An unconventional, childfree life
I’m living an unconventional life—I’m a middle-aged single woman, happily so, and I’m also happily childfree. I am one of those women who never gave more than a passing thought to the idea of becoming a mother. I’m delighted for other people who make different choices; mine is a polite no thank you.
My single, childfree life might be unconventional, but I’m hardly alone. Given the choice, many of us have elected not to become parents, and our numbers are growing. And it’s not just single women who have made this choice. Even people in couples have increasingly chosen to live childfree.
We have our own reasons for living childfree
Many people, like me, love children, and have them in our lives. Some of us have recognized something in ourselves that would not make for a good parent. Some of us have serious qualms about bringing a child into today’s world. Some of us simply said no thanks, I’d like to be childfree.
Whatever the reason, it is our choice.
Resistance to our choices
Choosing to be childfree gets met with a lot of resistance, from our families, our friends, and our culture, even as it becomes increasingly more common. I’m not sure if it’s because making a different choice makes people feel as though we are judging their life choices. Or, perhaps, by choosing to be childfree, they feel threatened somehow.
When faced with a life lived in a way that might not been imaginable to someone might also bring conflicted feelings to the surface. Those feelings can lead people to say things that cut. That judgement hurts.
Not childless, childfree
As with choosing to live happily single, some people just cannot fathom that someone would choose not to have children. Our more common word here is childless, as though by not having children, our lives are diminished. And some people try not to let us forget that our choice is not only unconventional, but wrong.
Not everyone needs to become a parent
This is the truth: Some people are literally born to be parents, and some of us just aren’t. Some people find their life’s purpose in raising another human being. That’s wonderful. Some of us do not. That is also wonderful. Neither is better, neither is worse.
Honoring our choices, including to be childfree
Honoring our choices is critical to living a full life, including the choice to be childfree. I thought that I’d explore some of things people have said to me over the years and respond to them. And, because we are seeing increasing opposition to the ability to make those choices in the US, I wanted to affirm why it is critical for us to retain this right.
A quick note: This post is about choosing to be childfree. Some people want desperately to have children and can’t. That is tragic and cruel, and it breaks my heart. If this is you, I’m sorry, and I hope that you find a way to find peace. And for those who judge—you never really know someone else’s full story.
You'll regret not having children
You’ll regret it (narrator: I do not regret it)
“You’ll regret it,” they said. “Someday, when it’s too late, you’ll be sorry.”
While I suppose it’s technically not quite too late for me, the ship has definitely pulled up the gangway and we set sail imminently. I am here to tell you that I don’t regret a thing. A little secret they don’t tell you—a lot of us are really happy (and a lot of parents are not).
I might not be one of the happiest people in the world, but I am happier for having had the choice to make my own decisions and live my life on my own terms. Do I have regrets, even big ones? Certainly. I’m human. Do I regret this choice? Nope.
But don't you like kids?
But don’t you like kids?
I love kids. And they love me. Just ask my nephew and nieces, three of the most delightful, smart, kind, and hilarious humans I will ever have the privilege of knowing. They mean the world to me, and I mean the world to them. I like other people’s kids. I’m pretty much down for playing whatever silly game they have in mind, and I can even throw in some ideas of my own.
Here’s the thing—just because I love kids doesn’t mean that I want to raise them. I’m someone who needs time. I can’t be on all the time, and, when asked to be, it doesn’t go well. Recognizing this about myself early in my life meant that I didn’t put myself in a situation where I had to care for children and wind up resenting them. It is possible to love children and not want to raise them.
But you’d be such a good mother
In No One Tells You This, Glynnis MacNichol chronicles her fortieth year, confronting and learning to embrace a life which had no husband and no children. On the latter, she writes extensively about how much she loved children, and how good she was with them. She had always assumed that meant that she should want to have them.
Her biological clock, that sense of urgency that propels the desire to procreate, however, just never started ticking. Holding her newborn nephew while helping her sister who’d recently separated from her husband, she forced herself to actually stop and think about whether or not she wanted to become a mother.
I also knew that without a doubt the joy of my life was rooted in my ability to move whenever I wanted and how. I valued that ability to be in motion more than anything.Glynnis MacNichol, No One Tells You This
She could see the possibility, and her brief experience helping her sister with her now three children after the birth of her youngest nephew gave her some exposure to what it would be like. She didn’t hate it. However, in the end, she came to the conclusion that her answer was no. She did not want children of her own.
MacNichol loved to travel at the drop of a hat. She loved the freedom to change her life if she wanted to. She writes: “I also knew that without a doubt the joy of my life was rooted in my ability to move whenever I wanted and how. I valued that ability to be in motion more than anything” (135).
You’ll change your mind once you have children
No One Tells You This spoke to me and articulated something that I hadn’t fully voiced before. I didn’t have to have the conversation that MacNichol had with herself at age forty. I’ve always known that having kids was not something I wanted for my life. But as with anything about ourselves that we just know in our bones sometimes the why isn’t clear.
To me, it’s not just the ability to pick up and travel. It’s just possibility. Springtime fills me with such joy, because it sings to me about the possibility of something new. I could do anything. Having children is a huge limiter to possibility. I might have learned to live with limits to that possibility, but I would have missed out on the life I knew I wanted.
Some people accept that limiter because of their love for their children brings them joy. That is wonderful. We deserve joy in our lives. We find joy in different places, and we make choices for different reasons.
I stand in awe of mothers. When they tell me that it’s a hard job, I believe them. To me, it’s such a hard job that one really better make sure they really want it before they apply for it. I don’t think that everyone has that conversation with themselves before they plunge in. When people become parents without fully counting the cost, the tragedy gets passed down to their children.
You're being selfish
You’re being selfish
My parents raised me to become a mother. They raised me in an American Christian framework that held that women found their true purpose as married, stay-at-home mothers with a husband as the head of the family and the breadwinner. I went to a Christian school that reinforced what I learned at home.
I followed my own path instead
I did not follow the path laid out before me, either with the husband or the children. It took a long time for those choices to be accepted, and it started with me learning to honor my own choices, including my choice to be childfree.
I broached the subject of not wanting kids once with my mother when I was in my early twenties, and she dismissed it with a flat, “That is so selfish” in a tone that brooked no dissent.
I’m sure that my mom probably felt like I was rejecting her—she had thrown herself into motherhood, for me and for my sister. It cost her. For me to be unwilling to pay the same price must have felt awful.
To her at that time, the only acceptable reason I had for not having children was because I was not married. While I responded in anger, what I really felt was hurt. I was not meeting expectations. My mother, the most powerful person in my life, thought my life was less than.
Working on honoring my choices
Still, I did not want children, and I did not have them. Along the way, I did a lot of work on myself to help me to learn how to honor my choices, including my choice to be childfree. Honoring my own choices helped me to stand up for them, which, in turn, helped me to address this with my parents.
My choices are baffling still in some ways, I’m sure, to my parents. My mother likely thinks that I would have a better life had I married and had children. However, I think that they are happy that I am happy with my life, even if they don’t fully understand it.
The truth is that my mom was right, in a way—I did make a selfish decision. I chose my own life. I chose my freedom. I chose my own happiness.
Something to consider
Dismissing the choices of the childfree might make sense when one thinks about the sacrifices parents, and especially mothers, make for their children. However, it’s also selfish to make little copies of oneself and foist them on the world. We’re all selfish, in the end.
Your dog is your baby
Your dog is your baby
This one is cute. A lot of moms I talk to compare my dog Ollie to a toddler. That he woke up from a snooze on the couch and promptly barfed (he’s fine—dogs just barf sometimes) as I revised this post perhaps underscores the comparison. I think it’s meant as a kindness—a way for me to be part of the club.
Ollie, while being a creature I care for and deeply love, though, does not place nearly so many demands on me. I always joke with my mom friends when they say that, “Yeah, but I can leave Ollie alone for hours and he doesn’t die.” (He does demand cookies.)
I may call Ollie “my baby” (constantly), and I dote on him constantly, but I’m very clear on the fact that I am not his mother.
The choice to be childfree under attack in the US
This childfree life I’ve made for myself, empowered to make choices that earlier generations simply did not have, is under attack. This decision of whether or not to have children (and when to have them, if they are wanted), is one of the most consequential life decisions that people who can become pregnant can make. The ability to make it at all has been one of the most important gains of the last fifty years.
Coming for birth control
Access to safe, reliable, and affordable birth control allows for full participation in society for those who can become pregnant, and it is under attack. In the US, the Right isn’t just taking aim at Roe (though we now have bounty hunters, courtesy of Texas, and bills in Tennessee and Idaho would let the friends and family of rapists sue if the survivor terminated a resulting pregnancy). More and more mainstream Republicans have attacked Griswold, the 1965 decision making it illegal to ban contraception for married people (and presumably also Eisenstadt, the 1972 decision which extended the same right for single people).
Recent SCOTUS cases limit access to birth control
The 2014 Hobby Lobby case allows employers to opt out of covering birth control through their insurance offerings (the Hobby Lobby family would rather spend their money on stolen antiquities), and in 2020, the Little Sisters case further upheld it. Essentially, if your employer thinks that you shouldn’t have birth control, you have no say in the matter, unless you have the funds to otherwise cover it. Oh, and they also want to defund Planned Parenthood, too, so there’s no way for you to get affordable birth control otherwise.
On full display during Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings
The Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters decisions dealt with employer-sponsored insurance through Obamacare; the increasing calls from the Right could lead to birth control once again becoming illegal in much of the country.
Ahead of last week’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson, Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn (Republican) released a video statement in which she said that Griswold was wrongly decided, and she’s not alone. (We aren’t going to even discuss the frankly appalling statement by Republican Senator Mike Braun of Indiana that the Loving interracial marriage decision should be overturned. He tried to walk it back, but it’s just because he got caught saying the quiet part out loud.)
We must resist this attack on our choices. It is not up to the state whether or not I live a childfree life. It’s up to me.
We all make choices, whether to have children or to be childfree—let’s honor them
Choosing to have children, or to be childfree is our choice to make. We know what’s best for ourselves. Being brave enough to live a life that we want to live, including a childfree life, is the best gift that we can give ourselves. And respecting and affirming other people’s choices is the best gift that we can give them.
What about you?
Are you living a childfree life? Did this post resonate with you? Please let me know in the comments below. This is an installment in the Happily Single series. Check out the Happily Single page for all posts and other resources.
If you have someone in your life who would get something out of this, please share!