I'm always amazed at how different a journey people can have when travelling along the same path. Choosing to be childfree as a woman is a journey with no shortage of judgement, doubt, isolation and dismissal. My husband Phil experiences a journey filled with honesty, indifference and affirmation. He does still receive some of the same "you might change your mind" comments that all us childfree people do, par for the course you could say, but why are our experiences so drastically different? During one of our many evening walks (thanks quarantine!) I dove deep into the mind of my husband, finding a true perspective on his journey through this childfree life. I wanted to know why things were so different for men who are childfree compared to women. * Disclaimer: This is not the opinion or experience of all men. I'm sure many men have much different experiences, whether better or worse.
On Growing Up
During their formative years it seems men aren't directed towards parenting the same as females are. While little girls play with dolls and hear (what seem like innocent) comments such as "when you're a mommy one day..", little boys are being groomed to focus on their future career. Fatherhood is an inevitable end, but a career to support that family was the main focus. Men are encouraged to think about their job, their income and future earning potential. Phil never had anyone tell him "not to get any ideas" when interacting with a baby, or heard any jokes about having baby fever. Women are raised as if motherhood is the only possible outcome, where as for men it almost seems optional from the very beginning.
On Having Children
Albeit unintentionally, men take somewhat of a backseat to the decision of parenting. I'm sure most men would agree they’ve thought about leaving behind a legacy, carrying on that family name. My husband is the only son within his immediate family and agreed it did cross his mind, still the biggest motivator for actually having children is.. the wife. I specifically asked my husband if he ever really thought about having children and he admitted that he somewhat absentmindedly just strolled into it. It was the logical next step, and I wanted children. (yes, at a time this childfree advocate thought she wanted a baby) Okay, follow up question: why not just say "we aren't ready for a baby". Answer: How could I possibly say no to you on something like that? Within the Christian marriage, the man is the head of the household, except when it comes to reproducing. Why is a decision so important left almost exclusively up to the woman? Shouldn't becoming parents be not only a discussion between partners, but an intentional discussion in and of itself?
At parties I'm the weird girl awaiting any opportunity to discuss books, recent events or deep theological issues but much to my dismay the conversations take a turn pretty early on. Typically the women collect in the kitchen or sitting room and after a few minutes of polite chit chat conversation descends into diapers and breastfeeding and the difficulty of trying to get little Timmy to stop biting his sister. With motherhood being an all encompassing role, it leaves little to no time to focus on anything other than the tiny humans. My husband experiences these parties much differently than I. The men gather in the basement discussing their careers, sports, their latest home projects or recent adventures. When the crowd consists of multiple dads and someone mentions their children, it's often in relation to how their son performed at their latest hockey game. Children are involved in the story but it's still mostly about sports. It seems as though a man's identity isn't wrapped up in parenting like a woman. A woman is a mother, sometimes to a fault, where as fatherhood is just one more part of the man's existence, not the entirety of it. We talk about what brings us joy and what feeds our passion, so why do men not boast about potty training or teething or the struggles of raising girls the same way women do?
Every Monday morning my husband plays pick-up hockey, just a bunch of guys anywhere from their 20's to their 60's having a good time on the ice. One particular morning during some locker room conversation a friend of his made a comment that surprised him. He said "I love my kids more than anything, but if I could go back and do it over, I wouldn't have them". The funny thing is the most surprising part of this story is the fact that my husband has found himself in this very conversation with more than one man. Personally I've experienced women gripe about the struggles of motherhood for thirty minutes straight to follow it up with "but parenting is so great, you should have a baby!!". As if thirty minutes of complaining is a great sales pitch. Men on the other hand don't seem to be shy at all about the struggle and sacrifice that comes along with raising children, even to a point to say they may have done it differently if they'd known. This gentleman's comment was met with zero judgement yet I don't think those words would ever slip past a mother's lips regardless of how hard of a day she's had. Men have this non-judgemental circle of honesty that as a woman I long to experience. The only time I heard "don't have children" or "there's no rush" was coming from a man. What if next Tuesday at mommy group someone came out and admitted they might do it differently if they could do it over? Would she get banished for saying out loud what many may be thinking or would she be met with a sigh of relief.. finally someone said it.
On Moving Forward
I specifically asked my husband if he felt like he was missing out at all. A common feeling, being the only childfree woman amongst a group of moms, is a one of exclusion and isolation. If I miss anything it's just being able to join in on the conversation. I don't know what mastitis is and honestly don't want to, but I do want to be able to participate. My husband is able to share tales of adventure and freedom, being met with what seems like envy and awe from his male friends. Men longing to be able to golf just a little bit more, go out on vacation without the kids or even just come home and enjoy a cold glass of beer and a little bit of silence. The childfree man is the coolest of the group, but the childfree woman is the odd one out. He doesn't feel like he's missing out and it's not surprising that he doesn't. He was told to grow up, get a career and support his family and that's exactly what he's doing. His family might be a wife and two cats, but it's still a family and those cats want for nothing. I was told to grow up and have babies, but I'm instead raising cats and houseplants. My path going forward is hazy and undecided. What do I do if I'm not a mother? Will I actually miss out on anything? How do I make the most of this childfree choice?
Within our culture the role of father is not deemed essential for a man, yet as a woman motherhood is the sole purpose for existing. Female stars get put on baby watch and male stars receive accolades for dating another runway model. Maybe in twenty years being childfree for both men and women will be deemed an acceptable choice. A couple in their thirties with no children won't be outcasts or weirdos but accepted for their informed decision to not parent. I will always stand by the fact that parenting is a calling, and not a calling for everyone. Gloria Steinem was quoted in an interview saying "Someone said once that not everyone with vocal chords is an opera singer. And not everyone with a womb needs to be a mother"