I keep seeing the same things over and over again in conversations about the childfree. And over and over. And maybe it’s because I’m writing essentially the same articles for work this year that I wrote last year that I have little to no patience for repeats. Or maybe I’m really just tired of the direction these talks are going.
Here are some quick and simple common-sense answers to some of the more popular objections/questions/concerns that have been answered and asked a billionty times already so people can finally stop asking/saying them:
“Will the childfree regret it?”
If you aren’t childfree and you’re asking this about others, don’t worry. We have it under control.
If you think you might be childfree and you’re worried you’ll regret it, take some more time to think about what you really want. Don’t rush into anything. (Especially having children.) There’s also this: if you don’t want something, what’s the regret directed at?
“Can the childfree find fulfillment without children?”
It stands to reason that people who don’t want children will be quite happy not having children they don’t want.
“Are the childfree selfish?”
Please retire this one. No one is being harmed by us not having children. The question also supposes people who do have children aren’t selfish.
“Is not having children admirable?”
Yes. We all deserve medals.
But, seriously, no. I don’t think so. Childfree people do get judged, but so do parents (every day for every damn thing they do or don’t do with their own kids – breastfeeding or not, napping with them or not, tending to them the second they cry or not, etc.). But is it really that hard to not do something you don’t want to do?
Edit: It depends. If someone was brought up in a traditional or strict household that all but forces babies, going against the grain is admirable. But for people like me who don’t have anyone threatening them to have kids, there’s certainly uncomfortable/suffocating pressure – annoying, irritating, angering pressure that can breed resentment – but it’s nothing that’s unmanageable or that I would dare call myself “admirable” for overcoming. As in most areas, whether a person is admirable is situation dependent.
In the above interview on a local station [air date Aug. 17], I hope I had some success in communicating that the discussion about children vs. no children is (or, I think, should be) about so much more than “Are they SELFISH? Cold? Broom-riding cat hoarders?”
What function does that conversation serve?
The questions below address some of what I think are the more relevant issues surrounding whether to have children, with the primary focus on making sure as many women as possible are aware from a young age that they are not predestined to be mothers, and that if they want to have a child, it can be a beautiful and enriching experience, but that if they don’t want to, that too can be a beautiful and enriching experience. They should know their options are open. And that one choice is no better or worse than the other.
“What is the impact on people who don’t think before having kids?”
According to the Guttmacher Institute, just under half (49%)of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended, and:
unintended pregnancy has a public health impact: Births resulting from unintended or closely spaced pregnancies are associated with adverse maternal and child health outcomes, such as delayed prenatal care, premature birth and negative physical and mental health effects for children.
And according to the National Institutes of Health,
Unwanted pregnancies especially affect adolescent women, single women, and women over 40 years of age. Given their desperate situation with an unwanted pregnancy, some women opt for an unsafe abortion, which can lead to their death. Other women can go so far as to commit suicide, or be murdered by a family member or other person who is unhappy that the pregnancy has occurred. It has been found that women who decide to continue with the pregnancy have higher risks of suffering an illness, and the same is true for the child.
I think it’s safe to assume that a woman (or man) who goes blindly into procreating, or who goes into it to make other people (“other people” includes judgmental strangers on the internet with no stake in the lives of the people involved), could easily end up with an unwanted pregnancy. After all, how can you “want” without actively “wanting”?
“How does thoughtlessly (rather than thoughtfully) reproducing impact the health and happiness of the offspring?”
A 2011 Science Daily article reported the following about unplanned pregnancies:
Children born after unplanned pregnancies tend to have a more limited vocabulary and poorer non-verbal and spatial abilities; however this is almost entirely explained by their disadvantaged circumstances, according to a new study published online in the British Medical Journal. The same study reported no adverse effects of infertility treatment on the children.
And The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy says,
Children born from unplanned (and especially unwanted) pregnancies are also at greater risk of child abuse and neglect, poor mother-child attachment, cognitive and physical deficits, and more.
“Where is all of the vitriol surrounding this conversation coming from, and who is it helping?”
My guess is that it’s coming from any combination of the following: insecurity, envy, resentment, defensiveness. And when the anger turns to silly name-calling, it’s helping absolutely no one.
“Why do others really care about whether every single woman reproduces?”
“How can we help ensure young women in more traditional/strict cultures understand mothering is an option, and not something that women “just do”?”
I think a lot less judgement and a lot more honest conversation about parenting being one of several options, and about whether being a parent is “right” for you, would be a wonderful start.
I’d love it if everyone could stop being so angry. Parents, our enjoyment of not having children is not a direct assault on you or your choices. Our happiness has nothing to do with you. Just like you’re happy with the kids you chose to have, we’re happy with the life without children we chose.
It’s this simple: some people don’t want kids.
Unfortunately, for many who don’t, the expectations of others (which can often manifest as insults and accusations) become pressure, and that pressure breeds more anger and resentment. And it’s all so unnecessary and unproductive. (For some insight into why all of this parenting pressure exists in the first place, check out Laura Carroll’s The Baby Matrix, a fascinating [and "Oh! So THAT'S what happened..."] read on pronatalist societies.)
But fighting is so, like, “in”? So maybe it’s just what people want to do. Maybe it’s not about having a real conversation at all, but about the thrill of the fight.
What do you think?