I read a book recently that had been written as a series of essays by writers who had each, for one reason or another, decided not to have children. Each author spent his or her essay largely explaining this decision. I find books on particular lifestyle choices interesting (a la Spinster), particularly if they are choices that I have made as well. Not that my reasons are the same as any of this book’s contributing authors. I am choosing not to have children because I don’t want to be a single parent, not because I don’t want children. Were my circumstances different (ie. if I could find the right man), I would welcome the opportunity. But that’s not really what I wanted to talk about.
What struck me while reading these essays was how many of the authors mention an unwillingness to give up their career as a contributing factor—many times a significant one—in their decision not to have children. It might seem an odd thing, since, especially in this day and age, having both a career and a family is very do-able. But keep in mind the authors of these essays are all writers—full-time writers—and that kind of career is an entirely different animal. You’re at home all day, for starters, and that in and of itself—that at home is where you need to be your most productive—can make the idea of children very off-putting. These writers told of how even just the thought of a child pulling at their arm while they sat typing or journaling was enough to 1) make them realize it would simply never be possible to do both, and 2) fill them with acute hypothetical guilt over neglecting this hypothetical child. Point 1 makes me think of something I read in Joni Mitchell’s biography. When she was still quite young, Joni had a baby girl and gave her up for adoption. The decision tore her up, but she said some decades later that had she not made that decision, her career in the music industry would have never happened. It simply wouldn’t have been possible. So I get it. I do. And I am personally quite glad for her decision, as “I could drink a case of you and still be on my feet” is one of my favorite lyrics ever penned.
Point 2 makes me think of what happens every evening and weekend when I sit down to write and my cat jumps up and tries to fight my computer for the spot on my lap. She’ll try and try, me batting her away until she finally realizes the mission is futile. Of course, when I do this, she curls up on the couch and sleeps for the next five hours and is really no worse for wear. So I realize this temporary neglect doesn’t trigger the same type of guilt I would feel if I resented my child and her frequent—no, constant—tendency to impede my writing. (She, my cat, does the same thing when I’m reading a book, constantly walking across and sitting on the pages…it’s equal parts infuriating and adorable.)
I’m not a judgey person. Or maybe I am. But surprisingly not about this topic. Because I think it’s a legitimate choice. And I reject the notion that choosing a childless life is selfish. I do think having children is certainly more selfless by comparison. It’s one of the reasons why, again, were my circumstances different, I’d have a child. Because I see this selfless quality in so many of the people I know who have children, and sacrifice and suffering in the name of love is something I could probably benefit from incorporating more of. But people know themselves. And their limits. Particularly writers, who from my own observations are more likely to 1) have the time to wax pensive over tradeoffs and preferences, 2) have TAKEN the time to wax pensive over tradeoffs and preferences, 3) to seek peace and solitude, and 4) to have experienced some sort of trauma or neglect from their own parents, consequently turning them off of the notion of procreating. Whatever their reasons, let’s respect them. Having said that, I’m going to turn off my computer now. My cat has been patiently waiting for her turn on my lap.