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The Empowered Choice: Living Childfree by Choice

For most of my life, the examples I saw of women without kids seemed to be solely those who were unable to have them, either for health reasons (i.e. infertility) or due to circumstance (i.e. they hadn’t met a partner yet, or until much later in life). As such, I don’t think I fully appreciated that there were women without children who had deliberately chosen this path — at least not where it concerned women who I thought of like me: namely, heterosexual, and in a long-term relationship.

Childfree by Keltie

I intellectually understood the concept of choosing to forgo motherhhood. But for most of my life, women who had chosen not to have kids weren’t much in view. Yes, I did have friends without kids, but for the most part I always believed that they still would, or at least hoped to have them, one day. When it came to older women in my life without kids? Well, they were few and far between.

I distinctly remember asking my mom a few years ago, if we had any female friends, family members, or acquaintances who hadn’t had kids (for any reason whatsoever) and the only person she could name was a great aunt who died years ago, who didn’t have kids for health reasons. As such, I didn’t really realize that choosing a childfree life was not only increasingly common — but a decision being celebrated.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at what it means to be childfree by choice, how the growing childfree movement came to be, why people are choosing to forgo having kids, and some of the challenges and unique possibilities being childfree presents.

Understanding the Childfree Choice

People without children have historically been referred to as childless; a term that’s often still used by those unable — but who would like — to have kids. In recent years however, a new term has come into vogue: childfree, or childfree by choice (the “by choice” bit generally — but not always — being implied when one simply states that they are childfree). It turns out that those who have chosen NOT to have children don’t actually think of their life path as being “less” and in fact, find a kind of freedom in their choice. We can think of the term “childfree” as a fresh take on voluntary childlessness. It’s worth noting that there are some women who desired, but were unable (for whatever reason) to have kids, who also prefer the term childfree (rather than childless) to express their relationship to kids and motherhood. And while some childless women find themselves stuck in understandable grief and heartache that their life path didn’t lead them to motherhood, others choose to embrace, and now find great enjoyment (and even relief) in ultimately ending up childfree (Instagram’s popular childless and childfree voice, Tiffany J Marie, springs to mind). Though I would personally love to see a term that refers to people who live without children that doesn’t include “child” in it (after all, why should we be characterized by something we don’t have?) — “childfree” or “childfree by choice” is what presently best describes my own decision to forgo motherhood.

The history of voluntary childlessness can be traced all the way back to ancient times when some Greeks and Romans held the belief that having children interfered with other pursuits and that not everyone was meant to be a parent. Yet while there have always been childless individuals in our societies, choosing not to have children has historically been challenging, for reasons ranging from lack of suitable birth control, to the role that children have played (and still often play in society) in supporting older generations. The term ‘child-free’ itself, first came into use in the early 1900’s, but really only began gaining ground in the 1970’s, when feminists began using the term to refer to those who had chosen not to have children. While there have been some notable periods of growth in the occurrence of people, and more specifically, women, choosing to be childfree over the last two centuries, these numbers have reached new heights in recent years. ​​As quoted in this recent BBC article, a 2021 Pew Research Center study showed that some 44% of non-parents aged 18 to 49 don’t think they will have children, up from 37% in 2018. More than half of these people listed “don’t want to have children” as their reason, rather than more circumstantial factors such as medical issues or not wanting to raise a child without having a partner.

Why People Choose to be Childfree

So why are so many choosing to be childfree? The reasons are many, ranging from the personal to the political. While I, and many others, have chosen to be childfree because I ultimately realized I don’t want children (and let’s be honest — that’s as good a reason as any) — there are, of course, other factors that play into this choice.

Personal Fulfillment and Freedom

Just as many parents find having kids to be deeply fulfilling, many childfree people feel personally fulfilled in not having children. Perhaps they find fulfillment through their work, relationships, hobbies, or volunteerism; maybe they find joy in the simple act of being alive. In my case, my relationship with my partner, the coaching work I do, and frequent travel and time spent in nature bring me a great deal of fulfillment — to name just a few areas of life that light me up. The fact is, not having children opens up time, space, and energy for other things, whether that be personal or spiritual growth, developing new skills, or nurturing existing relationships and pursuits.

Particularly for women, who face greater hurdles in the workplace when they have children, being childfree often provides different professional and career opportunities than are available to mothers. Aside from the simple matter of having more time and energy to invest career, our patriarchal society still favours those without kids — and penalizes moms. While parents may argue that your career won’t keep you company when you’re older, many women deeply enjoy the work they do, and find great rewards in it. Of course, one of the reasons for not having kids that I see shared most often, is freedom. The freedom to do what you want, when you want. To explore the world and travel, without being tethered to school holiday schedules and the natural constraints of travelling with kids. The freedom to up and change your life, and/or make decisions, that might otherwise not be feasible with dependants. Freedom to take a weekend nap after a late night out.

Environmental and Financial Considerations

I recently heard a Boomer-generation podcast host express skepticism when her guest shared that climate change is a big reason that Gen-Z’ers are reluctant to have kids. All I could think while listening was, Is this really a surprise? Our planet is going to pieces. My own, abysmal view of our environment’s future aside, parents and non-parents alike are understandably questioning what life on earth will look like for the future generations. While I’m fairly certain that if I really wanted to have kids, I would have had them despite my concerns (just like I still take airplanes and heat my home in the winter), the environment is definitely a consideration that weighed heavy on my heart and mind. Childfree by choice people not only worry about how the environment might negatively affect their hypothetical children, but also the impact their kids would have on the environment. In fact, studies have shown that forgoing children is one of the greatest ways an individual can reduce environmental impact: having one fewer child in a wealthy country would reduce an individual’s carbon footprint by up to approximately 58 tonnes per year over an 80-year lifespan. Even more compelling for many people who decide to remain childfree? Kids are expensive. A recent estimate out of the USA puts the the cost of raising a child until 18 years old at $300,000 (and let’s be honest, kids are often supported far beyond 18, these days). Couple that with oftentimes meagre incomes, increasing housing, energy, and other living costs, and many people are having to ask if it’s even financially feasible to have kids. Of course, by not having kids, the childfree can enjoy both greater financial abundance, and/or not stress so much about having it in the first place.

Health and Wellness Concerns

Even among those who experience parenting as their life’s greatest joy, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who says that it's easy. Couple raising a child with mental or physical health concerns, and what’s already a tough job can become an immense burden. For those that struggle with chronic health conditions, hereditary illness, and/or their mental health, the thought of adding kids to the mix can feel impossible, if not irresponsible. As someone who has long struggled with periods of debilitating anxiety and depression, alongside endometriosis, the thought of also being able to adequately parent, gave me serious pause. I was also fairly reluctant to possibly entertain further pain and suffering in my pelvic region (after dealing with chronic and debilitating pain in this area for so long, with undiagnosed endometriosis), and I felt nervous that having anxiety could be a bad complement to raising kids. Similar to my environmental considerations, I wouldn’t say health and wellness concerns were my primary reasons for not wanting children — but I also can’t dismiss that they played a role. When a person feels like their physical, emotional, or mental state is already tenuous, kids introduce even further complexity. I’ve seen many childfree women in online communities share that they don’t feel their health would allow them to parent, or that it would further put them (or their imagined children) at risk — in some cases, even in a life or death sense. For some of us that are childfree, just taking care of ourselves and doing our best to remain well, feels like enough to contend with. The aforementioned reasons for choosing not having kids isn’t exhaustive, and as stated, simply not wanting kids is reason enough not to have them. Other considerations include having experienced a difficult childhood or relationship with one’s own parents, fear of pregnancy and childbirth, relationship instability or lack of social support — the list goes on. At the end of the day, one’s reason(s) for choosing to be childfree are personal, and fully acceptable.

The Challenges of Choosing a Childfree Life

There’s no doubt that it’s an interesting time to be a childfree woman: on the one hand, there is growing acceptance that a woman’s path need not fit the traditionally-prescribed roles of wife, homemaker, mother. Recent years have marked a new wave of feminism; one that has given rise to the #MeToo movement; protests and marches in support of issues ranging from from women’s rights in Iran, to the right to choose, to advocacy for greater equity in all areas of society — from sports to business to culture.

Yet despite the growing prevalence of the choice to be childfree, and the feminist movement’s pursuit of equity for those of all genders, backgrounds, and lifestyle choices — in many ways, a woman’s right to choose her path feels very much under threat. While the overturning of Roe vs. Wade in the U.S. (and concern that other countries may follow suit with their own abortion laws) may be the most obvious indicator of this, there are many others.

Despite the surge of growth we’ve seen in childfree communities online — comment sections are littered with hateful words about the “selfishness” of those who choose not to have kids. And while women may choose a childfree path — receiving an elective hysterectomy is an uphill, and oft-times, impossible battle for many uterus-owners (as opposed to the relative ease with which most men can receive a vasectomy). While online voices like Chelsea Handler celebrate and write jokes about their childfree-choice, right-wing media outlets like Fox News, meanwhile, mock and degrade her. And of course, it’s not only the backlash that many women face on a broader societal level when they choose to be childfree; it’s also common for those who choose not to have kids to face criticism — and even outrage — regarding their choice, from friends, family, colleagues, and strangers alike.

The fact is, not having children runs counter to what many of us are taught is “normal” — in our families, culture, religion, and/or upbringing, and this can present challenges for those who choose to be childfree. There are deeply engrained societal beliefs that not having kids may run up against — for example, that motherhood is synonymous with being a woman; that being childfree is selfish; that childfree people hate children; and that a life without kids is one without purpose, meaning, or fulfillment. Many of these beliefs are so prevalent that they become internalized messages that those who are considering whether or not to have kids, must also grapple with. I personally experienced a lot of shame and guilt that I didn’t desire motherhood like I believed a woman should, and an important part of my journey was establishing new beliefs that I now fully embrace: that my womanhood has nothing to do with whether or not I’m a mom; that my selfishness or selflessness is entirely unrelated to if I have kids; and that my life is inherently meaningful, and very much fulfills me.

These challenges are certainly not a reason to have kids anyway (though for many people, they dictate that they will) — but they are worth being aware of. In addition to potentially having to navigate societal pressure to have kids (as it’s what most of us are shown and taught we “should” do), and the stigma and stereotypes that are oftentimes associated with the childfree, there can also be pressures and issues that arise in personal relationships. Many women who are considering or have already chosen to be childfree worry about disappointing their parents who hope to become grandparents, or being alienated by their friends, who all have kids. It can also pose a point of conflict in one’s romantic relationship(s), when one partner wants kids and the other doesn’t, or when trying to meet a partner who also identifies as childfree.

Embracing and Advocating for the Childfree Lifestyle

Despite the hurdles that exist for those who choose to be childfree, there are rewards that wait on the other side. While I personally once felt unsure, lonely, and like there was something wrong with me for not desiring motherhood, I now have confidence, community, and joy on my childfree path. One of the biggest game-changers for me on my own journey, was realizing that I wasn’t alone. Discovering Zoë Noble’s online community and podcast, We Are Childfree, was instrumental in showing me that childfree is a path that people actively choose, and one chosen by some pretty fantastic and dynamic women, at that. Instagram and the online world is rife with posts about being #childfree and #childfreebychoice, and many cities are beginning to boast their own childfree communities (just pop “childfree” and your city name on Facebook and you might be surprised at what comes up).

I realized, in speaking openly about my own childfree choice, that many friends, acquaintances, and online connections shared the same uncertainty and feelings that I once had, or had embraced childfree living without me even noticing. (It’s easy when you’re grappling with the decision of whether or not to have kids to assume that everyone else plans to — even when that’s not the case).

I’ve also been pleasantly surprised how much this conversation about being and choosing to be childfree has resonated with parents I know. I’ve had parents reach out to say how much they appreciate me sharing my experience, and that they really admire me; others still who have confided that while they love their kids, they wish they’d given their choice more thought; and generally, have found my own choice to be received with curiosity and respect, rather than scorn.

It’s so important that those who have chosen the childfree path speak about their experiences. It helps let others know that they are not alone if they are struggling with their choice, and also builds understanding between parents and those who are childfree. Childfree people are an important part of society — and can provide a unique perspective and share lived experiences, wisdom, and insights, that are valuable to everyone.

Deciding to live a childfree life is an empowered choice that is being made with increasing frequency.

While it’s a path that is still gaining acceptance in society, there are growing numbers of people speaking about and advocating for the choice to be childfree, and there are more and more conversations happening on the topic. The reasons why a person choosing to be are myriad, but they are all valid, and regardless why someone decides to be childfree, a meaningful and joyful life is fully possible.


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