Why I don’t want to have children

I don’t want to have children. I never have. When I look into my future, motherhood isn’t something I desire or look forward to. I see myself surrounded by stone artefacts and prehistoric crania and books and papers and friends and the thought of that makes me impossibly happy. I know that motherhood brings many wonderful (and frustrating) things to many women – but personally, I just have no desire for it.

A conversation I had today with two other girls in class highlighted to me just how glad I was that I don’t want to become a mother. (Because hey, it’s so justified to have to choose between work and career, and if you want to work then just stick your children in childcare, and if you’re single or can’t afford childcare, then just don’t have children, for god’s sake.)

I don’t want to have children because we live in a society where motherhood is simultaneously fetishised and policed. Mothers are upheld as the epitome of womanhood – if you’re white and heterosexual and middle-class. Any woman who doesn’t want to have children is scorned as being selfish, or brushed off with a “oh, you’ll change your mind later.” And at the same time, motherhood is policed, especially for women who are non-heterosexual, non-white, have a disability, or come from the lower classes. Do this, don’t do that or you’ll automatically be classed as a bad parent. What do you mean, you sent  your child to a public school? How dare you let your child become “overweight!” Breastfeeding in public? How disgusting.

I don’t want to have children because women who take time off work to start or care for a family face significant and pervasive financial disadvantages over women who work continuously and especially over men. Despite mothers doing more paid work than ever, they are still doing the same amount of domestic work, which is still almost double the amount that men in two-parent families do (source). It’s not enough that women only earn eight-two cents to a man’s dollar (source): on average, women in Australia will manage to save 40% less superannuation than males (source) and 2007 figures showed that 59% of women will have no superannuation savings at all (source). Indeed, women are overrepresented in the numbers of retirees who rely solely on government pensions.

Why? Because women are still the primary carers for children in two-parents families (source) and caring for those children involves taking time off work, or working casually or part-time rather than full time. Because women who have taken time off work to have children often find it incredibly difficult to find employment again, as they are seen as unreliable. And of course, all that domestic work and caring work isn’t paid at all, unless you’re lucky enough to have a few months of paid parental leave from your employer, which many employees just don’t have the luxury of.

That’s just two-parent families though: and with a divorce rate at almost 45%, single parents are becoming ever more prevalent. 87% of single parents in Australia are mothers (source), and they are even more financially disadvantaged and socially stigmatised than families with two parents. And the blows just keep coming if you can count up any number of intersecting disadvantages: low socio-economic status, disability, ethnicity, youth, low education levels. A 2006 study has shown that young mothers especially are among the most disadvantaged groups in Australia and almost all rely on government financial support (source).

I don’t want to have children because motherhood still involves too much sacrifice. So many women don’t feel that they have a choice in whether or not to have children, because of pressure put on them by society (who doesn’t see them as proper women if they don’t) and often male partners, who just assume that because they can have both a career and a family, women can too. But it’s not that simple. For women who want to work while caring for children, formal childcare is not always an option, and not all families have non-parent carers available. How is it justified that women have to sacrifice so much and work so much harder to participate in both parenting and paid work?

I don’t want to have children because I don’t desire to have children. But when I look at how parenting is still predominantly mothering, and how mothers are marginalised and financially disadvantaged, I’m very, very relieved that I feel the way I do. Because I don’t want to be even more disadvantaged than I already am.

And it’s absolutely ridiculous to state that the sacrifices women have to make as mothers are in any way justified.

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12 thoughts on “Why I don’t want to have children

  1. My mother stopped working the day she fell pregnant 26 years ago and it makes her no less of a woman than any woman who works full time. Her family is her life and I am so blessed that I was born into such a wonderful family with this strong woman as its captain. She sacrificed her entire life to make mine and my brother’s life the most healthiest and love filled life the world has ever seen. She followed in the footsetps of her mother and her grandmother etc and you may wish to know not one generation as seen a divorce. I feel sorry for children who don’t have their mothers or fathers there for them every morning before school and every afternon after school. Don’t be so quick to judge women who CHOOSE to sacrifice their careers for children. I know, at least, that I wish to do this one day and don’t feel in any way less of a powerful or empowered woman but, in fact believe that, if you choose to have a family, it should come first. Love is worth much more than money at the end of the day. Family and close friends are all you have when everything else is stripped away.

    1. Hi Alice,

      With respect, I’d ask you to read my post again. It hurts that you think I am judging women who decide to have a family, because that is absolutely not what I want to do. I am not attacking your mother or your choice. On the contrary, I’m pointing out exactly how hard it is to be a mother in today’s society. And I have a lot of respect for women who raise families in difficult circumstances.

      But I will point out that not all mothers have stable circumstances, that not all mothers have stable partnerships, or manage to give their children everything they would like to. I’d respectfully ask you to check your privilege there.

      There is absolutely no doubt that a woman who forgoes a career to raise a family is not any less a woman. But my whole life I have experienced the oposite: that a woman who doesn’t want children is unwomanly, uncaring, selfish and ignorant. I do not believe that either. I don’t want to be told that I am less a woman because I don’t want a family. (And as a background note, I am also asexual and aromantic. Just as I don’t desire children, I don’t desire romantic or sexual relationships.)

      I do not want a career because I care about the money, as you imply. I care about my career because I want it so badly. That’s why I’m studying for it. I love it to pieces, it challebges me and fascinates me and thrills me every day. To say that I put “love” behind money is downright innaccurate. My career is what I love, and I have many valuable, close friendships. I fail to see how the love of a mother for a child is the only love that is legitimate or worth anything.

      What I am saying with this post is that a career or a family should not have to be a choice women have to make. We need legislative and social frameworks that allow women to have families if they want to, careers if they want to, or to have both without being financially disadvantaged or socially stigmatised. Surely you don’t object to women being able to choose one without it being at the expense of the other?

  2. In eFEMeral #2, there’s a great piece by a writer who questions why no one asks someone why the *want* to have kids, but are always worried about people who say they *don’t* want to. Because bringing a child into the world is a big responsibility, yet everyone just thinks it’s alll good. This article of yours reminded me of it 🙂

    Great writing, yet again. Conclusion: never have a conversation with people who give you answers like that!

    ~ Emma

  3. If you want to have a child then yes, I believe you or your husband need to give up working for at least the seven years your child isn’t at school. A child shouldn’t be a side project you can place in daycare until you have finished your day at work; that is entirely selfish. You need to be number two and you need to be 100% selfless.

    I suggest people shouldn’t fall pregnant until they can guarantee this type of life for their child, that way there wouldn’t be women raising children in unstable circumstances; it is totally selfish to bring a child into this world knowing you can’t raise it in the most perfect way you can imagine (you should also know I don’t believe one can acidentally or unexpectantly fall pregnant: if you are having intercourse, even of the most protected kind, there is still not guarantee of not falling pregnant).

    I have nothing against single mothers or working mothers at all, I have many friends in this situation, but they have all managed to wait until they were at a postion where they could take years off work for one reason or another.

    1. Again, you need to check your privilege before judging other parents on the time and money they can put into their children. It is not always possible for children to have two parents. Sometimes children will be born into a two-parent family, but then something will happen. Divorce, chronic illness, disability, mental illness, death, loss of income, loss of home etc are all factors that you can have no control over. Not to mention queer or asexual people who want to have children.

      To say that all these groups of women (and men as well) just shouldn’t have children full stop is to deny them the right to choice as well. Just because they don’t conform to your idealised view of motherhood does not make mothers who work, mothers with illnesses, single mothers or any other mothers less capable or less loving parents. Your comments are extremely marginalising as well as being judgemental and plain mean. Please take a moment to think about all the women you are implying to be uncaring and selfish before you comment again. Not everyone is as privileged as the example you give.

  4. @K.Alice – I think that people who don’t have children shouldn’t make judgements about the way parents choose to raise their children. I have chronic illnesses and difficult circumstances that have made child care essential to my sons and my well being. There was no way to ensure that I would be well and that I could manage him without child care.
    Do you want to spend 24/7 with a child? They do require constant care and one person cannot provide all that a child needs.

    @Jo: I have been thinking about your post all day. I think it is fantastic that you are going to continue childless and focus on your career and love the life you live. If certain circumstances in my life had been different I believe I would have done the same thing.

    Children are wonderful – but babies are gross, smelly, noisy and above demanding, labour intensive creatures. Fortunately they grow up. I am so glad you are thinking about this. So many people don’t think and just breed.

    1. Thanks Delilah! I do admire the way you manage to look after yourself and your family despite setbacks.

      I think there is so much pressure out there on women to be successful -but then be willing to give it all up for a family once you get to a certain age. And that’s just not right. I don’t think that children should mean having to sacrifice everything else about your life! Which is why there needs to be so much.more support for mothers. And acceptance that children are just not on everyone’s radar, for the simple reason that just not everyone wants them!

  5. I am aware there are many people, for reasons that they cannot control, have faced problems with work/motherhood; sorry I didn’t mention them. Also, I never said anyone shouldn’t be allowed to have children, I suggested that they wait until a time that they are financially stable etc before they have children. I understand not everyone can be with their chilren 24/7 but it is my belief that every mother or father should strive to be able to do this becuase these are the family values I was raised with. I didn’t mean any harm and I honestly support your thoughts for more support for women and men who have reached unfortunate circumstances regarding mother/fatherhood that you raised earlier. I probably should have left my thoughts to myself to begin with, sorry.

  6. In an ideal world, K.Alice, everybody would like to be financially stable and healthy and able to devote that many years to full time child care. As I noted originally it is great that Jo is thinking about parenting or not instead of just breeding and dealing with it.

    Unfortunately we just have to do the best we can with what we are given. I am aiming for full health and energy so I can be a better parent and partner, yet even when I have much more energy than I have now I will still use child care because I need time to be alone and peaceful without the incessant demands of a two year old who is quiet only when getting up to mischief or asleep.

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