By Urooj Fathima
I like to say that I am ‘child-free’ and not ‘child-less’. The latter implies physiological inability to have kids, a difficult and painful situation for those who want children. It carries all the weight of judgment and pity that lakhs of Indian women (and men) grapple with.
Then there is child-free. An option to live without kids, by choice. As an Indian woman, I rarely get the chance to forget that it is ‘the road less travelled’.
When we got married over 10 years ago, my husband and I didn’t want kids right away. We wanted to invest time and effort to cement our relationship as husband and wife first. We decided to revisit this issue in a couple of years. Two years became five and we realised that our feelings on this subject hadn’t changed. More, we realised that our feelings wouldn’t change. We were happy being just the two in our own little family.
Be it travelling or relocating and starting over, or looking for more adventures in life, we know it would be a lot harder, if not impossible, to do with kids in the picture. Add to this the pressure on the finances, to be able to afford good schools and good houses near the good schools and scheduling life around school timings, this is a kind scenario we never wanted to be a part of.
Our parents and immediate family members were curious initially but soon understood our choice to remain child-free. Seeing us happy with our choice, only reassured them further. However, it was not always that simple with members of extended family and friends. Any time I had a piece of good news in my life after marriage, like my University results or a good job offer, I was reminded that the ‘good news’ people wanted me to share was a very different one.
People prying into our lives and offering unsolicited advice has been a long-standing and annoying side-effect of our choice. My most infuriating experience was in a family gathering, when a distant relative, out-of-the-blue, gave me an elaborate recipe, filled with exotic ingredients. I listened politely, not saying aloud that this would be a rather complicated dish to prepare. It was only in the end that I understood to my rage that this was no exotic dish, but a ‘magic potion’ that ‘guaranteed’ conception!
A few years ago, we moved to Dublin, Ireland, and were house-hunting, when the landlady asked about the ‘rest of the family’. When I told her that we have no kids, she began assuring me that ‘it will happen for me too’. When I explained to her that it is more of a ‘table-for-two’ situation with us, I could see the confused look on her face. Bangalore or Dublin, sometimes some things remain the same!
If it is not the pitiful looks, the awkward personal questions or the ill-informed advice, the other annoying thing to deal with is, the self-important attitude of people with kids who cannot fathom that someone with no kids can be busy and have a life of their own. Not only am I forced to explain to acquaintances that we are not infertile, I also have to tell them that it is a perfectly normal decision to remain child-free. Over the last decade I’ve had to say a hundred times that we were simply not interested in being parents.
People also ask us what will happen to us without kids in our old age. I usually tell them that it would be hard but having kids is not an ‘insurance policy’ for care and company in the twilight years. The increase in the number of people booking space in old age homes or the people being abandoned by their children is sadly not that uncommon. There are no guarantees in life.
Now, gradually, after 10 years of our marriage, most of the important people in my life (and we) have come to terms with our decision to remain child-free.
While we have remained unwavering in our decision to be without children, there are times we wonder about the ‘what if’. It is human nature, isn’t it? I injured my back a few years ago and it took me a full year to recover and I can only imagine if I had to take care of a kid, what would have happened to the child or to my recovery time.
There are those times, when we have come across a really sharp or a sweet kid and we’ve wondered about what if we had a kid, what would they look like and who would they take after. But not once did we think of doing anything to find the answer to these questions. It is as if our biological clocks are set to mute, rather than snooze.
Remaining childfree doesn’t mean I do not like kids. I’m happy being an aunt to my nephews and nieces. I love spoiling them and although, I do not think my life is incomplete without children of my own, I do admit that I have lived vicariously through my siblings at times.
From what I have seen, having child is a tremendous mix of joys and sacrifices, but to say that a life without one is ‘incomplete’ or ‘superficial’ is also plain wrong. It is about having different priorities. My husband and I have time for each other and ourselves, resources and means to help people we care about. I now know a lot of young couples who have taken a leaf out of our book and realised that it is important to at least defer pregnancies till their finances and more importantly their marriages have stabilised. Having kids without actually wanting them can place a great strain on a marriage and it wouldn’t be fair to the children either.
While I may hate sitting next to a annoying child (or adult!) on the plane, I am more than happy to spend time with friends who do have kids. I do not make it a point to befriend people on the basis of their views on parenthood and wish for the same in turn.
Urooj Fathima is a writer, feminist and an absolute Bengaluru girl whose life is in Dublin but heart is here! She blogs here.