The recent piece, “Do You Have Kids,” by Jeannette Cooperman on projects.stlmag.com in part lays out what “14 women of various races, careers, backgrounds, and belief systems, all married or as-good-as, with the resources to raise a child should they choose to” contemplate as reasons women decide not to have kids. Let me briefly unpack them:
I lack the mothering ‘instinct’
This notion has been talked about a lot – the idea that if women don’t feel this deep yearning to give birth to and raise a child it must mean they somehow are missing the instinct – the biological drive all women have. As I tackle in The Baby Matrix, this deep-seated belief that women carry a maternal instinct is just that – a belief. While our biology gives us the capacity to reproduce, we are not biologically wired to want children. The wanting has deeper roots in pronatalist social and cultural normative beliefs humans have been influenced to believe for many generations.
So, the truth is, people don’t want kids because they are missing some piece of biological hardware that programs them into automatically wanting to become a mother or father.
I was an only child
Could the reason some people decide to not have children have to do with whether they had siblings or not? While many childfree might say so (especially the onlies!), childfree people come from families with siblings and not. Being an only child does not necessarily better predict whether someone will decide not to have kids.
In one respect, this reason points toward the myth that the childfree tend to have had bad childhoods – and this may well have included having had bad parent(s). The childfree are no more likely to have had a bad parenting history than people who grew up to have children. Many people who had bad parents grow up to want children as a way to heal their own childhood wounds.
Cooperman also discusses the opposite; could the reason people end up not wanting children have to do with having had super good parents? The parents set the bar so high such that people think, ‘I’ll never be able to do it as well as my parents so I am not going to do it.’ From interviewing the childfree since the late 90s, I have to say I’ve found this reason to be very uncommon.
My committed partner does not want it
This can be reason, to be sure. Let’s hope that in committed relationships where this is the case, it’s talked about early on. If one partner agrees not to have children because the other does not want to, the agreeing partner needs to be very clear and OK in his/her heart and mind with this reason.
I am flawed as a woman
Just like the myth of maternal instinct, none of the women Cooperman talked with did not seem to buy into this as a reason and rightly so – they never felt “cold or unwomanly or overambitious.” This ‘reason’ also points to the pronatalist assumption that somehow womanhood is synonymous with motherhood. The reality is, motherhood is but one possible facet of being a woman.
I don’t like kids
This ‘reason’ points to a stubborn myth that somehow because the childfree choose not to raise children it automatically means they hate them. While some childfree would say children are not their favorite thing, many others would not. From nieces, nephews, godchildren, friends’ children, to occupations that involve children/young people, children play an important role in plenty of childfree people’s lives.
I have fear(s) about becoming a parent
This reason can put many people in a state of ambivalence, sometimes perpetual, if they don’t get to the core of their fears. When they do, the depth of their desire to have children also becomes more clearly felt. So if that desire is strong, like other situations in which we have fears, often people ultimately find a way to face their fears and go for what they know they want – in this case, to have kids.
I value my freedom
This is definitely a reason people choose not to become parents, if not one of the most common things childfree people talk about when it comes to why they pass on the experience of parenthood.
One reason I would add:
Could it be because the process of parenting – what it really takes to raise children in the day-to-day life and over the long-term – has no appeal as a major part of one’s way of life?
Absolutely. For many people who really look hard at whether they want children and decide not to, this is something they have investigated on a realistic level as part of their decision making process.
To the childfree out there, what is Your reason for deciding to pass on parenthood?
And broadly speaking, what do you think it will take to reach a time when, as one of the 14 women asks, our reproductive choice won’t be “judged by someone else’s definition of the right way to live”?