Woe Is Me! “How Do I Live in India Peacefully While Choosing Not to Have Children?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“How do I exist in India’s conventional and patriarchal society peacefully while sticking to my choice — I don’t want to have a child?”
— Just Trying To Exist
ADT: Hey, Just Trying To Exist. I can’t pinpoint when I realized I didn’t ever want children, but it was a deeply freeing, peaceful realization. Sometimes, you can’t stand small humans and sometimes, you just don’t have the bandwidth to deal with them. While I’m lucky enough to have an immediate family that doesn’t care too much about babies in my uterus, I can understand how exhausting it is to deal with people who place motherhood on a pedestal. I mean, I do believe its a great experience, but we also get the right to choose to avoid it and sub it in with other great experiences — like running away to a remote beach and opening a shack or something like that. What you need now is a community and the ability to firmly refuse all arguments about children. Change the subject often, make a list of drastic conversation topics that would completely draw away attention from what’s in your uterus. As for community, I recommend r/childfree, though they do sometimes get a bit misanthropic about little humans. It’s tiring to smash the patriarchy every day; sometimes you can just rudely overtake them or swerve into a different lane and you’ll be okay.
PP: I hate to do say this but, currently, as Indian society stands and probably will be for the next few decades — you can either be childless or peaceful. We’re on it, we’re fighting for a world where both can happen, but this is what I think you should and can do until then: stand by your gut to not have children, don’t have children, and then put in just enough effort to convince (repeatedly) only those who matter to you, and ignore the rest. You’ll still hear all the taanas and feel all the pressure, which is why it won’t be “peaceful”, but all you can do is try to find inner peace (as cheesy as it sounds). I’m sorry Just Trying To Exist, but I’m just trying to be honest as a fellow woman fighting for your right to not have kids.
RD: Hi, JTTE. First of all, congratulations. You have just made a wonderful decision, IMO. The world is literally dying, and we’re all dying a slow, possibly-painful-in-the-future death with it. Birthing a child into this world would probably mean they also live an inevitably painful life (unless you have a lot of power and privilege to fly off to another planet and start a civilization, in which case your hypothetical progeny would be fine). I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next couple of decades it would be unethical to have children because we have fucked up our world just enough to never ensure a healthy future for the next generation. Forget patriarchy, forget India’s culture, forget your supposed duty as a woman — the next time someone asks you why you don’t want children, ask them why they do. Consider yourself ahead of the curve and be proud of your choice, because having children should no longer be the norm in our society. Lead the revolution.
AM: If this makes it any easier, let me tell you, you’re not alone. There are so many young couples trying to navigate the same problem, fighting this very hard fight every day. It’s a matter of speaking up and being assertive, really. If it is the parents bothering, you need to handle your parents and your partner needs to manage theirs. Sit them down, tell them that this is a decision that is in both your hands and it has been taken and nobody has any say in it. And that there will be no discussions thereafter on this topic. First, they choose the school, then the subjects you will study, then which college you will go to, then whom you can marry and then they also decide you need to have kids and how many. I’m sorry to say, but we’re all in a vicious circle and it’s our turn to take matters into our own hands and get out of it. Ask them practical questions about what after childbirth? Do you have funds to raise them? Do you have time to look after them? Will they and would they want to keep them while you and your partner are away for work or want to travel? Give them reasons for why you have chosen to be child-free. Tell them you understand their desire to have grandchildren but it’s not something you’re up for and can fulfill. Tell them and show them that being childless is a choice and that it’s yours. Good luck.
SM: Hi, Just Trying To Exist. I know this can be extremely hard. As RD has pointed out, it is absolutely amazing that you’ve made this choice. There’s a downside to making any difficult ethical choice, and unfortunately, the flag bearers of patriarchy (unintentionally and intentionally) will be hounding you about this one for, well, eternity. I think you should increasingly aim to try and filter out the opinions of people who don’t matter. But if you think it’s important to engage, then you should try and educate those who have a problem with your choice about why you’ve made it and maybe, that might reshape how they think, or at least introduce them to a new perspective that they haven’t ever seriously considered. It’s hard to make unconventional choices in a society that is still steeped in narrow-minded traditions. I hope knowing that you’re not alone and that not only do people like me support you but also look up to you could be somewhat of a consolation for all of those who make you feel terrible about this. Sending lots of love, joy, and strength your way.
AJ: Hello, you. Welcome to the cult! As I write this, I can almost hear my mother’s favorite dialogue, “Wait till you have kids of your own!” Thankfully, irrespective of the inevitable societal backlash that comes with anything that challenges the status quo, an increasing number of couples are choosing to not give up their current lives in raising children — be it a personal choice or for environmental concerns. Either way, in most cases, having a kid doesn’t look like a lot of fun, unlike a puppy. I shudder at the thought of having a restrictive lifestyle and additional responsibilities, combined with the terrifying thoughts of being solely responsible for another living being and bringing another life into this terrifyingly unsafe country. I agree with Shrishti, education is the only way you can help people understand why. Saying it with humor always helps lighten the mood and get your point across without seemingly offending anybody (avoid dead baby jokes). For friends and family, of course it’s going to take time to peel away layers of societal conditioning and to be okay with you choosing not to have a kid. Yes, it can be awkward and supremely annoying, but if they love you, they’ll come around and respect your decision.