Monday, October 11, 2010

How to Endure (Being Childfree)

Every week, I get personal emails from readers who have comments, questions and topic ideas (I love getting them, so please keep them coming). One type of email that I get pretty frequently - from young childfree folks, mostly - is the question of how to endure the relentless pressure to have kids and the constant invalidation of our childfree stance. How do we stay strong and not cave in? How do we endure being in the unheralded (and often marginalized) minority? How do we endure the guilt trips, the negative assumptions and judgements that bombard us simply because we have chosen not to have kids? How do we hold strong to our conviction that being childfree is the best choice for us when loved ones and friends are constantly condemning our decision and telling us we are making a big mistake that we will grow to regret?

I can only speak from my own experience, and I hope that other experienced, confident childfree folks will chime in with comments relaying their experiences as well. Let's help out our fellow childfree folks who are struggling.

Here's what I have to say on this subject:

1. Nobody knows what type of life will make you the happiest more than you do, and don't let them convince you otherwise. Your mom might think she knows, but she's not you. Your best friend may love being a mom and assume you will love it too, but she's not you.

2. No childed person can authoritatively speak about childfree regret. Why? Because they have not experienced it and never will. The only people who can definitively speak about whether choosing to be childfree will result in a life of regret are mature childfree people. We've heard from Shelley who is 62, loves her childfree life and has no regrets about her choice. I am 44 and am more solid and convicted to my choice with every passing year. In fact, I thank my lucky stars every day that I had the courage and conviction to choose this life. I've not yet met a childfree person who has regretted the choice.

And let's not forget that while it's kept very hush-hush, there are parents who regret having kids. I've spoken to some of them and thanks to the anonymity afforded by the internet, hoardes of regretful parents are coming forth to spill their guts.

3. None of the people who are pressuring you to have kids will raise them for you. Enough said.

4. Being conventional, fitting in, being accepted and validated by others is great, but it's not better than living an authentic life. All human beings want to feel accepted, understood and part of a group and having kids provides a person with multiple forms of instant approval, acceptance and validation. On the other hand, choosing to be childfree provides no such validation (except from other childfree folks). This can mislead some people into thinking that having children is the easy route and choosing the childfree life is too difficult. Think again. Think about what is truly involved in having kids. Objectively observe your childed friends, families and coworkers and assess the total cost involved in being a member of the parent club. The cost is staggering and far higher than the cost of feeling invalidated which - in the big picture - is not really that big a deal. The trick is to find and develop self esteem and sense of self from within and not from external sources.

The cost of selling your soul to a life you do not want is the highest price a person can pay.

5. To develop conviction and confidence in your decision and to feel understood, validated and accepted, network with other childfree folks. Check out Meetup.com and see if there is a childfree social group in your area - join and participate! Same with No Kidding. If no group is available in your area, start one! Participate on childfree discussion boards. Read childfree blogs. The perception that you are an oddball and the only person who has made the childfree decision and experiencing these feelings of isolation and pressure is an illusion. There is an army of CF folks to connect with who have experienced (or are currently experiencing) the same feelings you are right now and they love to talk about it and support each other.

6. Adjust your attitude. Instead of wallowing in insecurity and believing the naysayers who tell you that you are wrong to think the way you do, look at it a different way: you are holding one of the world's best-kept secrets, and you're smarter than the average bear to have connected the dots and acquired it. Treasure it and be grateful that you had the presence of mind to think for yourself and be a free-thinking individual, instead of just one more herd-following sheep. Smile and let them wonder about you. Prove them wrong by standing tall and wearing your childfree status like a badge of honor. Relish in unnerving people.

7. It gets easier. The older you get, the more secure you will become in yourself and the less pressure and invalidation you will receive from the childed majority. More importantly, the less you will give a hoot what people think about you. It takes some time, but eventually people come to accept that they are not going to change your mind about having kids and - hey - you don't seem so unhappy afterall. Realize that most people have never met a childfree person before and haven't had any childfree role models, so we can't completely blame them for their ignorance and assumptions. YOU be that role model and set them straight.

And while you're at it, set the example for the budding childfree population coming up after you.

21 comments:

WhiteRaven Slade said...

Go to Walmart.

Make yourself stay there for 2 hours (I'm mean, I know). Listen to the screaming, the pleading, the coaxing, and look at the pinched and harried faces of those parents crumbled in masks of worry, hurry, and anxiety.

Realize they can NEVER go back and choose something different. Even if they want to. They are stuck. Smiley Kodak moments are just that...moments. 90% of the rest of the time is spent looking like those parents at Walmart.

When 2 hours is up, go to your favorite little spot for coffee (or cocoa) and maybe a sandwich and soup to recharge. My favorite spot features hot beverages served in painted and fired pottery mugs.

Simple pleasures. :)

Frugalista said...

Thanks for this post. My heart has wrenched me into wondering if I am making the wrong choice in not wanting children since I became an aunt. This kind of brings me back to reality.

Marie said...

Thank you for this posting.

I'm a younger gal (mid-20s) who feels constantly under attack from all directions. It feels so out of place for me because I have NEVER, even as a child myself, had any desire or fantasy to procreate. The whole idea disgusts me, which is one among the many reasons not to have children.

People seem to treat it like I don't like a common type of food, like pizza, and that if I "just try it" I will be hooked.

I feel myself getting more bitter and angry every day. I have experienced crippling workplace harassment because I am childfree, people have tried to break up my boyfriend and me (who I would like to marry someday), I have even been sexually assaulted in the name of "fixing" me.

I would love to see you do a post on this concept people have that something is "wrong" mentally with the childfree. I have been told it is extremely insulting to compare it to the discrimination homosexuals (and other groups, including women in general) have faced, but I don't see how that is not a good analogy. From my standpoint the discrimination can be just as harsh. If there are people out there who want me dead because I don't like or want children, what's the distinction?

mom2acat said...

White Raven; I use to work for Walmart, and I know the parents and kids of which you speak. I have always believed that working in retail is good birth control, lol!

I was always so glad at the end of my work day to come home to a quiet, child free home where my two cats were happy to see me, wanting nothing more than their dinner and a cuddle.

CFVixen said...

Yet another excellent, well thought-out post.

DH and I just turned 40, and I have to say, some of the pressure seems to have dwindled. Without a doubt, persevering in my decision to remain CF was one of the best things I have ever done. I love our lifestyle. It's amazing when I compare what a typical "day in the life" of a parent is to our typical days.

Yes, there are times when I feel "out of the loop" with a good majority of the population. Then I realize that I don't want to be in that circle. My perception of child rearing is boring and tedious. I need a life that's exciting and fulfilling. For some people, that involves children. But for me, children don't add life...they take it away.

Sarah said...

Wow, this makes me realize how lucky I am to live in a city with plenty of CF people. I know many.

My suggestion would be to keep a list of why you have decided to remain childfree. List every little reason why, no matter how inconsequential (being able to have breakable decorations, or sleep in until 10 on Saturday, etc). Keep it handy and review it before or after you are in situations where you are judged for your CF status (family gatherings, work, whatever).

If CF is the way you want your life to be, embrace it and be proud.

Molly said...

Ha, I worked at our local zoo for the summer and you would not believe how many zookeepers are childfree. I'm sure a little bit of it has to do with the long hours, but most of it is seeing the kids there every day. They called it birth control.

And, unlike Walmart, the zoo is usually a place where parents are trying to create those Kodak moments -- and it's still madness!

Wix said...

"And let's not forget that while it's kept very hush-hush, there are parents who regret having kids. I've spoken to some of them."

Not just some, many. According the the Ann Landers survey, 70%. If you actually hang around with parents I find it seems even higher than even that (with ample back-peddle of course).

C.S. said...

Another older CF woman here. I'm 58, widow of 4 years, STILL no regrets.

Many times when I was in my 20s/30s, people told me I'd "regret" my CF decision, especially if I ever lost my husband. Well, it happened - and while I'll always miss my husband, I certainly do not regret our decision not to breed. And honestly, as difficult as the process of grieving/readjustment is to the loss of a spouse, I think it would have been even more difficult with grown kids/grandkids. To top it off, my husband's acute leukemia turned out to have a genetic link, unknown until just a few years ago. The test were conclusive, and the doctor told me I should inform any children. Fortunately for me, I only had to inform my husband's siblings.

At any rate, for the younger ones I say, "Hang in there, it will get easier, particularly in your 40s/50s when many parents are STILL struggling with their teens/grown kids problems."

Christy said...

When I saw the gray, forlorn weeping willow, I thought this was going to be a hilarious post about how hard it will be for us to endure all the extra money and peace and free time and booger-free possessions.

Great post, though, especially for fence-sitters. My only hardship in cfdom is losing female friends to the baby rabies, and losing males, mostly to the "go-along syndrome."

But there is no way in hell I would become a parent, deal with that tedious torture for the rest of my life, just to fit in with some people, who probably still wouldn't be that great of friends even if we were both encumbered.

I can be a shy person, and my cfdom will force me, grudgingly, to meet new people and make new friends my entire life, but every time I meet a new person, I find I learn something new about myself. It's kind of a blessing in disguise. When I think about it, a small price to pay for my freedom, and thanks for making me think about it!

Childfreeeee said...

C.S. Sorry for your loss.

Spectra said...

Great post! I've never felt the desire to become a mom and when I got married, my husband and I thought it would be OK if we had a kid or two. But we decided after being married 4 years that we didn't want kids because we just didn't want the responsibility. A lot of my friends tell me that they "didn't know you could choose to not have kids". Um, it's called birth control and some people choose to ue it. I have a lot of older friends and relatives that have opted to not have children and I've always liked their lifestyle more than the lifestyle of my mom friends/relatives.

Childfreeeee said...

Marie, I am so sorry to hear about the discimination and extreme abuse you have suffered. It is confounding to me why people can't "live and let live"? Why is everyone so concerned about how others live their lives? It brings to mind the plight of the gay population and what they are going through in their struggles to come out of the margins.

TaoYen said...

Marie,

If you are O.K. with doing so, you may want to talk to the police and/or a local judicial officer about the assault. Some states allow you to pursue criminal charges through a judicial officer (e.g., court commissioner, magistrate, justice of peace) as a citizen, even when the police are not interested.

The one big thing I can tell you is that your preferences are ultimately *private*. We don't have to tell others we are childfree--and this is a hard habit to get into in our Thou-Shalt-Be-Extroverted and Thou-Shalt-Share-Every-Darn-Detail culture. If you work in a place that refuses to respect your right to keep certain information private, you *truly* need to get out NOW. I don't care what they pay, or how "essential" they are to your career. If we all lived to be 500, life would still be too short for that. Unfortunately, many toxic workplaces *feed* on people in their 20's. We can only treat it like we would an abusive relationship: the cost of staying is far steeper than the person in the relationship realizes at first. There's also an abuser phenomena called "crazy-making," and toxic workplaces do it too. In spades.

Nicole said...

Thanks Mandy! I actually had someone the other day, as I was being chided by people for not wanting children "oh you will change your mind" or "but they are so worth it" and so on say to me..."Do what you feel is right, I love my son, but if I knew then what I know now...I would not of had children" Wow...actually made me feel good! Your post...icing on the cake!

Moiraine said...

#4 and #5 really resonated with me. I'm 29 and at first it was really hard to stand up for myself and sometimes it still is. Luckily my parents and my in-laws are supportive of my hubby and my decision to be CF. I think both Mother's are little bit sad, but they still realize that CFdom is what allows to lead a happy and healthy life. Our happiness is more important to them than wanting grandchildren. I'm so very thankful for that.

It definitely gets easier as you get older. Hang in there. Know that you are the one who knows what's best for you. And yes, connect, connect, connect with other CF folks!

@Marie I'm so sorry to hear that you have suffered so for your decision.

@C.S. I'm sorry for your loss!

ToasterDestroyer said...

I thank you so much for replying to my questions when I emailed you about this topic (being young and how to cope) I decided when I move out, I am going to frame these notes because they really mean a lot to me. The pressures come up often, whether it may be family, friends or media and these points remind me of what I really want, and that is to be childfree.

jaime said...

I love this post. I always tell people irl that its not the 1500s, women can do whatever they want now. That shuts up most people.

I've also learned that if someone only wants friends that are clones of themselves then that person isn't worth hanging around.

I'm 28 by the way. Most people don't care if I have kids or not, and most don't bother me about it. I learned that I'm the most happiest living for myself.

I'm in a relationship and my bf also enjoys living for himself. We're objectivists.

But hey it makes us happy and isn't that what our country was based on the right to pursue our own happiness?

Keep up the great work. :)

Bratzy said...

Wow, I really loved this post. I also suffer from the "you'll change your mind" lectures, from family and friends mainly. Why oh why do people with children think because I have none I don't know my own mind??

tash said...

It's kind of insulting to refer to those with children as sheep. Just because you choose to not have kids (a choice I COMPLETELY support) that doesn't make you better or smarter than those who chose to have kids.

There are plenty of regrets we all have. And lots of serendipitous surprises. We all make good and bad decisions.

In order to strengthen your argument, you might try being respectful. You can't have it both ways - wanting people to support your decisions or at least to feel proud of them while putting others down for theirs.

I don't enjoy hiking up a mountain, but the view from the top is worth it. I might complain about it and vent and get angry about how hard it is to get up there, but I'll do it.

Congratulations for avoiding one difficult and challenging path. It doesn't guarantee that your life is better or perfect.

raju said...

Being CF has +/- points.Depends on ones perception of life. only thing is, never pay way for any regret . If confident every one can choose their own life style; the ultimate intention is to be HAPPY.

Best wishes to all CFs

Rajaram