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Parents are constantly trying to talk my husband and me into having children. And after nearly 11 years of marriage, we’re not convinced.
I really like kids. They really do say the darndest things. I’m a 35-year-old caretaker by nature—the oldest sibling of two brothers, whom I’ve adored since those sweet-smelling bundles were brought home from the hospital and I pretended they were my own. But my husband and I are happy and fulfilled. I feel lucky to have this life, and I want for nothing — especially a child. In the past six months, I’ve jetted off to Hong Kong and Sweden, and this month, we’re heading to India. We come home whenever we want; we sleep in, eat dinner at 9pm. It may seem selfish, but I prefer this term: honest.
And while the majority of my peers are now discussing Diaper Genies and jogging strollers and schools — particularly in my small hometown, where most of my friends got married and had kids in their early 20s — I do know that I’m not alone in my decision. According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data, 47 percent of women up to age 44 don’t have children, reflecting a 35 percent increase since 1976.
So what’s driving us in our decisions? Laura S. Scott, author of “Two Is Enough: A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice” and director of “The Childless by Choice Project,” tells Yahoo Parenting that there are generally five compelling motives in a woman’s decision to remain childfree: loving her life and feeling that a child won’t enhance it; valuing her freedom and independence; no mothering desire or maternal instinct; wanting to accomplish or experience things in life that would be difficult with a child; and not wanting the responsibility of raising a child.
For couples, there are myriad benefits of remaining childfree — including flexibility, marital satisfaction, control over disposable income, and the ability to choose a fulfilling career. “They have the freedom to turn down a job that they don’t want [that they would’ve taken] just to pay the bills,” Scott says. “I hear this most often from creative types, like artists or actors.”
That concept really resonates for my 34-year-old writer friend — let’s call her Carry Bismark (she’s private and preferred to have her name changed) — of New York City. She and her husband, also in a creative field, have decided to not take on the stress or financial burden of having children. “I want to live an exciting, happy life, where I can take risks and move anywhere in the world without having to worry about supporting children or dealing with school schedules and that kind of stuff,” Bismark tells me.
“Children take away from the time a couple has to spend with each other. It adds many different stressors,” Art Markman, a University of Texas professor of psychology and the author of Smart Change, tells Yahoo Parenting that while having children can be a wonderful experience, it’s also very stressful. “A couple that really wants kids can find ways to deal with that stress, though it takes a toll on even the strongest relationships,” he said.
Opting out of that stress often frees up time for other pursuits — even though, Scott says, many parents assume people without children don’t have a life. “Many who are childfree take care of their parents and are busy with volunteer work — in particular, pet rescue, mentoring, and coaching,” she notes. A 2012 Norwegian survey of 5,500 individuals age 40-80, in fact, showed no indication that childless adults have a lower sense of wellbeing than that of parents.
Still, people who want everyone in their club can often have a hard time accepting people’s decisions to bypass the kids route. My husband and I often hear, “You’d be great parents!” It’s flattering, but it’s not the big picture. We tied the knot young, which worked for us, but our ideas about how to approach parenting are conflicting, and though our personalities work well in a marriage, they don’t seem conducive to child rearing.
For Bismark, the most irritating thing about parents’ reactions to her childfree status is when they assure her that she will change her mind. Or, she notes, “when they try to sell me on [parenthood] by telling me how their lives are so much better because they have children.” But she does feel the tide is turning, and that more parents are allowing themselves to be honest about how hard it is to raise children. “Lately, I’m getting fewer lectures on the joys of motherhood and more respectful support,” Bismark says. “Several moms have told me that unless I’m 100 percent positive that I absolutely want kids, I shouldn’t do it.”
Markman agrees, noting that it’s impressive to realize what you want and stick to it, even in the face of pressure from others. “Personally, I have a great respect for couples who have realized that they do not want to be parents and have elected not to have kids,” he says. And for those worried that childfree folks won’t have a chance to try out the caretaking role, he notes, “There are plenty of opportunities to take care of people who are not your children.”
It’s certainly been true for me. I spent a year taking care of my father before he died. I enjoy babysitting my friends’ children, and I like nurturing my husband. I’m pretty sure he feels the same. Bottom line? No matter how much friends, family, and society want to weigh in on people’s decision to parent or not, it’s a deeply personal choice. And I’m sticking to mine.