I knew when I was about 17 that I did not want to have children when I grew up. It was at a point in my life where I spent a lot of time considering the future I wanted for myself. I thought about it probably more than I should as a senior in high school and ultimately decided that I just had no desire to have children.
I had friends at the time who were unclear about what they wanted to do with their lives. They didn't know what they wanted to major in or what career they wanted. All they knew was that they wanted to be a mother. I had a lot of respect for them because I could never see myself as a mother or wanting to be one. In the same way that they knew without a doubt that they wanted children, I was sure that I didn't.
Until I really thought about it and came to the conclusion that I didn't want kids, I hadn't noticed how often people reference my hypothetical children. I came to realize that the expectation of me to become a mother was enormous. My parents, the rest of my family, my teachers and mentors, all of them seemed to have this picture of me with children. The phrase "well when you're a mother..." was apparently commonly used in my life. I found myself continuously having to explain that none of the hypothetical scenarios the people in my life were referencing would ever exist.
Sure I could let it go and just allow people to have their own vision of my future, but some part of me felt a need to question why it was automatically assumed that I would become a mother. So many women feel that the feminist movement judges them for decided to be stay-at-home mothers, and I have never been one to say that wanting children makes a woman less of a feminist. However, until then I had never understood the pressure women are under to become mothers.
The worst part was that when I responded to people's comments by saying that I didn't want children, they would immediately tell me "you'll change your mind". To everyone around me, it seemed unfathomable that I would not want to be a mother. My family treated the issue like there was something they knew that I didn't and that when I grew up I would magically want kids. I've never discounted the fact that I could change my mind at some point, but no one respected that I know myself and what I want.
I even had a moment with a close friend of mine. He was telling me how he couldn't wait to have kids, and I was unable to relate, eventually telling him that I actually didn't want children. I could never have predicted his response. He used the words "what you're meant to do" telling me how unnatural it was that I didn't want to be a mother. I was so shocked, that someone my age and who knew me so well could be so upset with the fact that I didn't want kids.
In reality, today less American women are having children than ever before. It shouldn't come as a surprise that as young women are deciding what they want their lives to look like, many choose not to involve children in their aspirations. It's clear to me that society has quite a lot of work to do if we still expect girls to aspire to motherhood without holding boys to the same standard.