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Choosing to be child-free - life in a pro-natalist society

21 January 2020

Tanya Williams 1

My name is Tanya and I am child-free by choice.

I am a married, healthy, fit, socially conscious woman and I choose not to have children. As a 48-year-old woman, I have been subject to judgment, criticism and being treated differently in the corporate world, because of my decision to be childfree. I am and have always been an advocate for the C word – choice!

But first let’s make sure we get the terminology correct. There is a difference between being child-free versus childless. Child-free is by choice. Childless is by circumstance. The conversations are very different.

We live in a pronatalist society. We are raised to become mothers. Think about it: we are given dolls when we are just babies ourselves. It is reinforced in the fairy tales we read, the toys we play with, the subjects we are taught at school, the movies we watch - everything in life is geared toward having a family in the traditional sense of that word.

As women we are expected to have kids or at the very least want to have them. With close to 1 in 4 women now choosing to be childfree it is surprising that the reaction to this choice is still criticised, even in the workplace.

As author of A Childfree Happily Ever After, I’m often asked: “do people really react negatively and judge you?” The answer is YES!

Reactions, whether verbal or non-verbal, vary both in social setting and in professional environments. Here’s one example.

At a business event recently, a woman asked me “do you have children?” I replied, “oh no thanks,” wondering why she would ask the question of a total stranger at a business event. She was visibly uncomfortable with my reply.

I called her on it and asked why my answer unsettled her? (I am not known for being a wall flower.) Downcast, she mumbled something about not expecting that reply, and couldn’t get away fast enough.  

Having short-circuited her default conversation starter, she was lost for where to go and, I feel, couldn’t reconcile my answer with her worldview.

Reactions from others vary from total shut down to supportive words like, ‘hey, good on you for staying true to what you want’. Envy also plays a part in people’s negative reactions to my childfree choice.

Other reactions include: Why don’t you want kids?

Imagine if I asked: why do you want kids? Or if I reacted with “OMG you will regret that choice” when someone tells me they are pregnant. I would be an outcast.

Believe me, I have met the ‘you’ll-regret-that’ reaction when I’ve told people I’m not having children.

And… don’t get me started on statements like this: “what if you change your mind; what does your partner think of that; you are so selfish.”

We are well overdue to change these conversations in society.

I am vocally supportive of women’s choices. Every woman should do what makes her happy. If that includes 1 child, 5 kids or none, that is fine. After all, doing what is right for each of us is the point!

 

We talk about the sisterhood as if it exists, but women are so judgmental and critical of each other, that I don’t think the sisterhood is real, especially in the workplace where there is a divide between mums and non-mums.

I encourage you to start to rethink the assumptions you make when you say things to your colleagues, friends and family. If someone you speak to is undecided about having kids or is proudly childfree, be mindful of your reaction and remember that their choices are just as valid as yours. We need to stop stigmatising and turn that judgment into support, especially in the office.

Tanya Williams is author of A Childfree Happily Ever After and founder of the Childfree Choices Program. Her goal is to change the dialogue in society from judgment and criticism to support and acceptance with a focus on the c word – Choice! See more, here.

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