Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Childfree life by choice. Is it a valid decision?


My best friend is childfree by choice. I always knew that about her, and although she keeps wavering between the two worlds, she is mostly on the childfree side. When my daughter wasn't born, we never really discussed in detail about her reasons for being childfree, but once my daughter arrived, I was over the moon and generally kept insisting to her about having kids. Still my heart was not in it. I think I just wanted my daughter to grow up with her child and I said as much to her. Very selfish, I know.

Truth is, for the longest time, I was quite sure I would not have children. "The whole world is staggering under the population explosion with limited resources to spare, if I must have children, they will be adopted", thought I. Three years into my marriage, all that logic went out of the window. I felt this unrelenting and compelling need to mother a child. Something I couldn't ignore. Since my husband too was ready, soon our daughter was born, making it the happiest day of our lives.

And yet the trend of going childfree by choice is growing in India. The trend is most rampant in Double Income No Kids ( popularly known as DINK) couples. You just have to type childfree in google and you'll see what I mean.We live in such a child friendly country that not having kids by choice is considered a very western concept. I interviewed a few couples who are childfree by choice to get their side of the story.I have included only those who have mutually decided to be childfree for the sake of exploring one category at a time.

Pragya Desai, a 31 year old media professional from Mumbai says, " I don't think I was born with the maternal instinct. I never felt envious of my sister who has one child and is happily pregnant with her second. They have the perfect bustling household full of life and if it should have changed my perception about motherhood, it hasn't till now". Pragya is adamant she will never have children and neither does she think she will regret her decision 20 years from now. She is comfortable in a space where her social circle has single or childfree people and this circle keeps expanding. Her parents and her in-laws have accepted this decision as they already have grand children.

30 year old Neeru Panjabi, a Pre-School Teacher from Indore finds herself in choppy waters. Her parents and in-laws actually don't know about her husband's and her own decision to be childfree. They still battle questions from relatives on why even after 5 years of marriage, there is still no good news. Neeru says she often gets advice on which fertility clinic to visit. Neeru and her husband are a couple struggling to make their name in their respective careers and don't feel they have the time and commitment it takes to invest in a baby. Apart from that they are also not sure if they will be able to bear the financial burden of raising a baby in an increasingly expensive world. They have 2 adorable dogs who are like children to them. " Sure there are vet bills and there are times when we travel and the dogs have to be put into a hostel but it is still cheaper than raising a child", opines Neeru.

Pragya and Neeru represent two sides of the same coin. Both are battling the social stigma attached to not having children post marriage. While Pragya's motivation for remaining childfree is driven by an internal force of an absent maternal instinct, Neeru's motivation is external. Her choice remains centered on their aim to focus on their respective careers and the expense involved in raising a child. But for Neeru, being from a small town has its own downside. Not only has she been unable to communicate her decision to her parents and in-laws but she also has to live with the tag of being called "barren" behind her back.

Nisha Rao, yet another woman in her early thirties who is settled in the US, admits it is not easy to make the older generation understand her decision to be childfree. Her reasons for being childfree are rooted in external factors like the cost of bringing up a child in a very expensive US of A, loss of freedom and internal factors like the inability to feel maternal towards children. But most importantly, after a grueling work day, she doesn't feel she would have the time it takes to bring up a child. The typical reactions that she gets from her relatives on knowing about her voluntary decision to be childfree are 

1. “You’re crazy.
2. “What kind of a woman doesn't want children?”
3. “You’re going to regret this later in life.”
4. “Don’t you want someone to take care of you in your old age?”
5. “Think about all the women who cannot have children. You have the gift of having children; don’t throw it away.”
6. “Have a child, then you’ll know what love is.”

Not once was she asked why she chose to make this decision. 

Some other respondents to my research shared their stories too.

Arpita and Deepak are avid travelers. They simply don't want to interrupt their lives for a baby that they are confident they would not be able to care for, given their lifestyle.

Neha and Amit are happy being around children as long as they are not their own. They enjoy babysitting their siblings' children and return them to their parents when the time is up. Neha insists she would never bring a child into a world that is already battling population issues.

A particularly funny response that I received from Maria D'Souza went something like this. An intrusive aunt would constantly keep asking Maria about why isn't she conceiving even after 6 years into her marriage. Maria stonewalled her for the longest time possible until one day she decided to settle matters once and for all. Maria's aunt called her and here is how the conversation went:
Aunt: "Maria, you must have children now. Remember your clock is ticking!" If there is some problem, you know you can talk to me about it".
Maria: "Aunty, actually I may as well be honest with you. We have been trying to conceive since the last 5 years and still nothing. We try day and night. Sometimes in the afternoon also. But still nothing! Speaking of which, it is now our time to try again, so Bye!"

The older generation automatically assumes that there is a problem in conception if you aren't pregnant after marriage. This perception is so strongly embedded in their minds that when they hear that the decision to not have children is a voluntary one, they are simply stumped. As Nisha Rao aptly summed it up, first comes the confusion what!?, then the disbelief but why would anyone want that?, then the concern problem conceiving? and finally the emotional blackmail don't you care about what we desire? we want to be grandparents"
  • 10% of the couples who participated in this research think they may change their opinion later in life and adopt.
  • Another 10% don't admit their decision to be childfree publicly
  • 65% feel they won't make good parents
  • 90% of the respondents's parents and in-laws haven't been able to accept their decision
  • 100% agreed that their immediate social circle accepted their decision and were genuinely okay with it
I have refrained from giving any personal opinion so far in this post. It is mostly up-to the reader to find his or her own conclusion based on the stories shared. But I do have one thing to add. When people complement me on my beautiful family, I am never asked why I chose to start a family, and in that lies the respect that I receive for making this very personal decision. I wish there would be more respect and acceptance for the CFBC couples, especially among the older generation. 

This post is already too long and I still have a lot more to share. Well, basically my own opinion to add, but it'll have to wait for now. 

PS: Unlike the first two posts, this one took a couple of weeks to write. It involved a fair bit of research. I would like to thank all the couples who answered some very personal questions and helped me gather the information I needed. More power to all of you guys!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Is everyone destined to turn into their parents?

A few months back, I overheard my mother's closest friend, who was looking for a prospective daughter-in-law for herself tell my mother," if I really want to know how the girl will turn out, I'd look at her mother". I frowned at this suggestion but didn't say anything for obvious reasons. But I did find myself thinking about it more than I should. Perhaps I realized there was some truth in it, but not consciously.

Throughout my teenage and early adulthood I have strived to be my own person. Irrespective of the genes I inherited from my parents, I consciously avoided mistakes that I thought they committed. And then very recently, when I was cooing lovingly to my daughter, I found myself repeating the phrases that my mother did to me when I was a child. And today, when I was struggling to get my daughter ready for school in time, I uttered the the very words that I vowed never to utter to my own child- phrases from my childhood when I was being scolded. Other things I noticed like I keep my kitchen exactly the way my mum does. A close friend of mine is up from dawn till dusk refusing to nap even when time permits, just like her mum. My husband trying to shield me from the big bad world (infuriating sometimes), just like his dad does for his much protected wife. Ironical, isn't it? For we all love the thought of being individuals exclusive of other personalities.

How does this happen? As infants, we obviously learn about interactions from our parents and siblings. And we do learn from there a lot more than we think we do. Our reactions to circumstances, pitch and tone of voice is all first learnt by observing our parents. Since we know nothing about the outside world as infants, we obviously think this is the only way things are done. As we grow older our interactions with outside world increases and we start observing friends, teachers and relatives. They form new brain patterns. Then comes teenage and we unlearn everything in the bid to be different (at least that is the way it happened with me).

Then why am I now regressing to my infancy?! Haha, as funny as it sounds, I did think a lot about it. And here is what I found. I am not a psychologist but I found there are specific times when my brain chooses to act like my parents.

  • When I am struggling with something
  • When I am extremely happy
  • When there is a festival
  • When I am undertaking a very risky venture
There are more but can't think of them now. 

Where does that leave me? Nowhere close to answering my question but there is something I would like to admit. Genes and family values, notwithstanding, I am grateful to my parents for passing on some wonderful qualities to me like reading, caring for others and how to have a blast on a family vacation, no matter what goes wrong. And then there are some things that I try to avoid like hurting someone or being unkind.

Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Are we all eventually going to turn out like our parents?

This is my second post and things look much better now. It took a little over a couple of hours and I am done just in time to pick my daughter up from school. Yay!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The real first post for a real happy new year

Before my actual first post becomes my last post, I decided to take to blogging more frequently. Why this sudden change of heart? Well, because I recently started working from home and my job is to write articles for online publishing. As I wrote more and more, I discovered I really have a knack for writing! Yay! So it was only natural to write my own blog, notwithstanding that I actually created the blog 3 years ago..sheesh, and never wrote anything.

Now, as to my knack for writing, I have spent nearly 2 hours figuring out what to write, then turned to fine tuning the blog, spent about half an hour there and finally realized that I, in fact, don't have a knack for writing stuff about myself. I dont know about others who started writing but suddenly all my wonderful ideas seemed stupid and not worth sharing with anyone. Sigh! Nevertheless, stupid or not, here goes.

There is something very fresh about a new year. it is almost like a clean slate where you can begin to decide how you will spend your time. Unfortunately, I was never any good at new year resolutions. so this year, I decided to adopt an attitude to remedy my myopic views in life. It's called, "will it matter five years from now?" I must have read about it somewhere because it is not an original thought. I have sometimes jokingly asked my husband this question, when were are in a heated discussion/argument.

I am not very good at keeping things in perspective. The earliest I can remember is any disagreement with my parents could kill my mood for days and more recently even a rude driver can ruin my day. A worthless argument here, a cancelled dinner plan there and an entire week gone. So, I started asking myself, "will it matter five years from now?" and ah, the relief! It just took the edge off things and helped me view things in a better perspective. The maid takes a leave without informing? Wont matter five years from now. My daughter refusing to give up breastfeeding at 2 years old? Probably wont matter five years from now. And so on..

These simple words have helped me focus on the really important things in life. I have big plans like any other woman, and now small things don't get in the way of my big plans. I am happier today than I was last year. I carry a lesser burden of guilt and doubts on my shoulder. And most importantly, it has improved my relationship with friends and family.

So, a big cheers to 2014 and hope you all have a happier one like me :)