culture shock · daily life

Life Lessons from My Grandmother’s Sisters


Small talks in Indonesia, be it with someone you just met, someone you haven’t met for a really long time or just anyone in general, typically goes in sequence. It lasts throughout your entire period of life as follows:

  1. When are you going to get a boyfriend?
  2. When are you going to get married?
  3. When are you going to have kids?
  4. When are you going to give a brother or sister to your firstborn?

I can’t prove this hypothesis yet, but I think if you get divorced, the cycle starts over until you hit the grave.

I’ve written about step two, and am currently going through step three, as demonstrated by what happened to me this morning. I woke up at 8 am to my Dad saying that my grandmother’s sisters have come to visit us from Banjarmasin. I groaned not only because it was early and unannounced, but also because I knew what’s coming up: the vicious cycle of Indonesian invasiveness.

I was right. As soon as I greeted my grandmother’s sisters, one of them started asking about why I don’t want to have kids. Apparently, when I was putting on my face, they met Sean on his way out to work and they started asking my mom questions. And of course, the first thing that came up is the fact that we have both agreed not to throw in another human being into this world. One of these surprise visitors was super adamant on changing my mind and she gave me a lot of “well-intended advice” as the other one sat there and professed her approval to what was being said.

Memorable quotes include:

“You should have kids because they are cute.”

“You should have kids NOW because you’re over 30 and you’re going to get your menopause soon.”

“Now you may think that it’s not an issue, but who’s going to take care of you when you’re old?”

“Having kids is not difficult. You don’t always have to cook for them. Like your cousins, they just buy food at the mall for their kids every day.”

“Don’t worry about money. Your parents have enough to support you.”

“You should not gain any more weight, though.” To which my mom responded, “Yeah, she was actually quite cute when she was skinny.”

Seriously, in the middle of this glorified life lessons, this lady had to stop to cry and hug me because she genuinely felt so bad for me. I mean, who wouldn’t feel bad for the over 30 fatty who fails to turn her lady parts into a human cannonball? The Ph.D., the faculty job and the loving husband who moved thousand of miles away for me? They all mean squat compared to my childlessness.

I knew better to not say anything. It would only ignite a neverending debate where one person says A and the other says B. I just nodded and smiled as she shot the parenthood machine gun at me.

However, because this is my blog and I’m allowed to say whatever, I’m offering my rebuttal here.

  1. Sean and I do not want kids for various reasons. Raising a child does not only involve changing their diapers, feeding them, getting them into a good school, whatsoever. It involves the provision of good mental health and emotional wellbeing. I don’t have the heart to bring in another human being into the world only to be subjected to the same acidity I have to go through. Yes, life can be wonderful. There are indeed many little joys to make yourself happy. But this kid never asks to be born and I’m not going to make such a long-term decision unless I feel that I’m morally and financially ready to support and guide this person until I die. Right now, I am not ready and I don’t think I ever will. We can’t even make a commitment to get a dog yet, let alone to get a screaming individual who might grow up into a dude who sends dick pics to a woman he just met at the bar. Plus, we both would rather use our money to travel than buying nappies.
  2. My heart melts for animals but not for kids. I’m sorry if I express half-assed interest, if any, on your baby. It’s not you, it’s just my inability to pose any emotions to babies whatsoever. I might occasionally interact with your well-behaved kid, but the general idea is: Droolly bulldogs, cute. Droolly babies, nope. Again, just because I don’t like your mini me, doesn’t mean I don’t like you. When your kid grows up into an adult, I would probably love them as a person. But for now, I’ll stay away and smile politely in the background.
  3. Yes, I might change my mind. Who knows. Does it affect you, though? If I have a change of heart in the future, am I going to come knocking down your door to steal your child?
  4. If the only reason you want to have kids is so you have someone to take care of you later, isn’t that kind of selfish? Besides, there’s no guarantee your kids are going to want to stick around anyway.

I’m lucky to have a Mom who accepts my decision. She thinks the world is full of suffering and she felt bad for having exposed me to it; therefore, she supports my decision not to impose another person to the same thing. My Dad has never really said anything, but that alone is enough for me.

I’m not saying other people should not have kids. If you think you are ready to go deep into this long-term commitment, so be it. I congratulate you. I am well aware that there are people out there who want kids and can’t have them. But just because I can, doesn’t mean I should, right? Please, please stay off my business (or should I say my lady business? Hey yo!) and stop telling me to have kids just because you think the Chinese-Caucasian mix is going to look so cute.

Apart from the having kids aspect, it didn’t hit me until I was halfway through writing this post that I’ve subconsciously fallen into this vicious cycle myself. No, I did not ask my friends when they’re going to get married, have kids, have a second kid, etc. Instead, I tried to justify the other counterpart of life that does not include inviting 500-1000 people to a grand buffet called your wedding. I found myself telling my single friends that it’s okay to not be married, that I was equally happy when I was single. In fact, being married means you have new problems to deal with, so just stay being single as long as you want. It didn’t occur to me until just now that I’m being an asshole too! Who am I to give you life advice? That being said, to my dear friends who have gone through that regime with me, I deeply apologize. Next time let’s just talk about the weather and reminisce good ol’ times in uni or whatever.


7 thoughts on “Life Lessons from My Grandmother’s Sisters

  1. Same here. My parents (especially mom) was a big resistance to me, even persuading me like just giving birth to the baby and sending it over to my hometown for her to raise it. Are we talking about animals or plants here? Nope, it’s a baby.

    I’m lucky that I don’t live in Indonesia and have only to face these kind of questions when I come home, and even so from people / friends who barely knew me, the rest of them? They already know.

    Once a male friend (back from the university days that I hadn’t met for quite awhile) pressured me with questions on why I didn’t want to have a kid. I replied to him, “You’re seriously asking me, after all these years that we haven’t met, on why I don’t want to push a human being out of my vagina?” He shut up after that.

    For other people that I don’t care much, I usually told them I despised children, they usually shut up after that.


    1. It sounds that your mom just wants a toy…maybe get her a pet? 🙂

      I can’t change culture, but sometimes I wish there’ll be a future where us Indonesians can be less “kepo.” My Uber driver yesterday morning was super chatty, and he asked if I had any kids. Made a mistake by saying I didn’t want kids. He didn’t try to convince me to have one or anything, but then he asked, “Then what do you do for birth control?” I tucked the Rp 10,000 note I have prepared for tip money back into my purse.


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