The Myth of the 'Cool Aunt'
When you tell someone you don’t want kids, it’s usually met with the assurance that you will change your mind. Sometimes, people react to this statement by reminding you that adoption is an option (one that’s not contingent on shriveling-as-you-age eggs). And occasionally, you’re told that it’s okay that you don’t want kids—you can be the ‘cool aunt’ instead.
On TV, the ‘cool aunt’ is someone who adores her nieces and nephews. She’s trendy, travels a lot, is always dating someone new, and has fun stories that have the kids hanging onto her every word. There are lots of women who love being the cool aunt and that’s great! But what about the women who don’t want kids and don’t want to be the cool aunt? What should we think of the women who, in their choice to be child-free, mean it in every sense of the word?
These women don’t need any kind of maternal connection in order to feel whole. These women don’t want to play with their friends’ kids, and would rather hang out with their friends who are parents on the condition that a sitter is coming over. These women seek out adults-only hotels on vacation, wishing that there were adults-only airplanes, adults-only apartment blocks, or even adults-only countries. Do you know these women? Do these women even exist?
It has become more and more acceptable for women to remain child-free with an increasing number of women opting out of motherhood. But women who don’t want their own kids are often quick to point out that they love kids, lest they be relegated to childless pariahs.
“Women are fed so many messages about what we should be, how we should behave and how we need to show up, including being the perfect career woman and the perfect mother, that it’s easy to just settle for what others expect us to be (maternal), rather than seeking something more true to us,” says Hannah Jane Thompson, a mindfulness teacher and inner critic coach. “Not being maternal doesn’t make you a bad person.”
Lauren, 31, from Cape Town, South Africa says she’s never felt the need to have kids. “I’ve never even looked at a baby and been like, ‘that’s adorable,’” she said. “My whole lifestyle is being able to pick up and go whenever I want. I’m older now and I haven’t changed my mind. I will never hang around with someone with a baby. I can’t deal with the crying. It pierces my soul and I see red. I can’t imagine having that in my house. People still think it’s weird that as a woman I don’t want a child of my own but I think that more women are now embracing their non-maternalness.”
Lara, 19, from Vancouver, Canada, thinks that her sexuality plays a part in not wanting kids. “People are always a little bit shocked because of the constant stereotype of ‘all women must have or want kids’ but when I explain that I’m asexual and that I just hate kids in general, then they understand and accept it,” she said. “It’s so refreshing [that more women are admitting to not being maternal] because being maternal does not come naturally to all women, so it’s become a less taboo topic to talk about in general too.”
For me, a part of me shrivels when a family sits next to me on a plane. On vacation, I’ll pack up my towel and head back inside when kids plunge into the hotel pool. I’m unlikely to volunteer to babysit if my friends want a night out—the responsibility of human life (beyond my own) is too much for me. That said, I do enjoy cuddling babies (until they cry—then I tap out). I feel incredibly maternal, but mostly towards my cats. And I hate it when people close to me, who made the decision to have kids, tell me how “lucky” I am to take uninterrupted naps and travel when I want to. But luck has nothing to do with it. Being child-free is a choice I make on a daily basis. I just don’t think I’m ‘Mom’ or even ‘Cool Aunt’ material, no matter how many times people tell me I am.
More women are choosing to be child-free, and sometimes it’s simply because they want nothing to do with children. It’s time to start talking about—and accepting—women who don’t want kids, but also women who don’t particularly want to be around kids either. After all, there’s no checklist that comes with womanhood. Women who have children aren’t expected to justify their choices, and perhaps the reverse can be true too.