Why women are opting out of having children

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Sometime when I was around 25, I went on vacation with my parents. There was another family in town, friends of my parents who I have known my entire life.

Their son had recently gotten married and his father wanted to know when I would be getting married, and have children too. I guess getting to the altar is a competitive sport. That, or the sheep-logic was that since his son had done it, I should therefore do it, too?

Anyway, I wasn’t dating anyone I was serious about and not in a relationship, nor at the time did I want to be. I was in “me” phase. Thinking of marriage without a marriageable man in tow was a bit of putting the cart before the horse, wasn’t it? And why was he asking anyway? “When are you getting married?” is a legitimate question when you are engaged. At any other time, it’s just awkward and rude, but maybe that’s the point.

The decision to remain childless

But since he had asked about marriage and kids (where I’m from, always in that order) in a room full of people and they were all looking at me for an answer, I started with a reply to the latter part of the question, the one about kids.

“Oh, I don’t want to have kids.” And even if I did, I had no husband, and I would need one of those to even consider the possibility.

He sputtered. His wife looked taken aback. Their son looked like his mom, and his wife kept a poker face. My father sipped his drink. My mother apologized for me. “Oh, I’m sure she’ll change her mind,” she said to the room.

Clearly, I’d given the “wrong” answer, but as it turns out, a lot of women are giving a version of that answer these days. A recent issue of Time magazine investigates this in its cover story, The Childfree Life: When having it all means not having children. This article reports on the decreasing birthrate in the U.S., currently “the lowest in recorded American history.” The story quotes a 2010 Pew Research report that revealed, across all racial and ethnic groups, women are opting out of having children.

Is remaining childless selfish?

The reasons for not having children vary from just a plain ol’ lack of a desire, to women avoiding society’s unrealistic expectations of motherhood, to women and families being ill-equipped or unable to afford children. Some individuals do not want to adjust a lifestyle to incorporate children.

And for this choice, couples, and women especially, have been attacked with the common refrain that they are “selfish.” Time particularly notes the perspective of Jonathan V. Last, author of What to Expect When No One’s Expecting. Last believes the selfishness of the childless American “endangers our economic future by reducing the number of consumers and taxpayers.”

I’ve heard my fair share of “selfishness” accusations over the years, because of my stance on birthing babies, and one thing I’ve always wondered is why anyone would want someone who doesn’t want children to have them?

Having no children: An American right

Choosing to have a child is a major investment of time and finances. It is life-altering. It is not a decision to be taken lightly, or be pressured into. It’s not like you can send the child back once she or he is here because you’re not up for the job. If you’re not completely on-board, pro-kid, you’re doing yourself, the hypothetical child and your society a huge disservice.

Ironically, Last accuses others of selfishness without recognizing just how completely selfish (and invasive) it is to make demands on people he does not know, and who he will provide zero financial assistance or child care for. How selfish (and entitled) can Last, and those who think like him, possibly be to think they have the right to tell any woman what she should be doing with her own womb?

Birth rates may be down because that is how some women and men want to live their lives. The right to live your life in your own way is still a primary right.

Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life.