A cat by any other name




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Meow to me

It happened again - this time while we were sitting in the bank talking to an investment counselor about planning for our future (our goal is to retire as early as possible). I mentioned that at least we didn't have to worry about saving for college educations and such because we weren't planning on having children, and the man gave me that patronizing stare and a nod. "Yes, that's what we said," he noted in that tone of voice I'm beginning to hate. "I think my wife was about your age when we had The Talk." I can only assume that this Talk was about her ticking biological clock, because he now has kids.

It finally dawned on me why it might be that so many people tend not to believe us when we say that we really don't want kids. There is this myth out there that every woman hits some magical age where her hormones go all wacky and all she can think about is baby powder and diapers and gets an insane urge to paint one room pastel colors and go shopping for cribs. And I think the general thought is that when I say 'we', I probably mean that Richard is the one who's driving this and I'm just going along with it until the day I'll get suddenly weepy at an Osh Kosh B'Gosh commercial and tell Richard that we're having a baby Right Now.

I laugh it off when people give us that tolerant smile and make some comment that indicates that they think we're complete idiots who are destined to change our mind (when that big hormonal surge happens to me, I guess). We usually make a joke about how the only pitter patter of little feet around the house will be the cats, but it doesn't matter. They don't believe us - and most especially, they don't believe me.

But even though I don't let them see how I feel, it is starting to get to me - this too-common reaction to this sort of announcement. Neither of us came to this decision lightly. Prior to Richard and I getting together, I was in a relationship with a man who wanted very much to be a father. And because I cared about him, I tried to make myself believe that I wanted children too. Eventually, though, I realized that despite how I felt about him, I couldn't be something I'm not and I'd regret that - and him - later. I've rationalized the decision upside down and sideways over many years, and I know that it's the right one for me. Richard agrees with me - obviously, or we'd not be getting married because it's something I've never hidden and we actually discussed it early on in our relationship. Our families seem to have accepted the news with little or no concern. Why is it that so few others can accept what is really our own decision? Where is it written that two people who marry must have children?

Sometimes I have wondered if there was something wrong with me for not wanting kids. There's social pressure on women - we're supposed to have maternal urges. It's supposed to be ingrained in us to desire to procreate. Not me. When my biological clock (such as it is) starts ticking, it's because I'm getting kitten urges, not baby urges. Baby drool makes me nauseous (Just ask my sisters. It's a running joke in my family that you don't hand a drooling kid to Aunt Jennifer). The thought of dealing with children for more than short periods of time makes me cringe. When we're out and some small children nearby start to misbehave or scream or do something else annoying, Richard and I murmur 'Dozens. We're having dozens' in our most sarcastic tones of voice to each other. Don't get me wrong - it's not that we don't *like* children. We both adore being aunt and uncle to our respective nieces and nephews and godchildren (related by blood, and simply by friendship with the parents), and we enjoy spending time with well-behaved children (note the caveat there) but that's as far as it goes. I love my niece and nephew dearly and should anything happen to either of my sisters and their kids were going to be tossed into foster care, of course I'd take them in a heartbeat. I just don't want one of my own.

There is a subculture out there that a lot of people try to pretend doesn't exist. We are the Childless-By-Choice, and our numbers are growing. At least half of my acquaintances have decided to not have children. Some are married, some are still single, but all have given it just as much thought as we have. Most of the people Richard works with are married without children. And apparently, to some people out there, our mere existence is a threat. It's as if somehow our choice to remain childless is a direct affront to their choice to breed. I'm not sure what rational reason there is for this reaction - most of us who are childless by choice have no objection to others spawning; we just don't see the need to do it themselves. Of course, not wanting children means we often end up with a much lower tolerance for them. We don't find it amusing when little children run screaming while we're watching movies. We would love to have restaurants institute a no-children section, much like they used to have non-smoking sections prior to the marvelously wonderful "No Smoking inside" law they passed a few years ago in California.

I accept with a resigned sigh the fact that Richard and I will not escape the gentle pressure - however well meaning it is - to have children, until we're simply too old for it. I accept that I will continue to find ways to joke politely when I'm asked who will take care of us when we're old, or am told that I'll change my mind when I'm older. No matter how much I might want to snarl back at those who do this to us, there is no point because I'll never convince them.

I'm 31 now. I figure we're going to have to suffer through about ten more years of this before people finally take us seriously.