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Facing Child-Free Social Fears

With so much emphasis on child rearing in popular media, it�s no wonder that so many MNK forum writers express fear that they will be rejected by society when people discover they don�t have kids. This is not a new fear. My mother always said the main reason she had kids was because it was �the thing to do.� She didn�t particularly enjoy her chief role as mother and housewife, but adopting a conventional lifestyle was vastly preferable to feeling like an outcast in suburbia.

Childfree people can reduce that feeling of alienation by seeking out groups with like values. When those cloying movies, television series and commercials tell us we don�t exist, or that there is something inherently wrong with living childfree, we know there are groups like Married No Kids, and No Kidding offering support and helping us mitigate our feelings of isolation.

When I complain about the child-centeredness of popular media my husband tells me to �turn off the tube.� But, I don�t want to cut myself off from media any more than I want to limit myself to having only childfree friends. I like movies, television, and newspapers! I like people with kids! I just want to participate in society, go with the flow at work and play, and not be considered abnormal. I don�t want people to question me and call me out as someone with an atypical lifestyle. I want childfree living to be considered as natural as having kids.

When people ask me as me why I don�t have kids, the question often comes in condescending or contentious tones. People seem to feel entitled to question us, very closely, about the most personal aspects of our lives. Yet, we don�t do the same in return. It seems unkind to ask parents why they have children, yet the answers can be surprisingly self-centered!

I learned long ago never to say �I�m childfree because the planet is overpopulated, that overpopulation more than any other social issue, is leading to a decline in standards of living worldwide.� I once asked my mother why she thought having kids is the �thing to do� when that �thing� is leading to global environmental degradation, starvation, war. She gave me a withering look and said, �You�ll grow out of that idea pretty soon.� What is immature about deciding to take intellectual control of our urge to procreate when procreation no longer benefits the planet? Still, I learned quickly that citing overpopulation as a reason for a childfree life is a cultural taboo.

After all, kids are a lucrative market. Obviously, more people results in sales of more products, an effective strategy in a free-market society, vigorously enforced by media cultural stereotyping: Childfree people in film are typically depressed, pathetic, socially inept souls, just waiting for the right person to come along and enlighten them on the joys of obsession with childrearing.

Take Four Weddings and a Funeral as an example; a movie featuring a shy, charming man attending friends� weddings but never his own. He falls for a slutty childfree beauty who, denying multiple movie indicators of true love, enters a childfree marriage-for-money. Eventually, of course, she comes around, divorces her peer, ultimately having a baby outside of marriage with the shy, handsome one.

Another example is The 40 Year-Old Virgin. The movies have similar plots really: lonely, shy men living life by observing the social shenanigans of their more outgoing friends. Eventually, an assertive woman comes along and takes control of the situation, changing the lonely man�s life by bearing children that become the focus of the relationship. In the case of The 40 Year Old Virgin, the woman comes with children from a previous marriage and, of course, the protagonist proves to be an excellent father from the start.

If Hollywood, and it�s small film studio minions, would just produce a film where a couple meets, decides not to have kids, yet grows to have a rewarding and productive relationship (imagine!) it would help change stereotypes. (And, perhaps such a film does exist. If anyone knows of one, please let me know.) As far as I can see, media incessantly reinforces the stereotype of lonely, emotionally stunted, childless souls � just waiting for the right person to come along and provide the blessing of offspring that become a focal point, giving meaning to meaningless lives.

Of course, we know there are many married-no-kids couples out there experiencing rewarding, meaningful relationships and lives. Here are actions that can help reduce childfree social anxieties, fears, and sense of isolation:

� Next time someone asks why you don�t have kids, turn the question around and ask why they have kids. Don�t be confrontational, just curious. Turning this common question around presents childfree living as normal � just another lifestyle circumstance or choice. Also, it puts the responsibility of justifying personal choices on the questioner - exposing the question as potentially intrusive and rude.

� Build friendships with people with kids that have flown the nest. When kids leave home, parents often rekindle old friendships and look for ways to focus on themselves again. I have many older students, who after spending years focusing solely on kids, are longing to develop new interests and friendships.

� Join social groups and organizations reinforcing individual lifestyle choices. Writing and art groups usually have members who value individual expression. Groups for childfree singles and couples are growing worldwide. One of the most popular, No Kidding, offers social groups and networks for people without kids: http://www.nokidding.net

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