In Defense of the Choice to be Childless

I must be getting to “an age” because it happens more now than ever. People ask if I have children and give all sorts of retorts depending on my response. I’ve questioned male peers about whether they get grilled like this and some do but only by their mothers.

No, I do not have a child or children. Yes, this has been a conscious decision. I have my reasons. No, I will not explain them to you. I used to explain, though, upon reflection, I’m unclear why it is anyone’s business but my own. All my reasoning–which I still believe to be sound–was knocked away with easy platitudes. Essentially, I am in the wrong for not bearing children. Having children is a service to mankind.

I get frustrated and then angry when people try to brush away my reasons for not wanting to bear a child. Is there anything more intimate and loaded with consequences and responsibilities than this decision? Are those people going to be there if I run into financial hardship or can’t balance child care with employment? What if I experience medical complications? What if I can’t have children? Why would that be anyone’s business but my own? It is intrusive for anyone to believe they should be allowed input into my reproductive choices.

The argument that I am shirking responsibility to mankind is condescending. Are my tax dollars Confederate? I pay just as much in taxes, if not more, than parents, with a portion of my taxes going to schools, public playgrounds and other necessities for children that I will never personally use. I’m not complaining. I feel it is my duty to contribute to the raising of future generations. Schools are already overburdened and underfunded; imagine what they would look like if everyone who could have children did.

Many also forget or are oblivious to the additional contributions childless people make in the workplace. When a project is on deadline, who stays while parents go pick up their children from daycare or school? When a parent has to stay home because their child is ill, who performs the extra work the parent is not completing? I have had managers point out I have no excuse to not work late because I have no one to go home to care for.

As someone in a salaried position, hearing this after working sometimes 70 – 80 hours a week for months is not only not comforting, it lays bare workplace inequities between parents and childless people. I’ve also been told I can’t vacation during peek times because “no one is relying on me.” This is a moot point since the additional work I am given because “no one is relying on me” means I don’t have time for vacations.

We are a minority but I know I am not alone in my experiences or with the busybodies passing judgment on this most personal of choices. I have friends who are childless because of infertility issues. They would love to have a child but nature has deemed otherwise. Most come to accept this with time but imagine what they must go through being judged about their childless status? Their only defense is to admit they are unable to have children and this often leads to more questions.

Why do strangers feel it is permissible to ask intimate questions about someone’s reproductive function? I cringe every time I hear one of these exchanges. When is it ever proper for a stranger or colleague to probe into someone else’s health issues? The infertile person’s other option is to stay silent to inquiries about their childless status and brood about how unfair life is. Think about this the next time you are tempted to probe.

Lately I’ve been mulling over the probing, the judgment and the fall out from being a childless person. No longer are my occupational choices limited to school teacher, home maker or nurse because I am female. Few people, in our enlightened age, would have the gall to harass me for being Native American. No one in the work place would dare openly judge me for not being Catholic or Jewish or any other religion that is prominent to a given location or work place. I seldom get questioned whether I am a lesbian but when I do it is usually from people who have no filters and never in the workplace.

The above examples are all a result of civil liberties granted to people based on sex, race, religion and sexual orientation. I think it is time parental (or non-parental) status be included in those liberties. I am happy to work more so people with families can spend time with their families but it shouldn’t be taken for granted or required.

I am fine with parents getting benefits and deductions I don’t get because they need them. It is the probing and the condescension I can do without. It is none of your business what I chose to do with my womb or whether or not I can do anything with it. Just because I am a minority, there is nothing that gives anyone a right to openly rip apart my choices.

Image: Unfurled

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86 Responses to “In Defense of the Choice to be Childless”
  1. I am a mother. I do connect to the reason of your writing. It’s nobody’s business. You said it so well.

    While I don’t get comments about not having children, I DO get comments and questions about my ADOPTED children. People just seem to think they have the right to ask or say what they want, and they think you want to hear it. People are ignorant. Writing this, hopefully will educate a few and we’ll have a few less stupid people running around.

    If you are interested in seeming MY BLOG and rant on this, feel free to go to my website and go to the archive – 2009, July and you ‘ll see it.

  2. AMEN!!!! I am a 35 year old women who has been married to a loving husband for 6 years. We both have good jobs, and we own our home. We made the decision to remain childless a long time ago, but people keep trying to talk me into it. No! Like you I felt I had to make excuses and justify myself, but not any longer. My health issues and what happens in my bedroom is no one’s business. I’m done talking about it. My mother has accepted it, so why can’t everyone else?

    Don’t get me wrong. I like kids. I play with those of my friends. I am a god-mother to a lovely six-year-old girl. I even volunteer to babysit for free when my friends want to have date nights. Why isn’t this enough?

    • pbev7

      You said, ” I don’t know of any working mothers who expect their childless colleagues to pick up their slack. ”

      Where I work this happens all the time. A close colleague of mine who does essentially the same job has two boys and they cannot go to daycare before 6:30am. Therefore, out of the kindness of our boss’s heart, I am the one who has to be to work at 4AM to do the hard work and heavy lifting.

      I believe this is called, picking up the slack. It happens all the time.

  3. Emma, I’m totally OK with your decision not to have kids. As you say- it is your decision, and none of my business.

    But I have to say something about the treatment in the workplace, because I think you are perpetuating stereotypes about working mothers that do no one any good. I don’t know of any working mothers who expect their childless colleagues to pick up their slack. I, for one, don’t think I’m leaving any slack. NO ONE should be required to work ridiculous hours or stay late day after day- whether they have kids or not. Stand up for yourself on that. Workplace expectations aren’t going to change until everyone- man, woman, parent or not- demands the right to have a life outside of work.

    As for my use of sick days- well, I don’t get sick days. I get “paid time off”. So the days I use staying home with sick kids are days I can’t use for vacation. I get the same number of PTO days as my childless colleagues, and I don’t see how it is my problem if they don’t use theirs.

    Perhaps having the demands of kids makes it easier to stand up to unrealistic demands in the office- I don’t know. All I can tell you is that my work hours haven’t really changed since I had kids, and that is not because I am ignoring my kids. I don’t stay late at work on a regular basis, although I will do it if I have a deadline to meet and cannot meet it during normal work hours. Now that I have kids, staying late requires me to get my husband to do pick up that day, and possibly also handle dinner and bathtime on his own, so yes, it is harder to do than it was before I had kids. BUT- I didn’t stay late regularly before I had kids, either. I’ve worked a roughly 40 hour week since graduate school, and have never noticed that I’ve been penalized for doing that. I have been lucky to have bosses that judge me based on the work I get done, not the hours in the office. And I just ignore the occasional snotty comments from colleagues.

  4. pbev7

    Well. That reply didn’t exactly go where I wanted it to go. Whoops.

    • Emma Devlin

      Thanks for reading and for showing I am not the only one to have to pick up the slack. Colleen is correct, too. People with elderly or disabled relatives sometimes need the same concessions. I know I did when my mother was dying but the difference is, I took an unpaid leave of absence. My company was not paying me so they could have hired a temp in my place until my return.

  5. Colleen

    Cloud makes some excellent points. Even if one is not a parent, one can be a caregiver to other family members. People might have to take a parent or an elderly uncle to a medical appointment. They might need to help with physical therapy and need to leave work early a few days each week. It’s called work-life balance and everyone should have the ability to be balance personal and professional, none of which is in any way related to one’s decision to become a parent.

    As for Emma’s post: Thank you for stating it so plainly. Having a child or children is a choice. It’s a damned hard job and no one is willing to say that plainly or openly. I”m glad you are following what’s right for you. I don’t need anymore explanation than that.

    • Emma Devlin

      Thanks for reading Colleen. I mention you in my reply to pbev7. You are correct that some childless people make excuses, too.

  6. I have to echo what Cloud posted. I am a single parent and work longer hours than some of my childless and unmarried colleagues. I don’t get to leave early to pick up my child, nor do I get any extra time off if he gets sick or hurt. I also have to use paid time off for sick leave or any other reason.

    My boss also has two children and is probably here later and more often than any other single person at the company. People who abuse the system with their children as their excuse are wrong in doing so and make the rest of us look bad. I know they’re out there but so am I and so is Cloud.

    Despite having children we work just as hard as anyone else and would never expect a childless or unmarried individual to work extra just because they have no one to run home to.

    Carry on with your childlessness! I love my spawn but in no way planned or expected to have him. Stick up for your decisions but don’t fault the normal child-bearers for the judgey ones.

    • Emma Devlin

      Cloud, Colleen & Casper,
      Kudos to you for raising a family AND working so hard! You made me reflect on who those parents were who used their children as excuses to come in late and leave early and they were the same suspects again and again yet plenty of other parents managed to balance home life with work life. I should not have painted with such a broad brush. Shame on me. Some people are just bad employees and they would likely find another excuse to not pull their load even if they were childless like me.
      Keep up the good work! I have no idea how you do it but respect you for it immensely.

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