There’s a certain stigma associated with being female and being childfree. Because being childfree-by-choice is rather frowned upon in our child-centric society, most women who don’t want children, rarely say so openly. They try to avoid the disapproving stares and cries of, “How can you not want children?!” and go into hiding. In fact a woman who doesn’t want children is often labelled a selfish woman. It’s more difficult for a woman to admit that she does not want children as men are often exempt from such pressure. Women on the other hand must answer to other women, to mothers, to aunts, to neighbours and even to friends.
When my friend and her husband were first married and were constantly asked when they would be starting a family, they would say, “Not yet. Maybe in a few years. We’re not ready yet.” Nine years later, they have no problem telling anyone who will listen that they are “childfree by choice”. They made this decision together. My friend tells me that other women are curious about her life when she tells them she doesn’t want children of her own. Was she abused as a child? Did she have a lousy childhood? Does she not like children? Is she physically unable to have a child (poor thing)? Some women actually feel sorry for her when they find out she has no children. None of this could be further from the truth. She was not abused! Her parents cared for her and loved her and never raised their hand to her in anger. Her childhood was great! She had plenty of friends, got good grades in school and generally had a lot of fun. She is not physically unable to bear children. Her ovaries are just fine; she has simply chosen not to have children.
For men it’s different. There is no societal pressure for them to reproduce. Their fathers may wish for them to carry on the family name, but other than that they are not continually bombarded with advertising and television shows and movies pressuring them to have children. Men may sing the praises of being a father, but they are rarely hassled by their male friends to start a family. You hardly hear a mother saying to her son “Come on habibi, when are you going to have children?” The question is often directed at the female. Even if the husband is asked about having children, it is still looked at as the wife’s responsibility.
I met my neighbour for the first time a few days ago. We made polite chitchat at the door and one of the first things she said to me was “and when are you planning on having children?” I was quite stunned by the question as I don’t know the woman but she seemed to think that as an older person, she had the right to ask such a question. She also proceeded to advise me not to take the pill and gave me a lengthy explanation of all the possible side effects the pill could have. I’m sure she meant it in the best possible way, and that her intentions were merely motherly. However, I can’t help but feel that she and other older women in my life have started the countdown process for me. I have been married for so many months, I’m allowed a relief period of so many months, so I should have children in so many months.
So what makes a woman who chooses not to have children selfish?
The true meaning of selfishness must be considered in evaluating whether or not the childfree are selfish. The definition of selfishness includes a wilful disregard for the well-being of others. But the childfree have carefully considered the life that their potential offspring might lead before making their decision to not raise children. By choosing not to bring children into a home that may have too little time, money, or interest to raise a child properly, these people are not demonstrating selfishness. Selfish describes the parent who indulges himself at the expense of his child’s well-being, brings children into the world and then neglects, abuses or abandons them, not the person who has never had a child at all.
I for one, unlike my friend, haven’t actually taken the decision NOT to have children. But I also don’t take if for granted that I must have them. I’d like to think about it. I’d like to have a choice. Sure, I could go along with society and peer pressure and go ahead and have that child because that’s what other people think I should do but what kind of life would that be? It wouldn’t be fair for me or my child. I will have children only if and when I’m ready.