As women, one of the biggest pressures to have children often comes from your parents or family. I have friends and co-workers who have shared stories with me of not really wanting kids or sitting on the fence about kids, yet, still deciding to have them because it was what their family expected. They felt they should do it, because their partner or parents wanted them to have children.
Sometimes, the expectations are clear. It’s the relative at a BBQ asking you when you’re planning to have kids. It’s your mother moaning about when you’re going to make her a grandmother. It’s a sibling asking if their child will soon have some cousins to play with.
And if, like me, you cringe, silently scream and pleasantly say that you’re not having kids, then comes the smug, knowing, ‘You’ll regret it if you don’t,’ or ‘You’ll change your mind later.’
All childfree women have heard the phrase ‘You’ll regret it when you’re older’ hundreds of times. Although there isn’t much research on this topic, a Norwegian Study of 5,500 people between the ages of forty and eighty found no evidence that childless adults have reduced wellbeing compared to people with children. Meanwhile, US studies show that childlessness does not increase loneliness and depression. So, why would we regret our choice?
Then there’s ‘You’ll change your mind later.’ I have lost count of how many times I’ve heard this, rolled my eyes and dismissed it. ‘You’ll change your mind when you’re thirty.’ ‘You’ll change your mind when your friends are all having kids.’ ‘You’ll change your mind when you’re forty.’ Well, guess what? I turned thirty. My friends had kids. And now that I’m at an age that starts with a four, I’m no closer to changing my mind. Why should I? I know myself and I know who I am. I knew from a fairly young age that I didn’t want children and have never deviated from that decision. My GPS is firmly set on its destination – to remain childfree.
Having said this, other times, the expectations of our friends and family are expressed in ways that are very subtle. Your parents and other relatives might ask overtly about when you’re planning to have kids, but the expectation exerts itself in other ways.
In my case, when I asked my mum what she honestly thought when I told her I didn’t want children, she said, ‘It was your life and your choice. It was not up to me to say what you should or shouldn’t do. We were never disappointed that you didn’t want children. We accepted your decision as it was your life to live as you wanted to.’
However, even though my family say they support my decision, there are a number of ways in which it isn’t supported.
From a financial perspective, my sister has received support from my parents, including trust funds for each of her children, while Shayne and I haven’t received anything. I remember having a conversation with my dad where he commented that Shayne and I didn’t need any help because I had my business, so ‘must be raking it in’. In reality, nothing could’ve been further from the truth.
Or how about gifts? When your sibling has three kids, each of those kids gets birthday and Christmas presents, not to mention the special outings with Ma and Pa throughout the year. As many people with kids know, this can add up over the course of a year. The same goes for baby shower gifts, birth gifts and birthday and Christmas presents for nieces, nephews and friends’ children. Sadly, it’s rarely reciprocated for my fur kids. The gesture and acknowledgement of my chosen children would make a big difference. Actions speak louder than words.
I know they didn’t mean to make me feel like that. I know they didn’t do it out of malice, and probably weren’t even conscious of treating my sister and I differently, but it still hurts. My sister also believes I haven’t been treated any differently or, if I have, that it is because of our decision to move away. But my experience is very different to their perception.
Real friends and people who love you will fully support your decisions and life choices. I have always been happy for and supported my friends when they have told me of their decision to have a child. Granted, it is not a choice I make for myself, but for me, as long as they are happy, that is what matters most. Similarly, whether they agree or disagree with my decisions, they should just care about my happiness.