Welcome to ask a child-free person, the blog where I, a child-free person who studies motherhood for a living, negotiate common conflicts that arise between the parented and the child-free.
Families are complicated. I have always loved my family dearly, but I know I started getting along with them much better when I was old enough to drink wine at holidays.
The thing about families is that they don’t always share the same preferences or perspectives, but often love one another fiercely despite this. Maybe I’m naïve, but I believe your family probably cares desperately about your happiness, even when what they think will make you happy isn’t what you want.
This brings me to the topic of how to tell your family you plan on being permanently child-free.
Close family members (like your parents and grandparents) most likely love you a great deal. Childrearing, therefore, is something with which they may well have many positive associations. They may remember the profound joy of watching you do something like take your first steps, or graduate high school. And you know what? Those probably are wonderful experiences, but they aren’t experiences everyone wants to have.
So how do you tell your family that you are actively choosing not to do something they spent so much of their lives doing – and probably doing FOR YOU? The answer is that you have to do so decisively, and you may have to do it several times.
Start by being proactive. Don’t wait for one of those questions awkward questions at a holiday dinner party like, “So, when are you going to put a baby in that belly?” Because, at that point, there’s a good chance you’ll already feel on the defensive.
I believe it’s better to control the conversation as much as you can. Choose your moment. Perhaps you could bring it up at the end of a nice lunch, or during a relaxing walk in the park. If you are so inclined, you might find it easier to bring it up over a bottle of vino. In my experience, most conversations go better that way.
Not only may you find it useful to choose your moment wisely and deliberately, but you should probably think about how you want to word it. You might say something like, “So mom/dad/grandma/aunt Ida, I have put a lot of thought into what makes me happy. While I know many people love being parents, I think being one isn’t for me.”
Your family may respond to your announcement with questions, like “Why?” or “Do you think you might change your mind?” If you feel comfortable, you can answer these. Of course, you could have decided against parenthood for any number of reasons, from wanting to have as much time as possible to focus on your career, to having a desire to travel at a moment’s notice.
While the why of “why you don’t want kids” can be very personal, explaining it could help persuade your relatives that you have thought this decision through and are serious about your lifestyle choice to be child-free forever.
Whatever happens, don’t let your family make you feel that your reasons for not having kids aren’t valid. You have no obligation to society to be a parent.
If they start to lecture about how you’re missing out on all the “joys” of parenting by forgoing kids, you should let them know – without being condescending – that they might be projecting. Let your family know that your decision not to have kids doesn’t mean you think they made the wrong choice by choosing to be parents. Just because kids made them happy doesn’t mean that would be the case for you.
Believing that being a parent would not bring you the kind of joy you want in no way negates the very real joy many parents derive from child-rearing. Let your family know that you’re happy they get so much out of parenting, but that for you, activities such as mountain climbing, writing novels, or just watching Netflix in peace sound more appealing.
If your family are still confused, I would resort to my secret weapon…analogies! I find the persuasive power of analogies quite profound. For example, you could ask them, “Do you think everyone in the world would be happy doing the same job? Some people love being brain surgeons and some people would never want to be one in a million years. Similarly, just like some people love being parents, that work isn’t for everyone, and it’s not for me.”
Finally, your family might take some time to accept your choice even after you’ve explained it once as best you can. We live in an intensely pro-natalist society where women who don’t want children are told they’ll “change their minds,” and no one is more beloved than a celebrity with a baby bump.
While it sucks that your family might have bought into the idea that every woman should want kids, the truth is that many people have. It might take several reminders that you are not going to change your mind before they ultimately accept this as truth. However, you shouldn’t let your confidence about wanting to be child-free waver just because your family are making things awkward.
At the end of the day, when it comes to having kids, you have to do YOU. Not your mom or dad or grandparent. So, why not let them know that?
Sarah Sahagian is a PhD candidate in Gender, Feminist and Women’s Studies at York U, where her academic specialty is motherhood. Her writing has appeared in The Huffington Post, xoJane, & The Beaverton. When she’s not writing her dissertation, Sarah reads a lot of novels about other angsty young women, streams a lot of Netflix, and tweets about topics ranging from reproductive rights to who’s going to win The Bachelor.