Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Natalia E., Age 26

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 have never really entertained the idea of having kids. I remember writing in my diary when I was 11 that I would never have kids. I've never changed my mind or had second thoughts about it since then. I just somehow know that kids aren't for me.

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?

There are so many factors – probably hundreds – that vary from almost insignificant to Big Important Issues. If I had to summarize the top three, I suppose they would be: 1. I’m not into kids. I don’t have any big issues with seeing them around, and I’ve even babysat in the past with no problems, but the idea of having to educate and raise a whole entire human being is too overwhelming a responsibility for me. I find children’s toys and entertainment to be exasperating and annoying. I don’t like the toddler phase that kids go through, when they whine a lot and seem unable to modulate the volume of their voice. If I had to deal with that on a daily basis, I can easily see it pushing me over the brink of insanity. And even if my kid turned out to be a little saint, I’d still have to deal with its potentially-nightmarish friends. 2. I greatly value my autonomy and my ability to freely move about and do things at my leisure. For at least the first year or so of its life, I would be completely tied to a child, with my primary concern being its wee little well-being. I would lose all of my free time. I would forget about my hobbies. I would lose ground at work. And from what I understand, you’re lucky if you get seven hours of sleep a week when your child is a newborn. That, again, would drive me over the brink of insanity. 3. I like to take the occasional risk, but I consider having a child to be far too much of a gamble. There are NO guarantees. I could die in childbirth. My husband/partner might not want to put in any effort to raise the child (the majority of child-rearing seems to rest on the mother’s shoulders, while the fathers consider it “babysitting” when they are alone with the kid for half an hour… this is extremely distasteful to me). My husband/partner could divorce/leave me, which would put a serious strain on finances/time/energy. My husband/partner could die and leave me to raise the child alone. The child could have a serious birth defect. Despite my best efforts, the hypothetical child could grow up to be a teenage mother, a drug addict, a thief, a murderer, a child molester, a guest on the Jerry Springer Show. For me, the benefits just do not outweigh the risk.

In light of these, and many other, reasons, it should be obvious that I enjoy being childfree. The very definition of the word “childfree” implies that one is FREE from something that would otherwise be a burden. It’s not meant to be insulting to parents or to anyone – it simply means you don’t have children and you like it that way. On the other hand, if you don’t have children (because you aren’t ready yet, don’t have a partner, can’t conceive, or whatever reason) but you’d like to have them, now or someday… that’s childLESS, implying something is missing.

I suppose the downsides to being childfree include being constantly asked when you’re having kids, why you’re not having kids, but you should have kids, don’t you want kids?, you’re being selfish if you don’t have kids, you need someone to take care of you when you’re older, it’s different when they’re your own, don’t you want to give your parents grandkids?, you’re smart so you need to have kids, what if your parents thought the same way you did?, your kids would be so cute, By The Way You’re a Horrible Selfish Child-Hater and I’m GLAD You’re Not Having Kids!!! You get the picture. Also, if you label yourself “childfree,” you’re likely to be classified as one of the lovely stereotypes mentioned below. In short, the downsides of being childfree result solely from other people’s attitudes about someone else’s personal choice.

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 been announcing to my family that I’m not going to have any kids for about fifteen years. I even told my mom when I was in high school that I wanted a tubal (not right then, but eventually). My mother and grandmother used to laugh and say I’d change my mind when I got older. Since I’ve been in college, they seem to have accepted it. However, my mom made some random remarks about “BABIES!!!” when I started dating my current boyfriend, and it’s looking like I’m going to get engaged soon. I am really hoping she doesn’t think I’ll change my mind once I’m married and settled. I only have one other sibling, and she’s not sure if she’s going to have kids either (health issues), so it’s possible my mom might start to pressure both of us for that grandkid. As for my friends, I occasionally get “You’d have such beautiful babies with [boyfriend]!” I usually counter with, “Yeah, because the only important thing is that the kid is cute, right? It doesn’t matter that I have no desire to conceive it, spawn it, and care for it.” This tends to quiet people right down. Currently, though, I’m not feeling any particular pressure from anyone else about having kids.

As far as the social implications of being childfree, I think there are some stereotypes that are attached, and they come with the requisite double standard. Childfree men sometimes get the reputation of being freewheeling bachelors, but women get tagged as being bitter, spinsterish women who never get laid, are “selfish,” and possibly even latently homosexual. It’s obviously the “norm” in American culture to get married and have babies. Look at sitcoms and commercials in particular. It’s even mandated in some religions that having kids fulfills your commitment to God (or something). With that kind of social imperative, people start to think that having babies is Just What Everyone is Supposed to Do. This kind of thinking naturally results in some misunderstanding about why someone would choose the childfree lifestyle, because those few who go against the grain are often viewed in a somewhat suspicious light.

I understand that some childfree people feel discriminated against in workplace situations because their time is viewed as less important than that of a parent (for example, where a childfree person is asked to stay late to cover for someone who has gone to their child’s soccer game). I believe that this could happen, but I can’t say I share this experience.

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 sincerely doubt I will ever change my mind and have children at any point in my life. I’ve felt the same way for fifteen years so far. It’s not something I ever wanted or envisioned myself doing. I won’t completely rule out the possibility of some kind of major sea-change in my lifestyle and personality as I get older, but it’s highly, highly unlikely. I’ve never regretted it and I’ve refused to compromise on the issue in my relationships.

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

I never thought of them as role models, per se, but I did have two great female teachers in high school who were childfree (one married, one not). Some of my most successful female relatives are childfree. Truthfully, I never even heard the word “childfree” until last year. I never realized there were so many people who were actively deciding not to have children. Obviously, it’s a very personal choice, but there does seem to be a developing childfree community.

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 know very few women my age who have children, and I don’t closely associate with them. One of them is in a very poor-quality relationship with the child’s father, though they are still married. She always brings the child when she visits – the only way she can leave home without the child is when it is sleeping, since the father seems unable to care for the child when it’s awake. This usually results in our friend being called back home at the drop of a hat if the child wakes up unexpectedly. Life satisfaction? Not even comparable. I’m also not the cleanest person in the world, but I’ve seen what a toddler can do to an otherwise-passable house. Dried macaroni and cheese stuck to every available surface? No thanks. I notice that a common thread for parents is constant lack of time (for leisure activities) and money (for almost everything… unless the parent is involved in illegal activities, and yes, it happens). I’m not lining up to do a Life Swap with these people anytime soon. (I find it hard to actually “compare” my life to the lives of the mothers I know well, who would be mostly my mom, grandma, and friends’ mothers. It would be dissertation-length in itself!)

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

Yes, the dominant message is that You’re Supposed to Have Babies Because That’s What Normal, Good Women Do. The subliminal message is that you’re less of a woman if you don’t reproduce. You might even be accused of being *gasp* a feminist! How dare you not want to produce more CONSUMERS! (And therein lies the essence of the social/religious imperative to breed…)

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

Sarcasm aside, the fact that women feel they “need” to have kids is leading a lot of women to have kids and later regret it. A woman who doesn’t really want a kid, but has one anyway because her husband wants a baby/her parents or in-laws want a grandkid, probably isn’t going to throw her heart and soul into raising that kid. So kid potentially grows up feeling unloved and neglected. (Maybe mom even “accidentally” lets the kid wander off in a mall. Or leaves the kid in a hot car on a summer day in Phoenix. I’m just sayin’.) The idea of motherhood is definitely glorified by the media – women’s magazines and commercials feed us the image that parenting is all warm and fuzzy moments. Women get so excited about being pregnant (getting attention) and having the baby (getting attention), and then realize they HATE doing the actual work of motherhood. They get no sleep, they don’t have time to shower for days on end, they’re covered in spit-up and puke, they have hemorrhoids, they spend half the day feeding the kid and the other half trying to make it sleep… motherhood is not glamorous. The warm-and-fuzzy-parenting notion is a myth. If more women were aware of this, there’d probably be a lot more of them who would decide to be childfree!

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).

Not to me specifically. I do love to read True Mom Confessions though, which pretty much confirms that people can and do regret having children. (www.truemomconfessions.com)

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