Dialogue: Child-free are society's selfless philosophers

The politically correct term for those voluntarily without children is child-free, which is preferable to childless since these people do not feel inferior (or less) in any way at all.

Rather, they are comfortable with their decision and believe it to be a smart one.

What's really interesting is that the child-free demonstrate an interest in and commitment to their lifestyle option that would put many child-full couples to shame.

Those who opt not to have children have clearly devoted a lot of thought and time to their decision. They did not make it on the spur of the moment.

Books such as Will you be Mother?, The Baby Trap and Mother's Day is Over explore the theme of being child-free. There is even a support group called the British Organisation of Non-parents.

Some websites are simply designated child-free zones, while others have logos which incorporate an outline of a baby in a circle with a red, diagonal slash across it. No prizes for guessing what topic they are about.

The child-free certainly seem to be a philosophical and organised bunch. But I guess they need to be. After all, how often is the question put to parents: "Why did you have children?"

In contrast, those without children are frequently asked to defend their choice. And defend it they do - compellingly.

They deftly turn around the age-old accusation of selfishness that is frequently hurled at people without children, and argue that, in fact, it is the act of having children which is truly self-indulgent and egocentric.

After all, some people admit that they have children to look after them in their old age or to carry on a family name or business.

For some people children represent the chance to experience unconditional love, gain status, prestige or respect, or the opportunity to rise to a new challenge.

Those who are bored or unfulfilled look to children to validate their own existence, to relieve a dull life or an uninspiring career.

And we have all heard of couples who have children to patch an ailing relationship - or conversely, to celebrate a healthy partnership.

These days babies have added appeal as the latest designer accessory, thanks to the likes of Madonna, Kate Winslet and Catherine Zeta Jones.

Even worse, children can be viewed as marital hostages - especially by non-working women. They are a powerful weapon in any divorce settlement. Every former-wife-to-be should have one.

Despite the diversity of reasons for becoming a parent, there appears to be one common denominator. It is usually more about meeting the needs of the parents than those of the child.

In contrast, the child-free are more public-spirited and outward-looking. They cite issues such as world overpopulation and concern for the environment as their motivations.

Or they may frankly admit that they might not be up to the role of parenting, and thus they responsibly choose not to inflict their inadequate skills on a child.

Some want to devote their lives to good works or to the community, which may include helping other people's children.

Some child-free people even touch on such existential notions as whether they have a moral right to bring another human being into the world.

The child-free must remain focused in the face of various social, family and religious pressures to conform. Even biological forces come into play, with talk of some mythical maternal instinct, a primitive drive to have babies.

Women are widely considered to be unnatural if they are not feeling clucky.

There is a general sense of inescapability, a popular belief that it is our collective destiny to have children.

Casual comments such as "Wait until you have kids" or "It's your turn next" are just part of the conspiracy.

How many times is the question, "Do you have children?" used as a potential ice-breaker at social functions? And how often does the embryonic conversation fizzle out once the answer is negative?

Isn't it ironic that to remain child-free, a person must be singularly committed to their beliefs, and staunch in their determination - day after day, year after year - to not have a child, yet just a single impulse, a fleeting whim, to have a baby can make a parent out of almost anyone?

In an ideal world, it would be the other way around.

* Shelley Bridgeman is an Auckland writer.

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a1 at 30 Jul 2014 10:23:15 Processing Time: 255ms