Mamafesto note: This essay was written as part of a blog-post exchange with the fabulous Ashley Lauren. I had the opportunity to write something for her, and she so graciously crafted this piece on her choice to remain childless.
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When my husband, Tim, and I got married, I didn’t change my name. Reactions to this ranged from shock and dismay to a pat on the back, though nothing got to me more than what I started to refer to as the Kid Argument.
“Well, that’s fine for you and all, but don’t you want to share a name with your children?”
Behold, the Kid Argument.
What’s wrong with this question? you might ask. It’s a legitimate question. Think of how inconvenient it would be to go to parent-teacher conferences or a hospital and have someone question the relationship you have with your child.
Sure, if that’s your only frame of reference, it is a legitimate question, but there are so many things wrong with that statement that I don’t know if I can fit them all into one blog post. But, since Avital was so gracious to allow me into her space today to talk about feminism and parenting, I thought I’d use the time to offer a different perspective: the feminist non-parent.
Here’s the first thing that’s wrong with the Kid Argument: It assumes my unborn children have to have their father’s last name. For that matter, it assumes any child has to have their father’s last name. Personally, I don’t think it’s out of the question to demand – after 9 months of carrying around another human being inside of me, allowing that human being to demand my entire attention (not to mention all of my energy and most of my food intake), giving up wine and coffee for the duration of my pregnancy and while breastfeeding, and after pushing that baby out of me (or, even scarier, having a C-section) – that this child has my last name. Or, at the very least, a hyphen that includes my name. Admittedly, when Tim and I were first discussing whether or not I would change my name, he was a little hesitant simply because he didn’t quite know how that would look or how it would shape our lives in years to come. He had simply never experienced that in his lifetime, since his parents shared a name. At that time, I told him that if we had kids, they could have his name and I didn’t really care; my decision to keep my name was for me, not for anyone else. After all, my mom and I don’t share a last name since her and my dad got divorced, and it doesn’t make me less her daughter and, plus, she’s always just been Mom to me. However, the more I thought about it, the more I thought, no way! If I have to go through all that being pregnant stuff, the kid will have my name.
But what do kids do when their names are hyphenated, you might ask? If I choose option one to respond to the Kid Argument, this is almost always the follow-up question. Sometimes it looks like: Won’t that be a mouthful for your kid? or What if it’s a girl; what will she do when she gets married? Have three last names? These questions – especially the last one – elicit a major facepalm from me. Seriously? If I have a girl, or if I have a boy, and they ever choose to get married, they can do whatever they want. Keep it, get rid of it, combine it, change it all together – I don’t care! That’s their choice to make with their partner, just like it was mine to make with Tim. As far as the mouthful of a name, I’m a teacher and I know kids with one last name that has more letters and definitely more awkward combinations of consonants than our hyphenated name would be and those kids are just fine, so I think we’re OK there.
The second assumption embedded in the Kid Argument (and this is the one that really gets to me) is that I want to – or even am able to – have children. Here’s the thing: I don’t. We don’t. We’ve talked a lot about it and we just don’t want kids. We love kids; we’re both teachers, so it would follow that kids bring joy to our lives, but we both feel strongly that, after dealing with students all day, it would be really difficult to come home and give our full attention to a child. We also really want to do things. I want to write a book, he wants to run marathons, we want to travel, spend time together, sleep through the night. You get the picture. While we can imagine having kids is incredibly rewarding and worth making sacrifices to some people, it isn’t to us. At least, not right now.
You can imagine all of the follow-up arguments to this one, right? Oh, don’t worry, you’ll change your mind. (I wasn’t worried, thanks, and I might change my mind, but why would you invalidate my hopes and desires like that?) Just get your head and heart in the right place and the rest will follow. (Meaning my head and heart aren’t in the right place now by saying I want to spend time with my husband and do different things with my life? Thanks a lot.) You know the number one reason couples get divorced is because one partner wants kids and the other doesn’t. (Are you seriously trying to tell me my husband will leave me if I don’t ever change my mind? Wow…) You can’t always plan it, you know. (Well… uh… hmm… OK, well you’ve got me there. And if we had a little surprise bundle of joy, we’d be really great parents, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to plan it.) It really is enough to make your head spin, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
I’ve written a lot about us not wanting kids (and here, too), us adopting kids, us having only one kid if any at all. The bottom line, though, is that Tim and I are going to structure our family however it works for us, whether it’s just the two of us and the dog, or whether we have a little (hyphenated) bundle of joy. Tim and I get to choose this together, and experience it together, and that is truly what feminism is all about.
Ashley Lauren is a 27-year-old feminist, social activist, blogger, freelance writer, and full-time high school English teacher. This stuff keeps her busy. She keeps her own blog, Small Strokes, about being a married feminist and how she navigates those murky waters. She also occasionally blogs there about teaching, because being a feminist teacher is sometimes tougher than being a feminist wife. She is also a Senior Editor for Gender Across Borders, a global feminist blog. She has walked in seven 2-day Avon Walks for Breast Cancer with her mom, is entering her sixth year of teaching, has her Bachelors degree in English Literature and Creative Writing with a teaching certificate, and completed her masters in English Studies in May 2010. You can also follow her on Twitter or email her at samsanator (at) gmail (dot) com.