There are so many conflicting messages out there for people deciding whether they want kids or not. You're selfish if you do, you're selfish if you don't, you can have it all, the only purpose you have is to start a family. And my parents were some of the worst perpetrators of the trope. My dad was always going on about how having kids gave him his purpose in life, and my mom had been clear that for her, life started with her children. So when I decided I didn't want kids, I was prepared for the worst-case scenario.
My dad especially, but both my parents had always said how excited they were for me to have kids — how excited they were to be grandparents. I wasn't looking forward to breaking their hearts, but I knew I had to do it. I decided that the next time they asked about my plans for a family, I'd come clean and tell them the truth: that I didn't see myself as a mother with kids.
It happened at dinner. My partner and I were sitting next to each other, and we'd just finished the main course. My dad asked about our impending move, and whether the neighborhood we'd picked out would be good for raising kids in. My partner and I looked at each other, and I got ready to tell my dad the truth.
"I don't think we'll be having kids," I said, holding my breath after I'd finished. I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but I knew it would be a negative reaction. So I was shocked, honestly, when my parents just shrugged at each other and continued clearing up the dinner table.
"Honey, you look terrified. Did you think we wouldn't love you just because you didn't want to give us grandkids?" my mom said as my dad brought out dessert.
"Honestly, yes," I admitted. "You both have always made me feel like it's just a fundamental part of being human."
My mom sighed a bit as she looked at the both of us in turn. "I am sorry that we made you feel like that. You're your own person — you have such a full life, and I know that your job and your relationships and activities bring you happiness. I'm happy to see you happy. You don't need to have kids to be complete."
It was like a tremendous weight dropped off my shoulders as she said those words. I released the breath I'd been holding in a noisy gust. "You're not disappointed in me?"
My dad took my hand. "Zulie, we are so proud of you: what you do every day, what you want to achieve with your life. I would have loved to have grandchildren, but this is your life. Your choice. It's clear you've been worrying about this, and I want to support you through whatever choices you make."
My parents' approval meant more to me than I'd realized. I hadn't known how much I needed to hear those words — that I hadn't let them down, that not having children wasn't a decision I'd regret. I was surprised by my parents' support for my decision, but I was more grateful than anything else.