Childfree: Is Parenting The “Right” Thing To Do?

Do you remember a time when left-handedness was illegal?

I don’t. But it was.

Times have changed in this regard and I, for one, am thankful for that.

Left-Handed Stigma

Left-handers were unfairly stigmatized for centuries. They were assumed to have a physical malfunction; to be clumsy, unlucky, and even sinister. Lefties were “wrong” and many were forced (by abuse and shame) into right-handedness by their parents and teachers.

Fun fact: Sinister is the Latin word for left-handed.

But does is really matter if you write with your left or right hand, as long as you can write? The end result is the same.

I’m pointing out this historical bias as an analogy. The stigma against left-handedness seems ridiculous today, and my hope is that soon we’ll look back on the bias against the childfree in the same way.

left (3)

 

Do you remember a time when birth control was illegal?

I don’t. But it was.

Times have changed in this regard and I, for one, am thankful for that.

Child-free Stigma

Being a non-parent makes you different from the societal norm. But does it make you wrong? Does opting out of parenthood make you sinister?

There is undoubtedly a bias against those who choose not to raise children. The childfree-by-choice are often unfairly assumed to be selfish, shallow, and self-absorbed.
(Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed by Meghan Daum)

In her book, Complete Without Kids: An Insider’s Guide To Childfree Living By Choice or By Chance, Ellen L. Walker, PhD writes:

“I recognized that childfree adults face a unique set of problems simply due to living in a family-focused society, somewhat like being left-handed in a right-handed world.”

Being left-handed isn’t wrong, but we live in a right-handed world. Being a non-parent isn’t wrong, but we live in a world of parents.

The Wrong Thing

Because childfree is commonly perceived as “wrong” in our culture, some people inclined to childlessness have felt obligated to do the “right” thing and procreate. Many others are still working to resist active pronatalist pressure from family, friends, and the society at large.

But does is really matter if you have kids or not? What is the end goal we’re hoping for?

The Right Thing

Cultural influence wants us to believe that parenting is the right thing to do; the key to happiness and fulfillment.

That is simply not true.

Robin Simon, a sociology professor at Florida State University says her research on parenting and happiness indicates that parents “experience lower levels of emotional well-being, less frequent positive emotions and more frequent negative emotions than their childless peers. In fact, no group of parents – married, single, step, or even empty nest – reported significantly greater emotional well-being that people who never had children. It’s such a counter-intuitive finding because we have these cultural beliefs that children are the key to happiness and a healthy life, and they’re not.” (Why Have Kids? by Jessica Valenti)

Forced To Convert

Forcing a left-hand dominant person to go against their natural inclination is harmful. Studies show handedness conversion stunts a person’s true potential. Adapting can be difficult and result in myriad negative side effects including stuttering, poor concentration, and reading difficulties.

Fun Fact: King George VI (The King’s Speech) was forced to covert to right-handedness in childhood. It is said this likely contributed to his infamous speech impediment.

Similarly, forcing a non-parent who would prefer not to raise a child to go against their natural inclination is harmful. Having a child when desiring to be childfree can stunt a person’s (and their child’s) true potential. Adapting can be difficult and result in myriad negative side effects including depression, resentment, and abuse.

childfree
Huge Strides

With research and education about handedness, lefties have been redeemed. Even said to be creative geniuses!

People fear what they don’t understand and judge what they fear. Left-handedness in the past is much like childfree-by-choice in the present. Not widely understood, therefore feared, and therefore misjudged.

Huge strides have already been made in bringing about the understanding that those who choose not to parent are not wrong, not bad. Pioneers of the childfree movement are to thank for that!

Ladies like Ellen Peck, founder of the National Organization of Non-Parents and author of The Baby Trap (1972). And Marcia Drut-Davis, author of Confessions of a Childfree Woman who bravely announced her decision to be childfree on an episode of 60 Minutes in the seventies. They have helped get us where we are today.

One Day

One day, being childfree will be widely accepted as normal. While it will be more common to be a parent, non-parents will not be looked down on, not thought of as less than.

We have a ways to go, but we are well on our way to that “one day”!

In her book, The Baby Matrix, Laura Carroll says of parenthood and non-parenthood:

“Either choice is equally legitimate and is equally acceptable and respectable.”

Support and resources for the childfree choice, like Carroll’s book and even this blog, are becoming more and more prevalent. Understanding of what it means to be childfree by choice has been increasing for decades and shows no sign of slowing down.

Therefore, we can confidently look forward to a day free of fear and judgment around the childfree life. The day when parenthood and non-parenthood are both considered legitimate, acceptable, and respectable “right” choices.


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