“I’ll go anywhere as long as I don’t have to take my kids.”
This innocuous statement, meant purely in jest, jarred me out of my reverie. Perched comfortably at the roughly hewn tabletop at my favorite coffee shop, Edison bulbs dangling above my head, I found myself a silent party to countless conversations. From the trivial — “You’ll never guess what Kayla said to me before yoga yesterday” — to the musings of philosophical minds on the impacts of veganism on the economy, I’d unintentionally become a casual observer of the collective mind of my hometown Tenafly, New Jersey — or, those who enjoy caffeine, at least.
But among the swirl of thoughtful contemplations and conversations, this simple statement that stuck out like a sore thumb. Although this mother, likely frazzled from a long day of playdates, piano lessons and tennis practices, was simply letting out her frustration with a lighthearted joke, it left me feeling slightly sad and introspective. As someone who is lucky enough to count my mother as one of my best friends, had I heard my own mother utter these words, I would have been utterly heartbroken. But simultaneously, I understood deeply where this young mother was coming from.
I’ve never been good with children. They’re messy, unpredictable and require a tremendous amount of attention and care. Don’t get me wrong, I like kids. I just believe that it takes a saintly amount of patience to care for them — and it’s patience that I’ve never seen in myself. Even as a child, I never seemed to possess the maternal gene. On the playground, while my friends were fawning over their American Girl dolls, I was more interested in my Scooby-Doo action figures.
I wish I could say I embraced this difference in interests, but in reality, it was a tremendous source of stress for me, one I never expressed aloud. For a long time, I truly believed there was something deeply wrong with me. Why couldn’t I seem to get excited over baby clothes,bottles and cribs the way my friends did? I never knew the answer when asked, “How many kids do you want when you grow up?” because truthfully, I’d never given it an ounce of thought. Why did I always feel a sense of guilt, as I stepped over the expensive doll and miniature crib my grandmother had bought me to reach for my skateboard?
When I envisioned my future, kids were never a part of it. Was I betraying my femininity, my very responsibility as a woman? Truth be told, if I were to become a parent, I’d be much like my largely invented perception of the woman in the coffee shop: detached, aloof and self-absorbed. As much as I wish this wasn’t true, I would not be a good mother.
I hope my perception of that woman was wrong. I hope her children are happy and loved. I hope that they’ll grow up in a supportive environment with a generous mother and that her comment was not representative of her relationship with them. But what about the children born to women like me? Women who felt pressured to raise a family because it’s “what we’re supposed to do as women”? Women who surely love their kids but don’t have the capacity or instinct to go that extra mile for them because they never truly desired children in the first place?
Although I felt this pressure for a long time, I now know it’s not my responsibility as a woman to raise children. Contrastingly, I feel that having kids knowing I’m not committed to loving them above myself would be doing a disservice both to them and to my own identity. It’s every woman’s responsibility to ensure that they’re having children for the right reasons, not because of societal pressures. Strong, present, self-aware mothers are how we create strong, caring and responsible sons and daughters. Unless I know I can provide that, I won’t have children.
When I ordered my cold brew and pistachio macaron that morning, I hadn’t expected to confront my own outlook on motherhood, feminism and responsibility. But by now, I’ve learned that a morning spent in a coffee shop can be just as powerful as one spent in a lecture hall.
Noelani Buonomo is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected] If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected] The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.