Recent high profile debates have centred on issues such as same-sex adoption, class sizes in schools and whether to allow people who kill or abuse their children the opportunity to have more.
Children are the common denominator in all these diverse and widely reported subjects, and it is little wonder that some people believe we inhabit a child-centric world that can make the childfree feel marginalised.
Childfree is the word used to describe people who voluntarily have no children. Because they've actively made a choice to not reproduce, childfree is a more apt description than childless which comes with its inherent implication that something or someone is missing from their lives. As far as the childfree are concerned, they're suffering no lack whatsoever - but rather have gained plenty in terms of independence, leisure time and financial freedom.
This phenomenon was explored in student Theresa Riley's University of Waikato thesis which developed into a book entitled Being Childfree in NZ: How couples who choose not to have children are perceived. Riley noted the presence of strong social norms for couples to have children and her research found that childfree people are commonly stereotyped as being anti-children and selfish.
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In fact, accusations of selfishness are fired from both sides of this particular debate. The childfree are deemed to be selfish if they don't want their nice, cosy lives disrupted by messy, demanding offspring while parents are considered selfish if they mindlessly choose to conform to society's conventions, create someone so they'll have a caregiver in old age or opt to manufacture a mini-me just to fill a vacuum in their lives.
There's plenty of support available for the childfree, to make them realise that they're not freaks of nature but simply part of a group of like-minded people all of whom have chosen for various reasons - from a focus on career or a fear of harming their relationship to a concern for the environment and an awareness of our planet's limited resources - to eschew procreation.
There are websites such as childfree.net for people who are "free of the loss of personal freedom, money, time and energy that having children requires" and thechildfreelife.com which offers a "safe haven in a baby-crazed world", as well as numerous blogs about childfree journeys. To connect with like-minded local people in a "social environment for childfree couples or singles who have never parented", visit nokidding.co.nz.
In a previous opinion piece entitled Child-free are society's selfless philosophers I pointed out the fact that (presuming you're sexually active and not infertile) remaining childfree takes unremitting dedication to the cause whereas becoming a parent can simply be the result of a drunken encounter, contraception failure or momentary lapse of judgement. I still think that's kind of weird.
What's your opinion? Is there too much pressure placed on people to become parents? Are you childfree and proud of it? How does society's widespread, persistent fixation on parenthood and children affect you?