Why We Need To Stop Being So Afraid To Say That We Want Kids
Let me be clear: I want kids. I've always known that about myself. But never once have I ever said that to another person without qualifying it in some way: "When I'm 30, maybe," or "I worked daycare for years, so I know what it's really like," or the old go-to: "Not for a long, long time, of course". And while all of those things are true, that's not why I say them — I say them because, as problematic as it seems, I don't want them to think that I'm crazy.
From the very moment I could talk, I asked for baby dolls for my birthday. My first little sister was born when I was two, and I basically thought she was mine. If a baby smiles at me on the subway I basically feel like a freaking god among plebes for the rest of the week. But these are the kinds of things I rarely talk about, because somehow, unconsciously, it seems to undermine everything else in my life that defines me. I'm afraid that talking about it invalidates my ambition in my career. I'm afraid, despite four years of being single and virtually no interest in dating or settling down right now, that talking about it will make me seem like the "girl who is desperate to get married and have kids" trope. I am afraid that it makes me look needy or weak or like I have my priorities in the wrong place. And while I am aware that all of these presumptions are gendered, sexist, and hugely problematic, there they are anyway, the glue that keeps my mouth shut any time the topic comes up.
There are so many unspoken rules when it comes to talking about wanting or not wanting kids — a little bit like playing poker. You keep the poker face on and don't talk about it while you're dating someone, because you don't want to scare a partner away; when, and only when they are ready to talk about it do you discuss having them. And if it turns out after all that that you really don't want kids, and aren't just ~saying~ you don't and waiting them out, you run the risk of scaring away a partner for the complete opposite reason. When you squint at it long enough, the politics of this whole thing is weirder than the mating rituals of any other species on this planet.
Hell, even I notice myself reeling away from people who are upfront with me about children. On a first date in college, a guy offhandedly mentioned wanting to have kids, and my immediate thought was "Oh good god, he's trying to wife me, I gotta get outta here now." A few months ago, after a full twenty minutes of indecision on whether or not to check the box "wants kids" on a dating site (can't they just put "wants kids, but uterus embargo'd until 2020-something" on there?), I saw one man with "wants kids" on his profile and immediately made a bunch of presumptions about him that weren't based in any kind of actual fact. I'm not just afraid of being deemed crazy for wanting kids; I, too, unconsciously assume people are crazy for being upfront about wanting them.
Even if there weren't all the weird social factors to consider, there is an underlying notion that having kids, especially in this economy, would be selfish. It's no big secret that as a whole, our generation isn't doing so hot in the job market. Even those of us with decent jobs remember all too freshly just how hard it was to score them, and a lot of us are so close to the days we were still dependent on our own parents that the idea of becoming parents ourselves feels a little unfathomable. These are some of the primary reasons researchers theorize that birth rates of twentysomething women have declined 15 percent between the years of 2007 and 2012, and why we are putting off having children later than any generation before us — despite the fact that surveys indicate that many Millennials do want children, far more so than are having them.
But one factor that isn't mentioned in all of the research on these trends is the loudest elephant in the room: the fact that we, as a generation, weirdly shame each other for wanting kids.
This isn't the only "traditional" thing our generation has shrunk away from. Bless our cynical little hearts — we are a generation characterized by our sarcasm, our independence, and our rejection of a lot of the ways our parents lived. Being genuinely excited about a milestone is a little bit like being that one out of tune kid in the choir who keeps singing after the conductor has shut everyone else up. We roll our eyes at each other's engagement pictures. We subtly shame each other for making a ~big deal~ out of weddings. Even the way we announce each other's babies on Facebook — never, "Oh my god, Danielle had her baby!" but "Oh my god, Danielle had a baby." We reduct our big moments, making them seem smaller, somehow reluctant to leave the other versions of ourselves behind by giving them our full attention and acceptance. We feel like we don't deserve them, or haven't earned them. It's not "cool" to care about milestones anymore, and to make ourselves feel more at ease about not yet having the things we want, instead we privately make fun of the people who do.
Of course, some people reject these traditions altogether — marriage, having kids, or one and not the other. We know ourselves enough to know what's best for us, and to that end, I'm glad that this is a generation where we feel a lot more comfortable making those choices for ourselves than any generation that came before us. That is not what I take issue with at all — what I take issue with is this weird derisiveness toward the people who do openly want the whole nine cliché yards, a derisiveness that curiously tends to only come from people who want those same things, too. Statistically, odds are that the majority of us are going to intentionally become parents anyway — for those of us in that camp, why can't we just take the things we want for what they are at face value, and let ourselves enjoy them? Why can't we be unabashed and honest and let ourselves feel the things we want to feel? Why can't we talk with someone who has a mutual desire to have kids one day without scaring the ever-loving bejeezus out of each other?
I'd like to think that by writing this and putting it out in the world, I might free myself a little bit from the pressure to keep my desire to have kids on the DL, and maybe help a few others out too — but somewhat absurdly, even now I'm wondering if just by writing this I've branded myself beyond Millennial redemption. But hey, at least I'm being honest. Here's to not apologizing for or diminishing what you want out of life, whether or not it involves kids — navigating life is already hard enough as it is, and we owe ourselves that much.
Images: Pixabay; Giphy