Childfree

Maybe it’s the turn of the seasons, maybe it’s the impending onslaught of family occasions, maybe it’s… something else, but at around this time of year my childfree status often seems to get a little poke.

It’s never been a particularly militant status, but it has frequently been a misunderstood one, as I am approximately the thousandth childfree woman to observe.

It’s not, you see, that I don’t like or don’t want to hang out with children – wrong on both counts (as with, oh, loads of other childfree people), although I’ll admit that as the youngest in my birth family, with no nephews or nieces, the lack of practice does render me a bit inept and awkward with the younger ones in particular. It’s not even that I don’t want to adjust my life to fit around them – my career is interesting and enjoyable but it wouldn’t take priority over a person. How could it?

It’s just that quite simply I’ve never actively wanted my own child; it’s not a presence of Do Not Want so much as an absence of visceral WANT! And for me, while I am lucky enough to have a geographical and socio-economic background that means I can make choices about these things, I can’t square the requirement to steward a shiny new person towards a healthy and happy adulthood with anything less than a total commitment to so doing. Child-rearing is important, yo! So while I’ve continued to experience a lack of active want, that’s what I’ve acted upon. I’ve never said ‘never!’, I’ve merely consistently said ‘nope, not my thing’ and can’t really imagine that changing at this point.

And now that I’m 36 rather than 26, or even 30, people tend to actually believe me when they find I don’t want children (which after years of them not doing so comes as a blessed relief) – something about tipping over the 35 mark did that. Of course, you still get the odd person who treats the revelation as an opportunity to play Twenty Questions because They’re Just Interested In Your Reasons (see also: being vegetarian), but by and large I don’t get the You’ll Change Your Mind speech these days.

What I do get, however, is people asking if I like children (This has always made no sense to me. Children aren’t a single unit, I can’t adore or deplore them en masse. They’re individuals. Do you like people in their 50s?) or assuming I don’t, or don’t have any interest in hanging out with them.

Which puzzles me.

I’ll admit to the aforementioned awkwardness-borne-of-inexperience (I will happily read the thing your child has just thrust into my hands, find a flag app on my phone to entertain your flag-obsessed son or answer questions about the YouTube video about earthquakes with which you’re distracting them while you produce breakfast as best I can, but I’m blowed if I can remember any nursery rhymes or games), but that’s it.

People are nuanced. Childfree might apply to my uterus, but that doesn’t mean I expect or want it to apply to my entire life. Likewise, I enjoy my friends’ kids (I hope that’s mutual, but who knows?) but that doesn’t mean I want my own. There’s nothing contradictory in that, though I’ve heard that accusation a few times.

My closest and longest-standing friends all have kids, ranging in age from around a year to 10, and every single one of them is a joy to be around. And the thing that’s most joyous is that when you have a relationship with their parents you get to watch the child get to know herself, the parents get to know the child, the siblings get to know one another – you see a whole web of relationships flex and grow as each child grows. Just as most people who have ever been around kids do, I’ve had the extraordinary privilege of watching tiny babies – and some of them really were tiny – grow and develop into their personalities, further and further over time. I get those vision-upending glimpses of the world through kids’ eyes. And yeah, ok, I get to see a tantrum or two. I find them easy enough to forgive in a tired and overwrought 5 year old.

I recognise traits from women I’ve known for most of my life appearing in whole new people. I watch loved friends find happiness in their choices and demonstrate skills that maybe even they never knew they had.

I see a small tribe of completely awesome young folk forming and figure there’s hope for us human-types yet.

I am awed and humbled to know so many people shepherding folk towards adulthood so compassionately, responsibly and effectively.

Just don’t ask me why I don’t want a child of my own. I haven’t the faintest idea, quite frankly, but I do know that a) it’s not about me, it’s about the kids to whom I don’t think I’d be doing justice without that want, and b) it’s none of your damn business.

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7 thoughts on “Childfree

  1. I understand this perfectly – it could so easily have been me in your position. (It just so happens that I did change my mind, at some point, but I may well not have. And if I hadn’t conceived easily, I would have been fine with that outcome, I think.) But… I wonder if I’m guilty of doing the 20 questions thing. Also with vegetarianism – which, again, is a choice I’ve been close to making, but haven’t! I generally don’t ask why someone doesn’t have or want kids (because the answers can be deeply personal and painful), or why they are vegetarian (because yeah, none of my business), but if the subject does come up, I’m very interested in talking about it. Especially because I think those are paths I’ve been close to taking myself, so it’s partly curiosity about exploring my own feelings.

    Do you think there’s a clear divide between invasive questions and friendly conversation, or is it basically always rude and annoying?

    • It’s not at all rude and annoying when people are genuinely interested in having a conversation!

      But there are, oddly, some people who really do treat it as Twenty Questions – a sort of rapid-fire pelting that doesn’t seem to take much account of the responses *you* make but instead appears to be using a set of tickboxes. The veggie equivalent is kind of:
      “do you eat fish?”
      “erm, no”
      “how long’ve you been veggie for? is it for ethical reasons? what about leather? I couldn’t have made that choice because x….” etc etc
      *wonders which question to answer first and what’s going on in general*

      So basically, same as in any discussion or conversation – if you show genuine interest, and sensitivity if and where appropriate, it’s all good.

  2. Fantastic post, Cat.

    I actually really appreciate people who make a conscious choice about having children, no matter what the decision is. The mere fact that you’ve stopped and THOUGHT about it and made your decision is placing the appropriate weight on the matter. (I had the opposite problem “don’t have kids yet, go see the world, your life ends when you have kids, blah blah blah…” and it was equally irritating I would think.)

    Speaking as a parent, people like you are what makes parenting do-able. Friends who might not have kids themselves, but are able to come over and still be in your life, to help me keep some semblance of “me” as opposed to “mother of my children”, to be a friend to the kids, and give them an extra person to love and receive love from, the be the honorary aunts and uncles … such a blessing, you are! I have a few friends who are childless (some by choice, some sadly not) and they are some of the most precious people in the lives of myself and my children.

  3. As a 41-year old woman with no kids and a vegan, I can totally relate to this. It is not a matter of not liking kids, being selfish, finding the right man, biological clock or whatever. I have just never felt the need to. But I respect other’s people choice and I enjoy my brothers’ kids. What irritates me sometimes is that I have thought about having kids for a while because eventhough I didnot feel the need, I thought it would be wise to think it through as at some point the window of opportunity closes and there is no going back. I wanted to be able to tell myself that it wasn’t an ill-thought decision. However, I know many people, well-educated people mind you, that have children because ‘everybody was having them’ or ‘it was an accident’ (at 32? after years of birth control?). I have had parents-to-be tell me they didn’t think anything was going to change after they have children. What irritates me about that is that parents never have to explain why they have children but those that do not have them, do. I think having children should be considered carefully by everybody, regardless of the final decision.

    • ” I think having children should be considered carefully by everybody, regardless of the final decision.”

      Yes, exactly.

      I understand what you mean about having thought about it because Reproductively Viable Time Is Finite – I suspect most people at least check in with themselves as they get older to make sure they’re still making the right decision.

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