When My Sister Tells Me She Doesn't Want Kids
Photo: Melanie Cooper Photography/Katherine Martinko
Last week, my sister told me she might never want kids. The announcement came as a bit of a shock, as I’m sure it would to anyone like me who’s totally immersed in a child-raising world.
“I don’t have the patience. I don’t want to be that selfless. I hated working as a nanny.”
I tried to explain that it’s different with your own kids, but then I stopped because she’s got a point. Being a parent requires insane amounts of patience, endless generosity toward little people who don’t give much in return except the blessing of their existence, and exhausting labour in the form of constant cleaning, chasing, and disciplining. The work never ends, so why do we parents do it anyways?
There was a time when I could relate to my sister’s concerns about having kids. I knew I wanted a family simply because I’m a very social person and crave company and don’t like being alone ever, but I was terrified of being too impatient and selfish to be a good mother. When motherhood was thrust upon me unplanned, I was relieved to discover that babies truly do bring their own love with them, as my mother had always told me. Somehow patience bubbled up from an unknown source, even for chronically impatient people like me.
I think the reason the parent-child relationship is so rewarding has a lot to do with the level of commitment and sheer volume of work invested in the relationship. By spending so much time together, you see each other at all hours of the day, in all states of mind, and achieve a much more intimate knowledge of each other than any friendship can provide. A child is raised with blood, sweat, and tears, and requires a full life of dedication from a parent. That’s serious stuff, but that’s where the big rewards come in.
It’s like learning to play the violin. I started as a young child and practiced long, awful hours every day for twelve years. Did I enjoy practicing? No way! I felt like a slave to that instrument, but when I finally reached a skill level that could move an audience to tears with my music, it was so worth the aching hands, the mental discipline, the solitary hours in my room, the fights with my mother.
The choice not to have children is one I respect, even if I didn’t want it for myself. My sister could travel, develop a career, make her own schedule; there are enviable elements to that life. But I want her to understand that kids are so worth it precisely because of the hard work they demand. That’s what makes them irreplaceable and meaningful, because they push me out of my comfort zone and demand attention till I feel there’s no more to give. That’s why I’m content to give up some personal freedom in order to have a few relationships that transcend all the others in my life.
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