When I was young, I just assumed that I would grow up, meet someone special, fall in love, get married, and have children – in that order. Truthfully, though, I never actually gave much thought as to my desire or ability to carry out any of these roles – my expectations were based solely on the premise that that’s what people do.
Throughout my twenties I watched the majority of my friends carry out in their own lives what I had always expected would be my path: one by one they met and fell in love with that special someone, got married, and started a family. I was introduced to their partners, stood up for them at their weddings, visited them in the hospital after they’d given birth, and sat with their kids so they could have a night out as a couple. I particularly adored my best friend’s three children, and delighted in watching them grow throughout the years into little people with their own unique personalities.
As time passed, however, a nagging thought kept poking away at my preconceived expectations, irritating me like sand in an oyster shell.
I don’t WANT to be a parent.
The thought took me by surprise and prompted me to investigate, for the first time, who I was and what I really wanted when it came to the big life choices I’d always presumed were set in stone. As I considered and pondered and questioned, the understanding that I neither wanted to be nor was suited for the role of Mom became crystal clear in my mind, and the decision to not become a parent was made.
When I met and fell in love with my now-husband – me in my early 30s and he in his early 40s – and discovered that for his own reasons he had arrived at the same conclusions for himself, I felt affirmed in my own choice and strengthened as a couple. And though for many years before we met I’d wondered if I’d ever fall in love, I am grateful now that time gave me the freedom to consider my options and make a thoughtful choice, rather than drift into a lifestyle of my own preconceived expectations “because everyone else was doing it.”
Sometimes I struggle with how to label our status as a couple with regard to the fact that we have chosen to not become parents. To say that we are childless, while technically accurate, somehow implies that we are victims of something beyond our control – that we are not parents because we are unable to become parents, rather than that we have actively chosen not to become parents. I’ve never been overly comfortable using the terms “childfree” or “childless by choice” to describe us, either, as I feel they suggest a militance or pride that neither of us embrace. There is neither shame nor pride in our decision – it simply is.
I’ve been asked if I regret our decision to not become parents. That’s a complicated question. While I absolutely do not regret our decision – for us, both individually and as a couple, it was the right and appropriate one – I sometimes wonder what our lives would have been like had that not been the best choice for us… had we not been people who needed to make that decision. And I feel a certain level of guilt and sadness that I haven’t enabled my parents to step into the role of grandparents, an undertaking for which I am sure they would have been well-suited and delighted to fulfill.
I don’t spend much time on those thoughts, though. I can’t. My husband and I are who we are – I’m thankful for the love we share, committed to growing and living a beautiful life together, and grateful that we’re each self-aware enough to have made the thoughtful decision, first separately and then together, to not become parents.