An ex-boyfriend’s father once said to me “What the fuck happened to you when you were a kid, to make you never want children?” I know he was talking from a place of deep selfishness, a desire for me to provide him with grandkids, to carry on his mediocre family name. His concern wasn’t for me, if you could even refer to a comment like that as concern.
Red flags aside, it made me curious. What DID happen to shape me into a childfree woman?
Growing up, we are all influenced by the people we encounter. Sometimes, it’s big & obvious, like your parents or your siblings. Teachers or public figures. Other times, you don’t realize the impact the other characters in your life have made.
One that sprung to my mind quickly was my childhood best friend’s aunt.
She was fireworks personified. A tall, boisterous, elegant woman with long, deep red waves of hair. I idolized her, everything she did screamed sophistication to me.
One weekend she took us kids to the big city for a shopping trip. The event of a lifetime! We dined at what I thought were the fanciest restaurants on Earth, we zoomed around the narrow city streets at a speed that terrified & excited me. Even when we got pulled over, the policeman walked away totally charmed. She seemed to know everything about everything.
“Oh, dahling, you simply must try this cafe!”
“Dahling, this hat suits you to a tee!!”
“What a lovely little bistro! We shall absolutely come back next very soon!”
She had to be as old as my parents, but she was so youthful compared to them. She wasn’t married, she had a man though. They had been in a serious relationship with for something like 15 years. The two of them had never even moved in together! My little girl mind was blown. I always assumed that, once you met the person you loved, the rest of your life was spent living under the same roof. I had never understood why that had to be, and she showed me that it didn’t have to be that way.
Her life was rich & fascinating, completely full without children, and I’ve always felt that having children would have dulled the shimmer that followed her everywhere.
One of my dad’s best friends, the best man at my parent’s wedding 35 years ago, had a big influence on me too.
Along with his wife, they travel the world. In reality, it was 1 or 2 trips per year and usually to the same few places, but to a child who had only been to a handful of cities, it was incredibly exotic. Never had I considered that the places on a map were also places I could GO one day, all on my own.
They would come visit us, staying up late drinking with my parents. I would sit in silent awe as they talked about this city or that country. The tiny bag of saffron they once brought to us seemed like fairy dust. When I was allowed to stay up & watch them visit, it felt like I was one of them. They gave me the sense that there was a different world than the one I had grown up seeing all around me.
This was a two-for-one deal of childfree role models for me, forming the vision of what I wanted my life to be one day. They showed me that there was a different way to live.
When I was young, my aunt was like a mystic creature. My mom always warned me “Give her space, she doesn’t like kids!” It sounds like an awful thing to say, but I knew it wasn’t for lack of love. Children’s energy can be too much to handle!
I felt like I could watch her from afar, and if I was good & quiet & clean I could get close to her for a second, like a wild animal. If I was loud or messy, she would run off, back to her life of freedom and serenity.
This was the 80’s, and her hair was the biggest. Her jeans the most acid-washed. She worked at the mall & I loved that place. Visiting her there felt like a glimpse into a different world. She babysat my sister & I when we were really lucky. We would have pizza & pop, watch movies too old for us, stay up too late, she would tell us about her life. In my mind, she was the ideal of a young, independent woman. I adored her (and still do.)
Many years later, I was astonished when she & her husband decided to have a baby. When I was young, it had never been a thought in my mind that she might feel differently about becoming a mother than I did.
She had already shown me that it’s OK to not want children, then she was the one that showed me that it’s OK if you change your mind too.
My childfree role models are “what happened to me” as my ex’s dad put it.
I don’t know what path led them to where they are, I may never know. It’s no one’s business but their own.
However, these people helped start my journey to the person I have become, a woman who is secure in her choice to not bear children. Someone who is resolute in her decisions & won’t compromise just to make some guy’s dad like her more.