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Secrets of a Childfree Woman

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The conversation about choosing not to have children has moved from isolated listservs into the national press. The national debate has generated some real support for childfree people and even for their reasons not to have children, such as the study discussed in the New York Times Magazine showing that childfree people are generally happier than parents.

The national discussion has changed my stance in personal discussions about my own choice not to have children. In the past I felt that I had to be defiant because my choice was so often attacked, whether by family, friends, colleagues, or even mere acquaintances. It has been affirming to see many of the facts and arguments I often make articulated on a national platform, as though I took a megaphone and blasted critics with the reasons that being childfree is right for me.

But that is far from the end of the discussion.

Acknowledgement that being childfree is a legitimate choice merely lays the foundation for a much more interesting conversation about the implications and consequences of that choice. So I will let my guard down, though perhaps only temporarily, and speak honestly and openly about the dirty little secret that we few, happy, childfree have shielded like a chink in our armor.

There are disadvantages to not having children.

Some of them are mundane and probably obvious: no child tax credit, no paid leave from work. Others are more profound, and paramount among those (at least for me) is that my lifestyle hurts my family. This is by no means a universal problem for the childfree, some of whose parents are just happy that their children are happy, whether or not they produce grandchildren. Some of us, though, live with the knowledge that we have disappointed our families by not having kids. Whether it is because our relatives are certain that one morning, when it is too late, we will wake up drowning in sudden regret that we never reproduced, or because our relatives resent being deprived of babies, we have disappointed them.

It would be nice if I could dismiss that disappointment as “their problem,” or turn the tables on them by pointing out that they care more about their own wishes than about my happiness – and we are talking about my life here. But the truth is that, at least for now, I feel like a disappointment to them and that saddens me.

Another disadvantage to not having children is alienation from peers and community. Some old friends (thankfully not all) disappear into parenting, losing touch with all that we used to have in common. I can only hope that when the nest is empty they will return to themselves, and until then miss them. At the same time some common avenues for making new friends and for connecting with neighbors are closed to me. Until I lived it, I never realized how much adults rely on their children to make new friends. They bond with neighbors over daycare and play dates; they meet and sometimes grow close to their children’s friends’ parents; they may become friendly with their children’s teachers, coaches, piano instructors, etc.; they may even grow closer to their own relatives when a grandparent provides regular daycare or a sibling brings over the little cousins to play together.

So there are two disadvantages to not having children. That is honestly all I can think of. They aren’t minor, except in comparison to the benefits I enjoy from being childfree.

I hope that the public conversation about this subject continues to develop and that both the childfree and parents can discuss the disadvantages of their decisions without condemnation.

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About Piper Hoffman

  • Thank you Ruby!

  • Ruby

    Hi Piper, just wanted to say I’m glad to have come upon such an intelligent blog, which I can so well relate to! Such a comfort to find a like mind 🙂 Ruby

  • That’s alright, Fern. But for these pixels, I don’t have to deal with you, and can avoid dealing with the likes of you relatively easily. If you want to crawl into a uterus, hey, be my guest if you can find one. I don’t really care.

    Deal with it.

  • Fern Den Brownie

    Ruvy, if not being born would mean that I and the likes of me wouldn’t have to deal with you and the likes of you, I’d gladly crawl back into an uterus.
    Do not impose your own viewpoint upon other people. Maybe the purpose of your existence really is to breed, but some people find something – or someone – else to live for. Deal with it.

  • Ruvy, you’ve steered this discussion in a direction unsupported by what Piper wrote. In this blog, she said simply, “Being childfree is right for me.”

    Elsewhere, on her blog from last spring, “The Preachers of Parenthood,” Piper wrote: “While I do think there are reasons other people shouldn’t have children (the planet is overpopulated, and Americans consume and pollute more than the citizens of any other country), I don’t expect to convert anyone who feels that powerful, bone-deep longing for children.”

    Nowhere, then, does Piper argue that everyone should go childfree.

    “The purpose in living is to breed,” you contend. That might be your purpose, Ruvy, but it’s not mine and it’s not Piper’s and it’s not necessarily other people’s purpose, either.

    Nevertheless, humanity as a whole will continue to mushroom by the billions for the foreseeable future. Our individual contribution towards such irresponsible growth would be superfluous.

  • Ruvy: here’s what it comes down to – how important is it to keep humanity going? That is a subject for a whole other post, if not a book, or a religion. Maybe one day I’ll put on my virtual armor and write that post, but today is not a good day to die. I’ve got some stuff scheduled for this week.

  • Ruvy

    Parents do not enter into contracts with fetuses, one sided or bilateral. Parents teach their children and hopefully stimulate such maternal and paternal instincts they may have. It is not always a perfect deal, as none of us are perfect. And there is plenty that can go wrong.

    But yes, the idea is that we have children, so that our children will have children, so that our childrens’ children will have children, etc., etc., etc. That is how the human race keeps going. The purpose in living is to breed. Go check out the roses, the birds, the bees, the cats in neighborhood. Boring, isn’t it? But rewarding when you reach 80 and see children with lined faces and grandchildren grown up, holding little babies. No, I’m not 80, and we started having kids too late in life that I can reasonably hope to see great grandchildren myself. But hope dies hard.

    Not EVERY child has babies – not every child can or has the sexual orientation to reproduce. But this attitude that “I do what I please, and what I do I do to please me”, which sounds like the basis of your philosophy of life, DOES NOT keep humanity going.

  • So Ruvy, your argument is that people have children so they will have children so they will have children. First off, that sounds an awful lot like a pyramid scheme. Second, it means that your purpose in life is merely to breed, which is a mighty bleak outlook. Third, parents cannot enter into a one-sided contract with their fetuses that in exchange for raising them, the fetuses will be born and grow up to produce grandchildren — that would be selfish on the part of the parents and completely unfair to their offspring. Fourth, if you have children, I’m sure it’s a boost to their self-esteem that you consider the time you spent raising them wasted if they don’t reproduce. And fifth, if I didn’t exist, I wouldn’t be around to care that I didn’t exist, now would I?

  • Ruvy


    I’ll put this argument simply. Why did my parents invest so much time into me if I was going to choose NOT to have children? Why did they waste their time? What do they get out of the deal? Similarly, what do I get out of the deal if my kids CHOOSE to be childless? Why did I waste my time?

    Now turn that argument around a bit. If your parents had taken your view of things, Piper, you wouldn’t exist!

  • Jordan Richardson

    If I had my choice, grandmothers would run the show.

  • So, you are so uncomfortable with your parents failure to accept your own choice, that you are turning a choice that is merely a personal decision into and argument to be defended or repudiated? Good thing you aren’t gay!

    Personally, if I had my choice, my world be adult-free.

  • Jordan Richardson


    C’mon. Is that a real thing?

  • Arch Conservative

    “I can only hope that when the nest is empty they will return to themselves, and until then miss them.”

    What the hell does that mean? They are not “themselves” because they have chosen to have children? They are completely themselves as they have made the decision to have children because it is something important and meaningful to them. It gives them great pleasure. Far more pleasure than the friendship or companionship of some childless spinster bemoaning who she’s been left out.

  • María

    I’m really childfree, and in developing countries (no, Third World is more like it) you might be given real flack… What’s strange is that I live in a coun try tht is below the replacement rate, yet you are thought of as an extreme rarity… Parents are not only entitled, they don’t want to realise the world is changing.

  • The terms childfree and childless most certainly have differing implications. Ever thought of describing yourself as a “latent parent?” That would really confuse ’em.

  • Yes, the biggest downsides to childfreedom concern the shortcomings of others, not childfreedom itself. People being judgemental, disappointed in us or preoccupied with parenthood to the extent that they isolate themselves from us are external factors that we cannot really control. We can only control our own lives, judgements and perceptions, not those of the people around us.

    So the best we can do is remain steadfast in our decision, stand tall and be good examples of what it means to live a life free of the burden of children. It also helps to be proactive in making connections with other childfree folks and folks who appreciate our choice. No matter what decision a person makes in life, there will always be someone who disapproves. It is a waste of life to spend too much time worrying about it.

    As for disappointing your parents, if they want grandkids so badly they can always adopt or become foster parents. Let them put their money where their mouth is.

  • Brian: there is even more — I’m vegan. Not eating meat is a big boon to the planet (though not breeding is even better).
    Alan: now who do you think chose the picture? And how about the bondage baby sling ad at the top? ;>

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    With all this Global Warming talk,massive pollution of the earth & the raping of its resources, I would think that NOT breeding would help to eliminate those problems.

    See, you’re being the most “Green” anyone could ever be! Buying CFLs, Electric Cars or even recycling couldn’t possibly match what you have done for our planet,Seriously.

  • I enjoyed your blog. But tell me, who picked that photograph of the squalling baby that accompanies your text? Was it you or the editors? In subliminal terms, it decisively skews the argument in your favor about going childfree. Who in her right mind would want something like that around the house?

  • Rachana, it’s fixed.

  • Thanks for letting me know, Rachana! I’ll work on getting that fixed.

  • Piper, I have tried multiple times to post a comment, but haven’t been able to.. it asks me for a login to your site..

  • Macabre Reality

    I feel you are really reaching to find disadvantages to being childfree.

    Family that cares more about themselves than you will always find a reason to be disappointed. Ignore negative people.

    Making friends is more difficult for adults period. Developing hobbies and interests then pursuing them is the easiest way to do this. Parenting is essentially a hobby (an activity or interest that is undertaken for pleasure) in the modern age.

  • Thanks for the comment, Rachana. To read my thoughts on the endless advantages of not having children and about how judgmental people are about my decision, visit my blog.

  • First of all, I think the biggest problem you are facing seems to be that people around you are being judgmental.. But in the big picture, don’t you think everyone is too busy for that.. Facebook, Youtube, TMZs etc.. Ok, jokes apart, I did not see the other side of your debate, what are the advantages to being child free – leisure, freedom to do anything you want etc?? Apart from the obvious, I would love to hear about what one would consider as advantages.. 🙂
    “I never realized how much adults rely on their children to make new friends.” – To a certain extent only, because I have jumped online and started looking for playgroups and meetups, but less than 50% of the time it is just kiddie play time parties..
    Thanks for baring your soul for us to read – A few of my friends might be feeling the same way, but not bold enough to put it on record.. and I am probably going to be a little less judgmental after reading your post! It definitely puts things in perspective..