Brianna: “Since I missed out on so much as a child, I made the choice that I would live for my own happiness at a very young age”

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Hello, I'm Brianna from Melbourne, Australia. I come from a very dysfunctional family. All of my six cousins and my younger brother have had children with partners they weren't fully committed to, and at a very young age (below 25). Some tried to work it out, some didn't. They all have very low incomes, or are living off welfare.

My mother and father divorced when I was eight. My father was never much of a father, even after the divorce, and my mother is still mentally ill from her past and continues to fool medical professionals to this day.

She suffered PPD after many miscarriages and a stillborn. She paid a lot of money to have myself and my brother through fertility treatment, as my father was infertile.

I didn't have a great childhood. My mother tried her best, but we went without on a regular basis. She was very constrictive and controlling. I didn't fit in at school, as I was the poor one, and everyone knew it. I had to work lunchtimes at the school canteen to get a feed. At 16, I had to pay for half of my school camp fees from my part time job and pay registration on a car that I couldn't drive unsupervised, because my mother couldn't afford it.

Since I missed out on so much as a child, I made the choice that I would live for my own happiness at a very young age. I got educated, got out of the rural area I grew up in that had no career opportunities, kept out of trouble and worked hard.

My life at 24 is finally starting to get on track. I have a lovely fiance with Aspergers who shares my feelings on children, I have a great job in a government department and I can comfortably afford a lifestyle with a few extra perks like dinners out and nice holidays.

My fears of becoming a mother mainly stem from my upbringing, and the financial responsibility behind that, but my other reasons include: Fearing I would replicate my mother's actions with my children, not wanting to destroy my body, not wanting additional responsibility (enjoying my freedom), enjoying working and having my own funds, not wanting sleepless nights, being knee deep in poop, pee, vomit, and generally not liking children anyway.

Society is slowly but surely moving away from the notion that a women's worth is only in her children, and it's about time. Self care is not selfish.–Brianna

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Laura: “We began praying about what the Lord wanted us to do in terms of expanding our family. Our conclusion: we would remain childless”

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Throughout the history of our society, we are taught that we are to grow up, get married and have children. This has been the definition of family. But what if this cookie cutter definition doesn't fit everybody? Before we married, my now husband and I talked extensively about children. If we'd have any, how many, ect... We came to the conclusion that we'd adopt but never had a definite timeline or deadline. 

When we became engaged, my engagement ring was too big for my hand, so a spacer was put on it.  Life happened and we were never able to get it properly sized. We had plans to pass it down to our oldest child if they so chose to marry one day.  Every time I looked at it I pictured our future child, down on one knee, with this ring, shining from a velvety box.

After several years of marriage, the topic of children kept creeping into our lives. Older siblings and close friends began having children, and we started discussions about expanding our family. We both love children. I actually work in childcare, and I loved the idea of providing a stable home for a child that needed one. One issue we talked about at length was how my anxiety and our collective low energy levels would affect us as parents. 

Throughout those years, a funny thing happened. Those close to us with children began telling us how difficult it was, physically and mentally, and we began to see that first hand. Christmas with kids is a fun, albeit tiresome, experience even if you aren't a parent. We also began praying about what the Lord wanted us to do in terms of expanding our family. Which leads us to Christmas 2014.

With three kids in the house, all under six, Christmas at my parent's house was filled with lots of noise and movements only equal to that of the Energizer Bunny. On steroids. After three days of dizzying activity, my husband and I had a long discussion, a time of prayer, and reached a conclusion. We would remain childless.

We drove back from my parents in a daze. It's a bit disorienting when you think your life is moving in one direction, then the Lord comes in and says, "Nope. I want you to go here". Even though we knew we were making the right decision, in a way it sucked. Big time. But you move forward, taking one day at a time. You mourn the life you thought you'd have. And you think of what your life will become.

A few months have passed since our lives path changed. On Sunday we went to the jewelry store and picked up my engagement ring. Freshly sized to fit perfectly. I wear it now with my wedding band. Now when I look at my sparkly ring, I am reminded of our commitment to those children already in our lives. To influence them to grow into awesome adults and responsible citizens. And pump them full of sugar when they visit and give them back to their parents. ;-)

Here is what I've learned in this experience that I want others to know: NEVER feel like you are less of a person because you choose a path that includes marriage but not children. This does NOT make you less of a person if parenting is not in the cards. If you feel overwhelmed and feel parenting might not be for you, that's OK! –Laura

This story originally ran on the Be Anxious About Nothing blog. More blog entries on childlessness are here.

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Betty: "We all know that the Mom does the drudgery. If I could have been a Dad I might reconsider."

I grew up in an Ohio town where the norm is to marry your high school boyfriend and have kids by the time you're old enough to drink. I no longer live there. I'm a Christian, and so many in the church perceived the "be fruitful and multiply" to be a generalized command, rather than an optional blessing.

I never wanted kids. I felt called to write, to work in music and nonprofit. I am introverted, with adult ADD. If I took on the assumed calling to be a Mom, it would certainly jeopardize my confirmed calling, which is to be a writer. Because quite frankly we all know that the Mom does the drudgery. If I could have been a dad I might reconsider.

There's a Bible passage where Jesus is teaching a crowd, and a woman in the back interrupts him saying "Blessed is your Mom!" Jesus replied, "even more blessed are those who hear God's word and do it." Being a Mom is not the most important job in the world. The most important job is the one you were created for and give yourself wholeheartedly to. Am I selfish? No. I lack peers, friends, the ability to have a lasting conversation with anyone my age (38) because we share little common ground. Not creating new people has left me with few people to talk to.

I made my choice to be sterilized so that I could stay up odd hours, dive in to a songwriting binge in hopes that maybe one day someone who I'll never meet hears the song, and it's raw honestly, and feels like they aren't alone. And that stranger who I nurture from afar will not take care of me when I become elderly. –Betty

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Mary: "I chose not to be a parent because I don't want to scar a child. I struggle with my scars today as a 30-year-old woman"

I can remember vividly what it was like to be a child. Discovering my weaknesses, figuring out what I was good at doing. Mostly what it was like to grow up in a volatile environment. My mom was bipolar and my dad was mostly at work. It felt like he preferred to be at work. When he was home he drank a lot.

I can remember not wanting to be "the mom" when we played house. I wanted to be a sister or daughter. My model of a woman was my mother and as far as I was concerned I didn't want to be a woman. I wanted to stay a girl. I didn't want a husband because I didn't want a man to yell at me and call me names all the time. Being an adult seemed like the most awful thing in the world.

I take offense when people say that having children is knowing love. I already know love and empathy, more than I can handle. I look at my nieces and nephews and can understand their disappointments and their sadness. I don't understand when my sisters do the same things to their kids that my parents did to us. Things that hurt and scarred us.

I chose not to be a parent because I don't want to scar a child. I want to mentor and build up children. I feel like parents overlook and brush off their children's needs and fears. I struggle with my scars today as a 30 year old woman. I can't fathom a scared child somewhere feeling worthless and unloved. –Mary

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Lenore: "I got through the years of friends having children and thought all that was behind me only to find it's starting again with a wave of grandkids"

Is it selfish not to want to have kids? Sometimes, it's selfish to have them. Leaving aside the planetary concern about there just plain being too many of us, what about the personal tragedies when children are brought into extreme poverty, violence or ill-health?

Maybe I am not in the best position to write about this as I knew from very early on that I had no choice about whether or not to have children. There were mental health issues in the family that no one could tell me would not be perpetuated if I did take the plunge and let nature take its course. My reason for not having kids is definitely not part of a laugh-riot conversation, and it doesn't go down well over cocktails, so generally I don't talk about it. But that doesn't stop others from surmising. The supposed truth about why I did not have kids has run the gamut from 'You're too involved with your career' to 'I'm sorry you didn't find the right guy'. 

But I have to say, the thing that upsets me the most about not having kids is the number of mostly female friends who, even though they know the truth about why I did not have kids, are insensitive enough to give me books about the rewards of having children, recommend poems about the joys of pregnancy, or simply tear me up inside by going on and on about how wonderful life is because of their kids.

I got through the years of friends having children and thought all that was behind me only to find it's starting again with a wave of grandkids. Be still my sticky heart covered in the candy-coated fingerprints of other people's grandkids. Despite the toffee treacle, I try not to be selfish about it and bring others down. –Lenore

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AAH: "The stigma attached to mental illness is as misunderstood as the choice to remain childfree."

 My story has a few different components. 

The first part starts with the fact that I didnʻt like kids even when I was a kid. I never understood why they were so mean to each other, hated school, or misbehaved at home. Instead of playing with dolls and planning my future wedding, I spent my time learning literally every single breed of dog and memorizing the entire endangered species list. I have always had more compassion and empathy for animals than for babies or children. This is often a source of tension at times when I choose to play with my friend's dog rather than hold their infant. 

The second part of my story is that my aunt is also child-free, and happens to be my role model. Growing up, I was so envious of all the trips she took, and she seemed so happy, so I always figured it was okay if I didnʻt want children either. She is now retired, has no regrets, and is living the most incredibly fulfilling life. We are very similar physically and in many other ways, which makes me wonder if the childfree choice has a genetic component. 

Another part of my story is that my husband can't have kids because of an illness when he was younger. That was actually one of the reasons I started dating him! We are perfectly happy with our life, and have nearly twenty nieces and nephews to hang out with when we get the rare urge to spend time with children. One of the misconceptions surrounding the childfree choice is that we dislike children. That is not the case at all, as there is a big difference between *liking* children and *wanting* them. 

The last part of my story is more difficult to discuss, as the stigma attached to mental illness is as misunderstood as the choice to remain childfree. I have struggled with anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder since I was young, and this is the primary reason I remain childfree. I am forty years old and am just now coming to grips with this "disease" and how it has affected every aspect of my life, both positively and negatively. I never know how I am going to feel when I wake up, and I often have weeks at a time where it takes every ounce of energy I have to get out of bed in the morning. I cannot imagine having to care for a child during the really bad days. Sometimes I feel like the *least* selfish thing I have done with my life is *not* have a child so they won't have to deal with the mood swings, substance abuse, need for medication and therapy, and all the other baggage that goes along with mental illness. 

Most of my friends are parents now, and can literally not post, think, or talk about anything outside of their family unit, how this is all they ever wanted out of life. I cannot relate at all, and am not very empathetic when they complain about how tired they are. It is lonely and frustrating sometimes, as I am forty years old and my lifestyle hasn't changed much since my twenties, so I have very little in common with people my age. 

I am continually perplexed when people call us selfish for not wanting children, and tired of those sad looks I get that imply I am missing out on something. Yes, I get plenty of uninterrupted sleep at night and can take vacations without much notice or planning...but that just makes me a better employee, wife, neighbor, and friend, with more time and energy to volunteer and make a difference on a larger community and global scale. I always felt destined for something greater than having kids. I recently completed my Master's Degree in Nursing Education, and I travel at any opportunity, which continually fuels my passion for cultural diversity and global health and makes me feel like a more tolerant, well-rounded individual. I don't feel like I am missing out on anything. –AAH

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JJ: "I think my mother was not so much pissed off I wasn't giving her grandchildren, but that I refused to have the burdens and lifestyle she had."

I'm 61, live in the Poconos, PA, divorced, retired Purchasing Agent for big international electronics companies. I live with four dogs on a mountainside filled with books and art supplies which gives me lot's of time to meditate and reflect on things. This project got me thinking about things I haven't thought about in years. 

I think my mother (and many other mothers) are not so much pissed off that we who remain childless by choice are not "giving them grandchildren," but that we refuse to have the burdens and lifestyle that they had. They want to see us suffer just as they suffered so they will feel vindicated in their bitching about how hard it was to raise us. My mother used to wish twins on my sister and I as a form of punishment for "what we did to her." Misery loves company.

My mother actually told me when I was a teen that she never wanted children, that she only had them because "her husband and parents expected it of her." I don't have to tell you that what a bitter, selfish, crappy, self-involved mother she was, do I? Funny thing is my sister had two kids, and neither my sister, husband, kids, or the way they way they raised the kids were ever good enough for my mother and father anyway!

My mother felt she never had a choice or a voice in the matter. I think that it wasn't until the 60's and the pill, that women even considered that they could postpone or not have kids. I don't think it crossed my parents minds not to have kids, or that having kids they obviously didn't want would screw up the kids. 

I was so afraid I would be like them and hurt my children the way they hurt me I had decided not to have kids by the time I was sixteen. Not because I was selfish, but because I was afraid I'd do to a child what was done to me and my sister. Selfish was later, in my twenties and thirties when I decided that having a job and a place to live were more important than having kids I couldn't support, physically or emotionally.

The thing I find really strange is that by law, you have to take classes and pass a written and practical test to drive a car, and if you fail you can't drive...but millions of clueless people have babies every year with no idea how to raise healthy, happy children. You have to be 21 to drink because you aren't adult enough to have a beer, but it's ok to have a baby you didn't want or plan on? 

I will have crosses burning on the lawn in no time, but I blame religious zealotry and hatred for a lot of the reproductive malice and injustice of the world, not just in America. Your religion WANTS you to have babies, whether or not you can afford them, are capable of loving, raising, feeding, housing or clothing them. We need to have more of our faith/nationality!! We need to hold the hoards of non-believers at bay by increasing our numbers!

Italy and Russia are bribing citizens now to have babies. Portugal penalizes people who have no children with higher taxes. I read an article that said, "virtually every industrialized country has financial incentives to encourage procreation—tax deductions, family support programs, bonuses for children, etc. And yet fertility rates have been declining in virtually every industrialized country." That scares the pants off religious and political leaders. When women, especially in third world countries, start saying no to kids, they start saying I want to go to school, I want a job, I want choices, I am not a piece of property. That really puts a wrench in the works. 

So you see, we who are childless by choice are a small number of independent thinkers that threaten civilization to the core. If our "mental illness," our "selfish behaviors, our saying NO spreads, it could topple the world. –JJ

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Carolyn: "At 38, I have yet to 'change my mind.'"

At 38, I have yet to "change my mind." I've come up with plenty of reasons for not having kids, from mental health to physical health (I have a condition that can cause fertility issues, no idea if I'm fertile as I've never had it checked). The real reason however is simple: I don't want children. Never have, never will. 

I have no maternal drive, no interest in babies or small children and no desire to find out if it really is "different when it's your own child". I am constantly told I am wrong about this, as though other people know my mind better than I do. 

The only regret I have about not wanting children is an inability to really empathise with friends who do, but are struggling. If I'm "selfish" so be it. The population is hardly in decline. I think the world can easily get along without a mini me. – Carolyn

Do you have a story about navigating the choice not to have children? Share it here.