Photo by Jonathan Short/Invision/AP
There are plenty of reasons why a woman might not have children. For many, it’s a choice to be childfree. Some are waiting for the right partner. Others might want to be mothers, but have had difficulties starting a family.
But the one thing many women without kids share is an awareness of constant judgment on their non-mom status. In an interview in January’s Allure, Jennifer Aniston addressed the issue head on: “I don’t like [the pressure] that people put on me, on women—that you’ve failed yourself as a female because you haven’t procreated. I don’t think it’s fair,” she said. “You may not have a child come out of your vagina, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t mothering—dogs, friends, friends’ children.”
Aniston, who is engaged to actor Justin Theroux, explains that the judgments get to her. “This continually is said about me: that I was so career-driven and focused on myself; that I don’t want to be a mother, and how selfish that is,” she says. “Even saying it gets me a little tight in my throat.”
Aniston doesn’t specify in Allure the reason she doesn’t have kids, though she has acknowledged in the past a desire to be a mom. “I’ve said it so many times: I’m going to have children. I just know it,” she said in a 2008 Vogue profile. But who knows if she’s changed her mind, and Melanie Notkin, author of Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness, says Aniston is smart to keep her reasons quiet. “Jennifer has done a really good job of saying, ‘It’s none of your business why I don’t have children,’” Notkin tells Yahoo Parenting.
Aniston and Theroux. Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
Notkin, who describes herself as “childless by circumstance—I’m waiting for love before motherhood,” says the problem of society judging women based on their motherhood status is all too common. “There’s this myopic view that motherhood is womanhood,” Notkin says. “As if you’ve only graduated to full-fledged womanhood if you’re a mother. People will use words like selfish or self-indulgent or say things like ‘you don’t know what true love is until you’ve had a child.’ Having a baby isn’t what makes a female complete – we’re all born with the capability to make it to womanhood.”
Dr. Ellen Walker, the childfree author of Complete Without Kids: An Insider’s Guide to Childfree Living by Choice or by Chance, says the idea that women without kids are inherently selfish is ludicrous. “We give more in so many ways: environmentally — 18 billion diapers are thrown into landfills every year! — plus huge impacts on our fragile earth from every added human; taxes (childfree adults pay a larger portion of taxes despite using fewer services such as school taxes, health coverage for children, playgrounds); time given to volunteer work and helping out in the community,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “Although I haven’t seen data on this, I know from talking to a number of childfree adults for my book that they are very involved in giving to others, simply because we have more free time.”
Despite the judgments, some women say they think the choice to not have kids is a brave one. “I respect those who know themselves well enough to know that being a mom isn’t for them,” Kari Forsee, mom to a 7-month-old son, tells Yahoo Parenting. “When you try to force or fake that maternal instinct, it shows up in your parenting.”
Notkin says that Aniston is doing other non-moms a service by speaking out. “Women need to know they’re not alone,” Notkin says. “We tend to feel ‘less than’ and it’s brave of women like Jennifer Aniston to put themselves out there. It’s very painful to have to talk so publicly about one of the most intimate aspects of her life.”
As for the “selfish” label, Notkin says it’s in the eye of the beholder. “One could be called selfish if they have more than four kids, too,” she says. “All decisions that we make about ourselves and our lives are selfish.”
And most moms would agree that sometimes, their judgment is more like envy. “Now that I have a son, I can barely remember what life was like before I was a mom. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but sometimes, I mourn the independent, ambitious, well-traveled, well-rested woman I was before giving birth,” says Forsee. “If a woman decides not to have a child, I respect that choice. It’s the ultimate commitment - you can’t divorce a child or return him to a shelter when he poops on your new rug.”