CHILD F

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - BODY & SOUL -

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

many peo­ple

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