Recently a friend told me I'd never understand his feelings because I didn't like kids and don't want to have any. Before I could protest, he apologized for the tone and clarified: he meant I couldn't truly love kids in their entirety, because I don't have any (and therefore don't experience the diaper blowouts, temper tantrums, and projectile vomit right along with the baby giggles and other fun). I haven't written about this for a few days: it took me some time to consider and process and get beyond pissed-off.
I wholeheartedly agree with this person that being a Dad is 1) something I'll never understand (um, specifically I'LL NEVER BE a Dad, but generally we don't plan to have children so I won't be a parent) and 2) that a parent's love for their child is a deep level of understanding I can't reach unless I have a child myself. I include ALL forms of "having" a child in that statement, including foster children, adoption, natural birth, etc.
The knife twist of his comment is that I'd like to have a family, but our lives right now are totally unsuited to raising a family, and until/unless we really want them and are in a place to make our lives about kids, we're not having them. Maybe my husband's and my views do make us selfish, but I'd rather be ready and have no regrets before changing everything for children. If that makes me a selfish bitch, well so be it. I'd rather be selfish no-kid-family than be a selfish bitch with kids who suffer for it.
In the meantime, I find an incredible amount of value being an "aunt" to my nieces/nephews/friends' kids. I'm fairly empathic and understanding: people talk to me all the time about their personal problems, relationship issues, etc etc. Seriously, random people on a plane will tell me all their shit. So it's not that weird to me that my friends' kids feel like they can talk to me about stuff they may not want to bring up to their parents, and trust that I'll tell them the truth. And not being their parent, I can tell them the truth and they may listen. I don't have the same parent/child relationship that can make both sides uncomfortable and cloudy when touchy teenage things come up, and being an aunt instead of a parent I can point out stupid behavior or give advice without being seen as judgemental or overprotective.
I grew up with a lot of aunts and uncles in my life: they're still important people in my life and I still look to them for the occasional reality check on stuff I don't feel comfortable talking to parents or siblings about. Family dynamics are a fascinating, compliated minefield of relationships: there are times as a teenager I know my aunts' influences kept me from royally screwing up. If I never have my own children, my goal is to be that resource for the kids in my life if they need it. I don't think that makes me any less loving or more selfish than a parent.