Category Archives: Family

Choice

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This subject is a polarizing subject for me. I am beginning to have strong opinions (on it) and keep wanting to express them. Much like all subjects and all people today. I read this book over a year ago. I had jotted these points down. I want to put them out there.

I also realize that reading book that promotes my point of view is hardly broadening my knowledge. But I did read it. And I feel the need to reinforce, to myself, the reasons for such decisions.

Selfish, Shallow and Self Obsessed – sixteen writers on the decision not to have kids

Edited by Meghan Daum

  1. Babes in the Wood – Courtney Hodell

It’s always interesting to know how we think we should feel versus how actually feel. We also juxtapose these feelings against what others are or are not supposed to feel. This essay made me think about those brief moments when I did believe I wanted a baby. It passed.

  1. Maternal Instinct – Laura Kipnis

This essay made me think a lot about the “naturalness” of having children because we are women or because we have wombs. As an aside I feel like I show get to know this author better because her name is so close to Tipnis, a close family friend.

  1. A Thousand Other Things – Kate Christensen

This particular essay reinforced the societal conditioning that demands we must want children. Must love it. Expect it with excitement. The author spoke about missing her phantom children during a particularly dark period in her life. It’s not something I could relate to.

  1. The New Rhoda – Paul Lisicky

This essay was a very different POV. Not just because it was a male POV but because of the time it was set in. I had never encountered (in writings) the generation that was singed by the AIDS epidemic. I never thought about the impact it had on reproductive health of that particular generation.

  1. Be Here Now Means Be Gone Later – Lionel Shriver

It’s an interesting thought that once life and education improves, women will push out having children. There are statistics and other curves proving that very fact and yet society somehow pushes women in the other direction. It’s as though nature (and society) want to disprove reality? Maybe not reality but it helps everyone apparently except women for women to constantly be stuck in the cycle of bearing and rearing children.

  1. The Most Important Thing – Sigrid Nunez

This essay talks about how your own upbringing influences your decisions – something I can relate to very keenly as a large part of my reason in not having children is linked to my upbringing. I was not traumatized or deprived in any way. I am not trying to compare myself to what sounds like hell for a lot of these writers. But I relate to it being linked to our own upbringing.

She mentions a lot of Sylvia Plath.

  1. Mommy Fearest – Anna Holmes

What is perfect femininity? The crazy devotion that motherhood it seems to demand? And the glorification of it leads to the other extreme POV of women staying children. She, along with others, talk about the fear that having children leads to losing any opportunity to create any memorable position/ achievement.

(It lead me down the road of thinking about my achievements, whether they were of any value especially since I did decide to get married but not have children; choose to work but not really pursue a career – where do I lie? Where do I find my place? Is it linked to this gender and this role and parts that I play or will I be shaped by parts I choose to exclude?)

  1. Amateurs – Michelle Hunneven

This essay drove home the point that we interpret life’s nuances to mean things they might not.

  1. Save Yourself – Danielle Henderson

This story talks about abandonment and makes me wonder about the wisdom/ ease of procreation. How fair is it that women who can so easily endanger their kids should be allowed to have kids! Is this (my) judgement fair?

  1. The Trouble with Having It All – Pam Houston

The title of this essay is pretty self-explanatory. More importantly, here the author speaks to a young girl who, while is very patriotic, is also very clear that she does not want children. She declares her view at a table where women of different ages are discussing child-bearing plans. There is no ‘having it all’ for any or every side.

  1. Beyond Motherhood – Jeanne Safer

In this essay, the author, who is also a psychoanalyst, details her painful coming to terms with the fact that she does not want children. She, like others in this collection, want to want children. They even have physical reactions to the process.

“Asserting an Affirmative No”

  1. Over and Out – Geoff Dyer

I loved this author’s writing style. It’s very non-apologetic, non-defiant unlike some of the female voices in this collection. He touches on all main points – freedom, (dis)inclination, propagating the species, leaving the legacy. Two points stood out – Why does life have to have meaning? And we regret (he does he said) almost every decision, so why should this be any different. “When it comes to regret, everyone’s a winner!”

  1. You’d Be Such a Good Mother, If Only You Weren’t You – M G Lord

This essay also talks about a physical reaction to having/ attempting to have children. The writer feels like she doing something wrong when she expresses relief at no children. It feels very painful – as though it was painful for her to get there.

More than one essay share this theme. Where it almost feels like the author/ writer/ person had to go through physical wrangling just to get to the point of admitting that, no she doesn’t want children.

  1. The Hardest Art – Rosemary Mahoney

One of the few questions strangers everywhere are apparently permitted to ask is “ do you have any children?” This essay addresses the vulnerability of being a parent and having little emotional agency. She knows she will succumb and wants not to do that. “Parenting is an art and not everyone is capable.”

  1. Just an Aunt – Elliott Holt

This essay touches on not being able to take care of one self emotionally – (genetic lottery) and consequently making that decision. Depression and self harm are scary companions to introduce a baby into. That can be scary.

  1. The End of the Line – Tim Kreider

This was the third male POV in the collection. Yet again it’s a voice that’s very irreverent. Not having children is a decision much like other decisions in life that are not taken. High risk ones.

Some other observations.

#1 There are multiple common references that run through many of these essays. One such reference is about articles that appear in the press about being childless and “carefree”. The stories showing visual depictions of “freedom” without children.

#2 Judgement from fellow parents. (I have never encountered a parent saying they’ve had to deal with judgement from non-parents) Again mom vs non-mom yes but do men face this too?

# 3 Women writers in this collection are constantly critiquing their decision. The male writers don’t seem to face such internal dialogue.

Better warned

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Recently I have had to deal with feelings with acute guilt of leaving a pet all alone, at home, all day. I rush back from work to make some time with him.Feed him. Play with him.

As I rushed back yesterday, I realised I would have been extremely susceptible to mommy guilt, had I been a mother.

Phew.

Do we truly use all we have and get?

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I remember a discussion after watching Sardar some years ago.  Someone remarked how we don’t really value the freedom we got because we don’t know what it is like to live without it. I remember thinking that was such a typical statement to make.

But when you look around and see how one tends to take everything you have for granted — from expecting the government to do without participating, shrugging and blaming without trying, pulling others down for trying.. all manner of things, I realise maybe we truly don’t realise the vision our leaders had when they fought for freedom.

On a more personal note, even freedom as women today is quite different from our mothers’ times, as is the case with every generation. Discussions I often have with batch mates and friends are often peppered with phrases like — “Thank god we don’t live in the times our mothers did,” or  “We didn’t have to fight for our right to education,” (in most cases these women are  largely urban), we could do what we wanted, marry whom we wanted, when we wanted..and many such “coulds and “haves”.

But what we forget to discuss is do we really know and use this freedom and independence (political and personal)? Did we ever stop to think are we truly free to do what we want? And since I think it is a yes, do we really do what we want..?

Most of the women my life (no surprises) are in my age group and effectively single. But very of them want to actually remain that way. Very few are single  not because they choose to be that way but it’s happened to be such. They are almost always trying to change that. Willfully and consciously or at least in gestures and wishes.

I realise most don’t want to be alone, women included, but we are so conditioned into believing that living alone is equivalent of the worst possible hell that we are expected to do everything in our power to change that status.

Most want to eventually be a part of another whole. While am sure it is somewhere lurking inside me, I notice it has become another level of achievement in our generation of women. Yes, you studied and worked for a few years and had the requisite exciting flings and affairs, but now, come on, how come you aren’t still married!

Oh, you have done this that and the other but how come you aren’t married?

Oh come one, now you are in your 30s, you must settle (for) and get married.

Among the different versions said, one person even said to me.. the only reason everyone always wants you to get married is because they are unhappy that you are not.

It’s so deeply ingrained that party invites from spouses of school friends say, “please feel free to bring your husband”

.. or your seniors who assume you are married say, “..am so sorry I thought you were married..”

But all these tedious lines apart, even everyone my age,  seem to want to come to marriage and stop. That seems to be a finishing line or the medal, something I can’t decide.

Am not entirely sure whether or not I will or wont or do or don’t want to get married but I know it won’t become my life’s goal. I don’t want to go after “eligible men” who are not “divorced” and feel smug that marrying in my 30s has “netted” me such a nice find.

This is not marriage bashing or man bashing but, funnily, about doing what you want, even if it’s not something everyone wants. Why is it so difficult to digest that?

PS This was a nice article I stumbled upon..

Is any fear rational?

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Someone I know very peripherally is getting married and due my actual proximity to her, I’ve inevitably gotten pulled along into conversations about her preparation to her “big day”. To give her credit, she is paying for her own wedding which is fantastic. Not too many women I know do that.

We got talking about age (and after her carefully disguised “but your parents must be looking and must be worried” )and she mentioned hers.. and then she added how at 25 she got truly frightened about “not finding anyone” and “was worried there would be no one left”. While that statement didn’t really stump me, I kept wondering why didn’t I feel such irrational fear? What’s to fear..? In a world of 6 billion can there ever be a time when there is “no one left” and would I actually be the lucky one to experience the planet all to myself.

The thought hovered… I mentioned it to a few people and not too many smiled back when I expressed the fact that why was it that I felt no fear? I still don’t know why. Yes I’d want to share my life with someone, but with anyone? Because am afraid no will have me now that am in my thirties? No go. I’ve always had a lot going against me in the arranged marriage market so age would just be adding to that list.. maybe that’s why there is no fear..because I would be looking in the wrong marketplace anyway. And like everything else, you’ve got to let the experience come to you, not go searching for it. Those are the best, in my experience.

Fear perhaps stems from the school of thought that makes marriage for a girl  an inescapable destiny or even destination. Hence “do it fast or no one else will remain” or  “now you will only get divorcees” is constantly thrown at you –  like a deterrent. Do I only see the insult there? Divorcees came even after no else remains?

Then I read this and I got the fear, to an extent. And realised why I fought so much with parents because they are still afraid while I have moved on.

Some more opinions here and here.

I am exhausted

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Protecting the girl child is one of my pet causes, especially since so many girls die in this country with alarming regularity.
But as I grow older, I have moments when I feel it would have been better to have been a statistic rather than be a single woman in this decidedly un-modern society that I am unwittingly a part of. It’s as if I am not actually allowed to control my life (at least after a point).

[Yes I realise it’s a dramatic comparison but perceived privilege is worse than actually not having that privilege.]

I consider it a big crime when I read of mothers, mothers-in-law and other sundry women of a household who encourage their pregnant daughters and daughters-in-law to kill their babies. Despite all the expected troubles in the distant future for that daughter who is yet to come into this world, how can a woman actually do that?

But now when I see my mother and see how helpless she feels with a daughter who is supposedly independent, educated and reasonably self-sufficient, and not in the bracket where the reasons for actually killing the daughter arise, I wonder if this independence has any meaning at all.

I have the education, the ability and the capability to run my life. But when strange people call my parents and consolingly ask, if they (my parents) still have an unmarried daughter, I want to push them out the nearest window.

Yes, the independence is mine while all this angst is conditioning-driven but how does one go about disassociating one from the other? Every time? More than one person has told me that all this will affect me only to the degree I let it affect me. But I am still grappling with developing a thick skin, which no one really seems to know how to do.

I hate this peddling of my parents’ unmarried daughter. I hate what it does to them, and me.  I hate that they would willingly let me marry any man (which can be looked at a positive as “anyone will do, any religion too,” my mother says.. which again dumbfounds me) just so that I, and them more importantly, rid themselves of the stigma of an old, unmarried daughter.

I hate that, in this so-called progressive and modern and urban India, there is no place for single women. Progression implies you are ‘allowed’ to have a love marriage but also to snidely hear “but you haven’t found anyone, have you?” That’s exactly what I want — my parents picking this argument to fling in my face my failed relationship(s).

My mother does not have any answer to all my whys and that always brings us to a cusp where she has not even considered challenging conventionally held norms. I respect that but since this one involves my life, I can’t help but vociferously protest. “Why can’t you just get married before it gets too late..” is one refrain she never tires off.

She doesn’t realise why I get upset when strange women call and ask if I would be willing to marry men only because I am taller than the average girl or older than the average girl. Needless to say, we don’t gel is an argument my mother doesn’t understand.

I hate the fact that my married friends (well some, not most) turn around and demand to know why I am “not doing enough to get married.” Or “why I am not willing to compromise since now am in my 30s”. Or since it worked for them (the Russian roulette known as the arranged marriage market), why can’t I believe it will work for me?

These are people I grew up with and turns out we evolved and became people we don’t recognise anymore. It’s scary. It’s upsetting. It’s futile. Especially not having people who don’t even understand what you are saying, forget believing in what you believe.

Nothing today is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ so why is this situation any different?

I have a friend who comes from a relatively conservative background (only as reference since her mother and mine are identical when it comes to some demands). Some years ago there was a tremendous pressure on her married. Demands came in all forms including emotional blackmail of a parent admitted in the hospital. But she didn’t succumb. At that point I was ambiguous since I could see her worry and her parents’ suffering.

But today I am glad she stuck it out. Not that she is my moral comfort now, but I know despite intense degrees of emotional blackmail, she survived. It takes strength and conviction that being alone won’t completely derail you – something a lot of people would have you believe and is used as frequent initiator into marriage. “What will you do when you are 50?” is a favourite question when you say you aren’t sure you cut out for marriage, or at least marriage of this kind.

Like in most areas of my life, the pressure here too exceeds everything else. I should know what I want – whether it’s my job, my life or my marriage. I should actively seek it – clamour, fight, run and do what it takes to get it, grabbing every opportunity that comes my way.

Most of my interesting experiences and relationships have been because of one chance I took. A turn I made. It has almost always been unplanned and certainly not charted. I don’t have a rose-tinted vision of life and would like to believe when the turn comes, I will take it.  It will be my decision and one I will live with, positively or negatively.

But till then, this argument which often becomes a battle of wills, is becoming intolerable. With most people I can give it back but somehow not able to get through my parents. It’s a futile, recurrent argument which only leads to cold sulks, tears, hoarse throats and me making crazy declarations.

Would it have been better if I had just not been born?