Busted Halo

Rebecca Gallo is trying to put into practice the lessons she learned while walking The Camino. Follow along as she continues her spiritual journey — whatever that might mean.

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August 23rd, 2013

Motherhood? No thanks.


motherhood-no-thanksWhile wandering around a bookstore in LaGuardia airport, the cover of TIME magazine caught my eye. “CHILDFREE” stood out in bold, block letters. A couple in swimsuits laid on a white sand beach below the words, “The Childfree Life: When having it all means not having children.”

I picked it up and flipped to the article, “When None is Enough.” I couldn’t stop reading. Among other analysis, the article revealed the declining birth rate in the United States: “A Pew Research report showed that childlessness has risen across all racial and ethnic groups, adding up to about 1 in 5 American women who end their childbearing years maternity-free, compared with 1 in 10 in the 1970s.”

I can’t remember a time growing up when I wanted children. But according to a paper I wrote in eighth grade (which I discovered while going through a box of old journals last Christmas), I did, at one point, want a family.

Attending a Jesuit University, I was in the minority: most every woman I knew wanted children at some point after college. One male friend even told me no man would want to marry me if I didn’t want children.

After college, I did a year of Americorps and was downright mystified to meet a couple my own age who had decided, prior to marriage, that they did not want children. “I have four younger siblings,” my friend told me. As the first child in her family to graduate college, she wanted to be sure they all had the same opportunity. Over the last 14 years she and her husband have counseled, mentored, and financially supported those siblings — to the point of having one live with them for year while finishing high school.

I’ve had plenty of reasons for not wanting children over the years. The first was, “I don’t want children because they might turn out like my sister.” The sister in question is 13 months younger than me and my polar opposite. She never let me forget that I was supposed to, as the oldest child, “break in” Mom and Dad for her, but I never broke any rules, so she had to do it.

In my 20s, my mother explained that I watched the experience of raising that sister when I was a teenager myself. “And as a teenager, no, you couldn’t raise a child like her. But as an adult, you could.”

By then I had moved on to other excuses: I wouldn’t know how to discipline children. Then the TV show The Nanny came out and I thought, “Well, I can do a whole lot better than these people!”

Then I thought maybe it was just because I hadn’t met the right guy. Last year I met someone I genuinely thought I could have children with. After four dates, he ended our courtship because, though I said I might one day want children, he wasn’t convinced. I now know he was right.

I’ve had numerous women, upon hearing where I stand on the topic, pull me aside and confide to me in hushed tones, “Don’t get me wrong. I love my children. But if I had to do it all over again, I’d make the same decision you are.” Or, “I never wanted children either, but it was expected in my generation. If it’s not something you want to do, don’t do it.”

Not wanting children is not synonymous with not liking children. Friends have stood in awe watching me play with and care for their kids. “I thought you didn’t want children?” they’ll say.

“I don’t. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like them.”

For a long time I felt I had to defend my decision. But now most people ask my reasons out of curiosity, not out of judgment. I’m simply one of those people that is not inclined to stop in the street to coo over a baby. Holding babies I think, “Cute, but I’m glad they’re not mine.” Nieces add a whole new dimension — baking cookies with my 4-year-old niece is something I’d do every day if I could. I like being an aunt. I’ve just never felt the urge to be a mother.

I stood in the airport that day reading the entire article not because I wanted some sort of validation, but out of curiosity myself. Is it just my perception that my thoughts on the topic are, if not more accepted, more respected now than they were 15 years ago? When I finished reading, I thought how lucky I am to live in a time (and in a country) where I have a choice whether or not I want to become a mother.

Is there something society expects of you that you don’t want to do? 

The Author : Rebecca Gallo
Since 2012, Rebecca Gallo has walked the Camino de Santiago three times -- twice on a strict budget, and a third time traveling a little more luxuriously (private rooms with sheets instead of hostels with a sleeping bag). She enjoyed sharing her first journey and subsequent reflections with Busted Halo readers. Other tales of her adventures can be found at RenaissanceRebecca.com.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • janet

    I didn’t want children, either, until I was in my late 20″s, then a switch flipped. Now, I have 3 grown kids and I am glad I did. That said, it isn’t for everyone. I was blessed with great kids and great day care. I am divorced from the kids’ dad since my youngest was 5. It wasn’t easy, and it didn’t work out the way I thought it would. But it did work out ok. Don’t do it if your heart isn’t in it.
    Don’t let other people tell you what you “should” be doing. Trust God to guide your path and take you where He needs you to be.

  • Marv Nieport

    I was just thinking about this earlier today, and I pop online to find an article on it! This article helped me think differently about the reasons people choose not to have kids. I think, from the Catholic Church’s perspective, getting married and being sure you don’t want to have kids is problematic. But, I believe that the focus on procreation should be re-cast as fruitfulness. I believe that in every vocation we are called to be fruitful or generative; for some that means full-time service for the Kingdom of God, and for others that means making people to fill that Kingdom. After reading Gallo’s thoughts, I’m not so quick to assume someone who doesn’t want kids is selfish. BUT, I do think that many people of our generation ask themselves questions about kids, and think ‘I’m gonna do what I wanna do.’ This is unfortunate, because what will ultimately fulfill us is doing what God wants us to do. The former is selfish. The latter is not. Each person, in conversation with God and their christian community, needs to discern what way they are called to be fruitful for the Kingdom- I think it’s THE definition of what it means to become an adult- to help out those who can’t help themselves. That might means kids, the poor, the marginalized, disabled, whomever. But not wanting kids because the commitment to be fruitful keeps us from ‘doing what I want to do’ is childish and selfish.

  • Amy Wakefield Vogel

    Great article! I don’t think people should decry you as selfish. God has a specific path for all of us. In fact, the Apostle Paul exhorts us to a life devoted to serving Christ. And frankly, raising a family can get in the way. It divides the time, energy and money you have to do that. I have 3 kids and I know there will come a time when they are no longer in the house, but at present (and I think I speak for a lot of mothers with young children), we love our kids but they do take time away from service. We are serving at home but have a heart to do more. It’s not our season to do it. Rebecca, you and others, have an opportunity to do something different and I would counsel you to do the most with that opportunity, for God’s Kingdom. It’s your path, so get after it.

    • James

      Raising your family doesn’t get in the way of serving God, it IS your service to God right now. Being a parent is an extremely important job. There’s no reason to feel bad about not being able to do more.

  • bethfeh

    There is a popular movement called DINKs (Dual-Income-No-Kids). Many couples feel the same as you and that article, as you probably read. I even thought that maybe I don’t want kids or can’t take care of any, as I draw nearer and nearer to my impending marriage.
    But what I wonder is the Catholic Church’s stance? We are told in PreCana that we will lovingly and willingly accept children as God allows. In this case, you are making a decision, not letting God. I am not accusing you, I am just curious, as per what I was taught just a few weeks ago.

    • James

      The Catholic Church’s position is that such a union, where a couple
      deliberately chooses not to have children, isn’t a sacramental marriage.
      Promising to lovingly and willingly accept children is part of the
      Catholic wedding vows. Choosing to willfully exclude children from marriage is grounds for annulment.

      Not to judge or accuse anyone, but the Catholic Church’s stance is that accepting children is an essential part of marriage.

      • Matthew Abid

        Yes good points Rebecca, but if you wish to keep that view point then the single life is your vocation-and there is nothing wrong with that.

  • Michael Weston

    A nice read, Rebecca. I do enjoy your writing style.

    I read that article as well. My reasons may sound a little selfish, but I’d rather think of my decisions based upon my own needs to experience life without limitations. And although it might seem selfish to go against the societal norms, I think it’s very well justified.

    I’ve seen my brother raise 3 children and I’ve seen the time, effort they put into raising children and the complete paradigm shift he and his wife have made to do this successfully. Incidentally, they do it very well. I get exhausted just watching them, but they are great parents. Nothing wrong with making the decision not to have kids or to have kids. Understanding what is involved before making those choices is paramount.

    There’s just too much I want to do in life that would pull me away from doing the things I would need to do to be a good parent. I chose not to follow that path. Selfish, maybe. Bad, I don’t think so.

    I’ve been living in Central America and Mexico for many months. Can’t imagine doing that with a couple children to take care of. Could I have done it? Of course. Again though, the limitations would have severely diminished my experiences.

    The hushed under-the-breath comments that are normally heard when you tell someone your decision to not have kids are probably harsher for the women that make that decision (chalk it up to societal memes, unfair as they might be). I hear them as well as a grown man, but probably not as harshly. Yet, my reasons for the decision are probably not too dissimilar.

    Great to have choices? Yes!

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