This originally appeared on Everyday Feminism. Republished here with permission.
Even as women continue to break down the barriers of gendered expectations, they’re still faced with an allegedly fundamental question: whether or not to have children.
We still live in a world where family and children are deeply associated with women, to the point where women are taught that having children is essential to having a strong sense of self.
Fortunately, most people who don’t live in the dark ages agree that women are allowed to have passions and careers and lives outside of the home, which leads to an interesting thought: What if you’re perfectly content not having kids?
Kids, fertility, and women’s decisions and attitudes about family are predictably the subject of much anxiety in our society. The notion that a woman might not want kids conjures up all kinds of visions of the embittered boss wedded to her career or the introvert with 10 cats.
But having children is a personal decision that should be respected and should not have to be justified in any way. Yet the belief that women somehow can’t be complete without children lingers and leads to some pretty ignorant statements.
So here is a guide on what not to say to a woman who doesn’t want to have children.
1. “You’ll regret it when you’re older.”
I’m sorry, do you have a crystal ball that looks into the future?
First of all, insisting that someone’s opinion is invalid because they might hypothetically regret it down the line completely disrespects their agency to make decisions in the present.
We’re not talking about taste in bands or sports teams—this is someone’s body and life.
Not to mention that it’s rude to drag age into the child-rearing argument because it plays on incredibly sexist stereotypes. The implication is that you’ll only realize you want kids after your biological clock runs out.
Such a reductionist perspective totally disregards everything else that might happen in that time period. Maybe you’ll become a CEO. Maybe you’ll take cool vacations. Maybe you’ll adopt a bunch of dogs.
My point is that people need to recognize that women can live a rich and productive life without kids.
When you’re older, you might look back and marvel at all the things you were able to accomplish specifically because you didn’t have to worry about children.
2. “You just haven’t found the right guy yet.”
This one just doesn’t make any sense.
Couples are vilified all the time for rushing into relationships or having kids too soon, so I’m not sure why you would root for someone to impulsively change their opinion on a significant life decision just because they’ve met The One.
With that said, if you meet someone that you do want to have kids with, that’s totally your prerogative and you should certainly have the freedom to make that choice.
What’s problematic about the belief that the ideal man will ultimately “convince” you that you want to have children is that it assumes that a woman always wants children by default.
It’s unrealistic and unhealthy for someone to hope that each new relationship will radically alter your views on child rearing. Surely the right man will awaken that maternal instinct!
First off, you wouldn’t be acting on your own desires as much as kowtowing to someone else’s.
Attitudes like these also reinforce the age-old stereotype that women can’t possibly know what’s best for themselves.
We may think we’re happy, but to enable ourselves to feel fully content, we apparently have to shoehorn ourselves into dewy heteronormative fantasies of the nuclear family.
I’ve known people who planned out how many kids they’re going to have years before they met their partners. Conversely, most people I know who don’t want to have kids decided that from a very early age.
It’s a preference rooted in very personal ideologies that probably aren’t going to be the least bit affected by any hypothetical Prince Charming.
3. “Choosing a childfree life is selfish.”
Ah yes. Few things attract more scorn in our society than women who appear selfish, which is often unsurprisingly tied back to her choices around partners, sex, and kids.
Collectively, we tend to be extremely uncomfortable with the possibility that a woman could put herself before someone else—even above people who will most likely never exist!
We continue to associate womanhood with selflessness and self-sacrifice. Children are a fundamental manifestation of this mindset. A woman is expected to prioritize her kids first, but particularly at her own expense.
There’s a definite labor to motherhood in more ways than one: late nights, the responsibility of looking after someone else, and more bodily fluids than you ever wanted to imagine, not to mention the financial burden.
You supposedly can’t be a good mom without some sacrifice. Since the maternal archetype continues to be so closely associated to the core of women’s identities, it follows that the “right” kind of woman is willing to sacrifice other things in favor of her goal of raising of family.
But not everyone wants children, which creates a weird materialism vacuum in the minds of many.
Why do we have to subscribe to the belief that being a good person or good woman automatically means going without?
There’s nothing shameful about indulging yourself or living your life to the fullest on your own.
People try to guilt women with the myth that there is a certain type of happiness or fulfillment that only mothers can know. That might be true, but it’s also true that having kids may prevent you from having tons of experiences that could change your life.
Raising kids is an honorable thing, but that doesn’t mean you should be pressured into it for the sake of conforming to ideals that aren’t even yours.
4. “You’ll have a harder time finding someone who wants to be with you.”
Gotta love the tendency to warp feminist agency to make it all about the approval of others (read: men).
Kids are going to be a dealbreaker for some people, so that is a reality that you’ll have to consider. However, claiming that not wanting to have children somehow makes you forever undesirable is ridiculous.
The right partner will respect your decision. If they try and change your mind or blame you for denying them children, get out of there.
The importance of your autonomy supersedes that of any relationship. Yeah, you might have to deal with a little bit more nonsense, but it’s more important to find someone who is on the same page.
And hey, shockingly, some people actually prefer to be with people who don’t want kids because it means less pressure as far as putting a timetable on the future.
Additionally, being childfree gives you more time to spend together and strengthen your relationship.
5. “Who’s going to give me grandchildren?”
This is by far one of the most awkward reactions to deal with. It’s one thing to consider how your decisions will impact your own life, but few people want to be accused of negatively impacting their parents’ future…even if it’s only from your parents’ perspective.
Although you may well be a fully independent adult, your parents never really stop having expectations for you, with children frequently chief among them.
You are fully entitled to feel gratitude toward your parents, or maybe you don’t. Either way, you don’t owe them anything and it’s insensitive of them to play the guilt card.
You are not their personal baby factory.
Remember that you aren’t responsible for your parents’ life fulfillment or alleged lack thereof.
If you have siblings who want children, encourage your parents to focus their baby fever elsewhere. Regardless, explain to them that it’s your choice whether or not to have kids and they shouldn’t be trying to influence you.
It can be difficult to defend your decisions when faced with so much ignorance, but always remind yourself that your life is your own and you don’t need anyone else’s validation to justify how you live it.
Embrace childfree living and start exploring all the opportunities that await you.
Erin Tatum is a Contributing Writer at Everyday Feminism. She’s a feminist, queer theory lover, and television enthusiast living in Pennsylvania. She is particularly interested in examining the representation of marginalized identities in media. In addition to Everyday Feminism, she’s also a weekly contributor to Bitch Flicks. Follow her on Twitter @ErinTatum91 and read her articles here.