Peer pressure is something that’s been on my mind lately. When I hear the phrase “peer pressure” I instantly think of teenagers being bullied by their mates into shoplifting or experimenting with alcohol. When I was in school, that’s what I thought peer pressure was. I recall being made to watch countless videos of unfortunate teens who desperately wanted to fit in so they caved to their friends’ coercion and took a drag from the proffered cigarette/downed a swig from a communal bottle of booze/ nicked an eyeliner from the chemist. (Ultimately getting caught and reflecting on how they should have listened to their gut instead of their bonehead mates).
But peer pressure isn’t just something that affects teens. As I near my thirties I’ve noticed a different kind of peer pressure creeping into my life. Only this time it isn’t booze and cigarettes that are being pushed onto me, it’s babies.
Now, I’m pretty darn sure that I don’t want kids. I have nothing against children per se, but they have never really been a part of my plan. Motherhood just doesn’t appeal to me and I’m OK with that. There are enough people procreating that I’m confident that the universe won’t implode if I decide not to add my spawn to the gene pool. But lately I’ve been feeling a lot of pressure around the topic of children and motherhood.
The first one to jump on the Baby Pressure Bandwagon was my mother. She has two sisters who each have an adorable brood of grandchildren and I think Mum’s eager to join them in their photo-and-story-sharing sessions. And in order for her join the Grandma Club I have to squeeze out a baby. And when she found out that I had no intention of doing that, ever, she seems to have made it her personal mission to change my mind.
Like those peer pressure vids from high school, it started with some casual needling. A few questions here and there to feel out my position. “You’re so great with babies, don’t you think you’ll make a wonderful mother?” “So-and-so named their baby Sunflower, which I think is really cute. What baby names do you like?” and so forth. Then when my answers proved maddeningly obtuse, she started with a more direct line of questioning. “When do you think you’ll have kids?” became her catch-cry.
Once I made it clear that I didn’t intend to reproduce, she took it upon herself to convince me. She will jump at any opportunity to remind me that kids are great, and being a mother is awesome, and when you have kids you get to do all kinds of fun things like play in sandpits and have play-doh in the house again. Any time she sees me holding one of my friends’ kids she will give me a little knowing nod and make a point to tell me how great I am with kids, as though to reinforce my maternal behaviours.
At this point it was easy to shrug these things off as a bit of silliness from my baby-crazy mother. But then the balance shifted when many of my friends started to join The Motherhood, rolling down the streets with their strollers and colourful collection of Peppa Pig toys. All of a sudden, the pressure wasn’t just coming from my mother, it was everywhere. Friends who had never batted an eyelid at my childlessness before started to inquire when I’d start my own family. And then the tension began to mount.
What started as a bit of casual questioning took on a distinctly disdainful air. Whenever I’d mention that I don’t want to have kids, inevitably there would be someone who would roll their eyes and say “You’ll change your mind”. My decision to remain childless has been met with people asking if I hate children, or questioning whether I’m vain and selfish and don’t want to devote my time to another. My mother has begun rattling off lists of people I went to school with who have had children, and I’m starting to feel that same old high school pressure “Everyone else is doing it, why not you?”.
In the face of this adult peer pressure, I’ve decided to console myself with the very same advice that those videos preached so many years ago: to listen to your gut and do the right thing. The truth is I like kids. A lot. They can be hilarious and a source of great joy. And I’m good with kids. But I am also good at handing them back to their parents when a tantrum kicks in. As much as I enjoy them, I don’t have any desire to have kids of my own. I’m perfectly content being Aunty Ness to all my friends kids. That’s what’s right for me, and just because everyone else seems to be having babies doesn’t mean I need to have one too.
Have you felt peer pressure as an adult? What have you felt pressured to do?
Yeah, don’t give in. Trust your gut. I turned 30 last month and I’ve always known I didn’t want kids. That didn’t stop me from being upset when I found out I couldn’t *have* any because so much of my worth as a woman had been, for so long, placed on my ability to reproduce and the hope that one day I might. I thought ‘Well, at least the badgering about having them will stop. Not being ABLE to ought to shut the up.” Nope. Then people bring up fostering, adoption, fertility treatments…So many nopes.
I’m so sorry that you had to go through that. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to find out that you weren’t able to have children, even if you knew that you didn’t want them to begin with. It’s definitely true what you say, that so much of our worth as women is determined by our ability to produce and parent children. It is so damaging when this expectation is placed so heavily on our shoulders, and we find we don’t actually want to have kids. I feel that it makes the choice of not becoming a mother that much more difficult to make, because you have to wade through so many disapproving comments and people arguing with you over something you know darn well isn’t right for you.
I loathe this! The way people assume every woman ever wants kids, so that when they say they don’t they are really saying “help convince me”. NO! Maybe a woman will change her mind, but telling her so smugly after she’s said “I don’t want children” is rude and condescending. It’s also unfair on the women who CAN’T have kids for whatever reason, constantly asking them when they’re going to start a family makes them feel like they’ve “failed” or aren’t a real woman. It’s no one’s business!
I am so glad my mum doesn’t nag me, in fact she keeps telling me not to bother, haha.
Oh, I hadn’t even thought about the struggles of people who aren’t able to have children who are faced with a constant barrage of questions about their child-bearing choices. That would be just awful. The choice (or the ability) to have children is such a private and personal thing and I think it’s more than a little unfair that it’s become OK for people to ask about it willy-nilly.
I did a little fist-pump when I read your comment, because I agree so wholeheartedly. I mean, the person who knows best for me is me. Nobody knows me better than I do and I think I’m the person who is best-placed to make my own choices. I loathe when people (especially people I barely know) try to change my mind or suggest that I don’t know what I’m talking about when discussing my own life choice. Believe me, I don’t always know what I’m doing, but I think I’m doing a better job at steering my ship than a stranger would.
Hopefully links work… but I kindly like to show this image when people bring up the kid nonsense. https://magnetforfoolishness.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/having-kids1.png?w=640 Honestly if people think more babies are needed in the world, I let them worry about it. I have stood by my choice for all 35 of my years. I didn’t even want to play with baby dolls as a kid. Trust me, it never ends. But console yourself in knowing you don’t have to wade knee deep in tiny human bodily fluids for years and when that is over, they start talking back and getting knocked up. Yeah, kids are cute…. from very far away. Especially when they are not yours.
I laughed so hard at that comic, and I’ve now saved it to my computer for future use. Thank you so much for sharing that.
All my friends seem to be on their second round of babies. They had their first couple at a young (between 18-22) age and now that we are approaching our mid-30s they have decided to squeeze out a couple more. I have children so I hear “Doesn’t it make you want more??” Um… no. My kids are 7 and 10. They sleep through the night. They help with chores. They are toilet trained. I don’t need strollers and bulky diaper bags and bottles and a change of clothes just to make it through a trip to the grocery store. Why would I ever go back to that??
I admire your ability to say that you know you don’t want kids. They aren’t for everyone and I feel like a lot of friendships have crumbled because we disagree on our child rearing methods. (Which is completely silly!) People get too wrapped up in their children and begin to make motherhood as their main identity instead of it being just a facet.
I can definitely understand why you wouldn’t want more children when you’ve already gone through one round of diapers and midnight feeds!
I think it’s interesting what you said about people getting too wrapped up in motherhood to the point where it becomes their whole world. As someone with no children, it’s hard to watch a friend become engulfed in the world of parenthood to the point where they seem to have no other identity, in much the same way as it’s difficult to see a friend get swept away by their career or completely immersed in a relationship. While all of these things are important parts of our lives, I think that it’s important to strive for balance and explore different facets of ourselves, as you mentioned.
For years I have been trying to figure out this whole “you must want babies” if you have a uterus thing…and you hit the nail on the head. It’e peer pressure. I think it goes a bit deeper though. Something I noticed being a parent and making unconventional life choices is people start to get really defensive about the things they are doing….like me homeschooling my kids is a judgement on them not homeschooling their kids (seriously…no need to be defensive. I literally have zero feelings on whether or not you homeschool…we are just over here doing our thing). It almost feels as though by doing something someone else is not doing you are somehow challenging their life. And they could only possibly justify their own having children if they convince everyone else it is literally the best thing ever.
I was bought up by people who had kids and a marriage because that is what was expected of them. My mum had a baby with each new partner to solidify their relationship (fucked up if you ask me). I was raised by people who should never have had kids. Now I was a totally insane 17yo who had been with ryan just 2 weeks when we DECIDED to have a baby. After the twins I really wanted a boy…so we stopped trying. No way was I going to try for something that might not happen and then what if I ruined that childs life forever? I know I am rambling…but seriously…it’s a pretty big decision.
Also this “not having a baby is selfish” thing needs to die. It seems to only apply to people with a uterus. Also if you’re selfish (not always a bad thing) maybe you shouldn’t have kids.
They are forever. They require so much EVERYTHING of you. I don’t regret my decision for a day…but it was MY DECISION. It was also my decision to have a second child when everyone decided it was their business despite having not needed a baby sitter once or help with anything besides – hey can you come watch baby #1 so I can go have baby #2. You know ryan and I take having kids seriously.
You may miss out on proud mama moments (watching my girls grow into amazing social justice warriors and kind and amazing young women is pretty gosh darn amazing) but you also get to miss out on the months of screaming we had (you got a nice shot of 7 days of it and I known you would cringe at the thought of ever having to deal with it again….I know I do….!). The constant exhuastion of worrying about literally making and raising a non fucked up person (x4 in our case). You miss out on buying new shoes for Miss 14 every 3 months as she just does not stop growing!
For every amazing part of parenting there is almost definitely a shitty part. I think it’s feeling the good outweighs the bad that helps you know in your gut if you could be a parent.
There is more to being a woman than having a baby. It is not the be all and end all. Especially not these days. Your worth is not dependent on producing an heir. The hardest part is choosing to ignore the constant barrage of “you must have a baby”, social conditioning to still believe that your worth as a woman is somehow dependent on your mothering/wifeing skills (seriously – what century are we living in???) and not to mention hormones (which still haven’t caught up to the fact that we don’t desperately need to reproduce anymore).
Here’s the other thing about being a parent. You get zero input on your childs life in the end. I want millions of grandkids just like your mum. But at the end of the day my kids know I am just joking about them giving me at least 4 grandchildren each. Because I am raising them to have bodily autonomy and to not need to fall into any preconceived ideas of what they should do with their life and body.
I love being a mum. It is one of the most amazing things that has ever happened to me. I can deal with the shit because I love the rest. I love it and I chose it. I give absolutely zero fucks about trying to convince anyone to be a parent. I tend to encourage people to think about it carefully.
If you don’t want one. If you don’t have to provide an heir (I don’t think you have any titles or family estates to pass on). If you are happy with your life as it is (or how it could be sans children – because lets face it almost none of us are happy with where we are…but having a baby only helps if one of those goals is “have a baby”). If you have access to birth control and abortion. If you have options….I just don’t get it.
As usual this has been my ted talk
I always love your comments. You managed to zero in on something that I didn’t mention in my post but which has floated to mind several times: the idea that some people seem to have that my choice not to have a baby is somehow an indictment on their choice to become a parent. As though by not having a baby I’m somehow sending the message that people who have kids are stupid. That’s not it at all. If you want to be a parent, I support you wholeheartedly. So many of my close friends are amazing parents and I adore watching them with their kids. But the truth is we are all different people, and what is right for one person may not be the best choice for another. And being a parent just isn’t for me.
It’s definitely a gendered phenomenon too. I don’t see many men getting the “when are you going to make a baby?” chat or facing eye rolls when they say they don’t plan to have kids.