It’s a choice everyone should be able to make for themselves, and to do so with no risk of being seen as irresponsible, immature, or unfulfilled.
I do not have children nor do I ever want them.
That is an unremarkable statement, and yet I continue to get confused and skeptical responses from many people to whom I’ve said those words. Some people are even downright defiant, stating, “Oh, you’ll change your mind,” as if being nearly 34 years old, I haven’t fully matured enough to know myself.
That particular response is such a scripted and infuriating brush-off that, at this point, I don’t even like getting asked if I have kids. To me, that simple question feels like the iron maiden of conversation devices, and each time I get asked it, it’s as if the cold, metal door begins to shut around me and I must escape quickly if I want to get out alive.
And while I feel overwhelmed now to the point of histrionics, I suspect I’d get a lot more of that second-guessing if I were a woman. My partner—who is a woman—certainly does. Once, after saying that she did not have children, someone incredulously replied to her by saying, “Well, why not?”
This is how our culture regards the child-free—it’s as if the lack of being a parent has somehow stunted my maturity or growth, that I haven’t yet finished my climb to adulthood because I’ve sired no sons or daughters. It’s akin to how some people will regard unwed couples as less serious simply because they are not married (another circumstance that demands a shift in vocabulary).
I suspect this presumption is also why the term “childless” has been so prominent for so long, as if all adults are simply waiting and hoping to have a child similar to how the jobless are hoping to become employed. The “-less” denotes that something is lacking in my child-free adult life, that it’s a state of being that is happening to me rather than a choice I’m making for myself.
“Child-free” is a great alternative to the subtly pro-choice rhetoric of “childless,” and Chanel Dubofsky lays out a superb argument for preferring the former term.
Still, whatever term is used to describe adults without children, syntax doesn’t get to the heart of the fact that living as an adult without children somehow still designates you as living life incompletely.
I mean, for fuck’s sake, if Condoleezza Rice—an incredibly accomplished person who held a government office so high ranking that only 67 other people in the history of everyone who’s ever lived in the United States can say they’ve had—is still reduced to a pre-pregnant woman by being asked if she’d consider her life fulfilled even if she doesn’t have kids, what hope could I have to be left alone on this whole child-having business?
Not a lot, especially when New York magazine just ran a piece earlier this month featuring 25 famous women who do not have kids, yet used the term “childless” in their headline.
Let me be clear: There’s nothing wrong with asking people if they have kids. The problem is that so many people do not end their inquiry upon learning there will be no kids. My frustration is with the the cultural attitude toward my family as a DINK—Double Income, No Kids.
Truth be told, I’m completely fulfilled living my life with my partner. There are no ulterior motives for not having kids, and it’s not so I can obtain this “having it all” status. Really. I just don’t want to be a parent.
For most of humanity’s history, there were serious economic and sociological reasons why people needed to have children. One hundred and fifty years ago, I probably would have needed to have children just so I wouldn’t starve to death or die of exposure, and so I recognize that it’s an immense privilege to elect to be child-free these days.
It’s a choice everyone should be able to make for themselves, and to do so with no risk of being seen as an irresponsible, immature, or unfulfilled.
In my chattier moments, after having been asked why I don’t want children, I’ve offered reasons like how expensive it is to raise children, what a time commitment it is, how I’m too selfish at this point to have kids, how I’m hesitant to risk passing on my genetic disposition for mental illness, and so on. These are cop-outs I’ve nervously given to people that I use to deflect further scrutiny. I’ve never really meant any of them.
I simply don’t want to have children. The truth should be sufficient.
Drew Bowling writes about language, gender, and mental health, although other topics have been known to enter his orbit. When he’s not writing, he spends his time pretending to be a photographer. Follow his messy thought-trail on Twitter.