Monday, April 4, 2016

Christal is Her Own Lady: Celebrating a Life Beyond Motherhood

Over the next few months, I'll be running a series about women who have embraced their own-ness by operating outside of the norm, namely by choosing not to have children, choosing to move far away from their support systems, or choosing to make a major career switch. There are many ways to be your own lady; here's to celebrating your path!

Christal was one of my first friends in high school, and since I've met her, she's pretty much embodied confident and cool. Below, she kindly fills us in on her decision not to have children. No one ever needs to justify their life choices, but we're lucky enough to get the inside scoop on her reasons for keeping her family just as it is.

1. Tell us a little about yourself (where do you live, what do you, what is your family like, how do you enjoy spending your time?)
I live in Encinitas, CA and moved here with my boyfriend from Boston, MA about 5 years ago. I work at the Eating Disorder Center of San Diego as Office Manager and I am also a part time professional organizer. I am still navigating my long term career path, and my boyfriend just went back to school, hoping to start a career in ecology. We plan on moving to Arcata, CA in the next few years. We both love animals and have 2 bunnies, a cat, and a snake. We both work full time, but opposite hours, so we only get to see each other for a few hours on weeknights for dinner and a little TV before bed. On the weekends we love being outdoors and do a lot of hiking, camping, rock climbing, and hanging out at the beach. We try to get out and explore new areas whenever we can. Once we move to northern CA we'll have lots of new places to explore, so we're getting excited about that.

2. How did you come to the decision that you don't want to have children? Is this a choice you made on your own or are you subject to outside forces? When did you know this what you wanted for yourself?
I've never felt particularly drawn to have children, and as long as I can remember I pictured myself being childless for the rest of my life. I have always been open to the idea that I may change my mind as I get older, but I'm 30 now and don't see myself changing my mind any time soon. I feel like I am still figuring out who I am, and I would feel irresponsible raising someone else without working on myself first.

I am also mindful of my impact on the environment, and I know that I would feel selfish and guilty if I added another human to our overpopulated planet. If I change my mind in the future and decide that I do want to raise a child, I have decided that I would try to adopt if at all possible. And yes, I know that it is a flawed system and an expensive and challenging process to adopt a child, but if I were serious about raising a child, that is the way I would want to do it. Of course, if half the population were wiped out tomorrow and we needed to repopulate the planet, I would definitely consider making some babies.

3. Have you shared this choice with your family or friends? How do people react when they hear about your decision? 
I've certainly talked about it with my boyfriend and he feels the same way. Neither of us want to add a child to our life right now and don't see that changing any time soon. He just went back to school while working full time and he's planning to start a new career, so the time and money needed to raise a child would make that much more difficult (if not impossible). We don't make a lot of money and the cost of living is so high where we live that if we had to take care of a child, it would mean less freedom to explore job opportunities and the added stress of having to make enough money to support a family. We want to do a lot more traveling, and I don't like the idea of settling in one city for more than a few years at a time. We're still figuring out our own lives, and it just doesn't make sense to me to add children to the equation.

I am also lucky to have friends and coworkers who don't plan on having children either. It's comforting and validating to be around people who feel the same way. I have a lot of respect for those who choose not to have children because they are passionate about their career and have worked so hard and invested so much to get where they are.

4. How has your decision not to have children improved your life? Do you feel there are any drawbacks?
It's hard to say how my life is improved because I haven't been on the other side, so I can't compare it to anything but what I've experienced.My life is improved because it's unchanged and my path unobstructed.

I'm pretty type A and I know that taking care of children would feel very stressful, and I would run myself into the ground trying to do things right and make the best decisions. My anxious, perfectionist self would take over, and it could easily make me impatient, unsympathetic, and strict, which is not the kind of mother I would want to be. My life is improved by not feeling obligated to be in that role and to allow myself to relax, take care of myself, and be open to different opportunities and experiences.

As far as drawbacks, I am losing the opportunity to pass along my and my partner's genes to another generation. I can see the appeal of that, but to me it feels like a selfish desire. I am also losing out on the experience of being a parent, and passing along my morals and values, so I aim to make a difference in the world and have an influence in other ways.

5. What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with family planning? Any advice for people who are trying to share their choice not to have children with family who might be resistant?
The bottom line is, this is your decision and no one else's. Even if you accidentally get pregnant, it is still your decision and no one else's. If you're not sure you want kids, don't convince yourself that you do just because other people told you that it is the right choice. If your partner wants kids, have a conversation about it and assess what kind of relationship you want to have with this person. There are many different fulfilling relationships that do not include getting married and/or procreating. If your parents want you to have a child, they're going to have to get over it. They should be grateful that you turned out as well you did and they created an intelligent human being who has agency over their own body and their own decisions.

There are so many ways to give back to the community and be a role model or a caretaker in a child's life. You don't need to have your own children to have that experience or to give a child those gifts. There are so many people on this planet of all ages that would benefit from having you in their life in some capacity. It makes more sense to me to take care of the people and animals that already exist, rather than create more mouths to feed. You do not need to create and be responsible for someone else's life to have value. Your life and your experience is valuable as it is.

There you have it! Thank you, Christal, for sharing and inspiring women to be their own lady. Any questions for Christal? Have you made any non-traditional decisions while structuring your family? 

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