It’s so funny that I struggle so much with this question, when you think about it, because I am currently living a childfree life, and it looks like….my life. It’s pretty ho-hum, for the most part.
But what I am really trying to get at it is what a childfree life will look like in all the different stages – what to expect when you will never be expecting, basically. Having been raised in a nuclear family – I’ve sort of seen how that plays out. But I don’t really have very many examples of the other sort of life – the one without children.
How does family work? My own family is very close and we get together frequently. I see my mom once or twice a week (or more). There’s going to come a time when my parents aren’t around anymore. I hope my older brother and I will be in each others lives to the end or almost to the end. I’m not worried about having someone to take care of me, I’m just worried about not having someone to celebrate with, to care about. Because I have had such a strong family support structure from birth, I’ve never really had to create my own family the way many others have, although I do of course have friends who are as good as family and I can see how it could be done.
But I can also see how it could so easily be undone. Maybe it is just a product of my age (28), but I’ve lost many friends over the last couple years to couplehood or marriage, and children. While I admire couples who prioritize each other, outside friendships – especially with friends of the opposite sex or friendships that we just forming – often become the unintentional victims of such a happy relationship. When children come along, both parties can feel like they’ve lost the ability to relate to one another. I’ve often thought of the friends I could regain and new friendships I could develop if I decide to have children. But, on the other hand, I would inevitably lose friendships, too – much the way I have lost them on this side of the divide.
It always infuriates me that it should be this way – but it seems an inescapable reality. I’d love to think that I could have children and maintain all my pre-children friendships – but seeing as how you can’t even maintain friendships pre- and post- college or pre- and post- new job, I find this highly unlikely. I can only hope that, if I remain childfree, as time passes I will gravitate towards others who are also childfree and we will provide some of that friendship and support for one another. So far though, I’m not so sure…
At this age, many of my friends are childfree-at-the-moment, but most of them have plans/goals/dreams of having children someday. Most of the people I’ve met who are decidedly childfree are either a.) significantly older, or b.) annoying – sometimes both! The age difference itself is not necessarily an issue, but these same people are also often at very different spots in their careers and financially much better off. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to consistently hang out with someone with more money and/or success than you, but it can get pretty old pretty fast, and it can also be just plain hard to keep up. As to the annoyance factor – this could be just my luck so far or it could be something deeper.
Some of the childfree people I’ve met who have greatly annoyed me are the “smug marrieds” version of the childfree world – they’re “smug non-breeders”, and they’re often vehemently anti-child. Even if I decide against having children myself, my love of babies and gravitation toward adorable children of all ages won’t cease to exist and I don’t want to be around people who are constantly bemoaning ALL THESE DAMN CHILDREN. Also, I love being a part of a community – I’ve already looked into various childfree clubs and such and would be excited to meet others who live similar lifestyles to me – but if ALL we’re going to do is sit around and gripe about the pro-natal culture, then I don’t really want in to that particular club (SOME griping would be ok, though).
However, I know there are many happily childfree aunts and uncles out there who delight in their nieces and nephews, and I know that not every childfree person is so aggressive about their choices and intolerant of others’. Most of my concern is not with my relationships with others, but moreso with my relationship with Trevor.
Having children would change it in fundamental and irrevocable ways that could, in my belief, prove quite damaging. But then I also think not having children could stunt our growth and maturation, and we may actually be more likely to grow apart without children than we would be with children. However, I would never let the decision hinge solely on how having or not having children could affect the relationship – as there’s no way to know in advance how it would ultimately be affected (and tested!) in either case.
But a lot of my concern comes down to our very different interests and our very different takes on what a great childfree life would look like. To me, a lot of the argument for remaining childfree comes from the idea that you maintain so much more independence and freedom when you don’t have to parent children. And I would want to use that freedom, to take advantage of it, to do things that I might not be able to otherwise. I’d love to use the extra money, time, and energy we would have to travel often, go out for dinner several times a week, buy what we want without having to justify it in some way – in short, to have adventures together. Trevor’s hopes and expectations for his own life are much more low-key, much more at-home. He loves the idea of a childfree life so that there won’t be kids running into his hobby room, whereas I love the idea of a childfree life so we could get out of our respective hobby rooms!
I also don’t want to push him one way or the other. If I decided tomorrow that I definitely want children and prioritized that in my life – where would that leave him? Having to go along whether he feels the same or not? Or would we need to break up? All of that is incredibly heartbreaking to even ponder. It’s difficult to think about what it is you are really asking someone when you are asking them either to have children or not to have children. And what can you possibly give them in return that would make it ok?
I think that’s where I am personally now. I’m starting to think that if you want children you know you want them, and if you don’t know – then maybe you don’t want them. I’m growing steadily more comfortable with the idea of not having children, but I want to know what I am going to get in return. Maybe that sounds selfish, but I want to know what I can expect out of my life if it doesn’t involve parenting children, something I had previously always assumed I would someday do. Where will I get my sense of family, and of community and belonging? What will I do, even just on a day-to-day basis, without all that kid-stuff taking up space in my life? Will I get to travel more, to eat well, to enjoy the finer things?
If so, why am I waiting until some mythical later point when this will start happening? Why not start now? I think the solution is just to live the childfree lifestyle while I’m childfree. If I ever am not childfree anymore, I’ll have to stop – but until then, what’s stopping me?