A long silence had passed before anyone of us was ready to say another word to each other. Against the backdrop of a cold and windy night, the four of us sat inside a car in the parking lot of my in-laws' home. My wife was in the co-driver's seat staring at the wall in front of us. Her parents sat stunned in the backseat. The silence had come right after she said...
'Ernest and I have decided not to have children.'
It had taken us a year to get to this point. To burden them with the truth that we had known all along about ourselves; we just didn't want children. For them, this news was tragic. Their immediate response was to ask whether we had joined a cult. After all, we had just gotten married without their knowledge, and now this?
There was no cult. We had just made what we thought was the best decision for both of us. So why have we always felt guilty about disappointing them?
Also read: To have or not to have kids?
Part of my growing up has involved being able to tell the difference between what is expected of me, and what is right for me. Life is most interesting when the two things are not the same. For the most part, I remember wanting to have kids. I remember wanting to be as protective as my mother and as present as my father. I remember wanting to learn from their mistakes as parents. I once even kept a diary of the things I wanted my children to know about me.
All that changed when my mother passed away and my father lived the rest of his life battling a stroke. It no longer made any sense for me to bring children into this world knowing full well that I could die at any time and leave them at their most desperate hour. Or that they could grow up to live the last eight years of their life going between a bed, a chair, and a toilet, as my father did. These were all possibilities in the world I came to know. Maybe it was just my way of grieving, but suddenly a future with children no longer felt like a rite of passage. It felt like a choice I needed to think long and hard about before making.
Now, whenever I thought of children, I couldn't help associating them with baggage. I'd still dream of dropping them off at school, only now I would wonder what type of education my life as a struggling filmmaker would afford them. I wondered how my parents did it - and then remembered how my father almost lost everything trying to get us through school. I felt like a bad person for considering even the possibility of having an easier life than my father did. I thought of how important legacy was to my mother and felt like I was betraying her for wanting it to end with me.
The more I thought of my future, the less I saw children in it. Soon I was convinced that if I had them, it would be for no other reason than to do what was right by my parents. That became the sole remaining reason. I detested the fact that it came down to a choice between what my parents expected and what I wanted for myself. I chose the latter; I always try to choose the latter.
The way I saw it, I either wasn't fit for parenthood, or I didn't want to be a part of it. Either way, no child deserves to be born to such a parent. Also, if the argument was 'once the baby comes, you'll get used to it...' then that sounded like a laborious risk to me. I was only willing to take that type of risk with the things I truly cherish. I haven't regretted that decision since. The truth is that legacy is something that my mum took seriously - not me. Having an easier life is something I know my father would want for me even if he didn't understand my choices.
One midnight, a year before the night with my in-laws, I slid into bed and cuddled my wife after a punishing day at work. She was half asleep but heard me loud and clear when I said...
'Bae, I don't think I want to have children anymore...'
To which she sighed heavily and replied...
'Thank God, me neither!'
I didn't ask much about her reasons. Like me, I trusted that however way she came to her decision, it was a deliberate journey. She had made an intentional decision to live a life that was only ever approved of by her.
I can relate to that.
Do you want children? Have you always wanted children?