When I was writing the washingtonpost.com On Balance parenting blog, childfree advocates used the comments section to educate readers about how vociferous the attack on adults who choose not to have children can be. Invasive personal and medical questions. Unsolicited advice. Rampant, condescending judgments.
Is there something wrong with you?
You’ll change your mind one day.
You’ll really regret it once you’re older and it’s too late to do anything.
People without kids are so…selfish.
Why don’t you just adopt?
To anyone who has chosen not to have children, these views can be insulting and alienating. Everything having to do with children is intensely personal. The choice not to have kids is, in most cases, a carefully considered reproductive decision. As part of talking to kids about sexuality and birth control, maybe we parents should try to sensitize our children to the fact that some people consciously decide not to procreate and remain childfree. In reality, it’s possible that our own children will one day decide not to have children themselves.
The facts are that a lot of people make this choice quite deliberately. One in ten US adults say they don’t have kids — and don’t want kids. According to Census research, roughly two million US women ages 40-44 do not have children – a whopping 80% increase since 1976. Most pregnancies – roughly 60% — are unplanned, suggesting that even people with children didn’t necessarily seek them out in the first place.
There are several new books and articles out exploring and unspooling the intentional decision to live childfree.
This issue is particularly sensitive for women. Our cultural assumption is that every woman wants to be a mother one day, and that there is something damaged or suspicious about a woman who prefers not to have a child. But from my view, particularly now that I know how demanding parenthood can be, these women deserve our respect for saying no to the religious, societal and familial pressures to become a mother, and for knowing their own hearts and minds.
Now that my own children are teenagers, I see how important it can be to explain this choice to them. But how?
I myself have a brother and sister, both in their 40s, who plan never to have kids; this makes the topic natural to bring up, and has generated fascinating discussions among my kids.
But Aunt P is so fun; she’d be a great mom!
Uncle T is so good with kids.
We want cousins!
The reality that these two free-spirited and loving adults who my children adore and respect, immensely, have decided they are content as a mere aunt and uncle sometimes baffles and frustrates my kids. But their choices push my children to ponder good questions. Why do people choose to have kids? What are the responsibilities you sign up for when you become a parent? What makes a good mom or dad? What will I choose in my life?
These are all questions I want my children to contemplate as they move into late adolescence, and the fantasy of having their own babies becomes more and more of a reality.
So: the conscious decision not to have children may seem like an aberrant component of a good parent-kid sex talk. Certainly, it’s never a subject my parents raised with me when I was a teenager. But why some adults crave parenthood, and others smile politely and pass on procreation, is a worthy topic for our kids to tackle as they move from being children to adults themselves.