I’ve been glad to see that there is some media discussion about people that choose not to have children. The pressure to have children is another example of the relationship escalator that is captured in the classic Kissing song: “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage.” But not everyone wants to ride this escalator. A specific example of this discussion is a New York Times article about a photographer in Berlin that is capturing the lives of the consciously child-free but I’ve seen some other discussions as well. And, in fact, searching on “childless by choice” brings up a lot of hits.
As a personal experience regarding the societal expectation of having children, I remember as a teenager asking my oldest sister when she was going to have children fairly soon after she got married. I don’t remember making a pest of myself about this, but I also didn’t see her very much at the time. The fact that I was asking her at that age and so soon after her marriage demonstrates that this expectation is just generally present in society without having to be explicitly stated.
A related myth that needs to be constantly debunked is the idea that every woman that has an abortion regrets it. According to a CNN article, “Researchers found that at five years after having an abortion, only 6% expressed primarily negative emotions.” The article contains other such statistics.
This is tangentially related to some other issues regarding parenting. A TED talk on parenting taboos discusses the fact that parents can’t talk about some very emotional issues. For example, it is actually not the case that all parents fall immediately in love with their babies at the moment of birth – but can’t say so. Or, even though miscarriages are common, talking about them is not. Although not discussed in the TED talk, I’ve also read about how it is taboo to say you regret having children, which some people do (which doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t love their children).
Here are some reasons why people choose not to have children (I’m sure there are more and these are not mutually exclusive):
- Climate Change
- Lack of ability
- Concern of passing on hereditary disease
- Career doesn’t allow time
I started asking around about people’s decision to be childless. The following one caught me by surprise. The background is that the person who told me this is now atheist, but was involved in an extremely religious environment – including 20 years of marriage. Even before they seriously considered leaving religion, they were concerned about the extremity of the religious environment.
- Realized that their spouse would raise children in an extreme religion and didn’t want that
So now let’s talk about the reason that is probably the most societally unacceptable:
- No desire
All the other reasons listed can at least be thought of as examples of “I’d like to have children but …” But the idea that someone actually wouldn’t want children is probably the most blatant rebuttal of the relationship escalator. My first comment about this is: would you really want a child brought up by someone that doesn’t want the job? I wouldn’t. My second comment is: a lack of desire should be a totally acceptable answer. In fact, “I don’t want to”, should be an acceptable answer to most things. There doesn’t always have to be a reason behind a lack of desire or, even if there is some deep seated reason, there is no reason why it needs to be dug up and vocalized.
For the record, most of my life I’ve used overpopulation as my reason for choosing to be childless. Although this is still one of my reasons, I’ve come to realize that not wanting children has also always been true for me but societal pressure caused me to not even acknowledge it to myself. To a lesser degree, the fact that I was more interested in a career then a long term relationship played a part as well.
The opposite situation – having children but not by choice is a sad, but not uncommon, situation. I plan to address this in another post.