Have you heard of Harambe? If you haven’t, you may be one of the few who has resisted Facebook or internet sensationalism in general this past week. Harambe is the 400lb gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo who was killed after a child “fell” into his enclosure. What has stirred such controversy is that “the internet” is looking for someone to blame: the zookeepers for being too hasty in their shot? The zoo for not having a proper enclosure? Or the mom of the boy, Michelle Gregg, for not keeping an eye on him.
Now, I’m pretty much over discussing this story as I really don’t know the facts: I wasn’t there, I don’t know if Michelle was tired, how many kids she had with her, if the father was there to support her, if she made a decision to go to the zoo alone because she doesn’t have additional support and this was the only vacation she and her children would enjoy this year. I don’t know what was going through the minds of the zookeepers as they saw a small boy in the arms of a 400lb gorilla nor the emergency training they receive. And after sharing some judgmental remarks with my family I’ve pulled back a bit and decided this story doesn’t matter to me.
But what story does matter to me is the one where women have the agency to choose whether or not to have children in the first place and how it’s nobody’s business to tell them their decision is wrong. Do you think all the people yelling that Michelle shouldn’t be a parent would have given her support if she made that decision 15 years ago? Do you think the response from friends, family and strangers would have been a resounding: Michelle, That is a great idea! Who knows if 10 years from now you will have a child that is so mischievous he’ll get into a gorilla enclosure and cause the death of a beautiful animal! Michelle, your parenting will be judged so poorly and publically you’ll make national headlines; it’s for the best you don’t! Michelle, anything is possible when it comes to raising children, anything can go wrong, and it’s your choice to make that decision.
According to the book No Kidding, others’ stories, and my own personal experience, that would likely not have been the case. If there’s one thing people like to do, it’s comment on how your decision to not have children is probably wrong.
I’m 25 years old, turning 26 next week. I’ve made the decision not to have children.
I didn’t always not want kids. That is to say, there was a time, probably when I was 10-12, where I had the same dreams as most other girls that age: become a teacher-slash-actress-slash-writer, get married by 27 and have 2, maybe 3, beautiful children with fabulous names. Nobody tells you then: you’re young. You’ll change your mind.
But that’s what happened to me.
I grew up. I realized that the ideal American/Canadian dream doesn’t exist. I realized there were no jobs in teaching. I realized I couldn’t sing, and according to Laura Secord Secondary that didn’t make me a good fit for acting in its musicals. I still want to write, but I realize it’s a lonely life I’m not ready to dive into yet. And it’s hard.
I also realized: I don’t want the responsibility of raising children, and I don’t want to be a parent.
My goals do not include getting married, owning a house, or “settling down” – whatever that actually means.
I’m at the age now where a lot of my friends are coupled up, settling down, and at least one is “actually” pregnant. And guess what? I’m excited for them! I’m not the character (I don’t think any woman is) in the dramedy/rom-com who is eating gallons of ice cream in her room, mourning for a life I’ve never had/never will have. It doesn’t lower my self-esteem when my friends gain success.
Sure, I will admit that there is that pang of jealousy when I see someone else on Facebook has got engaged, just bought a house, is moving to Australia for the year to teach abroad. But my jealousy doesn’t stem from wanting those exact things, it stems from wanting the means to do those things or to feel ‘put together.’
In those times, I remind myself to look at what they have that I actually want. Usually the answer is nothing (or money). And I make plans to earn a level of success to allow me to attain the goals I do have: raise a really obedient Great Pyrenees, publish some poems, finish off at least one journal before giving up, move out of my mom’s house, kick ass at my job, re-define volunteerism in my community and more. Maybe travel and do some motivational speaking? Who knows what else! My goals are constantly changing and evolving as I improve myself and attempt to help my peers do the same.
I view having children in my life as an end to all the goals and plans I do have. It’s saying one big yes and a million little nos as Beth Lapides states in her essay, “Not’s Landing” in the anthology No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood edited by Henriette Mantel. If you can’t have children, if you have decided not to have children, if you are on the fence about having children, if you know someone who doesn’t have children, read this book. There is something for everyone to relate to, empathize with, sympathize with, understand. You will know you are not alone in your thoughts or decisions. Some of my favourite quotes:
- “Having children was never on my radar. Being married wasn’t either. I thought if I met the right guy, maybe it would change. But it never did.” – Aha, Ha Ha, Carol Siskind
- “I never wanted kids… the last thing on Earth I’d want is to have to go home and start waiting on a baby: “You mean . . . I have to take that thing home with me?” – Call Me Peculiar – You Won’t Be the First, Suzanne O’Neil
- “I was always too self-centered and irresponsible to have kids. I know that never stopped many others, but I am a narcissist with a conscience.” – My Mother’s Final Wishes, Debbie Kasper
- “I would have needed to selflessly want to invest the twenty-odd years it would take to get them grown. I don’t have a caretaker personality. I like to do what I want to do when I want to do it. It wouldn’t have been fair.” – On Not Choosing Children, Janette Barber
- “No one but a childless woman can understand how much work it takes not to have a child and how off-putting it is to particularly smug women who have children and a career and a husband and an endless series of private Pilates.” – All of It, Nora Dunn
Contrary to what we consume from a young age that feeds us our earliest goals and aspirations, reality presents a different story. I work in a homeless shelter. Every month we see new faces that have been abused systemically by a society that doesn’t provide for its citizens. How can you tell someone they are guaranteed to provide for their children?
Is that why I’m not having children? Because of the uncertainty of the future? Because I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to provide for them? Because of the overpopulation of our planet? Actually, no.
A few years ago, I casually brought the decision up to my mom to gauge her reaction. “I hope your heart’s not set on getting grandchildren from me…because I don’t think I want children.” And you know what she did? She supported my decision. She said it’s mine to make and if I’m happy, she is.
A part of me hopes my brothers have kids, because I know I would make a kickass aunt. I love the sweaters my grandma has already knit and tucked away for her future great-grandchildren. And when I see other people proud of their children and their accomplishments, I think of how amazing any future accidental children I could have would be. But then those moments pass, and I know none of them are real reasons to change my mind. Nor should I determine that my kids would be prizes to parade about.
And I choose a million little yeses.