Facts & Arguments is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.
Have you ever gone to Tim Horton’s and ordered a Boston Cream, but the guy behind you gets a Blueberry Fritter, and you turn around and say: “Oh, you picked the wrong doughnut. But don’t worry; you can exchange it for the correct one.”
No, of course you haven’t. We respect each other’s choices when it comes to doughnuts.
People will hold back their opinions about a lot of things, but when someone finds out that my wife and I have decided not to have children they suddenly turn into my personal life coach.
I have heard a lot of objections about my choice. I’m going to address them now. But before I start, I’d like to acknowledge two things.
First, people don’t lecture me because they’re trying to be jerks. They do it out of a well-meaning concern that I’m going to miss out on life’s greatest joy.
Second, being a parent is the hardest thing anyone can do. I would never trivialize the effort and sacrifice it takes to raise a child. Having a kid is the most important decision you will ever make. That’s why it needs to be your choice. I’ve noticed that a lot of discomfort comes from a parent filling in what they think are the blanks in what I say about not having children.
I say: “We’ve decided not to.”
They hear: “We’ve decided not to, and we think you made a huge mistake.”
I never said that, hypothetical parent.
Here are some ridiculous assumptions people make about childless couples:
1. You must really hate children.
People imply that I must dream of a cold, bleak world without the innocent laughter of children – that I am one of those storybook ogres who steal little boys and girls to eat their bones.
The “you hate kids” accusation comes from parents’ insecurity about how much fun their kids really are for others. They know that if they bring a screaming toddler to a social event all the non-parents will have no choice but to accept it. They suspect I’m having less fun because their kid is there, and they turn that around so that my intolerance is the issue.
Yes, by adult standards kids are horrible people. If I invited a grown man over and he insisted I spend 45 minutes pretending to answer a toy phone, then wiped his nose on my sofa, I wouldn’t invite him back.
But I don’t judge a child by adult standards. No one does. And as much as bringing a kid results in a lot of interruptions to adult conversation, it also results in some hilarious entertainment when the kid says and does funny things. Everybody understands the tradeoff.
I can thoroughly enjoy someone else’s kid and still not want to have one myself.
2. What if your child would cure cancer?
This one is pretty easy to refute. I couldn’t get my baking-soda volcano to work in grade school science class. I’m such a non-problem-solver, I once changed apartments because my kitchen sink was blocked. Why on Earth would my kid be a genius?
3. No one is going to look after you when you’re old.
Imagine you have a son or daughter, and they grow up to be rich and successful. Not only do they have money and time to spare, but the only thing they want to do with that money and time is pay you back for being such an outstanding parent. They want to visit every weekend. They want to treat you to holidays in Europe. As your health declines, they will cover your medical bills and sit by your bedside with a reverent expression until you take your last breath.
That is one heck of an imaginary kid you’ve got there.
If anyone thinks that a generation raised on iPhones and Twitter is going to have the empathy to care for their elders in a world of depleted resources, they should get signed to a book deal because they’ve created a new fantasy genre. It’s more likely that by the time I’m 80 they will have invented cheap android caretakers to spoon-feed me prune mush.
So, no, children don’t factor into my retirement plans.
4. You haven’t put any thought into your decision.
A lot of people ask themselves: “Is it a good idea to have children?” The better question to ask yourself: “Is it a good idea for me to have children?” There will be a different correct answer for each person.
When I tell someone I’m not reproducing, the most common response is that I have lots of time to change my mind. That implies my choice is not only wrong, but it’s so wrong that a change of course is a forgone conclusion. My current life plan is an immature phase, like a teenager wearing a leather trench coat and Goth makeup.
When a parent feels the swell of pride over their child’s first steps or straight-As report card, they get so happy they forget there are a lot of other ways to be happy.
As a non-parent, I am not asking to be equally celebrated by society. I don’t need a No-Baby Shower or a Not-a-Father’s Day card. I am happy for every parent who is happy with their kid. I believe in the joy of raising a family.
And I can witness it just fine from my clean, quiet, child-free home.
Dave Jorgensen lives in Victoria.
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