I am regularly asked by total strangers to explain my reproductive status, and since I am unashamedly childfree, my answer is punctually met with the dismay of someone who has just learnt that their neighbour is a pedophile.
This disapproval only reinforces my convictions (I am defiant by design), but sometimes a sense of violation lingers on. I am childfree and I am happy. Ok? Wrap your head around it and stop asking silly questions.
It can get hard though, especially for those who don’t like confrontation, are eager to please, or are surrounded by too many bigots — or even just too many parents.
Read on for SEVEN HACKS on how to enjoy who you are without constantly second-guessing yourself, aka how to be childfree and happy.
1. Ignore people’s JUDGEMENT
In fact, the basic question is not so much how to be childfree and happy, rather how to be happy, period. If some factors are out of our control, one is definitely within everybody’s manoeuvring power: whether we give a flying *ehm* about what people think.
This is a particular concern for the shy childfree woman, who is constantly badgered about her choice. Do you have children. No? Why? When are you going to have them? Whaaaaat? You are not? Why?? Children give meaning to life!
Air is noisily inhaled and tutting ensues.
Or, if she is obviously over the age at which one can be expected to expect, a mortified silence drops on everyone like a broken stage curtain.
So what to do? You have a couple of options, depending on which of the following personality types you identify with:
A. The people pleaser
You admit that you are not sure about your decision. Perhaps you will change your mind. You are just waiting for the right relationship. You are just waiting to change jobs. You are just waiting to have more money in the bank. You are just… waiting.
B. The no-nonsense woman
You blink and say, what? Thanks but no thanks. Children aren’t my thing. Parenting is a calling — one that has passed me by.
C. The aggressive
As above until “aren’t my thing.” Then: “Actually, I hate those screaming snotballs. Their scrunched up alien faces make me want to punch them. Can’t we just send them all
to boarding school until they are 18? Like, on Mars.” Oh, you have two of those things? So sorry for you. Shit happens to the best of us.
D. The comedian
You blurt out that you would loooove to breed but your reproductive system has packed up and are now destined to die barren. Sniff sniff. Squeeze out a couple of tears if you can. Watch their horrified face. Suppress a satisfied smirk.
In summary, you can appease, dismiss, attack, or wind up.
Personally, I like the comedic passive-aggressive option (D), since it leaves people with the distinct impression they fucked up without giving them the opportunity to backtrack or apologise.
And that’s perfectly fine. Frankly, anyone who thinks nothing of asking very private questions about one’s very private life choices deserves whatever is flung their way.
2. Hang out with LIKEMINDED people
This is straightforward: humans are programmed to conform, so you won’t feel good hanging with people whose metric for success is mastery of nappy-changing.
I know this from personal experience. A few months ago I found myself in the midst of what I can only call a mummy convention. A friend roped me into a dinner that turned out to be a gathering of mostly female parents, who couldn’t stop gushing about their dwarves and then frowning when I voiced that neither did I have children nor any desire to change the status quo. In spite of my biological clock tick-tick-tick-ticking, fast!
I drowned my irritation in too much wine and left the dinner feeling dirty.
Honestly, if you want to be childfree and happy, I strongly recommend that you surround yourself with likeminded people.
Notwithstanding the occasional incident (as above), for me this happens by natural selection: I move countries often and am thus forced to seek out new friends. Clearly, the most willing and able to branch out of their social circles are those who aren’t tied down by child-minding commitments.
But if your milieu hasn’t changed much since high school, chances are that you are lone wolf in a forest of beavers. As such, you must find a pack. Thankfully in today’s digital world one doesn’t have to physically relocate to a friendlier environment (I always choose dense urban areas) to meet someone who gets your vibe. Join a few online interest-based communities and you’ll have no reason to feel like an outcast no more.
3. Accept that everything in life is a TRADE-OFF
No, you can’t have it all, whatever that means. Remember what happens to Terry Jones after he orders everything (e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g) on the menu and is then offered one last ‘lil mint? He explodes. Literally, his guts blow up in a disgusting shower of brown goo.
This is the fate of those who claim to have it all. They eventually disintegrate — if less flamboyantly than Mr Creosote — and smoulder in a psychiatric ward until fit for take-home prozac. Because people always want something they don’t have, starting from a night of uninterrupted sleep if their “all” includes reproduction.
So my advice here is to focus on what you love as opposed to some skewed idea of what you may be missing. Better still, write down what you enjoy doing and then ask yourself whether these activities dovetail with childrearing.
* Would you be able to travel for months on end?
* Would you be able to work 80 hours a week (without being a parent only in name)?
* Would you be able to enjoy your current hobbies?
* Would you be able to have a social life?
* Would you be able to dedicate as much time to the people you love as you do now?
* Would you be able to dedicate as much time to yourself as you do now?
* Would you be able to get enough sleep?
Because you can’t have kids and gallivant as you please, work like a mule, learn Russian, climb mountains, go dancing every night, be professionally coiffed at all times, and never sleep less than eight hours. I mean, you cannot simultaneously do these things without children.
If math is not an opinion and there are indeed 168 hours in a week, something has got to give.
4. Define your own SUCCESS
Once established that you can’t have it all and neither would you want to, the question becomes: what makes you happy? Or better: what would cause you to be unbearably unhappy?
A lot of my decisions were taken in the negative, which is to say I crossed out what I knew would make me miserable until I was left with something I could live with. More often than not, the outcome was surprisingly pleasant, which is how I started defining success. It’s a great trick, I promise.
Firstly though, you must remember that we are conditioned by society to believe that for life to be worthwhile we must achieve set goals:
Get a degree!
(and with top marks)
Get a job!
(that pays a $$$ salary)
(to Mr / Ms perfect)
(that look like angels)
Buy a house!
(Large. In the best neighbourhood. Designed by the best architect. With the best furniture)
(without being a bother to anyone — especially your offspring)
But if the meaning of life is being happy and happiness is a personal emotion, why not trash all of the above and redefine success in terms of what gives you joy? Why not eliminate what doesn’t?
Fine if happiness for you is having babies. And absolutely, totally, supremely fine if it is staying as far away from them as humanly possible.
5. Think about RISK
For those who regret a choice not made, the corresponding life not lived is always a wonderful dream.
Prospective parents picture their unborn children as angelic dolls cracking toothless smiles and radiating unconditional love. These perfect little babies never cry, get sick, and then get sick again, and then throw tantrums and puke — maybe because they are sick. And if they cry or do get sick, that’s not 24/7 from dusk ’til dawn or to a life threatening extent.
The adolescents these children turn into are not rebellious or moody. They don’t smoke pot, swear, self-harm, fall pregnant at 15, or get themselves murdered. The kids of someone who hasn’t got any are always studious, smart, responsible, warm, funny, and well-behaved.
As adults, these imaginary offspring are brilliant, successful, supportive, and universally admired. With their equally perfect specimen of a wife and two kids plus a golden retriever who eats fillet because its owner earns a six figure salary, they are the secret envy of everyone who ever meets them.
People lamenting childlessness always regret the best of all possible outcomes, whereas the truth is that the risk of something going horribly wrong is real.
If the odds of your loins spawning another Jeffrey Dahmer are negligible, garden variety psychopaths aren’t rare. Not to mention that the world teems with personality disordered individuals, drug addicts, and bullies. And the disabled, the victims, the chronically ill, the misfits.
Point is, there isn’t much point in regretting not having done something that could have very well turned out tragically differently from what we had wished.
6. Separate romantic RELATIONSHIPS from childbearing
I recently met a woman who firmly believed that disliking children made her undatable. Why so? Whether more men or women are intrinsically childfree is unknown.
Evolution suggests that the first group prefers to reproduce — and reproduce only — over parenting, while the situation is in reverse for women. On the other hand, the power of cultural conditioning is enormous, and while some women have emancipated themselves from breeding, some men have channelled their tendency to be protectors into a penchant for conventional families. So which gender is truly the most childfree? The reality is that in terms of numbers we simply don’t know.
I also love how people equate relationship success and marital bliss with child-rearing. Marital bliss is determined, amongst other things, by shared interests. So those who have a psychiatric need to make babies will only be happy with someone who feels the same. On the other hand, there isn’t much point in shacking up with a man who aches to be a father when you can’t stand the sight of a minor. If you designed to give all of your lovin’ to fully developed humans, go look for someone designed the same way.
Finally, let’s not forget that countless studies have indicate that having children lowers happiness, presumably also in those whose breeding choice wasn’t accidental since the issue cuts across social and cultural divides.
If the doldrums are particularly severe during the first post-baby year, life satisfaction doesn’t return to baseline until the children have flown the nest, which given the current economic climate will likely be when you start needing their help to lift your arthritic joints out of bed.
7. Remember that THE DOOR is not nailed shut
As far as I am concerned people can multiply like rabbits, swat children away with a frying pan, or anything in between. I ain’t judging anyone. I am not that fascist childfree crusader who sneers at women who sit on the fence. Or start second-guessing themselves once they enter their late thirties.
I am glad that there are people out there who want babies, especially when their reasons are noble. If a woman’s aim for being with child isn’t to qualify for state benefits or add a live fashion accessory to her handbag, then kudos to the lady. Good parents create good children who become good humans which the world needs more of.
To be childfree and happy you really can’t be an inflexible zealot and should accept that other people may feel differently.
And it helps if you understand that you may change your mind too. Act like you wouldn’t since uncertainty is maladaptive, but never say never. Equally, don’t rush into motherhood with the first sperm repository you stumble across just because you are 38 and have a bad case of FOMO (on something others want). That’s not a good reason.
In fact, making choices that never appealed because they suddenly look like an “opportunity” is bound to backfire. As anyone who’s ever returned the last bargain dress on the rack knows, opportunities are only such if worth taking when they aren’t scarce.
Not that this will be a problem for much longer. Now for 5000 dollars women can get pregnant past menopause with their own rejuvenated ovaries, which doesn’t sound so horrifying in a world where healthy lifespan for today’s cohort of indecisives is set to hit 100.
In any case, stop fretting about being ambushed by a surprise maternal instinct when you are not feeling maternal. Unless you are under the impression that your genes are necessary for the survival of humanity, you can still count on the offerings of generous egg donors and pregnant crackheads. Because ultimately, where there’s a will there’s a way.
So, what can you do to be childfree and happy?
To sum it up, you must:
1. Ignore what people say
2. Surround yourself with likeminded individuals
3. Accept that everything in life is a trade-off
4. Think about the risk of jumping into the unknown
5. Define your own success
6. Distinguish between romantic relationships and child-rearing
…and should you ever change your mind
7. Remember that nothing is impossible!