Childless by choice: Statistics show more are opting out of parenthood
Although Charla Smith likes children, she's never had any doubts that motherhood was not her life's calling. It's too much responsibility, too labor-intensive, and the world is too crazy and dangerous now, she says.
When the Friendship resident graduated from high school, parenting “just wasn't on my mind.”
“I kind of knew I never really wanted to,” says Smith, 55, who enjoys her two nephews and one niece. “There's never been a strong urge.”
Smith, who is divorced, is now in a relationship with a man who also doesn't want children. She is especially glad she and her ex-husband didn't have a child together, because that would have permanently tied her to him.
Whether to become parents counts among life's biggest and most far-reaching decisions. Most people choose to become parents eventually, whether it's for good, thought-out reasons or more impulsive, superficial ones, experts say. Many men and women, though, remain childless — or childfree, depending on how they look at it. Some people don't become parents by circumstance — divorce, infertility or not finding a partner in time, for instance — but many people make a conscious choice to forego parenting and embrace the extra freedom their childfree life offers.
According to 2010 U.S. Census data, the number of childless people age 40 to 44 is close to 20 percent — compared with 10 percent in 1979.
“Obviously, it's still the norm to have kids, but it's changing,” says Kaye D. Walters of Santa Barbara, Calif. She is the author of “Kidfree & Lovin' It! — Whether by Choice, Chance or Circumstance,” and runs the website www.kidfreeandlovinit.com.
Walters, 51, surveyed more than 3,800 adults without children in 55 countries for her book, published last year. People's reasons for not having kids include the desire for freedom and free time, not wanting the physical wear and tear from pregnancy and raising a child, wanting to focus on a romantic relationship with a partner, or wanting to avoid a financial strain, she says. Childfree people often love traveling, which can be difficult with children, and they fear the irreversible nature of a decision: If they have a kid and find that parenthood is not for them, there's no going back, Walters says.
“There's so much you have to give up in order to have kids,” she says. “Freedom was the No. 1 thing people quoted.”
Walters came to her childfree decision after watching friends and family struggle with kids. She and her partner, Brian, also wanted to focus on each other.
“You look at it and you go, ‘Why is it that I would want kids?' ” Walters says. “The more difficult I saw that it was to parents ... the trouble and hardship there is, the stress, the worry,” the more she and Brian decided they like their life the way it is.
“I'd rather regret not having them than regret having them,” she says.
Many childfree people get grief and pressure from parents, friends and society. But giving your parents grandchildren, though a kind intention, is not a good enough reason to have kids, Walters says. Neither is wanting to duplicate yourself, or wanting someone to care for you when you're aging.
“We're called selfish for not having kids,” she says. “I can't find anything that's selfish about it. I would call it more self-aware.”
Pressure from society to become parents can be strong, says Rebecca Harvey, associate professor and program director of Marriage and Family Therapy at Seton Hill University in Greensburg.
“The idea is that it makes you real, it makes you valid, and a legitimate adult,” she says. “It's what you're supposed to do.”
Harvey says that many reasons people choose to have children can be valid. Maybe you want to redo something deficient from your childhood, or your parents want grandchildren. Those aren't good reasons alone to have kids, but if you want to love, raise and provide for a child every day, the appeal of giving grandchildren can be part of your motive, says Harvey, who is a mother.
If you want to become a parent because you're trying to cement and rekindle a struggling marriage, having a kid often has the opposite effect: You and your spouse might stay together, but be even more unhappy, Harvey says.
Although therapists may be the only people who hear such forbidden confessions, some adults have told Harvey that they shouldn't have had children. Or, they acknowledge that their parents didn't really want children, and that affected their own self-esteem.
If you really want children, that's wonderful, Harvey and Walters say: Just make sure you've thought about the decision carefully.
Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7824.