Childfree: is it really a “choice”?

(Dedicated to the wonderful ladies I met in Cleveland — you are The Best Ever!)

If there’s one question I dread more than why I didn’t complete my thesis, it’s being asked why I chose to be childfree. Chose. You know, like I had some say in it. Given my druthers, I would have chosen to be born like most people, with the innate instinct to be a parent. Deep down, I know that having society’s nod of approval would have made life a helluva lot easier.

Some NotMoms and NotDads don’t have kids, unhappily or resignedly, due to life circumstances. They never had a choice. Funny, but I never considered being childfree a “choice” either. I was born a NotMom, as sure as I was born a vertically challenged, heterosexual female with brown eyes and hair. The world has no shortage of tiny, brown-eyed women who get melty when the right guy comes around. But that “won’t have kids” thing … oh, gosh. Try explaining that you’re absent the mommy drive and no, it wasn’t because you have some unbecoming personality disorder or your parents messed you up, and you have a lot more ‘splainin’ to do.

When I was a child, my mom and dad read me a lot of Dr. Suess books. One of the good doc’s quotes is, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” My parents always encouraged me to be genuine, and if I did this, I would make and keep friends. I naively took it to heart, which is why I made the mistake of absently confessing to being a NotMom to a trio of middle school besties.

There we were, four 12-year-olds walking around the phys ed area after lunch. The conversation gravitated to our burgeoning hormones future aspirations. Unsurprisingly, marriage and kids came up. All of the other girls wanted at least three or four children.

“I’m not having kids,” I said absently when it came my turn, stopping everyone dead in their tracks.

“Never?” Sandy, my best bestie asked incredulously. “Why not?”

(Here’s me, shrugging.)

“Are you going to get married?” another gal pal chimed in, looking alarmed.

“Sure, I want to get married.” That was true. I wanted to get married to the cute, popular guy in homeroom, not nerdy Gary Snell, who was always creeping around jingling his I.D. bracelet in my direction. “I’m just not having kids.”

Sandy glared at me like I’d grabbed her 7-Up-flavored Lipsmacker and ground it into the hardtop while the rest of my posse stared at the pavement in a study my memory has captioned: Bewildered Awkwardness. “Well, then … you—you’re just weird,” Sandy sputtered indignantly. “If you get married, you have to have kids.”

Can we pretend I never said that?
Can we pretend I never said that?

I felt like Insta-Crap. I also started to form an unhealthy view of marriage, which was that it was a privilege for those destined to procreate, and not girls like me. If I gamed the system and someone found out, would I be forced to get divorced? Was I forbidden to date, too? That was a bummer. I had my heart set on prom.

It was unwise to allude to being different while growing up in a churchy small town. Really unwise. Until I could flee that environment, I learned that the socially correct thing to say was, “Oh, I want to have at least ten kids—five girls, and five boys!” and squee! like a Duggar I really meant it. Look, I didn’t want my house TP’ed.

I also learned that my friends weren’t really friends.

I was an innocent. Nefarious thoughts like “I need to come up with clearly convincing reasons for not wanting children lest I be labeled ‘weird’ by peers” weren’t integrated into my brain’s wiring. I knew that I knew—just like I knew when I looked in the mirror, I would see a girl with brown hair and brown eyes who was far too concerned with getting pimples and who would like Gary Snell if he were taller, cuter, and didn’t have a lisp.

Now it’s freakin’ 2015—make that 2016. It’s close enough, right? When I was that innocent tween, I thought I would be working in a space station somewhere by the year 2016. We’d live in egalitarian society like you see in Star Trek, where the squandering of skills and talents mattered far more than a person’s inability or unwillingness to conceive. Women could even have blue skin and silver hair!

The Enterprise never became a reality, so I relocated to a true-blue progressive city where it was par for the course to have drinks with a homeless guy named Leslie, who wore a tiara and tutu. It is a community where we “born this ways” can flourish. But in 2016, we must still have a cache of “reasons” on hand when that inevitable question comes: “Why don’t/didn’t you want kids?” Um … children cost too much money. That I don’t have. The planet. I don’t want to maim it by leaving behind a Godzilla-sized carbon footprint. My career, it’s the bombdiggity. I’m too selfish. Too lazy, too crazy, too genetically flawed. I don’t like kids.

None of these things are genuinely true in my case, but I plead guilty to trotting out the “reasons”. Reasons seem to make people less hostile confused. Because I have a warm, smooshy, nurturing personality, inevitably, a well-intentioned childed friend will insist that I never met the “right guy”, triggering that old Insta-Crap feeling. I have to wonder: would that person say I just hadn’t met the “right guy” if I were gay? Why not ask why I wasn’t a runway model while they’re at it?

There’s a lot about ourselves that we can hide, change, and enhance, thanks to the miracle of Alcon, Sephora, and the shoe industry. I can make (and have made) my brown eyes blue with state-of-the-art contact lenses. I can (and have) streaked my hair blond. My Max Studio heels might murder my instep, but they give me temporary leverage. I could have flipped the bird at my nature, had those ten kids, and … I thankfully will never know what would have happened.

I never needed reasons, and those of you who “chose” to be childfree don’t need them either. What thankfully isn’t artificial, and what will never be, is that I am who I am—a NotMom since I was nascent. Childfree by a choice I never actually made.

I was born this way.

20 thoughts on “Childfree: is it really a “choice”?”

  1. It occurred to me that childfree people are their own problem. I am childfree in a childfree marriage and I never encounter anyone judging me based on that particular lifestyle choice. Why do you care what others think really? If you didnt need that social approval so much, you would be happier. Forcing people to accept you is just stupid and immature. You created your own misery since day one: your friend made a comment and you felt “like Insta-Crap”. Do tell why? How does someone else’s opinion matter that much that it turns you inside out? I know you were young but wow, really? Backbone. Your parents should have taught you that freedom of choice, pursuit of goals and dreams and especially being “genuine” requires backbone as in conviction, self confidence, being able to be who you are and not suffer from internal conflicts (within you) rather than external ones (everything not you) because the external ones will always be there. Read the Dr. Suess quote again because you clearly did not heed the message within.

    1. Tom, thanks for your comment. I think that it’s one thing to accept oneself and be good with it. But you know … when someone criticizes you for who you are, it still hurts. Far less these days than then, of course. Now if or when someone pulls that card, I’m aware that I’m dealing with a person with limited bandwidth of understanding — and there will always be those who don’t “get” it. I wrote this primarily as an inspiration for younger people, so they’ll know that they can be who they are. And it’s okay to feel hurt at first, when their friends and family don’t understand who they are. This is just human nature. It’s one thing to grow a thicker skin, and quite another to become impervious.

      Cheers!

      1. Well said. I knew I was a NotMom when I was 8 years old. I knew it to my core, however being told you are odd/weird/defective by your friends, family and society when you are young really does play with your head. If you look at all the things you are learning along the way as you age, knowing you who are and being OK with being different than the norm certainly doesn’t happen when you are 12. It wasn’t until I was in my 20’s and my friends were all having children that people got really aggressive with me for not wanting children. ” Isn’t it time you stopped being that rebellious teenager, grew up and had a child ? ” someone once said to me. While that comment really stung, and I was old enough not to worry about approval from my friends, it did make me wonder if there WAS something wrong with me and was I just holding on to my childhood rebellion ?

        I think most people that know they are NotMoms still have some moments of soul searching brought on by offhanded cutting remarks. Fortunately for me those ended in my early 20’s when I saw how miserable so many of my newly child-ed friends were. If they were unhappy and they actually wanted children, I knew it wasn’t going to magically change for me at any time in my life.

        48 years old and never a waver. This is who I’ve always been.

      2. Tom is really fortunate to not feel pressure from family or friends to have children. I think this is totally different for every childfree person. I am childfree at 48 and I still get pressured from my family to either reproduce or “at least adopt!” The “what’s wrong with you?” or ridiculous list of comments that follow that scenario really have nothing to do with backbone or lack thereof. I mean, you have a backbone because you didn’t give in and just have kids to shut the world up. You’re not borrowing trouble or creating a problem where one doesn’t exist. I felt this same crappy feeling and am often berated or belittled for feeling different. Thanks for your article Liska. Sometimes solidarity and understanding feel pretty good.

    2. Brilliant comment and spot on! I never understand people’s constant need of approval either. Why on earth does it matter what others think of your private life?

    3. Um, she was TWELVE? I have yet to meet the twelve year old who isn’t hypersensitive to every remark from everyone on the planet and terrified of not fitting in. It doesn’t mean you’ll spend your life without conviction or a backbone. Context, dude. And a little empathy while you’re at it.

    4. Tom, I assume by your name that you are male.

      As a female in the service industry with a predominantly male customer base, I can tell you, I am asked the “Have any kids? WHY NOT???” question on a literal every workday basis, oftentimes more than once.

      It’s a lot different experience as a child free female than male. It’s not expected of you to house a maternal instinct like it is apparently necessary for we females to require.

  2. Same here. Born this way. Women walk into a room carrying a baby, and to me it’s a football. I just have no response. Sorry. Oh, and by the way, I’m 50 now, so… don’t anyone hold their breath.

    1. Oh I was “born that way”. Zero emotional response to babies and children….until I had one. So – perhaps at least in part it’s chemical responses that shape our thinking.

  3. Amen! I always pretty much knew, as soon as I was old enough to even think about the prospect of childbearing. It wasn’t something I reasoned out or deliberated over, it just “was.” Society is a long way from accepting this.

  4. I think that if you feel in your heart that you are not a mom then good on you. Look at all those not mom moms out there and the kids have suffered so such because. The people that want to be a mom should be and the ones that don’t well good on them. Proud to be who you are and not try to be something or someone you are not.

  5. Im 32, single and have a stack of friends who have children. They have learnt that I’m not child friendly, they don’t ask if I wanna hold their baby or if I wanna go to their child’s birthday parties or christenings or anything else to do with their children. Which in the end means I’m the one left out. I get asked “but who will look after you in old age?”, I’m sorry but I didn’t realise that I needed to have a child and burden them when I’m too old to wipe my own bottom. Me not wanting children does change how people view me, I don’t care how others see me but I believe that this is a reason I’ve been single for 11 years. I do let potential partners know that I do not want children (when the getting to know you stage is in progress), I am yet to meet a guy who doesn’t want children. I lack the maternal instinct, if I hear a child crying my first thought is that I wish someone would shut it up and not oh no, what’s wrong with it. My family has somewhat accepted my not wanting children……I think more of society just needs to accept it.

  6. Interesting read. I was very happily child free by choice (with a husband who felt the same way) until I found myself pregnant at 42. Total shock!! I feel like we had it “both ways” (child free marriage for almost 20 yrs and now we’re new parents). Best of both worlds…what a great life! Now our boy is 16 mo old and we both can’t imagine life without him. It’s so odd how our views and feelings changed 180 degrees!

  7. To the author: F$&@ that Tom guy. It would be nice if everyone were as perfect as he is and as sure of ourselves as he is. I appreciate the way you put this as I have had similar feelings. And just because someone questions who they are or has doubts or maybe even concerns about what others think, does not make them any less of who they are. Also if he truly didn’t care what anyone else thought, he probably wouldn’t have written his comment.

    1. Thanks for understanding. :) Whenever someone criticizes a core part of our identity — one that we really like about ourselves — and it comes as a complete suckerpunch, the reflexive thought is, “Well ,,, is there something wrong with me?” It’s challenging for tweens and teens to foster their sense of identity. It’s just such a tender age. I have a goddaughter. When she entered her tender years, I told her there was no right or wrong lifestyle choice, as long as she harmed no one. If she didn’t want to get married, that was okay. If she didn’t want to have kids, that was okay, too. Today, she’s an advocate for the LGBT community. We as CF people can really help the younger generation understand that there’s nothing strange or weird about being CF. :)

  8. I agree with c…the comment from Tom was harsh. We all get to “own” our feelings, especially at the confusing age of 12. Many adults still fight for self-acceptance…it gets easier, but for some, it’s sort of a recurring theme–the need to let the crummy comments slide off. This was a really nice post. I like the theme of “born this way,” it applies to many other aspects of humanity.

  9. Great article, thank you so much for sharing. The day that I realized that I didn’t HAVE to have children was one of the best days of my life. It’s really not presented as an option when you’re young!

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