This year, I am about to marry. What I dread aside from the wedding planning are the questions that come after the “I do’s.”

“When will you have kids?” Part of my preparations is learning how to politely answer, “I don’t want kids”.

My fiancé and I talked about kids and marriage during our early days of dating—initially, more as a concept. From the start, I told him I didn’t plan on changing my surname, and that I would rather adopt than make my own children. Though he had initial plans to have a junior, over the years he came around to wanting to remain childless, too. As our wedding date drew near, our values on marriage solidified even more.

In those early years, we knew that our convictions were not a now-or-never question, but an expression of our values at the moment. What is underrated in long-term relationships is how much they are a work in progress—we continuously negotiate and explore the path we want to take together. Such, I think, is the mark of a lasting relationship—honest, open, and, above all, respectful.

However, asking private and personal questions repeatedly can hardly be considered respectful. This is especially because the decision not to have kids is often deemed offensive by those who have them.

We never ask parents why they wanted children, let alone judge them as harshly for wanting one. Imagine saying to a parent, “Why would you want kids?!”, “You’ll regret it when you’re older!”, “You’re being selfish and immature”, “Someday, you’ll change your mind.” 

That would be horrifying. Yet we tend to say those same words to those who don’t want children—as if bearing children automatically makes one selfless, mature, and wise. This duality makes it hard for people to realize that parents, too, can be selfish, immature, and fallible. At the same time, people without kids can make those decisions out of selflessness, maturity, and wisdom.

“When will you have kids?” is a question also often more directed at women, who are then compelled to give reasons for not wanting to have kids. We rarely feel inclined to ask men, especially older ones, why they don’t want kids. The media has even glorified childless men as eligible bachelors. A woman with the same sentiments is simply selfish, immature, and practically wants to become an old maid.

The award-winning film “Marriage Story” makes a good point on why women are held to a much a higher standard, especially in Judeo-Christian cultures. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the ultimate female role model. She is a virgin who became a mother. As such, women can only be virgins or mothers. Being in between—a woman who is not a virgin and a woman who is not a mother—is not ideal, regardless of a woman’s circumstance.

There are varying degrees to how people will react to the statement “I don’t want kids.” The most extreme would be the essentialists who believe that women were made to bear children and produce the next generation. To them, even just publicly saying “I don’t want kids” is a way to propagate a malicious philosophy among women. Not surprisingly, this belief is often held by religious men who will never experience bearing children.

There are people who subscribe to Sushmita Sen’s beauty pageant answer that the essence of a woman is motherhood. To them, a woman is not fully realized until she has birthed children—and that women walk around with a void that can only be filled by a child. Unknown to them, this is a statement that bluntly denies the womanhood of countless women who, aside from those who do not want kids, struggle with infertility or have become adoptive mothers because they cannot give birth. Are they any less women than biological mothers?

Then, there are family members who will continue to bugger younger women with endless questions of “When will you have a boyfriend?”, followed by “When will you get married?”, “When will you have kids?”, and “When will you add more kids?”, like all this was a sport. Unknown to them, this culture has compelled so many women to look to husbands and children to find their worth.

Lastly, there will be people who will replace family-making with a career-oriented drive, as if the void of not having kids must be filled with equally “productive” activities. People will look to a successful career, financial gains, higher education, or better economic circumstances to validate the decision of not having babies. It is never enough to just say, “I don’t want kids”, without racking up the reasons why.

All these make it harder for women to realize that their value lies not in childbearing or even breadwinning. The essence of a woman lies in herself. She is enough—with or without a child or a husband.

I can already foresee that some might remember this article and come back to me years later when I did choose to have kids to say, “Ha! You gave in. We told you so!”

Yet the statement “I don’t want kids” is in the present tense. It is not to say I have never wanted kids or that I will never want kids in the future. It is saying that, if you ask me today, it’s a “No.”

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