Yes, I Am Deeply Fulfilled Without Children in My Life, No “I really love kids, but…” About It.

Copyright NBC Today Show

Ann Curry (I love you Ann Curry!) guided a segment on the Today Show about the childfree choice, interviewing – among others – Two Is Enough: A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice author Laura Scott.

Curry opened the segment by explaining that although it “may go against conventional wisdom,” the lives of childfree women are “as fulfilling” as the lives of women who have children.

Conventional wisdom:

  • All women want children
  • A woman without a child is living an unfulfilled life
  • A woman without children must find other ways to fill her time/plug the “hole” created by the absence of children
  • A woman without children will fill that hole by finding other ways to include children in her life

Conventional wisdom conclusion:

Women who don’t want children still want to be maternal toward children. If they really don’t want to be, they should probably at least pretend they do.

In the second Sex and the City movie, Carrie Bradshaw explains to a couple she and Big meet at a wedding that although she loves kids, she really does, she and Big won’t be having any.

Even real-life women who don’t want children will often preface their “No, thanks,” with, “I love kids, really, I do, but…”

Because Ann Curry prepared me for a segment that would go against conventional wisdom, I – like “Bootsy,” who also wrote about this interview on her blog “Kids is Crap” – hoped to see a new conversation about the childfree life, one that explained the choice as a natural option and explored the wide variety of things women who didn’t have children were doing instead of being parents (skydiving, working, volunteering, walking their dogs and eating French bread, taking pictures, or, sure, caring for children in need or being an auntie).

The segment began promisingly, with freelance writer Lelit Marcus discussing reactions she received to her New York Post column “I Don’t Want Kids, but When Will Society Stop Judging Me for That? and answering Today Show correspondent and My Fortytude author Sarah Brokaw‘s question about whether she’s ever second-guessed her decision.

[Note: While people rarely ask parents if they’ve ever second-guessed their decisions (if they have, it’s too late), it’s perfectly natural to wonder, and ask, whether the childfree have had doubts about their choice because it’s a statistically abnormal choice, and because they still have time to change their minds.]

I admire Marcus for saying quite honestly that she’d always felt that, as the oldest sibling, it was her duty to be the first to have kids. It can be all too tempting, as a defense mechanism, to say, “Never! I’ve never second-guessed myself! Stop trying to bingo me!”

Second-guessing choices is natural. It’s healthy.

But second-guessing doesn’t mean secretly-wanting-children-and-almost-certain-this-choice-will-be-regretted-when-we’re-all-alone-on-our-deathbeds.

As confident as Marcus was while explaining her decision to not have children, she (rather, her part of the segment) quickly set the tone that would be carried throughout the piece, which was less, “Women live full lives without children, and they can still be perfectly loveable, ‘real’ women even if they have absolutely nothing to do with children ever,” and more, “Women and children just go together. Face it.”

At about 30 seconds in to the segment, we learned that Marcus, as a child, “loved playing with dolls,” and that she “was the star babysitter in the neighborhood.”

Translation: Whew – she’s still maternal!

At 36 seconds in, Marcus delivered the stock phrase of the childfree: “I really enjoyed being around children, but…”

Subtle messages suggesting women are missing something by not having children, that not having children is a decision made by women who value “career over children” (as if that’s the choice to be made), or that the decision isn’t necessarily final, continue.

1:35: Narration: “Freedom, independence, and fulfillment in other aspects of life…” Sound: Happy, light music. Video: Women walking quickly on a busy city sidewalk ala J.C. Wyatt in 1987’s “Career or motherhood?” movie Baby Boom.

1:39: Continued narration: “…have led some women today to choose a childfree lifestyle.” Sound: Sad, mournful music. Video: Still, empty playground swings and a playhouse as deserted as our lonely wombs, olde-style camera filter creating a sense that these are memories and joys forever lost in the life that never was.

1:46: Brokaw said to Marcus, “You’re very convincing in the argument that you make about choosing not to have children (adding quickly) at this point in your life.”

Wait. “Argument?” What’s to argue? At “this point” in her life? Subtext: “You still might change your mind.”

Copyright NBC Today Show

Today Show correspondent Dr. Joy Taylor stepped in, saying that although women might question their childfree choice now and then, “they have made a conscious decision that to be a woman and to live a fulfilled life, having a child doesn’t necessarily have to be a factor in that.”

Well, okay. Thank you, Dr. Taylor.

Enter Brokaw.

“I think that it’s about women really figuring out where their energy levels raise. What is their authentic voice telling them? And it may not be about mothering, but it could be a calling that’s related to children. That could be being a teacher, social worker, congresswomen, um, nurse practitioner, physician… And I feel like what happens is that society looks at women as child bearers, and that’s how we’re supposed to define our success as women, where, not necessarily. I think there are other ways in which women can relate to children, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to be moms.

But why? Why must we relate to children at all?

Can we not simply be women who have absolutely no interactions with children, no interest in them whatsoever, and still be completely fulfilled, utterly content, and – this might go against conventional wisdom – “normal”?

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21 thoughts on “Yes, I Am Deeply Fulfilled Without Children in My Life, No “I really love kids, but…” About It.

  1. Stephanie

    Thank you for writing this. I notice this all the time. You might be able to get away with not having children, as long as everyone is sure that you still adore children and and want to be around them/work with them/play with them. So many childfree say how much they enjoy being “aunties” and “uncles.” Well, you know what? I don’t LIKE children. I don’t enjoy interacting with them. That is one of my many reasons for not having them. Why is that not okay in our society?

    1. Thanks for commenting, Stephanie. I understand your frustration with people’s insistence that everyone love / want to be around children. I wonder if they feel the same way about people not liking children as, say, I do about people not liking puppies. “How can you not like a puppy? What did that puppies ever do to you?”

      Isn’t even necessarily true that people who don’t have a need for children in their lives dislike them – often, they just have other things to do, and those things don’t involve caring for, spending time with, or anything-else children. And it’s telling that the Today Show segment put so much emphasis on the fact that women who don’t want children will often still find ways to have children in their lives. It completely missed the critical element of most childfree lives (which is that children aren’t in them).

  2. This is such an interesting discussion. I’m frustrated by the way that childfree women are justified by others (and by themselves) by reassurances that they like children. Personally, I do like lots of children very much, but I’m almost reluctant to mention it when talking about my own lifestyle choices, because it can seem like some kind of appeasement and I don’t believe that I, or any other woman making a choice about her own life, need to appease.

    I espcially love your very final point in this post, Sylvia, about authenticity and contentment.

    1. Thank you for adding your perspective, Olivia. And what you say makes so much sense – even if you DO enjoy children, saying so, in certain contexts, can lead others to make assumptions about what you’re trying to communicate.

      You also say, “I do like lots of children very much,” and that seems key. Many people like particular children once they get to know them, just as many of us like particular adults once we get to know them, but there’s often a belief that children as a whole should be liked, regardless of whether you know them personally.

  3. While some people have not given me a hard time for being CF, sometimes people have said it was so terrible that I am not close to the neice/nephews on my husbands side. To be honest, I made make more effort to be an Aunt if it was on my side of the family(I am an only child so I can’t be an Aunt on my side). My husband is not close to his brother or sister.

    However, I do feel this too bad your not an Aunt comes from the feeling that while it is OK not be be a mother it is not OK not to be without children.

    It also drives me crazy when people who don’t have children will at work put up pictures of other people children. I think it is the same idea-it is not ok to be without children.

  4. Susan

    Great post, Sylvia, and I believe this kind of statement needs frequent repeating. Even though this is the 21st century, many still have the outdated idea that if one is a woman, one “must” (according to them) have or like children. Otherwise (again, their “thinking”), you’re not a real woman, or something equally moronic.

    As a parent of a now-adult son, I have zero patience for being around babies and small children, especially the ones screaming or having public meltdowns. My feeling is, I did all that long ago, and I am happily DONE with that stage. And the best part, for me, is that recently my son has announced that he will be the next CF person in my family, in addition to my brother, my uncle, and my great-great aunt. :)

  5. Tory

    I was so glad to read this. I have caught myself doing this in the past, to be more socially acceptable: “I like kids and all, I just don’t want any.” The truth is, I don’t much like kids. I don’t enjoy interacting with them, and they don’t fill me with joy. (Puppies do, though! So I can’t be all bad ;) ) My best friend just got pregnant, so I do hope that I find some joy in being an “auntie,” but I don’t believe that’s where I’ll derive my whole life’s joy, or that I have to have some kind of maternal-esque interaction to feel fulfilled.

    1. People get very upset by those who say they automatically love animals but not children, and I understand why (particularly if they hold the view that humans are the supreme species and that we should be loyal to it), but it seems easier, to me, to automatically feel tender toward a creature that can’t speak (our language, anyway), has fewer tendencies toward crap behavior, and that isn’t someone we know will just grow up to be another person.

      It’s really just a form of speciesism. Those who don’t automatically love kids usually need to take time to get to know them, as we would any other person no matter the age. But hardly any thought is given to whether to love an animal – it’s automatic. And JUST because it’s an animal. We don’t know that the puppy or kitten isn’t going to be a little bastard, and we don’t care. We love it anyway. Because it’s cute.

  6. Essence Prince

    There is a woman on my job who has 2 boys aged 5 and 9. She mentioned to me before that it is very costly for her 5 year old to be in Day Care. Also, she bought her oldest son to work last week because she said she did not have a babysitter. I was thinking of how blessed I am not ot hae to deal with that. By the way, she just found out she is pregnant with her 3rd child. She is only a few weeks. But Yikes!!!!!! She and her husband will have to put out more money for this new kids. OMG!!!!! I am glad my husband and I are childfree!!!!! I love not worrying about stuff like this.

    1. Me, too. I know people who want kids see all of that as part of the process – and well worth it – but when you don’t want kids, it certainly sounds overwhelming and exhausting.

  7. bootsy

    i’m still irked about this interview. i should let it go. i discovered this quote yesterday that entirely sums up the problem with this entire debate. http://silversundancer.tumblr.com/post/25159964676/this-is-the-real-controversy-at-the-heart-of-thehttp://silversundancer.tumblr.com/post/25159964676/this-is-the-real-controversy-at-the-heart-of-the
    the problem, and the part that really hurts, is not that it’s still debated, but the perceptions (judgements) that people have of childfree women.arg. stop this nonsense.

  8. Foxxie

    I am very relieved that there are other ladies out there that think the same way I do. I just turned 21 and my husband is 25 and we have been married one year. He is one of 7 children and I have one sister, a step brother and step sister. I cannot stand children and do not want them by any means, but my husband wants at least one. We are military, so there are kids everywhere and many of the wives can’t fathom why I don’t like kids or want any of my own. My favorite line is, “When you have that baby, everything will kick in.” Yeah right. My sister is having her baby in 2.5 months and I am so glad I live across the country. I don’t want to hear about her pregnancy or when the kid comes along, babysitting. This subject causes many a problem, but with my husband working 5 days a week and going on hunting/fishing trips on the weekends and me (who doesn’t even WANT a child) having to take care of it until he gets off work/gets home. I do not think this is fair, but I have no idea what to do. We have talked about this before we were married and my husband thought I would change my mind when I got older. I told him I would have a child when I’m at least 25, just so we won’t get a divorce and thankfully he isn’t forcing me to have a kid. I don’t want to resent him and the kid if we have a child, but I don’t want him resenting me if we stay child free. I would actually gladly go get sterilized, but that would deeply hurt my husband.

  9. I found your article interesting because I can’t have children, and I am now wondering if I really want them. Before my hysterectomy 2 years ago I really wanted children, but now I have so much time to think about adoption, I’m not sure I want them anymore. I thought I wanted kids, but is it because I don’t know what else to do with my life. I love kids, and I am a primary school teacher so I am around them all the time, but could I handle them at home and at work? I am currently writing a blog http://www.nochildrenwhatnow.wordpress.com just to try and fathom out what I want in life. I thought if I wrote it down it might help me to decide what to do. I know life is what you make it, so maybe just getting a dog would be fullfilling enough for me.

    1. You are very smart to consider how much and why you might want children. Being a primary school teacher might give you enough contact with young children, and having your own might be overkill. I am amazed at how many NO KIDDING! members are teachers (as I am). At one activity, a newcomer asked Nina why she didn’t want children. Nina answered, “I teach primary school, and I do up and undo hundreds of laces, zippers, and buttons every day. I don’t want to come home to more of the same.”

      If teaching doesn’t seem enough, you could always enjoy nieces & nephews, friends’ kids, work in a daycare, babysit, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Adopted Grandparents, etc.

      Jerry Steinberg
      Founding Non-Father Emeritus of NO KIDDING!
      The international social club for childless and childfree couples and singles
      http://www.nokidding.net; jerry@nokidding.net

      1. On the other hand, I got comments to this effect from some of the parents of my students, when I was a teacher: “You have 50 kids every year – no wonder you don’t want any of your own.” Or “How nice for you, you get to be motherly to all your students.” Actually, it didn’t influence my decision in any way. I just don’t want kids – I don’t want to be a parent. My choice of profession neither confirmed my decision nor “softened the blow.” I’m not a parent, and being a teacher was in no way a substitute for parenthood.

  10. Evey

    You ask, “Why must we relate to children at all?” Well, society expects us, women AND men, to relate to children. I think that if men’s choices to abstain from parenthood were as closely dissected as women’s choices, the general implication would be the same. “He doesn’t want to have kids, but he still relates to kids, still likes kids. He’s still a normal human being.” I, personally, do not perceive social acceptance of men hating kids. So, when a news story focuses on the female perspective of the childfree lifestyle, the message can appear to be merely a reaffirmation of conformance to traditional gender roles and characteristics. Basically, regardless of your genitalia, most people find a severe aversion to kids unsettling, to say the least. Why must we relate to children? Well, because it’s socially unacceptable to literally eat our young, I suppose.

    I’m an animal person. I find it more than unsettling, I find it odious when a person tells me that he does not like cats (or dogs or whatever animal). I think our modern social psyche demands that we as humans are beneficent, if not affectionate, toward creatures helpless, weak, and “pure.”

    I have just discovered your blog. I adore your writing style. Intelligent, articulate, confident women are too far outnumbered on the Internet.

    1. Thank you, Evey. I’m glad you stopped by.

      I agree that expressing distaste for children is probably crossing a line, but when it comes to either animals or children, it’s a little silly to feel compelled to assure others that even if we don’t have or want our own, we’ll still actively make them a part of our lives.

      (Like you, I get turned off when someone says they don’t like animals, but mostly because I think that means they’ll not hesitate to hit one that runs into the road. Probably a leap, but…)

  11. It is entirely possible to like children and not want any. During a phone-in talk show, a caller called me a hypocrite for saying that I Iike children, but don’t want any. He said, “How can you like something and not want it?” I answered, “Well, I like women’s breasts, but…”

    The moderator had to take an unscheduled station break to regain his composure.

    Jerry Steinberg
    Founding Non-Father Emeritus of NO KIDDING!
    The international social club for childless and childfree couples and singles
    http://www.nokidding.net; jerry@nokidding.net

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