Secrets of a Childfree Woman

 The conversation about choosing not to have children has moved from isolated listservs into the national press.  The national debate has generated some real support for childfree people and even for their reasons not to have children, such as the study discussed in The New York Times Magazine showing that childfree people are generally happier than parents.

The national discussion has changed my stance in personal discussions about my own choice not to have children.  In the past I felt that I had to be defiant because my choice was so often attacked, whether by family, friends, colleagues, or even mere acquaintances.  It has been affirming to see many of the facts and arguments I often make articulated on a national platform, as though I took a megaphone and blasted critics with the reasons that being childfree is right for me. 

But that is far from the end of the discussion.  Acknowledgement that being childfree is a legitimate choice merely lays the foundation for a much more interesting conversation about the implications and consequences of that choice.  So I will let my guard down, though perhaps only temporarily, and speak honestly and openly about the dirty little secret that we few, happy, childfree have shielded like a chink in our armor.

There are disadvantages to not having children.

Some of them are mundane and probably obvious: no child tax credit, no paid leave from work.  Others are more profound, and paramount among those (at least for me) is that my lifestyle hurts my family.  This is by no means a universal problem for the childfree, some of whose parents are just happy that their children are happy, whether or not they produce grandchildren.  Some of us, though, live with the knowledge that we have disappointed our families by not having kids.  Whether it is because our relatives are certain that one morning, when it is too late, we will wake up drowning in sudden regret that we never reproduced, or because our relatives resent being deprived of babies, we have disappointed them. 

It would be nice if I could dismiss that disappointment as “their problem,” or turn the tables on them by pointing out that they care more about their own wishes than about my happiness – and we are talking about my life here.  But the truth is that, at least for now, I feel like a disappointment to them and that saddens me. 

Another disadvantage to not having children is alienation from peers and community.  Some old friends (thankfully not all) disappear into parenting, losing touch with all that we used to have in common.  I can only hope that when the nest is empty they will return to themselves, and until then, miss them.  At the same time some common avenues for making new friends and for connecting with neighbors are closed to me.  Until I lived it, I never realized how much adults rely on their children to make new friends.  They bond with neighbors over daycare and play dates; they meet and sometimes grow close to their children’s friends’ parents; they may become friendly with their children’s teachers, coaches, piano instructors, etc.; they may even grow closer to their own relatives when a grandparent provides regular daycare or a sibling brings over the little cousins to play together.

So there are two disadvantages to not having children.  That is honestly all I can think of.  They aren’t minor, except in comparison to the benefits I enjoy from being childfree. 

I hope that the public conversation about this subject continues to develop and that both the childfree and parents can discuss the disadvantages of their decisions without condemnation.

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17 thoughts on “Secrets of a Childfree Woman

  1. Rachana says:

    Piper, once again thanks for baring your heart about this sensitive topic.. Because you are brave girl, I think you could put this down for all of us to read..
    First and foremost, I am one of those people you will find talking about my kids, and often using the phrase, “I don’t know what I will do if not for my boys.. ”

    But that being said, I am also compassionate and understanding towards others’ and what they perceive as choices that are in their best interest.

    In your case, there are a few things to note..
    1. Your husband is a true partner and you have made this mutual decision, so no one has to ‘suffer’ for giving in..
    2. “…don’t usually enjoy other people’s children much.” I think this statement nailed it for me, in your “Preachers of Parenthood” article.. Sorry I could have commented there, but then I can only imagine why you had to close comments on that one..
    I realised that you genuinely do not have any longing for having kids..

    You can rest your case here.. pretty much after saying that.. Because, if you have chosen to live childfree, as hurtful or as isolating it might be, I think you havce earned every right to be guilt free.. After all, whose business is my business??
    And people who love you for who you are, will always come back to you.. Life is a long journey, and patience pays..

    Good luck to you on your decisions.
    Rachana.

  2. Steve S. says:

    Interesting post. I have known for many years that I have not wanted children. The reactions I get from others on this have been interesting. Some seem to take pity on me, some are perplexed, and some believe that there must be something wrong with me, something in my psyche that is preventing me from making the commitment needed to have children. It has also thrown more than a few speed bumps in my relationships — women I have dated have more than once told me that my lack of desire to have children has been a dealbreaker for them, which is why I always try to state my childbearing preferences up front.

  3. I think it’s always a positive thing when a person can move past the “defiance” stage with their minority or unpopular beliefs / opinions. It lets us all stop attacking each other.

    🙂

    A few months ago I read something interesting (can’t remember where it was) – it talked about subcultures, and one way of “measuring” whether a subculture was “mature”. The measure would be whether there were isolated groups *within* the subculture who were in disagreement with each other, so that the subculture’s defiance against the World had dropped enough that the members could notice and begin to care about the more interesting and subtle differences among themselves. Maybe that’s where we’re at with the community of families with 0.00 children?

  4. Jennifer says:

    Interesting post. My parents have not and will not pressure me to have kids, and my friends haven’t started to procreate, so the one clear disadvantage I see is in missing out on specific experiences and relationships. However, I’ve weighed the possibility against the happiness I have now in my current relationships and calm existence, and I just don’t see that it would be worth it for me.

  5. Mr. Moscato says:

    Piper, a very brave and thoughtful post.

  6. Mr. Moscato says:

    Wow, you certainly stirred up the pot!

    Hang in there, and I still very much stand by my original post.

    Happy Thanksgiving,

    Mr. Moscato

  7. Sarah says:

    What do you mean you don’t have kids? You raised me!! 😉
    (completely, totally, thoroughly relate to your ‘disadvantage’ #2)

  8. […] while ago, fellow childfree blogger Piper Hoffman posted a rather brave entry about the disadvantages of not having children. She listed a few that I personally don’t find compelling (disappointing my family — […]

  9. […] to be in the air a lot this year. I just stumbled upon this blog post, by a woman talking about the negatives of her decision to stay childless (a decision she is happy with). Some of us, though, live with the knowledge that we have […]

  10. liz says:

    While you have the right to do whatever you want, calling your choice “childfree” is meanspirited and rotten. you say bugfree or pestfree or pesticide free, not childfree. the overpopulated world will go on without your offspring, and it takes a village. personally, I had my children quite by accident but my life is much richer for having them in it. I think it is selfish not to have children –or adopt them–if you are a sane and loving person. because the world is full of people who aren’t –and who haven’t eschewed bearing children.

  11. josephine says:

    ‘I feel like a disappointment to them and that saddens me. ‘ As a childfree woman in her forties, I can relate to this, Piper, and this sadness is one of the things that I have to live with, because of my choice to live a different life to relations and friends who do have children. But I feel more sadness about disappointing my parents, than sadness about not having had children. So it was the right choice for me. And my parents are proud of my creative life, in their own way.

    Dear Liz; when someone comes up with a term to replace ‘childfree’ that doesn’t have the word ‘child’ in it, I will use it. And you (and me, and Piper) do ‘have the right to do whatever you want.’ Absolutely.

  12. medunn says:

    @josephine
    I think what Liz is getting at is the problem with the “free” part, not the “child” part. Perhaps “childless” would be a more sensitive term. Saying you are “childfree” sounds like something to be proud of (like “cancerfree” or “addictionfree”) and, frankly, comes off as condescending. It’s not better to be childfree than it is to have children, objectively speaking, and the term is clearly meant to be judgmental against those of us who are parents.

    • piperhoffman says:

      “Childless” isn’t sensitive to those of us who have chosen not to have children. It suggests the absence of something good: homeless, penniless, tactless. I don’t feel that I am missing something good. I feel that I have dodged what would have been, FOR ME, a burden: carefree, worry free, debt free, hassle free.

  13. DoomSection says:

    Honestly, none of that concerns me. I’ve never been very fond of my parents/relatives nor very close to any of my friends. I can make new friends and easily estrange myself from my family so this poses no problem. The tax thing doesn’t worry me either, yet. I chose to be free and dammit that’s what I’m gonna be.

  14. Lisa says:

    Childless and Childfree are not the same. Childfree is not the same as anti-child.

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