I traded my biological clock for an Xbox: understanding the childfree

We’re going to start this one with a statement of fact: not everyone wants to have children. If this fact confuses you or causes you great moral outrage, proceed with caution. It’s only going to get bumpier from here. If you’re capable of processing that first fact, but are still kind of tilting your head, wondering if it’s really necessary to point out that very simple, basic notion, let me assure you: it is. I just want to make sure everyone’s clear on that before we go any deeper. Mostly because life experiences have taught me that way too many people have a notion in their head that having children is not a decision; it’s a predetermined fact. And for someone who has decided not to have children, that notion is equal parts infuriating and exasperating.

People who have decided not to have children call themselves a variety of things, but “childfree” and “childless-by-choice” are the two most common. Some don’t call themselves anything special, because they are optimistic enough to believe that making a personal decision like that doesn’t need to be given a name. Unfortunately, it sort of does. Because being a parent is seen as the default, and anything that is different from the default seems to need a name so people can process it better. If I have to use a name, I prefer “childfree,” because any version of “childless” implies that children are the desired result, and I am lacking in them. There’s also the fact that “childless” is often used to describe someone who is infertile, or who wants children and does not have them, for whatever reason. While the childfree may be infertile, it’s usually by choice.

When I was younger, I would have classified myself as “militantly childfree.” It was a defense mechanism, really, since at every turn, I was being told I was wrong and young and stupid and didn’t know my own mind. Being part of the over-30 set now has brought me a little bit of credibility, I guess, because while the questioning and the insulting still exist, they’re a lot less overt. So I’d say my current stance is more “gently childfree.” I don’t begrudge the people I know who are parents any happiness with their children, but it still doesn’t mean I want any of my own. And it really doesn’t mean I want to try to be convinced otherwise.

Childfree people get a lot of shit from other people about making this choice. You know, because other people totally have the right to pass judgment on what is, at its core, a very personal decision. Here’s some of the crap we hear:

-“You’ll change your mind.” This is probably the most infuriating, because it assumes that someone doesn’t know their own mind well enough to make a major life decision. And yet, no one says this to anyone who, at 19 or 25 or 30, decides that the only possible way their life will be complete is to have children. Why is that? Why are people who decide the “default” given the benefit of the doubt that they know what they want, while those who decide something that requires an awful lot of contemplation are assumed to be flighty and immature? Do you tell someone who’s pregnant that she’ll change her mind? That it’s permanent and you can’t undo it? That a baby is a big decision that affects the rest of her life and she can’t possibly know at 19 or 25 or 30 that it’s something she’ll want forever? Of course not. But try being a woman who wants to get her tubes tied before having any children. Try telling people that your life plan doesn’t include reproducing. Then, suddenly, you’re an idiot who doesn’t know her own mind, regardless of age.

-“It’s different when it’s your own.” This one comes in response to someone saying they don’t like kids, or don’t have the patience for them, or any other reason that involves not actually wanting a child around in your everyday life. The argument is that when it’s your own child, those things don’t apply. You love it no matter what. Unfortunately, this isn’t true. Plenty of parents can’t stand their own kids. And even if there’s a possibility it’s true, should someone really take that chance? That maybe they won’t hate kids once they have one? Seems awfully unfair to the hypothetical kid if it doesn’t turn out that way.

-“You’re selfish.” So? Quite frankly, I have the right to be. If I decide that free time, discretionary income, peace and quiet, and flexibility with various parts of my life are important to me, then it would be awfully dumb to think I could still have all that with a child. As parents are fond of telling anyone in earshot, having children changes everything. And if someone doesn’t want everything to change, then why do we try to force that? Plus, isn’t having children one of the most fundamentally selfish things one person can do? What are the reasons people give for having kids? “I want someone to love (or to love me) unconditionally.” “I think my DNA is special enough that it needs to be propagated.” (That one’s clearly a paraphrase. Save the angry emails.) “I want a little me.” “I want a perfect combination of me and my spouse.” I want, I think, I want, I want, I want… I have rarely, if ever, heard a reason to have kids that doesn’t start with “I want.”

-“You don’t know real love until you have children.” Yeah. Fuck you very much. Who are you to decide that the love I have for my husband, or my parents, or my friends, isn’t “real?” There are lots of kinds of families, and the ones created from choice are just as meaningful and full of love as the ones created by biology.

-“It’s a miracle.” Every living organism ever since the beginning of time begs to differ. Everything alive reproduces. One could argue that it’s the least miraculous thing possible. It’s happened billions and billions of times and will happen billions and billions more.

-“You’re not a real woman.” Yes, I’ve heard this. Yes, the person was serious. Yes, I did somehow manage to stop myself from telling the person to go fuck themselves. Aren’t we as women, hell, as people, past deciding for other people what makes them a “real” woman?

-“Who will take care of you when you’re old?” Do me a favor. Go to your local nursing home/assisted living facility. Talk to some of the residents. Ask them when their children last visited them. Producing offspring doesn’t guarantee you security when you’re old; money does. Most people end up having to pay people to take care of them in their declining years. Plus, fifty years sounds like an awfully long time to wait for a payoff, and frankly, the investment is too high for the potential return.

-“But you’re such a good dog mom!” Last I checked, you can’t crate kids while you’re at work. Not to mention, dogs are pretty self-sufficient, except for the feeding and walking stuff. They amuse themselves. I don’t need to teach them values and spelling and how to use a fork and stuff. The dogs=children thing is not even a thing. Seriously. I love my dogs; hell, I love them more than I like most people, but they are not a substitute for children.

The point I’m trying to make here is that all the choices are valid. Just because you don’t agree with mine doesn’t mean you need to belittle me, infantilize me (and how’s that for some irony?), and insult me. And take a moment to think about this: if someone has decided that they really don’t want children, why would you spend so much time trying to convince them otherwise? Does it minimize your choice as a parent if someone takes a different path? If you feel that children are The Greatest Miracle Ever and being a parent is The Most Important Job In The World, wouldn’t it be preferable if every child was born to parents who are 100% certain that they want them? After all, a child is a permanent decision, and I’d rather take the very very small chance that I regret not having one than risk the more likely outcome that I would regret it if I had one.


35 responses to “I traded my biological clock for an Xbox: understanding the childfree

  1. Thank you. Just, thank you.

  2. Parent-y types who give CF folks a hard time: you are making us all look like assholes. Stop it. Ain’t nobody’s damned business but their own.

    (I will say that I dislike most other kids, but dig mine. But I can’t assume that’ll work for everyone…it seems like most of these statements are assuming a one-size-fits-all approach, which as we know, assumption is the mother, etc.)

  3. You said this way better than I ever could. Thank you.

    And, I’ll give you a good one. I’m 44, a couple years ago I had a neighbor tell me “I still had time.”

    WTF? Do you not know the chances I’ll have a Down’s Syndrome kid, lady? No way.

    I take the “pound puppy” approach to parenthood. If it REALLY is about being a parent, you’ll go down to the orphanage (or wherever it is they keep the kids now) and pick one out.

    What I see is people who want DNA replicants, and who will go to any expense and inconvenience to advance said DNA.

    Mother nature is denying your pregnancy for a reason. Fucking with her invites all kinds of havoc.

    Parents say the childfree are selfish. I say they are. I didn’t promote the propagation of my DNA just because I could. I spent a LOT of time considering all my options. I suspect they didn’t. Know how I know? They keep trying to pressure me to breed.

    Misery loves company.

  4. Wow. Thanks for writing this.

    I wouldn’t mind having children someday, but it’s good to have a “proud-to-be-bratless” take on things, too. ^.^

  5. I ♥ you. Seriously. You said it better than I could have ever dreamed of saying myself.

  6. Wonderful. Slooooow clap!

  7. Well said. Bravo.

  8. ::Grins:: well put

    Yu are right being a parent is not for everyone out there, and even some who are parent’s well leave it at that.

    I’m proud to be childfree and like other’s wish some people would leave well enough alone when it comes to ones choices in life, its my choice to be as I am not someone else’s the only person who has a say in the matter is my hubby who is also 100% childfree.

  9. Thank you thank you thank you. I think I’ll print this, laminate it, and start handing it out to “well-meaning” friends and relatives.

  10. Wow, you think being a parent is selfish?!!

    Who cares whether YOU choose to have kids or not.
    Im sick of reading about the ‘im not having kids because i need my ‘me time’, and because i want to save the world’s resources etc.
    Fair enough you dont like kids or have time for them, but why do you need to make out that people who do have kids are selfish and somehow inferior?

    • The whole point of the post is that people do seem to care if I have kids or not, because they feel the need to question me and make the statements that I wrote about. And I never said anything about wanting “to save the world’s resources.” I chose not to have kids for personal reasons, not environmental ones. And as to being made to feel selfish and somehow inferior: those without children are made to feel that way pretty much all the time. I can see how it would be a little uncomfortable with the shoe on the other foot, I suppose. Thanks for reading.

  11. Yes, yes and FUCK YES.
    with one qualifier.
    In the past two years, my grandmother passed away, and my grandfather was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, and dementia. Over the summer, my family spent a week working with my uncle to help find an assisted living facility for my grandfather to move into, which involved visiting a lot of places, meeting with social workers, working out the finances, etc. If my grandfather was on his own, and didn’t have his sons helping him with everything, he would be incredibly shit out of luck.

    Hopefully, scientists will come up with better ways to diagnose and treat dementia before I get to be in the position to need those services.

  12. My friend, I have been away from your blog for too long, and this post reminded me of why. Wonderful post.

    I too am childfree by choice (i’m 5ish years younger than you, if you remember) and I don’t remember ever NOT knowing that I didn’t want kids. I think I first told my mom that when I was 7. Some people just don’t want kids. And if one more person tells me that I’ll “change my mind” i’m going to punch them right in their mouths. (My last friend to tell me that, I told him “So will you!” and he shut right up.)

  13. I love this. I absolutely love this.

    I’m 22 and decided in high school that I don’t want kids. I dropped out of graduate school and not one person questioned my decision. Everyone was very supportive and said that I needed to do what was right for me. One mention of not wanting children and everyone tries to convince me that I do, tries to convince me that I’m not old enough to make my own choices. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

    I’m still in that unfortunate phase where I feel I have to defend my choice. I hope the urge will pass soon and that I’ll get to a point where I will just tell people to fuck off and mind their own business. Nicely, of course.

  14. “frankly, the investment is too high for the potential return.” – Well put! You really hit the nail on the head with this post. Being childfree by choice, I hear these insults all the time! What’s strange is that when I tell a friend with children about my choice, they get SO defensive (kind of like topsy kretts above?) and mean! I don’t insult their choice to have kids, and I tolerate a LOT of unacceptable behavior – the least they can do is respect my decision. Most of my friends who have children got pregnant by accident, and the more they push the issue, the more it sounds like they’re unhappy, or didn’t ever think it was a choice (the lady doth protest too much, methinks).

  15. I just found your blog today, but I already think I love you.

    I have a daughter who was very wanted and is extremely loved, and I have no idea what I would do without her. But omg, I totally respect not having children as a life choice–that kid’s a ton of work! Worth it? Yes. Not for everyone? YES. I would like to respond to your points, with one parent’s view. Thank you for indulging me in that.

    “You’ll change your mind.” Uh, maybe. Any decision carries that risk. Do I sometimes “change my mind” about having a kid? YES!!! What was I thinking?!?!? Can’t I just have FIVE MINUTES where I’m not a parent? But does that mean I would actually go back and not have this child I love so much? No.

    “It’s different when it’s your own.” I find this to be true, sort of. I don’t really like other people’s kids. I do like mine. But even if you do find that you love your kid despite not liking anyone elses, that doesn’t mean you’ll like being a parent. People who make this argument never seem to realize that loving someone does not necessarily equal being good for them.

    “You’re selfish.” I absolutely agree with you–I consider having a child the most selfish decision I have ever made. I’m not saying that being a parent doesn’t require a freaking ton of self-sacrifice–it does. But I freaking created an entire human being that now has to live and be part of the world because I wanted one. How is that not selfish?

    “You don’t know real love until you have children.” You don’t know parent-to-child love. I do think it is different than other kinds of love, but not more real or more important.

    “It’s a miracle.” Humans always think they’re miraculous whenever they do anything remotely animal-like. What’s with that?

    “You’re not a real woman.” This is so ludicrous that I don’t even know what to say.

    “Who will take care of you when you’re old?” Other family? Close friends? Love cares for you when you’re old, not children specifically. And I hate the idea of my daughter thinking she has to stop her life to care for me when I’m old just because I CHOSE to do that for her when she was young–for my own selfish reasons.

    “But you’re such a good dog mom!” Just FYI–the grossest things I have ever cleaned up have been the result of my dogs, not my child. But oh how I love being able to put them in a cage and go shopping. The kid can be contained in a crib, but then I have to settle for Amazon.

    • I really want to second this, because you, Taylor, have stated it far better than I could. I have a little girl and I adore her; I don’t think I have ever been happier than I have as a mother, but there are days when I wonder what the heck I’ve gotten myself into.

      “It’s different when it’s your own.” I have to add to this one that it being different when you have your own is no excuse to experiment with someone else’s life, which is what anyone does when they have kids on the hope and the prayer that they’ll like them. 😉

  16. Childfree by Choice

    Thank you, I will have to print this off for my MIL.

  17. Congratulations on betraying the human race. If you were an animal you would be ostracized from the herd and eaten by a lion in a matter of days. It’s your responsibility as a human being to keep the species going…so the next time you want to complain about screaming kids on planes or in grocery stores you can just keep your opinion to yourself since you forfeited the right to have an opinion by choosing to remove yourself from the gene pool.

    • KittenMittons

      Yes, because the billions of people on this planet using up resources at a rapid rate isn’t enough, we NEED MORE PEOPLE!!!
      Good thing we aren’t animals. Where some are being extinct. Because of people.
      Great argument.

    • Tom. Who the hell are you to say such a thing? It is NOT a woman’s “responsibility” to keep the species going. Take a fucking look around. There are way too many children in this world, most of them are born to un-loving abusive parents, or to families that can barely afford to feed the children that they keep popping out like pop tarts from a toaster. And maybe if parents would teach their children to have some respect we wouldn’t have to hear them screaming on planes and in grocery stores. This world is going downhill so fast why would you EVER want to place a child into a population that does nothing but hurt each other?

      To the woman who wrote this. Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart. It is so hard to tells others that my husband and I don’t want children. Nobody listens and they think their opinion is far greater than ours. It’s nice to know that someone out there gets it. Again, thank you.

    • Hey Tom — suck it!

  18. Thank you so much!

    For me, it was never a decision, it is my default. Pregnancy to me is like a horrible trap, to be avoided or escaped from if necessary.

    Parenthood is a role for someone capable of raising a decent, well educated human being, and I appreciate those who do it well, and abhor those who don’t. I’m happy to pay taxes for education, too.

    I’d appreciate it if a few people in my life a few years back could accept my default state, but they couldn’t. So fuck ’em, it’s MY life, my body, my rules. 😉

  19. This… is perfect. At work, I’ve had ladies try to tell me that I will change my mind! And I have to stare at them with what must surely be googly eyes and say, “Are you fucking insane? Thank you, but this is a choice I’ve made. Y’know. On my own. With my own intelligence.”

    I love my friend’s kids. I don’t hate kids. I like visiting and giving the kiddos back to their rightful parents, but I don’t want one of my own.

    And I should be able to choose this without getting grief.


  20. I just Stumbled your Blog and I am SO hooked. Thank you for writing this. I am 40 years old and always knew that I didn’t want children. I still get the “there’s still time” thing. I was fortunate enough to find a very progressive gynecologist who agreed to tie my tubes when I was 30. From what I have read about the Childfree, it’s hard to find a doctor who will do it.

  21. Thank you for this. I’ve heard the “you’ll change your mind” thing so often that I’ve stopped telling people that I don’t want kids, and I shouldn’t have to. Fuck small-minded people and their biases, I like the freedom associated with not having kids. Y’all can just deal.

  22. Re. you’ll change your mind (which I don’t hear nearly as much now that I’m over 30), I usually say “maybe, but I am not going to have a child now because I might want it later” – if I change my mind when I’m older, I’ll adopt.

  23. I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine about my future plans for parenthood. I’ve been chronically ill for most of my life, and after having a series of surgeries to correct my illness, I’ve been primarily focused on finally entering into the adult world and finding a career to support myself with financially. I imagine that by the time I have all of that taken care of (and money is important for raising children) I will probably be close to 40. That, combined with my treacherous medical history, seems like it would be rather unwise to have a pregnancy. For the sake of my health and the child’s.

    She’s seen me sick, and on numerous occasions she has seen me come back from the brink of death, yet she still argued with me about why it might still work if I wanted to have a baby. She’s a good friend, so it made me think. Is there something in my voice that sounds like I’m lamenting the fact that I am not in an optimal state to have children? Maybe that’s what leads people to say those things, at least to me. I think I’d be a good mom, if I was ten years younger, had more money, and was healthy. It would be worth the risk at that point. But it’s not. Nothing anyone can say will convince me of that. I am kind of sad that I may have missed the baby boat, there being a biological urge somewhere deep inside of my jaded body to pass on my DNA. But I just don’t think it’s responsible. I love future children too much to bring them up in the world, and I am one of those people someone angrily described as wanting to conserve resources.

    I will probably adopt. I think it’s a great option for women whose lives have taught them empathy and humility to care for someone who is unwanted or orphaned, and also for women who don’t want to go to the trouble of trying to race the biological clock.

    I read in a book that just came out called “Is There Anything Good About Men?” that a woman’s desire for children gives her less power in romantic relationships as she grows older, while men have more power. When younger, the roles are reversed. I not so secretly enjoy the fact that I can maintain a more equal balance of power in my relationship when I’m not constantly stressing that I need to get married ASAP and start cranking out kids. I can spend time enjoying my relationship and then adopt when the circumstances are ideal.

  24. Thank you for writing this. My wife just read this aloud to me as I was chopping up some vegetables for dinner, and it sounded like you have been eavesdropping on conversations we’ve had while making this same decision (to not have kids). In particular, I appreciated ”You don’t know real love until you have children.” My dad has been saying this to anyone who will listen for years. The man isn’t allowed to baby sit our dog for the afternoon. ‘Nuff said.
    Here’s my final two cents – didn’t we all learn as much, probably more, from teachers, mentors and those who are part of our chosen families? You can be a tremendous benefit to a kid, kids or potentially a whole generation as something other than a parent.

  25. Wait, so people call other people who don’t want to have kids ‘selfish’ and then ask the same people who’s gonna take care of them when they’re old since, you know, they are not going to have kids?
    Personally, I think having a kid hoping that they’ll take care of you when you’re old is.. well.. dodgy logic. Old age and chronic illnesses can really fuck a person up under the right circumstances, and I think having your children watch you slowly deteriorate until you die (while they change your diapers and clean after you), well.. it’s a burden I wouldn’t want someone I love to carry.
    My dad was quite distraught to learn that I, 24 years old at the time, did not plan on having kids of my own. Adopting, maybe. Reproducing? no. It was as if I had just informed him that I cooked our pet dog for dinner and asked whether or not he wanted barbecue sauce with that. Geez.

  26. I’ll bet you’re glad I didn’t remain childfree!

  27. I’ve been telling my mum I don’t want kids since I was 12. For one thing, she always told us we ruined her life. That she could have had a career if not for us. That she could have hobbies if not for us. That she’s spent her life slaving after us when she could have kept her personality and freedom. AND THEN SHE TELLS ME SHE WANTS GRANDKIDS FROM ME.
    I’m 20 now, haven’t changed my mind, can’t see me doing it anytime soon. Wanting kids just seems so incredibly selfish to me – the planet is overpopulated enough and their are children out there who need to be adopted – that and once you have kids, you can’t take it back.

  28. The selfish thing always kills me. If the childfree are selfish then why would you want them to have kids?

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