This weekend, I did something I’d only do in the name of Bitch blog research. I watched How Do You Know, a rather atrocious rom-com featuring Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, and Owen Wilson in an awkward sorta lust triangle. I basically hated it; the on-screen chemistry was lacking, Wilson’s entitled bad boy shtick was obnoxious when it wasn’t wholly unbelievable, and the entire premise was…confusing? I don’t even know why the guy got the girl in the end. Something about a criminal investigation? What? By then, I was barely paying attention.
I watched the film because I’d heard that it might have one redemptive quality: An unapologetic approach to being childfree. Witherspoon’s character, an unfortunate stereotype of a softball-loving jock, isn’t sure she can swing the normative hetero pressures of society. She can barely consider long-term commitment, let alone having and raising a family, which plays into the frustrating assumption that childfree folks are selfish, rootless adults incapable of growing up and dealing with grown-up problems. Still, I pressed on. I watched the whole blessed movie to hear her say this (and kept watching to make sure she didn’t go back on it, as I feared she would):
To be honest, the baby thing… never. Never. … When I hear girls talking about how in love they are or having babies, everything, I think they’re pretending.
Lest you think I’m dismissive of other people’s experiences the way Witherspoon’s character is, I don’t personally think most women are pretending to love having children. Do I think there’s enormous pressure on women to have children? Of course. Why else would I be here, writing this stuff? But do I think many women who do choose to have kids relish the experience? I think whether or not you actively choose to have kids, you can absolutely adore the experience and be really fulfilled by it.
That said, I think there’s way too much unnecessary pressure on women to gloss over the difficulties of pregnancy and raising children. Some women I’ve written about before, celebs like Jennifer Aniston, sidestep the issue all the time instead of owning their ambivalence (or however they feel! Just own it!). Barbara Walters and Oprah talked about how it is a difficult thing. So why don’t we hear more women talking about the flip side of having kids—or rather, why don’t we have more proud childfree role models out there?
Some women do hate parenting, and that’s something we should be talking about. In the aftermath of writing so many articles lately about not having children, I can’t begin to tell you how many women (and men) have written to me, devastated that they are, at best, reluctant parents. I also won’t tell you their stories because they aren’t mine to tell. But for every positive note I’ve gotten, thanking me for talking about this stuff, I’ve gotten a heartbreaking one from a mother who never knew she had a choice to not have kids, or a resentful father-turned-grandfather, deep in debt from raising his child’s child. If we talked about having children more openly and honestly as something some people simply don’t want to do, so many people—adults and children alike—would be better off.
(SPOILER ALERT—though please spare yourself this film)
And you know, Reese Witherspoon’s character doesn’t get pregnant at the end of the movie. She never even pines for a child. The storyline isn’t that she’s some stupid woman who doesn’t know what she wants until she has it. Some of us really do know what we want, and even more of us—us being non-mothers, mothers, and everyone in between—don’t care what other people do, at least in the judgmental sense. At the very least, we want to have honest conversations about our options. And some of us just want to be left alone to figure it out for ourselves.