Whether it’s for environmental concerns, a lack of parental instincts, or choosing to pursue financial freedom or career progression, women are increasingly making the decision to lead a child-free life.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics even predicts that it won’t be long before there are more couples without children than with.
While women can be confident and happy with this decision, they continue to face barriers including poor access to effective contraception or even medical discrimination, with some doctors still insisting on their husband’s approval before considering female-elected hysterectomies.
Child-free women also face considerable stigma in society, even among social groups who are otherwise progressive, and are often dismissed and assured they will change their mind, or judged as inherently selfish, unfeminine, or depriving themselves of the ultimate form of love.
“It has been a societal norm in many cultures to make comments about women’s reproductive choices,” said clinical psychologist Dr Lillian Nejad, of Omnipsych.
“Even though Western society has evolved beyond traditional norms, some aspects have remained. When women reach a certain age, people start worrying about when they will have a child – that is when, not if.”
The comments of friends, family members or colleagues can be invasive and uncomfortable, and responding often requires a delicate balance of asserting your rights and avoiding conflict or tension in friendship groups, families, or workplaces.
If you’ve decided not to have children and are struggling with pressure to do so from others, here are some strategies that can help:
Digressing from gender norms feels a lot easier when you have an empathetic support network.
Talk to other child-free friends, or if you don’t currently have any, dedicated online communities provide accessible spaces to share both the joys of following your own path in life and the difficulties of other people’s assumptions and judgements.
One such community, Rachel Cargle’s Rich Auntie Supreme, has created a series titled the Clapback Chronicles, where members share their best responses to common objections to their decision to remain child-free.
Some child-free women struggle with feelings of fear or guilt about not providing their parental figures with grandchildren. Fortunately, the concept of family has expanded beyond traditional norms, with blended and chosen families a valid and preferable choice for many.
Resources like Find a Grandparent may be useful when discussing your choice to live child-free with parents or in-laws, helping them to explore ways of pursuing an intergenerational relationship that don’t impede your reproductive rights and freedom.
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Establish clear boundaries
Passing judgement on another person’s reproductive choices is a breach of personal and social boundaries yet is very normalised in our society.
Ashley*, a happily child-free woman, stated that the pressure from her inner circle remains her biggest challenge regarding her decision not to have children.
“Family members have repeatedly disregarded my right to autonomy and my boundaries by suggesting that I’m too young to know – they know I will change my mind, I must give them grandchildren, my choices are selfish, and so on,” she said.
“I have overcome this by repeatedly asserting my boundaries, asking to be respected, and sometimes simply exiting conversations where I needed to prove or justify my worth as a human without children.”
Using clear, non-negotiable “I statements” can be a helpful first step in establishing boundaries regarding your personal choices and the topics that are off the table for discussion, which is essential for maintaining healthy relationships and for your own wellbeing.
Realise it’s not about you
“Questions and comments about you having children can feel insensitive and invasive however, it is important to note that this is often not the intent,” explained Dr Nejad.
If someone has a strong emotional response to your personal decisions, it’s much more about their own deeply ingrained value systems than it is about you.
“When societal norms are challenged, it makes people, especially those with more traditional values, uncomfortable or even confused,” said Dr Nejad.
“That doesn’t mean you need to passively accept their comments and questions, but avoid hostile or acerbic responses. Instead, respond by clearly and directly stating your perspective, and do this in a way that still maintains your positive relationships with others, if they are important to you.”
Examples of some responses may include:
- “I know having children is an important value for you, my values are more aligned with…”
- “I know what you think is important to me, but my decision about whether to have a child or not is a very personal one”
- “I know it would make you happy if I had children, but I need to make choices based on what will make me happy.”
Whether or not to have children is a life-changing decision, so even if you are facing significant pressure from others, it’s important that you act according to your own personal values and aspirations.
Live your truth and trust that those truly in your corner will come to accept and celebrate that choice alongside you.
*Only first names have been used to protect privacy.