Upcoming radio phone-in for women who don’t want children

// 13 March 2011

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Are you a woman who has decided she doesn’t want to have children and, if so, have you ever encountered negative attitudes towards your decision? My own perspective as a woman currently in this position is that, despite not personally having had too many damning reactions so far, there does seem to be pressure to simplify such a stance by agreeing that I don’t like children (with any positive attitude around them at risk of being misinterpreted as broodiness). Indeed, I have recently spoken to other women with similar preferences who have admitted they find it easier to go along with the “you just don’t like them?” interpretation. In my case, this really isn’t true and I refuse to let the fact I don’t want any of my own push me towards some child-hating stereotype. Children are human beings too and they aren’t all the same so why should we have to generalise about them in order to justify ourselves and help people understand a choice we have every right to make, regardless of the reasons why?

I also object to the unnecessary pressure to have children from some people who’ve had them themselves and seem to think those who haven’t “know nothing about life” or are “selfish” or “strange” (all things I’ve actually heard people say). This, of course, is sometimes partially countered by a seemingly defensive intolerance of children from some people who don’t have or want them but it’s really quite shocking to find that -even in this day age- there are people who seem to view childless people as lesser human beings.

For me, it is highly unlikely that I will get around to creating any children (adoption is currently out of the question for me too) and it is important to me that any child I bring into my life must be a truly wanted one. This makes me determined that changing my mind with regard to this incredibly important and deeply personal choice must stem from a genuine desire on my part and alteration in circumstances, rather than the social pressure to do it.

I will be taking part in a radio debate on the Jonathan Vernon Smith show on Three Counties radio tomorrow morning (scheduled for 10.30 but it may happen a little earlier or later) about this topic. The presenter has let me know that the programme is interested in hearing about F-Word readers’ experiences so feel free to e-mail them through the form on their site.

You can listen live to the programme here.

Photo by Sharyn Morrow, shared under a Creative Commons Licence.

Comments From You

Rachel // Posted 14 March 2011 at 7:46 am

Thanks for this post. I too don’t ever see myself having children. It’s not that I hate kids (although I’ve always felt quite indifferent to them), but rather that it’s simply not something I see myself ever having the time or desire for. There’s so much other stuff that I’d rather do with my life, and a lot of it probably (definitely) isn’t compatible with being a good parent. My partner feels the same (he’s male) and yet it’s always me who is asked whether I want kids. I don’t mind (I’m at that age where a large percent of my friend-group are starting families), but at the same time it does get a bit tiring that the focus is on me.

polly // Posted 14 March 2011 at 8:10 am

It’s utterly bizarre that not wanting to be a parent – a challenging and demanding role to take on – is equated with not liking children.

If you want to adopt a dog or a cat from an animal sanctuary you are usually put through stringent tests to see if you’d be a suitable person, but you are put under pressure to have children regardless of whether or not you are able to parent them properly.

Emily // Posted 14 March 2011 at 9:58 am

I’m at the age where everyone is starting to have kids. I’m married, I have the settled homelife so all some people seem to want to ask me is when am I going to start a family? It is only me that gets lectured, no one minds my husband not wanting kids. I don’t see the point of having children if they aren’t truly wanted and I really don’t feel that Mother is a role I would ever want to dedicate all the necessary time and energy to. I also get told by so many people that I should get pregnant anyway – even if I think I don’t want children – because otherwise I’ll leave it too late and regret it. And if I don’t change my mind and am stuck with some poor kid that I don’t want (what a great life they’ll have)? “Oh, but you will, once you have a child you’ll change you’re mind completely!” A lot of people are honestly astonished that this isn’t a risk I’m willing to take. They don’t think it is possible that I know myself well enough to know my own mind without their help.

Hannah // Posted 14 March 2011 at 12:07 pm

Great post. I’m in my early twenties so haven’t reached the stage where friends are having children and putting pressure on me to answer these questions, but girls are expected to want children from a very young age (when they’re still children themselves!) so I’ve already encountered the attitudes you describe.

Your description of being expected to hate children, and then of positive feelings being misinterpreted, chimes exactly with my experience and it’s nice to hear other women talking about this. I often find myself being tempted to just take on the child-hating position because people would find it so much easier to understand!

Good luck on the phone-in, let us know how it goes.

Sheila // Posted 14 March 2011 at 12:46 pm

I had three children, the first one when I was 31 years old. I never wanted children. I recoiled at the idea of pregnancy. My husband got an earful from his friends who were fathers about why he didn’t want children. In fact, I think he got it far worse than I did – but I think that was because people assumed my lack of production of children up to that point was because he didn’t want them, not that I didn’t want them.

I never wanted children. My mother never wanted children. I don’t think it matters that the children I had weren’t planned or that the pregnancies weren’t wanted. I don’t buy the idea that you have to truly want children to have them.

I am not contradicting anyone’s choice not to have them, or indeed to abort if they find themselves pregnant and don’t want to proceed. But what I am saying is that I was ardently against having children and still had them. It doesn’t make me hypocritical or a worse parent for falling into the task by accident. Things can be too rigid.

Kristin // Posted 14 March 2011 at 1:08 pm

Thanks for this! I am depressingly familiar with the “don’t know anything about life”, “selfish”, “strange” accusations. Unfortunately the biggest offender is my sister. I can see my husband and me breaking with her if she doesn’t stop this behaviour, this terrible attitude that there is absolutely nothing that matters about me (or any woman) except reproducing. And that if you don’t or didn’t, you’re a nothing. I can’t describe how offensive I find it. I only ever get this from other women.

I’ve just never been bothered about having kids myself. It’s such a massive commitment that I think you really have to want to do it, and if you don’t you shouldn’t. Why is it so important, anyway? Some people have kids, some don’t – end of. I totally resent that people assume I dislike children, or that I live in some ivory tower with my selfish career and selfish life. It’s not selfish to live your life – what’s selfish is to try to make other people live the way you assume you have the right to think they should.

I would never ask anyone why they haven’t got kids either! You don’t know, they might have been trying for years to and couldn’t. If you can’t have kids, people pity you. If you can but don’t, they get judgemental. As usual, it’s the choice element that bothers them!

It’s like with so many things – why can’t some people just mind their own f*****g business and not be so judgemental?! Why do always they think they have the right to ask?And yes, it is always the woman they focus on, never her male partner. Men are NEVER judged for wanting or not wanting kids.

I also often think that in some circumstances people are selfish for having kids rather than not. They don’t think about the kids, only about what they want. THAT’S selfish.

Josie // Posted 14 March 2011 at 1:16 pm

Excellent post and one of my favourite topics! Like other posters, I’m childfree and very open about it and people really do say some foul things when they find out. I’ve had everything from ‘you will definitely regret it’, ‘being childless will make you very selfish’ (yes, coz all parents are total saints of course!) to a delightful person who said she hoped I would just get pregnant by accident and then I would have to ‘just get on with it’. That’s one of the worst things anyone has every said to me.

My favourite comment was from a none-too-bright person who, upon hearing I didn’t want children, responded ‘but how do you know until you have one?’ I didn’t know whether to burst out laughing or pull my hair out…..

I completely agree that people think you can’t stand children if you don’t want your own. I work with children from birth to 5 years old, and personally I absolutely love it. I’m also lucky enough to have some children in my life who I love spending time with. It really confuses people that I work with children but don’t want to come home to any of my own! However, I do feel that not liking children is a perfectly legitimate viewpoint and in fact, I have worked with many many parents who give every impression that they feel this way about children themselves, including their own offspring! I would be the first to stand up for parents and to acknowledge what a damn difficult job it is, but the deification of parenthood worries me a bit – not all parents are nice people, very few of them are saintly, not all of them are competent parents. It seems to me that parenthood is just not for everyone and making the decision not to be a parent strikes me as a very responsible one if you feel it’s not for you. The reasons why are your business and no-one else’s.

Lynsey // Posted 14 March 2011 at 1:22 pm

I’m 30 and have had lots of occasions recently where I’ve been asked about having children and people have been in shock when I said I don’t want them and never have. I was party to a conversation between two other women at work recently and they said ‘when we have children..’ as if it had already been decided.

Well, I never will.

Amanda // Posted 14 March 2011 at 1:33 pm

I think society is far too child-centric now.

I have lost friends who had children then got increasingly impatient with and critical of me when I didn’t follow their example. One ended our friendship, saying she ‘had nothing to talk to me about any more’. That hurt. I do get that if you have a child your life completely changes, and your whole world is this little person who needs to be loved and cared for. But still. I thought that was a bit much. I don’t know if I’ll have children, but if I do I hope I won’t go all contemptuous and patronising towards those who don’t.

Denise // Posted 14 March 2011 at 2:17 pm

What really worries me about all this is that if people won’t even respect a woman’s right to have children or not, as she sees fit, what else won’t they respect? Pretty much everything else, I fear!

Aine // Posted 14 March 2011 at 2:33 pm

I am surrounded by new families and they are great. But I am happy with my life the way it is. I could be wrong, but when I encounter a friend who happens to be more tired than usual with the new rigors of parenthood, they seem almost angry that I am not in the same trench with them.

Anna // Posted 14 March 2011 at 2:48 pm

I’m in my mid-50’s, an age when many of my contemporaries are becoming grandparents. And all the best to them. I was never bothered about having children myself, I just didn’t and don’t care. It wasn’t that I disliked children, but a lot of people took it upon themselves to assume that was the case. Or that I was selfish (that tired old chestnut). The ‘kid question’ became my personal gold standard test for people I did or did not want to know.

And it still is, because the questions I get now are “do you regret not having kids?” or “how come you never had kids?” It makes me laugh (or spit nails) because it seems for women the questions and judgements NEVER EVER stop coming.

I also get the feeling that some people go on about their children and grandchildren much more than they would if I didn’t happen to be present. It’s as if they want to make me feel sad, bad and excluded, because then it will make them feel better about sacrifices they’ve made. And I’m still amazed at people who naively assume that having kids will save them from a lonely old age. It might. But it ain’t necessarily so!

I think all of us, with or without children, would be far happier if some people could just be kinder and less judgemental. Why do they need to put others down? If you need to do that, you are not happy.

Rosamund // Posted 14 March 2011 at 2:54 pm

Great article and some great comments.

Aine – YOU’RE NOT WRONG!

Mia // Posted 14 March 2011 at 3:06 pm

Very good post. I think people- on any side of an argument- can get very defensive almost as though by not agreeing with their choices somehow you are dissing them. I’ve seen this happen a lot when it comes to kids/no kids.

My close friend doesn’t want kids and when out with my friends they expressed the above mentioned shock and intolerance about it, some even claiming she’ll change her mind or being patronising and rude about it- despite the fact that both of them are adamant in themselves and their choices, so they ate preparing to take steps to completely stop the possibility of accidents.

On the other side of things, I went out with her and some of her childfree friends who were just as intolerant and rude about my choice to have children, exactly as my friends had been. I was called a breeeder, accused of wanting to steal from the government and emplyers through maternity pay and made to feel defensive and upset.

My friend had to justify my position of wanting kids to her mates and I had to justify my friend’s position of not wanting them long after this one meeting. Even now i get comments about it and I’ve taken to saying ‘why is it your business? Do her and her hubby’s choices somehow invalidate yours in your eyes? If so then doesn’t that say more about *you* then her?” My friend also pretty much does the same.

It just seems that were choice is concerned, some people feel if your choices aren’t there’s then they aren’t right. Which is complete rubbish.

Carmen // Posted 14 March 2011 at 3:13 pm

There wouldn’t be a phone-in for women who wanted children, would there? Because THAT’S normal!

I love this post and some of the comments. Thank goodness for the F-word.

Joey // Posted 14 March 2011 at 3:29 pm

There seem to be a lot of men in their sixties and older, who become fathers for the first time, or again by a different woman. I think that’s really selfish. I never liked the fact that my father was much older than my mother and most of my friends fathers. But nothing can interfere with a man’s right to do what he wants, can it?

sohcahtoa // Posted 14 March 2011 at 4:01 pm

Judging from the interesting comments above, the world seems to be full of people who either definitely do or definitely don’t. I’m honestly not sure, though I’m leaning towards ‘no’ (and if I did become pregnant now, despite my taking precautions, I would be horrified). I’m 25. Obviously everyone is different, and I see that some posters above have said that they have always felt that way, but I was just wondering if people’s feelings changed over time, and how normal it is not to have a strong opinion either way.

sarah // Posted 14 March 2011 at 5:53 pm

Yes, preach to me. I’ve often been called strange for not wanting children. I’ve got nothing against them, I’m just not interested.

Quite often I get the whole stick from my mum, “what’s the point of having a home or saving if you don’t have someone to give it to” is one particular favourite. Another is “but who will look after you when you are old?” From the looks of things now, it woulnd’t be my children, even if they did exist.

So what is essentially being said to women who choose to stay childfree is that their lives have no purpose unless they have children? Thank you for letting me know how worthless I am.

Lily // Posted 14 March 2011 at 6:00 pm

Hi this is my first comment on the fword but I’ve been a regular reader for a while.

This post really struck a cord with me, because as a woman in her early twenties who really doesnt want children its a question I almost dread because I end up getting very upset and defensive about.

On the otherhand, what anna said about the child question being the ‘gold standard’ rang true with me also, because often people who are judgmental about my choice are often those who hold other values I find disturbing, such as the fact that ‘women are meant to have children’ and that its somehow selfish and evil to want to work full time, or just simply to want to do what you please when you please.

Rarely ever does anyone question young men of my age who dont want children but I am always told “you’ll change your mind when you get old” it makes me want to scream ARGH!!!.

Also agree with many of comments about how those of us who feel that bring children into a world already full of ‘unwanted’ children would be irresponsible if its not something your passionate, dedicated and happy about.

A lot of people (esp my age) who have asked me the ‘kid question’ do get very defensive almost as if my choice somehow condemns theirs, simply because its different. which couldnt be further from the truth.

Rant over :) Thankyou for this post. sometimes not wanting kids is a very isolated position so stuff like this is awesome :)

Rose // Posted 14 March 2011 at 7:02 pm

yes, to all of the above.

But it’s the way people try to ‘excuse’ my life choice that really gets me.

I don’t want children….. ‘you cold, callous, selfish, heartlesss, b”£*h’

Instead I choose to spend my time doing other things.

I say I want to grow vegetables, they say I want to nurture the fertile ground.

I say I want to work in nuclear decommissioning, they say I want to be a mother to whole communities.

It’s like no matter what I want to do, they will try to say it’s a broady reaction to my own failure to reproduce.

Guys don’t get that. They get called practical, focused, …… . Nobody demands to know how their plans are a desperate attempt to experience fatherhood. Infact, society doesn’t even seem to expect fathers to want to ‘experience’ fatherhood.

(Though my current relationship is falling apart, because that is exactly what my partner (male) wants to experience in life… )

Sheila // Posted 14 March 2011 at 7:36 pm

“I do get that if you have a child your life completely changes, and your whole world is this little person who needs to be loved and cared for.” Hey, come on Amanda, are you saying that I don’t have a life once I have children, even that I may not be entitled to that life. Feminists are meant to believe (I hope) that there is more to life than motherhood and that includes for women who are mothers – otherwise you might as well ban us from working outside the home or having social or sex lives. I still carried on having a life after childbirth – whilst the first few months are tough, you can get through them. I’m not persuading you to have children by saying that, just trying to convince you that you shouldn’t just assume a woman’s life is over once and for all and for good once she becomes a mother – or that would be a very sexist attitude.

Lynsey // Posted 14 March 2011 at 8:04 pm

Also, having children is the most unselfish thing you can do. I’d say it was selfish to have children, but then we just get into that circle of attacking each other as women, so I’ll say both are selfish, and both are unselfish.

The ‘look after you in your old age’ thing is infuriating. It’s almost as bad as the ‘to carry on the family name’ or to ‘see what it looks like’ reasoning.

When you’re older, you’ll either die, or watch everyone you know die. Life is cruel. I don’t want to inflict that on a baby, really. And the other thing that terrifies me is, what if your kid got killed? I couldn’t cope with that. I couldn’t cope with the worry or the guilt of having children. The whole thing just seems way too risky. And if that is selfish, then I’m happy to be so.

Holly Combe // Posted 14 March 2011 at 8:06 pm

Thanks everyone for all the comments so far :-)

@Hannah: The radio debate went well. I didn’t manage to discuss everything I had in mind (huge topic!) though, so it seems to me that this is an issue worth covering again… @ Sheila: what you say about not wanting children and then going on to have them anyway made me think of what one caller, Denise, said about never feeling the urge before but that she wouldn’t be without them now. I’m probably going to sound a bit hippy-drippy here but I personally think that whatever decision we make will generally be the right one, so I would agree there’s no point in having regrets either way. It seems to me that we tend to make the best of whatever happens to us (chosen or not) but I don’t think that means there’s ever any need for us to be pressurised into having children if we don’t want them. I reckon there will always be women who want to give birth, no matter what (we all know our own minds, right?) so what difference would it make if those of us who don’t are left to our own devices? It’s not as if the world is counting on us to do it so it’s depressing when people behave as if some level of oppression should have to be necessary to convince us. Just as we’d all be in trouble if no one opted to have children, the reverse is also surely true (i.e. if all of us did) so I’d say there’s no possible reason for us not to be left to make our own decisions.

@Aine. That’s been my experience too. I know it’s a generalisation but it seems to me that people who are happy with their choices and feel they made them freely tend to be more accepting of those who’ve made different ones.

@Joey. I don’t see any problem with a person choosing to become a parent much later in life if there are plans/younger guardians in place for if one dies while the children are still dependent. The thing that makes me angry is the way society seems to heap so much more judgment on older mothers while –as you say- upholding men’s apparent right to do what they want.

@Mia. I am so glad you’ve said this. I was a bit nervous about posting on this issue, as I really hate the way we women often end up being pitched against each other, according to whether or not we have children. I also have a vested interest -as a woman and a feminist- in many issues connected to motherhood, regardless of whether or not I have children myself. [Added later: This sounds rather pompous! I was thinking about some of things I have written about on this site but I basically reckon all women benefit when mothers are well supported.] Upholding each other’s right to choose is such a fundamental feminist principle and it seems to me that those of us who value freedom need to stand together (children included)!

It’s just such a shame that some people are so quick to define others according to just one detail about their life. Obviously, it goes without saying that having a child is a life-changing experience but I sometimes wonder what we’d find if we could get to the end of our lives and access a parallel universe where we made another decision. Would we really be such very different people? After all, we were all children once, just as we are all human beings. That connection to them is always there, regardless of whether we have our own.

Kath // Posted 15 March 2011 at 12:03 am

Good post, strange choice of picture

Amanda // Posted 15 March 2011 at 12:33 pm

Hi Sheila,

I was relating an anecdote from my personal experience. No way did I mean to imply that your life (I don’t even know you) or anyone else’s life is over once they have a child/children. I meant, as Holly puts it (better than I did) that having children is a life changing experience, i.e. your priorities change and you don’t have time for certain things (or sometimes certain people) that you did before. That’s not to say someone’s life is over. Just different. And my main point was that I hope if I have children I don’t become patronising and judgemental towards people who don’t.

I also think (from seeing friends/family members) that, for the first few months at least, a baby often IS its parents whole world. I don’t see anything wrong with that! If your baby is your whole world, it doesn’t mean you’ve suddenly become a moron or stopped being feminist.

I think your comment was an overreaction, frankly.

Kristin // Posted 15 March 2011 at 1:47 pm

I didn’t remotely read Amanda’s comment as assuming that a woman’s life is over once she becomes a mother! I think anyone who did can’t have read it properly because (for whatever reasons of their own) they were desperate to try and make a Magnum out of a Milky Way.

Mary // Posted 15 March 2011 at 2:59 pm

Great post, Holly. And great comments -except I don’t get how Sheila can say Amanda is assuming women who become mothers don’t have a life any more (after which comes giant leap of saying they might as well be banned from working, etc). That’s not what she said. ‘Life-changing’ doesn’t mean not having a life! And if a baby is the mother’s whole world, that can mean she sees her life as enriched, not over. Just as not having a baby might make someone else feel enriched.

Dare I suggest more careful reading before jumping in with rant…?!

Sheila // Posted 15 March 2011 at 4:28 pm

Amanda There is too much patronising and judgemental crap on this website for either of us to add to it. I don’t like being judgementally and patronisingly accused of over-reacting. You’ve had a bad experience from some people who’ve had children – who knows, they might have been equally selfish and self-absorbed about moving house, jobs, getting married or divorced or any other number of things. Motherhood of itself doesn’t make someone selfish or not selfish.

Holly Combe // Posted 16 March 2011 at 2:07 am

I very much agree that motherhood in itself is no factor in determining whether someone can be classed as selfish or unselfish. As others have suggested, deciding to have children or deciding not to are both choices that can stem from a variety of motives (including selfish ones).

However, I’m not sure if what Amanda is talking about can be written off as a bad experience. I just don’t think it can be dismissed as simply being down to the individual character flaws in those inclined to “become impatient” with friends who don’t have children or end friendships on the basis of their childlessness. It seems to me there are powerful societal forces at play when people are compelled to behave like that. Having children doesn’t get called “joining the club” for nothing.

Obviously I’m not saying I somehow think anyone who becomes a parent will inevitably end up looking down on anyone who hasn’t. I can certainly think of many who don’t (including my own Mum, who respects my choice in this area as part of wanting her children to be happy) but the experiences that have been talked about here suggest the pressure to have children and the socially enforced alienation often experienced by those who don’t is very real.

Sheila // Posted 16 March 2011 at 12:30 pm

First paragraph taken out for reasons outlined in the comment below.

What Amanda wrote was “your whole world is this little person”. I read “whole” literally. That whole means that it excludes everything else. If everything else is excluded because a child or baby is one’s whole world then it stands to reason that someone cannot be expected to have a life or a world outside of their “whole world”. Expecting motherhood to be all-consuming like this is bad in my eyes whether it comes from those with children who have this blinkered view (and I whole-heartedly agree with all of you childless posters that this view can be maddening sometimes) or by those without children. I know it certainly put me off having children for years – this notion of willing maternal sacrifice which is taken for granted by too many people as a given and which doesn’t have a male equivalent. For me, it would be deeply sad if my “whole life” were my children. I make sure my children know I have a life away from them. I would hate it if any childless friend of mine, of which I have many of both child-bearing and post child-bearing age, thought that they had nothing in common with me and vice versa because my “whole life” was my children. To be honest, I don’t have any friends like that and would have avoided any baby-mad acquaintance who went over the top about the centre of the universe thing after childbrith. Luckily it didn’t happen to me often and in any case I felt it had to be treated with sympathy as this all consuming over-anxiety about babies which some of you disparge can be a sign of post-natal depression and therefore deserves compassion rather than judgement.

All that said, if you don’t want children, no one should feel pressurised into having them. Childbirth and motherhood probably happens to most at that time in life where you realise anyway that some groups of friends are drifting away and others are evolving into view. If some friends of either sex become domineering about one subject or another, time to move on. And I guess those mothers of new borns who are struggling with all the post-natal changes to their bodies and life-styles might well be expressing a little wistful jealousy when you tell them about your freedoms.

Holly Combe // Posted 16 March 2011 at 2:36 pm

This is proving to be a difficult thread to moderate and I have a sense that any moderation (or lack of it) is going to result in people feeling angry or unsupported. It does seem to me that one point has possibly been inflated beyond its intended meaning. However, I also think a pile-on is beginning to emerge so I will not be including any further comments that add to *or* fuel it (something I perhaps should have done before). I’m not entirely comfortable with intercepting the conversation in this way but I think it would be a real shame for it to have to end because of bad feeling and no time to find a way to work around it so, seeing as I have taken the time to try on this occasion, I hope you can all bear with me.

@Sheila. I think you’re right that the over-anxiety about babies some new Mums can experience deserves understanding rather than judgment. However (unless I’ve missed something), I don’t get the impression that anyone here has been disparaging about any women who might experience that. I also agree that telling a woman who recently gave birth all about one’s freedoms would be a very inconsiderate thing to do but, again, I’m not sure if this is behaviour anyone here has appeared to advocate. It seems to me that the pressure on all of us to buckle down or get-with-the-programme whether we like it or not must surely add to such resentment and that this isn’t fair on anyone.

Sophia // Posted 16 March 2011 at 3:13 pm

@Holly Combe

Good attempt at moderating – I think the conversation has been somewhat derailed. Hope @Sheila understands now that no-one was trying to offend or be judgmental.

Back to the point –

I am a 24 yr old woman in a relationship with a 31 yr old (man) – and do feel under huge pressure to decide about whether to have kids and if so, when.

My general problem is with the pressure that I feel from “society” that I have to think about this decision before I would normally have to (if I was single or dating someone my own age!) …

Everyone seems to think that you know for sure either way – I don’t want to have to make this decision for at least 5 years.

As @sohcahtoa said – it is normal to be unsure and not have a strong opinion about whether you want children or not. But when it comes to children people always do seem to think that it’s their business!

Allegra // Posted 16 March 2011 at 4:19 pm

I think if you know for sure you want kids, you’ll probably have them. I’m not sure I want them. I can only think of how it might disadvantage me because of all the discrimination that still exists against women (whether or not they’re mothers). And how this government is making things worse. I don’t fancy an exhausting life trying to have a full time job and do everything at home because so many men don’t do their share of childcare/housework. Sexist attitudes also make things more difficult for men who do want to be good fathers and partners. If all these problems didn’t exist, would I be more enthusiastic? I think I would.

Holly Combe // Posted 16 March 2011 at 4:29 pm

@Allegra. That’s definitely a factor for me too. One of the callers mentioned motherhood “bringing more penalties”, along with all the assumptions about mothers that don’t exist about fathers but, as you say, there are also barriers for men who want to play an active role (e.g. inadequate Paternity leave) and that doesn’t help any of us either :-(

sara // Posted 16 March 2011 at 9:49 pm

Holly Combe: “I also agree that telling a woman who recently gave birth all about one’s freedoms would be a very inconsiderate thing to do but, again, I’m not sure if this is behaviour anyone here has appeared to advocate.”

I am afraid I cannot agree with the above statement. For most women now, motherhood is a choice and a fine one, if she so chooses. And even if it is an unplanned pregnancy and she chooses to have the baby, then I whole-heartedly respect that decision.

However, I am in a situation where I am child-free (by choice) whereas my best friend has a two year old son (whom I adore….so yes, all that child-free people don’t like kids is rubbish).

Even just after the birth, I still talked very openly to her about my “freedoms” and she never had an issue with that.

She continued to want to hear about my life as much as I did hers. And I supported her as much as possible in baby-sittings and just listening to her problems if it became stressful.

Obviously, I am not advocating bludgeoning a possibly stressed-out new mother over the head, saying “look at me! I have all these freedoms and you don’t! Ha, Ha!”

However – if she is a person who respects me then absolutely, I will continue to talk about the details of my own life (without children), hopefully without feeling I have to edit the details so as to make her feel less jealous or that she has to compete in some way.

If she feels her own freedoms have been curtailed by motherhood, then they are her feelings to deal with.

If she is a respectful person then she will enjoy my stories as much as her own, without judement about my “freedoms”.

Holly Combe // Posted 16 March 2011 at 10:02 pm

@Sara. I realise I’m not being entirely consistent here but when you put it like that, I’m inclined to agree… Like Mia’s, I think your comment is really heartening. It’s hard to explain without sounding cheesy or pompous but being able to be open with other women and share experiences without the pressure to have the same ones is such a valuable thing, IMO. Thanks for making the comment :-)

Denise // Posted 16 March 2011 at 11:07 pm

Sara, I LOVE your comment. It makes me feel good.

And Holly Combe, I think you’ve done a great modding job here.

sara // Posted 16 March 2011 at 11:55 pm

Thank you Holly and Denise for such lovely replies!

And I am indeed very lucky because I can openly share my experiences with my best friend without pressure, as can she.

And it’s not even that I choose to look after her gorgeous boy out of some ideological need to be a good feminist…she is my family and so now so is he.

It’s a “duty” of love. I have chosen my friends well and they are now family. She constantly amazes me with her strength.

But I wanted to mention something about a word that is being used here….”freedoms”.

To me, my life is just my life. It is no more free or un-free than my best friend’s (and I am positive she would agree with this). She still has her great life and her career and is very happy.

She would see it, I believe, as strange that she should think that a lot of her freedom has been taken away by having her son. She is the best mother I know and yet she still lives her life to the full.

Of course…this is not to say that it has not been hard sometimes. And she has my endless support.

But to say that mothers are somehow not free and child-free women are, surely is setting up that un-feminist sense of mothers being tragic martyrs with no lives.

It’s not something I believe…or have seen in her or countless other mothers.

Surely…the freedom to be happy is what feminsism is all about. And if you choose to be a mother or to be child-free, then you take the consequences of that choice with all it’s ups and downs.

So if you are happy in your choices…then you are free. Just a thought.

Anne // Posted 17 March 2011 at 11:40 am

For Sheila: I wish there were more mothers (and women) who share your attitude and strive towards a balance in their lives. I see this so rarely with mothers, it is more common with fathers though.

I’ve had so many friends become new mothers and despite my best efforts there is no saving the friendship. I’ve had friends who haven’t even made the effort to return my phone calls (over the course of months) because they are so “busy” with their children. I’ve also had friends who claim they are unable to set aside a few hours of their life to spend with me over the course of a year without their children present! I’m the supportive type who always goes to the birthday/holiday parties for their children and buys the junk they sell from school. I’m also willing to spend time with them around their kids 80% of the time.

There have been more than a few friends (mothers) who would spend all their time talking about their children and berating me for not having any. They knew fully well I am child-free, I know they have children and I don’t questions their choice to do so, but they seem to think they are entitled to question me repeatedly and call me selfish to my face. I’ve even had several suggest I trick a man into getting me pregnant or I better just marry a man and start having kids. Everything is about the child, all conversations, etc. I don’t expect women to avoid the discussion of their children altogether but I’ve seen way too many women who are willing to let it completely encompass them. Many of these women also treat childless/childfree women like second class citizens. Thankfully, I no longer have any of these “friends” and my life is much better because of it.

Holly Combe // Posted 17 March 2011 at 12:17 pm

@Anne. That all sounds awful and all too familiar… I guess it’s not surprising if there seem to be more fathers who strive towards balance in their lives. They’re arguably better facillitated to do so because the legacy from traditional gender roles has afforded them a head start in the first place! Meanwhile, women have to deal with all the social pressure that comes from the conventional idea that a woman is meant to be a wife and mother above all else. Woe betide us if we fail to become mothers at all but the pressure to negate our identities if we do comes from exactly the same ideology…

Sheila // Posted 17 March 2011 at 12:45 pm

I have really enjoyed the last few posts which speak about mutual respect for choices – or lack of them – whether a woman is a mother or not. It certainly does seem that childfree women get unfair peer pressure when their friends start having children, or when their parents start wanting to be grandparents. I am lucky enough to be divorced and therefore have cast off quite a few stereotypes about how wives and mothers are meant to behave.

Annika // Posted 17 March 2011 at 11:02 pm

Hello everybody.

I’ve read this post and comments with great interest.

I have a child who is nearly 2 years old. I work full time, and I attend college part time. It’s hard work doing all of this and sometimes I do not have time to catch up with friends.

My partner helps out with childcare and housework, so things work quite well between us.

I have lots of friends, some with children, some without.

I find my friends with children are a little more understanding of how little time I have, and how knackered I might be after next to no sleep the night before. They share tips they have used with their own children. We all meet up and let the children play, whether it be at somebody’s home or in the local soft play centre.

I have many friends without children. I don’t see them as much, but when we do meet up, I bring my child with me. If I don’t, they ask why? They enjoy watching my child growing up as much as I do.

I think it depends on the kind of people you are surrounded by. Having children doesn’t mean your life ends, or that you have to drop your childless friends. It just means there has to be some kind of compromise. Some friends will understand, those who don’t aren’t friends.

Whether or not a woman wants to have children is her own business. Deciding against motherhood doesn’t mean you are any less of a person. It means you made an informed decision that you are happy with.

Isn’t that what we want anyway?

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