After climbing into a cab the other day, the driver and I found ourselves stuck in heavy traffic. Like most Istanbul taxi drivers, he was a loquacious, entertaining, and fatherly figure. It took around 30 seconds for us to cross the line of rapport as he (with shining eyes) showed me photos of his kids on his cell phone. Of course the next level of this particular rapport was the question, “do you have kids?” and when I said, “no,” the answer which I encounter so frequently, arrived, “well you’re still young, you’ll still have them,” followed by “but don’t wait too long, cause then you won’t be able to have them at all, god forbid.”
When I encounter this reaction, which I’ve not only heard from the cab driver but also frequently from friends and family, I usually nod dismissively and move on. However, sometimes I really want to give a proper reply. I guess this was one of those days. I said, “actually, I’m not thinking about having children, I’m pretty content with my life as it is.” At this point, the fatherly driver immediately made it his mission to convince me otherwise: he started with the unique love felt for one’s own child, moved on to the sanctity of motherhood, and ended with a warning regarding the dread of loneliness. When he noticed he wasn’t getting anywhere, he drew his red flag and said, “but you’re just taking the easy way out!” And that’s when we arrived at the interesting part of the conversation. After that point the preference for not having children was a blatant disregard for an institution where the good comes with the bad, and by actively representing another utterly viable option, I was cheating my way out. Everyone was playing this game even though it was hard, why weren’t we, the childless ones, playing it as well? As if childlessness (or taking the easy way out) was like an injustice committed toward all people with children, words needed to flow in order for us to be forced into the game. It was my responsibility to live out this natural struggle. I would have to be enthused about being rewarded the greatest love and in this purpose be content to make sacrifices. Any other way would be utter idleness. And that kind of option was impossible.
I suppose it’s unnecessary to say that I’m not writing this post to convince you to not have children or criticize your decision to have them. My goal is to ask a few simple questions: Is producing children the sole path toward having a meaningful and worthy life? What kind of understanding of justice lies behind our need to subsume others into choices we’ve made due to our own unquestioning conviction? And why does the truth that we’re free to do what we want bother us?