What Happened When I Told My Parents I Didn’t Want Kids
Going rogue upset the only natural order that they know.
I blame this anecdote on my ex. For an excruciating two years, we traversed up and down more times than a Six Flags roller coaster. We happened to be on the outs — he literally texted me “have a nice life” — while I was visiting my parents in the Midwest for a long weekend. An internalizer by nature, I usually kept my dating-life details on the DL. But this time, I couldn’t mask my disappointment-slash-disgust. I expected some tea and sympathy. What I got was the tangent from hell. “You were wasting your time with him, anyway,” my dad intoned in the den. “He won’t make a good father for your kids.”
Insert the sound of a vinyl record scratch here. I was 39 years old. I didn’t have kids, didn’t plan on having any kids and felt super-satisfied with my decision about not having kids. I had nil interest in being a primary caregiver responsible 24/7 in perpetuity for a life not my own. And while I never officially declared my anti-kid sentiments to my parents, I had presumed that the two people who raised me would have sensed this. I was wrong.
“Oh, I don’t want kids,” I retorted in my most matter-of-fact voice, carefully weighing each word.
I have never personally told a child that there is no Santa, but I can only imagine that the physical reaction would have mirrored my parents’ facial expressions in that moment. That look of wide-eyed bewilderment unnerved me to my core. Oh, god, they really didn’t know. I quickly followed with a hasty apology, even though apologizing for my feelings felt all sorts of wrong.
What followed was a fraught conversation mixed with incredulity and anger on both sides. My parents couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to be a mom because I was such a devoted and caring aunt. I explained that I love treating my niece and nephew like royalty — and I love hightailing it home or hanging up the phone when the child-rearing going gets tough. We bickered about the literal and emotional cost of raising a child. As a Hail Mary, my dad reminded me that I possessed great personality qualities and it would be a shame not to carry on these traits to a child. I reminded them that I could do that without being a parent. A compromise was impossible — and the longer it all dragged on, the more headstrong I became until I just walked out. What do you think of my great personality now, I wanted to say as a parting shot.
I was shocked that they were shocked. Fine, I had never said the words aloud to them. But I still pulled a classic “show not tell” in my freedom-filled, anti-kids lifestyle. I had lived in cramped New York City apartments since I was 22 years old. I worked crazy hours, feeding off the adrenaline of staying up late in front of my laptop. I traveled nearly every other weekend to far-flung locations all over the world. Perhaps more important, I had never once expressed interest in freezing my eggs or doing in vitro like some of my more maternal-minded girlfriends. How could they have connected all those dots and believed that motherhood was in my future?
In retrospect, I still don’t appreciate their response. But I understand it. My parents, children of the 1950s, will never not uphold old-school conservative values. They wed in 1971 when they were both in their mid-20s — as did many of their friends. To roll it back even further, my maternal grandparents married when my grandma was a college student. Even my brother got hitched in his early 20s. Just like I assumed that my parents knew my feelings about motherhood, they assumed that I’d ultimately follow their prototypical path of settling down in a leafy neighborhood and raising cute kids.
Going rogue upset the only natural order that they know. This impasse was like the reason we had managed to avoided The Baby Talk for so long. I wasn’t ready to say it, and they certainly didn’t want to hear it. We’ve never brought up it again, let alone what went down in the den on that early evening. Maybe one of these days we will. I’ll tell them that I haven’t changed my mind. But it’s only because my priorities are different — it doesn’t mean I’m less of a person or that they failed as parents. If anything, they should be proud that they raised me to be a strong, independent 21st century woman who accepts herself as she is. In fact, dare I say it, I do have a nice life.