This post is by TheNotMom team writer Laura LaVoie:
I just celebrated my 38th birthday, and my husband celebrated his 39th just a few days later. We are both kind of beyond the demographic where people still question our choice to be childless. We have moved on to new perceptions which come in three general forms; regret, pity, and envy.
“You will regret this one day.”
“I’m so sad you’ll never know what this kind of love feels like.”
“I wish I could do the things you do.”
When I was younger, I would often say that I “reserved the right to change my mind.” This wasn’t a statement that meant I wanted children someday. Rather, it was a defense mechanism to avoid more uncomfortable conversations with people, women especially, who felt that I was making a huge mistake with my life. By telling them I could in fact decide one day to have children I was taking away their primary argument, “regret.”
Here are the ways these three emotional triggers are expressed:
- Regret. The argument that is typically made expresses that without kids in my life, I won’t know what to do with myself when I am old. How I will look back at all the things I’ve done and appreciate any of them without a legacy? What about watching my own children grow up and become successful adults? What about the joys of being a grandparent. This is a narrow worldview that places our value as human beings firmly in the reproduction category. There is no counter for the regret argument because it can be expressed up until the day you shed your mortal coil.
- Pity. This is where parents will look at me and think that the clock has well and truly ticked and my decision to have kids is no longer in my hands. It is too late. Now there will be no one to take care of me when I am old. This isn’t about my future feelings of regret, but about their need to feel sorry for me because I can’t do the things they can. Because they belong to an exclusive club for which I will never know the secret password.
- Envy. The polar opposite of pity is envy. I have a real hard time dealing with individuals who play this card on me. How do you respond to a person who says, “I’m so jealous that you’re able to do these things. I can’t, you know, because of the kids”? It is heartbreaking to hear because my life isn’t meant to be a statement on the things they’ve done wrong either. “Children” should be subject to “right” or “wrong.” I try to be encouraging but it is hard because I have no idea what it feels like, which is exactly their point.
Regret can happen on both sides. There are so many people who didn’t make the conscious choice to have kids when they did and, on the flip side, there are plenty of childless women who had the decision taken from their hands by forces beyond their control. Why should either of us focus on regret, pity, or envy?
Let’s all, parents and non-parents alike, support each other and change the existing paradigm. Neither choice nor circumstance should be affected by these kinds of destructive feelings. If you find yourself dwelling on these thoughts, consider some simple exercises to change your own attitude.
- Keep a gratitude journal.
- Write down your accomplishments as they happen and put them in a jar to be opened at the end of the year.
- Volunteer with an organization that makes you feel like you’re giving back to your community.
- Make new friends with the same outlook on life.
I don’t regret not having kids. I don’t pity anyone who did nor do I envy them. I respect friends who have made different choices and admire them for being good parents. I remember every day why I chose this path and I fully understand it isn’t for everyone. I don’t make judgments and I would love to encourage others to stop doing that as well.
I want to keep my relationship with the parents in my life positive and productive. Everyone should embrace their own choices, not place so much value on the labels other people assign. We can’t change how other people act around us but we can change our attitudes and the way re react so let’s stop giving in to regret, jealousy, and pity.