Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Amanda H., Age 39

Is the idea of having children something that you are open to, or were open to at some point in the past? Is the fact that you don’t have children the result of a deliberate decision or just the way your life happened to work out? If it was a deliberate decision, can you tell me something about how you made this choice, the circumstances, your reasons, whether it was easy, hard, etc.?

I am not currently open to having children. I was open to the idea of having children when I was younger - say from childhood - to my mid to late 20s. I got married when I was 34 and by that time it had become clear to me that I didn't feel drawn to having children, I didn't feel called to be a mother. As my relationship with my boyfriend at that time (who later became my husband) grew more serious, I brought up my feelings on this subject to him, knowing that it could be a make or break point in the relationship. Luckily, he felt similarly, and so we were on the same page. We agreed that we would be willing to revisit the subject. My brother has mental illness and I have experienced the absolute hell that this type of illness can be for an individual and can bring on the family. There is also mental illness in my husband's family and I fear that we could potentially produce a mentally ill child. We are also artists who do not have a lot of disposable income. I see that parenting is an incredibly difficult lifetime job and I really believe that it is something one should choose rather than just do because society or family expects it. Many people deeply desire children and I believe they are the folks who should choose to have them. It was a relief for me to admit my feelings to myself and others, and easier in that I live in a NE city and am part of an artistic community. I imagine this would be much more difficult for me if I lived in a rural or suburban setting in the south or midwest.

What are the three most important factors that influenced your decision to be childfree? Do you enjoy being childfree? If so, why? If not, why not? Are there any bad things about being childfree? If so, what are they?

My brother's illness, my lack of desire for children and our financial situation. Yes, I do enjoy being childfree. I love the flexibility that my husband and I have. Our lives seem to be more manageable and less complicated and I am able to pursue the artistic pursuits that are really my heart's desire. I guess the only bad thing is that I wonder if in 10-20 years if I will regret this decision. There will clearly be a lot of experiences I will never have as a result of this decision. I do check in with myself and my husband regularly to see if our feelings or hearts have changed - and so far they have not. This gives me peace. I am a person of faith and I do believe that when I pray about it I have a sense that I am not called to the parenting lifestyle.

Please describe the kinds of reactions you have received from others in response to your not having children. How supportive and accepting have your friends and family been? How accepting do you feel society as whole is of the voluntarily childless ("childfree") lifestyle? Do you feel childfree individuals suffer from unfairness, prejudice or discrimination in society? Do you feel there are common misconceptions about childfree individuals or the childfree lifestyle?

Our friends are very supportive, thankfully. Our families are accepting. I'm sure our families would be excited if we did have kids, but they don't put any pressure on us and I don't think most of them know our reasons. So far, we have not received negative feedback from people, or pressure from family. Of course, one never knows what people are really thinking. There may be people who assume that we are in the process of trying, and don't ask about it because it is a personal issue. When I was in my early 20s, I think I judged those who were "childfree"; I saw them as selfish. It will be interesting to see if people treat us differently as we get older.

In retrospect, how do you feel about your decision to be childfree? Do you still feel the same way as always on this issue? To date have you had any regrets? Do you think you may have regrets later in life? Is there any possibility you may change your mind about having children at some point?

I feel great. I feel that I am being true to myself and have opportunites to do things that I wouldn't if I had children. I am available to nurture and love adults (and children, though I mostly interact with adults) in my life in ways that brings me great satisfaction and joy. I address the regrets question in my above answer. I don't believe I will change my mind on this issue, but never say never...

Have you had any childfree role models during your life? Please explain.

I do notice that I am relieved to meet other women who have chosen to be childfree. Typically these women are my peers, so I don't think of them as role models, but I suppose they may serve that function.

When you compare your life to the lives of women you know who have children (family, friends, co-workers), how would you evaluate the advantages, disadvantages, and overall life satisfaction associated with each kind of lifestyle?

I think each lifestyle has its advantages; there is a potential for richness in each lifestyle. I do feel that I probably have a lot more fun with my husband because we do not have responsibilities pertaining to children. I do know that my friends with kids and particularly those who also work feel overwhelmed often, very tired and rarely have time for themselves. But I can see that they take joy in their kids and their development. I do have a really busy life, but I know it is never as demanding as one that had work and kids.

Do you perceive that there are any dominant messages expressed in our culture about having children? If so, what are they?

I think there are expectations that if you are married that you will have children, and will want to have children.

Do you feel these messages are for the most part accurate, inaccurate, misleading or something else? Please explain.

I do believe that many people do want to have the experience of being a parent, but I do also believe that there are people who have kids because they feel they have to, which may set them up to not being the best parent. I think it would be good if people really intentionally thought of it as a choice, rather than an obligation.

Have any parents ever spoken to you about the "downside" of having children or told you if they had to go back and do it all over again, they wouldn't have kids? Have any parents expressed that they are jealous of you for being childfree? If so, please describe the conversation(s).

Nope on all counts.

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