I've known I didn't want kids since I was a kid myself. I don't like children and I don't like being beholden to people, so being beholden to children sounds like my worst nightmare. But I didn't always know how to respond to criticism for not wanting kids. When people told me I'd change my mind, I figured maybe they were right since I was young; I'm 25 now, though, so the idea of me changing my mind is becoming less likely. When they told me life would be less fulfilling without kids, I sincerely hoped I'd change my mind. But by now, after further reflecting on why starting a family would not be the best decision for me, I'm more confident in my future plans and able to stand up to those who doubt them.
Having kids is considered the default plan in our society. When I've spoken with friends about kids, they've asked questions like "How many kids do you want?" or "What do you want to name your kids?" — not "Do you want any kids?" Women especially are supposed to love and want children, and a woman without a child is sometimes considered a failure. As writer Emily Bingham pointed out through a viral Facebook post, people become concerned on women's behalf if they don't have kids by a certain age. Fortunately, it's becoming increasingly acceptable and common not to reproduce, so I hope people are beginning to understand that it's not the best decision for everyone, and people shouldn't become parents if they're not suited for parenthood.
If people try to question your decision not to have kids, you have the right to stand up for yourself. It's not appropriate for others to try to influence such a personal and life-changing choice. Here are some ways to respond to the most common forms of criticism and questioning women who don't want kids receive.
1. If Someone Says: "You'll Change Your Mind"...
Some variations of this one are "Once your biological clock starts ticking..." or "Once that maternal instinct kicks in..." These are overgeneralizations that ascribe to biology what is largely a cultural expectation that doesn't apply to everyone.
Say: "It's Possible, But Not Everyone Does."
In the words of Ask a Ninja, "Kids, remember this. Nothing is impossible. But it is not very likely." Since nearly half of women ages 15-44 are childfree, it's hardly an inevitability that all women will want kids some day. Even only counting women ages 40-44, 19 percent have never had children. Given how common it is not to have kids, nobody can tell you with confidence that you will change your mind. You might, but you also might not — it's totally your call.
2. If Someone Says: "Good Luck Finding A Husband That Way"...
In addition to deeming women without children incomplete, we also believe women without husbands are, so people are sometimes aghast at the prospect of a woman lowering her chances of marriage.
Say: "I'd Rather Remain Single Than Live A Life I Don't Want."
The alternative to sticking by my decision to not have kids is to have a husband and children I resent because they're part of a life-long path I didn't want to head down. I'm not going to lie — the numbers are scary: 91 percent of men 35 and under have kids or want them. Part of me wonders whether these responses are the result of societal pressures — although that's ultimately irrelevant, since it's not my call whether or not someone has or wants kids. I do know that even if I were on a desert island with only one other person and he wanted kids, that still wouldn't be reason enough to compromise on something so important to me.
3. If Someone Says: "It's Selfish Not To Have Children"...
People often say it's selfish to live life only for yourself and nobody else, as if there's nobody else to dedicate your life to besides children.
Say: "It Would Be Selfish For Me To Have Them."
One day, I was speaking to a friend with a very difficult mother when she confessed, "I don't think she really wanted kids. I think she just had them because that's what people do, and now she resents me." I realized that if I had kids, I would be doing them a disservice by giving them a parent who doesn't want them. That would be selfish. Choosing to devote my life to a significant other, the family I already have, and a career that helps others is not selfish.
4. If Someone Says: "Life Is Less Fulfilling Without Kids"...
My parents used to tell me this when I said I didn't want kids, and maybe they were right. How would I know? I haven't experienced life both ways.
Say: "Well, I Don't Know What I'm Missing, So No Harm Done."
First of all, I know my life is fulfilling as it is, and I have nothing to compare it to, so I'm happy to live under the illusion that my life is as fulfilling as it could be. Secondly, it probably wouldn't be fulfilling for me to sacrifice my physical comfort and psychological well being in order to please others — refer to numbers two and three above. Thirdly, there are a ton of things that would probably make my life more fulfilling, but I refuse to get sucked down the endless black hole of FOMO, thank you very much. And lastly, it's important to remember in these conversations that women often don't have the same privilege as men of having children without sacrificing their careers. While I would hope no partner would press me to do that, the reality is that it often happens, and that would be a less fulfilling life for me.
5. If Someone Says: "But Isn't Reproduction A Basic Biological Drive?"
People presume that, since genes that increase your chances of reproducing are more likely to replicate, the desire to reproduce is ingrained in everyone's mind. This is a huge leap in logic that mischaracterizes evolution. The fact that we have genes that increase our chances of reproducing (e.g., those that help us stay alive and give us a sex drive) does not mean that we're all subconsciously thinking "I want to have babies." Moreover, it is obvious just from knowing and talking to people that not everyone has a drive to have children, and those who do usually have reasons other than "my genes tell me to."
Say: "Not For Me."
There are plenty of people who have no biological clock or parental instinct whatsoever. Some, as Alanna Weissman writes in Salon, actually have an innate dislike for children. Sure, some people feel as if the instinct to start a family is as ingrained in them as the instinct to eat or drink. I just don't happen to be one of them.