There’s the saying, “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” Well, for me, playing with my Cabbage Patch Kid as a child, I was always the babysitter and never the mom. But I didn’t designate myself as the babysitter in preparation for the teenage job market. That inclination was at the root of one decision I made when I was 13 years old: I don’t want nor am I ever having kids.
To this day, I could still hear the collective telenovela gasp my tías let out when I first told them I didn’t want kids. My little cousin’s birthday gathering immediately went from blissfully eating tres leches to feeling like I was on Caso Cerrado. One tía asked me my age, not breaking eye contact, as everyone at the table waited for my response with raised eyebrows. “23,” I answered. Without a breath, one tía chimed in: “Oh, you’re still young! You’ll change your mind.” Almost immediately after, another tía added, “You just haven’t met the right guy yet!” All I could say was, “Maybe.”
That was four years ago, and while this gasp-inducing moment still makes me laugh, their interrogation and dismissive attitude negatively impacted my night and my mental health.
Being chubby, young, and a woman is hard enough in my Mexican family. In many Latinx families, it’s common for los jóvenes to get comments on our weight, be asked “y el novio?” or get pressured to share when you’ll have kids. As a gordita and serial dater, I’ve faced this question trifecta many times. But that last question — about “when” and not “if” I’m having kids — has always bothered me more than the rest, knowing it’s an expectation I won’t meet.
I’ve come to understand that my family’s innocuous questions are rooted in cultural tendencies, but it still leaves me with feelings of inadequacy. “[Some] people get to go to family parties and just eat and drink. Women go and get this question [about procreating] almost immediately,” says Rosemary Magaña, a licensed clinical counselor. “These messages can affect our self-concept and can trigger other thoughts — like, ‘I’m not good enough,’ ‘I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing,’ or ‘Why don’t I want to have kids? Maybe there’s something wrong with me.'”
Speaking from personal experience and more than ten years working with Latinx communities, Magaña was clear: There’s nothing wrong with decisions like mine. What’s wrong are the cultural expectations that push us to live by a checklist, the same expectations that rescind our belonging if we don’t meet them.
Emotional implications also lie in questions like “When are you going to have kids?” “It implies that somebody wants kids,” says Gloria Osborne, a cognitive behavioral therapist, and licensed clinical social worker. “You’re asking them when they want to have kids as opposed to asking, ‘Well, have you thought about having kids?’ It’s a very different question. When you ask a question like ‘when,’ it causes somebody to call what they’re doing into question.” It’s also important to remember that questions about having children can create an uncomfortable situation or have psychological effects on those who might be struggling with infertility.
My ex-partner and I were together for five years, so the “Cuando se van a casar?” and the “Y los beibis?” were plentiful. Neither one of us knew how to respond, so we would laugh awkwardly and shrug it off. Even though I’m single now, I still get that question — which has left me thinking about how I can respond to my family while respectfully setting boundaries. As a first-generation Latina whose parents emigrated from Mexico, where familial roots run deep, I learned the importance of respecting older generations. That meant never questioning their beliefs, traditions, or behavioral norms. So, how do those of us that don’t want kids shut down the seemingly inevitable question without seeming disrespectful?
“You can just answer ‘no sé’ and move on. You can completely change the subject and turn it back around on them,” advises Magaña. “If you have the energy, you can say, ‘You know, I’d rather not answer that question. It’s not something I’m comfortable talking about.'”
Facing these conversations is becoming far more common as a growing number of Latinas in the U.S. choose not to have children. Birth rates for Latinas lowered by 31 percent from 2007 to 2017, which experts credit to generational differences between immigrants and their daughters and granddaughters, reports The New York Times.
While the numbers reflect a sign of the times and alleviate some of the traditional pressures, I still face being labeled as selfish by some of my family members — and I’m not alone.
Camila Gutierrez, a Colombiana in San Fernando Valley, has known since she was 15 years old that she doesn’t want kids — and she’s made that decision clear to her family. “Older people, and even some people my age, think this is a selfish decision,” Gutierrez said, reflecting on how her mother was heartbroken when she first heard. “The decision to not have kids comes from a generation of people who have really reflected on what comes with having kids. Some of us don’t want the responsibility of raising a person without being sure that we can offer them everything that they need, from financial to emotional and psychological support.”
For a while, I started to internalize not only that I was selfish for not wanting kids but that there was something inherently wrong with being selfish at all. I thought it was directly against our collectivist culture to be selfish, that you had to compromise your wants in honor of your family and heritage. So, while I continued letting my family and friends know I didn’t want kids, I still felt guilty about my decision. Then, other mujeres — including friends, mentors, bosses, and even my younger sister — confidently told me that they didn’t want to and weren’t having children either. That sense of community inspired me to free myself of these self-conflicting expectations. Now, I embrace selfishness because that means making my own decisions, breaking through generational trauma, and claiming joy while still honoring and respecting my roots.
Jacqueline Mendez, a licensed marriage and family therapist who’s decided not to have kids, made a poignant remark that has stuck with me: “We are selfish,” Mendez said, smiling and nodding. “What I love to remind people of is, ‘What’s wrong with being selfish?’ It’s my body. It’s my choice. I’m going to be selfish with myself.”
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