Breaking the Mold: The perks of being childfree
Whether you’ve already chosen the childfree life, or are considering it, you’ve probably encountered the barrage of questions and assumptions that get thrown at women who are of childbearing age (and let’s face it, even younger): “You two are going to make the cutest babies!” (Typically stated before the ink is even dry on one’s nuptials.) “When you’re a mom…” (Something every little girl has probably been told at least once.) “Better get on it before you’re not able to!” (Where do I even start with this one?)
The idea that womanhood = motherhood is a narrative that’s so prevalent for most of us, that we often don’t even realize we have a say in matters. But while motherhood — or at least, the desire to become a mother (since there are no assurances that one’s desire will be fulfilled) — has been a given for women for, well, ever…we as women actually have the freedom to choose a different path: namely, a childfree life. Or perhaps I should say, we theoretically have this freedom. The sad fact is that women’s bodily autonomy has been and continues to be under threat in countries around the world (the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the USA is just one example), and many women exist in cultures, religions, and families, where the choice of whether or not to have children, well, isn’t a decision. It’s just what you do, and in some cases, what is done to you. So let me say this: if you have the privilege to make a choice as to whether or not to have kids — it’s a freedom. It’s also a deeply personal decision, and regardless of the fact that societal expectations may try and dictate otherwise, it’s a choice that should be based on what you want. If what you want is to exercise the freedom to be childfree? That’s something to be celebrated.
Despite what the world might have you believe, life without kids isn’t an omission, less than, or a lack of, well, anything (aside from the no kids part, of course). Being childfree is a fully valid path in life and one that can be every bit as fulfilling as choosing to have children. What are some of the positive aspects of a childfree life? I’ll admit I find new things to love about my own childfree choice everyday, and this article will explore some of the reasons why women like myself relish our lives without kids.
“I can do what I want, when I want,” is an oft-heard refrain of those without kids. It’s not that women without kids have zero responsibilities whatsoever. But not having to care for little humans frees up a lot of time, energy, and other resources in life. Personal freedom goes beyond simple hedonism — which, by the way, there’s nothing wrong with. A life spent seeking pleasure is a wonderful life indeed. Some oft-cited freedoms of the childfree? Being able to sleep in late on weekends, take vacation at a moment’s notice, or go for a spontaneous date night. Yet the personal freedom one has access to as a childfree person runs even deeper. Personal freedom means the ability to deeply invest in you — whether through hobbies and interests, self-improvement, mental and emotional well-being — the list goes on. To get up for a 6 am run, without worrying who’s going to be at home with the kids, or having to get home in time to pack school lunches. To be able to start your day or decompress with some quiet music and a cup of tea — and no cries of “Mmmo—oommm” in the background. It’s the freedom to think about and focus on how you can better thrive in life — rather than having vast amounts of your energy invested in children. None of these things are impossible with kids, but as any mom will tell you it’s much harder. I’ve had many mom friends mutter enviously, “Oh, that sounds fabulous,” when listing off the latest books I’ve poured through, or sharing the details of yet another upcoming trip or epic hike. Life and life’s opportunities truly feel like they stretch out before me, and while a good amount of this is privilege (as the white, upper-middle class, able-bodied, straight woman that I am) — it’s a privilege that that been greatly broadened by my choice not to have kids.
Career Flexibility and Progression
Living a childfree life also means having more time, energy, and other resources to dedicate to one’s work, whether that be traditional 9-to-5 employment, self-employment, volunteer work, or whatever else “work” looks like. We know that the workplace is often inequitable for women, and while this is often solely on the basis of our gender, it’s also due to the fact that many women are mothers. It can be tough, for example, to shoulder the same amount of work travel, hours, or responsibility at work, when you are mothering, and while this certainly needs to be addressed — for all women’s sake — it remains that when you don’t have kids you can invest more into work, and reap the varied benefits of doing so. This can translate to taking on more senior roles in the workplace, earning more money, and having more unique and varied work experiences. But it’s not simply that women without kids can work more or achieve more — our work lives can also be more flexible. I, for example, often work into the evening hours when I’m on a roll tackling a project or hosting client calls or events, and I have the ability to do so because I don’t have kids to care for. Not having kids also enables us childfree folks to more easily embrace remote working (I have a childfree friend from Canada who spends a few months a year working from other countries), and we also might be able to take more financial risks in our work (for example, working on contract or investing in our business) because we don’t have the consideration of children and their present or future well-being. Self-employment also may feel more viable for childfree women, both from the standpoint of the amount of time and energy it takes to start a business, to the fact that being childfree can allow a person to take more risks. Choosing self-employment also frequently means more difficulty accessing workplace benefits like health insurance, maternity leave, and retirement investments, and while some of these things are, of course, still relevant to women without kids, not having kids can mean less reliance on these benefits or a lower cost in order to access them. It should be noted that not having kids doesn’t mean you have to work harder, longer hours, and more. It can also be easier for women without kids to work less, should they choose. I’ve often heard women and couples without kids saying they can get by on less income because they don’t have children to support or whose futures to consider. Deciding to pursue advanced or additional education is also often easier whe you are childfree. Want to go back to school for your MBA? Take weekend courses in graphic design? Do your coaching certificate alongside your day job? Not having kids means you more likely have the time, energy, and financial resources (or ability to withstand debt) to do so. To be clear, none of these are impossible if you have children — I have mom friends who are partners in law firms, best-selling authors, award-winning filmmakers, and CEO’s of muti-million dollar companies. But if you’re childfree? The possibilities for career flexibility and progression abound.
We’ve already touched on this a bit, but as we’ve already seen — money plays a big role in life. Being able to invest in oneself? That often requires having money. As a childfree person, rather than spending on diapers or daycare — you can take that trip to South Africa to see elephants. Instead of saving for your kid’s college fund, you can decide to go back to school yourself. While my husband and I have a good household income, our frequent travel and meals out are also the direct result of the things we’re not spending money on: we live in a 1-bedroom apartment because we don’t need extra space for children; we don’t have childcare costs and we can work more because we don’t have the responsibilities of parenting. Being childfree means more disposable income for the small and big pleasures in life, and the things that you value — whether that’s spending more for organic food, or on really good camping gear. It also means you can invest solely in your own future — rather than your children's. It’s no secret that raising kids is expensive (over $17,000 USD per year according to the USDA); life without kids not only means being able to spend more and/or save more, it also means less financial stress worrying about the day-to-day costs of raising a child.
More Time for Relationships
So far, I’ve shared a lot about how being childfree allows you to invest more in oneself — your personal pursuits, hobbies and interests, career and finances. But when you don’t have kids you also have more time for the other important relationships in your life — whether that be your friends, family, or partner. We’re the friends who can fly to another city or country to celebrate a milestone birthday, and without having to worry about school schedules or childcare or extra travel expenses. Because we’re not invested in raising our own kids, we can offer more time and attention with our nieces and nephews, or friends’ children. We can meet up with our parent friends on their terms (read: when it doesn’t disrupt bedtime and at their place; or on nights when they have a sitter). My relationship with myself, and also between my husband and me, get to be my number one focus — because there are no children to consume my energy or attention. I get to spend lots of time with my pup Shira, rather than only giving her whatever tiny bits of energy I have left after caring for my actual children. I can be there when a friend needs support — emotional or practical — whereas many other women (understandably) will have their children to attend to. Some other ways being childfree can allow time for personal relationships: to attend to and help care for aging parents…to nurture and keep in touch with a broader circle of friends…to allow for an adult-oriented social life - i.e. time spent with other adults, doing adult things, and talking about adult stuff. That means a social life where you can drop the occasional f-bomb (without getting *the look* because little Timmy is around), while tackling a 6-hour hike that little legs probably can’t manage, in the company pals who are also living interesting and colourful childfree lives.
Positive Impact on Mental Health
As someone who has faced challenges with her mental health for most of her adult life (namely, anxiety and depression) — I’ve often felt grateful that I don’t have to contend with parenting a child when I’m struggling just to take care of me. I’ve oft heard childfree women state that being childfree allows them to truly care for their mental health, and likewise, that the idea of having children on top of mental health challenges, feels precarious at best. Even those of us without a history of mental health speed bumps will probably agree that life is an undeniably wild ride at times, and we know that mental health conditions are on the rise. Whatever your personal mental health history looks like, studies show that living childfree can mean lower stress levels and greater overall well-being. Not having kids also means more time and resources to invest in self-care, whether that be keeping active through sports and other hobbies, attending therapy or coaching, having a relaxing soak in the tub post-work… the list goes on. As nearly any parent will tell you, being a parent can be high in stress and leave little time for self-care. By opting out of parenthood, not only is there potential to remove some of the stressors that rearing kids inevitably brings, but you have a unique opportunity to nurture you.
It goes without saying that each additional person on this planet increases the burden on our environment. As I shared in this post, having kids is one of the most carbon-intensive actions a person can take. While I’ve yet to meet many childfree women who consider it their main reason for not having kids, it’s certainly a feel-good perk of not having them. Not only do kids consume additional resources like food, water, and energy, but larger households typically require a larger living space, produce more waste, and require more energy-intensive infrastructure. Because my husband and I don’t have kids we can live in a small apartment, in the middle of the city (meaning we can walk or train many places), and can generally live with less stuff than we’d require if we were raising children. I’d also argue that we can prioritize more sustainable and healthy choices (i.e. not using a dryer for our clothing or choosing to shop organic) that may not be feasible if we had a larger family. Not having kids may also free up more time for environmental activism, potential financial contributions to environmental causes, and allow a greater focus on ways to live sustainably. While it bears noting that a number of the environmental perks of childfree living are still feasible with kids, it’s nice to know that living childfree means not adding even further to the burden on our planet.
What do you stand to gain?
Choosing to be childfree is about so much more than the omission of kids; there is an immense amount to be gained by choosing the childfree path. From greater personal freedom to the potential for more career growth, flexibility, and financial stability; forgoing children can mean you have more time for your relationships, experience more positive mental health, and have less negative impact on the environment.
Whether or not you ultimately choose to become a parent, or remain childfree, both choices are equally valid and have positive aspects to them. If you are considering the childfree path, I’d highly encourage you to ask yourself, “What do I stand to gain if I don’t have kids?” Whatever you decide through your explorations, being able to choose the path that is right for you is a wonderful privilege and a freedom.