December 2015: Traditions / feminism / life / sexism / stereotypes / topical

Why Saying 'I Don't Want Kids' Is Important

I used to love playing with dolls as a kid, and my favourite one was the dolly that did its own shits. I used to force feed it loads of sachets of its special food and wait impatiently for its bowels to explode all over my kitchen sink.

Maybe that was the first sign that I wasn’t really cut out for motherhood.

There’s a piece of primary school work stuck on my kitchen door that maps out my life at different stages. It goes from liking to read at the age I wrote it to becoming a hairdresser to becoming a mum. I remember writing that as a kid and thinking – “Christ, I’m six years old, I haven’t got my career prospects in order.” So I went with something I thought a woman was supposed to do as an adult but I remember thinking I didn’t really want to be a hairdresser or mother. However, being a nerd, I wanted to impress the teachers by writing what I thought they’d want to hear – plus there were about six sections to fill out and I was short on ideas. How was I supposed to know that being a mother was a choice at that age?

I never really gave motherhood much thought as I was growing up. I was the youngest child and I remember meeting one baby during my childhood. It stank and cried in my living room and I was disappointed that the neighbour had brought round this thing instead of their beautiful ginger cat Tommy (which I proceeded to search for in our garden).

Similarly, my mum and I would trudge through Bexleyheath shopping centre on a weekly basis (I’d be dying inside, she’d be loving life 2k01) and we’d always run into people with new-borns. My mum would coo over them and I’d stand there sighing like a writer who can’t think of a good analogy.

Even to this day, I don’t get that ‘awww’ feeling that people seem to have when they see a tiny bald human in a woollen hat gurgling on its own spittle. (It’s not fluffy and cute like a cat, and it doesn’t purr when it sees me; am I really asking for too much?)

I once had to play with a family member younger than me for a few hours, and I got annoyed at her because she touched my Cyberman and sonic screwdriver without washing her hands after going for a wee. I proceeded to place them in an area that was too high for her to reach. I didn’t know what educational level she was at so I read her the Hungry Caterpillar and then put on Family Guy. (My babysitting rates start from £10 p/h – message if interested).

After a few years at uni, I realised this wasn’t the ‘norm’ when it came to baby reactions. My housemate used to bawl her eyes out whilst watching One Born Every Minute and I’d just shrug. I was told jokingly that I was heartless/dead inside, and I laughed along because that’s true regardless…

But it did start to niggle at me. Did I want kids? Why didn’t I have that so called maternal instinct? Was there something wrong with me?

After some intense googling, I found out I was not alone. Some people just don’t have that urge or the same want as others; in just the same way some people will slide tens of olives down their necks like Caligula while their friend will gag softly next to them having caught a whiff of the so-called fruit.

I’ve been told I’ll change my mind about wanting kids several time, and I roll my eyes into the back of my skull every time I hear that. Yet if a male friend of mine says it, it’s rarely met with shock or surprise.

We’re surely past that though, I hear you thinking. Apparently not. Last week, Holly Brockwell, journalist and creator of women’s tech site Gadgette, wrote a piece for the BBC about her desire not to have children. The online backlash and abuse she received forced her offline and caused the BBC to give her a bodyguard when she went to the BBC to take part in a Q&A. In the piece she expressed a want to get her tubes tied, and the internet went into meltdown over a woman wanting to take control of her body. I cannot imagine the same reaction occurring if a bloke said he’d tried to get a vasectomy aged 29 because he wanted to focus on his career. It’s just another example of double standards and one that needs smashing.

Why is it so important to be loud and proud about not wanting kids? Because I get the feeling that a lot of women who don’t really want kids would end up having them in order to fit the traditional role of womanhood and to simply please partners. Just because it is expected of us to want kids, it doesn’t mean we should enter into a lifelong commitment out of an intangible sense of duty that lingers over our head.

I always assumed that as I got older that feeling would ‘click,’ but of course there is no magical moment that persuades you otherwise and it’s important that women know that there’s nothing wrong with you for not wanting kids; it’s not just ‘acceptable,’ but normal. Our narrative should not be shaped by cultural traditions and you shouldn’t be made to feel strange for not fitting in with a custom.

That’s not to say you should go around telling your newly pregnant mate that you think they’ve ruined their life and that their precious baby is one ugly mother, no matter how closely it’s bubbling under the surface. Manners and politeness is a tradition I quite like, so I’ve managed to perfect my false interest in someone else’s child. I can even muster a false ‘aww!’ when a customer brings one into work. Yes customer, I’m smiling at your child, but inside I feel nothing – NOTHING! Now buy something or get the hell out.

– Katherine Hockley

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