It sometimes surprises people that I advocate for those who are against having children. I’m a parent. I write about parenting. My four-year-old daughter, Anna, is always nearby. In fact, I don’t often hire babysitters—I, by both choice and circumstance, parent almost around the clock. (I’m not saying you’re any less of a parent if you don’t, just that this is my specific experience.)
I’ve written before that I didn’t grow up assuming I’d want a family of my own one day. For a long time I was very much against the idea of having kids. Having spent a lot of my early adult years in queer communities and among artists and activists, childlessness was the norm. I didn’t know many people who followed conventional paths and, because I was mostly estranged from my family, I didn’t feel the pressure.
When people ask my opinion on whether or not to have children, I tend to urge my friends to wait. I agree with people who say parenthood makes it harder to pursue your own goals and be your own person. I also believe there are unreasonable expectations put on women, especially to settle down and make babies. And yet, I made the decision to have Anna as a solo parent.
Earlier this week, the CBC published an article about Montreal’s first Child-Free Day (or fete des non-parents), which will be held next weekend. Its organizer, Magenta Baribeau, who is also working on a documentary about the choice to be childless, purposely planned for it to fall in between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Baribeau, 37, says it’s offensive that people seem to think she’ll change her mind about having children one day—and, while I personally did, I know that’s not the case for everyone. I think that automatic assumption that we all want to be moms one day undermines women’s capacity to make decisions for themselves.
But here’s where I take some issue: Why make childlessness the focus of your life and work? I mean, there are lots of things I haven’t wanted to do that could have been my focal point. While I understand the decision to have or not have children is a major life decision, I could see it as being on par with focusing on why I never desired a 9-to-5 job or something of the like. I’m someone who has gone against many expectations and norms, yet I resist preaching about it.
Yet, Child-Free Day comes at a time when the issue of childlessness-by-choice is having a moment in the media. The books Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, edited by writer Meghan Daum, and journalist Kate Borlick’s Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, have caused a stir, making the case for the child-free and marriage-free life, respectively. At a time when single-adult households in Canada are growing, the issue is of the moment. And yet, I’m torn: While I don’t want these perspectives and stories left out of the public eye, ultimately, I’d rather hear other things about these women’s child-free lives, and their perspectives on other topics.
A friend and I had our kids within a few months of each other—it was nice to have someone to not drink with at get-togethers and occasionally go nursery shopping with. One day, when our children were infants, we were having coffee when she asked if becoming a mother had made all the pieces fit together. For her, she said, motherhood had offered a sense of wholeness she hadn’t known she was missing. There was an awkward silence because that was not my experience at all. That moment was pivotal to me, and made me realize we all experience motherhood and the shifts in our lives differently. I wondered if I had too much of an understanding of the desire to be child-free, and if having a baby was supposed to open my eyes to a whole new way of seeing the world. I am different, and my life has changed drastically, but for me, motherhood hadn’t lessened the value of my previous childlessness.
While I may be in the “you don’t know what you’re missing” camp, for better and worse, I do think it’s perfectly legitimate to not want—or care—to find out what it’s like to have kids. But did non-parents really need to mark off a special day on the calendar for it?
Tara-Michelle Ziniuk is a Toronto-based queer mom to a four-year-old. She started off as a single-mom-by-choice, and now co-parents. You can read more of her posts here and follow her on Twitter @therealrealTMZ.