Is it un-Latina-like not to want a family?
“Don’t you dare do that to me,” my mother said, and then cried out in Spanish: “¡Estás loca! ¡No me puedes hacer esto!”
We were sitting in the living room of my parents’ house on an otherwise normal Sunday afternoon. Except I had just casually mentioned that I wasn’t sure I wanted to have children. Ever. Which apparently was cause to call in the National Guard.
“Raising a family is the point of life!” she said.
“Not for everyone. Maybe not for me,” I replied.
“You can’t just leave me without any grandchildren—you just can’t do that to me!”
“It’s not to you. And maybe you should’ve thought of that before having just one child!”
With that, the conversation was over, and it was clear that we both wanted to forget it had even happened. I honestly wasn’t trying to upset my mother or be selfish. And while her reaction wasn’t entirely unpredictable, it did leave me feeling deflated.
After all, my mother waited until her late 20s to marry and to have me, so I thought she’d understand—but as a Latina, not wanting children at all is practically blasphemous. While my cousins are all married with kids and happy to regularly hang out with our extended family, I’m the odd one out who gets criticized if I don’t attend every family function. I’m nearly 30, and I’m not married or engaged—I don’t even have a boyfriend. At my age, they were all settled down.
But I’ve loved my 20s, filled with long nights out, last-minute jaunts with friends, dinner parties, happy hours and fabulous dates. As a style editor for a luxury lifestyle magazine in Arizona, I began to live the life I’d dreamed about: I was writing, doing fabulous things and hoping to start a collection of Christian Louboutins as soon as possible. Engagement rings and diapers were not on my agenda.
And then, in August of 2009, along with about half the country, my world came crashing down. I found myself without a job, and the life I had worked so hard to build seemed to vanish. To make ends meet, my mom, a schoolteacher, found me a part-time job as a tutor for elementary school children. Talk about being a fish out of water!
It was a humbling experience. Many of the 5- to 8-year-olds had come to Arizona illegally, and although they were eager to learn, the language barrier was difficult. So I brought in educational games to make things fun, and talked about my career before tutoring. I wanted to let each of them know how much fun it is to do what you love, and that I was living proof that they could be whatever they wanted to in life. In return, they thought I was “cool.” And it meant more than any other adult who had ever expressed that same sentiment.
As time passed, I’d get hugs and little notes from the kids. Sometimes I’d plan ahead and pick up special treats I knew they liked. I was surprised at how meaningful it felt to help a 10-year-old master her multiplication tables, and I began to think these kids—my kids, in a way— would soften my edges with their innocence and big-hearted ways and make me want children of my own. This, I thought, will undoubtedly light my maternal fire.
The truth is much, much more complicated. I grew to have an insane amount of respect for people who have the patience, understanding and compassion to work with children. Though rewarding in a completely different way, tutoring made me yearn for my former life even more than I imagined. I found myself in the same position I was in before I got laid off: Rather than be moved to want kids, I was dying to focus solely on my career.
Who knows, maybe I’ll change my mind one day and decide a family is for me. Thirty years from now, I might read this essay with my grandchildren and laugh at my stubbornness. But for now, I’m happy to be right back where I started, because for me, it’s the right place to be.
Marlene Montañez is a freelance writer and editor living in Arizona. She writes the fashion and beauty blog StyleSizzle.com, a style portal aimed at West Coast fashionistas.