One of the most unpopular, if not almost taboo, things a woman can do is say that she doesn’t want children. And one of the most common responses from anyone in earshot when she says it is that she’s “scared” to have children (and should probably just get over it before her ovaries dry up and she’s filled with regret forever). But not wanting to have kids doesn’t mean you’re afraid of anything.
If anything, most women who decide they don’t want children do so very early in life, and it’s a rational, reasonable, informed decision that she only becomes more sure of every time someone tries to talk her into it, spends time around her parent friends and their kids, or is told that she’ll change her mind one day.
Certain women don’t want to have children for all kinds of reasons.
But because our culture is so terrible at believing that women know their own minds or that the fabled “maternal instinct” is just a myth, they often end up having to explain their choice in such a way to make the other person — even when it’s their own breastfeeding BFF — more comfortable about their own decision to have kids. It’s not that we’re judging our peers for having kids or think we’re somehow smarter or better off for not feeling the urge to grow a baby inside of us. But since our culture is so obsessed with telling women that their sole purpose is to become an eventual nurturing mother, it’s still really awkward to talk about why we don’t want them.
One recent study found that “deliberate non-breeders” (as opposed to an infertile woman who doesn’t make a choice not to bear children) are among the most hated groups in society, with only the pregnant woman who hates her pregnancy ahead of them. A 2010 Pew Research Center found that only 1 in 5 women choose not to have children, in some part because it’s breaking a really strict societal norm, which is to not just make babies, but want babies.
The moral outrage targeted at women who don’t want kids, along with the assumption that they are sick, miserable, lonely people is so strong that they often over simplify their experiences for the sake of just keeping things civil. Women who don’t want kids will say things like, “Oh, I’ll just screw them up anyway” or “I’m too selfish and like to travel” or shudder at the idea of of all the things pregnancy and giving birth does to our bodies. This makes it easier for the questioner — they can assume that we’re just selfish and scared of all the things people who decide to have kids have to just accept and take on when they become parents. If we belittle ourselves, it makes more sense to others sometimes.
To be honest, sometimes women who don’t want kids are selfish about their time or scared AF of raising an *actual* human. But when a woman decides to not have kids, she takes just as many things into account as a woman who decides to have kids. Sometimes it’s complicated and multi-layered. Other times, it’s just because we don’t want them, plain and simple.
There’s actually no way to prove that women have a “maternal instinct.” This comes not from science or our brains but from our culture. For pretty much all of human history, women were relegated to child rearing and housework. Even as trends change and women move into the workforce, moms still end up doing more of the labor when it comes to raising children.
Being a mother, we’re told, is a magnificent experience; It’s the “best job” a woman can have. Surely, for some women who have children it is, but women who don’t want children aren’t denying their peers that magnificent and wondrous life path. It’s just not a path that appeals to every woman (or man, by the way). Procreators will push back when you suggest that a “maternal instinct” is a social construct created to convince women that they only have one place in society. “Well, what about the human race? Or what about when you’re old? Don’t you want kids to take care of you and carry on your legacy?” they inevitably ask.
As a woman who decided she didn’t want to have children when she was a teenager, I can only speak for myself when I just have to say “no” to those people. I’m convinced that there are enough women and men in the world who do want children that the human race will be fine. I can accept that since I believe in evolution, that might mean I’m not one of the “fittest” whose DNA line will go on and on for eternity. That’s OK with me. I recycle and vote in favor of policies that benefit women, children, and families. I’m doing my part for the future, and I don’t have to raise kids to do it. Women who don’t want children aren’t *scared* of annihilating the human species.
We’re also not scared to grow old without children, which is likely the worst argument ever for having a family. Why would we ever assume our kids are going to take care of us in our old age? Not having children doesn’t equal being alone, and if it does, women who don’t want kids aren’t afraid of that scenario. Women who don’t want kids aren’t sad, alone, or freaks of nature.
Not wanting to have children doesn’t mean you’re scared of raising a child or how it will affect your life either, though of course, it’s something to think about it. Spending time around kids often reinforces the choice to not reproduce, and not just because kids are loud, full of germs, and sometimes act like mini-dictators (although that’s a thing, too). If anything, watching my friends parent fills me with an immense amount of respect, awe actually, as I leave them on the playground and go off to do single, childfree things with the rest of my Sunday afternoon.
It’s not that I’m thinking, “Wow, I could never do what they’re doing,” but rather, “Wow, I really don’t ever want to do that.” It’s an important difference.
Deciding that you don’t want kids is an important choice, but it doesn’t mean that you’re scared of anything or that something is “wrong” with you for not wanting to be a parent. What’s wrong is the way we all try to put each other into neat, gendered little boxes, even though we know it just doesn’t feel right.