Friday, July 12, 2013

“Childless” or “Childfree”

Lately, I've been feeling disconnected from my desire to have children. I don't know what happened. Maybe it's my psyche's way of dealing with the new knowledge that my ovaries have probably passed their expiration date. Maybe it's just habit – not to think about it. I've lived so much of my life without children, not thinking about children, filling my life with other pursuits and worries, that maybe this mindset is just status quo for me. This is normal for me. And it feels fine.

But how long will it feel fine? That's the big question all women like me ponder. Could I be OK with it my entire life? Or will I crumble into a ball of regret and childless bitterness at 49?

Hard to say. Just like anything in life, it's a fool's game to predict what we'll feel years from now about decisions we make today.

Recently, I've stumbled across (OK, maybe I've sought them out) an increasingly vocal group of people who prefer to (and proudly) call themselves “childfree” instead of “childless.”

I'm always slightly amused when movements attempt to co-op concepts by changing the words used to describe themselves, as if changing the word changes their circumstance. But I get that it's about altering other people's perceptions, removing the stigma and other preconceived ideas, so I suppose I'll rock n roll with it.

We are a minority – the childless/childfree people. And sometimes that means we feel the pinch of living under an oppressive Tyranny of the Majority, a.k.a. The World of Cooing Parents. Wanna know what they print on their dollar bill? “My children are the best thing that ever happened to me!!!!!!!” Yes, they print the exclamation marks on their legal tender.

It's enough to make anyone feel as if life will always be incomplete without children. We, pitiful non-parent brethren, are missing out on “the best thing” life on this planet has to offer. Or so the motto goes.
The “childfree” rebels beg to differ. The most vocal are radicalized and aggressive. They coo and brag about their childfree lives with equal passion as a parent rattling on about their children.

Their blogs and tweets and webpages are insistent, impassioned, sometimes even angry and anti-children in their rallying cries: Baby strollers circled with a line through it. Rants about the screaming brats next door. Snickering at parents who carry sippy cups and spare diapers in their purses.

My favorite, @SoHappyNoKids, posts almost daily about how happy he is living childfree, just to disprove any suspicions that some days he misses the children he never had. For example: “Another day without kids. Another day happier!”

Clearly, many of the childfree people feel the need to flip off the Tyranny. They want everyone to know there IS happiness without children.

I read a recent study that found people without children do find satisfaction in life in equal amounts as people with kids. The childless people say they occasionally feel a twang of sadness and wonder if they'd be happier if they had had children. But on most days, (as long as the childless aspect was not due to infertility), they feel content with their lives on the same levels as parents.

While we're comparing happiness levels, who can argue that parents don't suffer their own forms of sadness or disappointment that stem from their lives with children? Sadness, frustration, disappointment and wondering how our lives would be different if we took a different road are feelings doled out to all human, not just the childless. Happiness is also not exclusive to any group. Finding happiness with our lives is more often defined by our internal mechanisms rather than the external confines of our circumstances.

Personally, I don't feel oppressed by the majority, but maybe I am partly a victim of it. Yes, I have what I assume is an innate, biological hard-wired urge to procreate and care for a next generation of my genetic line, but perhaps some of my drive to have a child is propelled by the constant drumbeat of the majority's marching motto.

So my question is, what if a childfree life was a more well-trodden and recognizable path to a satisfying life? What if more people shared their satisfaction and joys of a life with children (of their own).  What if the choice was contemplated, respected and equated to other paths in life, like choosing to live in rural Idaho instead of smoggy L.A.? Many great women never had children. Helen Mirren. Coco Chanel. Diane Sawyer. 

Modern life is about choices. We have so many different options for how to live our lives, where, and with whom. Maybe it is time for the childfree to stand up and seat at the table. It's not like they have to find a babysitter before committing to the dinner party.

For those of you out there who are still trying to sort through the baby to be or not to be decision, check out a few of these childfree warriors: @nothavingababy, @whynokids, and @sohappynokids.