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Childless by choice: please stop judging us

Tagged as: Big Questions, Family, Health<< Previous question   Next question >>
Article - (6 July 2015) 2 Comments - (Newest, 13 July 2015)
A male United Kingdom age 26-29, no nonsense Aidan writes:

This morning, as usual, I was perusing the questions on Dearcupid, when I stumbled across a question from a woman regarding her feelings about not wanting a child. Although I gave a comprehensive answer to the question, it touched a nerve with me, sufficient to make me write my thoughts down in an article. What struck me was that the poster was quite clear about not wanting children, but endless badgering from friends and family about the issue was causing her to question her judgement. It’s something that the childless person has to endure, particularly if she is a woman with a so-called biological clock that starts ticking at about 30. For a woman in such a predicament, her friends and relatives it seems, think she should get with any interested man as soon as possible and start breeding or she is destined for a hollow, unfulfilling life.

IT is, to me, very distressing that the parents and the broody couples out there are so intolerant, insensitive and patronising to those who don’t want children, treating them at best as people to be pitied and at worst, pilloried. You see, I have heard this kind of story from childless women, and men, before. I, myself, have been clear from a young age that I do not want children. From a very young age, I remember people telling me “When you meet some-one you’ll feel different.” “You’ll change your mind one day.” My favourite: “You’ll feel different when you’ve got a kid of your own.” Um, you know, there are steps one can take to ensure that doesn’t happen. IT would be a weird experiment to have a kid just to see if I suddenly gush with paternal pride. It doesn’t come with a 30-day returns policy, you know!

For me, I just find this amusing, smile politely and, if I’m being exceptionally kind, might even agree that my resolve isn’t quite as strong just to get off the subject. It just makes me angry because I know how uncomfortable, distressed and inadequate it makes others who feel the same way as me, feel.

I could, of course, follow the advice I give others, which is to respond “Perhaps one day you’ll change your mind that your kids are such a blessing in your life. Perhaps you’ll wish you’d never had them.” Nothing else quite does the job at illustrating to a pious parent how disrespectful it is to condescendingly disregard anyone’s sincere wish not to have a child. Maybe I will change my mind, but how dare you presume? And, if your kids turn out to be drug-addled wasters who no-one ever sees until it’s time for your will to be read, your smug superiority will have been misplaced and us bitter, lonely folk will be so glad we didn’t take your advice as we enjoy the fruits of all that extra income we’ve been able to save over the years.

My point is simply that there is no grounds for the higher-than-mighty moralising dished out to people like me. Do I wish I were you? Sometimes, perhaps. Perhaps there is some reward in explaining something to a child when it understands and its knowledge of the world has grown. Watching their fascination as babies with everything around them cannot fail to inspire. Perhaps beaming with pride at the first school play might be an experience that it would be sad to miss. But these are moments of a lifetime. Then I’ll think about being elbow-deep in poo, or spend an hour in Starbucks with the dreadful yummy mummy brigade chattering away about Mumsnet whilst their screaming brats stare contemptuously at their babycino, and I’ll heave a sigh of relief.

I won’t, however, look down at them. I won’t think they’re crazy, selfish or foolish. I’ll just accept that they’ve made different choices to my own, and I’ll hope they’re happy. I hope their children will appreciate their love, sacrifices and sincerest efforts, as I appreciate those of my own parents. I am very blessed that, within my own family, those of my own generation who have had children of their own, never treat me as some kind of outcast. They never dismiss my feelings, they never try to correct me, they never try to tell me that, because I don’t have what they do, I can’t be happy. I care deeply for their kids. I busy myself with politics in my own small way because I worry about what kind of world my young family members will take on as adults. Yet I am acutely aware that, whilst this should be the norm for the childless by choice, it isn’t. Perhaps, then, from my position of considerable good fortune, I should dispel the myths about wanting to remain childless, for this unfair treatment comes from a lack of understanding. So, would-be sympathisers of my pitiful plight, here my explanation.

Reason 1: It’s just not there. So outspoken am I at what I believe is increasingly bad behaviour among kids today, that it’s a joke in my family. The children are threatened with being babysat by Uncle Aidan if they misbehave. It works! Yet we know it is very much a joke. I love the children in my family deeply. I’ve had a good life and would lay it down for any of them if I had to. That love, however, doesn’t translate in to a wish for children of my own to love equally. I am content, truly, to have children in my life, perhaps not as constantly, but to have them nonetheless. I want to make a difference for children and hope that, in a small way, I do. When I first worked as a hospital manager, I headed a paediatric service. I knew I would be considerate and professional, but surprised myself at the sacrifices of my personal time and risks to my reputation I took, to make sure we did the very best by every single child. Many individual families are clearly etched in my mind years later. Lots of their experiences really got to me emotionally. So, for some, we just don’t want our own kids: the maternal/paternal instinct isn’t there. But we won’t be putting yours up the chimney or anything. We might even be quite nice to them.

Reason 2: There’s no aptitude for it. It’s true that no parent has a how-to manual, but some of us know we’d struggle immensely, and that failure would be torturous. I would probably struggle to connect to my offspring for the first 8 years of life because I find that kiddyspeak really difficult. I just feel clumsy and awkward. I expect the kids do too. I’ll save us all the trouble.

Reason 3: Other things matter more. For some people, having a family isn’t their highest priority and if something has to give, this is it. I don’t know, quite honestly, if that’s true for me or not at the moment, but I’m open to the fact that it might be. Anne Widdecombe, whose unusual spinster status leaves her the object of much overly-intrusive questioning, stated in her book that she might have preferred to have children but didn’t actively regret the fact that she didn’t.

Reason 4: The absence of bad motives. It is always astonishing when people ask the childless person who’ll look after them in their old age. Like I said, your kid might not give a stuff about you when you’re old, but if you can’t find a good reason to want a child, this is a bad one you might fall back on. Having been brought up by my parents with the belief that no obligation is conferred on me when they reach old age, I just find this motive selfish and absent in my thinking. My parents, of course, do not need to guilt-trip me. I’ll make myself available to do my very best out of love, not duty.

Reason 5: I don’t need kids to be happy. I will not necessarily die miserable and alone if I don’t have kids. If I do, I still might die miserable and alone. Having children doesn’t automatically put you on the path to happiness, although usually many find that it does, even if unexpectedly. It’s not the only way, though. You don’t have to be in a relationship to be happy. You don’t have to be rich to be happy. You don’t have to be a parent to be happy.

So, I hope I’ve helped demystify the choice not to have children. Please remember that, especially for women, people’s reaction to this is too often unhelpful and judgemental. It causes upset, isolation and alienation within the intimate circles of friendship and family. Most won’t make it to Dearcupid where the wise community can tell them that it’s okay, that they’re okay. I know that if people really understood how strongly some people feel this way, they wouldn’t try to talk them around. They wouldn’t unwittingly vilify them. They wouldn’t knock their confidence but would leave them feeling as I do, that I’ve made a choice that I can comfortably live with freely. They’d do what we should always do when faced with something, and some-one, that’s a bit different: ask questions, find out more and say that, even if you can’t understand, you can respect it. Thanks.

View related questions: confidence, my ex, want children

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A female reader, Anonymous 123 Italy + , writes (13 July 2015):

Anonymous 123 agony auntYour article really touched a chord with me, Aiden. This is an issue that I have personally been battling with ever since I was in my 20s' and solemn relatives would ask me when I intended to get married and have children. Now that I'm 32, my biological clock is supposedly ticking away furiously and my family and their friends are even more concerned.

It doesnt make things any better when I declare that I dont want to have kids because frankly, I dont like kids. I didnt even like kids when I was a kid myself! I much rather preferred spending time reading story books or chattering away with my grandfather and going on walks with him.

Having kids or not having them is a very personal choice. I just hate, detest and abhor the way in which society vilifies those who choose not to have a child and how women especially are made to look like heartless bitches just because they dont want children. Someone even went so far as to tell me that I have no maternal instinct, that there must be something seriously wrong with me.

You know what, I give a rats ass about what anyone says but the truth is that, that's how people around you are. If you dont want a child then there is something seriously wrong with you. All the phrases that you've mentioned, I've heard them all

“When you meet some-one you’ll feel different.”

“You’ll change your mind one day.”

“You’ll feel different when you’ve got a kid of your own.”

You know what, I did meet an incredible man and I'm getting married soon but I don't feel different and I doubt I ever will. I don't think I can do justice to a child in my life. People around me find it strange because I come from a very close-knit family, my parents have been happily married for almost 35 years and they have given my brother and I the best life possible. A friend of my parents once got into an argument with me saying that how could I make such rash claims about not wanting children when my parents have given my such a good life...what the hell...I supposedly OWE them a grand-kid.

My blood still boils when I hear people talking in that way. But that's "society" for you. I really hope that there comes a time when someone who is childless by choice is not looked down upon by society as someone to be ridiculed or pitied upon.

As someone once said, "You laugh at me because I'm different, I laugh at you because you're all the same"

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A female reader, Abella United States +, writes (13 July 2015):

Abella agony auntGreat article and it is the perfect answer to a poster today. so I am recommending your article to them

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