Formerly Childfree: Insights From a Mother of Two

Hello everyone and happy Monday! Today I am talking with Erin.

Erin is the married mother of two adorable little girls, Brontë, age 4, and Bridget, age 2. Erin is also the founder and author of the popular parenting blog Bubbles and Beebots. Yes, you read that correctly, a parenting blog.

Allow me to explain. Erin writes her blog from quite a unique perspective. After spending her twenties happily childfree and unsure if she would ever want children, an accidental pregnancy in her thirties catapulted her straight into motherhood, she details in her post “5 Points I Want the Childfree to Consider.”

I’m always a bit skeptical when I read an article about the childfree written from a parent’s point of view. I was however very impressed with Erin’s opinions, so much so that I had to find out more! So, without further ado, meet Erin!

What inspired you to write this post addressing the childfree?

Well, I’m in the curious position of living many adult years without children, as opposed to people who begin families shortly after leaving their own (for whom anything besides family life may seem unthinkable).

I remember how incredibly frustrated I once was by babies who endlessly screamed on airplanes or in public. I’d wonder why the parents wouldn’t stop them, take care of it… always imagining all the reasonable and obvious measures I’d take if I were ever a parent myself.

And then I was, and realized how much more complicated it is than I ever imagined. Now I see people scowl at my children on sight when I walk into grocery stores and restaurants, when my kids are doing nothing but sitting quietly, because many people seem reactively hostile to children.

I’ve also had my child suddenly throw a tantrum in a department store and been immediately lectured by bystanders about why I shouldn’t bring a moody child with me. Many people have little patience with parents who find themselves in that situation. When you have a child yourself, you’re bound to take criticisms of parents and children much more personally than when it’s a hypothetical child, because it feels hostile to YOUR child.

So, I’ve been considering these issues for quite some time, but what prompted me to write the article right then was a Christmas party I’d attended the night before. I saw many friends I hadn’t seen much in the past few years, most of whom were still single and without children.

At some point, a group started talking about how they couldn’t help but dislike children, how kids these days were terrible, entitled brats and how they couldn’t believe any women would choose to give up all their freedom and independence to raise a family. Further, they were angry about women who became bad investments for their employers by getting themselves pregnant. They felt we made employers less likely to hire us in general, and for good reason.

Of course this hurt, but I was also angered by the sense that women were, once again, turning on each other instead of showing solidarity. I believe it’s very difficult to raise a family now, and that viewing quality-of-life issues in terms of how much they inconvenience employers hurts everyone. Whether it’s pregnancy, a medical emergency, or reasonable labor laws, we should care about people’s health and welfare as much as the bottom line.

Speaking to your comment about women turning on each other instead of showing solidarity, one remark the childfree community hears fairly often is that they don’t understand true happiness or real love because they don’t have children. How do you feel about this?

Wow, that seems like a very harsh judgment to make. I certainly wouldn’t say people are incapable of “real” love before becoming a parent or question the validity of anyone’s feelings apart from those for their child.

I would say it’s a different kind of love, infused with a great sense of responsibility. You may love your spouse, for example, but you know your spouse is a grown adult that can fend for themselves, whereas the child depends on you. Our parents imprint on us so early and so intensely that people struggle with however their parents treated them for the rest of their lives… For better or worse, you will greatly affect this child and be extremely important to them. There is probably also a biological drive to nurture and protect your offspring that comes into play.

That being said, there are many parents who abandon or horribly abuse their children, so it’s hardly fair to suggest only parents can be loving, or that parenthood automatically translates to becoming selfless.

If you didn’t have an unplanned pregnancy, do you think you would still be childfree today?

I’m not certain, but I probably wouldn’t have had kids.

My husband and I had both been married before for several years, yet neither one of us had children or a burning desire to have them. There was a sense that we should consider it because having kids is something people do, so we planned on making a firm decision after we were married for a year. I wasn’t even comfortable around children, to be honest.

Then I suddenly found myself pregnant a month after our wedding.  I was terrified and remember thinking “Well, if it’s ever going to happen, it may as well be now.”

I didn’t suddenly embrace motherhood after coming to terms with my pregnancy, either. I wasn’t awash in hormones that made everything seem natural and beautiful.. I was panicking, and the idea that a small person was taking over my body felt surreal. I was scared, and at some level, always wondering whether the whole thing was a huge mistake.

But when the baby arrived and I looked at her for the first time, I began sobbing with all this emotion I didn’t know how to handle. Not every new mother has this experience, but I bonded intensely and immediately.

That’s not to say there weren’t many horrible, sleep-deprived nights where I wanted to gouge my eyes out or have urges to tear away in the car, blasting angry music. But overall, I loved being a mother and we decided to have a second child on purpose.

Becoming a parent was one of the best things that ever happened to me, but I think it happened at the right time in my life. I may not have felt that way if I’d had children ten years earlier.

You ended your post stating that you don’t think parents and non-parents should stay on opposite teams. How do you think we can bridge the gap?

That’s difficult, because people often view life as a zero-sum game and sometimes feel that different choices somehow invalidate their own. It shouldn’t be which path is “better,” but which one is right for you.

Not every childfree person is hostile to children, of course, and many parents are quite judgmental about people who choose to never have kids.

I suppose that by sharing what it’s like to deal with a screaming child in a grocery store, I was hoping to help non-parents understand our perspective—that we aren’t oblivious to how obnoxious our children are being or feel entitled to making everyone miserable. It’s just hard, especially when people are also judgmental about parents trying to control their children, or don’t realize how irrational young kids can be.

I suppose some of my solutions are political. For example, we have very limited benefits compared to other developed nations. There’s a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps mentality that applies to parents and non-parents alike, whether it’s sick leave, maternity leave, vacation time, college tuitions, or subsidized daycare.

It’s expensive and difficult to raise a family now, so parents become resentful when non-parents are critical—it’s easy to start viewing non-parents as carefree people with few responsibilities, loads of freedom and disposable incomes, who are nevertheless bitter when a parent needs to take off work to care for a sick child.

And, I think some childfree people resent feeling like they have to pick up the slack at work, or that they’re being demonized for choosing a lifestyle that doesn’t involve children.

Maybe more empathy is the answer, or recognizing that people sometimes project their own frustrations.

A parent who calls a non-parent selfish may be, on some level, actually angry about getting no sleep and preparing a breakfast that was thrown on the floor that morning, so they’re really trying to remind themselves that they’re still a good person. And the childfree person who scowls at child at the grocery store may be reacting to her family constantly suggesting she isn’t a real grownup yet because she doesn’t have kids. I can’t help thinking much of the hostility in both sides is defensive in nature.

So, maybe the answer involves recognizing that neither side is wrong.

Someone needs to have kids, but not everyone has to and that’s okay. Parents should be trying their best to raise well-adjusted kids who will someday become good citizens, but that’s very challenging, made much easier when bystanders are supportive, rather than critical.

– – –

Thank you Erin!

I agree that empathy is the answer for bridging the gap between parents and the childfree. What do you think?

Let me know in the comments section below.

This article was mentioned on Married Without Children. Click here to listen.

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Comments

    • Marla Oxley
    • January 3, 2017
    Reply

    In contrast to so many articles on the subject, this interview and the article upon which the interview is based result from intelligent, non-partisan consideration.

    Were we cats or dogs, we wouldn’t have the luxury of sipping lattes while exchanging bland, passive-aggressive retorts crafted carefully to maintain the camoflage that insulates us from the jungle-level imperative of childbearing.

    No, we’d be busily baring our teeth to any and all who give more than a cursory glance at our current litter.

    There are several related questions that spring to mind based on this discussion:

    1. Why are we attracted to the opposite sex if we do not want to reproduce?

    2. Why are we driven to HAVE sex if we do not want to reproduce?

    3. Did this discussion topic exist before the invention of reliable birth control?

    I once read that 67 percent of pregnancies are accidental, even with birth control available. Wow! What might the percentage have been before pregnancy prevention?

    A very good friend of mine turned down an early chance at marriage and children. This very year, she met up with her previous lover, since divorced. When she told me of her engagement, I shared with her a letter she had written me in which she mocked her lover for suggesting such a thing. “A mother,” she wrote. “Can you imagine such a thing?”

    Well, actually, I could, since I had a beautiful baby girl at the time.

    (See how thoughtless these exchanges can be?)

    Later, over a pitcher of Margaritas, she confessed that my daughter was the exception and that should something happen to my husband and Me, she would be delighted to raise my little girl in the way I had begun her.

    This year, my life-long friend begged me to NEVER share that old letter with her new husband and went on to ask me to help her learn to be a grandmother since she had never passed Mothering 101.

    One final question:

    4. Why is this NEVER a male topic? Is EVERYTHING a biological imperative with them?

    I don’t pretend to have any answers here. In my own quiet mind, I figure God knew that raising children is so draining, so exhausting, that he’d better make sex feel really, really good.

    (Or is that an explanation for why women are attracted to men? They are draining and exhausting too!)

    But this much I do know: All those bumper stickers and license plate frames, the ones that say, “If I knew how fun grandparenting would be, I’d have skipped the parenting?” They are RIGHT.

    Just about the time your knees are going out, your vision is fading, and you can’t even DREAM about staying awake until 12 pm on December 31st, these little whisps of fairy dust show up in your life and plant little butterfly kisses on your fading cheek and you suddenly have a reason to rediscover life!

    (You will also have a comedy show tailor made for you in which your fairy-dust creatures replay scenes from your earlier parenting days and you get to WATCH your own sweet baby girl LOSE it in exactly the same way you once did…

    1. Thank you for your comment. I’m glad this interview came across as respectful and unbiased because that was my intention. Erin and I got to talking behind the scenes, so to speak, and I have the utmost respect for her choice to have children. I also sense she has the same respect for my choice.

      One of my goals for this blog is to foster understanding between those with kids and those without. While I’m writing from my own experience as a childfree woman, I’m still very interested in the choices of others. People are amazing.

      You raised several great questions in your comment. While I can’t speak with authority to most of them, I’ll share my personal opinion.

      Regarding your first and second questions, I feel strongly that the desire to have children (through first having sex with the opposite sex) is completely natural, though I understand there are many in the childfree community who, while attracted to the opposite sex and do also have sex, do not possess this desire to procreate.

      I think of recorded examples of women who were barren in ancient times, did they still have intercourse with their husbands? I suppose we can’t know for sure but I assume they did. Even if they knew sex was for recreation only. Which, for the childfree, that’s still the case 🙂

      Your third question is another excellent one.

      This debate most likely did exist, though it may have been a more taboo discussion. The statistics I researched when preparing for this interview stated 45-51% of pregnancies are unintended, so either mistimed or unwanted. Still, quite a lot!

      There is actually research that shows that birth rates dipped before the invention of the pill, so we’re not sure how they did it, but women started taking measures to have fewer children. It seems once the pill came to be, it allowed for one desire (sex) to proceed and the other desire (children) to wane. Lionel Shriver touched on this research in her essay in the book “Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids.” It’s a great read!

      Your fourth question and my favorite of them: Why is this NEVER a male topic? This really needs to be a male issue. This needs to be a human issue, period. And to some extent, I think it is. But we need to take that a step further and get men talking about this. I recognized the need for this at the start of my blog and now my husband runs a monthly column called Manly Monthlies to get a male perspective on the childfree lifestyle. Feel free to check out the page: http://therinkydinklife.com/manly-monthlies/ It is usually only open to subscribers but enter password: JAN2 (case-sensitive) and you can read this first post.

      I really want to thank you again for commenting. This is the kind of dialogue we need to see in order to make progress. I hope you continue to read this blog 🙂

    • Erin
    • January 6, 2017
    Reply

    Wow, interesting discussion!

    I think Marla makes an interesting point about how animals bare their teeth at anyone looking sideways at their offspring. It’s probably why parents feel viscerally protective when people give their children dirty looks or refer to kids as entitled brats who shouldn’t be allowed in public places… it probably taps into ancient instincts to guard our offspring against any potential threat.

    Not that everyone who doesn’t want children behaves this way, of course. Brittan, for example, was extremely fair, polite and respectful, but parents do hear these things quite a lot. To us, kids aren’t a hypothetical concept but people we’d throw ourselves on a grenade to protect… so we can take these criticisms pretty seriously.

    In that vein, one thing that surprised me most about having kids was how much more horrifying it was to hear your own child scream. Screaming children always annoyed me, but hearing my own babies scream instantly sent mind-shattering panic through every last fiber of my being. It even happened in private, so it wasn’t just about embarrassment, I’m guessing we’re hardwired to instantly respond to our children screaming, since it could’ve meant they were being attacked my lions in the days of yore.

    I think people can be wired for sexual attraction without wanting kids, but it used to usually result in children anyway. Deciding whether or not to have children is a real dilemma: it’s tough to know how you would actually feel without experiencing it (I didn’t think I wanted them but ended up being very happy), yet you can’t just try it on for size. It’s a lifetime commitment, a permanent choice.

    We all agree that this shouldn’t only be a woman’s problem, though. It seems that childfree women face the harshest criticisms, and mothers the most blame for the ways they choose to raise their kids.

    I also don’t think maternity leave and employment should be considered women’s issues. Wasn’t a man involved in every pregnancy? Doesn’t it hit the entire family when a pregnant woman gets laid off? Aren’t half our babies boys and isn’t every boy affected by the conditions in which his family raises him? Paternity leave is another significant issue and it bothers me that women seem to generally be held responsible for everything reproduction-related, whether it’s dealing with how to manage family life or making the decision whether to have children at all.

    Eh, good talk though 🙂

    1. Great points Erin.

      I agree, I think it is instinctual for all beings to protect their young. Though then there are animals who eat their offspring but I guess there’s an exception to every rule, ha.

      Agreed with you about paternity leave. Takes two to tango so it shouldn’t be left up to the mother to go at it alone.

      I really love opening up discussions like this that are as respectful as they are interesting.

  1. Reply

    What a great topic and some excellent discussion raised in the comments. I like Erin, and I think she’s rational and balanced. However, when she says ” I’m in the curious position of living many adult years without children”, this is not a “curious” thing at all. I live in a country where the average age at the birth of the first child is actually 32. Unless Erin had her first baby at 43, say, then she can’t claim to have experience of genuinely living “childfree” (in my opinion. I mean, we were all childfree in our 20s! Most of my friends had their babies at 34+. This is not unusual at all).
    I totally agree with her that “much of the hostility in both sides is defensive in nature”. Both sides will always want to validate their own choices as the right ones. When childfree people talk about having more money and free time, and freedom or whatever, of course parents will come out with comments like “little butterfly kisses on your fading cheek… give you a reason to rediscover life”. In turn, childfree people will feel antsy and disconcerted (does my life need more meaning?), and so the cycle continues…
    I think a lot about whether the chasms can be bridged, or will this state of affairs go on forever – parents defending their choices, childfree people defending their choices. I asked a mother friend of mine about this before Christmas – about why there seems to be a gulf between parents, CNBC, and childfree communities, and why there is so much ire and defensiveness – and she made some good points. She said that the decision to have a child or not have a child is so absolutely irrevocable (once women reach a certain age) that it was always be fraught like this. Is there a solution for bringing more empathy into the equation? I don’t know.
    Some interesting questions in the comments above. Why are we attracted to the opposite sex if we do not want to reproduce? Well, we are not all attracted to the opposite sex. Obviously animals are designed to be attracted to the opposite sex in order to propagate their species, but we can’t all have children, we don’t all want children, and many of us are gay, so this is an almost moot point in the debate, really. You can say that to me until the cows come home, but I could not conceive, like many men and women, so where does that leave us? Likewise the next question: why are we driven to have sex if we do not want to reproduce? This argument would logically label gay men and women as an aberration, so I wouldn’t want to take it seriously. I love diversity, and I fully accept that there are men and women who don’t want to procreate (Jeez, if we absolutely all did, what the hell would happen to the population?).
    But it all adds to a rich discussion and I’ve enjoyed reading it immensely.

    1. Reply

      Thank you for your comment!

      I so enjoy taking part in respectful conversations with different perspectives. In my opinion, I think that’s the best way to gain understanding of others’ choices.

      Regarding Erin’s choice to be childfree prior to having children, I feel a person can decide to be childfree at any age. I’ve spoken with some childfree women who knew since they were little that they never wanted to be mothers. Some decide as teenagers. And even still there’s some like me who don’t decide until after getting married. So for some years of my marriage, I was childless. Then, I became childfree. I think it’s more of a mindset than anything, if that makes sense.

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Reply

    Hi Brittany that does make sense. I reflected on my comment after I submitted it and wondered if I was being a bit too prescriptive. I do still believe that a person in their 20s who has decided to live childfree has a different experience to a 45-year-old living childfree – in the second instance, it’s probably irrevocable, and you’re generally surrounded by people with kids and grandkids, which is not usually the case in your 20s, generally speaking; I think it’s a hell of a lot easier in your 20s. But then again, a person in their 20s has to remain steadfast in their decision and has to get through their 30s, when everyone around them is having babies. So they need big balls too! I resolved 100% to be childfree in my 20s and early 30s then cracked in my late 30s – it happens. But I realise not everyone is like me and I have huge respect for the young and childfree and i’m not sceptical of their decision. Interesting discussion!

    1. Reply

      Thanks for your comment! I’m sure being childfree looks different at different stages of life so I definitely agree. It’s been really neat finding out all of the ways people ended up at their decision to be childfree. No two stories are the same and I love it!

    2. Reply

      Hi! I think you brought up a really interesting point about not truly living a childfree lifestyle if you have kids in your 30’s, since so many 20-somethings don’t have kids yet. I received other comments like this and it gave me a new perspective to consider.

      Maybe this has something to do with the average first age of pregnancy. Here in the US, it’s 26 (and used to be 24 about a decade ago). You’re officially called a “geriatric mom” by 35, which made me “old” by comparison. And you get a lot of grief about that because you’re supposedly being selfish by waiting *so long* and putting your kids at higher risk for birth defects.

      I really think we’d be better off if our average rate of first pregnancy was higher here too. Research shows that kids born to moms over 30 have much lower risks of ending up in jail, or otherwise having issues, because their moms tend to be more financially secure and emotionally stable.

      I’m not trying to insult young parents by saying that (many of them are outstanding), but I think our society may be undervaluing emotional maturity in favor of slightly higher infertility risks. Raising kids properly is tough and society has to deal with the end result.

      At any rate, I can absolutely see your point and will amend my stance from “formerly childfree” to “mom who didn’t have kids very young.”

      1. Hi Erin,

        It’s nice to hear from you! Thanks for commenting to Different Shores. I can see your point about our society undervaluing emotional maturity.

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    • Lucy
    • July 1, 2017
    Reply

    This is a great article. It’s wonderful to see people talk about this respectfully. I’m not a parent or childfree . I always wanted children but haven’t got any so far. As I entered my thirties I began to panic about my fertility as I was still single. I have never felt hatred or hostility towards children but have been accused of looking disapprovingly at kids. What was really going through my mind? I was thinking ‘what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I meet someone and have a family? Why can’t I comfort that crying child?’. I’ve never felt hate or even malicious jealousy, just pain. When other people frown when they look at a child, are they doing the same thing?

    1. Lucy,

      Thank you for your comment. I think the more we talk openly and honestly about motherhood, the better it will be – for everyone! It’s so hard to know what’s behind the reactions of others. People often see me smiling and looking adoringly at children and they assume I want to have a baby. Of course, that’s not true. I enjoy the company of children but I definitely don’t want to have kids. Great comment!

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