“Why?” The Child-Free’s Most Hated Question

According to an unscientific poll I posted a while ago, the question the child-free hate being asked the most is, ‘Why don’t you want children?’

They hate it more than, ‘Aren’t you afraid you’ll regret it later?’ and even ‘What will you do with your life without kids in it?’

Outside of the context of books and endless psychoanalytical approaches that try to find some great, dark mystery behind why women don’t want children (as if we’re missing our frontal lobes or a critical brain receptor), I actually love being asked, by everyday people, ‘Why?’

I can be an insatiably curious person, so I usually feel when talking to people like I’m that kid staring up at an adult with my mouth hanging open, nose stuffy with snot, and asking ‘Why?’ after everything.

‘Eat your chicken.’
‘Why?’
‘Because it’s good for you.’
*sniff* ‘Why?’
‘Because your body needs the protein.’
‘Why?’
‘Because… Because there’s…  Ribosomes…  Look, just eat your fucking chicken.’

Maybe what annoys many child-free about that question is that if we were to learn a friend (or stranger) were pregnant and very excited about the baby, we’d get the death glare if we said, ‘Oh. You’re having a baby? Why?’

I’ve wanted to ask this more often than I can tell you. As someone who’s never wanted children, I’m as curious about why someone would want them as they probably are about women who don’t want them. I react, in my head, to people who have children the same way I react to people who say they don’t like chicken wings. ‘What? But why?’ It doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t understand. I’m not judging – I’m curious. WHY don’t you like wings? Is it the sauce? The size of the wing? Is it that weird gap between the bones? Would you eat the boneless ones?

But I can vocalize my questions about things like chicken wings, or why someone would intentionally buy an El Camino, or what influenced someone’s decision to be a taxidermist.

But ask why someone had children?

Nooooo. If you ask why someone wants or wanted children, it’s assumed that what you really mean is, ‘Oh my god, children are horrible! Why would you ever do that?’ That particular curiosity is greeted immediately with The Moat of Defensiveness.

Much like the automatic ‘Help! Help! I’ve been bingoed!’ reaction the child-free often have when we’re asked why we don’t want children…

The difference is, there’s no etiquette filter stopping anyone from asking us why we don’t want kids. They just blurt out the question like they’re talking about chicken wings.

But it’s only because it’s the ‘norm’ to want kids, and for the most part, they’re simply curious about why we don’t. And I don’t blame them. I’m curious, too, about why other people who aren’t me don’t want kids. Not on some deep, ‘Who hurt you?’ let-me-play-psychoanalyst level, because obviously I don’t think there’s anything weird about not wanting kids, but because I like knowing the ‘why’ about a lot of things.

So ask me why I don’t want kids – ask me all day long – but ask without judgment. I’ll give you my list of 1,047 reasons, the #1 reason being, ‘It’s just not my thing. I’m not interested.’

‘Why?’
‘Because I don’t want to be a mom.’
‘Why?’
‘Never took an interest in the job.’
‘Why?’

‘Hm. I guess… Long hours, full life transformation, complete energy absorption, no money in it, and then there’s the potential for great emotional turmoil unlike any other.’

‘Why?’

‘Well, there’s all the cleaning up and running around, and I don’t like being that stressed out. There’s a loss of self and having no time to pursue your own interests for at least a few years, which isn’t for me. There’s other-mommy judgment, which would make me violent. Toward the other mommies, of course. And then, there’s the fact that your kid will eventually be a teenager. Also, what if you don’t like your kid? They – the other parents – will drag you through the town square by the ankles of your mom-jeans. What if your kid ends up being like the Columbine kids? And what if you love your kid like crazy and it dies at age 6, 7, 10, or 30? I’m pretty sure that would mess you up real good.’

And so on.

Ask me why. I’ll tell you. But then, you have to be okay with me asking you why you do want kids, and with me asking ‘Why?’ again when you say, ‘I just always have.’

Related Posts:

The Child-Free vs. “Breeder” War: Why Are We Fighting It?

When It Comes to Judgment, the Child-Free Just Might Have It Easy
..

~ ~ ~

“This book is a revelation, and at last, finally an entry in this genre that doesn’t take sides.”

What Every Woman Wishes Modern Men Knew About Women

by Sylvia D. Lucas

“An odd combination of really funny and really insightful.”

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16 thoughts on ““Why?” The Child-Free’s Most Hated Question

  1. Pingback: what you need to know about childfree people. « kids is crap

  2. bootsy

    i love this post so much. i still haven’t figured out how to deal with the question. like you say, if you turn it around the question becomes offensive.

    how about, ‘because i’d like to continue my education and develop my career as a professional human being who has great earning potential and thus greater capacity to contribute to my community.’

    there’s that one, and then the fact that it’s simply a pretty undesirable gig.

    i just don’t think it needs to be an everyday topic of discussion.

  3. I’m 26 and do not have children yet; not even married. I would like to have children (eventually), but I’m in no rush. I’m still young and want to enjoy life. Be selfish and do things solely for myself. So when my mother asks me EVERY time I see her, “why” I don’t have children yet and “why” I have not settled down yet.. it goes without saying.. I get frustrated. Especially now that she’s mentioned several times that if by the time I’m 30 she’ll pay for invitro… ugh! WHYYYY me?!?

  4. Tamariez – A note: Doing things for yourself before you have kids doesn’t make you selfish. You’re only selfish when what you do has a negative impact on others – and you continue to do it anyway. Who are you hurting by enjoying yourself or by taking your time to have kids? (Answer: No one.)

  5. …why someone would intentionally buy an El Camino…

    My Father owned that one!
    ==================================================
    …And what if you love your kid like crazy and it dies at age 6, 7, 10, or 30? I’m pretty sure that would mess you up real good.’…

    My brother died at 19. Definitely in there as a “why not?”

  6. I’m thisclose to turning 43. My go-to answer when interrorgated is, if I wanted to have kids by now, I would have back in my 20s or 30s. I never did, therefore I didn’t. I’m childfree. Accept it as I accept your deep desire to be a mother.”

  7. Susan

    As a done after one (one child by choice) parent, I was often bombarded with a variation of the “why” question; specifically, “why don’t you want MORE kids?” It was the same type of bingo you guys get, just with an extra word thrown in. So I can certainly understand how the “why” question is the most hated by CFers. I find it extremely annoying too.

    I love this post, though, it’s given me an idea for a response of my own I can get anyone back with, if I ever get bingoed again with the DAO version of the “why” question. Example:

    Bingoer: “Why didn’t you want more children?”

    My response: “Do you want the short answer or the long one? I can do both, if you prefer.”

    Then I can struggle to keep a straight face while watching the bingoer’s response to my answer, knowing it probably wasn’t the reply she (or he) expected. Just thinking about it makes me chuckle. Thanks, Sylvia! :)

  8. James Ghallager

    “Maybe what annoys many child-free about that question is that if we were to learn a friend (or stranger) were pregnant and very excited about the baby, we’d get the death glare if we said, ‘Oh. You’re having a baby? Why?’”

    You want to know why people ask that question and not the other way around? Because you are fighting your biological design. The whole purpose in life is to continue your genetic code onto the next generation.
    This article makes me upset. You are the one who is fighting up-stream on this one. Don’t expect every person on the street to get that you don’t want children. It’s your personal choice after all. But don’t act like you have a stick up your ass. You are the minority. The minority is a minority because it is not the majority. Expect to be looked over.

    It’s not a malicious question. Suck it up and don’t be an asshole about it .

    1. Times have changed drastically James. There’s no longer a ‘need’ to reproduce like there was a long time ago. The infancy death rate has gone down a lot, no need to make your own workers (living on a farm etc..), no need to create this legacy or to keep the name going.

      And the problem lies with many people having children and not knowing why. They do it to fit in, because it’s expected or because “it’s what ____ did.”. And those reasons can create a horrible life for someone. Instead of being frustrated by this article, respect it and be happy that people can decide for themselves, instead of creating life for “someone to care for me in the future.”.

  9. Hi, James. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    Procreating might be something all species are instinctively propelled to do, but I don’t think you can say with certainty that it’s the purpose in life. If our sole purpose is to procreate, what is the purpose of procreation? That is, what purpose does our existence serve? How can making more humans possibly be the “purpose” in life? (And, what is the purpose of humans who can’t procreate? Are they worthless? Do they serve no function?)

    I’m sorry the article upset you. My point was only to say (and, in fact, I say it above) that as someone who’s never wanted children, I’m curious about why people do want them. Genuinely curious. And I’d like to think I can ask, “Why do you want children?” as cavalierly as someone would ask why I don’t.

    I never said I expect “everyone on the street to get that [I] don’t want children.” In fact, if you re-read, you’ll see this:

    “But it’s only because it’s the ‘norm’ to want kids, and for the most part, they’re simply curious about why we don’t. And I don’t blame them.”

    And “stick up my ass”? Well! (Okay, sometimes, but not in this case.)

    I agree – “why don’t you want kids” is not a malicious question. (As I said. Above. Quoted in part my comment here.) I’d just like to be able to ask back.

    Do you have kids? Why did YOU want them? I’d love to know.

  10. Lizzie Moon

    My husband is in the military, so we move every few years. At each new location, I know this question will be asked at least once and usually several time. At one duty station, when asked to introduce myself to the group for the first time, I went ahead and addressed it from the get go, by stating my name, followed by: “I am job-free, child-free and do whatever I like, within reason.”
    It caused a bit more of a stir than I expected, with some folks calling me “brave” for “admitting it.” (To me, confessing an addiction is “brave”, but saying I am child-free takes no more courage than someone saying they are vegetarian.) By going ahead and putting it on the table though, it kept the topic from only being brought up in whispers…,”I wonder if she has medical issues…”, etc. It got the inevitable questions out of the way and did not keep me from becoming an accepted member of the group.
    Since then, if asked to tell a bit about myself, being child-free gets listed right along with whatever job I have at the moment and anything else that seems pertinent. The last time I was asked, “why?”, I said, that it was not my destiny to be a parent. They must have been satisfied with that answer, because they didn’t have any follow-up questions.
    I have never asked anyone why they chose to have kids. There have a been occasions when a friend or family member announced they are pregnant, I have smiled and with love said, “this is good news, right?” On more than one occasion it has lead to crying on my shoulder.

  11. Katamari

    Here is why I find that question fundamentally flawed. It puts the burden of proof on you to give reasons WHY NOT, which is a logical fallacy. That’s like randomly asking someone, “Why don’t you do an accounting degree at Harvard?” There are a lot of things we don’t do in life, just because we never wanted to. No explanation necessary. On the other hand, when we make a decision to DO something – like have kids – then it’s fair to assume that there are concrete reasons for this (even if it’s just as simple as, “I got the itch!” or “I’m finally financially secure”). In any case, I respond by taking the position that not having kids is the default state of affairs, until for some reason you change your mind. Same thing when people ask me why I don’t get married. I just throw it back to them – “Why would I?” I make it very clear that if they think something is a good idea, it’s up to them to convince me, not the other way around.

    1. But that doesn’t bother me. I don’t see it as a “burden of proof” being thrust upon me, which assigns aggressive or negative intent to the person asking the question, but as simple curiosity. And I guess I like it when people are curious.

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