Every childfree adult can tell their own unique story about how they ended up not having kids. Just last night at a dinner gathering, I met Gary, a 60-year-old man who never married or had kids. He opened right up about his experience, saying simply that he’d never met the right person to settle down and start a family with. Yet he expressed no sense of loss or disappointment at this. Gary seemed to be an extremely independent man who looks younger than his years and is financially and professionally secure with few encumbrances at this stage in his life.
My sense, based on my own observations and experience as a psychologist as well as what I’ve read in the media, is that men have an easier time emotionally not fitting into the expected roles of father and husband. Take a look at this recent article on how childfree women are often viewed as outcasts. This story comes out of New Zealand, but I’ve read similar press from the UK as well as North America.
I too have felt that others view me as somehow flawed because I’m not a mother. When I told one friend about my book, Complete Without Kids, he responded by saying that I probably wouldn’t have been a good mother. I was both offended and hurt by his comment, because I happen to believe that I would have been a wonderful mother. His remark seemed particularly odd to me because of the many mothers I see in my psychology practice who had children, often without any planning for them, and are truly lousy mothers.
At other times I’m criticized by other women -- and they all happen to be moms. They accuse me of being a workaholic who is overly-invested in my career. The women who make these remarks all took time away from their careers to raise children and then worked part-time once they did return to work. They seem to lack the understanding that their role as a mom is a second fulltime job in terms of hours spent, so if I happen to see two or three more hours of clients a day than they do, this still adds up to less time “working.” It’s also likely that I’d have more emotional energy each morning upon arriving to the office, because my evenings are focused fully on my own rejuvenation as opposed to having to take care of dependents.
As for feeling like a misfit for not fitting into the mom club, things have improved as I’ve moved into my fifties and most of my peers’ children are leaving the nest. Of course, there’s the “grandmother” phenomenon, but this is not as engrossing as children at home seem to be. I’ve worked fulltime in my career for almost thirty years now, so my personal explorations for the next chapter in life is coinciding with the same search by mothers who are now in the empty nest phase and trying to find themselves.
I’ve accepted the fact that, in many respects, I truly am a misfit when in a group of other women. Four out of five women become mothers, but the trend towards being childfree is on the rise. For now, it’s helpful to simply accept that I’m not taking the same path as most other women, and that this is okay.
Photo courtesy Flickr user Georgie Pauwels (creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)
Ellen Walker, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and the author of Complete Without Kids: An Insider's Guide to Childfree Living By Choice Or By Chance.