As someone who has known for 25 years that children wouldn’t be part of my story, I’ve heard pretty much every response possible – the good, the bad and the hurtful.
Now, as a woman in my mid-30s, I’m even more aware of the expectations that society puts on us all but especially women, when it comes to having children. The conversation needs to change, we all need to support women’s choices, whatever they may be, and we need to celebrate all their achievements too, and stop holding childbirth as the only achievement worth having.
Here are some common phrases and questions you can try to avoid, and some ways you can change the conversation to one of support and acceptance.
1. It's selfish of you to not have children
This is by far one of the most common and hurtful responses that we hear. If you’re talking to someone who tells you they are childfree, change the vocabulary and instead look at it as being self-aware. Everyone knows their own limits and goals. They may simply know they don’t have the necessary patience, but it could also stem from financial concerns, a long-held ambition that would be impossible to combine with parenting, or a medical condition that they don’t want to pass on. Don’t make assumptions and be kind with your words.
2. You'll regret it later
Regrets are almost inevitable, it’s impossible to have every available experience in life, and as childfree people that’s a risk we sign up to. Try changing the conversation around this and instead talk about the things that a childfree life might mean they can do. Perhaps there’s an amazing place you’ve travelled to that you can suggest they visit, or a cool experience like paragliding. Not that parents can’t do those things of course, but it’s about making the conversation fun and accepting, rather than suggesting we don’t know our own desires.
3. You don't know love until you have a child
Love takes so many forms, and none is truer than another, they are all love. Much like regrets over experiences, you may not experience all forms of love throughout your life, but those that you do experience should be felt and honoured fully. Please don’t diminish the love we give and receive, instead celebrate and enjoy it with us.
4. Who is going to look after you when you're old?
Having children is no guarantee of care in later life, but parents or not, many people are lucky enough to have a wide and varied support network of family, friends and neighbours. A lot of childfree people also choose to have financial plans in place too, in case we need more intense, round-the-clock care. Don’t worry, we’ve had the same thought as you.
5. What's the point of your life if you don't have children?
There’s no doubt that being a parent is an important role, but all of us, parents or not, deserve to have our multitude of other achievements and contributions celebrated. Mother Teresa, Florence Nightingale, Dolly Parton, Oprah and Rosa Parks have all achieved and contributed many things to the world in their lives, but none of them had or have children. There is so much more to every one of us than our parental status. We all need to take the time to stop and celebrate every one of our successes, whatever they may be, they’re all wonderful!
6. You don't need the time off, you don't even have kids
Much the same as there being many forms of love, family takes different shapes too. Colleagues need to respect the time and commitments of childfree people. Not only might we want to spend Christmas with our loved ones, we may also have caring responsibilities that you don’t know about, a particular date that happens to fall during half term might be hard because of death anniversary, perhaps we’re planning a surprise for a partner’s birthday, or we might just need a break away. Whatever the reason, everyone’s time in life is precious.
7. Don't ask us to justify our choice
This last one is more a request than a phrase to avoid. Overall, there shouldn’t really be any expectation to have a conversation when someone tells you they don’t have children, whether that’s by choice or circumstance. You wouldn’t ask a parent to tell you why they’d had their children, and it’s the same for the childfree community. So, whenever you’re speaking to one of us, before you comment or ask a question, ask yourself this - ‘would I say this to a parent?’ If the answer is ‘no’, please don’t say it.
About Erin Spurling
Having been a professional writer since 2003, Erin has written in a freelance capacity, and also spent four years in-house at a luxury concierge membership, where she wrote, edited and curated content across three continents covering music, theatre, art, travel and dining.
Following redundancy, she set up her content marketing mentoring business in 2017, working with wedding, creative and wellness entrepreneurs. She uses a holistic approach to help clients master content without it taking over their lives.
As of 2021, she is also the founder of The Childfree Lounge, a membership for women embracing a childfree lifestyle. Speaking out and creating this membership is about positivity, friendship, connections, education, support, reducing loneliness, increasing confidence, and allowing all women to proudly own their lives and decisions. Erin hopes to change the conversation for and about childfree women, to reduce judgement, and make it more inclusive and positive.
Erin's social links
MORE INSPIRATIONAL WOMEN: A day in the life of a Royal National Lifeboar Institution trainer and assessor
tagged in Women