Childfree By Choice


Author of No Way Baby explores the decision some people make to not become parents in a world that says marriage and babies are the only right choice.


Photo by Chris Blackburn © Blackburn Studios

They sit down at the table, cautiously sizing each other up. First dates are always such an exercise in awkwardness. After drinks and appetizers, things start to relax a bit. The conversation is flowing, and there is clearly a spark of attraction.

Subjects covered up to this point include work, weather, hometowns, and so on. Then, after the second round of drinks, they get into the good stuff: “How long have you been single?” “What was your ex like?” And then, it comes: “Why didn’t it work out?”

The childfree single’s heart drops. Is it time for truth or consequences already?

Truth: “He wanted to have children, and I did not. We couldn’t agree on a compromise.” She holds her breath, waiting for a reply. Could he actually say, “I don’t want to have kids, either!”—or will she watch as the smile fades, the eyes grow cold, and the conversation turns back to surface issues as they go through the motions, finish the date, and say good night and good-bye forever?

Consequences: Fast-forward to three months later. A harmless little tryst is quickly becoming a serious relationship with some long-term potential. Genuine feelings are starting to develop. Hearts are on the line as vulnerability comes into play. Then one Saturday afternoon the new couple is strolling through the park, surrounded by the laughter of children on the playground, and he looks lovingly into her eyes and says, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a family one day?” Ugh. Now she’s in trouble, but she’s not alone.

According to the U.S. Census, over five million women between the ages of fifteen and forty-four declare themselves voluntarily childless, although the number may actually be higher due to the reluctance to be public about it. The census doesn’t count voluntarily childless men, however it’s a pretty safe bet that at least as many men would identify as childfree. That makes over 10 million adults out there who are childless and who are building lives and forming relationships, just like everyone else.

How childfree singles approach the dating scene may vary, but one thing remains true. At some point, the truth is going to come out. Once a couple has developed genuine feelings for each other, walking away gets a lot harder. There are desperate attempts to find a solution. How about only one child? What if they adopted? Maybe he could be happy without kids? If they love each other, they should be able to figure this out. Don’t all relationships require give-and-take?

When dating casually, telling someone you don’t want to have children from the get-go may feel presumptuous, while keeping that bit of info under your hat may feel misleading. But don’t look for a childfree dating guide at your local bookseller. The countless dating books found lining the shelves address one goal, and that is landing a husband and the future father of your children, by any means necessary.

For example, Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider warn us in The Rules: Time-tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right never to mention words like marriage, wedding, children, or future in any context whatsoever: “those are subjects for him to bring up.” Thus, they advise women to give up all of their power and become wimpy little waifs. They go on to advise women to downplay their accomplishments, letting him be the one who shines. On their terms, if you’re looking for an egomaniac or commitment-phobe to have a litter with, you should do great.

Manipulative, chauvinistic advice like that found in The Rules may appeal to someone on a mission for the mythical holy grail of happy endings —marriage and baby. The rest of us have to figure out our own rules.

The belief that marriage and family are the ultimate “happy ending” is the conventional wisdom that endures despite the lack of empirical evidence to back it up. Popular culture supports this misconception with endless television shows and movies that solve all human dramas with marriage and babies.

Even as mainstream America begins to change its attitudes about another subgroup in society, the gay and lesbian population, positive role models of the childfree life are still largely absent from popular culture. The NBC sitcom “Will & Grace” was considered a very a cutting-edge television show when it aired from 1998 to 2006. Based on a gay guy/straight girl friendship, the show broke new ground, demystifying and normalizing the gay lifestyle for many viewers.

The success of the show demonstrated America’s readiness to embrace the estimated 10 percent of our citizens who identify as homosexual into at least some public arenas. Yet even in a breakthrough show like “Will & Grace,” the series finale ends with Grace happily married to a doctor and mothering her little Lyla, while Will is coupled with his longtime love, Vince, and has adopted baby Ben. Later, Lyla and Ben meet at college, fall in love, and of course, get married ― adding to the matrimonial mythology.

The undesirable status of being single, childless, and pushing forty is a stereotype that remains alive and well in these types of shows. Family comedies are chock-full of the unmarried side characters that are either too deranged or too pathetic to land a mate and pop out a baby. “Roseanne” had her single basket case of a sister, Jackie; “Still Standing” had the desperate sister-in-law, Linda; and “Everybody Loves Raymond” had Ray’s brother Robert, divorced and living with their parents, to name a few. The happy, well-adjusted singleton and/or childfree continues to be glaringly absent from prime time.

With the scarcity of popular role models and an almost non-existent body of literature, many childfrees look to each other for support. Facebook groups like Childfree & Single and Childfree are good places to start. All too often, as we move toward our thirties and forties, those we once counted as friends begin to get married and have children, changing those relationships forever. No matter how much we try to prevent it, something is irrevocably changed.

While the revelation that you don’t want children can bring a first, second, or a tenth date to a screeching halt, the earlier that tidbit gets worked into the conversation, the better for everyone. It may seem risky or presumptuous, but the longer you wait the harder it will be should the other person not share your feelings. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and if finding a childfree mate is the goal, then put it out there early in any new relationship.

One of these times, you will look across the table and hear those wonderful words, “Really? You don’t want kids? Me, neither!” After that, who knows?

Not So “Fun Facts” About Single Motherhood

One in two marriages ends in divorce, so if you have kids, there’s a good chance of being a single parent.

Single mothers make up 84 percent of single-parent households.

Children of divorce (most likely raised by their mothers) are five times more likely to live in poverty than children of intact families.

Only about 37 percent of single mothers receive regular child support.

In the year following a divorce, the standard of living for a man increases by an average of 10 percent, while the standard of living for a woman decreases by 27 percent.

The average child support received by single mothers is $1,331 per year. Deadbeat dads are rarely prosecuted.

Source: No Way Baby!

Copyright © Karen Foster 2018 / Singular Communications, LLC

Karen FosterIn her first book, No Way Baby, Karen Foster explores and defends the decision to not have children. A pebble in the shoe of conventional wisdom, she is shining a light on the discrepancies between what we say we should do, what we think we should do and what we do. As a speaker and life coach, Karen encounters all sorts of interesting people ― many of whom continue to be amazed by her unwillingness to have children (or to do lots of other things so-called “normal” people do.
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