I was 40 when I met my husband and 43 when we married. In theory we could have gotten pregnant, but we never tried. This came as a big disappointment to my mother-in-law, who used to rave about the joys of motherhood — telling me what a great mom I’d make and in general making me feel like I was missing out on one of life’s greatest experiences. Two years or so into my marriage, I told her we were — absolutely, positively — not having kids and to focus on the grandkids she already had or who were on the way instead of wasting her time on us.
Here’s the thing: I think that most kids are wonderful. I adore my little niece and nephews and enjoy spending time with our friends’ kids … up to a point. It’s fabulous to be an aunt and to hang out with my off-the-charts cute 3-year-old nephew while he regales me with all the different kinds of trucks on the pages of his favorite book (“That’s an excavator!”).
Or to go to the Air and Space Museum with my sweet little niece in her princess costume. Or to Zoom with my rambunctious and endlessly entertaining nephews as they show me their latest dance moves or baking project.
I love how being with kids gets me out of my own head. With them, I can be in the moment and see the world from a different perspective. And then, when they begin to melt down, I can quickly turn them back over to their parents and go have a cocktail. Win-win. I have noticed that some of our neighbors with kids socialize together and never think to invite us to their barbecues or cocktail parties, and that bothers me. Seriously, you can relate only to other people who have kids? Come on!
I grew up in the 1980s in an upper middle-class neighborhood in Washington, D.C., where everyone had kids. It’s just what you did back then. There were a few outliers — the perpetual bachelor, the free-spirited “spinster,” and the rare married couple sans offspring — but they definitely were not the norm and were looked at with curiosity, if not downright pity. I remember thinking they were “weird” for not having kids or that something wasn’t quite right. Shame on me.
My parents — and especially my mom — deeply loved being parents. But my mother suffered from terrible anxiety and worried all the time about our safety. I soaked in her fear, and at a very young age I became a world-class worrier myself. We’re talking gold medal. I worried about strangers following me home from school, tornadoes, nuclear war, my parents going out to dinner and never coming home, being unpopular, and — of course — my weight (always too much).
Eventually I was able to get control over that paralyzing anxiety, though it was always there, lying dormant, waiting for something or someone to pull it to the surface. That was one of the reasons I knew from an early age that I didn’t want kids. I couldn’t imagine spending my whole life in a constant state of worry. I also never had the longing and maternal pull of some of my friends. I thought it might kick in as I got older, but it never did.
In my 20s and 30s I occasionally imagined what it might be like to have kids, but I wasn’t in a long-term steady relationship so it was easy enough to ponder the possibility without taking it too seriously. I’ve had close girlfriends who desperately wanted children and were willing to go to great lengths to have them — from invasive fertility treatments to freezing their eggs to adoption. I could never relate to the all-consuming maternal instinct that drove them.
I’m fortunate that not many people have questioned my choice over the years, and a good number of our friends also don’t have kids. My mom, who died right before I met my husband, never pressured me about having children. She always told me how much she loved being a mom and hoped that I would one day get to experience that joy, but she didn’t make it sound like an obligation or something she expected.
I’ll admit that sometimes when I see a mom and daughter together, I get a tiny pang of what could have been and I might have missed. But the feeling doesn’t linger and is always outweighed by my conviction that opting not to have children was the right choice for me. That conviction is made even stronger when I consider how anxious I get about the well-being of our rescue pets. I can only imagine how much worse it would be with kids! Not to mention climate change, political and social unrest, bullying, social media … the list goes on and on.
I’m at peace in my role as the loving, fun and, dare I say, cool auntie — the one who will buy them treats and let them stay up late, and whom they can turn to when their parents just don’t understand.