This is what taking care of myself looks like.
It might seem like some people who are childfree talk about it a lot, and it’s true, at least in my case. Once I realized that childfree was something I could be, that having kids were an option and not an assignment, I felt free. Of course, not having kids is controversial, to say the least, and answering people’s questions about my desire to breed with “I don’t want to,” and “Yes, I’m sure,” has rendered pretty crappy results in the past. (PSA: Don’t ask people “when” they’re having kids. Discard this as a line of questioning altogether. Find something else to discuss – pets, snacks, public transportation, anything.)
If you are going to talk or write about being childfree, you unfortunately have to be prepared to get into exactly why you are this way. (Please note: You do not have to know why you don’t want kids. You don’t have to justify your decision. You are allowed to just not have them.) People with vaginas still aren’t seen as being deserving or capable of making our own reproductive decisions, so it’s assumed that if you opt out of having kids, either by birth or adoption, there’s something seriously, deeply wrong with you. It’s the only reason a woman would choose not to parent.
I am here to tell you that for me, choosing to be childfree was and continues to be an act of self care. Saying no to things we don’t want to do/don’t have time to do/aren’t getting paid to do is a means of claiming power, and I am including not having children in that category.
People with vaginas are told that there’s nothing more satisfying and meaningful than having children, and for some folks, that is true. There are also people who had children because they thought they should, because it’s considered the right thing, the next thing, the adult thing to do, but ultimately, they wish they had never done it. It is hard to take a different route when everyone around you is doing the same thing, even when you have no desire to do that thing, and sometimes, it feels like it’s not worth it to fight so hard.
I have a lot of friends with kids. I hang out with them sometimes, and when I do, I’m reminded not just that I am stressed out not only by both kids and their mercurial nature, but by the anxiety provoked within me by constant care-taking. I’ve done that. My mother had cancer, as well as undiagnosed and untreated mental illnesses, and as a teenager, I was responsible for much of her emotional and physical well being. I never want to do it again. I did it without the support of other family members, and at the expense of having a normal adolescence. The clinical anxiety and depression I now have is most certainly the result of that experience, which culminated in her death when I was nineteen years old.
Before you say that taking care of a dying parent and taking care of a child are very different things – don’t. I understand that they are not the same. I also understand that I will likely have to take care of another person again in my lifetime. But in the meantime, I’m going to take care of myself. For me, that means creating open space – to make art, to travel, and to breathe without the expectation that I will perform according a script (as much as one can possibly avoid that).
It also means identifying things that exacerbate my anxiety and eliminating those things when I can. I think a lot about parenting – how it’s permanent and perpetual, what my life would look like if I did choose to do it. I think of the space I would never get, what I would have to give up, and I think about the anxiety I would take on – how capable I am of spiraling downward on a daily basis anyway, as a result of completely ordinary things, how my quality of life would rapidly decline if I had to worry about a child who would then become an adult.
Don’t tell me that there is joy in having kids, that anxiety and sacrifice are not the entire experience. I don’t doubt that that’s true for some people, but I am not interested in incurring that joy at the expense of my mental health, or at the expense of the life I have now, which I have crafted with care and with intention.
I don’t want to imagine what would have happened if I hadn’t given myself permission to engage with the truth of what I want and don’t want, as taboo as those things are. This is what taking meaningful care of myself looks like – being honest, and doing the best I can to live according to that, even if it means existing on the periphery most of the time. That’s okay with me. I’ll take it.
Cover image courtesy of Getty Images