Why should I have children?

by Guest Blogger // 26 November 2012, 11:00

Tags: adoption, childfree, children, parenting

This is a guest post by Rachel Munford, who tweets here.

 Recently I have been thinking a lot about babies. Currently my cousin's partner is pregnant, and one of my female cousins has a 6-month old, so obviously babies seem to be the main focus of conversation at family gatherings. This is a somewhat boring subject for me as a 17-year-old student (who is much more interested in reading books and sleeping), but it has brought up some issues which I have been facing for at least 2 years. I don't want to have my own children, which seems to be considered a problem.

Let me clarify, this does not mean I don't like children or that I have something against giving birth, but it's more of a moral choice because I want to adopt. I have never thought that adoptive parents were any less parental than those who are biologically connected to their children. I guess it's because I have a grandmother who isn't related to me in the DNA sense, but I love her just the same as any grandparent. I know there are some people (a very small minority) who may consider that view to be wrong, and I would consider that awfully close-minded. Someone doesn't have to share your DNA to be your family. I think many people would agree with me.

Anyway sharing my viewpoint on not having biological children with others has drawn something very disturbing to my attention. It appears that not wanting to have children of your own or even at all is considered strange, others may view this idea as a crime against nature, you're told you're fighting your body's natural instinct. When did it become okay to tell me how my body feels? When did it become acceptable to convince young women they should be having children no matter what else they want to do in their life?

Instead of encouragement, my opinion on children is received with pity by some (although not everyone sees it that way; some people are very, very supportive). To me, this seems very like a step backwards. We're told that women can "have it all"; you can go to university and have sex with anyone that you want; you can travel the world and have a brilliant fantastic career and you can also settle down and have children. In fact, you should settle down and have children. But why do we have to have it all? Can we not have some of it, whatever bit we want, instead of all of it?

I know that children are necessary for the world to survive but that doesn't mean everyone has to have children. Yet you would think they did the way everyone goes on about it. Parents always bring up the topic of grandchildren whenever their grown-up children bring home a girlfriend or boyfriend, or at least that is what the TV would have you believe.

There are many women who are child-free and living perfectly happy guilt-free life, giving me hope that I won't have to feel alien because of my choices. In an online blog article, "Direct and Subtle pressure to have Children - how can a childfree wannabe cope?", Ellen Walker, writer of the book "Complete Without Kids", states that there are many pressures from very different places on a "childfree wannabe", which in my opinion is completely true. I think the first time I experienced this pressure was when I told my mother I didn't think I would have my own children but I would adopt instead, and she responded rather dismissively with a comment along the lines of "you'll change your mind when you meet the right guy". I was very offended by this at the time; she was practically saying that when I met the guy I would spend the rest of my life with I would give up on all my ideas and opinions in favour of his.

I know now that my mother meant this in the best way possible, she meant it in the way she wanted me to live my life fully, in her view. Since then (this happened over a year ago) she has come around to the idea, but some of my friends are far less supportive. I know none of them have children but everyone's attitude towards settling down is very different. One of my friends just shakes his head and laughs whenever it comes up, which is really supportive.

I may be still very young, I may be considered very inexperienced, but if I'm honest it's my opinion and it's my body so how do you have the right to make me feel guilty about not having my own children or children at all?

Photo of a wicker baby's cradle on wheels by akatrya, shared under a Creative Commons licence.

Comments From You

Malziferous // Posted 26 November 2012 at 11:29

Rachel, thank you so much for this excellent article!

I am 22 and have known that I don't want children since I was about 15. I don't say 'I'm never having kids' because who knows what will happen, but I am certain that I don't want them. I love kids and am currently living with my 3 year old and 3 month old cousins, but I'm sure that life style is not for me.

People often role their eyes when I tell them, or ask 'how can you be so sure?' Well, right back atcha! How can YOU be so sure you want your life turned upside down like that?! I know I would like to keep my figure and hop on a plane to Brazil any time I like, thanks very much!

And those are just the first layer of reasons. I really agree with you about adoption and I think that if I did ever become broody then that would be the route I'd take. There are so many children out there needing good homes - what could be more caring and beautiful than to be able to give someone a home who desperately needs it?

We certainly need more positive stereotypes of women without children to look up to, and find ways to squash the rhetoric, first of what you mentioned – that as soon as you meet 'the right man you'll change your mind'; and second that the only way a woman can be fulfilled is by having kids or she'll end up alone and lonely, possibly being eaten by Alsatians – Bridget Jone's greatest fear...

Lisa Whelan // Posted 26 November 2012 at 12:12

I have the exact same discussion all the time! After having an abortion, I have expressed the wish to have my tubes tied a couple of times, as a permanent solution to something I *know* I don't want to do. I definitely do not want children, and people say all the time "You will when you're older!" (Or I'll regret it when I'm older, seeing as I'm of childbearing age now.) It's very offensive to tell people that they don't know what they want to do with their lives. It also never happens the other way around, ie, if you tell someone you're pregnant/want children, no-one tells you you'll change your mind on having children or regret having them!
I've also always said to people that if I should change my mind, I would be very very happy to adopt and really truly believe that more people should! There are so many uncared for and unwanted children in the world that there really seems to be no reason to go through the pain and healing of childbirth (and so much time off work for the pregnancy) to make another one.
So well done on standing up to this! So many people have babies because they think they "should".

ZeeM // Posted 26 November 2012 at 13:15

Hi Rachel

Lovely post, thank you very much. It’s good to hear from someone ‘so young’ (as people seem to say, in surprise) who has already formed a considered and independent opinion.
I’m 40 now and knew from when I was a kid that I just didn't want to have children of my own. I’m also adopted, so I can completely understand your views on that point.

Fair warning: unless there’s some radical shift in the way people think before offering up their own, uniformed opinions, my guess is you’ll be re-explaining your thoughts and decisions on a regular basis until you hit the menopause!

From my early teens to my late 30’s absolutely no one has ever listened and accepted that I just do not want kids. I also have a variety of womb-related medical problems and – to my mind – having the lot whipped out would seem to be the practical option. But no, I must take a whole bunch of hormones and so on, until age overcomes and I am past childbearing age (then, the medical professionals will consider it… maybe…probably not). For a time in my 30’s I was almost convinced that I should have kids. Note ‘should’, not ‘wanted to’. At that point I even looked into fostering older kids, thinking that perhaps it was just the baby-to-toddler stages I was not built for. Ultimately, I decided against all of it.

When I met my current partner, I brought up The Deal Breaker on our third date: No kids, ever. Turns out, he felt the same! Much discussion ensued over the following year and I took one last tour around the women’s hospitals and gynae doctors to see if anyone would help me take control of this game of reproductive roulette. I was given a definitive and final ‘no’.

My partner has recently undergone a vasectomy (although he did have to fight somewhat for that too, at least his choice was ultimately accepted – my, my; it’s funny how men are seen as able and informed enough to make such decisions about their own bodies, huh?) and we are both thoroughly over the moon about it.

(And, ha! I *DID* finally meet the ‘right guy’ and whaddya know – part of him being the ‘right guy’ is not wanting kids/wanting the same things out of life that I do. Take that, social stereotypes! Pthbpthbpthb.)

So. My situation is obviously different from yours, and in some ways different from the other commenters, but similar in one very important way: Our own much dissected, well thought out, fully weighed, personal opinions and decisions are seemingly of no importance or substance when it comes to baby-making. Woman = mother (and a biological one at that).

Sigh. Perhaps, one day, our decisions will be taken at face value and people will simply say “well, good for you, you’ve clearly thought this through” (or, nothing at all! *gasp!*) instead of insisting that we are wrong and we do not and cannot know our own minds.

On a side note, I agree completely with the adoption Vs bio parent thing. Family is what you make it and it irritates me no end when the media comments on people’s ‘adopted son/daughter’, like that makes any difference to anything at all. Hmph.

Good luck to you and thanks again for your post. Good stuff.

Lucy // Posted 26 November 2012 at 15:00

I completely agree that blood ties do not a family make and consider myself a case in point: I was born into a pretty loveless abusive family, and am no longer in contact with my parents. Although I guess to them, love was synonymous with obligation and debt. I am indebted to them for giving me the gift of life, ignoring the fact that a) I never asked for it and b) they made sure they made it an unpleasant experience as long as they had a chance.
The more important point I think is that both my mother and father had children simply because 'it is what you do' - they did it out of a sense of obligation, saw it as something they couldn't escape from. Which probably explains the lack of love and the air of resentment experienced during my childhood.
I, too, was told not wanting children was abnormal - however, I am fortunate to have reached a point in life where I know that whatever decisions I make about my life, they are mine to make, regardless of what others think of them. No one should have the right to call you abnormal for making a well considered decision about your reproductive future.

k-hole // Posted 27 November 2012 at 12:27

First of all, thanks for writing this in such an eloquent and calm manner. The more we talk about these issues the less stigmatised it will become (obviously)!

Myself and my partner have spoken about it, and we both agree that child bearing is not for us. We're both 25 (I'm 26 in a month) and have been together for 5 years. It's incredibly frustrating that we aren't allowed to have access to permanent birth control methods. We've both asked about it at our GPs, and were both told we were too young. From reading other people's accounts, I should imagine my partner will be allowed to have a vasectomy when he hits 30 - I won't be allowed to have my tubes done EVER, it seems.

When I told my mother she reacted with absolute horror. Mostly the part where I said if I ever were to have children, I would adopt. It was in reaction to her PRETTY MUCH CONSTANTLY harassing me to 'give (her) a grandson'. And yes. She was that specific. She has three daughters and thinks somehow that having a boy in the family would make it...complete, or something. I don't even know.

The conversation went something like this, over the phone:
(deadpan) 'I don't want kids mum. Serious. I've said so before.'
(ridiculously upbeat) 'Awwww but you'll change your mind! There's nothing better than having babies!'
(sighing. Time I bit the bullet...) 'If I were to change my mind I'd adopt. One of the reasons I don't want biological children is because there are too many people on the planet as it is. And there are so many children out there who need a loving home.'
(incredulous) How is it fair that you miss out on childbirth and pregnancy when other women will have that?! It's such a wonderful experience! Why should other women who (a bunch of redacted classist* and racist statements) have babies when they don't even DESERVE IT? THAT ISN'T FAIR ON YOU'
(trying my best to be calm, didn't even bite about the classist/racist stuff) It's not really something I'm interested in doing. In fact, it wouldn't be fair on me or baby. You know as well as I do that I suffer from mental health problems, and I know we don't really talk about it but there's a history of that in our family....I have problems just looking after myself without throwing a baby into the mix. Plus there's the fact that if you suffer with depression pre-pregnancy, you're more likely to suffer with post natal depression!'
(almost shout-crying) 'THAT'S GOT NOTHING TO DO WITH IT, you're brilliant with your little sister! She absolutely adores you! You'd make a brilliant mum I know it! You were great with HER when she was a baby, she cried the least around you! If you adopt you won't be getting a baby you know, how would you bond? You'll never get that feeling where they first put your baby in your arms and KNOW they're yours!'
(ARRRGH ARRRRRGH REALLY THOUGH but outwardly calm) I got that feeling when you first put lil sis in my arms, I knew I would do my best to protect her and teach her about the world. We definitely have a bond and I didn't birth her. I only see her every few months, it's easy to make our time together fun. I just know I couldn't cope with it day in day out. It's too much. I always come home from visits absolutely shattered, it takes me about a week to recover. Just because I have a womb doesn't mean I have to utilize it.
(clearly really upset) 'Well what does Mr. Hole think about this?'
(laughing) 'He's offered to have his knackers done.'
....SILENCE....
'Mum??'
'Well it wouldn't be getting my inheritance. It's not my blood, it not be getting my inheritance.'
*I HANG UP, SHE DOESN'T TRY TO CALL BACK*

I didn't speak to her for about a month after that, and then she called me out of the blue as though nothing had happened. So we just pretended like nothing had happened. About a year later, she started with the baby bull again, so I told her that I would MOST SERIOUSLY AND I'M NOT EFFING ABOUT stop talking to her and be out of her life if she carried on. She's brought it up maybe once or twice when I was having three month long periods (YOU KNOW WHAT WOULD SORT THAT OUT?! A BABY!) but I've let it slide as I really want to be a part of my five-year-old sister's life. She hasn't mentioned it for a long while, since she 'bet me a cot' that I'll have a baby one day. I just laughed it off. 'Do I get the monetary value of a high-end cot when I hit the menopause then mum?' - that shut her up.

Thankfully my dad was a lot more supportive - he actually said the phrase 'it's your body so it's your choice.' His girlfriend matter-of-factly discussed how she was VERY close to aborting when she was pregnant with her now 20 year old son, and how she had moments when he was young (colic, teething, etc) when she'd wished she had. Not that she doesn't love him, she was just agreeing with me that parenthood isn't for everybody.

I don't know what the point of this comment was... And I'm really sorry it got so long and personal. But, it's made me feel better talking about it. And it's made me feel much better reading your article, so thank you.

*Just cuz someone's working class, doesn't mean they can't be classist, even when they have two (grown up) daughters living on benefits and she's ACTIVELY ENCOURAGING BOTH OF THEM TO PROCREATE. Hypocrisy.

Malziferous // Posted 27 November 2012 at 13:08

K-Hole - that is almost verbatim the conversation my mother has with me (notice the passive there) Your comment made me laugh out loud - thanks. And Rachel, thanks again for getting these conversations going!

k-hole // Posted 27 November 2012 at 21:08

Ha ha malziferous, 'the conversation my mother has with me' - yeah. It's like repeatedly smashing your brain against a hard thing isn't it? It gets better, sort of, with time and fun poking.

My 22 year old sister is a lot less willing to engage in conversation with my mum about this, and is less graceful about shutting the discourse down.

Mum: you'd have beautiful babies you know.
Sister: fuck off.

Short, sweet, to the point. Works though :)

The Goldfish // Posted 28 November 2012 at 15:54

This is an excellent piece, Rachel, a very mature and super ethical approach to the business of family. Great comments too.

I think the telling thing about this pressure is that if it was inevitable that we'd all change our minds later (whenever later is - folks are still hearing this in our thirties), then the argument would be moot. Folk would roll their eyes and think "Oh well, she'll see." but not bother actually contradicting us.

About 1 in 5 women are reaching 45 (not a cut off, but when fertility really begins to slide) without children, and whilst some of those women must be unhappily childless, I imagine most either chose not to have children or simply weren't particularly bothered (an entirely acceptable position for men - women, even in feminist circles, are often expected to have very strong feelings either way).

I also think there's a big feminist issue about mothers of adult children who feel their lives will be incomplete without a grandchild. One family member could be heard complaining that her son didn't have a girlfriend "At this rate, I'll never be a grandmother!" when the poor lad was still in his teens. I mean, I can understand someone kind of hoping to be a Granny - I *love* being an aunt - but to count on other people's reproductive choices and success for your own happiness? That's a life with something missing.

However k-hole, I've had unrelated problems with my Mum lately, and your comment made me realise how lucky I am! ;-)

Miranda R. // Posted 05 January 2013 at 21:25

My father won't stop going on about this issue lately. He is very upset that I don't start having babies already, and when I tell him I never will, he replies that he just doesn't want to believe me. We've had the conversation several times already and he always keeps bringing the most ridiculous arguments one can imagine (like, having a child gives you more stability - thanks, I have more stability than I want, I'd like some more freedom in fact).

I would really like to be able to opt for permanent BC, since I can't be on the pill forever and all other BC methods have their own flaws. Hopefully my boyfriend will be able to have a vasectomy since he is 35, but in my country, one never knows.

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