Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Caroline N., Age 32

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’ve never wanted children. Even as a child playing with dolls, I didn’t think I’d like taking care of babies. For most of my life, I looked ahead with dread to the time that I’d have kids of my own. In my early 20’s, I might have been open to the idea of children, but it was never something I wanted. When I became engaged at 25, and motherhood was almost as imminent as it could be without my actually being pregnant, I told my fiancé that I didn’t want children. I knew that it could’ve cost me a life with the man I loved, but I wasn’t willing to have children just to get him to marry me. To my surprise, he was not only 100% OK with my decision, but he said he felt relieved!

I’ve never felt conflicted about my decision, but I’d surely be conflicted if I’d ignored my gut feeling and had children. Admitting my feelings and having my husband validate them was very liberating. Until that time, I felt like my life as I knew it was winding down and it was just a matter of time before I was stuck in a life that I didn’t want. Parenthood isn’t reversible and I think that many (if not most) people don’t think of it as a choice. When given a choice, I don’t see any reason to do something I’d rather not do, even if it is part of the life script. I actually have nightmares about being pregnant and having a newborn. In my life, children would be a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

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?

The most important factor in my decision is that I just don’t want to be a mother. I’ve watched two of my friends degenerate from attractive, smart, funny women into mothers who are constantly talking about or obsessing about their babies or some issue related to them. I couldn’t stand being that wrapped up in anything. I know that I would come to resent my child for its neediness, demands, and physical toll. I know that I would never be able to convince myself that it’s all worth it, or the 101 other things parents say to try to convince themselves that parenthood isn’t that bad. Nothing about motherhood appeals to me. A lifetime is a longtime to be unhappy, and it wouldn’t be fair for a child to have to live with my resentment. Nor would it be fair to myself to throw away the years I spent in college and building a career to stay at home and do what women have been doing since before they had a choice.

Secondly, I value my freedom. Parents definitely lack freedom, and it seems to be one of the things they’d most like to have again. By not having children, I’ll hopefully enjoy at least 20 extra years of freedom and the opportunity to evolve as a woman, not just a mother. I can spend (or not spend) my money as I choose. I can be a social butterfly, or I can be a homebody. I can live where I want and move when I want, because I don’t have to worry about school districts or what’s best for the kid. I can take the time to really know and love my husband as a life partner and not a necessary evil. I can travel where I want, read a lot, take risks, indulge my interests, support charitable causes, have a neat and beautiful house, an amazing shoe collection; the list goes on and on.

Thirdly, I think the earth needs another person as much as I need a Diaper Genie. The planet is overpopulated and we’re heading toward an environmental crisis. Adding to the problem is just selfish. I’m not delusional enough to think that I have superior genes that must be passed on, and I don’t feel that there would be any “benefit” to adding another person to an already crowded planet. After all of the effort people put into raising their children, how many of them actually accomplish anything extraordinary? I love being childfree and can’t imagine things any other way. My life is easy, relaxed, and comfortable. I’m surrounded by the things I want and have even more things to look forward to. My mortgage is almost paid off, I’m otherwise debt free, have sizable investments, a summer car and a winter car, vacations, freedom, etc. My career is more exciting than I ever imagined and I won’t have to give it up for the mommy track. I look much younger than 32 because I can sleep, exercise, and take care of myself before anything else. Why forfeit the sweet life?

There are a few downsides to being childfree, but they’re minor in comparison to the downsides of not being childfree. Tax deductions are difficult to come by as a high-income married couple without children. At a certain age, it becomes difficult for childfree couples to make friends and maintain friendships, I suspect this may get easier as we get older and people’s children get older, but in my early 30’s, it’s an issue. I guess there’s the “issue” of who will take care of me when I’m old, but then again, having kids is no guarantee they’ll stick around.

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 read horror stories all the time from other childfree people, but I haven’t had many negative experiences. I think this has to do with location; I think being childfree in New England is a bit different from being childfree in the Bible Belt. To people who know us, our decision makes perfect sense. My husband’s family often jokes about how “smart” we are for not having kids. I think my sister doubted my decision early on in my marriage, but now that she sees how much I’ve accomplished professionally and the work I do for various causes, she understands that I have different priorities. I’m grateful that our decision hasn’t caused any issues with our families, and would be infuriated if it had.I think a lot of people don’t “get” it. The conversation usually goes something like this: “How long have you been married?” “Seven years.” “How many children do you have?” “None.”“What are you waiting for?” “Children aren’t in the cards for us.” “I’m so sorry.” I’m deliberately vague and have stopped correcting their assumption because it only leads to questions, the answers to which are really none of anyone’s business. I don’t understand why other people are so interested in why I don’t want children, what my family thinks, and what my husband’s family thinks. It’s my life!

Many people really do assume that EVERYONE has kids. A mailing list profiler somewhere has decided based on my demographic info that I’m more likely than not to have kids, so now I’m inundated with coupons for Babies R Us, catalogs for Pottery Barn Kids, and other similar wastes of paper. When I remodeled my kitchen, I was trying to decide if I wanted a plain or a fancy edge on the granite counter tops, and the sales person advised me that at my age I should get the plain edge because it’s not as painful as the fancy edge when kids bump their heads. I’m still annoyed by this stranger’s assumption that I was or was going to be a mother. If I could have gotten that particular stone somewhere else, I would have!

I think there is a bias in our society, even in the government, which favors parents and children. When the Town Council votes to raise property taxes, it’s almost always to raise money for the schools. Parents receive easy income tax deductions despite the fact that a lot of tax revenue goes toward programs and services that the childfree don’t need or use. I resent that my husband and I are financially penalized by the federal government for not having children and forced by our local government to pay ridiculous taxes to support a school system that we’re never going to use. Another example of this bias is “parent with child” parking spaces, I “get” handicapped, and even senior citizen parking, but having children is a choice, and not deserving of premium parking spaces anymore than I’m deserving because I have a habit of wearing impractical shoes.

I find it interesting that the decision to remain childfree is the topic of so many discussions, debates, articles, etc. I’ve never heard anybody ask parents why they decided to have their children, or moreover whether or not they regret their decision. The decision to have children isn’t debated, challenged or dissected in the same way as our reasons for not having children are scrutinized.

I think the biggest misconception about the childfree is that we’re selfish, but this is not an inherently selfish decision. If hell froze over and I changed my mind on the issue of children, I’d adopt. It’s the responsible and selfless thing to do. If parenthood were really just about caring for another person or watching them experience the world, more people would adopt vs. spending tens of thousands of dollars on fertility treatments in hopes of “continuing the bloodline”. That alone is a selfish reason to create another person when so many others live in poverty and don’t have anyone to care for them. Many childfree people give their time and money to causes and charities. Many of us are more ecologically minded than parents, which is really a paradox since parents are the ones whose children will inherit an ailing planet. Parents who convince themselves that they need the extra space in SUVs and minivans vs. better gas mileage and better EPA ratings are shortsighted and selfish. People who let their kids carry on or otherwise misbehave in stores and restaurants are selfish. Parents who expect their coworkers to pick up the slack when they leave early for child-related reasons are selfish. I try to minimize my impact on the planet and those around me, I don’t know any parents who can say the same; just look at the amount of trash one baby creates.

Another misconception about childfree people is that we all hate children. I don’t hate children. As long as I’m not taking care of them, and they’re not bothering me, I don’t care about them one way or another. I do however hate how entitlement-minded their parents can be, and how our culture reinforces this attitude.

Yet another misconception is that childfree women are workaholics or career climbers who don’t have time for a family. I really don’t see this as an either or proposition. As a childfree woman I seek balance in my life just like anyone else. The difference is that instead of balancing work and motherhood, I seek to balance work, self-development, charitable work, and my relationship with my husband. Because I’m free to travel and put in long hours from time to time, I’m more mobile in my career than I would be if I had children to care for, but my career doesn’t own me. I have not actively chosen the childfree lifestyle in favor of a career, I’ve chosen it because I don’t want children.

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?

Without a doubt, I’ve made the right decision. I have no regrets now and I’m sure I’ll have no regrets when I’m retired early, financially secure, enjoying the rest of my life. I can say with certainty that I will not change my mind. I’d like permanent birth control, but my doctors aren’t comfortable with that because I’m still young. 30 used to be the “magic age” but now with so many lawsuits, it’s become even more difficult. I’m very careful, but if I were to become pregnant accidentally, I’d abort without a second thought. I think I would have more to regret if I decided to have children.

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

I’m the first childfree person I’ve ever known. I only realized a few years ago that there is a name for it, that some people will judge me for it, and that there are lots of others like me. Up until then, I never gave it much thought, but now I visit various message boards and websites for childfree people.

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 don’t see any disadvantages to the childfree lifestyle, and I don’t see any advantages to being a parent. On the other hand, I see many advantages to the childfree lifestyle and many disadvantages being a parent. When I look at women around me who have children, their lives seem harder. Money is a big issue for a lot of parents, my sister has no retirement fund and can’t afford a house because she has 4 kids. A lot of women sacrifice their dreams in order to raise their children; I know women who are waiting for their kids to start school , leave for college, move out, etc. so they can go back to work, divorce, take classes, etc. It’s a shame to see them wishing their lives away for no good reason. In the end, what does raising a child REALLY contribute to the world? My friends sometimes seem envious of my ability to live the life of a twenty something but with a bigger budget. I can’t say they’re dissatisfied with their choice, but I do think there’s a sense of longing on their part for the vacations, free time, money, and freedom that they gave up when they became parents. On the flip side, I don’t long for any part of their lives.

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

There was a Saturn ad on TV a while ago that I found interesting. It was part of the “Rethink” campaign and one of the messages was “rethink beauty” and it juxtaposed an image of a trendy looking woman in a dark club against an ethereal image of a mother rocking a newborn. This sums it up nicely. I think the dominant message is that EVERYONE has children; motherhood is beautiful, wholesome, and something that all women want; children are a crucial step on the path to fulfillment. Restaurants, stores, hotels, even doctors offices market themselves as kid-friendly. I also think there’s a belief that kids need tons of stuff in order to become productive adults. This starts with an insane amount of extracurricular activities and extends to material nonsense like DVD players in SUVs and foods that are “fun to eat”.

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

Rethink beauty? Let’s juxtapose new images of the mother against the trendy woman in six months to a year, after the mother is sleep deprived, stressed out, and still carrying 15 lbs. of baby weight. Looking through decorating/home magazines, many of the ads feature children and families laughing and living in meticulous homes. Anyone who’s visited the home of a family with young children knows that this is a total fantasy. Most advertising ignores the chaotic aspect of life with children, or else exploits it in hopes of selling a solution to mitigate it.
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 recently spoke with a coworker who has a six month old and she said that she really didn’t anticipate the impact a baby would have on her lifestyle. She lives close to Manhattan and was used to frequent trips into the city for dinner and shows, which she says are now obsolete. These types of confessions are few and far between because most people don’t know that I’m childfree. I do encounter a fair amount of “enjoy it while you can” types of comments and I just smile and nod.

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