Don’t you worry that there’ll be nobody to care for you when you’re old or miss you when you’ve gone?’ is just the latest in a long line of tactless comments about my choice to be child free. Funnily enough, I haven’t wasted much time pondering a lonely dotage or an ill-attended wake. In fact, the future I see is full of fun, adventures, child-unfriendly holidays taken in term-time, of city apartments without stair gates, of wild nights out without guilt. I’m enjoying the time, space and options that would be radically curtailed by children.
It’s not that I’ve been ‘educated out of the reproductive function’, as a respected female academic recently put it; for me, it’s not my qualifications or career dictating my choice. Yes, I have a degree (in art history) and a job (in journalism) that can be as demanding as it is fulfilling, but so too do millions of mothers. One doesn’t preclude the other.
My reason is simpler — my husband and I have no desire to have children. And surely that is the most basic requirement if you’re going to procreate. But this doesn’t stop people, often virtual strangers, questioning me about my lack of maternal instinct or trying to convert me. In fact, the woman who worried that I would have no one to care for me was someone in my gym who I’d only met twice. I told her politely, ‘I’ll worry about that when I get there.’ But what I wanted to say is that actually women like me are not missing out; we are signing up for a different path, one paved with just as many benefits as the traditional 2.4 children setup. Think bountiful leisure options, increased career prospects, a higher standard of living and more time to give to relationships.
Is it any wonder that being voluntarily childless is a lifestyle choice that’s appealing to more women than ever before? More than 50 per cent of 32-year- old women graduates in Ireland are now childless, according to the CSO. In European countries such as Germany, where one third of women born in 1965 are childless, this is a well-established trend.
So what’s behind the shift? ‘Women have more choice than they did 30 years ago. Until only a couple of generations ago we got married in our early 20s, and children were the next step — few people deviated from that,’ explains life coach Beth Follini, who specialises in helping women decide whether or not to have a baby. ‘But in the past few years, I noticed that more and more of my clients were facing a real dilemma over whether to have children. Women now want to explore their options in order to make an informed choice. By their 30s many of them have a great career and a good standard of living. So why rock the boat? Then there are those who have no strong biological urge to have children, but are worried about missing out. I often coach women who don’t feel adult enough to have children ( even in their 30s) and others whose own childhood may have had an impact — perhaps their parents struggled financially or emotionally to raise them. A small percentage are scared of childbirth or the trauma pregnancy will have on their body.’
For actress Helen Mirren, not having children means she can enjoy her freedom. ‘It’s wonderful knowing I can do what I choose, work commitments notwithstanding, without encumbrance,’ she has said. ‘I always did — and still do — value my freedom too highly. Children become emotional attachments.’
While the decision to say no to motherhood often comes from a positive place, the fear of negative reactions makes it a difficult subject to shout about. The child-free revolution may be growing apace, but we’re still feeling our way at the frontiers of a new movement — one other people often find hard to understand. At 35, I’m in the middle of baby central, where most of my peers are either pregnant or have had a baby with another on the way. Yet I remain deaf to the siren call of motherhood.
It’s not a decision I agonise over, writing lists of pros and cons. It’s simple — I have zero interest in becoming a mother. I’ve been with my husband for 14 years and we share the same vision. We’ve revisited our child-free choice many times, and every time our answer is the same: thanks, but no thanks. We’re happy with our lives and value our freedom. Why would we want that to change? Luckily our parents are supportive of our decision — which I’m thankful for because family pressure can be one of the biggest problems for the voluntarily child-free. It seems mothers especially — if not your own, then in general — find it hard to accept this lifestyle choice. I can understand why. When they’ve experienced what has been described as the most precious relationship in the world, it’s natural to want to tell others what they’re missing. Several new mothers have assured me, with all the evangelism of the recently converted, that any time now my biological clock will kick in and I’ll change my mind. But the only tick-tock I’m aware of is the time bomb about to go off the next time I’m asked to justify my child-free choice. From hairdressers to ex-classmates Facebooking me, they all deem it acceptable to ask why I haven’t got children — when I’d never ask why they have got ‘Child-free’ is a term used to describe fertile women who choose not to have children; ‘childless’ is seen as a negative label by