A conversation with author Kristen Tsetsi on why she doesn’t want kids
|Q: For me, there’s no fear worse than the thought of losing a child, either through death or an estranged relationship. What is your worst fear? (Not on a global scale. Must be personal in nature.)
A: My husband dying, me dying, or one of us being hit by a drunk driver or texting driver (or anyone, really, but I could at least forgive a pure, honest accident) and being given an injury that changes the essence of who one of us is. If I had a child, losing that child or leaving the child motherless would undoubtedly be my worst fear. I’m very happy that I’ll never be in the position to worry about that.
Q: When did you know you didn’t want kids? Can you elaborate on what led you to make this decision?
A: When I was a teenager and fighting with my parents (as teens will sometimes do), my stepmother at the time would invariably say at some point, as if to help me understand one of her demands or rules, “You’ll see when you have kids.” My response would be, “I’m never having kids.”
But I didn’t really know what that meant, just like I didn’t know what it meant to be a mother when I was eight years old playing with a baby doll and pretending to be its mother.
I probably gave it my first serious thought after I’d married my first husband at 19 years old. We hadn’t talked much about the things you’re supposed to talk about before getting married (and I’d never been much of a planner), and when he said one day that all he wanted out of life was “nice house, a nice car, and a family,” it occurred to me that his idea of “family” included children, and that I would be expected to have at least one. Motherhood was suddenly a very real possibility in my life, and the moment I acknowledged it, I could feel my energy or spirit or whatever you would call it backing away from the idea, hands out in a “No way” gesture.
After that initial recognition I would think about it now and then, usually trying to figure out why I didn’t seem to want something most women fantasized about. But, any time I did think about it, or try to imagine it as a reality in my life, I always ended up at “No.”
Q: Do you think society looks at childless couples differently than couples with kids? If yes, do you think society views older childless couples in a different light as opposed to younger couples that don’t want kids but are still within childbearing age?
A: I think they probably do look at childless couples differently. (“Childfree” is actually the preferable term for those who choose not to have them, only because it communicates that there’s no need for sympathy, that it’s a conscious choice.)
And by “they” I mean a certain population of people, but certainly not everyone. My friends who have children – and all of them who are my age do – respect the choices of those who don’t want kids. In fact, it’s just not something they think or care about unless the topic is brought up to them, because it has nothing to do with them or their lives.
Others, those who for some reason are (or seem to be) offended by women who don’t want children, see couples (but mostly women) who choose not to have kids as selfish, narcissistic, self-involved, etc.
I don’t know whether they see older couples without children differently, but I can only imagine they do. At my age (but not for much longer), it’s assumed that I still have the choice to procreate and that I’m still actively choosing not to get pregnant. If I were 50, 60, or 70, that option would no longer be as readily available or realistic, so there would be less reason to think I was somehow “rebelling.”
Q: Do you ever dream about babies? In other words, do babies ever appear in your dreams? Or do you ever appear as a young child in your own dreams?
A: Interesting question! I write about this in No Children, No Guilt. I’ve had two dreams with a baby in them that I still remember pretty vividly, and one about a child who was probably about three years old. The babies were intensely loved in my dreams, and I’m almost positive I felt as well as I possibly could the kind of love a parent has for a child. In the other, with the older child, I was a parent who didn’t know my child very well, who hadn’t been around for a year or more of the first years of her life. It was a terrible experience, to feel like I should know her and to not know her.
Q: I know you are an animal lover. Do you view yourself as a mother to your pets?
A: No, but I do love them and view myself as responsible for their happiness and well being for as long as they live.
Q: Do you think women writers who are mothers view the world differently than women writers who’ve never had children? For instance, I see the world through the eyes of a mother, and it informs much of my work. How do you see the world and how does it affect the way you write?
A: I think women writers who are mothers view the world they’re writing about differently than non-mothers, absolutely. I remember, probably during my second marriage (to a man I’d told I didn’t want children but who chose to believe I would change my mind – oops), trying again to convince myself to want children because he wanted them. At the time, I was getting very deeply involved in writing and I still remember thinking, “I don’t want to have a child and suddenly write about nothing but motherhood or children or families.”
I hope that doesn’t offend you or anyone else who is a parent and writer. It probably had a lot to do with not wanting that perspective, that role, to begin with.
As a non-mother, I see the world as being inhabited by all kinds of creatures – people and animals and marine life and insects – that all deserve a certain amount of respect and kindness.
As a writer, I see us (humans) as perfectly, interestingly flawed, and I enjoy exposing and trying to elicit compassion for those flaws. At the very least, I want to reach one reader who has to admit to him- or herself while reading, “Oh, thank God – I’m not the only one who’s felt/behaved like this.”
As a writer, I’m also an incurable romantic, and I write about love a lot – but not in a traditionally romantic, or even happily-ever-after, way. It’s the real kind of love, the kind that makes us spitting mad, crazy jealous, and sometimes desperately isolated from each other. But underneath, the love is there, and all of its flaws and slammed doors make it that much stronger, somehow. Love drama – what a rush.
Q: Do you think women who are mothers are more empathetic or less empathetic to the plight of others around the world? Or about the same as women who’ve never had kids?
A: I think they’re about the same. I do think there are some women who, after having children, suddenly realize there’s more to care about than themselves, but there are also people who have children who stay perfectly self-absorbed and apathetic about the world and people around them.
Often, all it takes to develop empathy for others, I think, is growth and experience, which can occur with or without children. There’s probably also a “nature vs. nurture” aspect that contributes to our tendency to view (or not view) the lives of others (people/animals/the planet) as valuable and worth caring about.
A: This is a loaded question for me to answer, because I have strong feelings about what we as a society accept as a father’s role. In short, we don’t expect a whole hell of a lot. If a father leaves his family, just disappears, we barely blink unless he’s also not paying child support. If a woman leaves, she’s a monster. This says a lot about the value we place on fatherhood, and I think it communicates to men that we don’t find their role as parents very essential.
It also puts a pretty big burden on women who might decide after a divorce that they aren’t the more appropriate parent. Even if she wants to give custody to the father, how could she? What would “they” think of her, a woman, a mother, giving up custody of her children? Isn’t she, as a woman, always the better choice as a parent? The nurturer?
Not always, no. But we don’t easily accept that.
Back to the question – If I were a man… If I were a man in the 1960s, I might have taken longer to come around to “No.” I would still work, still have my social life, etc. Not much would change for me. But I would probably still say no, because I would still be a parent, and I have no desire to be a parent. As a man these days, I would hope I would expect my role to be every bit as involved as a mother’s, and to be every bit the parent she is, and – again – no interest.
Q: I don’t have the statistics, but I’m curious what the ratio is of mothers vs. non-mothers when it comes to women volunteering in any area of service to others.
A: I don’t have the statistics, either, but I have interviewed or simply come into contact with several women who say not having children affords them more time to be active in a volunteer capacity. Which is not to say that if you don’t have kids you’d better be involved in a charitable organization. That equates reproducing and raising one’s own children to a noble effort that benefits strangers.
Q: Do you think more homeless women are mothers or non-mothers? Again, I don’t have the statistics. Does it matter?
A: The National Coalition for the Homeless says 41% of the homeless population is comprised of families, and GreenDoors.org says 84% of families experiencing homelessness are headed by females. I think it does matter, because the kids have no choice in the matter.
There are many people who become homeless through no fault of their own – unexpected job loss, death of a partner who was the sole breadwinner – but there are also many people who, knowing they don’t have the finances, knowingly or carelessly get pregnant (sometimes more than once or twice).
If anything should be given more than a cursory thought followed by an “I’m sure it’ll be fine, it’ll work itself out, people have kids all the time,” it should be creating a brand new person whose life and emotional health and well-being will be entirely in your hands.
A: I used to work right next door to an elementary school and would hear the kids when they came out for recess or a field day. I found the noise more joyful than annoying, because they were usually laughing or having fun. If they were making angry noises, I’d find it annoying. My reaction would be the same if it were adults outside making noise.
I think this question is designed to ask me very politely if I am annoyed by children in general. 🙂 I’m not. They’re simply younger, smaller people, and I decide whether I like or dislike them after meeting them, just like I do with adults.
I’m one of those childfree people who abhors the terms “breeder” and “crotchfruit” (which some will use, and I think it’s because they’re lashing out after being judged) and whose life choice is one that I’m just happy to live. I don’t make it my business to find children to be annoyed by or criticize parents for having children.
I just want people to be happy. Which is why No Children, No Guilt is such a light, humor-focused book. The pressure from outside forces can make people feel bitter and angry. It did it to me. So I draw from some of the personal experiences I had as a childfree woman (including the two divorces it helped along and some judgment I received from others) to help others laugh a little and stave off the bitterness. If they want kids, great. If they don’t, great – no reason to feel guilty about it or to succumb to pressure. Just live and have fun and forget about what other people think you should do with your life. Creating a human is a huge thing, and no one can or should make that decision for you.
Q: I grew up in a big family of six children. We moved around a lot but we kids always got the feeling that the neighbors didn’t like us because there were so many of us. When we showed up in public places, people would stare. We could read their lips as they counted off heads. If you passed a large family on the street, what do you think your reaction would be?
A: My first reaction would, honestly, be, “Holy ***, that’s a lot of kids.” But the rest of my reaction would probably be influenced by how involved the parents seemed and how the kids behaved. I’ve seen an episode or two about the Duggar family, and the kids seem so respectful, so well cared for, and so pleasant. And the parents seem to genuinely love being parents. It’s as if that’s what they always knew their purpose and passion in life was. I think it’s beautiful. But I don’t think it’s for everyone, and I certainly don’t think anyone and everyone should have 19 or 20 (or 1 or 2 or 3 kids), because not everyone is cut out for it – even if they think it would be “neat.”
Q: In one of your television interviews, you said that your dad was disappointed when you first told him you didn’t want kids. What was your mother’s reaction?
A: I should first say that after that interview, which my dad watched live online, I immediately called him and apologized because I hadn’t come back to the question to clarify that he had since changed his mind. (He’d called me selfish for not wanting kids.) He felt bad for saying it the second the words left his mouth, he told me on the phone. “But, I did say it, so don’t worry about it,” he said.
I don’t remember my mother having a reaction. I don’t remember it coming up in conversation. But she has seen the material I post online on the SylviaDLucas.com website, and she hasn’t indicated that she’s disappointed or that she has any judgments about me.
Q: Why did you write your book? Why did you use a pen name for this book even though you are giving interviews using your real name?
A: I wrote it after I’d emerged from the pressure period of my childbearing years, after I’d married the man who would never expect children from me and who was happy with me all the same. It suddenly annoyed me, quite a bit, that so much pressure had ever existed, that I’d felt so “weird” or “unnatural” for not wanting children – when it’s a perfectly natural, merely less popular, choice. It seemed important to write something for other women who might be going through the same thing that would communicate to them that there’s nothing wrong with them, they’re perfectly fine. That it’s okay: they don’t have to want children.
I chose a pseudonym because under my real name I was establishing myself as a fiction writer. It was easier, somehow, to create a separate writer identity. And “they” also say branding is important.
Q: If you live to be an old lady, will you welcome trick-or-treaters on Halloween, or will you shut the door and turn out the light? (I’m asking this same question myself.) 😉
A: Living as a middle-aged lady, I shut the door and turn out the light. It isn’t that I’m anti-fun, but I am anti-small talk. I’m terrible at short encounters with people, a true introvert. But I do like to watch from the window as they, in their cool costumes, pass on the sidewalk, little candy buckets swinging.
Kristen Tsetsi is author of the novel Pretty Much True… and the short story collection Carol’s Aquarium. Under the name Sylvia D. Lucas she is the author of No Children, No Guilt and What Every Woman Wishes Modern Men Knew About Women (which of course does not speak for all women). Her websites are kristenjtsetsi.com and sylviadlucas.com. She works as a feature writer for a newspaper in Connecticut, where she lives with the love of her life and three fun cats.