Yesterday, my best friend told me her happy news: “We’re expecting our first baby!” I felt myself smile widely – too widely – and begin to furiously nod along, in an attempt to appear oh-so-cool. All the while, my inner self was rattling inside my head in full freakout mode. I felt my plastered smile cracking, and I blurted out a confused “congrats…!”
“I was terrified to tell you,” my friend said, “because I know how much you hate pregnancy and kids.”
This is one of the biggest sticking points when people learn I’ve chosen to be child-free. My decision not to have children does in no way mean I’m an antinatalist, nor does it mean I’m campaigning against all mothers-to-be. But it’s as if a chasm opens up between friendships within society, separating new parents from those of us who have decided not to have children.
When people hear about my child-free plans, it seems to trigger a kind of quiet outrage in them. For some reason, voicing my decision always comes across as a table-flip, a deliberate kick in their shins. I’m not sure why both teams see the other’s position as an imminent threat like this. My fear is that we’ll remain on opposite sides of the chasm until no friendships remain, only occasionally waving at each other across the divide.
“As young girls, it went unquestioned that our paths were leading to motherhood.”
As educated women, we’re fantastic at standing up for causes that matter to us and advocating for those without a voice. From gender inequality to diversity in pop culture, we’re well-versed in speaking out and supporting each other. Yet, when it comes to the child-free issue, we often resort to “us” versus “them”.
Growing up, I always assumed I would have children. I never thought about it in concrete terms, but it was definitely something I saw as being part of my “grown up” life. As young girls especially, it went unquestioned that our paths were leading to motherhood. We were given dolls to push around in tiny prams, and kitchen sets to cook plastic food for our babies.
But when I think back, I was never a big fan of playing with my dolls – my dinosaur books and stuffed animals were always my go-to activities. I’ve also never been one to fuss over other people’s kids, and to this day I’ve never felt an overwhelming need to take turns holding a new baby.
“Men who choose to be child-free are not interrogated to the same degree as women”
“One day your feelings will change,” a friend of mine once said, “it’s like a switch flips, and the next thing you know you’ll be sniffing babies heads for that sweet newborn scent!”
Well, I’m 30 years old, and that switch most definitely has not flipped. But isn’t this attitude part of the problem between #TeamChildfree versus #TeamParent? Child-free women in particular are constantly bombarded with “wise advice” saying we’ll soon change our minds. Aside from this being an incredibly patronising perspective, it’s also a sexist one.
Men who choose to be child-free are not interrogated to the same degree as women. Childless men of a certain age don’t elicit sideways looks or probing questions about their life’s purpose. This unfortunate disparity is because women’s cultural identities are so bound up with motherhood, whereas men are afforded the luxury of being seen as accomplished individuals, with or without kids.
Even though women today are increasingly deciding not to have children, clumsy stereotypes of “childless” women prevail. A common critique is that child-free women are inherently selfish and self-absorbed. I’ve had people imply that my child-free decision is selfish because according to them, I would rather travel than repopulate the world. Aside from the fact that the world really doesn’t need repopulating at this point, I’m always too stunned to muster up a reply.
“It would be more selfish if I ignored my indifference towards kids and the giant question mark about having them”
My choice to remain child-free is something I’ve carefully and logically considered – the opposite of a selfish impulse. My partner and I have been together for ten years, and he and I made up our minds a long time ago. Though I admit, I do love to travel and binge watch Netflix until 2am, what would be more selfish is if I decided to have a baby despite my feelings of doubt. It would be more selfish if I ignored my indifference towards kids and the giant question mark about having them, and just went ahead with it because of social pressure.
We need to start chipping away at the assumption that all girls should want to grow up to be mothers, and instead allow them the space to make their own decisions. I’m not sure why we resort to shaming and blaming each other in the kids debate, but I know it’s not constructive.
Why not encourage everyone to think critically about what is the best for them, rather than picking sides? I’m glad that society is starting to critique the idea of what a family should look like, and I hope that we can extend that to motherhood and womanhood. Feminism has taken us this far, and we need to keep pushing ahead and celebrating choice rather than silencing it.
As for my best friend and her new baby, time will tell if we end up on rival teams. I can’t pretend I’m not spooked at the thought of losing a friendship I love – I’ve seen my fair share of new parents fall off the face of the earth, the gap between us slowly widening until it was the size of a continent. But I have to hope this time will be different, that maybe we can lower our shields and battle-axes, have a cup of tea, and talk about it.