Saturday, March 05, 2011

Child-free by choice

I've noticed a change in how people respond to my statement, "I don't have kids." When I was in my 20's and 30's, people took this comment in stride, maybe because I seemed young enough to still have children or maybe because they knew I wasn't married, so it seemed right that I not be a mother yet. But now that I'm solidly in my mid-40's and finally married, my statement gets silence. I've realized that I now look like a tragic figure unless I follow "I don't have kids" with words such as "and that's by choice."

I could have done that before, but I always thought that saying, "Oh, I don't have kids because I chose not to," would make me sound militant or ideological. I didn't want to start a debate or seem critical of those who have kids. But now I see that people assume that a 44-year-old married woman who never had kids must have some sad story. Maybe I had a child who died. Maybe I was unable to get pregnant. Maybe I had children, but lost them in a custody battle. Maybe my children were taken by the state when I couldn't kick the meth. Although, I guess if those last two were true, I wouldn't say that I didn't have kids at all.

Anyway, in response to "Do you have kids?" I am trying to train myself to say, "No, my husband and I chose not to." I figure that's even better than "I'm child-free by choice" because it adds the authority of a MAN. A woman alone deciding not to have children -- and a Mexican American woman at that -- is crazy, right? But if her husband agrees, then it seems a bit a more sane.

I'm also realizing that I might want to avoid the phrase "child-free by choice" because it seems to be the name of a whole demographic (mostly women as far as I can tell) who are rather controversial. Or maybe I'm being wimpy by not entering the fray. This video on the blog indicates that mothers feel some measure of offense at what the child-free blogs say. The mothers apparently feel some animosity and judgment directed toward them and their kids from us child-free people.

I can't say whether that's true since I haven't read much child-free opinion, but I did glance at this blog which looks pretty good: Sebastyne's musings. What I can say in response to the video is that it sounds like a lot of hand-wringing over nothing. It's not like child-free people have any true power to make people stop having kids or can come into your home and make you do certain things with the kids you have. What are they so defensive about?

I think it's just another variation of the conflict between women who have kids and women who don't have kids. I've heard it before centered on the workplace: women resenting each other for perceived freedoms that they don't have because they either have or don't have children. It's sad and it's pointless.

The video did indicate, however, that some mothers recognize the criticism that child-free by choice women face because we chose not to have kids. I appreciate that because sometimes I feel like women like me -- middle-aged, sexuality fading, didn't have kids, didn't want them -- are more invisible in society. Without the mantle of Mother or the appeal of youth, my value seems doubtful to others and will probably decrease from here.

Of course, I won't complain out loud about this since people might say that I made my decision to not have kids and now must live with it. Funny, how no one ever thinks that about women whose children grow up to kill people or rob banks or become drug dealers. No one responds with, "Well, you chose to have kids. Now you have to live with it." Well, I respond that way, but not out loud.

Anyway, maybe it's a new frontier to explore: the child-free by choice community. What I don't understand is why, with problems like overpopulation and poverty, no one's actually thanking us for not procreating. Without sons or daughters of my own, there's more for their children!


Sandii said...

debate is one word for what people will delve into when it comes to discussing the to or not to re children.

it's a personal choice, nothing to be judged or chided over.

those who have children when they don't really want them end up miserable, i've seen it first hand.

i congratulate you both for having the sense to recognise that you are fulfilled and content without procreating for the sake of it.

Regina said...

Thank you, Sandii.

One more thing: I just came across this article:
to which a comment was made that although the author is arguing against having kids, obviously he wouldn't criticize his parents for having had him.

I chose not to have kids and if my parents had made the same choice, I actually think that would have been fine. The idea of having never been born doesn't bother me at all.

Mick said...

Personally I would say well done for making your own choice rather than living your life following other peoples expectations.

I think a much bigger issue in my opinion is with people who bring kids into this world and can't afford to do so. We have a country full of them living off the State, basically I'm offended when my taxes pay for others.

Miss Rachel said...

Generally I don't feel much discomfort about my choice, but once at a large family gathering a member of my husband's extended family after saying hello paused and then said, "how are your kids?" I told her I didn't have any. I had met her before but didn't see her often and she comes from a large Irish Catholic family where all six kids have at least two kids each so she must have just assumed I did too. It would have been interesting to find out what kids she thought I had - ha ha!

As I get older, I find that I meet more and more childless by choice people, and there seems to be less of a stigma about this status, but maybe they are just the kind of people I gravitate towards - ? My sister, who is older than me, doesn't have kids by choice either.

Your post is stirring up a lot of thoughts here. Maybe I should do a post about this too. Take care Regina.

Regina said...

Miss Rachel - I hope you do post about it. Let's get the topic out in the open!

SuperXochitl said...

Hi there,
thanks for your blog. I too am a Chicana that is childfree by choice. I'm wondering, have you found a lot resistant with your culture and your family for you choice? Maybe not now, but when you were younger or in your 30s?

Regina Rodríguez-Martin said...

Hey Xochitl, no I never had any resistance from my family. My grandmother was unusual: she stressed the importance of education to her children, even though she was raising them in the 1930s and 40s. My parents both went to college and so did all of my cousins and most of my aunts and uncles. I don't know if education makes the difference, but no one in my family has ever asked me when I was planning to get married or have kids. It was enough for them that I went to graduate school and got a masters degree.