After Marriage Comes….Children?
Why we chose a child free marriage.
By Stacey Lantz
It seemed that my wedding had barely ended before people started asking about when we were thinking of having children. I’ve always been pretty adamant that I would not have children but then again I had also been adamant that I wouldn’t get married. People saw the fact that I changed my mind about marriage as proof that I would change my mind about having children. They started talking about how fulfilling it was to have children and how much more complete my life would be with them.
I have known for a long time that I don’t want to have children and have been really clear about that with partners. I get extremely nervous when I hear people say that they decide about children after marriage. I know that anxiety stems from former partners and society thinking that I would change my mind or that, with enough time, I can be persuaded. When I made the decision to get married, I reiterated that my position about children was not going to change. It was important for me to be with someone who wouldn’t pressure me about children one or ten years down the road.
It’s not that I don’t like children, in fact I love them and I love watching them learn and experience the world. I spent much of the last year as a nanny for several families and raved about the infants I cared for and how they changed on a daily basis. The juxtaposition of how I feel about children with the fact that I don’t plan to have any is a difficult concept for people to understand. However, being married and having children are not intrinsically linked and nor should they be assumed life milestones for anyone, especially women.
I’ve been called selfish and told that I’ll never be complete or know real love. I’ve changed the way that I act around children so that I don’t incur questions about when I will start a family of my own or be told that I would be ‘such a great parent’. I’ve learned to sidestep those insults and comments and to brush them off. The truth is that it really hurts when I hear these things, especially from friends and family who are aware of how much time, energy, and love I bring to relationships.
There are many reasons I don’t want children, although I shouldn’t actually need to outline them for anyone to justify my decision. I want to be devoted to myself, my aspirations, and my dreams and also devoted to those of my partner. We are family enough for each other and are looking forward to a life full of love, happiness, and being childfree.
I’m greatly looking forward to my friends and family having children. I have already committed to spending a few weeks with my best friend after she and her wife have their first child. I have lists of children’s books that are social justice and activist oriented, queer-inclusive, and racially diverse to add to friends’ libraries. I am going to be the best aunt and mentor to so many children and I look forward to the many changes and lessons that they bring to my life as well.
Although justifications and reasons are never required, there are many ways to respond to people’s inquiries and questions about your decision to not have children. Some common inquiries I’ve had include:
- “You’re young, you’ll change your mind.” (or “Tick, tock.” or “Wait until your biological clock kicks in.”)
- Age has nothing to do with making this decision and is incredibly invalidating of my opinion and feelings as to what is best for me. Also, I could change my mind and that would be perfectly acceptable. If that happened, I could choose to have children, adopt, or foster. However, this is a decision that I think is best for me and it is important to respect other’s’ decisions and opinions rather than superimposing your own.
- “You’re missing out on the best thing in life!” (or “Your life isn’t complete without children.” or “You won’t know love until you have children.”)
- What makes life complete is going to be different for everyone. We find meaning and love in different places and none is more valid than another. The life that I have built with my family, partner, friends, and other communities is extremely fulfilling and supportive of who I am.
- “What if your partner changes their mind and wants kids?” (or “Was your partner upset when they found out?” or “Do you think your partner will leave you because of this?”
- My partner knows exactly how I feel about children. I was clear when we started dating and it has been the topic of many conversations throughout our relationship. It was something we talked about in depth again before deciding to get married because it was important for us to be on the same page. They are welcome to change their mind about what they want and considering how open and honest I’ve been with them, I would expect that they would be comfortable sharing openly with me as well. It’s entirely possible that we may decide that we want two very different things and would then have decide whether to stay together or not.
- “What’s wrong with you?”
- Absolutely nothing. Society tells us that we need to hit specific milestones (marriage, kids, house, etc) but that is simply untrue. We all have our own lives to lead and can make the best decisions for ourselves.
- “But you’d make such a great parent!”
- Thank you for noticing that I am great with kids, I really do love spending time with them and helping them to grow and learn. However, just because I enjoy kids does not mean that I want to have my own nor should I be obligated to simply because I have the skills.
Regardless of how often we explain to people why we don’t want children, it can still be draining. It’s not always possible to know when these conversations will arise or predict how people will respond. We can prepare individually and through networks to respond to these situations so that they have the least possible negative impact. Some ways to do that include:
- Make friends with others who don’t plan to have children. It can help to validate and support your decision and also provide a soundboard for when other people pass judgment or demand explanations of your childfree life.
- There are a multitude of ways to respond to people’s questions and comments. You can offer a legitimate explanation of your decision and how you reached it, use sarcasm to deflect the question or point out how inappropriate it is for them ask, or just ignore the question all together. How you respond will probably depend on context: where you are, who it is, their tone, etc.
- If most of the questions are directed towards you, ask your partner to step in and either provide an answer or deflect.
- Be direct with friends or family members who ask persistently about children that their comments are inappropriate and unwelcome.
- Use social media to post articles about childfree living and responses others have as to why they aren’t having children.
- If possible and desired, limit time with people who are judgmental or try to impose their own beliefs upon your life. If it isn’t possible, create a plan with your partner or others about how to handle being in shared spaces and how to avoid talking about children.
- Remind yourself that you are the expert on your own life and that your choices are completely valid and normal.
- In group situations, ask supportive friends or family members to back up you up and voice their support. These could be people who do or do not have/want kids. Constantly fielding the questions yourself can feel incredibly isolating and exhausting so having others answer can be important for emotional health. Additionally, having others voice support can demonstrate how it is a normal and valid decision for whoever is asking questions.
- Create answers to common questions you hear so that you don’t have to expend mental and emotional energy in the moment to come up with an answer.
- Engage in self-care after having a particularly difficult conversation or before entering a situation where people don’t understand why you don’t want children.