I’m completely happy not having children. I mean, everybody does not have to live in the same way. And as somebody said, “Everybody with a womb doesn’t have to have a child any more than everybody with vocal cords has to be an opera singer.”Gloria Steinem
“Child-free”. It sounds a lot better than “childless”. Just like “public housing” sounds a lot better than “social housing”. “Childless” and “social housing” both carry an element of stigma- you probably wouldn’t want either in your immediate vicinity. In contrast, ‘child-free’ implies a life unfettered and unburdened by children, an independence and freedom that might be attractive to others. “Public housing” also implies housing built by the state, housing that caters for the general populace, as opposed to ‘social housing’ which implies a social class system in operation, generally those without the means to pay for housing, the poor and disadvantaged with all their accompanying social problems.
Since I turned 40 last year, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a single, child-free woman in society and the impact that has on your life. In my case, it is a choice I’ve consciously made and I’m aware that this makes me quite fortunate in that I had the luxury of exercising that choice. Though I can’t relate, I can understand that it must be quite devastating for a woman or a couple to want to have a child and be unable to.
Unlike most of my peers, I’ve never really wanted to have kids. As anyone who knows me well will tell you, I have strong views on womens’ rights and human rights and I have always been independent and wanted to live life on my own terms. I have never felt the ticking of a biological clock or an urge to have a child. I am not a womb-in-waiting and resent the assumption that so many women are subjected to-that their only real purpose in life is to reproduce and have children. Men are not defined by their ability to become fathers, why should women be?
However, despite making the conscious choice not to have children, rather than feeling free and unencumbered, I feel weighed down by the challenge of trying to ‘fit in’ in a world where the family unit is still very much the ideal that most people strive for and couple-dom is part of that. It’s not that anyone has made any judgemental comments about my child-free, single status. It’s more a feeling that I’ve less and less in common with most of my peers as our realities are so different. It is hard to be different and it can be a lonely path to tread sometimes as your priorities are obviously so different from those of your friends and colleagues with children.
When you’re in your 20s, it’s not a problem as most of your peers are like you. There’s this sense that there’s plenty of time on your side and there’s no urgency to meet a partner let alone buy a house or have kids. You’re experimenting with things, discovering your tastes, travelling, trying on and discarding relationships, sharing flats and houses with people whom you may one day not even remember.
When you hit your 30s, things seem to get a bit more serious. This is usually the decade when most of your peers get serious in relationships, start getting married, having kids and talking about mortgages and pensions.
Then in your 40s, you look around and realise that not only are the Guards starting to look a lot younger, everyone you know is in a serious relationship, “settled down” (to use that awful phrase)with a mortgage and health insurance and responsibilities and the women are having second and third babies and talking about the costs of childcare and how hard it is to find a decent cleaner. Spontaneous nights out are a thing of the past and meeting up with girlfriends requires military style planning and consultation of your respective schedules months in advance. Where before, you might have gone out for a casual few drinks which might have morphed into a late night of clubbing or a party, now you’re more likely to meet up for a ‘cup of tea’, a dinner and/or ‘a nice walk’. Socialising has changed which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but the loss of the freedom and spontaneity of your 20s and 30s is a loss of sorts and a change which can be difficult to adjust to, at least for me.
In your 40s, another thing that is common (according to my Google searches and my lived experience) is that you lose friends and family relationships take precedence. The latter is not such a bad thing either (unless you have an awful family!) but the loss of friendships that you relied upon in your 20s and 30s can be just as heartbreaking as a relationship break up, regardless of the circumstances of that loss of friendship. Perhaps you and your friends relocated to another part of the country or a different country and you just drifted. Perhaps you realised that a particular friendship no longer served you or met your needs, perhaps you simply ran out of things to talk about….
So your 40s, at least from my experience, is a time of transition and change. A time when you have to accept the choices that you have made and the person you are now as a result. A time to release old relationships, friendships and form new ones, a time to actively seek out things that bring you joy and fulfillment. The beauty of being child-free is that you have time to ponder and consider what those things might be….