Having children is an enormous undertaking. There are so many things to think about, so many things you can’t predict, so many things that you can’t guarantee, so much to learn, so much to do, such a long-term commitment and, at the end of it all, you have to let them go. Any one of these things can become a compelling reason not to have children if you feel strongly enough about it.
When people who have raised children find out what our book is about they sometimes say ‘Oh God, I can tell you why not to’ or ‘Ask my husband, he’d never do it again’ or ‘Whatever you do, don’t change your mind’. A more common response is: ‘I love my children dearly and would not give them up for anything in the world, but if I had my time again, knowing what I know now, I would not have kids.’
When people with young children find out that you don’t want any, they almost invariably try to change your mind. One theory is that misery loves company. The conspiracy of parenthood dictates that those who are now bound by their decision must attempt to recruit more victims to the fold. It is like a ‘baby cult’. You believe because you have to believe. It is too late to admit it was a mistake even if it was. You are now bound to spend a quarter of your life on this project. You can’t even allow the thought that you might have been wrong to enter your head. The conspiracy of silence about parenthood means that many new parents are left asking ‘Why didn’t anyone tell me how hard this would be?’ In popular culture, parenthood is romanticised and glorified when, for many, the reality is different. It takes a lot of guts to admit it.
Those who have finished raising their children are in a position to reflect more objectively, and sometimes that reflection is not as pretty as they once thought. That objectivity, combined with experience, is difficult to ignore. Some child-free people feel that they have simply learned from other people’s mistakes and listened to their advice.
The people we surveyed gave a wide variety of responses when asked why they don’t want children. Most people who have decided not to have a family will see themselves reflected somewhere in this chapter.
Many respondents said they simply had not found a good reason to have children. Says Marianne, 31, a graphic designer: ‘I can’t relate to other people’s reasons for wanting to have kids. Children are often so idealised and inevitably parents realise this not long after the child is born when the barrage of nappies and crying hits. It’s all worthwhile, they tell me. Is it?’
‘I never actually decided to have children,’ wrote Stephanie, 36, who has five brothers and two sisters. ‘Coming from a large family there were always too many children about. Being the youngest I was always surrounded by too many nieces and nephews.’
Helen, 33, says that having children would affect her life ‘very badly. I don’t like children, I don’t want children, it just wouldn’t work for me,’ she said. ‘I don’t mean to sound melodramatic, but it would ruin my life.’
Not all child-free people dislike children, in fact many are closely involved with children in their work and family lives, but so often children are ‘their own worst enemy’. Put simply, the perceived decline in standards of behaviour of ‘children today’ puts many people off having them. Even with the best of them it is not long before your tolerance is tested. So would you want one of your own full time? ‘Ah, but mine would be different!’ you might say. How do you know?
Tracey, 39, considers herself truly child-free by choice, although she has had a baby. ‘I relinquished a child for adoption at 16, and have never had the desire for children since, or before for that matter. I don’t consider myself a mother and never have. I wanted to be free of responsibility at 16, and still want to be free. I may not be considered a “child-free person” as I’ve had a baby. Then again, you could view it another way. If one has a child, or even falls pregnant, and then gives that child up, or has an abortion, one would truly be child-free by choice. I mean, once you already have that child, or are pregnant with it, then you have to have the courage of your convictions in making the decision to stay child-free.’
Child-free people are sometimes perceived as child haters. Yet to care so much for a child as to give it up for a better home, or not have the child all, may be the single most thoughtful and caring thing a person may ever do for a child. It is obvious they aren’t child haters when they think of a child’s welfare that far in advance. Prevention is better than cure.
This concern may initially manifest itself as doubt. ‘I don’t know if I want to bring a child into a world like this.’ ‘I don’t know if I could be a good parent.’ Don’t just ask yourself these questions. Answer them, and answer them before you have a child, because afterwards your answer doesn’t matter.
An overwhelming majority of respondents mentioned ‘freedom’, as either a key reason not to have children or the main benefit of staying child-free.
‘My situation is rather paradoxical, as you will see. I just love children of all ages, and I think the world would be a very sad place without them. However I must confess that I love my freedom more, hence my choice of a child-free life,’ said Vivienne, 59.
‘I value my freedom and independence very highly,’ said Monica, 30. ‘I like to be able to get in my car and go somewhere without first loading it with the large amount of necessary accessories that go with children, or having to make alternative arrangements for childcare.’
Tracie, 35, says she is not prepared to give up her independence. ‘I like the freedom to do what I want when I want. I also feel a child would interfere in my partner’s and my lifestyle and we spend a lot of time by ourselves.’
‘Our lifestyle is very important to us,’ said Stephanie, a 36-year-old sales assistant. ‘We have always put each other first. We prefer to be around animals and enjoy coming home to a quiet house with no children running around.’
The second most important reason Betty, 47, chose not to have children was lifestyle. ‘It was around 1970 I read an excerpt from a book called The Baby Trap in Cosmopolitan of all magazines. The author was celebrating her child-free honeymoon in
Europe which she said was possible because they weren’t
tied down with children. I read the book and it wasn’t particularly well
written but it raised a lot of valid points.’
‘I have always been happy the way I am, and having a child would make me very unhappy indeed – anxious, trapped and unable to please myself,’ said Fiona, 41. ‘Having a child would reduce my choices and opportunities for work, fun, lifestyle and happiness. I think that’s why people say they find happiness and fulfilment in their children – they don’t have the time or energy to find it elsewhere. There’s also the risk of being locked into a situation that’s second rate, for security’s sake.’
‘I feel that all my life I have been doing things to please others, but not necessarily what I wanted to do,’ said Beth, 34. ‘This decision is right for me and I guess others might view it as selfish but I don’t want to lose the freedom I currently have.’
Mik, 41, said that not having kids means he has ‘freedom to do as, when and for what I like, without responsibility.’
Freedom is whatever you perceive it to be. For some, it means being able to ‘up stumps’ and move at a moment’s notice. For others it means having as few obligations as possible. Some people see leaving the workforce to become a full-time parent as a form of freedom. After all, many people would love to give up working. However, parenting can be far more arduous than almost any job and it doesn’t offer the luxury of being able to seek a career change when you’re tired of it.