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Why Not Having Kids Is Admirable, Not Selfish

Most of us grow up feeling that we should have children and that our lives will be unfulfilled without. We need new social norms.

To the child-free women out there: thank you.

Contrary to popular media narratives and the critiques of those concerned about the continued supremacy of the white race, women who don't have  children are not selfish, emotionally stunted or inadequately grown-up. In fact, they're the opposite: they're women with the self-knowledge and maturity to buck enormous social pressure and choose a life that's right for them.

The increased visibility and acceptance of women who choose not to have children is just one part of a social evolution away from the limited "traditional family" model, and into a world where human beings with a diversity of needs can create family arrangements that work for them. That's not just good for the child-free; it's great for  feminism – and even better for society and families. 

Bring up the possibility of educated white women  choosing not to have children and you'll be met with intense hostility. The desire to forgo childrearing is a " banal fantasy"; having kids is the only way for adults to avoid "destructive self-absorption". The photo of the child-free couple on the cover of Time Magazine this month showcases " lazy yuppies" whose "matching swimsuits reek of self-satisfied, in-your-face Dinks [double income no kids]."  The cover model's smile "is supposed to communicate her disdain for her uterus and her utter satisfaction with her size-4, cellulite-free, vacation-filled life".

As for the actual words of child-free women, "the reasons couples give for avoiding parenthood are deeply, deeply lame"; remaining child-free by choice "is most definitely selfish", not to mention "anti-religion, anti-family, [and] counter-cultural". Few people make a child-free lifestyle sound more appealing than people (presumably parents) who are bitter and resentful at all the alleged freewheeling, responsibility-free fun that child-free people are having. 

Of course, that same level of vitriol isn't leveled at single women who decide to remain child-free, or poor women, or women of color. Thosewomen aren't selfish; they're rational, even commendable. Single women who have kids, and women who are poor or of color see their choice to have children criticized as irresponsible or indulgent.

Yet, a married white woman saying "no thanks" to mommy-hood? She's a selfish narcissist, putting her life of fancy vacations and spotless white carpets ahead of her social and biological duty to reproduce.

Most girls grow up in a culture of assumed motherhood. I was raised in a liberal, tolerant household, but into early adulthood, I never questionedwhether I was going to have kids – it was always how many and when. That wasn't borne out of a deep, inherent desire for children. It was simply how I understood the definition of "family": of course, you have kids, just as you move out of your parents' house, and you get married, and you die. That's the natural course of life.

If you don't have kids, you're a lonely spinster, wiling away your days knitting booties for your many cats.

To see some nebulous, grainy, other potential for which there are few mainstream models and say, "I want that," takes courage and imagination. That vision is behind many of the struggles for social justice in America: a vision of a  gender-egalitarian world that has never before existed; a vision of living as one's true self, including one's true gender, when you were labeled something else at birth; a vision of equal rights and opportunities regardless of skin color; a vision of public and private spaces accessible to those whose bodies are deemed outside the norm.

That isn't to equate child-free people with freedom fighters, feminists and other activists, or to say that the discrimination child-free women face is anything on the scale of systematic racism, homophobia, sexism or other bigotries. It is to say that creating new norms and models is powerful, and stepping outside the status quo often brave.

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