I�ve had several requests from men asking for commentary about living childfree, or childless, from a male point-of-view.
I wanted to keep my viewpoint as objective as possible, so, I chose to interview a colleague who is in a childfree marriage, rather than my own husband. We�ve traded jokes about experiences we encounter as childfree coworkers, but never before sat down to have a serious discussion. The result of the interview is that I feel I know my colleague better, and have some new insights; mainly that childfree/childless men have many of the same concerns as women. Here�s our conversation, with just enough paraphrasing to make it readable:
� When did you first realize you didn�t want kids?
It�s hard to pin it down. There wasn�t a single moment that I realized I didn�t want kids. I wavered. It wasn�t a deliberate decision but based on life events, job changes, and instability in my living situation.
Actually, I remember I was camp counselor when I was 15, taking care of 4 and 5 year olds, and I remember thinking that there was nothing that really appealed to me about having small kids. I didn�t dislike them. I just didn�t want to spend all my time with them. I was happy in the evening when I was free because they exhausted me. I also worried about having kids with major behavioral problems, I mean some of those kids did, and I�d think how would I ever deal with that day after day?
� Have your reasons changed since then?
Yes, I guess. I started living in cities, really crowded places, and I started to think, you know, that population is really an issue here. It�s not just something you discuss and set aside. It just didn�t seem right to me to add more people to the population when there are so many people, so many struggling people here already. I like teaching. I help people all day. I go home at night. I feel I�ve done my part.
� How does being childfree impact your social life and relationships?
Conversations with friends without kids are more mature, more focused on things other than the details of having to deal with kids on a daily basis. My social life suffers when people insist on discussing their lives only in relationship to their children, not allowing for any flexibility, any interests other than kids, and things related to kids. In fact, those people don�t seem to care whether I�m in the conversation or not, so I drift. Sometimes, a really good conversation can be derailed by a person who insists on refocusing the conversation � almost as if they are threatened by not talking about kids � even for a minute. The result of all this is, I really don�t have many friends who have kids.
� How does being childfree affect your work life?
Well, I get annoyed when people take advantage of having kids to justify being late, or not coming to meetings, and pass that burden onto those of us without kids, most times without apology, just like they expect us to do this, no questions asked.
There�s a little discrimination I think, mostly in a social way, but the assumption is that those of us without kids are not as important as those with kids, that we have more time to take up the slack in the workplace for those who have to run off early to take care of their kids.
� What things do people with kids say that bother you?
Occasionally, when I am telling someone about something I do that someone with kids easily can�t do � like international travel or hiking the Appalachian Trail � people with kids will come back at me with some kind of cutting response like; �Oh, you can only do that because you don�t have kids.� I mean, of course, but they really seem to want to invalidate what I love to do � if you feel that way, why even ask me?
That kind of response really upsets me, actually. I think parents are just jealous that they can�t do these things and want to punish me. And, really, having the freedom to do things like hike and travel are one of the big reasons why my wife and I didn�t have kids in the first place � it�s no small deal to us.
� Why did you and your wife decide you didn�t want kids as part of your marriage?
We thought it would just be less stressful; better for us financially, more freedom to do the things we love. My wife and I were in a relationship that felt solid, permanent, we were best friends for years before we got married, marriage just made things easier financially in some ways � insurance and all. Kids weren�t a part of that real primary relationship, our friendship, so weren�t associated with our decision to get married � never were.
� In a perfect world, how do you feel society would treat childfree couples?
We should be treated better in some ways � for example, I really think we should be given kid-free places in restaurants. And, in other public situations, we pay good money, we want to have a great time, why do we have to be confronted with other people�s ill-behaved kids and have to smile and pretend everything is wonderful, kids are wonderful. You know, you never feel you can say anything to parents in that situation.
The real issue is respect, I think, just real respect for childfree people, for adults! For example, in advertising kids always are portrayed as having the best opinions on things � adults are disparaged in a way. If a kid likes a car, it is great, it�s cool. If an adult likes something it�s portrayed as stupid. I don�t have kids, so why should I be subjected to this? It may be some people�s family dynamic to allow kids to treat adults as stupid, un-cool, and irrelevant but I feel that attitude is destructive in our culture.
I think there really needs to be much more emphasis on living childfree-by-choice. Most people, when they interrogate us, ask what tragedy happened? Why don�t you have kids? � they expect some dramatic, tragic answer. They are shocked when I say I don�t have kids because I don�t want kids! My wife doesn�t want kids! Shocking! There is really no acceptance, yet, of the idea that living without children is a true, valid choice � just a choice � a choice that is as sensible and acceptable for some people as the choice to have children is for others.