Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Carolyn M., 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 do not have children because of a combination of the deliberate decision and the path I chose for my life. When I was a young girl, I was mature for my age and despised how my peers would act, especially in public (temper tantrums, acting babyish for attention). I also preferred being with older children or adults. When I was twelve, my fantasies included having a career in the sciences and living alone in an active city or suburb and jet-setting with fellow scientists or (gasp!) a boyfriend. I did not like babysitting, especially if the children were ill-mannered. I can safely say I was an "early articulator" about my childfree status. I was also eager to grow up and enjoy a career, my own place to live, and be with people with similar interests to me.

During most of my adulthood, including now, I do not dislike children, I just prefer to be around other adults. I still do not particularly care for rude, inconsiderate children. I've always wanted follow the undiscovered or unbeaten path because taking the easy way out was no way for me to learn and grow as a person. I wanted to be a human being first and be a woman second. Being an adult human being means maturing into a productive citizen, learning and applying effective critical thinking skills, volunteering to give back to one's community, taking full responsibilites for all one's actions, and sharing one's wisdom with others. If I had just followed the college/marriage/babies lifescript (in that order), I would not have met all the people at the university I work for and adore or even meet by chance or be able to involve myself in the community (I help work at this university's women's ice hockey games in the winter and I educate the public about birds-of-prey at a local nature center in the summer). I wanted to grow up fully, even if that meant eschewing children or even marriage. I wanted to learn who I was first (well, I knew some things already!) before deciding what was best for me. Because I wanted to be career woman (22 years in the workforce now!), the decision was easy for me to remain childfree. I prioritize self-improvement and achievement over doing things because other people "say so". If you are comfortable in your own skin, the decision is easy. However, the caveat about avowing you are childfree to others is a challenge. If you allow others to influence you that you're not comfortable with any decisions, especially the childfree one, you will waver and waffle. The goal is to stick your guns!

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?

I would say three critical events shaped my decision to be childfree. The first, and probably most important and impressionable event, that influenced me to be childfree occurred during my childhood. When I was four to almost nine years old (1972-1977), my mother, my younger brother, and myself lived in New England, and my father had a job in the Mid-Atlantic; he could not find employment in our state, so he wound up getting a job close to his parents. My brother and me would only see our father on weekends, vacation, and holidays. My mother effectively grew into the role of being "both parents". She was not only the primary caregiver, but also the diplomat, disciplinarian, custodian of our household's finances, housecleaner, shopper, and a myriad of other tasks. At a young age, I could tell my father was emotionally distant and his working in another state affected me both negatively and positively. On the negative side, I needed a male role model to give me social self-confidence. Addidtionally, his physical absence reflected my poor dating choices later in life--I never got his spin on egalitarian relationships! On the other hand, my mother grew and changed into this outspoken, confident, and headstrong woman as a direct result of her taking on extra parental responsibilities. My mother was then my hero, because she took on the world, so to speak. I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. I also learned at those ages that a woman does not need a man to take care of her business or be successful. I just could not articulate these feelings fully then, but I knew I was different from my peers. In some ways I was a "miniature adult" and my mother knew this and she nurtured my independent and headstrong qualities. I knew that she did not want me to wind up in that situation when I grew up. I could not wait to grow up and enjoy being with people of my own intelligence and maturity level.

The second event, which soldified my already-independent spirit and my mother's message about not settling for less, happened in 1993-1994. I was engaged to a man who increasingly became more emotionally abusive and controlling as the relationship progressed. I found out he had was addicted to cocaine in his past and at the time he was with me, had a cyclic, but dangerous drinking problem. During one of our regular fights, I told him in plain English that I wanted to go back to school to obtain another bachelor's degree so I can have more earning power for our future. I also told him I absolutely did not want children. He would hide my birth control pills, isolate me from my work friends, and tried to dictate my life for me. Nine months was all I could stand. Like my mother did back in the 1970s, I grew that backbone and yelled back at him and told him to pack his bags and leave my apartment. My father controlled my mother and I was witnessing myself being controlled by this odious, manipulative person. The lightbulb went on and the voice inside me said, "Being on your own is a million times better than being with someone who disrespects you and your beliefs. If a man does not respect your right to education, reproductive choices, and your general well-being, then he's not worth a hill of beans!"

I finished my degree two years later, still vehemently childfree, and decided once and for all, that I will not date a man who is not childfree or disrespects my choice to be childfree. The last event that influenced my decision to be childfree occurred in summer 1995, during my annual OB-GYN appointment. Since I was 24 years old, I had irregular, bothersome periods and one month I had to be rushed to the hospital because my bleeding was so profuse. I had to be placed on oral contraceptives to regulate my cycles. Mind you, I'm 27 years old in 1995, I'm nearly finishing my second bachelor's degree, I'm working two jobs to support my way through college, and paying my own bills. Children, especially, was the last thing on my mind. I was not even in a steady long-term relationship, to boot. My OB-GYN at the time says to me, "Your eggs are getting old, your reproductive history is abysmal--you should be more concerned about whether or not you bear children!" I told her that my childfree status was not a topic to be debated with, considering that I was paying for my pills and for the consultation, AND the fact that I was just here for a yearly Pap NOT for a dissertation about my chosen nulliparous status. Needless to say, I found another practitioner and learned a valuable lesson. I do not have to follow the marriage/children life script just because someone thinks they know you better than you do.

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?

When I was in high school, I received the garden variety, "you're still young!", "You'll change your mind when you meet the right man", ad nauseum. When I arrived at this university, people in my peer group and older were much more accepting about my choice. However, I did meet people who absolutely, vehemently, loathed my attitude. The people who abhor my stance are either: jealous of my lifestyle or unhappy with their lives, so they must inflict their insecurities onto me. Now that I'm 39, for the most part, my friends and family have known I've been overt about being childfree for years and they do not question my lifestyle at all. My mother, especially, is very supportive of my decision; she just wants her children to be happy no matter what. My brother, who is also childfree, will always love me for being me. My father took longer than most to digest the fact I did not follow the typical life script, but he now realizes how happy I am with my life.

As a whole, much of society is still light years behind in accepting a viable personal life path. Even though there are pockets in this country and the world where people accept and appreciate you for your choices, most people are not aware that being childfree can be a choice in their future. Some people truly are afraid of being labeled a "failure" or "not a whole person" is they have not borne children. That's very sad to me. We are all whole people, each of us has to realize that we always will be whole until we die. Too many people on this planet have this need to "fill the void". And filling said void by having children without considering financial and personal consequences is not productive to our society.

There are unfair prejudices against the childfree--people who are childfree are labelled "selfish", "hedonistic", and "immature". I myself have been misconstrued because I'm childfree. People who do not know me think my life is problem-free and my chores magically finish themselves because they claim I have no deadlines or goals due to lack of offspring. Honestly, I many of my childfree compatriots bear the burden of pulling the weight at the workplace for parents. Many childfree people have to fill in for holidays and work overtime to pick up the slack. That's not fair--I believe in equal work for equal pay. If one cannot work the hours allotted or make up the lost time effectively, then do not take the job! And, I do not believe the childfree should pay more taxes to support the childed. Our government has always ignored our (now growing) segment of the U.S. population. There many common misconceptions, sadly, about childfree individuals. Some people assume that the childfree are a plethora of adjectives: lazy, narcissistic, selfish, immature, barren, and hateful, just to name a few. Not all childfree people have boatloads of money to spend or oodles of vacation time. Not true!

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 am very confortable with my decision to be childfree. I have absolutely no regrets. I've known since I was twelve I did not want to have children and I'm pleased as punch that I held on to my beliefs. I'm glad I was (and am not) pressured to do such a life-altering decision, because I know in my heart that I do not have the patience and time to devote to raising children. I've always been a headstrong, cerebral person and I'm the type to fully analyze situations. I came to the conclusion a long time ago that I would not have the variety and spice that I've chosen in my life now if I had children. I do not think I will have any regrets because I know I have chosen the lifestyle that fits me to a "t". Many years of self-analysis and trial-and-error in different jobs and bonding with a wide variety of people has taught me that I absolutely must be either on my own or with a partner that embraces an egalitarian relationship with me (I am currently enjoying a fabulous dating relationship with another steadfast childfree man. We've enjoyed two years together so far!) . I am more than just a reproductive vessel. I am a human being who has her own likes and dislikes and not afraid to tell people so. If I did change my mind, people would be stunned, knowing how decisive and independent I am!

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

I had three childfree roles throughout my life. The first one was Deborah Harry, the lead singer of Blondie. When I was eleven, I wanted to ber her! I not only loved her music, but her attitude and strength. I looked up to her because, there she was: attractive, strong, driven and she poured her soul into her craft! When I heard her interviews, she sounded like she did not take any crap from anyone! I found out later she has never married and does not have children! I thought to myself, "That might be me when I'm older!" I was right about that--I am driven and put my soul into my work and volunteer time!

Another role model was an English literature college professor (Spring 1988). She was striking, confident, and unabashedly proud of being single. She enjoyed her career path and shared tidbits of her travels. Wow, I thought. Some women in academia firmly love their lives!

My best childfree role model is one of my former work superviors here, a tenured professor in microbiology and biotechnology. I worked for her when I was obtaining my second bachelor's degree. After breaking up with my ex-fiance, she helped my re-build my confidence and re-instilled that I was in the driver's seat of my life. We also shared a similar work ethic and outlook on life. She always reminded everyone that you have to find yourself first before committing to anything life-altering. She was married and did not have children and had no regrets. She enjoyed climbing the ranks of academia because that was her dream. She was an exemplary role model to not just the women in her lab, but also to the men, too. She always believed in building your mind and qualities first before sharing your life with anyone, if you chose to do so. She always said to never settle on a lifestyle because you covet someone else's--you must carve your own path and find the answers to your own questions. Today I share those sentiments with the students I work with.

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?

My friends who have children tell me that they lack "adult time" with other people and that they miss the camaraderie that comes with bonding with people in your age bracket. These same friends' children were planned and they are well-taken care of. On the other hand, I have numerous acquaintances with children and some of them are separated or divorced and many of them regret having children because they did not think about the financial responsibilities or the changes that happen when people become parents. These people thought that having children was "the next progression in their lives".

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

There are many dominant messages in our society that condone childbearing. If one looks at our current commercials running any part of our day or night, and people should see that a child or children or messages about children are subliminally placed whether or not the product(s) have anything to do with children. The messages to women, in particular, are, "All women have children" or "Having a baby make housework or life more fun!", or "A baby is essential to complete your life", "Children are the future". The recent Hollywood baby boom has prompted more women to have more children since the early 1960s, as well. To a lot of women, having the baby is in vogue, because that's what Hollywood has promoted. Even Hollywood has spurned numerous films that glorify pregnancy, even if the theme is negative (i.e "Juno", "Knocked Up"). The message that Madison Avenue and Hollywood is promoting is being pregnant or being part of a baby-glorifying nation is the "in" thing now.

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

I believe our nation is seeing a huge increase in baby or infant-centered shows, magazine, and themes. Actors and actresses who are portrayed or are childfree are ignored, shunned, or even considered an evil character or an image to be pitied.

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).

One couple I know who have recently separated and share custody of their son, definitely regretted getting married and having their son. The pregnancy was an accident and neither one of them wished to abort, so they hastened the walk down the aisle. Nine years later, the husband regrets losing his freedom and a good part of his friendships. She has to work two jobs to support her son. Neither one of them is on positive speaking terms with each other and they used to be quite happy together in earlier days. The woman told me she regretted having a child at a younger age than she wanted. If both of them turned back time, she said the last nine years would not have happened.

I have never been told by parents that they are jealous of my lifestyle to my face, by e-mail, or by phone, however, the smirks, the angry looks, and sometimes a passive-aggressive snippy, indirect comment how I'm "unburdened" tell me that said people (who most likely, do not know me) are insecure, jealous, or unhappy with their circumstances. These instances have not happened frequently but I know why they have occurred. I do not judge them for having children, so why should my decision to reamin childfree be judged?

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