Welcome everyone! It’s week twenty-three of the “On Being Childfree” blog series and today it’s a story that initially made me flinch a little I won’t pretend. And our guest poster Kerry knows this because she asked me if I would share a story from someone who doesn’t want children because she doesn’t like them. I’m committed to giving everyone an opportunity to share their story and when you hear from Kerry you’ll know why it’s so important to never take anything at face value. Please do read, leave a comment and share as much as you can, I’m really willing this to grow and grow so that we can help as many people as possible who may be going through something similar.
We Are: Kerry, 42 and John, 60
Home Is: London
We Do: I work in the legal profession and John has his own business
“Why don’t you want children?”
Oh. That question. THAT question. The question that everyone thinks they have a right to ask when the reality is, it’s really no-one’s business. I’m 42 and feel like I’ve spent at least 20 years of my life having to defend my decision not just to not have, but to not even want children. Everyone invested in my reproductive system, my emotions, my mental health. Everyone thinking they know best. Do you have any idea how exhausting that is?
The truth is I no longer feel like I have to apologise for being honest. The secret that I spent so long hiding, that I always felt embarrassed to talk about. You see the reason I don’t want children? I don’t actually like them. But before you recoil in horror, please listen to my story.
I’m definitely not someone who looks back on my childhood with rose-tinted glasses. My Dad was never around (as in, not because he worked hard, as in no-one has seen him since I was 2) and my Mum flitted from guy to guy. No-one ever stuck around for very long and for me and my older brother it felt like we were constantly vying for her attention. We were little and didn’t understand why she was alone when all our friends came from what seemed like the perfect families (of course as an adult you realise that nothing is ever really what it seems on the surface). She had to work hard and did try, I know that now. But at the time all we saw was someone who maybe shouldn’t have had children because even when she wasn’t working she was always out with whoever the latest flavour of the month was.
My brother and I responded very differently. At school he acted out but in a way that made him very popular, as though he could replace the attention he needed from our Mum with his school peers. He was the class joker, the life and soul of the party. I on the other hand just withdrew and withdrew. I went to school simply because I had to but I never formed any lasting friendships. I wasn’t interested and it felt like I would be contrary on purpose just to wind the other children up.
Because of my reluctance to mix with the other children, it meant I had even more time to work hard and I did really well – which added even more fuel to the fire. I was bullied at junior school and bullied at secondary school. I’m sure people would remember me as the ‘loner’ or the ‘weirdo’. I didn’t even form a little group with any like-minded outcasts like The Inbetweeners. It was just me and as time went on I grew very resilient. But it sowed a seed – I really didn’t like other children. I was so messed up that everything about them annoyed me so much so that I wouldn’t watch films with child actors in. I saw everyone else as immature and not worth my time.
Whilst my brother left school at 16, I did my A-levels, went to University and did really well. Even then, I didn’t really interact much with other students. I didn’t have a boyfriend, wasn’t interested in going to the pub and found that I just really enjoyed my own company. Does it sound boring? Probably. I never saw it like that though. I went to the cinema, went travelling, loved exhibitions and theatre. I cooked, I read, I loved sewing. I suppose it was the ultimate self-indulgent life but I’d had to fend for myself from such a young age it stuck.
Something that I also found is that I didn’t really have much interest in people my own age and naturally gravitated towards older men and women. Was I looking for the parents I’d never really had? Is it because I was bullied so badly I just ruled everyone else my age out as being too immature? Who knows, I’m sure a therapist would have a field day with me.
Time went by and I threw myself into work and the best part of my industry is that you’re expected to put in long hours and it doesn’t always lend itself to the most flexible working pattern. Again it suited me but now in my late 20s the speculation and “gentle banter” began – women saying things like “if you work so late you’ll never meet anyone to have children with”, I’m sure some of you know the type of thing. It frustrated me so much – why did I have to meet someone and even if I did, why couldn’t it be just to be with that person instead of having to have children? Why was that my only purpose?
In my own bloody-minded way I decided to respond openly that I didn’t want children. But I could never defend my position when people always said “oh you’ll change your mind” or “it’s only because you haven’t met the right person”. Never could I say “it’s nothing to do with that, I just don’t like children”. I felt like if I was ever honest enough, people would be horrified because saying you don’t like children feels like you’re aligning yourself with a dictator, you know? And I’ve never really understood it, billions of people on the planet we can’t ALL love children or have that overwhelming desire to have them.
A few years ago, I was involved in a big case and found myself inexplicably drawn to our client. He was older of course, confident without being arrogant, charismatic and thoughtful. I found myself wanting to work more and more on his case and sought out any opportunity for face to face meetings. This was all new to me, with virtually no meaningful relationships of any kind in my life I’d never gone through the teenage boyfriend angst or the first university boyfriend that you assume you’ll find your way back to at some future point and marry. I had no idea what I was doing but felt convinced there was some kind of spark, after all I’d seen enough films to know how things were meant to work.
After the case was over, he sent me flowers to say thank you for all my dedication and asked if I would like to go for dinner. I didn’t hesitate and we’ve been together ever since. He’s 18 years older than me, divorced, no children. We have no plans to get married and that’s just fine with me, we’ve been together for 7 years and it feels wonderful. I have someone to share my previously solitary adventures with, but also someone who equally enjoys his own time so we don’t trample on each other. It was a huge learning curve, letting myself open up to someone. And I’ve told him everything. He thinks it’s no surprise that I feel the way I do and agrees that it’s not fair men are never questioned about their lifestyle choices.
Even when we first got together, people told me not to worry about the age gap and men could have children much later in life. Oh how it infuriated me and from having read so many of the previous stories it doesn’t matter whether you don’t want children, or can’t have children, everyone and their dog thinks you’re fair game to offer unhelpful advice.
I do appreciate how lucky I am to live in a time where I haven’t been completely ostracised for being a woman without children but it IS ridiculous that we still seem to be judged on our success as a gender based solely on whether life comes out of us. Do I ever wonder about how life might have been if I’d had a different upbringing? Not really, because where does that get me? I’m also aware that I’ve probably done alright out of life considering my less than happy childhood. My Mum and I don’t have any kind of relationship any more and I see my brother occasionally but not regularly. I’m certainly not orthodox but as so many of the other writers have shared, you have to find a peace and happiness in life, no matter how different that may look for you.
Thank you so so much to Kerry for sharing her honest story as a guest poster and sharing her thoughts and views in this piece. As I’ve stressed from the very beginning, this is a warm, empathic platform for people to share their stories, hopes, dreams, fears. Please do read Kerry’s story and leave a comment if you’d like to and share this series if you know anyone it could help. Together we are making changes.