“Do you want kids?”

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“Do you want kids?”

This is possibly one of the most fraught things you can ask a woman, and at 33 years old, with a new fetus or baby popping up on my social media feeds every day, I hear this inquiry – real or implied – pretty frequently. Putting aside for a moment whether you want to share this personal information with the person asking you, what if you don’t even know what the answer is? What if you can honestly imagine your life both ways? 

A recent episode of “The Longest Shortest Time” podcast explored the question of whether or not to have kids through the eyes of one woman, Joanna Solotaroff. The Longest Shortest Time is all about sharing honest stories about the struggles and triumphs of parenthood, and Joanna happens to be a producer there. As part of her job, she reads every email inquiry, every pitch, and hears every private confession about the lifelong condition of having your heart walk around in someone else’s body (aka, being a mom or dad). For her whole life she assumed she would be a parent, but all this real-talk about parenthood in her day job made her seriously question if she had what it took.

Questioning not when but whether to have kids is something few people feel comfortable discussing openly. Joanna puzzles through her thinking in this extremely relatable episode, and clearly hits a nerve in many women (there are over 100 comments on the entry for this show on the LST website):

And if you have answered the question “do you want kids?” and the answer is no, as a woman you are often asked to explain yourself – since surely the state of not wanting to be a mother is unnatural (and maybe worse). Writer and author Rebecca Solnit explores this expectation her wonderful essay, “The Mother of All Questions.”

As it happens, there are many reasons why I don’t have children: I am very good at birth control; though I love children and adore aunthood, I also love solitude; I was raised by unhappy, unkind people, and I wanted neither to replicate their form of parenting nor to create human beings who might feel about me the way that I felt about my begetters; I really wanted to write books, which as I’ve done it is a fairly consuming vocation. I’m not dogmatic about not having kids. I might have had them under other circumstances and been fine — as I am now.

But just because the question can be answered doesn’t mean that I ought to answer it, or that it ought to be asked.

While women who chose to become mothers don’t generally have to explain their choices, they face other obstacles and judgments. Solnit writes:

Some mothers have told me that having children caused them to be treated as bovine non-intellects who should be disregarded. Other women have been told that they cannot be taken seriously professionally because they will go off and reproduce at some point. And many mothers who do succeed professionally are presumed to be neglecting someone.”

What are women to do? Is there any good option? Ultimately, Solnit concludes, “There is no good answer to being a woman; the art may instead lie in how we refuse the question.”

 

Want even more?

Image: “No. 2, Main Control Panel, Nerve Center of Ship,” by Jacob Lawrence (1944)

6 Comments

  1. Hana Marritz

    The truth is, one can never know what it will be like to be a parent. And you will be raising yourself at the same time you will be raising your children, since it takes our whole life to keep growing and transforming. so, you need to be loose and open.

    Ultimately, you must be willing to always see your children as miracles, capable of incredible things. and allow them and you to grow at the same time.
    It can be an amazing journey to take together.

    I am so grateful for the experience that never stops giving…..

  2. Judi Potter-Zenn

    The answer, if you want to be polite, is just what you stated, I can “honestly imagine my life both ways.”

    I’ve been a mother for 52 years now and completely agree with Hana’s comments. We want so much for our children and grandchildren, and underlying how to parent is unconditional love–or as Hana says, “always see them as miracles and allow them to grow.”

    • leda

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Judi. Hearing honest responses from people who are not only on the other side but who have raised their children to adults is a perspective I find extremely valuable.

  3. Lindsey K

    “women have been told that they cannot be taken seriously professionally because they will go off and reproduce at some point. And many mothers who do succeed professionally are presumed to be neglecting someone.”
    This really hit home for me. As a 33-year-old mother of a toddler, I struggle with the guilt around this presumed neglect every day. There are many moments when I BELIEVE this statement myself, and it makes everything so much harder.

    • leda

      I know, these messages have been internalized at a personal level, too. Imagine what it would be like to feel – and have everyone else assume – that you were doing what you needed to do for your job and your kid, rather than somehow failing at both?

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