Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Jasmin S., Age 42

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.?

Being childfree, for me, has always been a deliberate decision. I can't remember the exact moment I consciously "decided" I didn't want to have kids, but I think it was probably in my late 20's. When I was a child, I thought I would someday have kids, just because I didn't know there were any other options - I never saw any other lifestyle. Interestingly, though, I never had an interest in playing "mommy" as a kid, or having baby dolls. I liked Barbie dolls because I could play "adult" with them and imagine doing all the interesting activities I imagined myself doing some day. But baby dolls were just so boring to me. As for how I came to consciously make the choice....I think I just looked around me and never saw any parents who were happier than me and so I asked myself why anyone would want to take on all that extra burden and responsibility if they could have a happy life without it? In fact, it seemed to me that people with kids were usually less happy than me - tired, stressed and broke - most of the time struggling to keep it all together. And for WHAT? Sure, there are some nice things about raising children and watching them grow, but you don't need to HAVE kids to enjoy these things. I get a nice dose of children with my nieces and nephews who I adore and with whom I am very actively involved - I find it rewarding to be an influence in their lives and to watch them grow. But I don't need 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and a lifetime of worry, stress and burden to get these things. For me it was a no-brainer and frankly, there isn't a day that goes by that I am not surprised that more people don't opt for this lifestyle.

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 desire to be FREE to live spontaneously without being shackled with immense responsibility, being fully present and invested in my marriage and not compromising it by bringing third parties into the mix, living a relaxed and stress-free life. Do I enjoy being childfree? "Enjoy" is too soft a word. I LOVE it! I feel like I am carrying around the greatest kept secret and feel privileged to have the awareness that life can be so fulfilling when you are free of the burden of childrearing. I love the fact that I am living MY life - steering it as I see fit without compromise. I love the fact that I can pursue any endeavor I want to pursue, for example education, hobbies and interests, without having to worry about whether I can afford it and whether it will fit in with all the demands of family life. I love that my husband and I are the center of each other's attention and we are fully engaged in our marriage - something that would not be possible with the distraction and burden of children. I love the fact that we aren't burdened will all the worry that comes with children. I know that parents worry endlessly about their kids, even when they are adults and in this world today, the worries are even more pressing. Are there bad things about being childfree? Yes. It can be a little alienating because 95% of the population can't even begin to wrap their minds around the CF lifestyle and it gets tiresome to be pitied, judged and generally looked at as confused, misguided and foolish. It's hard to find unencumbered CF friends since there are so few in society. Most adults' lives are centered around their kids and kid activities.

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?

My mother and I had a pretty big fall-out over it several years ago because she would not accept my decision and was constantly invalidating it by saying things like, "someday when you have a child I will buy them" this that or the other thing. This, despite the fact that I have always been clear with my family that we were not going to have children. What really upset me was that there was never any interest expressed in the accomplishments I WAS pursuing in my life, like getting an advanced degree or my entrepreneureal pursuits. It was like, if you're not having kids, you are NOT a success no matter what else you do. And this always upset me - that a woman is only considered successful when she reproduces - as if that is some big achievement. Otherwise, the rest of my family was neutral on the issue...maybe expressing a little confusion over the decision, but not really vocally opposed to it. Close friends have been very accepting and supportive - even friends who have kids. They know me well enough to know that the CF lifestyle is the optimal one for me - a person who is all about embracing life to its fullest. Co-workers and strangers present more of a challenge because they don't know me and therefore, they are more judgemental about how they think I SHOULD be (instead of appreciating me for who I AM). Common misconceptions about childfree people: that we are selfish (this is a big one) - because we choose to live the life that makes us the happiest, we are selfish, and yet nobody ever questions the selfishness involved in having kids - wanting someone who adores you, who will take care of you in old age, who will carry on your name, who you can mold into a little "Mini-Me" to satisfy narcisstic desires. Another misonception is that CF people hate kids. I would estimate (from the CF people I have met) that most CF people like or love kids - and most are good with kids. They just don't want the LIFESTYLE that comes with having them. Another misconception - that CF people are cold, uncaring, lonely people. Most CF people (including myself) are loving, outgoing, caring people who express this in many ways. Just because we have chosen not to have ONE type of caring relationship (i.e. the parental relationship) doesn't mean we don't have loving, caring relationships with other people. Many of us are devoted aunts, uncles, God parents and so forth and many CF people are active in the community and in volunteer work...selfless activities that few parents have time for.

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 have only grown to feel more secure about my decision as time goes by. I look around me almost every day and say WHEW! Thank God I made the choice I made. My life is so much easier than most people I know. I very much doubt I will have regrets and I most certainly will not change my mind.

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

No, sadly. I can't think of one childfree person that influenced me in any way. Growing up, I knew none. I don't think I even became aware of the childfree movement until a few years ago. I didn't realize there was a CF movement and that the childfree lifestyle was becoming more common. I think the internet has provided a real boost to awareness about this issue and also in connecting CF 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 can honestly say that when I look at the lives of my friends, family and coworkers with kids, there isn't a single thing I envy. Yes, they love their kids and I know their kids bring them some level of joy, but honestly, the amount of sacrifice involved - to me - does not make it worth it. They have to give up SO MUCH for the benefits they get. The price is far higher than the rewards as far as I can see. Their marriages are strained, they are broke, they have little time for activities outside the home or away from the kids, they look older than their ages, their sex lives have gone to hell, they have no attention span (something rarely taked about is how women with kids lose their mental accuity), their careers suffer, they rarely have the time, money or means to pursue any interests, hobbies, education or anything else, their entire life is work and serving - like a hand servant. Meanwhile, I am doing the things I want to do, travelling where/when I want, enjoying my husband's company with lots of quality time, pursuing any endeavor I choose, I am financially comfortable with plenty of money for recreation and saving, compared to my childed friends and family I have few worries, I am able to devote time and energy to my health - staying physically fit and healthy. I am well-rested and people tell me I look years younger than my age. What's not to love?

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

Yes - that womanhood equals motherhood and that unless a woman has a child, she is not really a woman. Also, the idea that you are "missing something" if you don't have children. Nobody ever talks about what parents are missing by HAVING kids - all the things they have to give up and all the areas of lack in their lives.

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

They are inaccurate. Motherhood does not make a woman a woman. I can speak for myself and say that I feel completely and totally feminine and I relish my femininity. I don't need to bear a child to validate myself. I "give birth" in many other ways - through my work, my creations, my writing, my relationships, my endeavors in life. Having a child is not the only meaningful way to be creative and contribute to the world.

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).

Yes. I actually have a running list in my mind of the people who have directly told me that if they could go back and do it all over again, knowing what they know now, they would not have kids. One is my best friend (a male). His grown daughter has caused him endless aggravation since the day she was born and he is constantly advocating for the CF lifestyle, even though he has a daughter (and now grandchildren as well). A co-worker told me she would never do it again. The girfriend of a friend of mine admitted that although she loves her sons, she wouldn't do it again if she came back again. I also have a friend from a past job who admitted she wouldn't have kids again. All of them told me it just isn't worth it - the costs far outweigh the benefits.

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