I Can Barely Take Care of Myself – Jen Kirkman

This is not so much an book review as it is a conversation. A conversation I was too scared to have on my own so I’m using Jen Kirkman’s words, as a buffer of sorts. A pillow, to soften some of the things that I want to say, to talk about. There really shouldn’t be anything to be scared about, but for some reason, having this discussion without wording it around Jen’s book makes my voice shake, ever so slightly. 

Since the days when I was still wearing one piece pyjamas I have told anyone who would listen that I didn’t want children. My Mom always reassured me I would change my mind but I would defiantly stomp my foot and tell her she was wrong. Thankfully I’ve grown since those days and am able to use words to explain my decision opposed to foot-stomping

I never played with dolls. Luckily I had a little brother who is close in age and we shared a love of animals and ninja turtles. I never understood why most of my girlfriends enjoyed playing house and carting babies around, I just wasn’t appealing to me. 

Don’t get me wrong, I like kids. Between my husband and I, we have some pretty amazing nieces and nephews and I love them dearly. Nearly everyone around me has little ones of their own and I thoroughly enjoy watching their babies grow into toddlers and celebrate every milestone along the way. I work with children often and I adore the time I get to spend with them. So trust me when I say, it’s not that I don’t like children, I just don’t think that kids are for me. 

I’ve never felt that maternal drive that I’ve heard so many women describe and I’m finally realizing that that is ok. It does not mean there is something wrong with me, it just means that my version of ‘family’ is a little different than societal ‘norms’. I’m still a ‘mother’ of sorts to my adopted “children” (aka pets), and for me, it’s fulfilling. 

This conversation about being childless by choice is becoming more prominent, more accepted, and less questioned. Just yesterday Humans of New York posted a portrait of a childless by choice woman and it was shared and ‘liked’ thousands of times. And, there are countless novels, like Jen Kirkman’s which celebrate a childless life.

In her book I Can Barely Take Care of Myself, Jen talks at length about the countless times she’s been forced to explain herself and fight for her decision to live childless and not be made to feel guilty about it. She comments on how many have called her selfish for her decision to not have children and her response is, “I don’t go up to parents and say, “You know what you guys should do in addition to what you’re already doing? You should start a small charity that helps birds that can’t read. What do you mean you don’t want to do that? How come you don’t want to add that to your schedule? Isn’t that selfish?””  I love that she is confident enough in what she wants to know that she doesn’t have the time, nor does she desire to make the time to raise a child, and that she, nor any other person who has made that decision, should be made to feel guilty for their choice.

Jen also discusses how she is often told she would be an amazing Mom after reassuring people, numerous times, it’s not what she wants. While I don’t really mind when people say this to me, I couldn’t help by laugh at her response. After being told she would shine as a mother she comments, “This statement is at best condescending and at worst patently false and potentially dangerous. It’s like telling a friend who you know has a paralyzing fear of wild animals that she would make a great game warden. Seriously, she should just shake off her deep-seated anxiety about being around rhinos and lions and just go out there and guide some poor, innocent family on a safari. I’m sure you’ll do fine!” 

Pregnancy, childbirth, children, and fertility are all extremely sensitive topics yet them seem to be commonplace, often with near strangers. And, while I don’t feel it’s appropriate for anyone to mercilessly question a woman about her actions and decisions regarding these things, I am glad that it’s becoming more commonplace to have open and civil discussions about living childless by choice.