For anyone visiting Later Levels today and expecting to find a new post about video games, let me offer my apologies. This one is off-topic and more personal than my usual ramblings. If you’d prefer to read about gaming, please come back on Monday when normal service will be resumed.
An article appeared on my news feed in mid-July which stood out among all headlines declaring COVID-19 doom. Written by Emma Gannon and published on the Grazia website, I’m Child-Free By Choice – And Not Everyone Accepts That was her account of the reactions towards her decision.
The anecdotes shared in her post sounded all too familiar. In one paragraph, she wrote: “I’ve known from a young age that I don’t see myself having children, at least not as a biological mother. And yet, even in 2020, I have felt pushback from society and acquaintances about this. Comments describing child-free women as ‘selfish’; telling me I’ll ‘have regrets’ and ‘never experience true love’. I’ve even been told, ‘You’ll be miserable when you’re old and grey’.”
Similar things have come my way. Some people are unable to wrap their heads around the fact I don’t want my own children and reactions have ranged from disbelief to mild anger whenever the subject has come up in conversation. We might be told we’re free to be who we want to be and that we can live our lives however we choose, but society as a whole still seems largely unsure what to make of women who don’t feel the need or desire to be mothers.
This is something I’ve known about myself for a long time. I distinctly remember walking home from secondary school one afternoon after a discussion in a Personal & Social Education class and realising that being a mother would never be for me. That feeling has barely wavered in all the 30-plus years since and I don’t expect it to ever change. The only thing that’s different now is that I’ve got a better vocabulary to explain my reasons and a higher probability of being offended when told my choice is wrong.
Trust me, I’ve heard all the counter-arguments before and none of them come as a shock any longer. Apparently, not wanting children and depriving my partner of the joy of them is selfish; one day I’ll wake up and realise I do actually want to be a mother; the reason for me not wanting kids must be because I can’t have them. If I’m to believe what I’ve been told in the past, my life will ultimately feel unfulfilling without children in it and I’ll never know what it’s like to love a child the way a mother does.
It’s that last comment which stung the most because it related to my stepson and was said by two so-called friends who have seen how I behave towards Ethan (I rarely speak to them nowadays for obvious reasons). I’ve always refused to believe you can only develop a bond with a child if you’ve given birth to them. Science has shown that maternal instincts are caused by spikes in oxytocin and anyone – including grandparents, men and adoptive parents – can experience those feelings when they’re around children.
It still surprises me how many people think all stepmothers secretly wish they were the kid’s biological parent though. This isn’t true: I’ve never asked Ethan to call me ‘Mum’ and he has never expressed a desire to do so. I chose to take him into my life and be the best role-model I can be, to teach him all those annoying life skills like how to swim and tie shoelaces, to spend my Saturday mornings going over algebra at the dining-room table. I don’t want to be his mother and I don’t just take on those responsibilities because he popped out of my womb.
That’s not an easy concept for everyone to grasp though. Although things are slowly changing, society on the whole still casts women in the role of the family-orientated carer and many individuals believe you must want children ‘because you’re female and that’s what you do’. When you try to explain to them that you don’t feel this need, they immediately assume there must be something wrong with you either mentally or physically.
For the record: there’s nothing wrong with me (if you ignore the insane amount of ice-cream I’ve eaten during lockdown and my strange love for Eurovision). I’ve simply made the decision to not have my own children, for personal reasons I don’t require anyone else to live by but myself. The world is so overpopulated and messed up that I don’t feel it’s right for me to bring another child into it, and I don’t believe I have to be a mother in order to live my life in a way which is happy and fulfilling.
It doesn’t mean I’m incapable of caring for others. Pete and Ethan have my heart and a family isn’t formed by blood or sharing the same names – it’s a group who choose to love each other, even on the days when it’s a struggle to like each other. And just like other families, I’ve thought about the kind of legacy I’ll be leaving behind after I’m gone. It might not take the form of my own biological children but I can make a mark on the world by supporting the causes I feel passionate about.
I’ll continue volunteering and raising awareness for SpecialEffect, showing people the positive effect of video games and helping everyone to play them regardless of their physical ability. I’ll continue encouraging everyone to talk about their mental wellbeing for Mind and take on the responsibilities of being a mental-health first-aider. I’ll continue being the best role-model I can be for my stepson and, if I manage to do all these things, I’ll know that my decision to be child-free by choice was the right one for me.
Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.