Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Carol H., Age 37

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.?

No, having children is not something that I am open to. I do not remember a time that I ever wanted children. It definitely was a deliberate decision. I belive I was a very early articulator. As a child, I never saw the fun in playing with dolls. Barbies were okay as I could dress them and pretend we were doing something fun (playing in the mansion, doing her hair, etc.). So I did like "girly" things. I just didn't like the nurturing of babies kind of play. It seemed so boring. I remember telling my mother that I wasn't going to ever get married (at age four) because then I would have to have babies. She told me that wasn't necessarily true. I believe my decision was ultimately made then. Throughout the years, it was strengthened. Therefore, I wouldn't call it a difficult decision.

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?

Three important factors: 1. I did a lot of babysitting. That alone taught me I didn't care for kids full-time. In addition, my mother went to work when I was 10, leaving me home alone with my sister who was 5 years younger than me. I feel like I raised her, and it made me feel that I missed a huge chunk of my childhood (i.e., never being able to have friends over, not being able to go to friends' homes, not being able to be in after-school activities. But I wouldn't say I had an unhappy childhood. I just had more responsibilities than most, and that was a big influence. #2 - I cherish my freedom. I like to be spontaneous and not have things hinder me from doing what I want to do (time-wise or financially). Children put a huge burden on your time and finances. #3 - I don't dislike children, but I can't say I enjoy spending large amounts of time with them. I know "it's different when it's your own." I really do believe that. But I also know that it's a lifelong commitment, and it's something that I just don't feel the need to do. Is there any bad things about being childfree? I honestly can't think of any bad things. I know some people think they will be lonely when they get old. Well, I don't see having a child as an insurance policy against lonliness. Also, I try to keep a huge social circle and develop many friendships so that I will have a support system today and in the future. I also know people feel you miss out on so much if you don't have kids such as watching them develop and grow. That, too, is not reason enough to compell me. I watch my flowers grow. I saw my kitten grow (and socialized so that she's a member of our family). In addition, my husband and I have a very large number of neices and nephews. We've seen them grow. We've also seen them cause their parents a lot of hardships. I guess there are a few things about being childfree that could be considered bad: no tax breaks (we have to subsidize the parents/kids) and picking up the slack for parents at work.

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?

For the most part, people are accepting. I would say 80% of the people who know my husband and I are voluntarily childfree think nothing of it. Growing up in a devoutly Catholic family and marrying into another devoutly Catholic family surprisingly wasn't too much of a problem. Even the priest that married us said, "do what is right for you....childfren simply aren't for everyone, and you can contribute to the world in so many other ways." Most of the flack I have received about being childfree is (surprisingly) from strangers. I guess the other people (family, friends, etc.) knew me well enough to know I wasn't choosing to be childfree because I was a selfish, corrupt person. They knew me as a person before the whole "childfree thing" came up. But people who don't know me and meet me for the first time start asking question. For instance, I could be at a party and chatting with someone new. The "do you have kids" question often comes up. I certainly don't mind's a way to get to know the other person. I never say, "nope, I'm childfree." I'll usually just say, "no, we don't have any kids." Then I'll gently steer the conversation back to them. However, some people won't let it go and you start to hear the indignant responses that are often known as "bingo's" after they ascertain that you aren't childless due to fertility issues. As far as how society as a whole treats the childfree, I do think there is some unfairness. I do not believe a person without children should pay as much property tax (if the area's taxes are mostly given to the schools) as the parents. I don't mind paying reasonable taxes as it does benefit society as a whole. But I object to the fact that I am paying MORE than most parents whose kids use the system. I also feel it is inherently unfair that parents get large federal tax breaks because they reproduced. We have a very, very (unsustainably) large population. Do we really need to reward people for having children? Especially when they cannot afford them to begin with? Also, I do believe many childless and childfree workers pick up the slack for their childed counterparts. They also don't always get the best days for vacation (i.e., "We have to let Mary have Christmas off because she has kids!"). I'm the HR manager in my company, so I never allow that to happen. Many childfree in other companies aren't that lucky. I think the biggest misconception about the childfree is that we are selfish or hedonistic. I think everyone makes their life choices for selfish reasons. How many parents do you know say to themselves, "I know having children is a huge burden and it's really, really going to suck. But it's my responsibility to do it, so I'm going to have a family, even though I don't want to!" Please. The childfree are no more selfish than any parent. It's all what you want in life. As far as being hedonist, well, I think we all love pleasure in our lives. How you achieve that is up to you. Again, I don't think the childfree are any more hedonistic than parents.

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 know I made the right decision to be childfree. My feelings towards this issue have been very consistent. The only thing that I do wonder is what our children would look like. That doesn't mean I have any regrets. It's just a curiosity. As far as having regrets later in life, I can't say for sure. I making sure we are financially secure and that we have a social network so that our welfare is as secure as it can be. I do not believe there is any possibility of me changing my mind. At 37 years old, I'm getting closer to the end of my childbearing years. To date, I've never heard a tick from the fabled biological clock.

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

No, I haven't. As stated earlier, I grew up in a Catholic family. Having children was something you just did. I didn't know any childfree people until recently.

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?

Great question. I definitely feel that the childfree lifestyle has a great deal of advantages over the "childed" lifestyle. First, you have freedom: both financially and the ability to be spontaneous. You just don't have the same burdens that somebody with children have. Life satisfaction has got to be better for the voluntary childfree. Compare a weekend of a childfree person vs. the person with kids. They are completely different. I can't say anything about the parents' lifestyle appeals to me. I remember one Monday morning where a co-worker came up and asked me what I did over the weekend. I just told her "oh, this and that." She said, "no really....give me some details. I'd love to know." So I told her: we slept in on Saturday, and then got up and made Belgium waffles, bacon, and fresh-squeezed OJ. Then we took a long bike ride in the nearby national park. At the half-way point, we ate at one of our favorite restaurants, then browsed in the nearby art gallaries. After we biked home, we were tired so we laid out on the deck and listen to some music and read. Then we called up another CF couple and went to dinner at a pricey restaurant. Then my husband and I came home and we lounged in the whirlpool and listened to a symphony. Sunday was similar." So then I asked the co-worker to please tell me what she did. And this was it: "I would have loved to sleep in, but haven't been able to do that for years. The kids get her up no later than 6:30 a.m. They need breakfast right away. Then the driving around starts. They have soccer, track, baseball, dance, singing lessons, etc. This all lasts until about 4:00 p.m. They couldn't afford to go out to eat for supper, so it's Kraft Mac and Cheese and chicken fingers. Then she has to get the kids bathed and put to bed. Etc., Etc., Etc." I'm sorry, but I just do not want to live my life that way. I'm sure there are some rewards. But there just aren't enough of them to make being a parent worth it to me!

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

I think a shift is starting to occur. Motherhood used to be the end-all and be-all for women. I do think the perception is slowly changing. I think in our lifetime, we will see more and more women choosing the childfree lifestyle. I don't believe that society is projecting quite the same message to women as it had in years past regarding children. One of the things you can notice is that there are fewer and fewer large families. When you see a family with six kids, you hear people say, "are they crazy?!" And these are other parents saying this. Years ago, six kids just didn't seem to be such an abnormality. Eventually, it won't be "abnormal" not to want any. At least that's my hope. Still, I do think that society somewhat masks some of the difficulties that parents experience.

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

I don't think people are informed about how tough it really is. Many people want children just for those "Kodak moments." They end up being disallusioned when they realize it's not all puppies and rainbows.

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).

Many times. You can go to and read how many moms would never do it again. Of course, not all parents feel that way. In my personal experience, though, it's tough to pick just one instance. The co-worker that I discussed in question #7 is very frank about how difficult being a parent is. She has often told me that she loves her kids, but had she known how tough it was, she wouldn't have gone down that road. This is pretty representative of the conversations with parents who admit to not finding parenting as fulfilling as it was "advertised."


Sharonkay said...

Very interesting article. I am a single black female with no kids. I am in my 40's and I used to get a lot of flack from co-workers from previous jobs that I held about being single and child free. Many female co-workers would have nothing to do with me once they found out that I didn't have kids or a husband. I now work from my home for a small company and have a part-time wearable art business making hand painted silks. I don't regret not having kids. Even though my income is somewhat small and I certainly cannot afford to eat out at nice restaurants, I do get to come home to a peaceful and quiet home and decorate it according to my dictates. I don't have to worry about baby-proofing my house, spending money on diapers, day care,toys and school supplies. I am happy to see that Carol and her husband have a good marriage without kids. If I decide to get married, I would like to have a similar lifestyle like Carol in the article. I have no desire to be a parent and it just does not appeal to me at all. I did grow up playing with dolls and doing "girly stuff". I had a Barbie doll, complete with her own house and wardrobe. I didn't care much for baby dolls though. I found them to be boring. I grew up in the 70's and had Dawn dolls and a Barbie dolls. These were a lot more fun to me because they seemed more grown up and independent. As far as I can remember, I don't think I've ever seen a pregnant Dawn doll or Barbie doll!

Sharonkay said...

Its also nice not to have the bodily disfigurement that comes with childbearing. My sister has 2 grown sons and she has terrible stretch marks on her stomach. Even though my body is far from model perfect, I am glad that I don't have stretch marks and saggy breasts. It's also nice to get a full nights sleep (most of the time) and not have to run around town taking kids to every activity.