Unintentional Insults on the Childless and Childfree

Laura Carroll, childfree choice

On the heels of being interviewed for an upcoming article on the topic of what not to say to childfree friends (and why), I saw this article by blogger Nicole Ciomelc about one of the worst bingoes the childfree and childless in particular can get.  It puts a spotlight on how the childfree and the childless have the experience of unintentional insults in common…

Ciomelc writes about how she read a blog post by a woman who, like her, “has had to come to terms with the fact that she is infertile. She wrote that a friend of hers, while upset, expressed the opinion that a woman who has no children has nothing.”

The childfree know this one, but it can be particularly hurtful for those who want children and are having trouble conceiving. Ciomelc believes this “nothing” attitude is what brings on the “cajoling” to try and convince those people with no children “that they do indeed want or need to have them.” Indeed. But why? Because pronatalist doctrine tells us that parenthood is an “ultimate” and a “necessary” part of life.

I join arms with Ciomelc when she writes that trying to do this kind of convincing is “just wrong,” and that “People know what is best for their lives. People know what they want and who they are. No one wants to be told that their way of living is wrong. Yet, people are constantly trying to tell people who don’t have children that their way of life is wrong, and in the process probably accidentally insulting those who are infertile.” I say not so probably, and not so accidentally…it is insulting.

Yet why do people hold this attitude? Ciomelc comments that it’s because “all-in-all, we are still very traditional culture. Parenting is part of that.” I would take it further. We are in a pronatalist culture in which so many people believe pronatalist assumptions about parenthood so strongly that they are unquestioned and believed to be true.  When in reality, they are merely beliefs, and not necessarily the truth at all.

The idea that a woman who has no children is nothing needs to be challenged along with other pronatalist assumptions related to parenthood and reproduction.  As part of this challenge, I’m with Ciomelc’s advice to those who hold these kind of pronatalist beliefs when talking about those with no children by choice or not–

Please be more sensitive with your words. Understand that not everyone everyone is capable of having children. Not everyone wants them. And, “we are all wonderful as we are, that there’s no need to judge. We all have our challenges in life. Let’s try to support each other through them.”

Here’s to a childless woman who gets it, and the ways in which the childfree and the childless can join to help society see past the blinds of pronatalism.

Where else do you see how the childless and the childfree have the effects of pronatalism in common?

P.S.: I’ll cross post the article I was interviewed for when it comes out!

19 thoughts on “Unintentional Insults on the Childless and Childfree

  1. The attitude that a woman is nothing if she has no children is also unfair to children themselves. If a mother thinks she is absolutely nothing without her children, then she will create one seriously screwed up dynamic in her family. That is the perfect recipe for a passive-aggressive smothering martyrdom complex.

    And, it’s a terrible message to send to your daughters. “She got pregnant at 15, but hey, at least that means she’s not nothing anymore!”

  2. I’d probably shrug off someone’s “without kids you have nothing” comments, because I have never felt like I have nothing. If someone really thinks my world must be a sad, empty place… well, that’s there problem. The thing that bothers me THE MOST (which I’m sure affects the childless as well) is the assumption that, without children, you are never truly an adult. I’m tired of hearing variations of, “oh, you don’t understand real responsibility until you have a baby.” Really? A 16 year old girl with an infant is somehow more of an adult than me because she gave birth? I work. I pay my taxes and bills. I pay my mortgage. I’m a responsible pet owner.

    And, most of all, I take care of my OTHER family. My mom NEEDS to retire. Unfortunately, she hasn’t made the best financial decisions in her life, and has no retirement except for social security. Guess what me and my husband are doing? We are buying her a house to live in (she currently rents), and supplementing her income as necessary. We usually put away my entire income for our future savings, but we are happy to save less in order to help her have the retirement everyone deserves. But, no. My siblings with kids still look at me and my husband like we are rambunctious teenagers because we go out to movies on a Wednesday night.

    Oh, when will we childfree (and childless) people ever just grow up? ::rolls eyes::

    1. The “we aren’t truly grown ups yet” myth is particularly frustrating, starting with the decision to have children. How can treating the decision very seriously, because it is a huge life decision, not be a very “grown up” way to approach it, rather than just “doing it” and living with the consequences? What you are doing for your mother is also very responsible, giving, Grown Ups do–has nothing to do with whether we are parents or not~!

  3. I have known women and men who actually think that it is their children who “give them worth.” How sad, as children grow up, move away and have lives separate from their parents. Some of these parents do feel bereft, and the “empty nest” syndrome goes on for years. Other parents keep their adult children as “their children.” These adult “children” never reach their full potential or real adulthood, as their parents seem to think that these adult “children” should constantly be beholden to them, to be at their “beck and call,” and never allow their children to truly become adults with adult responsibilites and pile guilt upon them if the dare to move out of the area, or make decisions that differ from those of the parent.
    Our children moved out, and although we remain close, they have their own lives and have made different decisions that we would have made. Yes, we have to sometimes bite our tongues, but, our adult children are not doing anything illegal or immoral, they are just different people than we are. That, in my opinion is how it should be.

    1. Thanks for writing in, Silina~I wish we’d hear from more parents on topocs like this. Thank goodness for parents like you who get it 😉

  4. The whole ‘real responsibility’ argument is a nonsense: I have a friend who is a sergeant in the army and is also childfree. He had very definitely real responsibility and was very grown up when he was leading his men in tours of Afghanistan and Iraq: The same can be said for childfree people in areas such as medicine, law, teaching, take your pick! Indeed, the idea that I’m neither grown up or responsible is insulting as I have taken the decision that I don’t want children – is it not the more mature approach that I can say, with hand on heart, that I don’t want children?

  5. Personally, I’ve come to believe, after giving it some serious thought, that the reason the childfree and the childless get bingoed so frequently is because the idea of individuals and couples NOT wanting kids “bucks tradition.”

    From what I have both observed and experienced, there are two other groups of people that get bingoed almost as frequently as the CF or CL. They are atheists and singles by choice (I’m both atheist and SBC). It seems to me that the traditional “life script” goes like this; go to church, get married, have children. Those who have blindly followed tradition, without ever stopping to question, evaluate, or re-evaluate it, get quite upset with those of us who have not done so. That’s where all the bingoes come from; the anger or resentment against us because we have rejected life choices that tradition dictates are a “must.”

    Whether we are atheist, childfree/childless, or single by choice (to name just three non-traditional choices), we all belong to a larger group which for lack of a better term I will call “non-traditionist.” Although I’m not CF, I’ve been bingoed so frequently for my other two life choices that I lost count a long time ago. Although the bingoes are sometimes amusing, they can be danged annoying at other times. With all that, however, I still wouldn’t trade the freedoms I have now for anything. If the traditionalists want to disapprove, so be it.

  6. Wow. I love this forum. Good to read thoughtful ideas about being childfree.
    I have noticed that many people who ask me if I have children, when I say, “No, I never wanted any.” They seem insulted, even defensive. I think there is such a strong false theology around reproducing that people don’t even need to be religious to be brainwashed by this theology…be fruitful and multiply.
    We are also constantly bombarded with the belief for the need of ecomonic growth….growth, growth, growth, AT ALL COSTS. Yikes!
    I’ve known since I was a wee little girl that I did not want kids…it was just an intuition. And I believe there are more than enough of us on the planet already and what we really should be doing is learning to better love and care for ALL that are here already…including all animals, plants, bugs, etc. To be born just so we can reproduce…where is the purpose in that?

    1. Welcome, Shelley! You will find like minds here to be sure and intelligent discussion. I am with you when it comes to offspring–what would the world be like if we thought about the planet and others on it first before jumping into (the common belief that) “biology is best” and “I can the right to have as many as I want.”?

  7. http://www.dailylife.com.au/life-and-love/real-life/motherhood-and-happiness-20120502-1xycz.html

    Here is a nice postive story about someone revelling in their role as aunty.

    It is truly sad to say your nothing without children. of all the insulting things to say. How is it acceptable to imply a women is somehow not a whole person or has nothing to contribute, are we literally empty vessels! It’s beyond insulting really like saying you are less than human.

    1. Brigitte, thanks for passing the story on..I love my role as auntie (well technically god mom but I am called auntie)..

  8. Hi Laura,
    I reached your site from a link on an Israeli CF forum, and before I knew it an hour had passed reading the posts, comments and info. 🙂 Great site!!

    Israel is very pro natalistic. The average numner of children per family is almost 3, and being child free was widely considered until recently as a major mental flaw. In the last few years and with the younger generation things are getting better, but child free by choice is still scarce. Many Ob/Gyns remind women of their biological clock – and in a recent visit a female Ob/Gyn went as far as to tell my spouse that there is no reason not to have children as it is completely possible to still look good even after giving birth, and it is also possible to have a career even with 4 kids like she has. (needless to say my spouse hadn’t asked for any advice, nor had she given our reasons for being child free. Just an intrusive pro-natalistic attitude by the doctor)

    With this in the background, one of the comments on this post really grabbed my attention. Scott wrote “The attitude that a woman is nothing if she has no children is also unfair to children themselves. If a mother thinks she is absolutely nothing without her children, then she will create one seriously screwed up dynamic in her family. That is the perfect recipe for a passive-aggressive smothering martyrdom complex”. A perfect analysis of the family I grew up in!!!

    My parents have 3 children and lament not having more. My two sisters have 4 children each. When I was 16 my mother once told me “you’re such a good boy. I already hate the girl who’ll come and take you from me” and true to form – she gave every girl I went out with a living hell. After I got married, time went by with no children on my part and she asked me – I told her we are CF by choice. Her usual passive-agressive behavior now climbed to whole new levels, with us denying my parents of additional grandchildren. She started telling just shouting everybody that “the day after they (I) got married, his wife told him ‘That’s it! You’re not going to have any children ever’ ” (what a lie!). She tried to estrange us from all other members of the family (9 years since I last talked with my parents or my sisters and their families, but I still have good relations with my more distant relatives). Pretty crazy stuff.

    Not to mention that growing up in such a family left me very unprepared for adult life. For example, I am the most un-assertive person I know, as until leaving home “mommy coddled me and kept me from harm” never letting me have to fight any battles myself.

    So yes, I completely agree that the belief that people have nothing unless they have children is very harmful for both parents and their children.

    Thanks for a great site. Have now added it to my favorites 🙂

    1. Andy, Welcome to this site! Glad you like ~ to your story about your parents pressures..wow. Is the reason you have not talked to your parents or sibs and families mostly because you did not want kids?
      Participating in the Israeli forum was very enlightening — I sure learned that it seems harder to be childfree there than in the States. In case you did not see the posts I did hear on the heels of being part of the forum check it out http://laviechildfree.com/2011/08/online-childfree-in-israel/ Also, have you read Donath’s book?

  9. In reply to Andy:

    Holy smokes, I was right? I was mostly speculating there about messed up family dynamics. (My mom isn’t like that, but then again she didn’t act like she was nothing without her kids. She had her own interests and pursuits.) Glad to know I wasn’t just making stuff up. 🙂

  10. RE: @ Kate said:
    April 27th, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    What really takes the cake in this whole “you are not responsible if not a parent” mentality is the reality I see all around me especially at work. Those with kids are constantly shirking work to do parental things which may or may not be truly “necessary” but are deemed higher priorities. If one must feel compelled to helicopter parent from the work place (or while multitasking via wireless device) that is to me a pathetic indictment of our society’s sad place in history vis a vis parenting and social dynamics. There is also a sick thing I see at times. Some parents seem prone to outright unethical actions in order to grab more resources / money given the notably greater financial burden. Some of the biggest workplace bullies seem to be parents in over their heads.

  11. Thanks Laura I love being and Aunty as well! That is a sad story Andy…so much for loving your children unconditionally…

  12. “But, no. My siblings with kids still look at me and my husband like we are rambunctious teenagers because we go out to movies on a Wednesday night. ”
    It seems families expect childless people to pick up tabs for everyone else like their time and finances are less valuable. Just because the others have children is no reason to ignore a parents’ needs. The whole family should chip in. Being a childless not by choice woman out me in a position to be relied on a lot to do ‘dirty work’ no one else can make time for. It continued on into my marriage. My brother in law used the kid excuse to avoid helping my mother in law or seeing their grandmother. They also got into financial trouble a couple and guess who bailed them out? yep the childless couple. Childless by choice or not,kids are no excuse to not think about other people.

  13. On the whole “only parents are responsible” idea:

    I’d be willing to believe that, if it wasn’t so hard to get fired from being a parent. How much responsibility do you really have if you really, really have to screw up really horribly in order to be fired from your parenting job? Spend your children’s college fund and you still get to be their mom. Spend the company pension fund and go to jail.

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