“Child-Free” again. Sort of.

This post was originally written for Viewpoint at Christian Feminism Today. It is published here with their permission and encouragement.

Lauren Sandler’s article in TIME magazine caught my attention. [“The Child-Free Life: When having it all means not having children,” 8/12/2013] In about two weeks, my husband and I will be “child-free” for the first time in 22+ years. Sort of.

Our lovely daughters

Our lovely daughters

One daughter has graduated from St. John’s College and one heads off to Annapolis for her freshman year this month. Our house will be emptier, our lives less busy, and our calendar much freer.

More than one person has asked, “What WILL you do with all that free time?” And then we all laugh. Because we are far too capable of filling up evenings and weekends with “other” things. My on call schedule, Bearded Brewer’s projects, gardening and home maintenance, and church… yeah. I’d say we will stay out of mischief.

Friends who still have children in public school are slaves to the calendar of teacher workdays and school closings. We could take that trip to Sanibel in October and enjoy the empty beaches, or a camping trip in early May before school lets out. These are enticing prospects, and I can relate to those who are “child-free” by choice and who revel in their ability to just pick up and GO.

The article, however, touches a nerve for friends, and even a few of my siblings, who have chosen not to have children. They are viewed as selfish, or immature or even decadent. Why reproductive choices continue to be a flash-point in our society is beyond me. But some folks apparently feel the need to comment or criticize if someone does not produce offspring, have them too soon, too late, too few or too many. It’s really NOT a matter of public debate.

This change has been coming for a long time. And it’s about time.

Sandler notes the trend in women ages 40-44 who have chosen to be childless. (Sadly, there are no statistics listed for men with the same choice. But that’s another topic.) According to her article, in 1976, 1 in 10 women of that age bracket were childless. In 2010, it had dropped to 1 in 5. I don’t see it as being a problem. In fact, I see it as a good idea! And even a biblical one.

Though limited in number, there ARE examples of women in Scripture who had titles other than “mother of ___________.” They were judges, prophetesses, midwives (heh), and Bible teachers. Some were even evangelists and apostles. Producing the fruit of the womb is not the only task God has given to women over the centuries.

Economically, legally and socially, women are no longer restricted to beings wives and mothers. They run countries and businesses and own property, instead of being property. They pay taxes, defend our freedoms and keep our streets safe. They would rather slay their own dragons, thankyouverymuch, than find a knight to do it for them. This is progress.

Having children may be a natural biological function, but nurturing them is NOT a natural psychological one.
Some people don’t want to have their own children. Given the freedom to choose a life and a child-bearing status of one’s own preference, couples and singles today are finding that they do not want to have offspring, by birth or adoption. They have found a way through the norms to choices which a century ago would have been rare, if not unthinkable. They. Don’t. Want. Children.

Many women feel like they “have” to get married and have children. It’s portrayed as something women just DO if they are ____________ (godly, mature, you pick the adjective). Women are SUPPOSED to be married and have babies. It’s held up as a Divine Order. But it’s really more of a Calling, and it isn’t for every woman. More than one mother has confided in me that they “didn’t like kids very much” and yet… here they are on the playground watching their children. They feel guilty and have a severe case of “the shoulds” because this whole butt-wiping, snotty-nose patrol thing is just not their cuppa.

So it’s really OK if a woman chooses not to have her own offspring. She is no less female, no less feminine based on her choices.

Being female does not mean you want to work with children.
And, yes, it can take a while to figure out that this is not for you. After a degree in education and teaching music, I realized I didn’t really want to do that for the rest of my life. No thanks. Those who DO teach — I salute you. You have invested a considerable amount of time and expertise in our children, and I am grateful.

Hello Church. I’m looking at you. Let’s stop assuming that all women want to help with children’s programs. Invite men AND women to participate. I have helped out here and there over the years, but I chose support roles that did not require my spending time with small children when I was home with my own all week. Even now that mine are older, I decline. Courteously. 🙂

Being an adult does not mean you want to always be around other people’s children.
We have all been on the flight where a child was not the best behaved example of humanity. (Ahem. And with adults too, from time to time.) Public transportation is one arena that we all learn to grin and bear it. If nothing else, it’s an opportunity to be helpful to a stressed out family.

But families can try to be considerate. For instance, couples without children have been complaining — and asking for other venues to have child-free zones and hours. Huff-Post reported that La Fisheria in Houston now limits guests to those 9 and up from 7-10 pm each evening. I find that a little extreme, but I can see how a four-year-old needs to be home in bed, not eating dinner at 9 pm. When the kid across the street starts shooting hoops at 7 a.m. Saturday morning, I’m not grace-filled in my thoughts, that’s for sure. Consideration on the part of parents is key — what would be fair to expect if the situation were reversed?

When they have the time and the inclination, childless adults are — simply — the sprinkles on the triple-decker ice cream cone of life for kids.
Childless adults have been amazing role models to our daughters. They are entrepreneurs, investors, physicians, health care workers and professors. They are engaging, encouraging and a lot of fun to be around (for the whole family.) They bring a new kind of love and mentoring as “not-parents”. Who but our friend Carol could convince Reedy Girl to stuff those six remaining green beans in her mouth all at once — just so that she wouldn’t miss out on ice cream? Who but Bridget had the time to indulge The Johnnie in riding lessons when she was in her horse-crazy phase – and did it for free? Who but their amazing aunts mailed surprise packages with THE BEST books, American Girl doll clothes, and made them feel loved and special? Or filled them with ice cream from Sonic and their favorite kinds of candy or pizza… just because. (We did our best not to make them into free babysitters, either. They were our friends and family, and we welcomed them at our table and in our home. And that’s pretty wonderful — for all of us.)

There are other really good reasons why men AND women choose not to have children.
And it really isn’t any of our business. But — in case you can’t get your head around it, consider that…

  • It may be an awareness that we share an over-populated, under-resourced world.
  • It may be that they want to change the world through their life’s work, and so they have chosen a trail-blazing career instead of parenting.
  • It could be that they can’t conceive or can’t afford to adopt. (Let’s face it – adoption is lauded as a great idea, but we give little-to-no financial support to those who try that route.)
  • It may be that family needs and finances dictate they invest their nurturing in others.
  • And it may be that, really and truly, they don’t want to be responsible for raising children. As one friend commented to me, “I can’t keep goldfish alive. Why would I decide to have children?”

So… back to our being “child-free” soon…

I’m a realist. Just because our daughters are moving into their own lives and plans doesn’t mean we won’t make time for them, or be available when they need us. More than once, I moved back home in between college and grad school, summer jobs and new careers. There was room. There was love. There was storage for furniture, books and clothes. There was help when I needed it with finances and planning, and even loading the UHaul. (Thanks, Mom and Dad, by the way.)

I’m grateful that I’m married and that we have two wonderful daughters. I wouldn’t trade a single year of our parenting journey and family life for any amount of money. I’m not a perfect parent, but I love being one. But I don’t hold it up as a prescription for anyone else. Nor do I feel it validates adulthood, maturity, femininity or biblical life choices.

Let’s give it a rest, shall we? Life’s too short. Love the people that are your life — however you find them. That will make a world of difference.

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