Beyond Motherhood

Choosing a Life Without Children

by Jeanne Safer, Ph.D

FAMILY VALUES
 

In the first chapter, Safer explored her own childhood, family, and growing up experience, since she feels these factors influenced in her decision to not have children.

 

Reading this chapter, I thought about my own childhood, family, and growing up experience. I have a very independent and autonomous personality because my parents, unconsciously, raised me this way. They were not very emotionally or physically available. I did not grow up very attached to them. I love my parents, of course, but because I am so independent and not as emotionally attached to them, I do not ever feel guilty or that sad when I leave them, or decide to go against their desires.

 

But when we talk about family, what exactly are we talking about? What are family values? Are we actually thinking about white, american family values? It seems to me that every culture has their own views on family systems.

 

For example, it may be that the Dominican culture holds higher values on having independent children. For instance, both my parents immigrated to NYC in the 80's alone, with a couple family members already here. They are also both the youngest of their families, and grew up with more than 10 siblings. Both sets of their parents were both older and "busy" while they were growing up, so their older siblings had a big role in raising them. It does not seem my parents had very close, emotionally relationships with their parents (especially my dad, whose mom actually passed from Hep C when he only a teenager). Still, it doesn't seems that they have very close and emotional relationships with their siblings either. I will not generalize about the Dominican culture. I can only speak from my experience growing up with two parents who were raised in very poor conditions in La Vega, and with that experience, raised me and my two siblings. Similarly to my parents, I am not that very close to my siblings--we're all very different. 

I never looked to my parents for emotional advice or guidance, but of course, they were they for me financially and practically. I could not get some of my emotional childhood needs met from their modeling or version of affection, so I went other places--teachers, role-models, friends, and myself.

 

Studying Western attachment theory (Bowlby and Ainsworth), exploring the concepts for myself, and now mostly in my work with clients, I am well aware of what a "secure attachment" may often look or feel like for a child in the Western world. However, to mediate my attachment style with Western attachment theory, would not make sense, since my parents did not grow up with "western" ways of thinking or parenting. Still, if I had to box myself in the concepts of Bowlby, I am fortunate to say that I do believe I grew a secure, healthy attachment to my parents, particularly my mother, though who can really say--since I don't actually remember most, if not any, of my childhood. I assume that I did have a secure attachment because of my current, adult attachment style--which is also secure and stable. Still, using Bowbly's theory to generalize the widespread phenomena that is the parent-child relationship, would be reductive and eurocentric. 

Though I feel I was securely attached to my parents, in the Western sense, I longed for feelings of validation and understanding, which I never quite received. However, not having these needs met is exactly what molded my personality to be independent, autonomous, and free-thinking. I dove into school and found validation through my teachers and educational accomplishments. I no longer needed my parents to validate my experiences and emotions, or even understand me, because I began to do these things for myself. I began to have self-validation and self-understanding. I grew independent. As I've grown older, I have realized that my parents, as human beings, are simply not that great at validating or understanding me, but they have always shown effort. They did the best they could, and I must only be grateful for their parenting style, since it made me who I am today.

 

With all that said, I do believe that not having a close family to start with, and my own parent-child relationships, made me more willing to be critical about the concept of "family," and also helped formed my independent personality.

Lastly, as I write about on my blog--I do not think that choosing to be child-free means choosing to be be family-free.

PERSONALITY AND DESIRED LIFESTYLE

As Safer continues on in her book, she shares details about her personal values, and her thoughts on the relationship between one's personality, one's desired lifestyle, and the decision not to have children.

 

"I thrive on being able to do what I want when I want, unimpeded. To a rare degree, I have been able to construct a life on my own terms, and I loved the space, the lack of rigid planning, the order without regimentation. I couldn't ignore what I would be giving up (and what would take its place), and I saw that it simply would not be possible to continue to live my way and be a responsible parent--or a happy one" (pg 21).

As I have written, I too feel that I'd rather do something else with my life than have and raise a child.

Background Image: Pablo Picasso. La Espera (Margot). Paris.1901.

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