By Ellen Walker, PhD.
Last Saturday night, my husband and I were at a party with a whole new crowd. I started up a conversation with a woman around my age, and as soon as I introduced myself, she asked, “So, do you have kids?” I smiled, and replied, “No, I don’t have children,” and we stood there in an awkward silence until I asked her if she was a mother. She then told me all about her three adult children, as well as the grandkids, before excusing herself from the conversation.
I couldn’t help but wonder what she must be thinking about me, as she contemplated why I didn’t have children of my own. Am I barren? Do I hate kids? Did I have a miscarriage or another tragedy with a child? How do I fill the emptiness I must experience as a result of not having children? Let’s take a look at some common misconceptions about childfree women, and then delve deeper to examine why these conclusions are often wrong.
Childfree women are cold and not nurturing.
After all, if a woman chooses to not have babies, it’s because she lacks the nurturing gene and is cold and unaffectionate, right? The reality is that most humans have a strong need for affection and many of us, especially women, are naturally nurturing or are socialized to be so. Women nurture in a variety of ways, and this extends far beyond what they give to their children.
Many of the childfree women I know are loving and generous in their friendships, and they give of their time to the community in a way that my friends with children simply cannot (due to being too busy with parenting tasks). Some childfree women enjoy baking treats for friends, neighbors, and coworkers, while others reach out to help people in time of need. Other childfree women enjoy nurturing pets, and many of these pet owners treat their dogs and cats far better than some parents treat their children. Childfree women also have more time and emotional energy to nurture their partners.
Childfree women are freaks of nature.
Reproduction has been described as a fundamental human need. So what does this say about a woman who doesn’t appear to have this drive? Is she indeed a freak of nature? As humans have shifted from an agricultural to an industrial society, the need to have many children to work the farm has diminished.
Women’s role in financially supporting themselves and their family has increased, and as a result, many more women are finding fulfillment in their careers. More and more are recognizing that they do not feel a strong need to bear children, and they’re listening to and trusting themselves on this.
Childfree women don’t like children.
While it’s true that many women who aren’t mothers would just as soon not be around kids, there are an equal number who love to spend time with nieces, nephews, or the child of a neighbor or friend. Some childfree women enter careers such as teaching, because they want to have close interactions with children.
The reality is that whether or not a woman becomes a mother has little to do with whether or not she likes being around children. After all, we all know women who are mothers but don’t enjoy being around children other than their own.
Childfree women are selfish.
This misconception suggests that not having children is a selfish decision, because the childfree woman is too self-involved to want to take time to love and care for another human being. The fact is that some childfree women are choosing this path for the most unselfish reasons, because of their environmental concerns.
There are plenty of humans in the world already. To make the choice to not have a child is one of the most unselfish decisions one can make. In fact, this is a gift to all who become parents, because the choice to not have a child results in more resources for those who do.
Childfree woman don’t like sex.
After all, if you don’t want to have kids, it likely is because you don’t like the activity that produces them, right? The reality is that marital satisfaction plummets after the birth of the first child, and I’d speculate that a big reason for this is the decline in a couple’s sexual activity. New parents are too tired to want to have sex. Plus, many new mothers become “mommy”, losing their former status as “sex kitten” in the marital bed.
Many women feel overweight and unattractive after having children, and some never really reclaim their former looks and sexual identity. A childfree woman does not go through this transition in her identity, and childfree couples have more time, emotional energy, and physical alertness to enjoy sex on a regular basis.
Childfree women are bored and unfilled with their lives.
With almost eight hours more per day of time than their parenting peers, one might imagine that a childfree woman might have trouble finding ways to pass the time. Most childfree women fill their schedules with social activities, volunteering, developing their careers, and enjoying hobbies such as cooking, art, and reading.
Plus, not having children means there’s a lot more money in the savings account, and more cash equals more opportunity for travel and leisure activities that a parent may not be able to afford. And since many mothers claim that being a parent is the most fulfilling role of their life, childfree women are unfulfilled, right? In interviews conducted with dozens of childfree by choice women over the past couple of years, I did not come across a single one who was not filling her life with rich and fulfilling activities. They all claimed that their lives were complete without kids.
Childfree women secretly yearn for a baby.
Jennifer Anniston was recently photographed holding a teddy bear, and the press immediately jumped on this image, saying that she secretly wished she were holding a baby. Most humans enjoy snuggling and cuddling, and childfree women are no exception, but one doesn’t have to snuggle with a baby to meet this healthy need.
Examining this from the parent’s perspective, ask any mother if she’s ever had days when she envied a friend who is childfree, and if she’s honest, she’ll say yes. That being said, it’s normal and common for women without children to occasionally have the thought that it would be nice to have a child. This idea might come up on a family focused holiday, especially Mother’s Day or Christmas, but the feeling of wanting to be in that parenting role tends to fade quickly for most childfree women.
Childfree women don’t have children because they aren’t able to do so, and they are in a perpetual state of grief as a result.
I met a ninety year old woman who told me that she never got over the grief she felt about not being able to have a child. Fortunately, her story is not what you’ll hear from the majority of women without children. Our cultural norm is still to reach adulthood and at some point reproduce, so it’s natural that many people would jump to the conclusion that if a woman is childfree, it must be because she’s barren or unable to find an appropriate partner. After jumping to this conclusion, many people feel pity for the childfree woman.
Childfree women continue to be a misunderstood group in our society, but we are speaking out more boldly in protest of the misconceptions about us. For me personally, I hope that the next time a stranger asks me if I have children, I’ll be ready to share that I’m childfree by choice. Perhaps my sharing will help shatter some of the notions she has about women who aren’t mothers and open a dialogue that will increase understanding and respect for each of our life choices.
Dr. Walker is a licensed clinical psychologist born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. Recognizing that there is no one type of childfree adult, Walker guides clients through the positive and negative aspects of childfree living, taking into consideration the different issues faced by men or women, couples or singles, whether gay or straight. She received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Seattle Pacific University and has a clinical practice in Bellingham, Washington. She and her psychologist husband, Chris, enjoy an adventure-filled life with their two terriers, Bella and Scuppers.
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