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.