There have been several great posts about being a scientist and a parent (e.g. Gerty-Z's and PlS's), also a couple of great posts on being a scientist and choosing not to be a mom (Jade's and Dr. G's). I will probably follow up with my own #scimom story at a later date (an epic tale of challenges and perseverance :-), but I have something different planned for today.
I have kids, and I love them. I even like other people's kids, which admittedly only came about after I had my own. Obviously, people who want kids should have them. It is really heartbreaking when people desire to have kids, but are unable to... It is also quite tragic, on a completely different level, when people wish to have kids but believe that their career is completely incompatible with having a family -- this is a failure of our society, and we need to tirelessly keep working to enable every person a chance to find fulfillment on both fronts without having to choose.
I also think that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being childless by choice.
Only, whenever I read a statement like this one, whether it's written by me or someone else, I cannot help but feel that it's indeed a very patronizing statement, especially when it comes from someone who has kids. It sounds like I am giving my blessing to people who are childless by choice, whereas, in reality, they should not be expected to give a rat's ass what I or any other random person thinks about their choices.
The people who are childless by choice are often expected to justify themselves, and then they fall into the trap of other people feeling it's their duty to pick apart each reason and offer counter-examples or counter-arguments to show how parenting is actually feasible in spite of said reason. That is totally beside the point -- all problems are relative: I am sure that many of mine would appear completely self-indulgent and trivial to someone else.
Dear childless-by-choice people, please accept my apologies in the name of all us patronizing people with kids. You really, really should not care what any of us think. We really should never get to pass judgment on you. It goes without saying that your choice to not have kids -- or any other of your choices -- is a priori perfectly valid, simply because you are an adult.
But, can a person who has kids really, truly ever understand and respect another person's wishes not to have them? Will there always be a hint of self-righteousness and judgment in there? I think the best way may be to try and draw parallels: for instance, not wanting to have kids would, in my case, probably be analogous in many ways to not wanting to own dogs. (Yes, I know that having kids and having dogs are, in fact, not the same. And neither are the societal pressures to have them.)
I do not want to own a dog. Ever. I do not hate dogs -- I would never wish for anything bad to happen to any dog and I find some of them very cute. I will pet other people's dogs, but I am ultimately always relieved when they leave.
There are many, many dogs in my neighborhood; seemingly everyone has not one but multiple dogs. So whenever I go for a walk, it's impossible to avoid people walking their dogs. I usually just want to be left alone and enjoy the walk, but a lot of people will stop -- especially when I'm with one of my kids -- and offer us to pet the dog, then start talking about the dog's name and how she is nice and gentle and how kids love her, and won't my kid pet her some more, whereas all I am thinking is that my kid now has dog slobber on his hands and where am I going to get something to clean him up. And then there are the questions why I don't have a dog; I say that my eldest son is allergic to pet dander (which he is), but in reality, even if he wasn't, I would never ever own a dog. To me, dogs appear to be an unnecessary hassle and an unnecessary expense. You have to make sure someone's there to pet sit when you leave town, and I don't think I can put a dog on on my health insurance plan. And don't even get me started with having to take them out in all kinds of weather and having to pick up all that poop.
I have a friend from grad school who has four dogs and calls them his babies. He spams me incessantly with pictures of his dogs (and his extravagant holidays). I would not have a big problem with his doggy pics and doggy stories if he ever, even once, showed any interest in my kids, such as asked how they were or whatever. Since he doesn't care about my kids, I am considerate enough not to bring them up in conversation and I certainly don't send him their pictures. I wish he would extend the same courtesy to me.
If I somehow ended up owning a dog (and were for some reason unable to put it up for adoption) I am sure I would eventually get emotionally attached to it, because I am not made out of stone. I am sure owning a dog is great and rewarding for many people, but I really don't care to try. I just don't want to own a dog, period. And I really don't think it's anyone's place to tell me that I should want to own one because it's so awesome (and because if I don't want to, I must be somehow broken), and it's also no one's place to tell me that I am overestimating how much work or money or poop collection they require. And it's certainly no dog owner's place to pat me on the head and tell me, patronizingly, that it's perfectly OK to choose not to have a dog. Duh.