The Meaning of “Choice” in Childless by Choice

How being childless by choice and childless “not” by choice has often been differentiated by the latter meaning the woman or couple cannot biologically have children. But not all think so. Take Po Bronson, author of Nutureshock. At his website,he has a section called “Factbook on Family.” One topic area in his “factbook” is childless by choice.  He acknowledges there are increasing numbers of women who are remaining childless, but claims that it’s a myth to say women are choosing to remain childless. He backs this up with three reasons, each of which I have to push back on. His first point:

1. “The <childless by choice> ‘trend’ ignores those who cannot afford to have children.”

Bronson writes that when you can afford to have children and don’t have them that equals a childless “by choice” decision. Fair enough. But when women want children, can’t afford them so they don’t have them, well, that means they are childless not by their own choice.

I disagree. They have made a choice, albeit likely a hard one, but a choice nonetheless. They want children. They realize they cannot afford to raise them so they make the responsible choice not to have them. So between option A: trying to raise a kid they can’t afford and B: not having a child at all, they choose B.  Plenty of people choose A.

2. “The ‘trend’ ignores those who can’t have children because they waited too long to have a family.”

Bronson claims that even with all the advances in fertility treatments and obstetrics, they haven’t fulfilled the promises to women in the 30s or even 40s when they are ready to have children. Seems like medical technology is doing pretty well to me –studies tell us that more women are having children later.

But that is beside the point. No matter why she waited, the woman chose to wait. Option A: Wait until I finish with my education, am at x point in my career, etc. Option B: Have a child now when I am not ready.  She chooses Option A. She chooses to wait until she is ready.

Even when she waits, undergoes fertility treatments and say they don’t work, does this mean she is stuck being childless not by choice? Yo how about adoption. She wants a baby. Option A: Remain childless (meaning she’d rather remain biologically childless than adopt). Option B: Adopt.

Or what if it is a health issue such that being pregnant would be a risk? Option A: Take the risk. Option B: Pursue adoption. Option C: Do neither.

3. “The ‘trend’ ignores the fact that it isn’t always a ‘choice.’”

Well by now you know my answer to this. Bronson indicates the trend does not take into consideration “obstacles” to childlessness –things like family finances, delay because of education or career, not having a spouse, or having to care for an elder parent.  Again, there may be obstacles, but that does not mean there is no longer a choice.  For Options not already listed:

Option A: Have child when I find the right partner/spouse.  Option B: Raise a child myself.

Option A: Have a child and try to be caregiver to my parent. Option B: Do not have a child, and be caregiver to my parent. Maybe even Option C:  Have a child and find another way to get care for my parent.

There are many reasons why people don’t have children. And the reasons involve choices every time. While the choices are not always easy, and less than perfect, they are choices nonetheless.

Whether childless or childfree–you don’t have them even though you want/wanted them, or you don’t have them because you don’t want them-is the result of making a choice (s). Thinking we’ve not had a choice only serves to feel victim to a situation or circumstance.  It’s far more empowering to know that although it is a tough choice, you have the power to make it, for yourself, and in this case for a child, born or not.

How do you weigh in?

3 thoughts on “The Meaning of “Choice” in Childless by Choice

  1. His comments seem rather odd to me. I tend to save the term ‘childfree’ for anyone who doesn’t want children, and ‘childless’ for people who do/did but, for whatever reason (financial included), don’t have them.

    Surely that is the best way to distinguish the two. I have yet to meet anyone who has truly fought a biological urge because they ‘couldn’t afford children’, they don’t have to because you can always make a mistake, get pregnant (oops) and somehow the rest of society will see you right. Not ideal I know but I don’t believe finances are ever an obstacle for someone who truly wants a child, if anything the having of a child helps ensure that Government will look after you.

    1. I have yet to meet anyone who if they really want kids let finances stop them…they tend to adopt a mindset that they will somehow afford it…those who don’t have as big of a desire tend go to a mindset that supports it–e.g., a concern about how having a kid will affect their lives financially. My observation–Humans seem to find mindsets that support their emotions~L

  2. Thank you so much for this post. You have articulated exactly what I’ve said to many people over the years. Parenthood is ALWAYS a choice for those who do not have children. Maybe biological parenthood isn’t an option due to physical or financial reasons, or maybe it’s risky because of health issues, but plenty of people who are parents today have faced those same situations and made different choices than those who do not have children.

    A big part of making the transition from childless to childfree for those who ever thought they wanted children is to take responsibility for those choices and look at what not having children brings to their lives. It can be a slow process, but ultimately those who undertake it find that the rewards are far greater than they imagined if only they know where to look.

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