“Just wait until the right guy comes along.”
“But it’s a woman’s duty to be a mother.”
“You’ll change your mind.”
I can list condescending responses all day, but these are just a few examples of what I’ve heard when I say I don’t want children. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some child-hater either – I actually have a soft spot for kids and think their curiosity for life is quite adorable. I even have to refrain from aww’ing out loud any time I’m near a baby. I’ve just accepted the reality of children being expensive, time-consuming responsibilities – and I simply do not want that for myself.
It’s no secret that women around the world are socialized to become mothering figures early in their lives. When I was a kid, I vividly remember seeing TV commercials of Baby Born dolls who needed to be fed and have their diapers changed. The commercials always had little girls caring for the babies, which made me wonder: what about the boys? If it takes a man and a woman to create a child, then why are we limited to seeing only one of them caring for the child?
My question was answered when I later discovered the concept of emotional labor. In family settings, these are sets of feelings mothers experience when all the tasks of big responsibilities fall on them. I grew up in a large immigrant family and was fortunately raised by matriarchal figures, but I still witnessed that labor, particularly in my own mother working “the second shift.” Women can spend their entire lives practicing maternal instincts to the extent where it consumes them and they are expected to provide nothing less than ease for others. And with child or not, I don’t want to be reduced to someone’s caretaker.
Lately, the most poignant example I’ve seen of emotional labor is in the film, “Tully.” Charlize Theron plays Marlo, an overworked, micromanaging mother of three who decides to hire a night nanny to help care for her newborn daughter. On top of losing hours of sleep, Marlo also drives her older kids to school, packs their lunches and sits in on parent-principal meetings. Her husband works all day and when he comes home, eats dinner and glues himself to a video game to unwind rather than experiencing a fraction of the emotions Marlo has felt all day. While this doesn’t reflect all aspects of motherhood, there’s a common thread here we have to acknowledge: that women overwhelmingly carry the weight just to keep things running smoothly.
When I’ve explained this to others, they downplay my concerns by saying “that’s just a part of being a parent.” Well, obviously. You’re doing things to care for your children, but there’s a limit to what I want to do. No woman should have to end up like Marlo and sacrifice their well-being in order to be seen as a functioning parent.
Plus, when we don’t have kids by a certain age, there’s often an assumption that something’s gone wrong rather than realizing children aren’t always a necessity to leading a full life. This implies that we absolutely need the presence of another human to make us whole and realize our potential. For women, it perpetuates the antiquated belief that second pompous reply I mentioned at the top – that it’s our duty to be motherly.
I’d like to exist outside of the airtight box of motherhood and simply pursue other endeavors in life that don’t require being tied down to the family. We had no control over being born with the capabilities to bear children. The least we could do is be able to decide if we want that responsibility or not.
Caring is fun. I conduct myself in a kindhearted manner and have gained a considerable amount of empathy thanks to caring. But at 25, I have a blueprint for my future laid out, and it doesn’t involve a spot to care for a child. Sure, it’s possible to make time for it, but that’s not always the goal. And that’s okay! Maybe it’s because we’re instinctually defensive towards what falls outside of our worldviews, but we’ve got to destroy the idea of motherhood being fundamental to our femininity.