This week I appear in Grazia Magazine, discussing my feelings about parenthood. Sadly they couldn’t give me six pages to really go to town on the matter, so here is the unabridged, uncut version of what you’ll see if you so kindly bump up Grazia’s sales this week and buy a copy.
And so I begin:
Laying out a world map on the kitchen table, my husband and I plotted our sabbatical. We’ve been together six years now, which seems as good an excuse as any to take a few months off work this year and roam around the Far East. Most of our friends are either pregnant or have babies and while they adjust to the unprecedented changes to their lifestyles, we’re off on an adventure.
Here’s three little words that might shock you. I love children. I do. I have two nephews, a niece and a god-child and I love them all. But thanks to the marvel of modern contraception, having your own children is now a lifestyle choice and one I have no interest in making.
“Three Words That Might Shock You – I Love Children”
I haven’t always felt this way. Growing up, I thought I’d one day have four children. But I also thought I’d get divorced, because that’s what my parents did. So once I realised not everything my parents did was imitable, I decided not only did I not want to divorce my husband (hurray) I also didn’t want four children – I didn’t want any.
Luckily, Gaz, 32, felt the same way. It was a decision we made together during the early years of our relationship. One conversation at a time, it dawned on us that we actually had a choice here – we didn’t have to have children just because we were in love and wanted to marry and spend our life together. We reached a mutual epiphany – we could spend our lives free of the massive social and financial responsibility of raising children. By the time we married in September 2012, our minds were made up. We were child-free and staying that way.
On our wedding day, guests asked me if we’d ‘get cracking’ now. I took great pleasure in letting them know our plans to enjoy a different kind of life. Then we bought an old farmhouse with spare bedrooms and I could almost see people’s minds implode at the thought that we had bedrooms we didn’t want to fill with babies. When am I going to start a family? I’ve started one already, the day I got married. Add in a few relatives, some great friends, and I’ve got all the family I need.
We’re not living in the 1950s and yet being child-free at my age is sadly still seen as taboo. If you decide not to have kids, people demand an explanation. Some commented that I’d change my mind (I haven’t). Others said I was selfish for denying our future children a life. While I think I’m selfless for not bringing an unwanted child into the world, so what if I am selfish? I like doing what I want to do, when I want to do it. I have plans for my life that I don’t want to sacrifice. I can see how much parents give up in order to give their time and energy to raising children and I admire anyone willing to give up so much.
I find it surprising that people even feel it’s appropriate to enquire as to my baby making plans. But I know why people ask. The assumption that everyone will have children is left over from a time when everyone did. Society likes to put people in boxes (my box being: I’m of child-bearing age, I’m married, now it’s child time.) Sticking to traditional expectations of life’s paths makes everyone feel comfortable. When people go against the norm, it can make you question your own life choices. We surround ourselves with people who make similar lifestyle choices to us because it assures us we’re doing life right.
We might be the renegade couple in our friendship circle, but new research states that 1 in 5 British women of child-bearing age do not have children. I’m delighted to hear there are so many of us – let’s unite! Of course, some people are child-free because they thought they’d have children once they became more financially stable or when they met the right man and now it’s too late. But some people, like me, are child-free for no other reason than they absolutely don’t want their lives to ever go down that road.
I’m told I might one day regret my decision not to have children. But it’s not a decision we’ve made lightly. Gaz and I have discussed it over and over again – we’re always talking about all the issues around the choice, so that we’re absolutely sure. We’ve talked about how we’d feel if one of us dies soon. (Would I rather have a child-sized reminder of Gaz but no Gaz to help me raise him, or would I rather be child-free, so I can run away to the other side of the world and cry for a few years? The latter, definitely the latter.) We’ve discussed how we’d feel if we broke up, how we’d feel if we make it to old age, looking back on a child-free life. In every scenario, we feel happy with our choice.
People tell me if I don’t have children, no one will look after me when I’m old. I wouldn’t want my children to have to look after me when I’m old and having children is no guarantee you’ll be looked after anyway – just one look at all the elderly living out their days in care homes, with rare visits from their children, puts paid to that notion.
My child-free life isn’t spent flying first class and drinking heavily every weekend. I love the same things most 30-something career women do – seeing friends, spending time with my husband, going to the gym, sunshine, beaches and hobbies. But the difference is, my life isn’t revolving around a child. I don’t have to sacrifice other things I love, nor squeeze them in around childcare. I have no anxiety about my children’s future, no fears that I’m bringing him or her up all wrong. I don’t argue with my husband about parenting techniques.
My life is mine to do what I like with and every day, I wake up happy. I see a future full of fun, flexibility and freedom. And while I can see that for many, raising children is fun, for me, it would be boring and time consuming. If I know I wouldn’t be very good at something, there should be no societal pressure on me to do it. Someone once said to me that parenthood is too huge a responsibility to be given to the ambivalent. That’s exactly how I feel – hats off to all the parents out there taking on the monumental life change that is parenthood. I’m under no illusion about what you’ve taken on – it looks exhausting, expensive and often unrewarding. You’ve got to be passionate about parenthood to knowingly take on all those sacrifices and changes. If you’re not, the greatest favour you can do society, and yourself, is to choose a child free life.