Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Anne H., Age 31

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 briefly toyed with the idea of having children as a sort of "what if?" scenario in my early teens, but even then it just didn't seem like something I wanted to do and over the years watching people experience parenthood (and doing some baysitting myself) made it thoughly unappealing to me. It was a realisation that came on very gradually and in my twenties it evolved into a conscious decision. There wasn't any epiphany, and it actually wasn't a very difficult choice for me to make though I did give it a lot of thought because having children seemed to be such a given. I saw it as a huge investment on many levels over a long period of time for something I really wasn't interested in having in the first place. There were so many other things that I really did want to do.

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?

Aside from my lack of interest (which is what started the ball rolling), there were several other factors that played into my decision. Most importantly, I have an extreme dislike for the traditional roles assigned to women. I didn't want to lose my identity in the motherhood role. I was also a very overprotected child and so I really cherish my freedom to experience whatever I want. Having children would tie me down in ways that I wouldn't be able to tolerate and still keep my sanity. In the last few years, the environmental and financial benefits of being childfree have also become very apparent to me, but to be honest, these factors came into play after my choice was made. I love being childfree. I enjoy the freedom to pursue my own interests, I will never run out of books I want to read, movies that I want to watch, or music that I want to listen to. My husband and I have a lot of fun together because we actually have time to spend with each other. Nothing makes love last like knowing you are the other person's first priority. The few negative things that I've experienced as a result of being childfree have come from outside myself. The worst thing is the pressure to have children that I sometimes get from my family, and sometimes from acquaintances or even total strangers. It's equally frustrating to see people get (or expect) unmerited advantages simply because they have children. When my husband and I were working and saving very hard to buy our first home, we lost out on a property because, despite all our efforts, we just couldn't make an offer close enough to the asking price. The property was purchased by a charity and was then sold at far below it's value to a family that could not otherwise afford to own a home (not through any tragedy or disability, but through very poor financial planning), but because they had children they "needed" to own a home and so were rewarded with thousands of dollars in equity. Having said that, these irritations are minor compared to the benefits.

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?

I've had quite a variety of reactions, both good and bad. My parents are still not thrilled with my choice. At first it was something they tried very hard to talk me out of on the basis of carrying on the family name and giving them grandchildren, though they have become more resigned over the years and now the topic rarely comes up. I had an extremely negative reaction from my grandmother, who told me I wouldn't really know happiness until I had a child to care for and when I found a man that would put an end to it. It ended with us not speaking for several months but eventually she decided to ignore that aspect of my life. Most of my inlaws have either blessedly stayed out of the debate entirely and a few have been quite supportive. I think the reaction I dislike most is when people patronise me. I get this reaction from a lot of casual acquaintances. It's very frustrating to have someone assure you you don't know your own mind, or foist their pity on you for a choice you're actually very happy about. I've actually had people pat my hand and tell me "don't worry your time will come" despite any protest I make that I'm really very content and very serious about not wanting children. The best reactions have come from my friends. I've been very lucky to have some very good longtime friends who are also childfree and very supportive. It's not by any means our only topic of conversation but it sharing the negative experiences does relieve the frustration. I do feel that childfree people suffer discrimination on several levels. Childfree women in particular suffer this prejudice in its worst form when they try to get sterilised and are denied authority over their own bodies. While choosing to have children is instantly accepted, choosing not to have children defies belief.

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?

Over the years I've grown more and more comfortable with my decision not have children. It's just not for me. I haven't had any regrets. In fact, I've had some affirmations of my choice in seeing others have children. I won't be changing my mind.

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

When I was a child, we had childfree neighbours. They weren't a very important influence in my life as I didn't really spend much time with them, but I do recall that being aware of their existence made me realize that it was an option. It was somewhat reassuring given the feelings I already had about parenthood.

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 do know some women who appear to be geniunely happy as parents. As far as I can read into other people's minds, they seem to be as satisfied with their lives as I am with mine. Sadly, more often I see are people who sort of fell into parenthood without giving it much thought and (again, as far as I can tell) they seem to be perpetually dissatisfied with their lives. The level of life satisfaction seems to be much higher among my childfree acquaintances. I think this is because there's so much pressure to have children that people who choose not to have children are more often forced to give the issue a lot of thought before deciding on another path and a considered decision is generally a better decision. There are some very tangible advantages to being childfree, like more financial security and more free time. The advantages of parenthood, on the other hand, seem to be more intangible.

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

I am very tired of seeing so many television shows and ads geared towards people with children. Oddly enough, many of them show the problems of parenthood in fairly unpleasant detail and yet still offer a happy ending that seems to materialize out of nowhere. The message seems to be that all the difficulties, no matter how great, are worthwhile and will be magically rewarded. There's also an underlying assumption that parenthood is the norm and that not wanting children is a passing fancy or a sign of something very wrong with the person.

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

These mesages are misleading and though they are inconvenient for the childfree who have to deal with the assuptions they bolster, they are most damaging to the people who buy into them only to discover that a very difficult day as a parent does not always come to a happy conclusion.

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).

I know very few people with children well, and none of them have made me their confidante about the "downside" of children. I have heard from my husband that several male co-workers have said exactly this to him and have congratulated him on his decision. Some have even warned him not to take me at my word when I say I don't want children.

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