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Misconceptions About Childless Adults

Misconceptions About Childless Adults

The further I get into this parenting adventure, the more I am convinced that parenthood is truly not for everyone. This perspective comes not from any form of regret for my current lot, but more from a perspective seasoned by the emotional and logistical rigors that come with being an attentive parent. As much as I think I perform the tasks at hand with equal amounts creativity and care, I am the first to tell anyone that having kids should not be a decision informed by unequivocal imperative, nor as a means to “fill a void.” The act of parenting requires an enormous deal of selflessness, compassion, and tenacity, in an effort to make someone else’s life all the richer. But there are other ways to enrich lives beyond parenthood.

I had this discussion with a close relative who has, by default, elected not to have children of her own. We spent a few minutes talking about the virtues and drawbacks of our respective lives (she being a single working woman with no significant ties to anyone, and me being tied to a marriage and a young child) before we got to that grass is always greener conclusion about our lives. But there is something else there, something that writer Katie Roiphe, writing for Slate.com, touches upon in her article “Do We Secretly Envy the Childfree?” Roiphe, who is apparently a mother herself, goes to great lengths to indentify with the roughly 1 in 5 women in their 40s (an age where it is presumed the biological clock is ending its tick-tock pattern) who do not have children, instead of pitying them. Even though the childless woman is, while in the minority, nothing totally unique, Roiphe contends that many people view a woman (of this age) without a child as “a tragic or at least disappointed figure.” She claims the judgment is such that “the childless woman has somehow not pulled it together, as if she is damaged or thwarted.” Roiphe, while focusing primarily on women for this article, posits the idea of the childless man in his 40s, and how he is seen, not as sad, but as someone who has refused to grow up and is clinging to a state of arrested development. The thinking by the majority (meaning those who are parents) goes that the act of becoming a parent is such a transfiguring and defining experience, that if you were to opt out, how would you (the childless minority) achieve that transformation?

These generalizations are far from fair, or even accurate, as there are teaming millions of childfree adults who live exceptionally rich, creative, and compassionate lives without having ever changed a diaper, done school pick up, or arranged a play date. So is it fair to say not having children means you have yet to really grow up? Don’t you know some parents who, while tending to their responsibilities, may not have grown up themselves (whatever that means)? Are people who don’t have children too harshly and summarily judged by society? Do we put too much value on parents, over the non-breeding part of the population?

Read more: Babies, Blogs, Caregiving, Children, Depression, Family, Mental Wellness, Parenting at the Crossroads, Relationships, Women's Health, , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

115 comments

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4:35AM PDT on Aug 22, 2013

Well, heather, that 'being taken care of in your old age" theory hasn't worked out so well for my parents. I don't speak to one and am minimal contact with the other. If they haven't made arrangements for themselves, they better not be relying on me!

11:48AM PDT on Jul 18, 2013

Later on in life if I want kids i will probably adopt and if the need to be a mother truly comes on i will answer it... I'm to immature to care for myself until i mature mentally. sure im good with children because im close to them and being thier age...(16- 17)

7:01PM PDT on Jul 5, 2013

Something I think a lot of people who don't have children don't think about whilst they are young is- what will it be like when they are old and they have no family. Many women out live their spouse and end up at the end of their lives in Nursing Homes. Friends may have gone or relationships haven't lasted or their friends are also in Nursing Homes far from them etc. I have friends who work in nursing homes and some who live there have nobody. So sad. I realise it isn't fair to have children for selfish reasons but should a person want to have a child and then think maybe not etc I think they need to think about life especially after work without a family to give their lives, love to. So much to give but so much more returned.

6:41PM PDT on Jul 5, 2013

Thanks for writing.

9:32PM PDT on Jul 4, 2013

Well it's probably a lost cause considering that human beings are certainly not as smart as we think we are but I'm not having kids because I'm not interested in helping us send ourselves' extinct simply because babies are cute or whatever other silly reason so many people have for not adopting or not remaining childless and doing whatever they can to help the people that exist already.

Over population is real and so are the negative effects of humans on this planet. Thank goodness I live in a place and time (fingers crossed) where I'm able to make my own decisions about marriage and child bearing.

8:49AM PDT on Jun 28, 2013

Some married or unmarried couples opt not to have children for personal, financial, emotional or health reasons... we just have to learn to respect the choice they made. These childless adults, mind you have bigger hearts who go out there to help those in need... I've known quite a few of them. They do their fair share of "bringing up" other people's children(feed, clothe, educate etc)... Let's all look around us and recognize those individuals who deserve to be commended for being angelic citizens in our midst.

3:06PM PDT on Jun 17, 2013

If you know yourself and are satisfied, with or without kids, either choice is correct. We all have gifts to share with the family of man and not all involve children.

6:01PM PDT on Jun 12, 2013

I cant believe that we even need to compare childless adults with adults who are parents, its not that complicated, we are just people and unconditionally acceptable.

5:51PM PDT on Jun 12, 2013

No kids still :)

10:18AM PDT on Jun 10, 2013

I chose not to have children and God thought different. I married a man that had two young girls (4& 7) and helped raise them with the mother in the picture. It is a very up and down ride of life! I chose to take care of dogs that found their way into my life. Very rewarding for both!

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