Child-free women are increasingly turning to dedicated groups to find acceptance and support from like-minded peers. Read on to find out how it's helping them to fight social stigma and isolation.
Women who lead a child-free life, by circumstance or conscious choice, face many barriers to empowerment and inclusion.
Unsolicited advice, an insistence that they will have regrets, societal stigma, shame, and unfair assumptions are constantly directed toward child-free women. And yet, more women than ever before are leading fulfilling, rich lives without becoming mothers.
Women had fewer children in 2018 than in 2008, and the fertility rate is currently at 1.74, well below the ‘replacement rate’ required to maintain current population levels. Birth rates are now lower than during the 2001 population crisis, which saw baby bonus payments introduced to incentivise people to have children.
Family sizes are steadily decreasing among those with children for reasons like the increasing cost of living and limited financial means to raise a larger family.
People may also choose to have fewer or no children due to environmental concerns and how climate change will impact future generations. Others have simply freed themselves from the limiting gender norms and pronatalist expectations that pressure women into reproduction as a default.
There are so many valid reasons to choose a life without kids. Yet, child-free women continue to face cruel comments and are more likely to experience social isolation and loneliness.
Penny Rabarts created an online support group for childless and child-free women because she wanted connection and support from other women in the same boat.
“I started feeling excluded from conversations, friends were no longer available, and I found myself drawn to others without children,” she said.
Rabarts was advised to seek an online support group after experiencing a series of challenges, like the beginnings of a solo IVF journey and a devastating pregnancy loss.
Finding nothing in her local area, Rabarts decided to create her own, and so the Childless & Childfree Women in Australia and NZ support group was born.
How online groups create a supportive space for child-free women
In a time where our social lives and the online world are so inextricably linked, it’s no surprise that many turn to the internet to find their tribe and feel a sense of community.
Rabarts’ group is approaching three years since its creation. Her administrative approach is focused on balancing conversations and ensuring it’s welcoming, supportive, and equally safe for women who are childless through circumstance and those who always knew parenthood wasn’t for them.
“The group has always been an understanding and supportive space for women without children on any manner of interactions they have had impacted by their not having children, to simply sharing great holiday locations that don’t have children or books that actually have a female protagonist without children,” she said.
Rabarts’ group members share in relishing the joys of a child-free life and commiserate over the devastation and disappointment of being unwillingly childless. The group also helps women navigate the social stigma surrounding women without kids.
“Challenges from living without children come in many forms, across social settings and varying sizes,” she said.
“[This includes] workplace assumptions that you are able to work longer hours or cover for those with family commitments, and family occasions where the women gather in the kitchen to talk about their family and children while the men stand by the barbecue drinking beer and the women without children swing lost between the two.
“Assumptions that without children, you don’t know real love or are not responsible in some way. And yet, we are the most likely to play a caring role for ageing parents, more likely to be involved in volunteer work, and assist with siblings and friends’ child raising with time or money.”
Support groups offer connection to people who understand your experiences, and can help you stop doubting and minimising your wants and needs.
This validation can counterbalance the pervasiveness of narrow gender stereotypes determined to reduce a woman’s entire identity into roles of service or caregiving: mother, wife, homemaker, or daughter.
‘There are millions of us who feel the same’
Zoe Noble runs We Are Childfree, a storytelling project and global community that celebrates and empowers child-free lives.
The platform began when Noble started taking photos of child-free women in her Berlin studio six years ago. It has been operating as a private member community for about a year and connects people from all over the world. The group offers tiered membership options and often hosts online and in-person meetings.
“We Are Childfree’s content and community help women to make the choice that’s right for them, feel confident in their decision and optimistic about their future,” said Noble.
“They now know they aren’t alone, there’s nothing wrong with them, and there are millions of us out there who feel the same. And when we connect our members together, they feel empowered and supported to live their best child-free lives.”
Noble created the platform after moving from London to Berlin and living an openly child-free life. But her decision wasn’t always met with acceptance from others. She recalls one incident when she was getting a taxi home from the airport after travelling for work.
“When the driver found out I was married but didn’t have or want children, he nearly drove us off the road! He insisted that I should have children, and then by the second or third kid, I’d start liking it. I couldn’t believe that someone would say something so insensitive and irresponsible to a stranger he knew nothing about,” she said.
This is when Noble started sharing the stories of other child-free people, and through her photography, storytelling and podcast, she created a global community of people who could see themselves represented in society.
“Women without children have always existed, we’ve just been hidden from society, its media, our culture and its stories. Projects like We Are Childfree tell our stories and share our experiences for the first time, so that women can know there are other like-minded folks out there, standing firm and proud in our choice,” she said.
Noble said her platform also helps child-free women, who are often walking an uncommon path, to navigate that decision with the support of others.
“We’ve become living proof that women without kids aren’t lonely, unfulfilled or weird. By sharing our stories and experiences, we show that it’s possible to live a wonderful child-free life, and empower each other to stand in our truth every day.”
A community that provides acceptance and support
Licenced therapist Maggie Dickens created Unapologetically Childfree, a community for the child-free by choice and circumstance who’ve embraced life without children.
She offers three tiers of membership within the community: a twice-yearly planned holiday package with a group of like-minded travellers; an online social club for creating and maintaining friendships; and free in-person events hosted by Dickens or others in the community.
After making the choice to remain child-free in her early 20s, Dickens became lonely. She searched for child-free groups online and couldn’t find anything. But with the help of a few other people in a similar situation, she began her own group.
“At that time I didn’t think about it as a business; I was simply creating friendships with women online throughout the world who seemed to really get me,” she said.
When she started working as a therapist and coach, Dickens realised that the women she was working with were all struggling to find their ‘place’ in the world.
“These women had less responsibilities at home without the pressures of raising children and more time to devote to what they wanted (hobbies or work or rest etc). And yet, they were lonely, lost, and felt misunderstood,” she said.
“The major piece child-free women didn’t have that their peers who were parents did have was a carved out space in society for them to be themselves. Instead, they were attempting to shrink and mould themselves into the world of their friends.
“I created the social club to have a space where everyone was able to be themselves and find friendships based on substance, and not simply convenience or length of time knowing someone.
“Connection is the most vital aspect to human life outside of our basic physical needs. Connection is not simply knowing or meeting someone – it’s about relationships having emotional, intellectual, and psychological intimacy. This is why communities like Unapologetically Childfree are so vital – they have the ability to reduce depressive symptoms such as isolation and loneliness, in addition to the unhelpful yet common experiences of feeling cast aside and left out.”
The community connects through their common circumstance of being child-free, and builds on that to find friends that they truly relate to. And this is all done in a safe and non-judgemental space.
“Having a space where everyone is in agreement that they prefer their lives to be child-free allows for us to share our lives without the fear of ‘must be nice’ or ‘try doing that with a kid on your hip’ or ‘I can do that too’ statements. Or the even worse actions that simply minimise a child-free person’s existence,” said Dickens.
“My hope for the Unapologetically Childfree community is to provide others with the same experience of peace, acceptance, joy, and support that my initial group of friends has done for me.”