Defending Your Right Not to Have Children
Question: What is wrong with this speech regarding my decision not to have children?
“…well, firstly, as the world’s population has surged to over seven billion, I feel it is more ethical to adopt one of the many children already needing parents if I decide to become a mother. I also have a job that entails me being photographed nude and tied up. I don’t want to be responsible for the mental scarring or bullying that will come when my hypothetical kid finds the pictures. Not to mention I don’t want to pass on the cancer that runs in my family…”
Answer: It should never have to be said.
Though sadly I have found myself parroting versions of the speech whenever the subject of my decision to remain childfree comes up. I get told that I’ll change my mind, that I’ll regret not having children- and even once “I don’t believe you”.
If somebody who’s been a couch potato for decades suddenly says they’re joining a gym, the accepted response is not “oh, you’ll go twice and go back to watching the television”.
If someone says that they intend to visit Africa and help with Water Aid, it is rude to say “no you won’t- everyone says it and hardly anyone does it.”
However, when a woman says she does not wish to reproduce, she will often receive a dismissive standard response whether the person she’s talking to is a close relative or a total stranger.
I recently posted a questionnaire for women who do not wish to have children. I asked them two questions:
1) Have you ever come across offensive attitudes because of your decision? (“You’ll change your mind”, “all women want children”…)
2) If so, how did/do you respond to or deal with the situation?
Almost every woman responded to the first question by listing the many hurtful comments they had received. These are often so rude and persistent that some women expressed the wish that they were sterile so that they would have a reason to not have children. That saddened me – wishing that there is something biologically wrong just to have a culturally acceptable reason for the decision…
Most of the women dealt with the situation by listing the reasons why they do not want to reproduce – defending themselves rather than challenging the mindset of the person speaking. It’s a logical thing to do; when someone doesn’t understand your point-of-view, it seems like a good idea to justify it, especially when it is not considered the norm. But that does not mean it is the best thing to do.
Women are now able to go out to work, choose when to have a child and then decide whether to go back to work or not. Thanks to contraception, we now have the means to control when we would like to get pregnant and if we find ourselves pregnant by accident, to choose from the options available. While any these decisions can attract judgement, it is not socially acceptable to challenge a total stranger’s choice to their face!
Women should be able to choose not to reproduce, without it being questioned, ridiculed, or debated.
So what can we do?
It is very easy to label parents as ‘breeders’ and snigger at Youtube videos made by people having a rant. The problem is, while you’re angry it can make you feel a lot better but at the same time, it creates a divide between the parents and the childfree, which helps no-one.
– Try not to buy into the backlash and rant about ‘Mumzillas’ on Facebook. Not every parent considers little Jayden’s poo to be the highlight of their day. In the same way that many child-free women worry about being labelled “babyhaters”, I have known many intelligent and interesting parents who worry that they will be rejected based on the fact that they now have offspring! Give parents a chance. (And peace too!)
– If you are a proud parent and have used the ‘you’d be an amazing mother/father’ line, although it’s meant as a compliment, it rarely gets taken that way. No matter how good you feel your friend would be, and no matter how gently you are using your powers of persuasion, respect their decision- it is not yours to make.
– Don’t get into an argument. You wouldn’t demand to know why your neighbours have had children; you are not obliged to give them a reason for you not having any. Unless you personally feel comfortable answering the “why” question, it usually best to just re-iterate that this is what you have decided and you don’t feel it necessary to elaborate.
– I’ve been lucky- my mum has always accepted my choice, but if you have a particularly persistent friend or relative, then depending on your relationship with them, it might be worth taking them aside for a quick heart-to-heart. Explain that while they may be disappointed, you have made your decision and constantly having to defend it upsets you. They may not realise how rude they are being, and if they do know, it’s a good opportunity to take control and tell them firmly that you no longer wish to discuss the subject if they cannot respect your view.
– I’m twenty-four, and although I have some wonderful friends who are parents, I sadly lost a good friend too. From the moment she decided she wanted a baby, XX was unrecognisable, and when I visited after XY was born, I couldn’t speak for more than ten seconds without her interrupting me to burble at the baby. She didn’t even try to converse- it was as if I wasn’t there. After two years, no change and a lot of soul searching, I decided to stop calling her. She never called me to ask why she hadn’t heard from me, and we never spoke again.
Sadly, it can happen and the best thing to do sometimes is let go. When all your friends start having children, it can be lonely (I certainly was) even if they are still awesome and just don’t have as much free time anymore. I looked online for Meetup groups for childfree people. They exist! The aim is to make new friends, meet up and talk (and not just about being childfree). It’s a good site for horizon-broadening if you do find yourself lonely.
Example answers to questions you may face
When you find a man you really love, you’ll want to give him children.
Any man who wants children is not a man I could really love.
How can you deny your parents grandchildren?
If they want another generation of kids to look after, they can adopt another generation of kids to look after.
Don’t you care about future generations?
I care so much that I want to limit the population so we can renew resources.
I’m praying for the zombie apocalypse.
Your body was made for childbirth.
And yours was apparently made to be rude and insulting, that doesn’t mean we both have to fulfil our destiny.
What if you regret it later?
I’d rather regret not having a child than have one and then resent them.
But it’s a biological urge!
Institutions await those who can’t control their biological urges!
You’re still very young- you might change your mind.
I might, and I might also… *insert equally improbable thing* …but I really don’t think I will, so please respect me by accepting that decision.
When considering what answers to questions like these would best suit you, bear in mind you shouldn’t have to have your private and personal decisions escalate into an argument (see also: how to argue like an adult).
Sometimes, people know right from the start that they would one day like to be parents. For some, it dawns on them slowly and when they finally do give birth to or adopt a child, it’s a fantastic day for them.
Other people grow up, get married and then have a baby without really thinking about it, because it is just something that is expected. It doesn’t mean that they don’t love their child, but that perhaps they’d still have been happy without one.
There are seven billion people on this planet – ensuring the survival of the species is not a task that we need to worry about (thank goodness) and there is no reason for every woman in the world to have a child. There is nothing wrong with choosing not to, for whatever reason. All that matters is that it is your decision.
Keep supporting your right to make it.
Main photo: Silverlight