Thoughts on Action
"Contemplation often makes life miserable. We should act more, think less, and stop watching ourselves live." ~ Nicolas de Chamfort

The Hazards of Remaining Childfree in the Age of Possibility

One summer between my junior and senior year of college, I spent about six weeks doing absolutely nothing on Purdue University’s campus. Classes had ended and I wasn’t yet slated to start my temp job through the agency I always used. Imagine it! All day long to read books, shop in the glamorous Tippecanoe Mall (a JC Penny AND a Sears), snag free hot dogs at Jake’s, sew up next season’s Breakfast Club costumes…

It was, without question, the worst six weeks of my life. The only time since then that I’ve felt my sanity slipping away in  much the same fashion was when I took eight months off of work last year to write. In both cases, in the infinitely wise words of STYX, I had Too Much Time on my Hands. The world was too much my oyster, the possibilities too endlessly endless. And I was somehow blowing it all by not enjoying the hell out of it or accomplishing anything worth talking about.

Which is why when I came across The Age of Possibility in the NY Times, I wasn’t nearly as insulted as I think many Childfree people should have been by his suggestion that, “People are not better off when they are given maximum personal freedom to do what they want. They’re better off when they are enshrouded in commitments that transcend personal choice — commitments to family, God, craft and country.”

This comment was taken from the context of his larger argument that young adults today have far too many options available and do themselves a disservice in trying to leave all their doors open by not committing (or committing way later in life) to things like marriage and having kids. That in leaving those doors open, they essentially become overwhelmed by the possibilities and make themselves wildly unhappy. Where if they’d just chosen a door to walk through, and thrown everything into it – their heart, their mind, their money, their time – they’d be better off. It strikes the same chord these wise people:

Happiness is never stopping to think if you are.  ~Palmer Sondreal

Happiness is a matter of one’s most ordinary and everyday mode of consciousness being busy and lively and unconcerned with self.  ~Iris Murdoch

The only way to avoid being miserable is not to have enough leisure to wonder whether you are happy or not.  ~George Bernard Shaw

It should come as no surprise that I’ve often wished for something else to “transcend my personal choice” in the absence of having a true desire to have a baby. But what does that say about me as a person, to want my choices to be limited? To want to just put my head down and work hard at something so I won’t have to figure out what else to do with my time?

Somehow it doesn’t sit quite right. Seems to fly in the face of the whole “the unexamined life isn’t worth living” thing. And yet, who can argue with the results? Later during that college summer, I took a job at which I should have been miserable. It started at 7:00 am, I had to wear pantyhose (!), and spent eight hours a day punching health care codes into a business calculator.

Who wears pantyhose anymore

But I’ll be damned if I wasn’t happy as a clam for the rest of the summer. The evenings off felt earned and I relished them with a renewed passion (that’s code for “woke up so hungover I had to sit down in the work elevator every morning for fear of throwing up”).

Would the same be true if I saddled myself with the responsibilities of parenthood? Would the rare dinner out with Drew taste that much better? Would drinks with friends be a much-looked-forward-to escape? Would a good night’s sleep become a heavenly treat instead of the Saturday/Sunday norm? Or would I simply resent the limitations that would be imposed on me for the next couple of decades?

There are others who can do this all better than I can. Those who would’ve enjoyed the hell out of six weeks off in college, and would currently be making the absolute most of the Childfree life by trying every restaurant in Los Angeles, throwing fabulous dinner parties, zipping off to weekend getaways. And Drew and I do some of that. But you know what I do more of? Sitting around wondering if there’s something else I should be doing instead.

I’d like to stop that. One way or the other.

24 Responses to The Hazards of Remaining Childfree in the Age of Possibility

  • Melissa says:

    Boiler up!! I always knew I liked you. :)

  • Scott says:

    Devil’s advocate time. Let’s say it’s totally true that it’s possible to have “too much freedom” and that to be really happy a person should have limits and obligations and jobs already laid out for you. Having kids would be one way to entrench yourself in obligations, no doubt about that.

    But, having children is not the ONLY way to achieve limits on yourself. And, is it the BEST way to achieve these obligations that are supposed to make you happier? Childrearing is not actually the most tedious job in the world. If you’re looking for tedium, there are better (or is it worse?) jobs out there, and at least those come with paychecks….

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      True, and I’ve thought about that a lot. Ran through all the hobbies I could pick up, etc. The problem is that none of the time-users I come up with have the end-goal benefit of some day having adult children, which IS something that appeals to me. The question remains whether 18 – 20 years of childrearing that I might not enjoy will be worth it.

      • dancwoo says:

        So you would consider adopting an adult/child or a child/adult? I think I know a few.

        • Maybe Lady
          Maybe Lady says:

          Depends – are you going back to college again? Or will you be wanting to park your van in my driveway? :)

  • marv says:

    Is child raising supposed to be tedious? All in all its pretty difficult to enjoy not having a kid or at least hard for me to imagine. Plus it’s exciting to know of all the experiences and knowledge you can (try) to impart. It also pretty much guarantees you most excellent genes will grace this earth for at least another generation.

    its not about diapers or any of that when you get that first smile that is just for you, mom or dad.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Well, I’m not tremendously concerned about my genes gracing the earth for another generation – I’m not THAT good-looking/smart/funny. :)

    • Scott says:

      I’ve heard that a baby’s first smiles are probably just gas….

  • This is an interesting topic, and one I definitely identify with, even though I have kids. I envy my friends who are stay at home moms, and devote their entire days to nothing but being with and taking care of their kids and making a home. I envy my sister who travels several times a year with friends as she posts photos of herself riding elephants in Thailand or standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, while I can only dream of being able to afford such adventures. When I was a stay at home mom, I was jealous of my friends who worked because being with my kids 24/7 made me crazy. And now that I’m a part-time working mom, and have what a lot of people would consider to be a perfect balance, I am still constantly wondering if I am doing the right thing.
    Should I be working full-time so that we can be financially comfortable?
    Should I be starting my own business?
    Should I be branching out into a more lucrative field?
    Should I homeschool our kids?
    It goes on and on and ON.
    And I think you are right. The reason why I am having these thoughts is because I haven’t chosen one path and thrown myself 100% into it. I have talked to my husband about this—about the idea that if you chase two rabbits you will lose them both. The only way I will be able to be 100% satisfied with what I am doing in life is if I just pick something, do it with my whole heart, and in doing so I will be doing it WELL, and then I will feel that the success was worth it. So, thank you for this! Even though I don’t think this comment helps you in your decision at all, I feel like I have a little more clarity about what I need to be doing.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Well I’m glad my muddled thoughts brought someone else some clarity! And good luck with whatever you choose to throw yourself into, 100%.

  • Carly says:

    Are you ovulating? These sound like the rambling of an ovulator!!! :)
    I think this might be my favourite post of yours yet!

    As a mother to a 14 year old let me tell you, having an (almost) adult child is AMAZING! But I actually loved the whole damn experience. Minus the pushing out of a 9lb human, it wasn’t magical, just brutal.

    I dunno… are sounding a bit “maybe” rather than “maybe not” to me…..

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Very funny that you say that – I always seem to get comments that people are sure I’m leaning one way or another…and it’s usually two different conclusions from the same post!!

  • Maya says:

    I too look forward to having adult children – but isn’t there always the fear that they won’t end up appreciative and loving and good members of humanity? it’s easy to envision how you want your kids to be when they’re older and with that vision, it’s almost certainly a ‘perk’. but there’s no assurance they’ll be as good adult children as we are :) i know a lot of kids who have grown up to resent their (incredibly loving) parents or at best, really want to assert their independence from their folks which makes their parents feel really abandoned!

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      I don’t think I have too many illusions about having perfect adult children – I know I’m still annoying and stressing my own parents out with my life choices at age 31, and I’m pretty sure if I had kids, they’d do the same to me. The question still remains whether there’d be more good times than bad. And at least when they’re adults, you can just hang up the phone. Unless they’re living in your basement…

  • Megan says:

    I’m with you on the being overwhelmed with too many options. I badly need a new laptop, and had a few requirements for what I wanted. But when faced with the dozens of machines that pretty much fit the bill, I simply couldn’t decide. After literally months of inaction on it, during which my current laptop could have died at any moment, I finally reached out to a friend of mine in IT and asked him to please just tell me what to buy. Which he did yesterday, and it took me all of three minutes to pick one of his three options and order it. I was just convinced that whatever I chose myself would end up being a lemon or I’d skip the one option that it turns out was going to make all the difference in my life. But with him narrowing the field so much, it all basically came down to price and it was SO easy. I felt a lot of relief when I clicked the “order” button.

    Which doesn’t have anything to do with having kids, but is at least partly related to your post. And, I guess, if you were to either find yourself pregnant or discover that you can’t get pregnant, the decision would be made for you and you’d probably feel some relief either way.

    I guess I would say that you mention how unhappy you were during your periods of unemployment when you should have been really happy to have all the free time in the world. The difference is that you DON’T say that you’re currently unhappy with your life, and that you wish you had something to fill up all your free time. So, you know, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

  • Allie says:

    I know someone else was joking about adopting actual adults, but seriously, have you considered adopting an older child or thought about fostering? My husband and I agreed that if we ever change our minds about having kids, we still wouldn’t want one of our own. Then of course, everyone assumes we’d adopt a baby, but I don’t think so. I know that older kids tend to come with more problems, but I feel that’s all the more reason they need a chance. I’m not suggesting it just so you can skip the messy years, but if the baby stages are a total turn off for you, there are other ways to create a lasting bond with someone.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      It’s definitely something we’ve thought about and I’ve even talked about it to my friend who’s the director of a foster agency. The problem with that is…if I’m not even sure I want to be a parent, am I really going to be successful in parenting someone who may come with a good deal of baggage? And though they don’t all come with baggage, finding one without it might be like looking for a needle in a haystack. But still something we’re considering, for sure.

  • amyjane says:

    The thing I struggle with the most ISN’T the baby bit, although that part is brutal and draining there ARE those smiles and giggles and Pamper ad moments of insane cuteness. But these days when I look at a baby, I just see a future adult. And, ( know what a hideous misanthrope this makes me sound…) I actually, um…sort of can’t stand abut 4/5′s of adults that I meet daily.

    (I do work in London, this might have something to do with it.) I.E : Do YOU HAVE TO CHEW LIKE THAT?! PLEASE DON’T CLIP YOUR TOENAILS ON THE TUBE…please?! DEODORANT…GIVE IT A GO! WOW…WHAT YOU JUST SAID RIGHT THERE WAS SEXIST, FASCIST…AND RACIST. CRIKEY! And I have enough material I could probably start my own blog about pretty much just that…the appalling state of adults that I meet every.SINGLE. day. (because I am of course flawless, and annoy no-one. *wink*.)

    I make my parents nuts. They make me nuts, brothers, aunts, in-laws…you name it. We all annoy the living shit out of each other… and we are usually doing it on purpose.

    So when I think about my future adult children of tipsy fantasy…I kind of can’t help defaulting to the position…”Man. There is a REALLY good chance I will just be adding another wanker to the billions already here. Wow.”

    And that makes me buy the extra large box of condoms…every time.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Haha – it is so TRUE! Society is just awful sometimes. Just awful. And yet…we keep adding to it…

  • kallie3000 says:

    Great article! Interesting… I have noted that the more committed I get in life (long term boyfriend, puppy, house, marriage, and now my career and starting a business with my husband) the happier I am. HOWEVER, I know a lot of my friends are the opposite, and they get to feeling ‘trapped’ and get less and less happy with too much restriction. They are also the ones who are childfree by choice, and I’m the one who can’t wait to add kids to my list of committments!

    So, I guess if you figure out which makes you happier, and what you really want to do, do that! (Though, I highly recommend getting a puppy or starting a business before I’d recommend kids… Way higher returns, and puppies are adorable!)

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Haha! I always say thought that puppies seem like almost as much work as kids!! But you’re right – adorable.

  • Lecretia says:

    I’ve also thought about the “adult child” as pretty awesome as my relationship has gotten much better with my own parents since they can no longer safely call me a child or teen and my opinions hold more weight. I’m on the maybe not side the equation, but it does give me pause on some days. I think this post also relates to your one about shaking up the “sameness” with potential children, or wondering if you’re not doing enough with your time and energy and if whatever you’re doing is actually making you happy. I’ve usually been pretty good about making large decisions, (it takes me forever to decide as I weigh the pros/cons, children are included in this) so I don’t think that 18-20ys would be worth it for me to have adult children as a payoff. Maybe when I’ve accomplished more of the goals I’ve set in my life I’ll want to change the routine with something more dramatic (like kids), instead of switching continents, but I sincerely doubt it.

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