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Women are choosing not to not have children more these days than ever before in history.
But rather than celebrating the fact that we are free to make such a choice—and supporting each other in doing so—women who opt out of the socially normative role of wife and mother are often condemned, criticised or, at the very least, questioned for their choices.
In my own personal experience, as a younger woman when I stated I didn’t want children, it was mostly received with the somewhat condescending, all-knowing reply, “maybe not now, but one day.” As I get older, though, the replies have become tinged with something of a cross between panic and pity—surely I’m bound to change my mind and if I don’t do it soon it will be too late.
Then I’ll end up sad and lonely, living an unfulfilled and loveless life with no one to look after me when I’m old.
This insinuation that my life will be somehow incomplete if I’m not a mother is becoming tiring. It would be really nice if people would simply accept my decision since it is, after all, my decision to make.
Here are 10 things never to say to a woman who has no children.
This is such a personal matter.
If a woman has been unable to conceive, hasn’t been in the right relationship or has chosen not to have children for genetic reasons, this could be a very painful topic. A woman who is child free by circumstance should not have to explain her child free state.
If a woman has simply chosen not to have children, trust that she has made the right choice for her. Nobody should have to explain or defend their decision to not have children.
Just as nobody should have to explain their choice to have them.
It’s not your business. Period.
2. You’ll change your mind.
When my partner first told me he didn’t want kids it was almost a deal breaker. Not because I wanted them, but because I wanted the chance to have them if I decided I wanted them. You know, if I changed my mind.
I get it. people change their minds all the time. I’ve changed my mind about heaps of things—like crimped hair and The Spice Girls and wanting to be a sports psychologist.
People change their minds about kids too. I know this. I’ve seen it.
But telling me I’ll change my mind just makes you sound smug. I’m pretty sure you don’t know me better than I know myself (unless you’re my mother or my best friend, then maybe).
So just don’t say it.
3. What if you regret it later?
I’ll live with it. I promise. A child is not an “idea.” It’s not a toy.
It’s not like a gap year or taking a trip to the Amazon. It’s an actual person that needs love and attention and dedication. For a long time. Like, forever. Deciding to “have a baby” is a lifetime decision. Bringing a whole human being into the world on the off chance that I might later regret not doing so seems like a terrible idea to me.
4. It’s the most natural thing in the world.
Well, sure it’s natural.
But if it were up to nature a woman’s life would be dedicated to reproduction. There would be no just having one, or stopping at a pigeon pair. There would be no waiting until you’re “ready”. If it were up to nature there would be no birth control (or technological advances that have lead to lowering the maternal death rate, for that matter). If it were up to nature we’d all just be breeding machines.
But being a “mother” is so much more than birthing a child. And motherhood, I’m sorry to say, does not come naturally to all women. If it did there would be no infantcide or abandonment or neglect or abuse or cruelty towards children of any kind. I don’t doubt the presence of a profound feeling, I just don’t think it happens to everyone.
5. Having a baby is the most fulfilling thing you will do.
I’m super happy that as a parent, being a parent is the most fulfilling thing in your life. That is outstanding and important. Because lets face it, it would be pretty sucky if you didn’t find parenting fulfilling and you were stuck with being a parent for, oh, you know, ever.
I think that having babies needs to be the most fulfilling thing you will do. What other reason is there to have children except that it is an emotionally fulfilling experience? Children don’t have the economic value they once did, as part of the households labour force—in fact they cost an extraordinary amount to raise. And money isn’t the only thing it costs to raise happy, healthy children.
People everywhere are pulling their hair out over the trials of being a parent for the simple fact that at the end of the day “it’s totally worth it.”
It’s difficult for me to argue with the hypothesis that having children is the most fulfilling thing you will ever do because I don’t have children and I don’t plan on having them to test the theory. But the notion that having a baby is the most fulfilling thing you will ever do is supported by women everywhere! “Yes!”, they are saying. “I thought my life was fulfilling before, but now I know real fulfillment!”
I’m not denying that things change when you become a parent—that spaces you didn’t even know you had fill up with love you didn’t know you could feel. I know this is experienced because I’ve heard it time and time again from many women.
Women who wanted to be mothers.
I get that you can learn selflessness and patience and compassion and sacrifice and loss and pure happiness and a host of other things through being a parent.
I also believe you can learn all these things in other ways.
And when your life is not filled up with children, you fill it with other things. I have lived and continue to live a big life. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. Ever.
I feel fulfilled.
It doesn’t feel good to have the quality of my life judged by the single determiner of whether or not I’m a mother.
6. Isn’t that a bit selfish?
I don’t even know where this idea came from. Since when does not having a baby equate to selfishness?
I pay taxes which pay for your parental leave and the local park your kids play at and your kids school and medical services. I do this happily because I understand that everyone contributes to society in different ways. I understand that one of your many contributions are children—these are the people that make music I like to listen to and art that inspires me. These are the people that grow my vegetables and look after me when I’m sick and cut my hair and fly aeroplanes so I can visit all the people that I love. I value your children.
I also value your other contributions to society.
Just as I value the contributions that people with no children make.
I think in many ways not having a child makes me less selfish. Because I don’t have children, I have more time and more energy and more money to give to others, to people who need it more than what the world needs another person.
7. You just haven’t met the right guy yet.
I’ve met heaps of the wrong guys. I’ve been with a few of them too. I know all about the wrong guys. The guys that lie to you, the guys that cheat, the guys that take money from you, the guys that make you feel like you’re nothing, the guys that control you, the guys that give you the silent treatment for days, the guys that manipulate you, the guys that tell you that you’re crazy, the guys that don’t come home, the guys that do come home and lash out at you…do I need to go on?
Those guys are not the right guys.
My guy is not that guy. He is a good guy. The fact that he supports my choice to not have children, and the fact that he also doesn’t want them is a plus. It makes him more definitely the right guy. For me.
Please don’t judge and belittle my relationship at the same time as you judge and belittle my choice to not be a mother.
8. Having a baby will bring you closer together.
I like my relationship. We are happy where we are. There is no “rut.”
We enjoy each other’s company a whole lot. I honestly don’t feel like I need something to bring us closer. If, however, I did feel the relationship was lacking and I wanted something that would make us love each other more I really don’t think having a baby would be on the top of my list. What if it didn’t work? I would still have a relationship that didn’t feel awesome, but I would also have a whole other human to take care of—one that would suffer the consequences of a less than stable relationship that we were trying to save by bringing them into the world. No thanks.
9. Don’t you want to leave a legacy?
To be honest, I’m just not that fussed. Do I feel like I need to leave a legacy. No, not really. In fact, the thought had never crossed my mind until you said it.
But now that you’ve got me thinking about it I would like to say that I find it incredible that those of us among us who want to bear children find that the act is, in itself, a sufficient legacy to leave. Or that there are, in fact, no other ways to leave a legacy. What about through art or writing? What about acts of kindness? What about teaching or changing the world?
Are you trying to tell me that the Dalai Lama won’t be remembered? That he hasn’t left a legacy? Or Mother Teresa?
If leaving a legacy is important to someone there are many other (and dare I say better) ways to do it than having a baby.
10. You don’t know love until you have a baby.
My favourite. The one that condemns everyone who chooses not to (or is unable to) have a child to a loveless life.
I know what you mean, I do. The love a parent feels for a child is different. Of course it is. I believe you. And, what’s more, I know I will never know or understand this love unless I become a mother myself.
But I’m okay with that.
Some sons and daughters are born to you. Others occur to you. I’m so blessed to be a part of the lives of so many amazing (and some pretty terrorizing) little ones. I’m an aunt and a fairy god mother. And a teacher. I have three pretty groovy brothers, and my parents are amazing. My friends are like an extended family and while their blood doesn’t run in my veins their heart beats do and I feel fiercely blessed everyday for being so loved and for having so many people in my life that fill my heart to over flowing. My partner is incredible. If all I had for the rest of my days was him I would feel complete and content.
I have family. I have so much love that sometimes I feel like I will burst from it.
I often come across parents who don’t think that my life is “enough.”
But it is enough for me.
Why should that be questioned?
Author: Cath Whitten
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Nicky Grasso/Flickr