You’re Not You (and Why This is Freeing)

An important concept to learn, understand, and remember is that you are not you. Knowing this can help you disconnect your self-worth from your thoughts, emotions, and tendencies. Your personality is largely made up of dynamics you don’t control, such as early childhood experiences, family culture, and genetics.

For example, I grew up in a very strict religious family with a diagnosed narcissist for a father. Individualism and critical thinking were not encouraged or tolerated. Religious, mental, and emotional abuse were the hallmarks of my childhood and teenage years. I grew up dreadfully insecure and fearful. As a teenager I developed OCD (never officially diagnosed, as my parents did not seek professional help for me), which included obsessive praying multiple times a day for God to forgive me, obsessive counting, and obsessive hand-washing.

Even at 36, I don’t know to what extent my personality has been shaped by the traumatic experiences of my youth. I very often have identity crises that most people past their teens or early twenties no longer experience. I constantly question what I want and if it’s not actually my trauma talking. I still feel that I don’t know who I am, what I should be doing, what kind of a life I want, or what I believe. It’s even hard to know how I’m feeling sometimes.

In his December 14, 2015 Bustle article entitled 7 Signs You Grew Up With a Toxic Parent and Didn’t Know It, JR Thorpe pulls from Dr. Susan Forward’s book Toxic Parents and says, “Many children of toxic parents find it exceptionally difficult to identify who they are once they grow up. Forward identities three areas in which their self-knowledge falls short: ‘who you are, what you feel, and what you want’…your sense of confusion and distance runs very deep indeed.”

Science tells us that your personality is pretty much set by six years old. It is largely an amalgam of your parents’/early caregivers’ beliefs, attitudes, and actions. Science also tells us that certain mental disorders have strong genetic links and that trauma can be passed down in the genes of families from generation to generation (epigenetics). But does this mean you can’t change? That you are bound by the mistakes of your parents and the generations before them for your emotions, feelings, reactions, and attachment styles? Thankfully, not. Recent science also emphasizes the neuroplasticity shown by the brain and its capability to create new neural pathways. By consciously making better, more self-caring choices, we can create new pathways in the brain and new defaults for our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Eventually, it becomes easier and more natural for us to act and think in ways that benefit us and allow us to take back control of our lives.

I take some comfort in the thought that I am not simply a summation of my personality, interests, and mental issues. My worth does not lie there and cannot be calculated by arbitrary factors such as these. I don’t have to allow these facets of myself to control my decisions, moods, or mindsets. I don’t have to follow my instincts and can instead choose to think and act in ways that are best for me, which will in turn make me feel my best.

Why I Don’t Have Children

I’m at that age where many people are surprised that I do not already have children and that I don’t want any children in the future. Especially for women, not wanting children can invite a lot of criticism, judgment, and assumptions from others. Not all of them are ill-intentioned. For example, recently, when I told an older lady I am not married and do not have any children, she patted my hand and said, “That’s okay. You still have time” (assuming that I am discontent with my single and child-free status ).

So why wouldn’t someone want children? First, let’s examine some of the common reasons for wanting them. Some people want to be assured there will be someone to take care of them when they’re old. However, isn’t this an inherently selfish reason? Most adult children who take care of their elderly parents don’t do it because it’s easy and fun. They do it because of feelings of love, loyalty, and obligation. It requires a lot of time away from their own children, possibly a lot of money, a lot of reconfiguring things to fit the needs of the elderly parent, and a great amount of patience (especially in the case of dementia, Alzheimer’s, incontinence, physical incapacitation, etc).

Some people want to pass down their legacy to their children. Again, isn’t this an inherently selfish reason? It’s all about the parent. And what if the adult child makes decisions that do not please the parent, maybe even go against fundamental beliefs and paradigms about the world held by the parent? The legacy the child lives might not be the one the parent wanted to leave.

Others want their families to be able to enjoy grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins. Although this is a more noble reason, it still does not take precedence over the numerous reasons for not having children.

Some people see it as “normal” to have kids and do not want to appear “abnormal”. These are often people who are being urged to have kids by friends and families, told “what good parents they would make”, and don’t like to stand out from the crowd. People in this group might also be worried their lives won’t mean anything if they do not raise children. However, something’s value cannot be proven simply by the fact that it’s prevalent. The value of making more human beings cannot be proven simply by citing the fact that a lot of people do it. It is my opinion that our lives have no inherent meaning and that they must be given meaning by each of us as individuals (perhaps more on this in a future post?).

I suspect most parents never really weighed all the pros and cons seriously before having kids, and many, I’m sure, weren’t even aware of all the cons. But what could possibly be the cons to having children? I have identified many cons to having kids, some of which apply to everyone, and some only to myself.

In no special order…

I don’t want children because mental illness runs in my family. There is mental illness in both my immediate and extended family. In fact, three members of my immediate family have attempted suicide. I have also suffered with mental illness, myself. I wouldn’t want to pass this down to my children or to give them a sub-par childhood because of my own issues.

I don’t want children because they make me nervous. I prefer adult conversations. Children are more unpredictable, have not yet developed filters, and have not yet learned the social norms that often govern our conversations and interactions with each other. There are many adults who not only can handle this, but thrive working with children. Generally-speaking, I am not one of them.

I don’t want children because I am not financially stable. I have worked menial jobs my entire life, despite having a higher-than-average education. I have come pretty close to living in my car. It takes a lot of money to raise children nowadays, and I would not want to make children to whom I cannot offer every advantage. In a past era, a person who was honest and a hard-worker would be financially set. Nowadays, it’s far harder to reach financial security, due to wages not staying up with inflation, jobs requiring higher education and more experience, the weakening of unions, everything being much more expensive, and more people vying for fewer jobs as the population has exploded and many jobs are now automated or obsolete…

just to name a few.

I don’t want children because I would be tied to the child’s father. I have known other women have children with men they thought they knew and could trust, only later to find out they were wrong. It’s hard for me to trust someone enough to make this important decision with them, especially considering people often change, and parenting is an 18+ year commitment. If I choose to have a baby with the wrong person, that doesn’t just affect my life. It affects my child’s, as well.

I don’t want children because of the heavy responsibility parenting is. I take parenting to be a very serious endeavor and not something to be chosen lightly. Parenting really isn’t about raising children — it’s about raising future adults. It is imperative to consistently use authoritative parenting techniques (as opposed to dismissive or authoritarian), which give children boundaries without stifling their natural curiosity and independent spirits. To form children into adults who are strong, yet kind; are sensitive, yet not thin-skinned; appreciate humor, yet show respect; put themselves and their families first, while caring and doing for those outside their own circles; are ambitious, yet at peace, ETC., is not an easy feat.

I don’t want children because I want to feel free to be spontaneous. Children need consistency and stability. For example, it would be irresponsible and selfish to pick up in the middle of a school year and move or to take an unplanned vacation without your child. Every decision I made would need to pass the “Is this the best thing for my child?” test.

I don’t want children because I have already had a lot of experience with child-rearing duties with my own siblings. For many years I had heavy child care responsibilities for my younger siblings that surpassed mere babysitting duties. Because of my parents splitting up and neither one’s mental health being great, a lot of the burden of my siblings’ wellbeing fell on me, and I acted as their primary parent. I feel that I have already experienced parenthood and am not ready for it again. In a way, I feel thankful that I am in the minority of people who were able to “try out” parenting before committing to it.

I don’t want children because the earth already has enough people. The world population has more than doubled just since the 1960’s. There are a finite amount of resources to go around, and already scientists are warning that things cannot continue at this rate or human beings (as well as all other species) will go extinct. Advances in fertility treatments, life expectancies increasing, and infant mortality rates decreasing have all contributed to the earth’s population explosion.

It feels good to get my thoughts surrounding this topic organized and compiled in written form. Thank you for taking the time to read them. Is there anyone reading this who has also made the decision to remain child-free? Do you have other reasons than the ones I listed for doing so? I would love to hear your thoughts on this controversial and sensitive topic.