Today I learned that Pope Francis thinks I’m selfish. And although I don’t really care about his opinion, it really got my wheels turning about why people are so uncomfortable with the idea of people choosing to be childfree. Why the decision is met with so much suspicion. Why people try so hard to convince childfree people to change their minds.
So here are a collection of my theories.
Departure from the norm makes people uncomfortable. We see this over and over throughout history; with women entering the workforce, women voting, men being stay at home dads, biracial marriages…there are literally thousands of examples. Our cultures teach us what is normal and expected, and when something departs from this framework, we notice and question it. It makes us reconsider things. It makes us uncomfortable. And since we don’t like to feel uncomfortable, we attempt to make the feeling go away – sometimes by hating and blaming the people who we feel “caused” the feeling.
Considering an alternate life makes one question their own choices. Some people honestly never realized that a childfree life was an option, and now that it’s becoming more normalized, people may consider what their life would have been like without children and feel a need to defend their choice. I’m not saying that having children is wrong or a choice that people inevitably regret, but I think it is common for us to consider alternate lives that we may have had if we had made different choices and it is common to feel a degree of discomfort as we compare that with the life we live.
Jealousy. This isn’t always the case, of course, but we all tend to suffer from viewing the grass as greener on the other side from time to time, and I think at times parents might feel jealous of the freedoms that childfree people enjoy.
Some of the childfree community has advocated for themselves in a very harsh way. I’m very careful to align myself with compassionate childfree individuals who don’t spend their time bashing parents and I desperately hope this blog reflects that. Some members of the childfree community, however, advocate for themselves and their choices by belittling and shaming parents, which of course will only cause parents to become defensive and react harshly back!
Women who reject traditional roles are deemed as threatening by certain people. I’m not of the mindset that all men are misogynistic, but there are definitely a decent number who would like to see women remain in the traditional role of homemaker. Women who are seen as equals to or even higher-ranking than men can challenge a man’s self concept and this can be seen as threatening.
We have a hard time understanding that multiple concepts can exist at the same time. As humans, we like to neatly categorize people and behaviours. People are either good or bad. Maternal or not. Selfish or selfless. We have a hard time understanding that a person can advocate for themselves and their wants while still deeply caring about others and contributing to the world. We can decide to not have children and still contribute significantly to society.
Potential children “exist” in some people’s minds and are viewed as missing out. I know there are certain religions that actually teach this concept, that your “potential children” exist somewhere and you should bring them into the world. Even outside of these religious views, though, I think it is common for people to unconsciously have abstract ideas of fictional children and when you don’t make them a reality, it’s almost like you’re selfishly choosing to deny these fictional children their fictional opportunities.
Parenthood, and especially motherhood, is praised for the amount of self sacrifices one makes and if someone chooses not to have children, they’re effectively proclaiming they aren’t willing to make these sacrifices. Which is true. This is one of the main reasons I’ve remained childfree, because I’m not willing to sacrifice my dreams and goals. If a parent gives up their life goals and passes up opportunities for their dreams in favour of their children, they are praised. Nevermind that they spent nights crying in the shower, afternoons feeling unfulfilled and mornings filled with dread; they made sacrifices for their child, and these are considered to be the greatest sacrifices of all. And they are great and important if you’ve chosen to have children, and it would be selfish to not make sacrifices for the good of your child. But if the said child doesn’t exist, how is it selfish?
Childfree individuals are not investing in future generations by producing them. I’m fascinated by Terror Management Theory and how it could potentially explain at least part of our desire to have children. I’m curious whether it could also explain how childfree individuals are seen as selfish and as not investing through production of future generations.
What do you think about these theories? Would you like to see a specific one explored further? Do you have any other theories?