The increased visibility and acceptance of women who choose not to have children is just one part of a social evolution away from the limited “traditional family” model, and into a world where human beings with a diversity of needs can create family arrangements that work for them. That’s not just good for the child-free; it’s great for feminism – and even better for society and families.
To see some nebulous, grainy, other potential for which there are few mainstream models and say, “I want that,” takes courage and imagination. That vision is behind many of the struggles for social justice in America: a vision of a gender-egalitarian world that has never before existed; a vision of living as one’s true self, including one’s true gender, when you were labeled something else at birth; a vision of equal rights and opportunities regardless of skin color; a vision of public and private spaces accessible to those whose bodies are deemed outside the norm.
Extremes like child abuse aside, the normalization of a child-free lifestyle would simply give us a wider variety of acceptable lifestyles to choose from. There is, of course, always peril in choice, as there is some psychological ease in just going with the assumed flow of things and accepting one’s circumstances as inevitable. Choice means knowing there are doors left unopened and paths not taken; choice always offers the potential for regret, or at least wondering what might have been. But working through that, and owning the choices we make, are how we get to happiness, instead of simple satisfaction or complacency.
The “selfish” narrative about child-free people also sheds light on many of our cultural dysfunctions. There’s little angst over the many men who choose not to have children, and little social condemnation. Consider simply the difference in meaning of “bachelor” versus “spinster”. Women who don’t have children are particularly offensive because part of our cultural understanding of the ideal female hinges on being nurturing, emotional and care-giving. To reject childbearing pushes back on the basic assumption that women have an obligation always to make their lives about someone else.
There are 7 billion people on the planet. It seems unlikely that all of them would be inherently and necessarily more fulfilled, more mature and better-off if they all made the exact same choice – whether that’s to run a business or start an organic garden or practice yoga or do any other particular thing. So, why do we assume that having kids is the universal choice of the unselfish and the personally transformed?
Normalization of being child-free is a gain for all of us, whether we choose to have children or not. It reminds us that kids are people, who deserve to be raised and nurtured by adults who proactively want to have them. And it reminds us that women are people, too – that we exist once on this planet, and we have one life in which to seek happiness and pleasure and goodness. Making choices that center on our own needs and desires isn’t selfish. It’s radical. It’s transformational.
Hi Ranty- I asked you about a week ago if I could get your input regarding a falling out with a friend. I just couldnt seem to find the time/energy to put my thoughts together in a coherently written piece. Writing does not come easy to me– does it to you? I am impressed you are able on a weekly basis, if not more, write such thoughtful and deep posts.
Anyway, regarding my situation: I was lucky to have some wise, older friends put the situation in perceptive for me and I was feeling okay about it. But I am just not over it. I had thought this woman would be a friend for the long term- especially considering we are both non moms. Going out to an event last night and having to make small talk with strangers also didnt help. FWIW, I went to the event with a friend, people were friendly, came home to my husband– I still am upset, just feel a real loss.
I realize that her and I both being non moms is what makes is so painful. I thought we had formed a nice supportive bond based on having our lives fairly open to write out as we pleased. We checked in with each other weekly, if not daily. I made an effort to include her on weekends and to be considerate- I would not mention events/parties I didnt invite her to. And now she seems to have thrown out the friendship over something that didnt really even involve her.
Ranty- I really would appreciate your input- but in order to get full story across, I have to write out more details than I feel comfortable posting here. May I send you an email?
Can you see my email address in this reply? If not I’ll email you from it. Let me know once you’ve sent me the message.
I too have lost some NoMo friends, and I find those break-ups especially painful. I’m always surprised when a No-Mo is ready to trash a friendship over something trivial, when there are so few of us to commiserate with.
My now former friend and I never really talked all that much about not being moms- it was just understood neither one of us had children and therefore had the time to invest in the friendship.
I can’t see your email- mine email@example.com
Ok I just sent you an email
Just want to add– what I meant by include her on weekends is I didnt disappear on Saturday and Sundays when my husband is free. She is single- and I remember when I was single, so annoying/disappointing to have a friend do that.