Direct and Subtle Pressure to Have Children—How Can a Childfree Wannabe Cope?
Exploring all facets of childfree living.
By Ellen Walker, Ph.D.
The whole topic of childfree living is controversial, and becoming more so all the time. Just this week a woman submitted a comment on my book, Complete Without Kids, saying she thinks it’s ridiculous that a book had to be written on the subject. She is herself childfree and knows others who are as well, and no one she knows has had unpleasant experiences or mixed feelings about their choice.
I’m happy to learn that there are many who have not been made to feel badly about not having had kids, but the reality is that this is not the case for so many others.
Pressure from Family and Friends
I recently heard from a young woman who told me she’d mentioned to her mother and her grandmother that she didn’t plan to have children. The response from the older generation was, “You will have children. You must have children.” She asked for my advice on dealing with this pressure from her family. I suggested that she avoid the topic of kids with her mom and grandmother and also make sure that she has people in her life who are themselves childfree or who are supportive of her choices. Of course, she might also tell her relatives that she appreciates their opinion, but that she does not wish to discuss the matter further.
There’s also pressure from friends. I’ve been told by many young women that they feel left out, as one by one their friends get pregnant and shift into the roles of mommy and daddy. These young childfree women get together with groups of others their age and find themselves alone in the crowd, as the talk moves from diapers to daycare options. They feel that their choice is to either join the group by having a child of their own or find a new group of friends.
As a childfree woman in a city filled with families, I’ve surrounded myself with older women. Their children are grown and they’re focused once again on their careers and hobbies. But this can have its drawbacks as well, because now these same women are beginning to have grandchildren, and this becomes a primary interest and focus on conversation.
Have you been to the movies lately? It seems that every tale of romance goes the traditional route. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Susie pushing a baby carriage. And oh, how happy these young couples are, with their lovely homes, instant return to fabulous bodies after childbirth, lack of financial stress, and perfect children. The reality of parenting is not portrayed, and the message is that this is what everyone does-fall in love, get married, and start a family.
Then there’s the tabloid scene, with headlines proclaiming that this starlet is pregnant, or that so-and-so is barren and heartbroken at seeing her ex having a child with another woman. The messages are so strong and one-sided that even I find myself falling prey, feeling whimsical about the childrearing experience I missed out on.
Coping with Pressure
Perhaps the best way to cope with pressure is to know yourself and to have a solid understanding of why you have chosen your particular life pathway. If you’ve considered options and decided to not have children, have a full awareness of your reasons for this. Take time to write these reasons down. Your list may include the things you’d have had to sacrifice if you had become a parent as well as your overall life goals and passions, and what you instead have devoted your time and energy to. If you’re childfree by happenstance, or even due to circumstances beyond your control, focus on the positives of this situation.
If you find yourself in a situation where you feel pressured or judged due to not having kids, handle it as you please. If you don’t wish to talk about your personal life, simple say so. If you choose to speak out about your life choice, do so in an assertive manner. Remember, being assertive does not mean criticizing, intimidating, or controlling another person. It does mean honestly stating your own feelings, what you wish to have happen, and what you will and won’t do.
Keep firmly in mind the fact that we cannot do it all in life. We must make choices, and with each path taken there is another that is left behind. We are fortunate to live in a society that truly allows us to choose, whether this is to parent or not, to marry or not, what career to go into, where to live, and how to worship. The more awareness we have of why we are choosing a particular lifestyle, the less we will experience uncertainty in the face of pressure.
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.
Find out more about Dr. Walker and her book on her website, Complete Without Kids.
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