I’ve been thinking a lot lately about whether or not to have kids. And by “lately” I mean the last several years.
I’m not sure when it started: probably around the time I turned 30, when I realized that most of my straight friends from college were starting to become parents, and I wasn’t. But back then it didn’t bother me too much, because I definitely didn’t want kids, or at least I figured I still had lots of time to decide whether I wanted them.
Then my brother, who is younger than me, became a dad. Now I have a two-and-half-year-old niece, with a nephew on the way. If my brother can be a dad, I feel like I should be able to be a dad.
And I’m 38 and haven’t accomplished anything in my life and I’m only getting older.
For whatever reason, I’ve been thinking more and more about what I’m missing by not having kids. I still don’t think I want them; certainly, having them comes at a cost.
But not having kids comes at a cost as well.
Having children allows you to grow as a person. You learn new things about the world and about human beings every day. You learn to be responsible for someone other than yourself. You become less self-centered. You gain more of a stake in what happens on our planet. And you’re contributing to society by raising members of the next generation who will live here.
And there are selfish good reasons, too. You have people to take care of you when you’re old and sick, to bury you when you die, to remember you after you’re gone. And then your genes will live on through your children, and through your children’s children. Or, if you adopted your kids, then the lessons you taught them, and the stories you told them, will be passed on.
And having kids gives your life some direction. Your adult life divides into stages: you’re childless, and then you raise a baby, and then a toddler, and then a kid, and then you’re a middle-aged parent of a teenager, and then your children are adults themselves, and then you get to be a grandparent, and so on.
Without kids, I have none of that.
My life has no direction. Right now I’m just in the long, vast middle of my existence, which started about 12 years ago and will continue on for the next 30 years or so. Nothing new happens. Nothing changes. I don’t take on new responsibilities. I don’t learn new things about life. I don’t grow as a person. I’m just stagnating.
A long time ago I read Dan Savage’s The Kid, about his experience adopting a baby with his partner. An early chapter of that book has always stuck with me, where he talks about why they decided to have kids. He says that if gay men don’t have kids, they have three choices. They can remain overgrown gay adolescents; travel the world and collect a bunch of crap; or renovate a house.
Of course, that’s bullshit. You can still try to make the world a better place through your career, or by volunteering, or by doing something else.
But what he wrote still stings. I don’t want to be some middle-aged gay adolescent.
Maybe this isn’t really about kids. But it feels like it is.
There’s also the nagging feeling that my own parents think less of me for not being a parent.
And yet… I don’t think I want kids. The day-to-day existence of it. The crying and the yelling and the tantrums. I fear I wouldn’t have the patience to be a good parent; I fear I’d lose my temper and raise them wrong and screw them up, like my dad screwed me up. And there are the extra mouths to feed. And the constant worry that they’ll get into an accident and die. Or thinking about what their lives would be like on our warming 21st-century planet, constantly staring at screens and ingesting toxic chemicals in this shitty country we live in.
Would I feel different if Matt wanted kids? Maybe. But he definitely doesn’t.
I just feel like there are these major life milestones that most people go through, milestones that I will never experience.
And I feel like not being a parent means that I will never fully be an adult.