Childfree and childless are 2 terms that are commonly used to describe adults who do not have children. The first is a choice; the second is not. For some, they are loaded terms, heavy with regretful resonance. In lieu of better ones, I’m going to use them, so please consider yourself trigger-warned, and I hope that you will find I have used them appropriately.
Most people who are not blissfully happy with the 0 or more children they have are in one of the following camps (but, perhaps, not permanently so):
- Childfree – people who do not have and so far do not want children
- Not-yet-parents – those who want to have children and may or may not have a plan
- Childless – adults who want kids and have tried but have not yet succeeded
- Child-limited – those who feel they have not had as many children as they want
- Child-gendered – people with at least 2 or more kids of the same gender and none of the other they wish they also had.
I’m a Business and IT consultant, so my instinct is to treat any long-term, multi-stage objective as a project. I know; it’s sad and geeky. However, if the end goal is to decide if you want to have kids, then what is the starting situation and the best path?
I have in the past believed that I bounce between being childfree and childless. I now know I was quite wrong about that; stupidly so.
Not everyone wants to have kids. It’s not weird. It’s not unusual. It is an active choice to live a life without children. It doesn’t mean that you don’t like kids or enjoy their company; it’s that you either don’t want to have any of your own or you don’t feel the need. And that should be a thing that is ok.
I have a friend, G, who has never wanted to have children and was never shy about extolling the benefits of not having them. 25 years or so on, she doesn’t seem to have wavered at all and makes the most of not having kids. She is almost always doing something intellectually stimulating, physically challenging or travelling. However, she has had to spend more time with the children of mates and a niece and nephews gifted by siblings; and over the years they have all softened her, or as she might put it: worn her down. Not enough to want her own but enough for her to happily spend time with them and even babysit when needed (which I think she secretly enjoys).
Other family and friends (F&F) who have expressed an interest in having wee ones in the future after they have done other things are not, as some think, childfree they are instead in…
It’s ok to put having children on hold, but perhaps it would be good to have a date in mind for when you might begin trying and see if it matches the date you need to start trying. If you’re not doing it solo, when do you need to have met the person you will be trying with?
Let’s imagine an accelerated path to parenthood:
- 3-6 months to meet someone
- 9-12 months to get to know them – to fall out – to get back together – to decide you’re ready
- Note: consider getting fertility tests done before you start trying: knowing what you’re working with will aid in maximising your chances
- 1-3 months – the time women will need to recover if they are using any of the following forms of contraception: pill, patch, coil, implant, injection or ring
- 6 months trying before you might need to consider more interventionist action that could take additional months or years and be more emotionally wrenching than you originally planned.
Ain’t it scary how quickly time adds up? If you think you might want to have kids in the future but not for a while yet, then you may wish to take some fertility preservation steps.
I think you qualify as childless if all 3 below are true. You:
- can legally have sex
- want to have kids
- have tried and/or are trying, but, for some reason, it’s not currently happening.
I think many who are childless are weighted with a sense of loss for something they haven’t got but want so very much. I have previously deluded myself as being among them, but I am not. Unlike those who have invested heart and soul and perhaps quite a lot of cash, I have not tried to have kids and been unable to, so there is no loss on my behalf. I am not childless because I have not yet tried.
I have a lovely friend who changed her life and continents to optimise her chances in the hope of meeting someone with whom to have a long-term relationship and kids. She tried for 5 years and doesn’t need me to qualify her as being childless – she is, and her loss was and is very real. Mother’s Day is a tough time of the year for her having lost hers too soon and, so far, being unable to become one.
Being childless doesn’t mean that you will always be so. Though it may mean that you cannot conceive children of your own, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you cannot have kids in your life. We’ll look at options on that later.
Some people end up having fewer children than they believe they want. Either they or their partner age out of being able to have more kids by themselves, or the government of whichever country they reside in sets laws limiting the number of children they can have.
No really, this has happened: China operated a one-child policy from 1979–2015. Given ever-dwindling resources, growing populations and medical advances keeping us alive for longer, do not be surprised if “birth planning” programmes become more prevalent as the planet’s resources get increasingly squeezed.
A friend has pointed out that I ought to include those who are child-limited because their partner has died unexpectedly – sadly, I know of 4 people to whom that applies.
You are child-gendered if you only have boys, or you only have girls, and you do not have the resources (financial or emotional) to keep trying for the girl or boy that would make you complete.
Although I have sympathy if you are child-gendered, surely if you have more than 1 kid, then are you not too busy and too full of love for them for that to be little more than a passing ideal?
And yet it is not. It is much more than a fleeting thought.
The heart wants what it wants; and if you have spent years wishing for a son or daughter, you will always wonder what it would’ve been like. So, my pithy and ill-thought response is quite crass if not also a little cruel. I hope you somehow get what you want or can be content with the life or lives that already rely on you for their health and happiness.
Let’s suppose that you do want to have kids. What kind of family are you going to be?
I have a kid’s experience of single-parenting. For most people, being a single parent is not a financial choice easily made. My Mum raised me despite also having to cope with my Father. She’s all kinds of excellent while still being, at times, quite annoying. When you only have one proper parent in your life, they get all the frustration and attitude you would usually share between two.
Post-divorce, Mum was a solo parent but prior she was effectively a single parent with 2 kids until my 11-year-older sister, Marjorie, died. She was also saddled with another much older infant, masquerading as a husband. I hope I have inherited her strength and bravery but worry: if I had to be a parent by myself, would I be a good enough one?
Most of the single parents I know never planned to be so. They stayed in relationships that many acknowledge they should not have. There are myriad reasons why people remain longer than they ought. A common one is “because of the kids”, which really means that life as a single Mum or Dad is just too hard to contemplate. Many solo parents are on their own out of self-preservation, or because their parenting partner:
- is a guest of the state, or
- chosen to absent themselves from parental contact and responsibilities, or
- is dead.
The metaphysical weight of a child is a measurement beyond kilograms or pounds and stones. It is measured according to their emotional, physical and financial needs and the ability to meet them – and that burden should be more easily shared by two – that’s just maths. So, being a single or solo parent ought to be harder than sharing the caring and labour of parenting between two because 2 is better than 1, isn’t it? That might be true if there is equality in the division of child-rearing duties, but often one parent does more parenting, especially if 1 parent has to carry the other parent or make up for their absence.
I’m not going to write about all the challenges that I have seen single or solo parents have – there are many. It is tough and likely not planned, even if eventually chosen. And it is especially hard if you didn’t choose it, if it instead transpired through your partner’s unexpected departure or death.
However, you come to be a single or solo parent, you have to be the best parent you can be and are allowed to be by your Ex (if still present) and your kid(s). If you have family and friends living close by, learn to lean on them instead of trying to tough it out by yourself all the time. And if your loved ones are far away, what to do then? Well, now we have the likes of FaceTime, WhatsApp, Zoom, etc to keep in touch. So, don’t suffer in silence – reach out and unload.
I have a friend, NT, who used to make me sit through all kinds of rom-com nonsense. You know the basic plot: boy meets girl, loads of drama (comedic and otherwise) ensues, and then they end up together. Annoyingly, NT lived one of those romcoms.
The tale of how she got together with the One is pretty epic. She met M on the 1st day of university. They were together throughout the 3 years of uni but broke up just after they finished. 2 years later, they had a chance encounter on a street on which he should not have been, resulting in a declaration of undying love. It transpired that M was due to move back home to Devon within the next month, leaving NT with a sliding-doors-decision to make. They’ve now been married for over 23 years and have a boy and a girl.
Being in love and living with someone is my idealised set-up. I suspect I’m so enamoured with the idea because I’ve never felt like I have properly lived it; spending most of my childhood and half my adolescence wishing I’d been born into such a union.
So far, I have not yet developed a lasting relationship with someone that I want to share my life with and have children. Or maybe, I’ve not found anyone who has been able to love and tolerate me long enough to consider doing so.
Er, let me go nail that can of worms shut.
Empirically, my generation’s parents were the doyens of divorce as those F&F whose parents are still together are in the minority.
However, adults who are able to manage their feelings regarding their Ex can seemingly work co-operatively towards being exemplary parents. I suspect this is because they are competing to be the better parent to their kid(s) – and if I was a kid with parents like that, I wouldn’t mind at all.
The most successful seem to do so through a formal parenting agreement. Yes, formal is good; there is a reason you are Ex-es, so toss aside any romantic notion that either of you will be reasonable if and when you want to get your way over something involving the kid(s).
Being unable to have or not wanting children doesn’t mean you can’t have them in your life. With any luck siblings and cousins will provide ample opportunities for you to become a favoured Aunt or Uncle. Like a Grandparent, you get to have all the fun without most of the responsibilities.
And if you don’t have any family with kids, you likely have friends who do, so let them know that you are available and happy to babysit. If they don’t take full advantage of that offer, then they:
- already have enough babysitters, or
- are enamoured with their kid(s) and don’t want to share, or
- don’t want to subject you to a too-challenging commitment.
Consider how good your relationship with those friends is before questioning their judgement.
If you meet and start regularly dating someone who has children and are not just a “friend with benefits”, then you are likely going to meet their kids and develop a relationship with them.
Their parents will initially govern that relationship, but as it grows, it will become its own thing between you and them. Does it mean that you have to marry the parent you’re seeing? No, but you damn well better understand that the more you see of that parent and their kids, the more emotionally dependent and attached they will become.
If you’re not ready for that kind of responsibility, talk to the person you’re seeing before meeting their children and let them decide whether to stick with you or walk away.
There are different paths to becoming a parent. You can take one or do several depending on your level of success and the number of progeny you desire.
In a situation where there is a mutually desired outcome and not just because you don’t like the feel of a condom (don’t be that fuckwit), I really wanted to be the kind of guy that would put adoption as my number 1 option for parenthood. However, I am a healthy heterosexual with, how to put this; needs.
Given the chance of lots of sex with a mutually desired outcome, I’m as much a Pavlovian dog as the next guy and will push that button every damn time.
If you’re not married to conceiving your kids, then depending on the ease of the adoption process of where you are or can legally engage with, this should be something you seriously consider.
It’s important though, to understand that children beyond toddler age who need to be adopted might come with emotional baggage that may require significant time to work through. That said, you could be their happily-ever-after.
I find it strange that there is so much stigma attached to infertility.
If I found out I was sterile, I wouldn’t feel any less of a man. It’s not like my life expectancy would’ve been reduced, nor would it lessen any pleasure derived from sex – in fact, it removes the risk of unexpected pregnancies without the need for a vasectomy (I’m trying to be half-glass-full).
If I start trying for kids and find that I am sterile, I don’t think it will change who I am or how I feel about myself. For me, it would just be a problem to try to work around. However, I understand this might not be the case if you’re a guy or a couple who very much want kids who share your genes.
But again, I think it might be different for women. I don’t think there should be any shame for any woman who discovers they are sterile. However, I suspect that many feel a more jarring sense of loss. Women have organs devoted to the conceiving and birthing of children. For years they have uncomfortable if not downright painful monthly reminders. To have that and then find out it’s all been for nought likely feels monstrously unfair and/or a cosmic betrayal.
However it comes about, infertility treatments might be something to consider – I have more than a few friends for whom they have worked and a smaller set for whom they have not. Even if they do work, it can take a long time, a lot of money, and an emotional toll on your life. So, it’s something to be carefully considered and explored before embarking on. Plan for failure, so if that comes to pass, you’ll be further ahead in coping with it.
I don’t think I’m strong enough to foster kids by myself. I am strong enough to do the actual fostering, but I don’t think I’d be able to cope with continually having to give kids back: I think I would become too emotionally invested and attached.
I’ve not done much research but fostering feels like a job that would be difficult to combine with another career. Although it might not be for me, fortunately, other people do provide this invaluable service to families and kids that need some kind of parental cover.
Do you think you could help out children that need somewhere to stay temporarily? Have a read: https://ukfostering.org.uk/fostering-information/ – there’s always, unfortunately, a need for good foster parents.
If you’re thinking do you have time to fit children into your life, then let me answer that question for you: no.
No, you do not have time to fit kids into your existing life because that will have been your old life and the moment you bring kids into the world or take responsibility for the children of others is when you wave goodbye to it and say hello to your new life.
Another break, or do you want to delve into the last 7-minute read?
Interested in reading more like this?
Created: 31st July 2018
Released for review: 30th January 2020
Re-drafted 25th, 26th & 27th February 2020
Edits 17th February 2022: re-wrote 2 paragraphs that were meant to be honest with a hint of humour but had not been written with enough care or thought as to how others might perceive them
Edits 24th February, 4th March 2022: Readability
Edits 8th August 2022: procrastinating
Edits 24th August 2022: minor edits and title change from “Childless, Childfree, Child-limited or Child-gendered – pt. 2”
Edits 11th October 2022: procrastinating
Edits 26th October 2022: minor edits final readability run-through
Published: 27th October 2022.
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