Are There Disadvantages to Being Childfree?

The pros and cons of being a parent

Posted May 16, 2011

It might seem odd for me, a childfree woman who has written on and spoken out about the positives of life without kids, to ponder the disadvantages of this option. But if you are exploring such a huge life choice, it's just as critical to have a full awareness of its downsides as it is to know about the benefits.

Being a misfit among ones peers

Sometimes I look around at a social or work gathering and I'm keenly aware of being the only one in the group who isn't a parent. This can feel truly lonely, especially during the holidays when people begin to talk about how excited they are to have their young adult children home for a visit or when I hear a woman my age discussing the fun of helping to plan her daughter's wedding. Just this weekend, my neighbor mentioned that her daughter is pregnant, with the baby coming in July. After she left, it dawned on me that she and I are the same age, and I wondered what it would be like to be on the verge of becoming a grandparent!! Sometimes when I realize that I will never share these kinds of common life experiences with the majority of my peers, I truly feel like a misfit.

Taking the journey of life along a road less traveled requires creative planning. For example, I've made a special effort to create my own traditions and activities for holidays, and these usually are centered on friends who, like myself, are childfree, or those who are far from family. Some of my favorites at Christmas time are going out to a local farm to select the perfect tree and making rack of lamb with my favorite escalloped potato recipe. All through the year when at social gatherings where childfree folks are rare, I make a concerted effort to visit with people who I know have rich and varied interests outside of their roles as a parent. This can prove to be a challenge, especially with women who are stay-at-home moms. Even for many women who work part-time, their roles outside of being a parent are secondary and not what they prefer to chat about. I have little in common with many of these women-plus I sense that I'm perceived as a bit of an oddity to them, a woman who works fulltime and is not a mother.  The sad thing for me is that those women who do both—have fulltime careers and also raise children—are the ones whom I'd like to befriend, but they don't have much time for girlfriends, especially those of us with whom they can't combine children activities and visiting.

Increased need for social support

I interviewed a childfree man who told me about a time last year when he fell and injured his back. He had no one other than his secretary to come to his home to help him out during his recovery period. Childfree adults tend to be fiercely individualistic and also independent. This works out well for the most part, but it's important to have established close ties for times of need. Parents tend to do this naturally, because they need to have people in their lives who can help with babysitting and other childcare tasks. I've also observed that if a parent is in need, there's more of a rush to help out, simply because an innocent, dependent child is involved.

Needing to plan one's estate more carefully

I never gave much thought to this until a couple of years ago when a friend began to talk about leaving her journals to her daughter, and I realized that I didn't have anyone to leave many of my personal belongings to. Since that time, I've written a will, and I've established a scholarship fund with my alma mater. It's sad to think that much of what I hold near and dear will not mean much to anyone, but hey, that's probably the case, even with parents.

Too much free time

Childrearing takes a lot of time—analysts have found that it takes eight hours a day to parent two children. So, what does the childfree adult do with all of this free time? When interviewing adults without kids for my book, I expected to find that people were bored with too much time on their hands, but this was simply not the case. These childfree adults were busy with hobbies, careers, and personal relationships, plus they had more time for healthy meal preparation, exercise, and sleep.

Need to identify meaning in life

Ask most parents to list four words that best describe themselves, and Mother or Father is likely to be towards the top of the list. This role of parent is central, both because of the amount of time it takes and also the emotional energy expended. So, if you don't have this role, considered by many to be central in an adult's life, how do you identify yourself? For me, becoming an author and spokesperson for childfree issues has become an important part of my life. I also spend considerable time honing my culinary skills and enjoying my pets. If you don't have children, you may too find it important to develop passions that take substantial time and emotional energy and that become key in your self-perception and identity.

When exploring the choice of whether or not to become a parent, it's critical to objectively look at all aspects of each decision, positive and negative, prior to settling on your final life decision.