There have been a few times this past month that I’ve been asked when I am having kids. Each time, I have given my now standard response – that I am an aunt and I have lots of kids in my life.
In the past couple of months, I have finally felt completely and utterly comfortable saying it.
Partly this comes after a recent conversation I had with a wonderful business mentor. We were simply going through the general life stuff when I noted I didn’t have kids and wasn’t planning on any. Rather, I’m an aunt and I love how the kids in my life force me to shut away from my business when I see them. I simply cannot check my phone when I’m with them – for one, they wouldn’t let me, and two, I wouldn’t want to, I’m simply focused on them and play. My beautiful mentor noted a wonderful Super Soul Conversations podcast episode with Oprah and Elizabeth Gilbert in which both women talk about how some women are born to be aunts, not mothers. I connected so wholeheartedly with both women as they spoke about this.
My wonderful partner and I have been together for 12 years, so we’ve had a good 11 years of questions about offspring. At a point in my late 20s, the sometimes-relentless questioning from friends and strangers made me question my decision. Inside, this conversation ate me up. But on the surface, I was saying anything that would make people believe that I liked kids. I even left a job because I had many people telling me I couldn’t do that particular job and have kids, and I even used that excuse for my resignation. I was caught up in what I thought I should be doing, not what I truly wanted to do. And I was caught up in this perception that if you don’t want kids, you don’t like kids.
In my early 30s, I owned my decision to not have kids and rebutted perceptions that this meant I didn’t like kids. My friends and family will tell you that at most gatherings, I am the one playing with the kids. I sit down and chat with them about their day. I teach my nieces yoga. I go to imaginary lands with my nephew and I swoon over my baby niece and every other baby that comes my way. I love kids! And I want to spend time with them as an aunt. As a confidant. As a teacher. As a friend. I believe this is one of my purposes in life.
As someone who learnt a lot from a rocky childhood and does not have a relationship with their mother, I know the sheer importance of aunts and uncles, and other people that we bring into our lives through childhood (and adulthood) to help us learn to be better humans. I am so honoured to have this privileged role and to have the many kids in my life that bring me such joy. I am grateful for every moment and everything I learn about them and about myself through my time with them.
I am also grateful that a large selection of the population are born to be mothers and fathers. I am in awe when I watch my friends and family members parent.
While I have covered my feelings here, the decision not to have children was and is not mine alone. I acknowledge that. I have a wonderful partner in my life. He’s a pretty cool uncle – just ask the kids that hang off him, run to see him when he arrives at their house and ask me where he is when I rock up to their house without him.
Shelly Horton on being childfree by choice. Post continues after audio.
Our childless life is pretty amazing.
But in saying all of this, I acknowledge this is not every childless person’s experience. And it’s important to note this. My experience of being questioned about when I will have children by strangers is unsettling. I can’t help but think that if this happens to me it is happening to my friends and women I don’t know who are fighting a battle you cannot see. They are praying this round of IVF will work. They are beating themselves up thinking their body is against them. They are deciding if solo parenting is a path they want to take. And they are struggling with so many more questions. They deserve our love and support, they don’t deserve the questions that continuously break their heart as they smile and fumble an answer designed to close the conversation. So please consider your questions carefully.
And if you are questioning a young woman who speaks about her decision not to have kids, don’t tell her she will change her mind or give her a talk about how you never know love until you have children.
Respect her decision, respect her as a person.
Some may change their minds, and that is OK. Some don’t change their mind, and that is OK. We’re all human and we have the freedom to choose what we want in life.
For me, I chose to be an aunt.