In the middle of a four-way coffee get together of my former office mates, one of the coffee drinkers passed around the photos of her first Grand--a very cute baby who's now two months old and belongs to her son. After a pleasant few minutes of oohing and aahing, our former office mate talked about driving her grown daughter to the airport--her daughter lives in a city down the coast from her parents and her brother. The daughter had come to town to be there for the birth of her first nephew.
On the drive, my friend tells the three of us, her husband announced he wanted to ask his daughter, who is in her 30s, single and self supporting, a personal question. My friend says she clutched for a minute--what could he want to bring up? His question: After being here for the birth of her brother's child, did it make her want to have children?
Her answer was a simple 'no." She said she had never particularly wanted to have children and though her nephew was adorable, cuddly and the most wonderful baby ever, she didn't want one of her own. She said she knows what it takes to be a good parent and she didn't feel that was a road she wanted to take. And now, with her brother having brought a child into the world and into the family, she felt relief: the pressure was off to reproduce.
How did my friend feel about that? It can be disappointing for a parent to here her--or his--child is not going to participate in the warmth and charm of growing her own family. "I wasn't surprised," my friend says, and then offers this kicker: "What I am is happy that she lives at a time when she has alternatives, when she doesn't feel she has to have children to be validated--the way my generation and my mother's generation did."
We who grew up in those 'bad old times,' can only add our Amen--grateful though we are to have the children we have. It doesn't mean we didn't feel an unseemly pressure to have children--pressure from our parents,from society at large and probably from ourselves as well.
Although Tina Fey talks about the pressure to have a second child in her essay Confessions of a Juggler: What’s the rudest question you can ask a mother?, (in her book BossyPants) her point rings true for women who opt out of becoming mothers. Fey describes the constant questioning--from friends, acquaintances, store clerks and the like, about whether or not she'll have another child. Her answer to an issue that produces personal angst suggests that the decision is an on-going and ever-mutating one. Fey writes: "My parents raised me never to ask people about their reproductive plans. 'You don’t know their situation,' my mother would say. I considered it such an impolite question for years I didn’t even ask myself.”