Big Question: Childfree or Childless?
I hate children. In addition to this, my life is empty, meaningless and lonely. Also? I'm selfish! And shallow! I think only about shoes, clothes, handbags – oh, and myself! Don't forget me (I certainly don't!) because, in addition to my myriad other faults, I'm self-obsessed too. Hi, nice to meet you! Will you be my friend?
Of course, none of this is true. (Well, OK, maybe the bit about the shoes. I love me some shoes.). I'm a nice person, really – honest, gov. And actually? I like children. (I feel obliged to add here that I couldn't eat a whole one. Sorry.) I just prefer them when they belong to other people, that's all. I, you see, am childfree – I don't want children.
And while none of the personality traits listed above are ones that I'd attribute to myself, they're all things that have been said to and about me by other people – some of them strangers – who feel that my childfree status is something to be commented on at will, and in the most negative of terms.
Note the language used here, though: I'm childfree not childless. Unlike people who desperately want children but are unable to have them, my lack of offspring is a deliberate choice. There is no gaping void in my life because of it. I don't buy shoes to make up for my empty, meaningless existence. I'm actually happy with my life: it's just a shame that other people can't be happy for me.
To admit to not wanting children, you see, is one of the most controversial things a woman can do. For instance: when I made my shocking admission above, you probably didn't believe me, did you? Most people don't. That's why the childfree are condemned to a life filled with comments about how we'll change our minds one day (I'm 30 years old. When do I get permission to know my own mind, please?), how "it's different when it's your own" (maybe, but that’s one hell of a risk to take), how I'll have no one to look after me when I'm old (now, there's a non-selfish reason for procreation if ever I heard one!), how my life will be empty without children (What? Someone's taking away all the books, films, friends, family members and travel destinations in the world? When was this decided?) and how, basically, I'm just selfish, aren't I?
It's the "selfish" argument that always puzzles me the most. Let's be honest here: why do most people have children? Why, because they want them, of course – and you could call that "selfish". In the nicest possible way. I don't know about you, but I don't hear a whole lot of people saying, "You know, I have no maternal feelings whatsoever, but gosh, I better pop out a few kids to, you know, do my duty to the world." Do you? Where are these people? What kind of crack are they smoking?
The other thing that puzzles me about people's reaction to my childfree status is their desperation to challenge my decision, and, ultimately, to tell me how very wrong I am. It would never occur to me to greet the news of someone's pregnancy, for instance, with the words, "Oh God, you will so regret that one. Once you have it, you'll change your mind." That would be rude and presumptuous. Often, though, when people find out that I have no children, their first question is "Why not?" and their second usually involves heavy rotation of the words "selfish", "regret" and "unnatural". (My response, on the other hand, normally makes use of the phrases "nosey", "judgemental", "pot", "kettle" and "black". "Oh, you had children so they could support you in your old age?" I'll say, smiling. "How very selfless of you!")
Interestingly enough, though, although we childfree remain in the minority, it's an increasingly large minority, with the latest studies suggesting that by 2010, one in four UK women will be childfree. We can't all be selfish and unnatural, now, can we?
Amber McNaught is a freelance writer based just outside Edinburgh. She blogs for various Shiny Media sites and works solely to support an expensive shoes and handbags habit.