A friend who never wanted to have children said the other night that she knew I wrote about childlessness, but that had nothing to do with her because she chose not to have children. But we actually have quite a lot in common, I said. When I started naming some of those things, she responded, “I never thought of that.”
Let’s think about it today. How do the childfree and the childless differ and what do we have in common?
The obvious difference is that the “childfree” have chosen not to be parents. Their reasons vary. They want their freedom, they don’t think they’d be good parents, they can’t afford it, they’re giving their all to their career, or they’re doing their part to save the planet from overpopulation. They reject the term “childless” because they don’t feel “less” anything.
The childless also come to their state in different ways, from infertility to disability to lack of a willing partner. Some spend years trying and failing to give birth. Some agonize over whether to leave their partner and try on their own or with someone new. They grieve the loss of the life they might have had. They dream about having babies and ache when they see families with children. They do feel “less” a great deal.
These two groups sound very different. But there is a gray area. Some of us chose partners we knew would not give us children. Consciously or not, we made a choice. In some cases, we may even come to feel “childfree.”
What do we have in common? More than you might think.
- Most of us do not hate children. We may or may not want to be raising them, but we find them lovable and entertaining and don’t mind hanging out with them.
- We get bombarded with questions and comments, particularly in our fertile years. “When are you going to have children?” “Why don’t you have children?” “You’ll change your mind.” “Who’s going to take care of you in old age?” “You’re not getting any younger.”
- We find that our old friends are so preoccupied with their children and later their grandchildren that they don’t have time for us. Besides, they have new friends they met at their children’s schools, soccer team, ballet classes, etc., friends with whom they have more in common now.
- We have more freedom because our lives are not tied to the school schedule unless we work in the schools. We never need a babysitter, although we may need a pet-sitter.
- People ask us how many children we have because it doesn’t occur to them we might not have any.
- We worry about who will care for us in old age. My friend is in the process of setting up her will and advance directives. Single and childfree, she is not sure whom to entrust with her health-care and financial decisions when she is incapacitated. She has half-siblings whom she does not feel close to. I have a brother I love dearly, and I have given him the power on all my documents, but I know we think differently about some things. Will he do what I want in the end? What happens if he dies first?
- We all hate Mother’s Day.
A few years ago, I attended the NotMom Summit in Cleveland. NotMom founder Karen Malone Wright had the radical idea that women who are not mothers, whether by choice or by chance, could congregate in an atmosphere of mutual love and acceptance. It worked beautifully. By the end, I had made new friends, some of whom never wanted to be moms. I sat with one of these new friends on the plane ride home and we talked all the way back to the West Coast about everything but motherhood. It was a joy, and we are still friends. The fact that we came to be NotMoms in different ways doesn’t matter.
I don’t want to downplay the horrible pain of infertility or the rudeness of some people who are militantly anti-parenting, but we do have quite a bit in common, whether we’re childless by choice or not. As for those of us who are childless by marriage, aren’t we making a choice not to have children every day we stay with a partner who can’t or doesn’t want to give us children?
Let’s talk about it in the comments. What do the childless and childfree have in common? What is different?