Sylvia D. Lucas challenges the gendered double-standard that surrounds the choice to not have children.
This post first appeared on Dink Life, which celebrates the Dual-Income-No-Kids Lifestyle.
Child-free men, whether they’re Dual-Income-No-Kids (DINK) “lifers” or just waiting until later to have kids, haven’t shared the focus of the barrage of attacks their female counterparts have endured since the advent of birth control. How do men without children get off so much easier … or do they?
Whether in magazine articles, blogs, online publications, or in person, women without children are “bingoed” (chastised for not having kids/told why we should have kids—“Oh my god, you’d love it!”) pretty regularly. We’re told—usually indirectly and/or from a safe distance—that we’re cold, we’re freaks, we’re selfish, we’re child-haters, we’re non-nurturers, we’re unnatural. And that’s for starters.
Most insults are actually too absurd to be offensive, so I’ll call them “pesky.” Offensive would be the study oft-repeated in the media that women are apparently at higher risk of developing breast cancer if we don’t produce offspring. How’s that for pressure?
Are men without children made to feel guilty, too?
I recently saw an article online titled “Childless Men May Face Higher Risk of Heart Disease.” So, I guess we’re all screwed. At least we’ll die young together.
A survey conducted by author Laura S. Scott, author of Two is Enough: A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice, found that men and women’s reasons for choosing blissfully unladen lives are basically the same, and the “why” of it has been covered ad nauseam. So I thought I’d interview a few men who frequent The Childfree Life Internet forum about their experiences simply living as men who choose not to have children.
Have they been pressured to use their semen to procreate the same way we’ve been pressured to use our uteri incubate? Have they had difficulty finding a partner? What word comes to mind when asked to imagine having a child in their lives?
(“NOOOOOOO!” was one word.)
I do, of course, ask them why they don’t want children, because the personal answers are far more interesting and relevant than the overarching psychobabble “there-must-be-something-‘off’-deep-within-you” explanations some are desperately seeking.
The men in this interview, ages 26-53, hail from the U.S., Canada, and Australia, and are identified in this article in keeping with their individual preferences. Their answers below may or may not surprise you, but what they unquestionably do is give you a glimpse of the men’s world in a way you haven’t seen it before.
First, I’m going to ask every child-free person’s favorite question: Why don’t you want kids?
ERICH, 27, CANADA: I want the freedom to travel, to work wherever I want, to come and go as I please. I want the freedom to have freedom. Can’t just pick up and go with a kid.
ALAN SMITH, 53, BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA: I actually find this a difficult question to comprehend. For me, the opposite question applies—“Why on earth would anyone wish to produce children?” I do realise that people have children for all sorts of reasons—they find them endearing, they feel they have a religious or social duty to breed, the vanity of having a copy of themselves, a need to prove their “manhood” or “womanhood”, the financial benefits or simply that they have never thought about it and regarded it as a “default” position to reproduce. None of these applies to me.
JOSH, 36, OKLAHOMA: I like the freedom. I’m the type of person who needs a lot of downtime, and a child would definitely get in the way of that. I also just don’t like being completely responsible for something other than myself. I have no more desire to have a pet than I do to have a kid.
ANONYMOUS, 26, MONTANA: For me, it was a bit of knowing my nature. I can be overly caring and take things a bit personally. If I had a child, I would imagine that I’d feel I let them down greatly if they failed at something. In the same breath, when I put my mind to accomplishing a goal, I block out everything around me till I finish my goal. I didn’t want to live a life that was both unfair to that child and to me. I would probably drive the child nuts and cause a mini hell for myself. Once I add in the fact I’d probably have a partner in the mix, it seems very maddening.
PAUL L., 44, NEW HAMPSHIRE: They are very expensive and time consuming. I don’t make that much money, and I certainly wouldn’t have the house I own if I had kids to support. I like my peace and quiet and the freedom to come and go as I see fit (for instance, I took my bike for a weekend trip this past weekend on a spur of the moment and my partner worked). The cats need no supervision!
E. CARROLL HALE III, 48, VIRGINIA: That’s a very complex issue. A large component to my choice is that I’m the oldest of 6, and it was expected that as soon as I was of sufficient age to do so (we’re talking 8-9 years old), I’d be watching over the rest of the herd, keeping them out of trouble, etc. If they got in trouble, after my Dad gave them theirs, I’d get some too because I was supposed to be keeping them out of trouble. Even early on, I was thinking that I probably didn’t want to have a kid because being a kid sucked and I didn’t want to inflict that on somebody else.
Do you ever feel judged for not wanting children? If so, by whom?
ERICH, 27: Most common judgment is that I’m “selfish” (i.e. just want to be promiscuous). Mostly from people who finished whatever schooling they finished and bought into the white picket fence routine of life and never considered there were alternatives.
ALAN, 53: Frequently—by (a) the media, who seem to regard breeding as a heroic act (b) by politicians, who are obsessed with “the family” and regard childless or childfree adults as “non-people,” (c) by the taxation and economic systems that discriminate against me, (d) by the advertising media that seem to assume everyone is a member of a “mum –dad – 2.3 kids nuclear family,” (e) by the occasional jealous breeder, and (f) by religious fanatics who regard sex when not utilized for procreation as against God’s directive.
JOSH, 36: Definitely. Most people think that I’m a selfish, irresponsible child-hater if I tell them that I don’t want kids. I have a selfish side, as everyone does, but I’m pretty responsible and do like some kids.
ANON, 26: From a random stranger, I have been judged, and from family misunderstood. Sometimes I’ve noticed that if a man does come out and says he doesn’t want to have kids, he can be negatively labeled. These labels can simply be [that a child-free guy is] a guy who likes to sleep around or a guy who is immature and possibly not responsible.
Whether reading men’s magazines or articles online, have you found much literature that represents, discusses, or explores child-free men (before DINKlife of course)?
ERICH, 27: I’ve found there are the occasional articles on fatherhood, and then what a vasectomy is all about once the fathers have had all the kids they want, but nothing for CF guys.
ALAN, 53: Very little. One can find a small amount online by specifically Googling an appropriate phrase, but few articles in hard copy or standard news sites seem to regard it as a viable subject.
ANON, 26: I honestly have not came across anything at all discussing a child-free lifestyle short of maybe one or two articles about men who are infertile or have some other complication that prevents them from having a child. Usually those articles deal with how they may cope or work around the issue, but I’d hardly call that child-free by choice.
PAUL, 44: I’ll have to admit that I’ve NEVER seen an article in any of the magazines I read (Men’s Journal, Men’s Health—which I’ve only been getting 4 months or so) or any of the outdoor magazines I receive. It’s disappointing, to say the least.
What’s it been like to try to find a partner as a child-free man?
ERICH, 27: Am not sure if I’ll ever marry, so I don’t even take an interest in someone until I know they’re child-free. My or her being child-free really hasn’t been an issue with anyone, and it hasn’t been difficult to find anyone. More and more of us all the time.
JOSH, 36: I’ve only been looking again for a few months, but so far I’d classify it as near-impossible.
ANON, 26: Sometimes the partners I would hit it off with would run for the door at the thought of being with a guy on his ranch when confronted with the prospect of no children. I had given up on finding someone till I accidentally met my current girlfriend.
E. CARROLL, 48: Actually, for me, it wasn’t too terribly hard to find a childfree partner. I’d never have seriously dated or married a woman that wanted or already had kids, and I’d always made that clear after a fairly short period of going out.
Imagine your life with a child (your child) in it. What’s the first word that comes to mind?
ERICH, 27: PRISON.
ALAN, 53: NOOOOOOOO!
JOSH, 36: Trapped.
ANON, 26: Panic.
PAUL, 44: Trapped.
E. CARROLL, 48: Miserable.
Is there anything that could change your mind about children? Like a great love of your life?
ERICH, 27: It would be the great love of my life that would make me glad I had a vasectomy.
ALAN, 53: I doubt there would be anything that could change my mind about not wishing to father or adopt children of my own.
JOSH, 36: No, and I’m sterilized, so it can’t happen accidentally, either.
ANON, 26: I’ll admit to being in one particular relationship where I became tempted by the prospect of having a child. Though, the whole time, I felt uncomfortable about it. It stemmed from feeling a bit pressured. The emotional high we all can get being in a new relationship played a big role, as well. Worry of being alone was a feeling that entered my mind, too. Once I sorted through all my feelings, it wasn’t that my choice had changed at all—it was because of the above factors. Down the line, the emotional high would have subsided, the feeling of being pressured would have settled into resentment, and the act of wanting to belong would have isolated me. Not wanting to be alone would have become just that, and I’m certain I would have regretted it.
PAUL, 44: Never. I would never have a kid at 44 years old, anyway. It’s ridiculous.
E. CARROLL, 48: No, my decision about reproducing is mine to make, and stems from reasons that are critically important to me. I want to hold on to what makes me *ME*, and anybody who would want to change that obviously doesn’t care about the real me, they just want me to fit in the idea they have in their head about what they think I should be like.
While these men and many others are certain they never want children, there are just as many men who fully intend to become parents when they find the right partner, the right adoption agency, the right timing, the right number of drinks … But, until that time, men of all types will probably continue to have their testicles scrutinized by strangers (figuratively speaking) who think they shouldn’t be “wasting” all that good sperm. And, as a child-free woman and a DINK, I have to say—awesome! Because we women would like to step back and hang out at the punch-and-brownies table while you figure out what to say to the “What? No kids?” questions, for a change. We really appreciate it.
—Photo by Stephen Sheffield