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The stigma of being child-free-by-choice

Feminism has opened the door for women everywhere, in terms of what choices they can make. That doesn’t make their choices less controversial, however. One of the most controversial topics is parenting. Childless-by-choice women, or child-free women, face stigma surrounding their choices by many people. As a child-free woman, I’ve been barraged by negative stereotypes surrounding my lifestyle.

During my research on the topic I came across a study where one woman described as a mother of two, was compared to a child-free, sterilized woman. In comparison to the mother of two, the child-free, sterilized woman was painted as atypical, less sensitive, less happy, less well-adjusted, less likely to be content at age sixty-five, and more likely to be involved in feminism (which, as we all know, is considered negative by many parties). These stigmas continue to exist despite the fact that it has been projected that 25 percent of women born in 1973 will be child-free.

However, child-free people like me maintain that we are happy, well-adjusted, and content at later ages. This strange stigma comes from a pro-natalist society that posits child-free people as abnormal or unusual, in spite of the growing number of child-free folk. On top of this, the stigma of denying the heteronormative nuclear family dynamic is also highly prominent. Even if you do decide to have kids, if you’re not within the male and female binary, monoracial, heterosexual, cisgendered, and married, then you’re still damned for having children. So you can imagine just how stigmatizing it may be to be outwith those groups on top of being child-free.

The most common reason to be child-free reported in studies, by far, was a desire to be free of childcare duties and higher opportunities for personal growth and spontaneity. Women were especially likely to be concerned by overpopulation, worry about children’s lives in our current world, and about their ability to parent. Some child-free people are worried about the implications of pregnancy and birth and find it traumatic or something to avoid, which was the cement for their child-free foundation. Others still have concerns about work interfering with their family life and make the decision based on that.

Every child-free person has different reasons to be child-free, but there is a sense of community among child-free individuals, who are frequently looked at as selfish, abnormal, or atypical. One of Reddit’s smaller but very active communities, /r/childfree, is especially concerned with community. Clocking in at 81,000 subscribers, this subreddit challenges the status quo daily by posting articles, memes, and stories about being child-free.

Beyond the stigmatization of the child-free lifestyle, many good-faith, albeit misinformed, comments are made to child-free individuals on a daily basis. Child-free people, often perceived to be the same atypical, impervious, and selfish people, have many different responses to these stereotypes.

Here are six of the most common things a child-free person hears when they divulge their choice to someone new to the lifestyle.

“Who will take care of you when you’re old?”

“What if you have an oops baby?”

“What if you regret it or change your mind?”

“Your biological clock will eventually kick in.”

“Do you really want to let your bloodline die like that?”

“You’re too young to decide that.”

Now, those are sometimes well-intentioned comments meant to make the child-free person think about their status. But being child-free isn’t a choice one makes in the spur of the moment; instead, it’s something generally deeply thought about, something you spend time deciding. So a lot of these questions are already answered in the child-free person’s mind, and it’s usually not the first time someone has asked them.

Despite the different reactions a child-free person might have to those questions, here are some of the reasoned arguments that I’ve heard over the years that make the questioner stop and think about what they’ve said and understand how it was offensive.

“Who will take care of you when you’re old?”

“Well, I’ll probably hire someone to take care of me, especially since I’ll have saved money on the children I didn’t have.”

“What if you have an oops baby?”

“I’m taking steps to prevent that from happening.”

“What if you regret it and change your mind?”

“I would rather regret not having kids than regret having them, besides, adoption is always an option.”

“Your biological clock will eventually kick in.”

“It hasn’t yet, and I don’t expect it will. I’ve known for x amount of time that I want to remain child-free and I’ve always been told that my biological clock will kick in, but it never has.”

“Do you really want to let your bloodline die like that?”

“I will not be forced into parenthood for the sake of carrying on a tradition. Why force it and deny my own agency?”

“You’re too young to decide that.”

“If I’m too young to decide to not have children, wouldn’t that make me too young to decide to be a parent?”

There are always other responses to these questions. No one child-free person is going to act the same and respond the exact same way, and the way they respond will always be best for them. Some people refuse to respond at all, as it isn’t their job to educate someone on the nuances of the child-free lifestyle.

Child-free people vary like any other population. Those who educate are invaluable, but so are those who don’t — each person makes up this community, and without the community, child-free people would feel isolated, alone, and atypical. If you’re child-free, my advice would be to seek out a like-minded community on Facebook, Reddit, any other social media, or in real life, using sites like NoKidding. There’s also a vast amount of literature on the subject.

Community can make us feel part of something larger and remind us that we’re not alone. It’s been great for me to see people like me living life in a healthy, happy way. It’s important that you do the same.


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Written by Courtney Duff

Courtney Duff is a third-wave feminist pursuing an individualized major in Women's Studies and a certificate in Paralegal Studies at a Midwestern college. She spends her time at home with her partner, playing Fantasy Life and Pokemon on her 3DS. She loves Bitch Media, Feministing, Feminispire, and Fembot. When she isn't writing or studying, she's usually found taking a nap.

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