When It Comes to Judgment, the Child-Free Just Might Have It Easy

I used to feel very put-upon for being expected to have children (because of this uterus I have), and it was more than irritating to be called “selfish” (one family member I rarely see, and who was therefore probably not aware of my decision, went into a brief rant during a family visit about how self-centered and mean child-free women are).

There have also been articles (written by women) that say child-free women make poor employees, and women without children have been called freaks, sex-haters, cold, and any number of other flattering terms people use to describe the kind of woman who doesn’t want to procreate (you’ll find a comprehensive list in a Psychology Today article by Ellen Walker, Ph.D).

While I’ll not deny we child-free types do face some judgment and criticism, and although, as women, we’re marginalized when it comes to choosing the best juices (“As a mom, I want to know my juice is all natural,” one commercial advertised – do we non-moms not want natural juice, too?) and receiving special labels (“Coma Mom Defies the Odds” a recent morning show episode headlined – is she somehow special because she is a mom, and not just a woman, who defied the odds?), I think we have it easier than moms do – and not just because we don’t task ourselves with raising children.

Don’t misunderstand; women who are uncertain about whether they want to have children, or who have just realized they’ll never want them, have a tough time, for a while. Deciding not to have children means being something of a social outcast (every woman I know, who is my age or older, has children), it means difficulty finding a life partner (it’s actually surprising how many men feel strongly about having children), and it means periodically wondering whether being child-free was the right choice.

The child-free also have to deal with guilt-trips from parents and in-laws who want grandchildren, the constant barrage of “Aren’t you afraid you’ll regret it?” and “What happens when you’re old and alone?” questions, and feeling like society believes we’re “unnatural,” in general (because everyone knows it’s “natural” to want, and have, children).

Even so. I’d much rather suffer whatever judgment I might receive as a child-free woman than what I suspect I’d have to deal with if I were a mother.

For instance, if you type “should mothers” into the Google search bar, the options it will bring up for you automatically include “stay at home,” “work,” “sleep with their children,” and “work outside the home.”

If you type “mother’s shouldn’t” into the search bar, the suggestion feed is “work,” “Facebook,” and “have Facebook.” (Really? Facebook?)

Other questions people ask about mothers (and many of them make the morning show segments) include:

– Is it okay for mothers to have a glass of wine during playdates with other mothers?

– Should mothers breastfeed?

– How long should mothers breastfeed?

– Should mothers breastfeed in public?

– Should mothers give their children milk?

– Should older mothers be allowed to have more children?

– Should mothers have more than one child?

And that’s just conversation taking place in the media. Mothers (after being touched on their pregnant bellies by strangers) also have to deal with other mothers. Other mothers, who are certain they’re raising their own children the right way, are often the first to criticize the way other mothers raise their children.

“Really? You let them eat that?”
“Really? You let them watch that?”
“Really? You let them listen to that?”
“Oh, you don’t make him do his homework as soon as he comes home?”
“You let her boyfriend go into her bedroom?”
“You don’t go to every single soccer practice?”
“You let him have coffee? Really? At fifteen?”
“You bought condoms for her? Really? At fifteen?”
“You let her wear that?”
“You don’t let her wear that?”
“Wait – you went OUT?”

We all have our issues where children (or a lack thereof) are concerned, but I’m willing to bet my early years of non-mom guilt, two divorces, and pregnancy fears as a child-free woman were far more tolerable than it would have been to hear  one single unsolicited word about how I was raising my child. (And I’m pretty certain mothers have to deal with this for the full eighteen years. There are “right” ways to care for infants, toddlers, pre-teens, teens…)

A note: This should not be confused with something that turns mothers into heroes. It isn’t, and they aren’t. (“Hero” is a word that should be reserved only for those who risk their lives for others even as they fear for themselves.) Nor should it be mistaken for something that minimizes the experiences of the child-free. It is simply an attempt at an honest assessment of the judgment women receive (and cast) under the category “childbearing.” (There are many other categories under which women are judged, but we see those every day in magazine and television ads.)

Sylvia D. Lucas is the author of No Children, No Guilt and blogs at http://sylviadlucas.com

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