Honestly, I did not deliberately set out to to be child-free. But at the age of 42, I feel fairly certain that I will not have children. Years ago, this would have been very hard for me to admit to in public — or even to myself. But there you have it.
I had never been one of those women who could confidently state that motherhood did not appeal to her, or that kids weren’t for her. To me, that mindset seemed too final, too black and white. It didn’t leave any room for possibility in the future. Plus, it was simply untrue for me. I love kids. My heart melts around babies. I am extremely maternal.
At the same time, though, I had also never been one of those women who knew with 100% certainty that she needed to have children, or that her life would be incomplete without them.
I didn’t want to set myself up for any kind of absolutes. If something didn’t work out the way I’d planned (which is often what happens when you are a human being), then I would be left emotionally devastated and unable to see all the other good things in my life.
So, I lived in the gray area.
I lived in the gray area for well over a decade. After I got married — and then well into my 30s — I thought about having children every day. Should I have them? If yes, when should I have them? I looked for answers to these questions everywhere in things I experienced and witnessed in my daily life. I asked friends, family, and co-workers for their opinions — the list went on and on.
Did I overthink it to the point of exhaustion? Yes. 100%. Did the lightbulb moment ever happen? That moment when I knew exactly what I wanted? No, not once. It was lonely, troublesome, and haunted me on many occasions.
So I left things up to fate.
If I did get pregnant, then YES! Bring it on. If I didn’t get pregnant, then YES! Bring it on.
I’ve since realized that there may always be a small part of me upset that I didn’t have children — but I am finally able to accept that and move forward. After all, most major life decisions don’t end with closure or a happily ever after.
I also stopped judging myself. I didn’t follow the socially expected path of getting married, having two kids, and living in the suburbs — and I felt judgment from society and other people in my life. But eventually, I realized that I was judging myself more harshly than anyone else ever could.
As a child-free woman, I have spent years observing how people speak to women who don’t have kids. And there are some things you need to know.
Please don’t ask me if I have thought about having children. (See above.)
I have to laugh when I’m asked that question. Sometimes I feel like saying, “No, not once. Didn’t even cross my mind.” And no, there is not one reason why I don’t have children —there are many, many reasons, and each one has been given very careful consideration.
Please don’t ask me if I have kids to make small talk.
What appears to be a benign question meant to help people find common ground can end up shutting down a potential connection. I promise you, I have no issues telling people that I don’t have children. I can bring it up with ease — but I prefer to do it on my terms. Many times after meeting someone and engaging in small talk, I knew that question was looming. I would dread it because I felt like it required an explanation (imagined or not).
I don’t like to explain how I live my life to anyone — it feels grossly uncomfortable and unnatural. Also, I know no less than four women who have lost children to car accidents and drug overdoses. People have suffered miscarriages or severely struggle with infertility. You don’t know a person’s life behind the scenes, and asking this question is invasive and can trigger a tsunami of bad feelings. So while you merrily go on your way, all chipper and unaware, someone else is left drained and devastated. Take care and be sensitive. It is so appreciated.
Please tell me about your kids! I do want to hear — I really do.
I want to hear the good, the bad, and the unexpected that comes along with being a parent. I want to know your experiences. I am in awe of all that parents do. It is an incredible job, and the love I have witnessed between a parent and child is like no other. I also promise not to judge your parenting. I won’t give an opinion without being asked. Yes, I may see things differently and have my own thoughts, but I am fully aware I have no idea what it is like to raise a child. I respect that.
I am not selfish, cold, weird, clueless, unfulfilled, or wasting my life because I am not a mother.
Nor are you warm, giving, fulfilled, and living life perfectly because you do have a child. Am I all of those things on any given day? Yes, because I am human and perfectly imperfect. Are you all of those things as well? Yes, because you are human and perfectly imperfect. Can we find commonality in that? Hell yes.
Please don’t feel sorry for me because I don’t have a child. I don’t ever feel sorry for myself, so you shouldn’t either.
I don’t want your life. I want my life. I want the best version of my life that I can have, and I want the same for you. I will work on this best version of myself until the day I die. I have my own path to walk, my own untapped bliss to discover, my own future struggles and heartbreak to deal with — same as you. That’s why we are here, right? To grow, learn, and adapt in the best ways possible when life demands these things of us.
Maybe this isn’t even about what life is like when you don’t have kids. Maybe it’s simply about what life is like when you’re human.
Rachel McNamara is a Registered Nurse and Certified Health Coach with a passion for all things related to wellness, health, and fitness. She just purchased her first essential oil diffuser and is beyond excited. Rachel is obsessed with skincare, Bravo TV, red wine, and podcasts (in no particular order). Find her on Instagram at @rachelmcnamara8053.