I stopped eating meat when I was ten years old, when I finally REALLY understood where meat came from (my rural counterparts who grew up on farms knew this at an early age–city kids can be so sheltered and separate from their food sources!). The thought of consuming muscle tissue simply turned my stomach, and I could no longer eat it without feeling sick. My mother initially thought that it was just a short phase (like when my father stopped eating meat for awhile after working for a week in a slaughter house as a student). She made it very clear that she would not make me separate meals, and that I would have to learn to cook and combine foods to ensure that I was getting adequate nutrition. She gave me the book “Diet for a Small Planet” and told me to read it and start learning about alternate protein sources, as she did not want me living on pasta. So I did. I became incredibly interested in nutrition and in how different amino acids combined to create complete proteins. I started to experiment with preparing different foods, and learned how to create tasty meatless meals. This skill set (research, food preparation, nutrition information) has served me well into adulthood and parenthood. My decision to avoid eating food that repulsed me for 12 years (yes, it was a long phase) was always about my personal comfort, and was never a criticism of the choice of others to eat a burger, although I certainly heard my share of unkind remarks when people discovered that I was a vegetarian. I was frequently questioned about my beliefs, cross-examined, ridiculed, pressured to eat meat, and even tested by a boyfriend’s mom who tried to hide meat in my sandwich to prove that I wasn’t a “real vegetarian”because I would “love the meat once I ate it”. It was as though other people could not go on living knowing that I was not eating meat. As though my choice to refrain from eating meat somehow meant that I was pointing a finger at them and calling them murderers. I never fully understood the hostility of people who seemed so threatened by my dietary habits. I eventually started eating meat in a time of financial instability, when my tuition was due but my first paycheque was delayed by three months thanks to an accounting error at my workplace. I was offered free meals at work, which always contained meat of some kind. I gratefully gagged it down and soldiered on, because I knew that gross food was better than no food. I still can’t eat meat that looks like an animal (such as skin-on salmon), and still do not enjoy touching/preparing raw chicken or other meat, but I’ve gotten better at shutting off that part of my brain that causes a complete stomach revolt when I see bloody hamburger meat in the grocery store.
My sister’s choice to not procreate has never been about criticizing or judging people with children. She enjoys spending time with children and is the most doting and loving Auntie that Willow could ever hope for. She prayed and hoped along with me for a niece or nephew (well okay, specifically for a niece) for six long years. Her child-free life choice is about knowing how she and her husband wish to live their lives, and trusting in that self-awareness in the face of society desperately trying to convince them that they need to have children (Who will care for you when you are old? You’re selfish for not having children! You’ll be lonely and you’ll regret it later in life! Don’t you want someone to carry on your name and legacy? The world needs your genes! Your biological clock is ticking! You’d make such great parents! Your kids would be so cute!). I’ve adamantly corrected people who have made unfair assumptions about her as a person based on her child-free status on multiple occasions. Why is it selfish to choose not have children? Wouldn’t it be MORE selfish to have a child just to gain the approval of your peers and society at large (and likely either consciously or subconsciously resenting that child)? Why does her lifestyle somehow seem to threaten others?
My inability to bear another child and our decision not to pursue adoption is not a criticism of families with two or more children, nor is it a slight to the many beautiful families created through adoption. It is what works for our family. It is, indirectly, a statement of gratitude and an acknowledgement of the blessing that we finally received after so long. It is an acceptance of what is, and a reflection of the contentment we have found in realizing that our family is truly complete with one beautiful, cherished, wanted and loved little girl. Willow is enough. She is everything I prayed for and more. Yes, we are aware that some people believe that only children are selfish, spoiled, and don’t know how to share. Yes, we realize that Willow will have a huge load on her shoulders when we die, and will have to lean on non-sibling supports such as close friends, extended family, and professionals to help her through her grief. Yes, we work hard to ensure that she has a variety of social experiences with other children, including day care, play dates, play groups, and various programs at the early years centres and libraries. Our “only” is not a threat to society because she doesn’t have human siblings to teach her how to share (fur-siblings are doing a great job with this, thank you very much…).
The guy who was biking in front of me wearing an air filter mask this morning was not judging me because I was driving a car (or if he was, who cares?). He was just doing whatever made him feel safe and happy as a cyclist surrounded by exhaust fumes. My safety and comfort is not affected by his choice. The neighbour across the street who diligently pulls every weed from his lawn on a daily basis is not making a passive-aggressive comment on our dandelion and clover-filled lawn. Does he hate looking at our lawn? Maybe. Or maybe he’s so busy taking care of his own lawn and revelling in his own beautiful garden that he lacks the time or inclination to judge ours. Either way, it doesn’t matter. His perfectly manicured lawn doesn’t harm our lawn.
Our choice to honour Willow’s temperament, sleep needs, and natural circadian rhythm with an early bedtime and a predictable evening routine does not harm people who choose to stay up late, nor those who choose not to have scheduled times for sleep. Everyone has different schedules and operates best at different times of day. Do what works for you and we will do what works for us. Unfortunately, this means that we will not be participating in some evening events as a family at this stage of life, even if this choice is viewed as inflexible, rigid, etc. Again, our choice not to attend fireworks, late dinners, or another evening event with our child is not a criticism of others’ schedules or parenting choices. We are doing what works for us, which means doing what is necessary to have a child who is well-rested and is generally a true joy with whom to spend our waking hours. Reinforcing routines and rest will not harm our child or create a rigid, black-and-white thinker who cannot adapt to new situations or think for herself. Nor will it tear apart the very fabric of society as we know it.
Some great things about being an older parent (yes, I had a “geriatric pregnancy”) after a long journey to parenthood include being mature enough to no longer feel that I require the approval of others in order to do what is best for our family, to have the life experience and confidence necessary to stay the course in the face of criticism, and the gratitude to truly enjoy and be present with the miracle child that we’ve been given. I stand by our parenting choices and am so proud of the amazing human that we are raising as a result.
Our life choices are not a criticism of anyone else’s life choices.
Or as a wise teacher once told me, “Get over yourself. It’s not about you.”