22 Jun LONG READ: ON VOLUNTARY CHILDLESSNESS
It’s 2019 and voluntary childlessness is officially a thing. Objectively speaking, we should all breathe a sigh of relief that some people are actually working on striking a balance in our currently overpopulated and problem-saturated world but then, society has never been rational. So here we are. The world is awakening to a reality that’s not as black and white as society’s fixed standards. As it turns out, marriage and children are not exactly the recipe for happiness and more and more people are finding ways to be confident in their shades of grey, living life on their own terms.
Voluntary childlessness, also described by some as being childfree, is the voluntary choice to not have children. In most societies and for most of human history, choosing not to have children was both difficult and undesirable. Already, society shuns the childless woman whether or not her lack of children is her fault. Now, to consider that some choose to reject the traditional idea of motherhood is unheard of and puts them at a social disadvantage. Unfair notions and judgements hang over the heads of these women as many assume that they detest children, are simply selfish or miserly. In Africa, they suffer the worst kind of fate; the common assumption is that they are witches and at other times, they are addressed as “incomplete” women. Sadly, this is only scratching the surface; society’s gavel of judgement falls on everyone but the woman has always been hit first and hardest.
According to research, the social exclusion that women suffer (not to mention the never-ending litany against women and their rights), is the very reason that many are choosing to defy these statutory obligations and choose to be whatever they want. Think feminism, think girl-child advocacy and so on. The fact simply is, women are tired of being belittled and degraded while doing the bulk of the work and making all the sacrifices. Today’s modern woman is more confident to fight for her voice to be heard. She will defy every convention that has held her captive or proposes to dictate to her how to live her life. After so much, this is inevitable. However, other factors also come into play when deciding to be child-free. The cost of childcare and welfare is rising to staggering heights, raising a child demands a lot of sacrifice that quite frankly, could be diverted to other things, religious beliefs are also a factor and so on. It all comes down to a person’s choice. The issue is, no one should have to defend their choices.
“No work? “She’s so lazy.” Work? “Stay home and take care of the family.” No child. “Not a real woman.” Child. “Why did she start something she’s not ready for?” No money. “Liability”. Money. “The man is the provider. What is she looking for.” No class. “Illiterate”. Class. “Snob”. No ambition. “Waste.” Ambition. “She doesn’t know her place.”
As far as I’m confirmed, every woman is a mother because of her ability to nurture and bring to life magic, from her heart, with her hands, from her womb, by her patience, in her sacrifice.
So Happy Mother’s Day to you Queen ❤️”– Nigerian artiste Simi, for all women on Mother’s Day 2019.
In the same vein, voluntary childlessness tends more and more to be parallel to literacy and exposure. The Wall Street Journal newspaper reports that one quarter of Italian women never have children. In Switzerland and in Japan, people are also choosing to have fewer children. They have had fewer and fewer children since the 1970s. Apparently, the more educated a woman is, the more likely she is to have less children and often times, none. This makes sense when compared to the uneducated woman who is bound by her traditional statutes and so finds her self-worth in marriage and child-breeding. Unfortunately, she does not feel empowered enough to break free from age-old rules, to discover what power she has and how she as a nurturer, can give life to so much more. The woman who chooses to be childfree may not know the travails of tending to an infant but she is no less different for the intuition that sets her apart at work or the doggedness that keeps her awake poring over work files just as the mother who loses sleep over her teething toddler. They are one and the same. Nursing children, nursing ambitions; all women are mothers.
The woman who chooses to be childfree may not know the travails of tending to an infant but she is no less different for the intuition that sets her apart at work or the doggedness that keeps her awake poring over work files just as the mother who loses sleep over her teething toddler. They are one and the same.
On the other hand, statistics make a fair case against voluntary childlessness as the increasing rate of this practice is starting to have demographic consequences. Well, in developed countries. Voluntary childlessness is a dominant factor as regards keeping reproduction below the replacement level – Reportedly, the replacement level is averagely at two children per woman – which reduces the size of the future labour force, increases the number of the elderly and thereby increases old-age dependency ratios. In turn, this can lead to more programs to support the elderly, and a subsequent decline in support for education funding and other community programs for children. These demographic changes have far-reaching implications, especially as it concerns the domestic labour force, immigration levels, voting patterns, taxation, pension expenditures, education funding and health-care costs. Other arguments against this are the huge number of childless couples who have no offspring to care for them when they have debilitating health issues and can no longer work as opposed to aged parents who are able to raise more social support and have someone to care for them should these issues arise. Reports show that the current number of these dependants, is projected to quadruple over the next four decades. While this is not an individual challenge, it should be noted that society also has a penchant for accommodating its own excesses. Instead of examining why people-women, in this case- should be robbed of their rights to make decisions, there should already be contingencies in place to create the balance necessary for the society to keep thriving.
All of this said, the main issue remains that women are constantly picked on. No matter the age, qualification or status of a woman, she has always been told what to do, how to act and what to say. So,
to really debunk this unfair bias towards childlessness is to start from the beginning- the glorification of motherhood. Motherhood is seen as this perfect state of bliss and love; something almost ethereal. The phoniness in the way motherhood is portrayed in the media will actually make most mothers smirk in disbelief; they do not even convey half of the message. If anything, motherhood is hard. And most mothers, envy non-mothers who have more time and control over their lives. This is the unflattering truth. Factor in the joy that a child brings and some moments of intense love and pleasure here and there, and you have a balance. Well, almost. Unfortunately, this is not something that most mothers feel confident to share, paralysed by the popular opinion that they should feel lucky, blessed and happy at all times. Perhaps, even superior to the rest of their childless peers.
A woman does not automatically feel the urge to have children and neither does she secrete a baby-loving hormone. To be a woman is not synonymous to being a child breeder and the women who are opting to be childfree should be praised for their efforts to reclaim their freedom and change the perception that surrounds what women are and should be. Their strength paves way for other women who are embarrassed to express their displeasure at tending to children all day or those that are afraid to be alone and so put up with emotionally abusive husbands. In places where gender parity is more prominent, the idea of childless women is gaining more popularity, which shows that the more social relevance we gain as women, the more freedom we earn.
It should also be noted that more men are joining this not-so popular bandwagon. Recent studies show that millenials in general are getting married early and delaying childbirth in pursuit of other goals such as financial stability, career advancement and lifestyle choices. More than half of the people in this group never actually have kids. There have been arguments that society is not as hard on the man for childlessness as it is on the woman hence the man’s nonchalance but this is not yet proven to be true. What is true however is that society rejects an counter-normative behavior and childlessness either as a man or woman is heavily frowned upon. For this reason, it should be clear that childless adults are wrongly discriminated against for choosing to live above cultural stereotypes.
To be a woman is not synonymous to being a child breeder and the women who are opting to be child-free should be praised for their efforts to reclaim their freedom and change the perception that surrounds what women are and should be.
As many women are getting more enlightened, so are a large number of women becoming more jaded. Many succumb to social pressures, stay in unwanted relationships, suffer domestic violence and carry unwanted pregnancies. A significant number would also staunchly insist that they are not and do not want to be feminists. They are not aware that it is even possible to make this choice. The first step to progress is to push for a more equal society, one where the woman matters just as much as her male counterpart in every facet of society. The rhetoric of woman against woman has to change and perhaps women can start to see each other as allies, geared towards a common goal. The women with the strength and courage to decide whatever they want regardless of what is popular should go on and choose. We live in pivotal times. A decision made for one can save a generation.