It started when I was in college. The constant question: "Why don't you drink?"
I was in a non-drinking group of friends in high school, so the topic never came up. But when I started college, my choice not to drink alcohol suddenly put me in the minority and thus demanded an explanation.
Another friend who also didn't drink at the beginning of college expressed frustration at getting this same question. He pointed out that drinking alcohol is a conscious action, not a default state, and thus people should have to have reasons to drink, not reasons to refrain from drinking.
When I turned 21, I tried alcohol (and tried and tried and tried, thanks to the persistence of family and friends who were sure I'd like this drink). I determined that I liked neither the taste nor the effects of alcohol, and I certainly didn't care about drinking to fit in. After working in alcohol abuse prevention education for over two years, I knew that these were the primary reasons people gave for why they drank. None of those reasons applied to me, so I didn't drink, and still don't.
But my choice not to engage in this intentional action still marks me as unusual in most social circles, and people assume I must have a reason. I guess they're expecting me to produce some explanation like "I'm allergic" or "alcoholism runs in my family." The fact that my reason for not drinking is simply a lack of a reason to drink tends to baffle them.
I thought of this when reading Danielle Vermeer's latest post called The Baby Question: Asking "Why" Instead of "When" to Have Kids. She points out that the expectation that married couples will have children is so ingrained in our culture that it's typical for couples to be asked when they plan to have kids from practically the moment they say "I do." And the question is not "whether" they plan to have kids but "when," as if this is the only decision regarding children these couples will have to make.
This expectation of having children as a default action of married couples is so strong, Danielle notes, that many couples seem confused by the question of why they decided to have kids. And not surprisingly, as it's fairly uncommon that such a question is posed to parents. Instead, those who choose not to have children, like us non-drinkers, are the ones who are constantly peppered with the question "Why not?" and the admonition "You'll change your mind."
Now, as many people in the comments of Danielle's post pointed out, having children (unlike drinking alcohol) is something that often happens unintentionally -- I've seen statistics that almost half of all pregnancies in the U.S. were unintended. So plenty of people have children for no other reason than they had unprotected sex or their birth control failed.
Still, I would guess that many of those people had planned to have children eventually, if not right then. And another portion of unplanned pregnancies result in abortion or adoption. So while the question may not be phrased exactly as "Why did you decide to have children?" the point still stands that it makes sense for having (and keeping) children to be considered a conscious decision rather than the default.
Now here's where I think Danielle makes a very interesting jump that I want to explore more. She equates making a conscious decision to have children with having a logical reason for doing so. These might sound like the same thing, but they're not.
You may remember a while back that I answered a reader question about how I know that I want children. Or at least, I attempted to answer it, because it's a very difficult question.
I pointed out that there are certain situations where one's feelings and intuition are a much better guide to decision-making than lists of pros and cons. These situations can be loosely defined as "personal preferences" -- that is, decisions where there is no objectively right answer, and where your answer is likely to be different than someone else's. These kinds of situations range from picking a favorite TV show to choosing the person you want to marry. And in fact, trying to nail down good reasons for your preferences can cause you to change your mind for the worse, as in the study where people ended up changing their mind about which kind of jam was their favorite (and actually picking the one rated the worst) once they were forced to explain their reasoning.
Given that my blog's tagline is "Where logic meet love," it might sound odd for me to say that there are situations where "love" (or preferences) outweighs logic to such an extent that logic is actually detrimental. And usually I'm not a big fan of trusting one's intuition -- a number of books I've read recently, including The Hidden Brain and Thinking, Fast and Slow, focus on how bad our intuitions typically are. But a review of another such book, The Invisible Gorilla and Other Ways Our Intuition Deceives Us, points out that even a book on the problems with intuition recognizes the limits of logic in aiding decision-making:
Interestingly, the jam study carried out by Wilson and Schooler (1991) represents one of the few attempts in the book to actually determine the type of situations in which "intuition" might actually be superior to deliberate analysis. While rational analysis may be absolutely necessary in some situations -- hiring an employee based on his previous experience, rather than on a deceptive show of self "confidence" -- when deciding between the taste of two jams or two lovers we might question how far rational analysis can be applied. Until determined otherwise by the "fully functioning person", these may well be considered to be "matters of the heart" (to the extent that no single right answer can be determined using logic or the facts of science). [Emphasis mine]So here's what I think: Having children should be considered a choice -- that is, no one should be expected to have children, regardless of their marital status. Those who don't have children, or who have more or less than people consider "normal," should not be shamed for their decision. And no one should have to give a rational, deeply logical explanation for any of these decisions either. They are "matters of the heart," where intuition and love matter most, and we need to trust people to make these decisions for themselves in whatever way makes sense to them.
(Note: I've given this a lot of thought because I know that, given that Mike and I plan to adopt, we will be asked why we want children. I'm still not sure I have a "good" answer to this question, but I have a feeling those doing the screening will be mostly looking out for "bad" answers than wanting thoroughly logical answers when we're asked this question.)
If you have, or want, children, have you been asked why? If you don't want children, have you been asked why? Either way, do you have a specific reason, or feel like you need one?