Friday, November 1, 2019

How Being Childfree Makes Me a Happier Minimalist

I know this will probably be a controversial topic, but I just want to put it out there. I am childfree by choice, and I’m happy about it. I also think it makes it much easier to be a minimalist.

What does “childfree” mean?

If you haven’t heard the term before, it’s someone who makes a conscious decision to not have children. It’s also called voluntary childlessness.
It is not the same as “childless,” which means someone who wants to become a parent but has not or cannot.

Why did I decide to become childfree?

This was a decision I made long before I became a minimalist. I never had any urges to be a mother. For most of my 20s, I was in a relationship with someone who claimed to really want to have children. I was going to go along with it, but I realized at some point that he would not be a good father. So I told him that—it didn’t go over well. But just FYI, he immediately went on to marry someone else after we split up. It’s been 15+ years and he never had any kids with her, either. So I didn’t stop him from doing what he really wanted--it’s more likely he just thought he wanted it because that’s what people do.
Which is the crux of the matter. Any part of me that thought I wanted to have kids probably thought that was the case because everyone around me assumed that it’s what I wanted/should want. Once I was old enough to look at it objectively, I realized it wasn’t something I’m interested in at all.
There are a few reasons:
  • I have a lot of health problems, including a genetic condition I have a 50% chance of passing along to any children I have. It’s hard enough sometimes just taking care of myself. I doubt I would have the energy to raise a child.
  • I think there are enough people making babies already, and not enough of them have parents, or their parents don’t have enough to give them. I don’t want to add to the population problems.
  • Having children is a responsibility that should be taken seriously, and often comes at the expense of other things, like a social life independent of your child’s, or pursuing your life’s work. I don't want to make those sacrifices, nor would I want to neglect a child's needs.
  • Having children is expensive. In 2017, the Washington Post said that it costs an average of over $233,610 to care for a child from birth through age 17 in the U.S. That’s over $13,000 per year, and that does not include college tuition. I have a doctor friend. Once she had a second child, she and her husband were paying more for childcare each month than their mortgage payment on their house-- a house which cost them close to $1 million to buy. They (2 doctors) decided to move from the bay area in California back to her home state so they could get free childcare from her parents because even as doctors, they couldn’t afford to have kids and own a house.
  • In general, I know it will be stressful to have kids. Every single parent I know says it’s true, no matter how much they love their children. I have enough stress to manage already.

Does my husband want kids?

When I met Ryan, I told him right away that I didn’t want to have children. His response was that he would like to have children, but he’d rather be with the right woman than be with the wrong one just to have a child. We’ve been together over 14 years, and I check in with him every once in a while. He hasn’t said yet that he regrets his decision to be with me and not have kids.
I even said one time, “What if I told you I wanted to have kids right now?” He responded that it probably wouldn’t be a good time. I asked when he thought a good time would be and he said: “Probably never.”

Does this mean I hate children?

Absolutely not! I have a wonderful niece and nephew and a million little cousins. I love them all.
But I don’t want to be around them all the time. It isn’t relaxing for me. I’m very introverted, and I find interaction with children is often more draining for me than with a lot of adults. I usually have to take a nap after we get back from a kid-related party.

Maybe I’m just not a very nurturing person

When people imply this, I have many rebuttals:
  • I used to work in a pediatric surgery office. I would help the doctors in the patient rooms, assisting with procedures or just providing comfort to a child. I would then leave the room and bawl my eyes out over what some of those kids had to go through. To this day, I still get angry or upset anytime I hear about a child being mistreated or very sick.
  • I’ve worked with some of the sickest patients you can imagine. People with cancer, chronic pain, heart failure, and incurable lung disease. I’ve worked in nursing homes and cared for people in their homes. I’ve showered people and changed their diapers and fed them because they couldn’t do any of those things themselves.
  • I’m an animal lover. We’ve always had pets, and they’ve been our family. We’ve spent thousands of dollars on medical care for our pets. I’ve always been the one to give them medicine, and care for wounds, and sacrifice my personal space and comfort when needed.
  • I spent 10 years caring for my grandmother when she lost her eyesight, then her mobility, and had dementia.
  • I’ve spent more than half of my time since mid-2017 being my mom’s primary caregiver, and she moved in with us permanently in late 2018.
All these things were done by choice. I doubt someone who wasn't nurturing would voluntarily do any of those things.

What’s it like being a childfree minimalist?

I won’t lie, there’s good and bad to this situation. But the bad is primarily the result of other people’s beliefs.
For example, for many years I got the shifts at work that nobody wanted or was asked to work overtime because other people who could do the same job had kids and therefore received special dispensation. In one job, mothers were told to go ahead and stay home and not worry about it, because their kids were sick. Meanwhile, I had a temperature of 102 for a week and got guilt trips about it from the same supervisor.
I’ve also had people gasp at me and look at me like I was crazy when they asked if I was going to have kids and I said “No.” Then they asked me why not—as if that was any of their business to ask! I think the decision to have children is a very personal one, and it’s very rude to ask why (or why not) of someone you barely know. It’s also unfair to declare it’s unnatural for a person to not want to have a child. Especially a woman, since even in this “enlightened” age women are often expected to work, be the primary child-raiser and manage the household. The same expectations are rarely placed on men as often as women.
The one disadvantage I have not being a parent is when I have to watch someone else’s child, I feel a lot of anxiety about whether I’ll make the right choices about the child’s care. I feel like maybe a parent would have that added experience to make choices. I try to stick to common sense, but every parent has different beliefs about what should go on in their child’s life, and what I think is reasonable might not match up with their beliefs.
Otherwise, being childfree is great. I choose how I spend my free time. If I want to take a nap, I take one. If I want to go on a trip, I don’t worry about the child-appropriateness of the location. If I’m sick and want to lie in bed all day…the dog will still need to be taken care of. =)
It also makes our RV life much easier. I know there are lots of people with kids out there who RV, and that’s great. But I don’t want to be one of them.
As a minimalist, fewer people in the household means more simplicity. Most of the kids I know are not minimalists, and would probably not take well to that lifestyle. They would want the toys, activities, and lifestyle their friends had, and be resentful for not getting it.
But this is not to say that a minimalist lifestyle is not possible with children. Besides RVers with kids, I’ve also seen stories of families that house-sit together, with each of them having all their possessions in a personal suitcase.
Growing up, I had a lot of stuff. But I still remember some of my happiest times had little to do with the stuff. They were all about playing outside with my friends and our imaginations. Or taking family trips in the car and spending the day swimming and eating picnic lunches. Those memories are much fonder to me than ones where I was playing with toys.

Childfree or not, minimalism is the life for me

Before the current trend of having lots of possessions and filling one’s days with activities, the human race lived for a very long time with very little stuff. Most people had just enough to meet their needs and still lived very fulfilling lives.
I think the more we can return to a time of simplicity, the better our lives will become.