The choice to lead a childfree life is a rapidly growing social trend, yet can still be vastly misunderstood and problematic in its own right. Despite the simplicity of the situation (it is, after all, a binary choice – either procreate or don’t), it seems to cause a lot of misunderstanding and animosity for no justified reason. People who are already parents, or aim to be at some point in their lives, can get very defensive and occasionally offended by a childfree couple’s decision, as if they see it as a judgement on their own procreating decision. Alternatively, they naively condescend to childfree people, telling them that they will change their minds one day (as if it is just naturally something that everyone would want to do). Neither approach is helpful and if anything, can be quite insulting. If a couple told you that they have decided to start trying for a baby, no-one would say to them ‘Oh, you might regret that decision one day’ or ‘You’ll regret that decision when you are older’, but in the opposite scenario, people think that it is fine to weigh in on whether the decision is the right one or a certain one.
For clarification purposes, I think it is important to establish that being childfree is not the same as just being childless. There are many people who cannot have children due to biological and medical reasons, but being childfree is specifically a choice made by couples and individuals who would likely be able to have children if they chose to, but have decided that having and raising children is not for them.
It is also important to note that, unlike many religious people, vegans, ex-smokers and proponents of crossfit, this is not necessarily a group of people who are trying to convert everyone else and pass judgement on those who make the opposite choice. My choice to be childfree does not mean I don’t support other people’s choice to have children. I fully support anyone who chooses to have children as long as they are financially, emotionally, mentally and physically stable and capable of doing so. In fact, I think those people deserve to be treated like heroes, because they will be the ones to raise children who contribute to the world and hopefully make it a better place. Unfortunately, many people who choose to have children do not meet all of these criteria and inevitably end up creating problems which affect other people, whether it be in their immediate vicinity or in the larger community. As someone who recognises my own shortcomings, I know that it is the responsible choice to not have children because the inevitable problems would potentially affect others and would adversely impact the child’s development.
There are a plethora of very good reasons why people choose not to have children. Not everyone is fit to be a parent and in many cases, people who should never have had children end up with a whole litter of them. There can be lots of ways parenting suitability can be objectively judged, for example in my case I would make a terrible parent for a long list of reasons: financially, genetically and in terms of my general personality. I am objective enough to know that I am far too lazy, temperamental, impatient and selfish to ever be a good parent. I have always struggled with money as it is, no matter how hard I’ve worked, so even with the substantial funds which are granted to people by the government for having kids, I cannot imagine putting that extra strain on myself and being able to survive. Then there is the genetic issue, in that I have genuine biological concerns which would inevitably be passed on to any children, meaning that it would be fundamentally wrong for me to have any. Both of my parents have suffered from depression and I have had to battle it myself for my entire adult life. This gives me three reasons not to have children of my own:
1) It would be genetically irresponsible because the child would also be susceptible to depression.
2) My depression causes my moods to be inconsistent, which would be harmful to a child’s development as they require consistency and positivity to thrive.
3) Not to sound overly dramatic, but the nature of depression means that I have found life to be a generally horrible experience and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. If you are supposed to have this overwhelming, incomparable love for your child as everyone says, then I would feel guilty for forcing life on them, knowing that they would also have to endure so much hardship, cruelty and misery.
In the case of this last point, which is admittedly a huge downer, this has caused my priorities to be more focused on ensuring that the remainder of my life is better than my past. I therefore find it necessary in my case to be a bit selfish with how I intend to use my time, money and energy, focusing on things that will make me happy rather than having to sacrifice those things for children. It would be impossible for me to pursue all of my goals, interests and passions while also having children, which is not necessarily the case for everyone. For some people, having children is something that they are passionate about or it is one of their goals, but that is definitely not the case for me, personally.
In addition to these specific issues, which are of course not shared by everyone who chooses to remain childfree, there are also more general reasons which have contributed to my decision and to that of many childfree couples and individuals. Even those who have not necessarily struggled financially can still have a large monetary incentive to not have children, choosing instead to travel and generally enjoy their money for themselves.
Then there are people who consider the environmental concerns from human overpopulation, or have political or social concerns with the current state of the world and deem it to be an unfit environment in which to raise children. There are those who make the choice due to time constraints, whether it be due to career aspirations or other commitments which they prioritise over reproduction and those who know themselves to be unsuitable parents for any number of reasons. Then of course, we have people who just genuinely don’t like children. I admit that I fall into that category. In my case, as someone who suffers from social anxiety, I don’t much like adults either and children are just concentrated versions, but with even less chance of being able to relate to them or find common ground to make the interaction bearable. They are also loud, obnoxious, rude, annoying and often disgusting. And yes, before anyone thinks they have to point out that I was a child once myself, I am perfectly well aware of that fact, but it doesn’t endear them to me or make them any more relatable. I’m sure that there are hundreds of other reasons that people may have for wanting to remain childfree and in the majority of cases I have heard or read about, the decision has been very carefully weighed and considered, yet is always dismissed as a passing phase.
When people assume that childfree couples will “change their mind” at some point, it is particularly insulting. It is one thing to hope that someone has a child one day, through wanting to be a grandparent or some similar reason, but to assume that they will change their mind, rather than just hope it, is a completely different issue. The person making the assumption is implying that the decision has not been been thoroughly considered and, therefore, diminishing and dismissing the careful consideration of all childfree people. In reality, it is often the opposite case, because it is more often those who do have children who have made that decision irresponsibly and without due consideration.
People who challenge the decision to be childfree, try to force their own values on others, or condescend to childfree couples sometimes seem to do so because they are desperately unhappy with the choices that they made in their own lives and want to bring everyone down with them. Of course, this is not always the case, but I have been given that impression more than once. With some others, their lives have been left so completely empty by dedicating every waking moment to their children, that they have convinced themselves (through necessity) that churning out offspring is the only way to find fulfilment. Of course, these people refuse to accept that they only found that fulfilment because they were forced to make the best of a bad situation. Even those who actually chose and mutually planned to become parents (as opposed to having it forced upon them) often serve more as a cautionary tale than an advertisement for the joy of parenting. There are also those who genuinely love being parents and who really believe that it is the greatest source of joy in their lives. In those cases they legitimately think that changing your mind would lead to a better life. Regardless of the motivation, telling people that they will change their minds or actively trying to subvert their decision is utterly disrespectful and implies that the person is not capable of making their own decisions (a trait which, if genuinely believed, would make the person a bad parent anyway).
Of course, there are always going to be people who do change their minds about what they want, as their circumstances change and new experiences shape their perspective. Anyone who refuses to change their perspective on any subject regardless of evidence, new information or changing circumstance has not based their perspective on rational thought in the first place. Recently, the outspoken childfree and atheistic writer, David McAfee announced that he and his partner had changed their minds about children after much consideration and were now going to start planning a family by way of adoption. This was met with a lot of animosity and criticism from his followers on social media.
As one person points out in the comments, people changing their minds on this issue when they have professed to be childfree is part of the reason that the legitimately childfree fail to be taken seriously. Unfortunately it has become a term which is overused by people who have misunderstood the meaning or have otherwise not researched, considered and subsequently made a solid decision on the matter. In this particular case, I believe that McAfee was childfree and not just childless, as it was a decision that was reached based on careful consideration of his circumstances, environment and the information available at that time, but that is just my opinion from reading his work on the subject and there are many others who disagree. I can also appreciate the opinion that anyone who is truly childfree would not change their mind under any circumstances, but either way I can imagine that someone who was so outspoken on the subject would have found it very difficult to make that decision and to publicly discuss it.
While it is a blow to any group of people to lose a powerful and eloquent representative, the whole idea of being childfree is by nature a principle of personal choice and so McAfee’s decision should be supported. Likewise, childfree couples and individuals should be spared condescension and judgement for their choice by others.
In my particular case, some of the reasons that I decided to be childfree are based on my circumstances, but others are permanent, unchanging issues which would make it completely unreasonable and irresponsible for me to have children. Due to these latter cases, I know for a fact that I will never change my mind on the subject, so I am planning to have a vasectomy in the near future. Of course, I will then have to jump through hoops to convince my doctor that I have sufficiently considered the decision, which I have been led to believe is a needlessly laborious process. It will also not put an end to people condescendingly telling me that I’ll ‘regret it one day’ or otherwise disrespecting my ability to make my own decisions.
Thankfully their ignorance is not my problem, but for anyone who reads this and goes on to speak to anyone who plans not to have children, please stop assuming that it is just a phase. I’m sure if you speak to them about it properly, you will often find that it has been a carefully explored, deliberated and considered decision. In all likelihood, those people have probably given much more thought to the subject than the majority of people who have had children.
Thank you very much for reading. If you enjoyed this piece, please like, share, follow the page and also read my other articles on this subject – Being Childfree Is Not (Only) About Being Selfish and Being Childfree: FAQs (Childfree TAG)