I can totally take care of myself: On (not) having kids

I’m always on the lookout for memoirs or other non-fiction about people who aren’t parents by choice. Actually, I just look for people who aren’t parents, regardless of whether they’ve written a book. My husband does it too. We’ll read something about someone who inspires us then go, “I wonder if they have kids?”

That we do this speaks to the fact that we live in a culture that doesn’t exactly embrace the idea of being childless by choice, particularly for women. It’s rough. Perhaps that’s something women who do have kids have in common with women who don’t: a crowd of people ready to judge you.

Famous women who don’t have kids

  • Helen Mirren
  • Dolly Parton
  • Oprah
  • Gloria Steinem
  • Lizz Winstead
  • Chelsea Handler
  • Jen Kirkman

In no particular order. Of course, all of these people have amazing careers, so there is that “Well, they have amazing careers,” reason that makes it acceptable. But what if you’re just a regular type?

Grasping at Lizz Winstead

Speaking of Lizz Winstead, a couple years ago I briefly met her at the American Library Association conference in Anaheim. It was my first ALA Conference, and it was an overwhelming induction to the library world. Anyway, LW was on a book tour for her enjoyable Lizz Free or Die, which she signed by crossing out “Lizz” and writing in my name. Clever.

In those few seconds of interaction I was like, Lizz, thanks for talking about not wanting kids. It’s confusing when your friends start having them and understandably fall in love with them. I’m mean, I even fall in love with them, so fresh and so soft. So, I’m starting to feel like something is wrong with me for not being certain about procreation.

She was like, Girl, it’s cool. Don’t mind them.

That was it. She was over it. She seemed totally clear. Of course, there was a line of librarians snaking around the room who wanted her to write their name into the title of her book, too. But she was awesomely unapologetic.

But why don’t you want kids?

Women must spend a lot of energy justifying their choice not to have kids. So, I have mixed feelings about the book I just finished: I Can Barely Take Care of Myself by Jen Kirkman. Yes, it’s good to find comfort in sharing stories, and I found some comfort in this story, particularly chapter 11, in which Kirkman speaks to more difficult (rather than funny, like the rest of the book) experiences she’s had with people who don’t respect the idea that she knows herself best.

But then, the premise of her book is that she shouldn’t have children because she can barely take care of herself. That’s a great comedic premise, and she is a comedian, so it works. But for me it created a nagging resentment. The idea that you better have a good reason not to have children — and the best (as in, acceptable) reason of all is that you wouldn’t be a good parent — bums me out.

There are a lot of reasons not to be a parent, and most of them are intensely personal. Trying to come up with one that someone else will find acceptable is an exercise in futility. Trying to come up with a reason that you and your partner will find acceptable is hard enough, especially with our culture’s expectations echoing in our ears. Other people compound this by assuring you they know what’s best for you based on their own beliefs. It’s painful.

You’re not alone

When all is said and done, there is a dearth of voices out there about making the choice not to have kids. So, it’s great that Jen Kirkman decided to talk about her choice, even if it’s partially based on the premise that she’s looking out for her imaginary kids rather than her own life.

I don’t know what my husband and I will decide, but with each passing month of ambivalence I wonder if that’s the decision. To just keep waiting and reading, evaluating and imagining. But to be clear, I’m not here to talk about why we may and why we may not have kids. I’m also not here to get your encouragement to go for it or your judgement to get over myself.

Because that’s the painful stuff people say and do around what is ultimately our choice. At least Jen reminded me that I’m not alone, even though it often feels that way.

This post also appears on Medium in Human Parts. There it’s called: Do they have kids? Looking for role models among the childless by choice.

More reasons why I appreciate Lizz Winstead:

Here’s a better book review:

And an update on Jen Kirkman’s exciting career trajectory: