By Kristen J. Tsetsi
On any given weekday morning in millions of households across the country, parents yell down hallways and up the stairs for children to come to breakfast.
Cereal falls into bowls, spilled milk pools around the salt and pepper shakers on the counter, backpacks zzzzip, and shoelaces get double-knotted for safety.
Kids are shuffled out the door and onto the school bus.
In significantly fewer households, however, the scene is less chaotic. An alarm goes off and a shower runs. Somewhere, a toaster pops an English muffin, the sound interrupting the subdued drone of an early morning political commentator on TV. A woman slips on her shoes, turns off the television and grabs her travel mug filled with hot coffee before leaving for the day.
She doesn’t carry a diaper bag, has no idea what a “binky” is, and hasn’t tripped over a toy since she was a child and the toy was her own.
She is, by some, considered a curious anomaly, the evidence of which can be found in book titles such as, “Unwomanly Conduct: The Challenges of Intentional Childlessness,” by Carolyn M. Morell; “Voluntary Childlessness: The Emergence of a Variant Lifestyle,” by Ellen Mara Nason; and “Without Child: Challenging the Stigma of Childlessness,” by Laurie Lisle.
The titles suggest there is much to explore and study about women who don’t want children, but conversations with “childfree” — a preferable term to “childless” by many — women hint at fairly simple reasons for the life choice: lack of interest and personal preference.
An individual choice
“Women, like men, are individuals,” National Organization for Women co-founder Sonia Pressman-Fuentes says. “Some are suited to motherhood; others are not. Some want to work outside the home; others do not. Or women may want to do some of these things at certain times in their lives and not at others.”
Teresa Barton, a Killingly resident who hopes to form a Connecticut chapter of the Canada-based childfree social network called “No Kidding!,” says, “The fact that I had strong women — my mother and my paternal aunts — taking care of me made such a strong impression on me that I didn’t need to be married or have children to be happy and to help others.”
As self-explanatory as the decision may seem, there’s still the question of all those titles filling up the self-help sections in Borders and Barnes & Noble.
Joan C. Chrisler, who has published several books on women’s psychology and is the Psychology Department chairwoman at Connecticut College as well as an American Psychological Association and Association for Psychological Science fellow, provides a possible reason driving efforts to explain or analyze voluntary childlessness:
“There’s the assumption that there must be something wrong with you if you don’t want children because that is supposed to be women’s ultimate fulfillment,” Chrisler says.
“There is a pressure in our culture for women to have children. I think all women know that it exists. As soon as heterosexual women get married, people start asking them when they’re going to have children. Strangers ask.”
Mother’s Day mania
Chrisler, who doesn’t have children, says she is often driven crazy on Mother’s Day by repeated wishes for a “Happy Mother’s Day.” She says that when she responds by telling the well-wishers she’s not a mother, they say, “Have a happy day, anyway!”
People simply expect a woman her age to have had children, she says.
“And if you don’t become pregnant within what people think is a reasonable amount of time, they start to worry about whether you have infertility problems.” Chrisler adds, “They wonder if they should feel sorry for you.”
Barton says even her progressive and liberal friends in Killingly are shocked by her choice to not have children.
“They think that we’re here on earth to procreate,” she says.
A Jan. 17 Associated Press article headlined, “More U.S. babies born, fertility rate up,” supports the notion that the U.S. is, at least currently, a nation of procreators. In the
Several factors are listed as contributors, such as the decline of contraceptive use, a drop in access to abortion, poor education, poverty, and cultural differences. Even so, a number of women, particularly educated women living in
The question, for many, remains: why?
Pressman-Fuentes says that in the 1930s and 1940s, every girl and woman was expected to have marriage and children as primary life goals, but times have changed.
“The sea change I’ve witnessed since those days, largely the result of the second wave of the women’s movement and the availability of birth control, is that women now have choices,” Pressman-Fuentes says. “We have moved from stifling, narrow options for over half our population to a society where, more and more, all choices are open to both sexes.”
Chrisler says this is true especially if the women are educated.
“They can choose a demanding career, which they weren’t able to do before,” she says.
Choices and consequences
But that the choice exists doesn’t mean it can be made without consequence.
Chrisler says there are several negative stereotypes attached to women who don’t want children: they’re cold; they hate children; and/or they’re selfish.
“The reaction I hate the most is when people ask me, ‘How does your husband feel about you not having children?”’ says Phoena G., a 35 year-old woman who runs a Web site called “Happily Childfree.”
She prefers not to reveal her name or location because she and her husband want to avoid a possible backlash from their family-oriented, military community.
Phoena says she is insulted by the implication that she requires her husband’s approval to remain childfree, or that she’s somehow cheating her husband out of his “rightful children.”
“Why would people think I’d marry someone who doesn’t feel the same way I do?” Phoena says.
Chrisler falls outside of the child-hating stereotype with her love for her nephews and nieces, and says, “There are a lot of women who enjoy other people’s children, but they just don’t want to be mothers.”
Regardless of what might be a negative perception of childfree women, Pressman-Fuentes says the choice to have or not have children is a boon to women and their families.
“Women today have the opportunity to reach their maximum potential” as career women, wives, or mothers, she says.
Chrisler says even romantic relationships have been proven to benefit from being childfree. Not only is there less stress caused by sleeplessness and errand-running, but couples without children have more money to spend on fun activities because they’re not saving for college tuition and weddings for their children.
“It’s absolutely true,” says Tina Dalton, a 35-year-old
She adds, “Babies are stressful and hard on marriages. You’re not a wife, anymore; you’re a wife and mother. Everything’s about the baby.”
And even mothers aren’t free from judgment by other mothers.
As if she’s been conditioned to do it.
“I got a dirty look from someone the other day at work when I said I love my summers,” she says. “She was like, ‘Don’t you miss your kids?’ Yes, I miss my kids desperately, but when they go to their father’s I don’t have to do their laundry, or do their dishes, or drive them places. I take advantage of things I don’t get to do normally, like things with my husband. We can hang out on the couch. Sleep in late.”
Jenn, a 38-year-old childfree woman from
There are many things she loves that she couldn’t do anymore if she had children, she says.
“When women can follow their bents and make the most of themselves and their lives,” says Pressman-Fuentes, “their families benefit, and the entire society benefits.”