I am child free by choice. Four years ago I had a permanent procedure for birth control and it has been one of the best things I have done to give myself a stable, fulfilled, and happy life.
One of my close friends, Petra, is also child free by choice and we are definitely soul sisters in that regard. I wanted to open up a conversation about being child free by choice. Since Petra and I both have different life experiences, I thought it would be interesting to explore this topic together. I hope others might be helped by sharing our perspectives.
This is part one of a three part series.
Who we are!
I’m Leandra. I’m 31 years old. I’m a librarian and writer. I’ve been with my husband for ten years and live in a rural part of the Midwest.
My name is Petra and I work in the medical field. I’ve been with my husband for 9 years. I also live in the Midwest.
How long have you known you wanted to be child free?
Leandra: I have never wanted children. When I was a kid and teenager I would day dream about getting married, having a home of my own, and being a librarian. I really wanted those things, and I got them! But I never thought about having or adopting kids. I don’t remember a certain age where I told myself I Will Not Have Kids. It was never a loud, proud declaration. It just was what it was. When I met the man who would become my husband I did tell him within the first few weeks of us dating that I didn’t want kids. I was 20 years old at that time. Fortunately he didn’t want them either.
Petra: I believe I knew it before I knew what being Child Free was. As a kid, I did the “usual kid thing” and unthinkingly assumed I’d probably have the same number of kids as the set in which I grew up. As I got old enough to start thinking about what I’d like to do, I realized that I didn’t gravitate toward the idea of being a mother. It didn’t make my heart soar like the ideas of being other things did. When I was 14 years old, I voiced my previously silent thoughts when my 13-year-old friend asked me how many kids I’d like to have someday. I answered thoughtfully and honestly: I didn’t want to have kids. It took her aback and I realized my first reaction (not to her, but to me) was to feel guilty, as if I’d admitted to some kind of fault.
Did your experiences in childhood impact your decision now that you are an adult?
Petra: Yes. When I was young, I played a pivotal role in raising a child from birth. While many think this experience caused me to be burned by the circumstances, this is incorrect. This was a difficult circumstance to bear, but it helped me know beyond all doubt (cast by so many!) that I in fact DID know what I was deciding as I selected the child free life for myself. There is an oft-played argument that attempts to invalidate child free people: they don’t know what they’re missing, so how can they know they don’t want to have their own children? I was tested more than anyone I know of my peers, in both the child free AND child-bearing communities, when making decisions for my child bearing status. My decision was not lightly made, but heavily weighed and thoroughly considered. I have reevaluated this status at multiple points in my life.
Leandra: I grew up in a hospital. I was born with a birth defect and had many major surgeries in order to survive. I would be in the hospital for weeks or months at a time. In the pediatric ward I became friends with kids who were dealing with life, death, and multitudinous dimensions of pain. But outside the hospital my pain, fears, and emotions were often belittled or invalidated. I now see that often in the way adults treat children and it still makes me uncomfortable. I am sure that having to face a lot of the things I did at a young age did impact my decision to not have kids.
Did your sociopolitical upbringing impact your views on being child free by choice?
Petra: The guilt I felt when I “admitted” to my friend that I didn’t want to have kids, I believe, was motivated by the perceptions popularized in my upbringing. My parents wanted to be parents. They found a lot of joy in raising kids and, of course, they wanted the best lives for their own children. Which to their perception was for them to have kids. I was heavily concerned with “ruining my life” with my decision to be child free. I was torn for a long time over not wanting to be a mother and having my world loudly disagree with my choice.
It took increased degrees of maturity and experience to reflect on my initial CF-awareness days and recognize that I really didn’t have to carry any of that guilt or torn-hearted burden. Well-meaning people want good for the lives of those they love but don’t always understand that their version of good doesn’t have to be everyone’s.
I was never one to buy into any views that promoted having as many kids as your body could handle, though. That wasn’t my upbringing, but I acknowledge it’s popularized by many who believe this promotes selflessness and that it is the highest calling one can ascend to. I disagree, and am thankful it isn’t among the philosophies I had to sort through from my upbringing. My value doesn’t come from procreation. I have value before anything I contribute, because I know from Whom my value comes. I am a Christian, by the way.
Leandra: I was raised in a pretty far-left liberal household. Now I have a much more center/left of center outlook with a couple views that some would consider conservative. Since the current conversation places the child free by choice stance as a more liberal view, some could probably argue my upbringing did impact my decision. I feel that it does make it easier to be child free as a liberal person. But I don’t like that the child free by choice stance is often used to have a liberal vs. conservative fight. Because there are lots of conservative people who do not want kids. And there are lots of liberal people who do!
I feel like sexual expression is also an area that shouldn’t be such a left vs. right argument. I’m sexually fluid/adventurous and live in a very conservative place. I know lots of people like me who feel they can’t be anything but straight/vanilla because they’re conservative or are from a rural place. They feel they would have to throw away their entire identity to express their sexuality the way they need to. It’s not true. Too many people make important life decisions simply to fit into the Right or the Left and end up miserable. We need more balanced conversations around so many of these topics, including being child free by choice.
What area of your life do you get the most backlash for being child free?
Leandra: I don’t personally get asked a lot if I have or want kids. Maybe having a visible disability makes others automatically assume I cannot have kids physically. A couple moms I know who are visibly disabled often get asked how they had kids or assume their kids were adopted. A lot of people just think disabled people can’t or shouldn’t have kids. So I suppose the biggest backlash is those who assume that I am child free only because I can’t have children, not that I don’t want them.
Petra: Strangers are startlingly unthinking when it comes to this topic. As I’ve matured in my own thinking, I have learned to be more objective about their obtrusiveness and their unrequested opinions. I recognize these human beings are trying to find something with which to relate to me, and kids are a commonly easy and quick pathway to that connection. When they ask if I have kids, I’m not offended. It would be assumptive and therefore arrogant of me to assume they’d be trying to offend me. When they reply with shock or stutter and tell me that they’re sure I want them though, “right?”, I choose again not to be offended…but it is over- stepping on their part.
Healthy boundaries dictate that I don’t owe them an “excuse” as to why I’m an outlier in their expectations for me. I’ve learned not to excuse myself with, “But I raised a kid!” or “I like them, though!” I’m valid, and not because of their validation. It’s a strange culture to wake up in. I had a dental hygienist ask me if I had kids, and when I answered honestly and briefly (hands were in my mouth, there is no small talk in the dental chair!) she quickly filled in for me, “but you want to,” and kept on about her work. She was pregnant with her first, and never considered I didn’t want to be. It was that assumptive smearing of her desires on me that I don’t enjoy, but try to engage objectivity toward. That doesn’t always work, however. Sometimes I have to regroup. I was never raised to be so damn rude. I wish others weren’t.
During my dating years, I was always open and honest about my personal goals and desires for the direction of my life. Some men agreed that they didn’t want kids. (Flash forward, they all have them now.) Other guys actually thought I was one of many women who would say that only for attention, or unthinkingly, and fully anticipated I’d change my mind “like all the other girls who say that.” The idea that I could be so flippant with something of that magnitude stunned me. As did the concept of being taken so lightly regarding the concept of knowing and honoring my own heart and mind.
Family, though, has been the greatest source of backlash. People who never questioned the option didn’t respond with an appropriate neutrality. They took offense, declared I was selfish, considered if they’d somehow contributed to some kind of damage to have “caused” me to choose to be CF. There have been intrusive opinions flung, burning daggers of warning about my grave mistake thrusted, and taunting sneers from some.
I’ve never understood why my not wanting to have kids has impacted distant relatives with nothing to gain from my procreation, but it has seemingly affected their emotional centers. I’ve experienced back-stabbing and disrespect from those who otherwise had been loyally in “my camp,” wanting well for and supporting my life and later, my marriage. My husband would confess that he’d been cornered by some and told they support him (in the having of kids they assumed I was withholding from him) and that I’d “come around.” I was outraged. No one is going to disrespect the bonds of my marriage they DON’T SHARE with my husband and I, interfering in a sensitive subject for any couple navigating their TEAM-MADE choices. It’s taken some war, consistently upheld boundaries, some raised voices, and then some calm and rational forgiveness to move past all of it into mutual respect. But we are finally in a state in which people aren’t heaping expectations and unwelcome questions about our intentions for my eggs, and seem to be learning to respectfully “let us be us.”
And how about that… the world didn’t fall in on anyone as a consequence! 🙂
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