Reflections on Choosing a Childfree life.
“No children?” Emilio asked them one evening, to his own surprise.
“Nope. Turned out, we don’t breed well in captivity,” George said, unembarrassed.”
― Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow
My life’s first memory is of missing my parents. Maybe that is why I decided to not have children. Or maybe because everyone else expected me to have them. Or maybe because I am selfish. Or maybe because I wanted freedom above all else.
Whatever the real reason, being Childfree in your forties puts you into an exclusive minority. This is further skewed by being exclusively a man’s point of view on the matter. All those men who are at the crossroads of this step might find some of this hindsight a useful fuel for making up your own minds.
Let's ponder its consequences.
I am a healthy, well-educated man in my late forties. I am happily married to my soul mate for the last 20 years who is also in her mid-forties and we have no intentions of either having or adopting children.
Being Childfree puts me in the 20% club.
We live in the Netherlands and In March 2017, Trouw reported that a new Statistics Netherlands report showed that 22% of higher educated 45-year-old men were childless. This is similar to a 2019 study amongst 191 Swedish men aged 20 to 50, 20.4% were not fathers and did not want to have children in the future either. These numbers differ across countries but the 80:20 ratio seems to be consistent in most countries that I have seen data about. Another consistent finding that came through in all analyses: older parents with minor children still at home are less happy than their empty nest contemporaries by about 5 or 6 percentage points. Again a validation for why I chose this way of life.
I was warned when I was contemplating this child-free path in my 20’s by my mother that it would lead to an unhappy, unfulfilled life. I was warned that I would miss out on being a dad but I still chose it. I was told that being a successful man meant being a father. But I did not listen.
Time to take an honest stock.
- I did not like being a kid to my parents. My parents got married in their forties. Both of them had decided to stay single and then they met each other and changed their minds. A year later I popped out. So there I was a puppy in the lap of 2 reluctant middle-aged parents, that did not have a clue how to parent. So I got the `adult’ treatment from the get-go. That meant high discipline and low hugs. That meant less time for being a kid and a lot more time being passed around from uncles to grandparents to friends while the parents went back to be working adults, a role that they knew best. They seemed happier working than being parents. We (me and my brother)were always a chore and a tool to teach an adult lesson or a spotlight to show off what we had recently learned. All this baton passing leaves its scar tissue into adult life. I grew up not really seeing the point of being a parent. It was a bit of a relief, to be honest. I knew one thing that I did not have to prepare or look forward to. Thus leaving me other cool stuff to get busy imagining.
- Fate struck in the same spot twice when my father died when I was 11. That kind of happening can zap the zest out of an 11-year-old kid budding to be a man. I felt abandoned. That added to the distaste of parenting like too much salt in your favorite pasta. It felt like a lightning strike on my young stem. The branch that grew from that spot wanted to be independent above all else. Parenting was a mistake in my books. It left kids with zero control and too much responsibility. I was convinced that there was no correlation between growing up and raising a family. It was too risky to raise kids.
- Life has a way of manifesting what you imagine. My wife was like me. Offspring of a highly fractious home where the parents were at each other's throats all the time. An unhappy childhood also scars you to see the lack of need to be a parent than the benefits. We together saw little fun in raising kids and more adventure in being a couple that explored the world together.
Twenty years later I have no regrets about the decision we made to remain childfree. There are a few lessons that bear pointing out that do feel pertinent to state.
- Too much freedom: The child-free life has a lot of freedom. Maybe too much sometimes. You don't have to make time for children. All the time is dedicated to us and what we care about. This extra time has to be managed carefully. It must be invested in the relationship. It must be invested in things you both care about. In love for each other and deep attachment to the needs of each other. Otherwise, the relationship can veer off course into over obsession for individual careers. This can cause some periods of loneliness and loss of intimacy for each other.
- Living life without roots: We are modern gypsies. We live in one place for a few years and then move to another for work or lifestyle reasons. We decide where we want to go and what we want to own. We don’t worry about saving for the next generation. We travel a lot around the world and don’t spend that much time worrying about being rooted in one place. We have saved up enough money for our retirement and old age to make sure that we can take care of each other as we age.
- Make sure you marry your best friend. I was lucky that my wife and I are also best friends. We love doing everything together. We have similar interests and hobbies and we truly enjoy each other's company. This also means we have to watch out for each other's weaknesses. Being child-free gives you the freedom to be child-like for each other.
Being childfree is freedom that needs to be balanced with a spouse that is truly a soul mate. This completes the picture for me. It gives me the innocence and excitement that is often found with having children. It gives me a reason to live outside of my own needs. It helps me be selfless, loving, and empathetic. I am no less happy than my friends who have kids. I am no less successful than those who have kids. I just have less to worry about. I would recommend this life to anyone who values independence and adventure for himself. Just find someone with who you can share it. Then go.