Women are choosing not to have children more 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 social norm of motherhood are often condemned or criticized for their choices.
My personal experience, as a younger woman when I stated I didn’t want children, was mostly received with the somewhat condescending, all-knowing reply, “maybe not now, but one day.” As I have gotten older, comments have been tinged with pity “aren’t you sorry you didn’t have children” or “do you regret your decision”?
The insinuation that my life would be somehow incomplete if I wasn’t a mother, became tiring. It would have been really nice if people would have simply accepted my decision and commended me for knowing what was best for me.
I have comprised a list of the 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 chose not to 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.
I remember when my first serious boyfriend said 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 happened to change my mind.
I get it. People change their minds all the time. I’ve changed my mind about lots of things ~ from the mundane; what color to dye my hair, or a travel destination, to the magnificent; existential kingdom of God and the institution of marriage.
People change their minds about kids too. I know this. I have witnessed it. But having told me that I will change my mind just makes you sound self-righteous. I’m pretty sure you didn’t know me better than I knew myself, unless of course, you were my mother, my sister, or my very best friend.
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 thing or a toy.
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 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 pretty sure that if you decided to have children, being a parent is the most fulfilling thing in your life. That is outstanding and important. Because, it would be pretty sucky if you didn’t find parenting fulfilling and you were stuck with being a parent for, hmmm, let’s say, FOREVER!
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? 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 rationale that having children is the most fulfilling thing you will ever do because I don’t have children and that ship sailed long ago. But the comprehension 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. I have heard it time and time again from women who wanted to be mothers. They have capacities they didn’t even know they had, fill up with a love they didn’t even know they could feel.
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 too! Adopt a dog!
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. I truly dislike having 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?
Everyone contributes to society in different ways. I understand that one of your many contributions may have been children. And yes, these are the people that make music I like to listen to, or performers that inspire me. These are the people that take care of me when I am sick, cut my hair or fly me to beautiful destinations so I can see the world. Trust me, I value your children. I also value anyone that makes a contribution to society, just as I value people with no children.
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. Especially, to people and animals 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. He doesn’t mind that I made a choice that was right for me. The fact that he respects my decision that I didn’t have children, makes him definitely the right guy for me. Some of the wrong guys, that already had children from prior relationships, decided that they did not want a pseudo mom. Instead, a woman that already had children, who understood children, might be a better match and partner. Well, alright then!
However, do you know how it feels to be the other woman in a self-made family? Do you know how weird it feels when you love your children more than your partner and you make that known? Of course you should love your kids and you have to put their needs first. Loving your kids is like going to school, you don’t really have a choice. Loving your partner is like going to college, it is up to you to show up and participate. And whether you realize it or not, children need role models that show a happy, loving relationship. I am blessed to not be at the bottom of the totem pole any longer.
9. Didn’t you want to leave a legacy?
Did I feel like I needed 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 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.
This is my favorite. 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 had become a mother myself. But I’m okay with that. I rescue animals and I know that my love and empathy runs just as deeply for my four-legged kids.
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 am an “aunt” and a “fairy god mother” to several friends children. I am honored. My friends are like an extended family, and while their blood doesn’t run in my veins, their heartbeats do and I feel fiercely blessed every single day for being so cherished and having so many people fill my heart with love. I have a wonderful family that I have so much love for, sometimes I feel like I will burst from it. My husband is incredible. If all I had for the rest of my days was him, I would feel complete and content. I share him with his children and my role is based on what is comfortable for them, for me, and us as a whole. I am a piece to their puzzle. We all fit together to make one stunning, complete image. And isn’t that beautiful?
I often come across parents who don’t think that my life is “enough.”
But it is enough for me.