Unpopular authenticity: so…you don’t have kids?

I was shamed by a nine-year-old the other day.

She stood there, hands on hips, glaring up at me. She’d just asked me if I had kids. I told her that I did not.

“Why?”

“I never felt that was the right choice for me.”

She told me that my life was boring and sad.

It was actually pretty cute.

What took the sting out of her statement was the fact that grownups have been shaming me over this for quite some time. Sometimes they attempt to lessen the blow by saying something along the lines of – “you do what is right for you, but you should know that becoming a mother makes your soul expand and you become capable of love bigger than you’ve never imagined and it’s the most valuable thing you could ever do with your life.”

I always wonder how they know how big my love is.

People who decide not to be parents hear this a lot. (And actually, there are increasing numbers of us Childfree folks.) I’ve been questioned and cajoled and told that I’ll change my mind. There seems to be this assumption that I’ve not quite thought this through, but the questions posed are always ones that I’ve asked myself a hundred times. I’ve never met a Childfree person who has come to the decision haphazardly.

Sometimes when people decide to say what they really think, they call me selfish and say I’m not really a woman. I’m still confused about why anyone cares if my husband and I have kids or not, but it sure seems like a bunch of them do.

I like kids. Even the ones who stand with hands on hips and call me boring and sad.

But in my 37 years of life, and 10 years of marriage, I’ve never once felt the ticking-clock twinge of wanting my own children. (And believe me, I’ve held babies and smelled their powdery heads, trying desperately to kickstart it, because I felt like I was defective.) But there isn’t anything wrong with me. It’s just not my thing. I’m also not interested in having a boat. I like boats. I’m sure it’s super fun to have a boat. I’m happy for other people who enjoy their boats. I just don’t feel the need to have my own.

And yes, I am aware that children are not boats – they are even better than boats and having a child brings much to one’s life. I know it changes everything and brings buckets of joy and does all sorts of other things that I will never understand. I believe all of that. I’ve seen it in action.

But raising children is an incredibly important job and it just doesn’t make sense to hand it to someone like me who doesn’t want it. If I were half as interested in having a child as I am in volunteering at an animal shelter, I would do it. It’s like choosing a President who is fonder of ceramics than politics. Who is that good for?

If you choose to grow and learn and leave your legacy by having a kid – I think that’s awesome. And while you do that, I’ll work on improving the world that kid will eventually inherit. That just seems like good tag team long-term planning. It’s easy to imagine that childfree folks spend their entire lives thinking only of themselves, sleeping in late and getting drunk at brunch. But I promise that I’m doing my part to contribute to the world, just in a different way than parents. (I’ll skip the part where I list all the important, non-selfish things I do – it’ll make me sound boastful and more than a little defensive.)

But the real reason I’m writing about this is because it’s indicative of an issue I keep seeing everywhere, something that causes a lot of suffering. I know moms who work outside the home and moms who don’t. Both have been bashed and abused for that decision. I know homeschoolers and Montessori lovers and public school parents – all of whom feel they have to defend their decisions. And the judgement doesn’t stop with parenting issues. I know painters and sales people and jazz singers and almost all of them feel like they need to justify what they do with their lives, because someone is always waiting in the wings to tell them they are doing the wrong thing.

There are so many critics out there and we tend to internalize the disapproval and feel like we are constantly failing. Why does it matter that my husband and I don’t have kids? It doesn’t. It’s not really that interesting, but people keep asking about it so I’m happy to discuss it.

Why does it matter what personal decisions any of us make for ourselves? I wonder what the world would be like if we assumed that everyone was doing their best. What if people made different decisions and we didn’t see that as a threat to the validity of our own choices? What if we kept our eyes on our own papers – our own lives and families – and stopped bashing our neighbor for not buying organic? Things would be incredibly dull if we were all the same. What if we celebrated the fact that life is not homogenous and realized that  everyone is doing what they needed to do to wade through this challenging world?

Because when it comes down to it, if you’re spending your time criticizing someone else’s personal choices, it just makes you seem insecure about your own life.

As for me, I like being able to act as designated driver for the Girl’s Nights when my mommy friends can let loose. It seems that my “alternative lifestyle” has its perks for all, but most importantly, I get to live my life authentically — even if it’s hard to explain that to a deeply offended nine-year-old.

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45 thoughts on “Unpopular authenticity: so…you don’t have kids?

  1. Goes to show that people will judge you no matter what.. Happy having kids? Bad. Choosing not to have kids? Bad.
    I guess judgement is simply human nature. If everyone were ok with everyone, what would people talk about even?..

  2. Wow! I didn’t really know people were such jerks on this subject. In my life, I’ve raised 4 children, divorced and now met someone new. My new someone has never had kids and does not want any. How fortunate for me who, at 42, has someone who’s not going to “force” me to have even more children. I think there’s reasons for every decision. Just because you don’t fit into other people’s mold of who they think you should be, doesn’t mean you’re wrong. Go keep being awesome and beautiful Lisa! 🙂

  3. Thank you for making the world a more beautiful place for my children to inherit! I love you, girl! Keep on keepin’ on!

  4. You’re right, not everyone wants kids and that’s ok! I’m currently having an internal struggle about wanting a second. I’ve bought myself another year by telling my husband I’m not ready yet because I’m just not. Having a child is a big, life altering decision. There are so many factors that go into it, financial being one of them. I’m not one of those people who can leave things up to chance like that. Suffice to say, I applaud you for knowing yourself well enough to know kids aren’t for you and having an inner strength to deal with those who try to convince you otherwise. You arent broken, there’s nothing wrong with you (or your husband), and keep up being awesome!

  5. This is awesome, Lisa. Acceptance over judgment. Someone close to me once said he didn’t understand how I could be a writer if I wasn’t a mother. He wondered what I’d write about.

  6. I have two, who are now 21 and 18, and while there have been moments of monumental difficulty, I would replace being a father with anything in the world. But that was my choice and I’ll never question the choices others make regarding whether or not to be a parent. It’s a personal decision and just because I wanted to be a parent and have treasured the experience doesn’t mean that’s the decision others have to make.

    You’re right, there is far too much judgment in the world. Far too much belief that if I have done something and enjoyed it then it is what others should want to do as well. My in-laws, including my wife, have this unfortunate habit of criticizing people who don’t do things the way they would do them. It drives me crazy. I want to ban the word “weird” from my house and I really struggle to sit through a get-together with my in-laws because of their never-ending judgment of others. Meanwhile, they never look at themselves.

    Sigh.

  7. My aunt and uncle that I now have called mom and dad ever since I was 5 never wanted kids either and they are not pushing me to have any either, I am not sure if I will ever have any or not since I am not good with relationships and stuff like that but maybe if I ever find the right man I will who knows? I like kids and I would not mind being a mother someday just don’t know if that is possible or not! I am 32 and people say that I need to hurry up before my time runs out, I just think that they are weird to say that, my ex judged me because I did not want to get that way with him right away, he was a lot older then me and had a child of his own already but wanted more and I just was not ready for that on our second date, so I broke up with him before we got to that part and I don’t regret it one bit, I just hope I find the right man someday, it is hard looking for the right man and finding nothing but jerks out there! I think having kids or not is a choice and not everyone wants them which is fine

  8. You’ve hit on one of my pet peeves, no one seems to know how to stay in their own lane. We are not here to judge others, we need to tend to our own back yard!! You are very smart and brave to know and embrace what is good and not good for you. I love your posts, you are actually parenting us all in your own way. So grateful to you, keep up the good work.

  9. Great post! Thank you for this. I, too, have received similar criticism not just for not wanting children, but for generally living an independent life (in a non-married relationship with no kids, filling up my non-work time with my writing/history/music avocations). People will judge you – friends, family and strangers – for what you do and what you don’t do when it doesn’t fit into their mold of what they think a “normal” person should act like. I try to remember that, although it’s hard not to get rankled sometimes. Anyone can reproduce, but not everyone is meant to be a parent. Why should I waste my time, effort and care on something I don’t want? I’d rather devote myself to things I’m passionate about – I think I am making a bigger difference in the world that way.

  10. I get the same reactions when I say that I’m not sure I’d like to get married. If I met the right man, I’m sure it’d be great. But I have yet to meet one that makes me want to even consider it. Just when I get close, I get disappointed, so I’m slowly changing my desires to what I want with my life, not what someone else can bring to it.
    But if it’s MY choice, what’s wrong with THIS choice.

  11. I hate that people do this to couples who choose not to have kids! It’s so rude! And even if you want to have kids, raising children is HARD. I would never want to browbeat someone into choosing to have a child! My oldest daughter (she’s 8) says she doesn’t want kids because they’re annoying. (You’re telling me! LOL) I always tell her that no one has to have children, and if you don’t want to, you definitely shouldn’t. Of course she might change her mind, she’s eight. But I don’t want her to feel pressured to make a different choice, ever.

  12. Comparing the costs of a kid versus books upon books with copious amounts of tea and whisky, which am I really expected to choose?

    Dedicated childfree here, marrying another childfree person. *high five*

  13. Loving the boat analogy! As soon as friends would get married, I admit I was once guilty of asking: “Oooh so when are you having a baby? Or babies next?!” It was only a few years later I heard a friend saying how personal and potentially insensitive it is just to blurt this out to someone. They may have problems with conceiving or decided it’s just not for them. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to have kids at all, to each their own! Fab post 🙂

    • I admit I once told someone “you’ll change your mind” when she said she didn’t want kids 😦 I didn’t even know her that well! *And* I didn’t (and don’t) even have any of my own; I was just sure I wanted some at some point.

      I apologized profusely when I realized (days later!) just how rude that had been, and am so, so glad she actually was not mad at me *phew*. Somewhat sadly, she wasn’t mad because she’s heard the comment so often, but I was the first to ever apologize for it. Being rude pretty much got me into her good books, because so many others are equally rude but won’t ever admit it…

      Now after a few years of significant trouble trying to have a child (I keep miscarrying), my husband and I are slowly coming around to the idea that we have to stop trying, because going through the losses is too stressful. I’m not even sure whether that will make us child-free by choice or not by choice. It’s not our *first* choice – if we could have a baby easily, we would. So it’s not by choice, is it? On the other hand, we don’t have a diagnosis, it’s not that we know we *can’t*. We could just keep trying. But we’re making the choice not to, because it’s no longer right for us. So that makes it by choice, doesn’t it?

      This really changed my perception of choice a bit – we all make our choice under constraints. Some of those constraints are tighter than others, but nobody can just pick whatever the hell they like. I would have chosen to keep trying, and eventually maybe I would have had a child, if my body hadn’t made it so hard – but it did, and we won’t have kids and although it’s still sad, in the end I’m sure we’ll have a good life and be happy. It’s the right choice given the circumstances. My friend might have chosen a baby if her own childhood hadn’t made her anxious about parenting – but her life was they way it was, and now she doesn’t have kids and she’s happy: she made the right choice given her circumstances. My sister might have chosen to follow her dream career (which would have made caring for children difficult) if she hadn’t had that accident at a critical point in time, that meant she’d never be quite as good as she once hoped. But she had that accident, and now she does have kids, and she’s happy with her family instead of her career – it was the right choice given the changed circumstances.

      If we don’t understand peoples’ choices, more often than not we just don’t know the constraints they are operating in. Walk a mile in their shoes, or shut up and let them do their thing. People are smart, they usually figure out what’s right for them.

  14. People usually tell me that I will want to have children once I find the right man. But it turns out that the right man FOR ME is one who doesn’t want kids! At least my parents don’t seem too interested in grandchildren so I don’t feel pressured by them.

    A friend of mine has one daughter and has decided she doesn’t want more kids. Guess what: everyone tells her that she should have another one.

    People are annoying no matter what you do, so do what you want.

  15. I just turned 37 yesterday and am also child-free by choice. The compliment I receive the most is that I would be a very good mother, and I love hearing that compliment. I just don’t think it’s right for me. Like you, I am happy for those who choose that path. I just recognize that it’s not for me. Beautiful post. Thank you!

  16. thats why moslims can take over the world without a single fight ….they simply out breed us all…..good luck!

  17. Elizabeth Gilbert also has an awesome ‘something to say’ about being child free too. If you haven’t read it and are interested, look it up… much like your point of view, it’s very judgement free and authentic!

  18. I confess that I’m a recovering critic. In my younger days, I had an opinion about everything and felt the need to share it. I am sure, at one time or the other, I said some of the hurtful, rude things you listed. Now I have a much different approach to relationships and do more listening and less criticizing. I like me more this way. Thanks for another great post!

  19. right you are. stop defending yourself, it’s not worth your time. people will think, what they think. And you just do what you want to.

  20. I love, love, love this post. I am 42, do not have kids and never really felt the need to have any. Recently I purchased a new car. People at work started wondering how I could afford the car. I told them it’s not how much I make, but how I choose to live and spend money. A few coworkers brought up the fact that they have kids and kids are expensive. And???? I choose to spend my money on a car and traveling. Maybe when I’m 80 I will regret not having kids to take care of me….if I had kids, and if they were reliable at that time….LOL

  21. I find it unbelievable that people in so called civilized societies in the 21st century still have to explain why they don’t want to have kids. Women, particularly, have a hard time facing this kind of criticism. As a man, I guess people assume that I still have time to change my mind (highly unlikely, but yes, it’s possible)

    I could say a lot more, but you said it best when you proposed the question: “What if people made different decisions and we didn’t see that as a threat to the validity of our own choices?” peace,

  22. There are a lot of important things in this world, having children is not one of them. Sure procreation and continuing the species is important, but we’re not exactly in danger of not having that at this point. I have children, and I dearly love them obviously. But I can’t imagine ever telling someone they have to have children for any reason. The only reason to have children is if you want them, end of story. And if you don’t want them, then you should definitely not have them.

  23. Lisa, you have to admit that here is a certain sense of innocence with a nine year old asking that question of someone, even offering an opinion on the answer. I’m not so sure about an adult asking that question. On the other hand, I do like the fact that you felt you didn’t have to justify your choice—not to have children. And why should you, or your husband and anyone else for that matter. No one should ever feel the need to justify anything they choose to do—unless they’ve committed a crime. And the last time I looked, not having children is perfectly illegal. Well at least… I think it is? Although, I do have to admit ,there are some pretty obscure laws out there. But, personally, I feel you’re in the clear here. So I doubt you and your husband will be thrown in the slammer anytime soon—unless of course you’re planning a heist or some other nefarious crime. Your not are you? Not that I’m a member of the bar or anything like that, seeing as I’m offering you some free legal advise. However, if you do choose to put me on retainer, I’d be perfectly fine with that as I can always use the cash. 😀

  24. Love this post. I’m child free and over 50. I used to get asked all the time when I was going to have kids. Now I tell people it just wasn’t meant to be. A lifetime of fertility issues and bad timing.
    On one occasion when I was fed up with being asked why I didn’t have kids, I turned it around and said to the person asking me “I don’t know. why do you have kids?” It settled the query. She didn’t answer me as I think she realized how personal the question was.

    • How true. I am 56, and when I was single in my twenties all I ever heard was why isn’t a girl like me married? I got married in my thirties & then all I heard was when are you gonna have kids. When my female boss winkingly told my co workers that I didn’t know what I was missing I’d had enough. “Really?, I said. ” so you don’t mind when I’m out on maternity leave, and have to take time off & leave early & come in late like all the other folks around here who have kids that I’m always covering for?” Funny thing, never heard another word about it!

  25. I am sorry that you get that kind of feedback from people. People are critical of us no matter what we are doing like a good parent who has a child with mental problems and that child acts out because of his/her mental state and it’s out of our hands buy yet ppl judge us for that. So we just need to stay positive and try not to focus on those negative ppl. I really really love the movie Mrs Doubtfire, you are a wonderful actor that I will always cherish! HUGS!

  26. Lisa,

    You don’t know what you’re missing, honestly. You think you can live without boat ownership. But check out this youtube video. It’ll change your world…

  27. Thank-you!!!! I am 40 and don’t have any children. Like you I have never felt that “ticking clock”…I figured mine was either digital or broken lol… but I do have my first niece/nephew on the way in the next month. I actually thought that might set off some biological need but honestly it hasn’t and I don’t think it will. However I am looking forward to being a wicked/awesome Aunt!!!!

    I too love being around kids, I even co-own a maternity/baby/early childhood product and clothing boutique with my sister but yet I still have no insatiable drive to create a mini-me…in fact I am counting down to retirement from my full time desk job (16 yrs, 10 mths and 21 days)…sooner if the boutique takes off 🙂 I have worked in childcare before, all my friends have kids but I can honestly say other than a few fleeting moments I have never seen myself as a parent and yes for some reason even complete strangers think that is something they get to have an opinion on. In conversation with someone you just met do most people take upon myself to critic their hair style or clothing choice verbally to that person…most would respond no/never and yet that is far less personal than procreation choices but those seem to be fair game when the choice is to not have kids.

    My mom used to question me about it all the time, even telling me to just go out and get knocked up. In an attempt to end the conversation once and for all I finally told her I’m too selfish to have kids…and now that is what she tells everyone. Honestly I don’t think it is a selfishness to know that something is not right for you. I think it actually takes a lot of self awareness and self love (not the same as selfishness) to be able to stand up to the masses and say that the definition of what a woman is that they are using doesn’t fit me…it’s not some quiet rebellion against society…it’s a personal choice.

    I love the boat analogy!!!!

  28. I just never could understand how anyone can give someone else advice on how they are living “their” life! I always say if that person’s actions do not directly affect my life, then who am I to tell them how to live it! I had my first child at 20…made a decision to only have 1 and was sticking to that decision. At 34, after a divorce and meeting someone new, I woke up one day and found out I was pregnant. I welcomed that little girl with open arms and I am so very glad that that happened to me. My girls are 16 years apart and I love them both with my whole heart and soul. Each person decides how they are going to live their life and that’s their decision, not mine. Too many people these days feel its their business to tell others what they think. If someone didn’t ask for your opinion, they why do you feel obligated to give it to them. Just think how wonderful this world would be if everyone minded their own business and didn’t feel compelled to give advice on other people’s decisions! A peaceful world we would have. Keep being you and continue to make this world a happy place for those children who will one day inherit this earth! You rock!

  29. I just stumbled upon your blog entries and found myself reading several older posts in succession. My response is in regard to your post about choosing a child-free lifestyle and the inevitable judgmental comments our personal life choices seem to evoke. I myself have always wanted to be a mother (to more than just my cat). I had every intention of getting married and having a couple kiddos and having a suburban life many of my friends have. Every year I would wonder if it would ever happen. I was getting older and growing aware of the limitations of my body with age. I turned thirty-nine and decided to make it happen. I had just gotten out of a two year relationship and needed to make a change. I would be judged for being a single parent by choice by people who don’t think a child can be successfully raised by a single mother. Or that my child will never know his anonymous sperm donor father. I don’t doubt my life when it comes to my child. I’m making mistakes along the way, but I’m learning and developing with my son.

    I applaud you for knowing yourself and living a life reflective of who you really are- not trying to fit into some designated box.

  30. I have dealt with this myself quite a bit. Even from my own friends. I am 34. I have no children of my own and don’t plan to. I am an uncle to a six-year-old boy. I am also an unofficial uncle to a 12-year-old girl and two-year-old boy (my brother’s niece and nephew through marriage). I am happy being an uncle. I am trying to get a job as a Paraeducator so I can help teach all the children that people are having. I am working to improve my life the way that I want to. I am doing it for me and no one else.

  31. Wonderfully written! I have two adult daughters, one of whom chooses — with her husband — not to have children. I’m OK with that and I hope I haven’t asked her that obnoxious question too often (or at all, recently). In any case, thank you! (And you sure DO look like that girl… 🙂 )

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