have a little fun with this, I’m picking out (and picking apart) a few of the most common questions or assumptions about non-parents.

“But you’d make such great parents!”

Now, I get that this is meant as a compliment, but… do you think the couple in question hasn’t considered this? It’s usually the people who give little to no consideration to the question, “Should I really be a parent?” that are in the worst position to do so. As I’ve heard some other non-parents answer this question, I know I could be a great parent — the real question is, do I want to be? Because if I don’t, then I’m going to sell both myself and that child short.

“If you don’t have kids, you’ll end up regretting it later.” 

Okay, and maybe I’ll regret not having pursued my dreams of becoming the next Drew Barrymore or living overseas or swimming in a pool of chocolate, but it’s still my choice! I’d rather regret not having a kid than regret having one. (Interesting, since in most scenarios, I’d say you’ll regret more what you don’t do than what you do… but in the case of a kid, the stakes and permanence make things a little different.) And at the time when many couples hear this, they’re certainly not too old to adopt — so if they wake up one day at 35 or 40 or 45 and decide they want to have a kid, it’s not too late to give a child in need a loving home.

“But being a parent is the most fulfilling thing you could ever do in life!"

Key word: YOU. If that’s how you feel, cool. But life is pretty sweet, and there are a lot of other amazing experiences to have and thousands of ways to leave the world a better place than you found it. Passion, purpose, and fulfillment are not exclusive to parenthood.

“But who will take care of you when you’re old?” 

Valid point. Crap... Ok just kidding, mostly. Really, I know people who say (half-jokingly, I assume) that this is one of the main reasons they’re having kids. This is a legitimate concern to have and speaks to a major value of family. It’s also why, for people who choose not to have kids, creating a strong family of choice is critical. I recently discussed this with a woman who is a pillar in our church community and has a grown child with special needs. She said there is no way that his life would have been as rich as it is without the church community, and she knows elders in the church who don’t have children (or whose children live far away) and rely heavily on the community for support. As she said, “the ones who graciously ask for or allow help seem so much happier than the ones who resist or refuse it.”

There are memes and jokes out there along the lines of “Happy not-a-father’s day!” And while intended as a joke, I think it is important to honor those who are making an intentional decision not to have kids. Not because of misanthropy, population control (which doesn't require that everyone stop having ANY kids), or some holier-than-thou reason — but because it is the right choice to make for anyone who does not fully desire to have the responsibility of raising a child. There’s plenty of room out there for a cool aunts and uncles (like my aunt Rebecca and uncle Nelson!) and, frankly, for people who don’t want much to do with kids at all. Thankfully, there are also more than enough people out there who want to be great parents. For the sake of our collective future and each precious child, though, let’s create the kind of culture where people who do not 100% want to be parents don't feel judged for their choice, or pressured into having a kid they don’t genuinely want. On that note, use birth control, dammit.

I wished my Mom a happy mother’s day, my Dad a happy father’s day, and now I’m telling all you folks out there who don’t have kids, don’t want to have kids, or aren’t sure — happy “it’s your own damn decision and I respect you for it” day. Shoutout to my brother Dean and sis-in-law Kaston!

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Valerie Martin

Valerie Martin, LMSW, is a Primary Therapist at The Ranch residential treatment center, where she works with eating disorders, addiction, trauma, and co-occurring mental health issues. Valerie focuses on a holistic treatment approach of mind + body integration, using Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT), somatic and bioenergetic therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), psychodrama, 12-step, and shame resilience. She is also a Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist (CSAT) Candidate. Valerie received her Bachelor of Science degree in Communications and Master of Science degree in Clinical Social Work at the University of Texas in Austin. She is an active member of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashville, and emphasizes spiritual exploration in her work with clients.