Child-Free Living

Every family has that one kindly aunt and uncle who never had children of their own. And, until you yourself have struggled with infertility, you probably never wondered why they had no children; you just accepted it. Well, if that aunt and uncle of yours are now seniors, in their day they could have adopted from a wide assortment of newborns. But they didn't. Today, they probably live comfortably in a small condo somewhere, travel a great deal, are enjoying their retirement, and dote on a large selection of nieces and nephews. When they pass on, they'll probably leave their money to their "favorite" niece or nephew and will always be fondly remembered.

Now, compare that lifestyle to the "other" aunt and uncle who have three miserable sons who "eat their hearts out." Everyone in the family knows that these sons scammed their own parents out of their life savings. One son is a stingy businessman who nobody in the family likes, the other is a cocaine addict who sold his father's collector's edition car to buy more coke, while the third son is a bum and has never worked an honest day in his life!

I exaggerate these two lifestyles to point out that there is no guarantee of happiness either way. Some couples with children wish they'd never had them; couples with no children may regret it. The decision itself is not as important as how comfortable you are with your choice.

In the past, a child-free lifestyle was often a political decision for many couples. During the 1950s and 1960s, many couples chose this because they feared a nuclear holocaust. By the 1970s, the issue of overpopulation became the motivating factor for the choice. For example, research at Cornell University recently concluded that the world's population must be reduced from its estimated six billion to roughly two billion by the year 2100. However, population predictions for that year, given current fertility trends, are for roughly 15 billion. Once we factor in available natural resources, energy reserves, and arable land, a world population of that size would throw the majority of individuals living at that time into "absolute misery, poverty, disease, and starvation" (according to the Cornell paper).

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Overpopulation is also a major factor in gender inequity, according to many sources. Where there's high birth rates and high poverty rates, the economic value of female children goes down. Yet by the 1980s, child-free living became a symbol of infertility and failure, a symbol that has persisted. This is a pity, considering what a liberating lifestyle option it can be. Obviously, you'll need to review your original reasons for wanting children before you make this choice. You'll also need to research the decision: interview other couples who are living child free and investigate their lifestyle. Interview couples with children and find out how much of their own lives are sacrificed.

Some fertile couples are choosing child-free living because of environmental and financial concerns. Many truly feel the world is an environmental disaster area and do not wish to raise children in a world of questionable health hazards. Other couples find that they can barely meet their bills as it is, and opt not to add more stress to an already badly strained budget. Remember, parenting is a selfless, largely self-sacrificing job. Choosing a child-free lifestyle may be an appealing option in an economically turbulent and difficult world.

Some of the traditional reasons for having children were purely economic. Children, many people thought, guaranteed financial security in old age. Today, with so many college-educated adults living at home because they cannot get jobs, the economic benefits of progeny are no longer visible. And you'll find that most senior-age parents of financially successful children today do not want to be a financial burden and will choose to be independent as long as they can. Another traditional reason for having children was fear of loneliness in one's old age. Twenty years from now, the majority of the population will be over age 65. You won't be lonely.

The Benefits of Child-Free Living

1. Freedom. You may have the time and extra money down the road for all the things you dreamed of: going back to school for that second degree, buying a vacation home, traveling, early retirement, or whatever you want.

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2. Control of your life. When you have children, you lose a certain amount of control over your own life. Children can have lots of problems. They may have difficulty at school; they get sick; they have accidents; they get in trouble; they get pregnant; and so on. You never stop being a parent.

3. Self-expansion. You'll have the time to explore parts of yourself that you never knew existed, because you'll have time to yourself. Insights about your life, your gifts, your talents, your desires, your interests can be explored. Here are two images to keep in mind: Katharine Hepburn at age 70, and any other 70-year-old whose life was ruined because of his or her children. I'll take Katharine Hepburn's life any day.

At any rate, whatever your reasons are for living child free, the decision is, of course, reversible in most cases.

Social Parenting

This is what you get when you cross adoption with child-free living. You can become involved with the children in your life: nieces, nephews, godchildren, or friends' children. One woman I interviewed has a toy chest and children's book library that is the envy of all her friends. She spends precious quality time with many of her friends' children of all ages. The children love her, the parents love it because they get a break from their kids, and she benefits enormously. She has become that one special grown-up the children can confide in, yet she can also influence their developing values and skills. She shares in their successes and trials of childhood. "I've never met a child who doesn't have room to love one more person," she tells me.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH on September 20, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:
M. Sara Rosenthal. From The Fertility Sourcebook, by arrangement with The RGA Publishing Group. 1998.

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