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Childfree by choice: I’m okay with that, so why aren’t you?

‘Don’t worry, you will know what it’s like one day,” my colleague quipped to me when we were out for coffee one morning. She was referring to a typical parental annoyance that came with the territory of having a toddler. My short laugh could have turned into an agreeable statement, or even comical reply, but I paused and thought not to bother. I wasn’t going to pretend that the joys, the challenges, the stress and the never-ending labour involved in having and raising my own biological child were something I wanted— because it’s not. I’ve never had the desire to have my own child, and now that I have entered my 30s, I’m more resolute in my decision than ever before. It’s a decision I have known deep down was always the case from a very young age. I was never the typical child or teenager that had hopes and desires to be a mother. I wanted to leave my mark on the world in other ways. With a supportive, long-term partner who is completely on the same page as me when it comes to remaining childfree, I have no intentions of conforming to society’s prevailing expectations around gender roles.

My mind started wandering after my colleague made that comment. It was a mere ordinary, run of the mill remark that I had heard countless times before; the comments underpinned by the moral imperative and pervasive societal expectation that all women want to bear, and raise children. However, this one comment struck a different chord which was slightly perplexing for me. Perhaps it was one comment along the same lines too many, and I had simply had enough. Not wanting to engage in a conversation and debate about gender norms and open myself up to unsolicited comments on what I should or shouldn’t want as a women, it was a moment of sudden realisation that for the rest of my 30s, I will be contending with the deeply ingrained fundamental belief that all women want children.

There are a myriad of reasons women may not have children; they are personal and multifaceted, and may be because of circumstances beyond the individual’s control. While it’s a nuanced topic, my decision to remain childfree does certainly not mean I view women with children any differently—I do not question, comment or judge their decisions. Conversely, this is not the case for me and my decision to remain childfree. Defying a traditional, seemingly logical and rational social norm comes with a natural degree of judgement and prejudice. But when will this tide of judgement and prejudice shift? Will it ever shift?

In a 2020 empirical study examining the perceptions of women without children, the authors found that childfree women were evaluated more negatively than women with children. Furthermore, this pattern did not exist for males. This is despite numerous studies and evidence highlighting demographic and structural shifts with regards to motherhood, with more women delaying motherhood, or deciding to remain childfree altogether. According to the ABS, about a quarter of Australian women in their reproductive years are likely never to have children. With fertility rates dropping, women postponing motherhood, remaining undecided or simply not desiring children, why is this cultural ideal that all women should want to conceive so pervasive? Why is the accompanying judgement and scrutiny still so harsh for those that don’t follow a traditional path of motherhood? Educated women like myself have so much choice with how we want to live our lives, and this should be celebrated, not frowned upon if that choice involves being childfree.

I am comfortable with my decision, but it’s evident that my decision seems to make others uncomfortable. There are so many paths to fulfilment that look different for everyone. As a society, we must accept that more and women are voluntarily choosing to opt out of parenthood, and that that’s okay. Change will take time, acceptance and understanding always do. In the meantime, I know I’ll continue contending with remarks and comments along the lines of “You’ll change your mind”, “never say never” or “you’ll have the same experience when you’re a mum,” for some years to come.

Reference: Iverson, Lindsay, B., & MacInnis, C. C. (2020). You don’t want kids?!: Exploring evaluations of those without children. The Journal of Social Psychology Australian Bureau of Statistics, Family Formation: Trends in childlessness. Retrieved from: https://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/bb8db737e2af84b8ca2571780015701e/1e8c8e4887c33955ca2570ec000a9fe5!OpenDocument