When I was growing up, I always thought that someday I would get married and have kids. That’s what most people around me thought because that’s the dominant discourse we are exposed to—we grow up, go to college, get married, buy a house, have a child or two, raise them, send them to college and perpetuate the cycle. This is familiar, of course, because it is the heternormative American Dream. The unspoken traditional values underlying this are that we become well-disciplined consumers. To be ‘good, productive citizens,’ a certain level of education is encouraged, we are expected to commit to one person in a monogamous marriage (in most states, a marriage between a man and a woman), we are expected to reproduce, all the while consuming goods produced to sustain this lifestyle of consumption. And the government provides incentives for this life trajectory—we are given tax breaks for being disciplined citizens. U.S. taxpayers receive tax breaks for education, for getting married, for buying a house, for having children, etc. Parents are often given paternity leave by their employers whereas child-free employees are not. I apologize if this sounds pessimistic. There are, of course, many wonderful things about marriage and parenting. But this is just to point out the ways in which the system in which we live benefits from, and reproduces the institutions of marriage and parenting.
After Eric and I had been together for a while, people started asking, “When are you going to get married?” as if that was, of course, the next step in our relationship—the goal. Then, as soon as we were married, people started asking the question, “When are you going to have kids?” Not “ARE you going to have kids?” but “WHEN?” At first, my answer was a non-committal but cheerful, “I don’t know…not anytime soon, but someday.” Then things started to shift as I thought more carefully about this question and what it meant. Tons of people actively choose not to have children for all kinds of reasons, so why the expectation that, of course, a heterosexual, married couple would have children? The more I thought about this institution of human reproduction, the more closely I started to pay attention to conversations about having children.
I’ve now seen quite a few of my friends and family members have children. For some of them, there was little choice involved. They got pregnant accidentally and went with it. For some, I think they had children because it was the next step after marriage and they didn’t necessarily see any good reason not to. For some, having children was something they had always wanted to do, they loved children, were great with children—they were, in other words, born parents. Other friends thought extremely carefully about the decision to have children and are raising their children with that same careful thoughtfulness. And still others made the choice to adopt children.
When I was younger I always thought I wanted to be a mother. I’ve always felt like my body would be good at pregnancy and childbirth. I even went so far as to think about the ideal time for childbearing/rearing in terms of career, etc. (late 20s seemed to be a good time). But then as I started creeping into my late twenties and started thinking about animals in a new light, something changed. I had started to become vegan and I was thinking about activism more seriously than ever before. I started thinking about the animals with whom we share our home and the impact that having a child would have on them. I started thinking about the way having children (as it should) makes you prioritize your children over other projects. I started thinking about my career and what having children would mean for that. I started thinking about writing and how having children would complicate my time for writing every day. I started thinking about how little time we have here on this earth to make change and I started to wonder if having children wasn’t necessarily the most productive use of my time. In other words, I started to radically rethink the assumption that I would have children. To be clear, when I say all of this, I do not mean to pass any judgements at all on people who have chosen to have children and for whom the decision was easy. I am merely giving my own thought-process and perspective on what I see to be a huge decision.
After many, many conversations with Eric, family and friends about this subject, I’ve encountered some interesting insights about the choice to have children (or not) and I’ll share some of those in my next post. To be continued…
In the meantime, what’s your perspective on having children?