Growing up, my friends would always talk about having kids. They made endless lists of baby names while I half-heartedly participated and daydreamed about my future dogs. I felt compelled to play along, assuming it would one day be my duty to have children of my own, despite my early unease at the prospect of becoming a mother. The second I realized that having children was a choice rather than a requirement, I stopped planning around them.
I have never felt maternal, despite the fact that I am older than both of my siblings and often find myself babysitting. For a long time, I felt like having kids was a responsibility, some kind of mandatory rite of passage that every woman eventually had to endure. I dreaded it. As I got older, I started to realize that I actually had a choice in the matter, even if it would be followed by constant questioning and unwanted “advice.”
Everyone’s knee-jerk response to a woman deciding not to have kids is “Oh, you’ll change your mind.” But, maybe she won’t. Having children is a huge, life-altering decision, just like choosing a college or a career path. We applaud women who choose unique careers but, for some reason, condemn them when they don’t choose kids. So many people have completely fulfilling lives without children, so why do people look at childfree women with pity? Why do people assume that they “missed out” on something when they chose not to partake in the tradition?
A big part of our society is still fervently opposed to the idea of women not having children. There are countless articles about women being denied permanent contraception because they are childless, too young or unmarried. Many doctors even refuse to perform the operation on women who do not already have children. Apparently, women are able to decide to have a child at 16 but are not capable of deciding not to have children at 27.
In 2014, the US Census showed that 47.6 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 had never had children, the highest percentage since they started tracking that data in 1976. This pattern is particularly present in women between 25 and 29. 49.6 percent of women that age do not have children, and the number is not surprising. For every woman with a carefully crafted “baby clothes” Pinterest board, there is a woman whose browser history shows an extensive list of doctors offices and contraception options.
There are plenty of reasons women choose not to have children. Unfortunately, that decision can sometimes hurt women in the workplace. According to an article by Laura Carroll, being childless in the workplace can often result in a larger workload for women as they are assumed to have less important “personal time” than parents. In addition, they lack appropriate time to care for themselves and their families because they are not afforded sufficient paid time off. It is much harder for those women to find a work-life balance when employers assume that they do not need that kind of balance if they are childfree.
We are seeing some positive changes, though. More and more employers are beginning to offer all employees a number of paid days off rather than just parent-specific leave. The more strides companies make in that direction, the better off all women will be. There is such pressure on women to reproduce, and a widespread stigma around choosing not to. It is our job to remedy that. We as a society must stop questioning women’s choices and start supporting them. We don’t ask women with children why they decided to have them, so we have to stop asking childfree women “Why not?”