Motherhood is widely held up as being the defining feature of femininity – so is there a stigma attached to modern women who choose to skip this rite of passage? Here, Ruth Tierney explains her own decision to remain childless
them. Luckily my friends respect my choice, as I do theirs. And as Follini says, women like me make the best aunts as we are so involved in the lives of our nephews, nieces and friends’ kids. ‘These women are a gift to parents because they have so much time and energy to give.’
But not all friendships run so smoothly. ‘I’ve been with my husband three years, and we are happy in our decision to be child-free,’ says Rachel, a 32-year-old HR manager. ‘But friends seem to have difficulty believing me. I take an interest in their children but certain friends have stopped returning that interest in my life. I’ve changed my social life to fit in around other people’s little ones, which would be fine if only they were supportive of my choice too.’ Grace, a 41-year-old writer, has faced her share of hostility. ‘A former colleague once said it was tragic that my husband and I didn’t want babies, before telling us we were abnormal. She seemed mortally offended by our choice.’
Another irksome assumption is that childfree women don’t want a baby because they haven’t met the right man. A friend once said, ‘I never used to want kids either. Then I met my husband, and I wanted his babies. I was too in love not to take our relationship that step further.’ I found this patronising about my own marriage. One of the reasons my husband and I don’t want children is that we don’t want to share each other. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology backs this up, with 90 per cent of couples experiencing a deterioration in marital happi- ness in the year after the birth of their first child. A friend once confessed that motherhood had tested her marriage. ‘Your husband isn’t your main focus any more — your child is. Your relationship has to be so strong to weather this.’
So why are voluntarily childless women so misunderstood? ‘It’s because they challenge another person’s world view,’ says sociologist Dr Catherine Hakim. ‘The spectre of a childless woman can be disturbing and perplexing for some parents because it forces them to question the path they’ve taken.’
Coping with the questioning isn’t easy, but Follini has suggested a stock response to me. ‘Much as I love kids, I don’t want any myself. And I’m happy with my decision.’ There’s no arguing with that.