For the childfree women
May 3, 2021 7:33 AM   Subscribe

What has been your experience as a woman without kids?

Today is my 32nd birthday and I’m feeling nostalgic, sentimental and retrospective, as one sometimes gets on birthdays.

Through a combination of choice and circumstance (you can see my post history for more details, if interested), I’m looking at embracing life as a childfree woman. I don’t have many models for this due to where/how I grew up.

Imagine, say, the rural Nebraska of Canada, where a specific type of constraining religion was prevalent that stated women’s sole purpose was to be (heterosexually) married and have babies. This makes it harder for me to envision an alternate life for myself. I’d really love to connect with other women who have made a similar choice/don’t have children.

I really want to add right off the bat that I understand voluntary childfreedom can look and especially feel very different from involuntary childlessness and infertility, that I am sensitive to these differences, and that I welcome both perspectives. My own story also blends elements of both experiences.

I could add that I’m married and have a cat, as other anecdata. Friendships are important to me, and I love books, travel, and history. I work at a museum where I do curatorial work and programming. I work with kids often and do get to tangentially be involved in teaching them things and helping them grow.

I consider myself career focused and would love to hear what your professional backgrounds are, as well as your personal stories, if you’re willing to share them.

I suppose my questions are the following:

- What has been your personal experience as a woman without kids?
- What is/has been meaningful to you as a woman without children?
- How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?
- How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?
- What have been your biggest joys? And biggest challenges?
- What advice would you give to someone fairly new to this path?

Thank you all so much in advance. ♥️
posted by oywiththepoodles to Human Relations (64 answers total) 66 users marked this as a favorite
Childfree 32 year old woman here. I also live in a heavily religious and conservative area of the country where motherhood at a young age is encouraged.

I don't actually think about it that much. I've never been very partial to kids and the ones my friends have are enough to scratch any "but maybe..." I might have. My parents had three kids by the time they were 23 and I didn't want that for myself. Every once in a while (when the hormones really make their presence known or around the holidays when I want to buy gifts for kids) I confirm that I don't want kids by reading the good 'ol ask metafilter posts about how people knew they wanted kids.

I work in tech as a technical pm. My partner and I have the opportunity, income, and stability to explore all the hobbies we have an interest in. We travel a lot. We have two lovely dogs. It's awesome.
posted by coldbabyshrimp at 8:08 AM on May 3, 2021 [8 favorites]

I'm in my early forties, and work at a university in a medium-sized city, for some context. The work I do is not exciting in and of itself but it is interesting, varied, and supports scientific research, which I find very meaningful. After an "I'm going to adopt twelve children" phase in childhood, I never wanted children. Later in life some personal life things happened that would have made having children an actively bad choice for me personally, had I been on the fence. My partner is a man who also never wanted children. So for us it is an active choice that has been reinforced by circumstance as the right one for us in our specific life together.

- What has been your personal experience as a woman without kids?

I don't quite know how to answer this as I don't particularly think of myself as "a woman without kids" but as a partner, a friend, a sister, a queer woman, a [profession], a hobbyist writer, a gardener, a daughter, a person who spoils her cats ridiculously, etc., etc. I don't have and don't want kids, don't think about that 99% of the time, very few people have ever pressured me to have kids, very few of my social circle have kids, none of my family members in my generation want kids - kids are pretty much just not part of my life. I do have one friend who is about to start trying to get pregnant, and I'm mildly apprehensive about how that will change our friendship, but I'm excited for her to move ahead with something I know she's been wanting for a long time, and I'm hopeful we'll figure out how to stay friends as her life changes.

- What is/has been meaningful to you as a woman without children?

The most meaningful thing in my life is making life easier/better for people I care about - both chosen and blood family. Giving a home and a good life to shelter cats is meaningful. Beyond that, my work is meaningful and consuming and creating creative works is meaningful. Beyond that, helping my community and trying nebulously to make the world better is meaningful, but my disability-related energy levels tend to wear out around that point, so most of my life's meaning is concentrated in the people and animals I love, in art, and in my work. I help my community more through monetary donations than actively participating in mutual aid projects, protesting, etc. and if I feel any gap in my life where I would do more meaningful things if I only had the resources/time/energy, that's where it is.

- How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?

The version of me who would have chosen motherhood is nearly impossible to imagine. She would have to have had a different body with different medical and mental health conditions, chosen a different partner, probably would have drifted into a different social group. It's hard to imagine what she might have been like. I spend much more time thinking about the version of me that stayed in her original career path, went to a different college, moved to a different city, or chose a different partner than I do about the one who might have had kids. Parenting doesn't feel like a 'road not taken' for me, it was never a serious consideration for me at all.

- How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?

I suppose this depends what you consider your peer group. I think of my peer group as people around my age who are queer and/or disabled, and I find myself very much like that peer group in most of the ways that matter to me. If we're zooming out to consider my peer group to be just people my age, the only place I meaningfully interact with the rest of that group is at work. And I've always kept work life and personal life quite distinct, so honestly I don't even know whether some of my coworkers have children. Some of them do, their kids seem great, I'm happy for them and hope they are happy with their lives, but having chosen different lives in this way doesn't feel like anything I need to deal with.

- What have been your biggest joys? And biggest challenges?

Hard to say - I find a great deal of joy in my relationship and my friendship and my cats and my garden; I wouldn't know how to rank them. I would say that my life is one of many small wonderful joys, rather than few big joys. I like it that way. My biggest challenges have been around disability and health.
posted by Stacey at 8:16 AM on May 3, 2021 [24 favorites]

Edited to mention my age: 48.

What has been your personal experience as a woman without kids?

Of all the things in my life that I've questioned, my decision not to have children has never been one of them. I've only ever felt relief, once the decision was fully made and implemented via tubal ligation.

What is/has been meaningful to you as a woman without children?

Making change in the world through my professions (librarian and educator). Performing music. Hiking and biking. Reading. Roleplaying. Being financially self-supporting.

How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?

So, here's where it gets personal. The man I married twenty-mumble years ago and divorced two years ago is a feckless, irresponsible nitwit. I accepted that when I shouldn't have -- that's on me -- but I did at least draw a firm line about having kids, because I knew full well that if we did it, I'd be the one doing 99.9% of the work.

Lots of things went wrong in our marriage, but kids would have made it infinitely worse. We'd probably have divorced a whole lot sooner, but considering the added complexities of a divorce with kids, I don't consider that an upside.

I'm not sure I'd have been able to retrain for my current careers when I did if we'd had kids. That would have been a tremendous loss; I think that even without knowledge of This Road I've Taken, I'd have been pretty unhappy about it.

As for finances -- ugh. I suspect I'd be in a lot of high-interest non-mortgage debt. Not sure we'd ever have managed to buy a house; even if we had, neither of us could have afforded it post-divorce. (I own it and am paying down an eight-year pay-him-off mortgage. I presently have about 2/3 equity in it.)

How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?

The occasional jerkfaced "you'll change your mind" comment aside, it hasn't been an issue. Those comments fell away to nothing once I hit 40 or so.

What have been your biggest joys? And biggest challenges?

Very much what anyone's are, minus children, I guess?

What advice would you give to someone fairly new to this path?

There's a solid literature, starting from the 1990s, about this path. I particularly recommend Bartlett's Will You Be Mother? It's rather more nuanced than some.

Also, "you'll change your mind" is a crock. Don't pay any attention to it.
posted by humbug at 8:24 AM on May 3, 2021 [8 favorites]

Childfree by choice 41 year old woman here.

- What has been your personal experience as a woman without kids?
I don't identify as, as Jenny Lewis says, "just another lady without a baby." I never wanted kids, I don't think about it that much, I actually am annoyed that society acts like I should think about it a lot.

- What is/has been meaningful to you as a woman without children?
My career - I have been very successful at my job and I am finally overcoming the hurdles that coming out of college during a recession, and living through another one in 2008, put in front of me. I own my own place, I pay my own bills, I can do basically whatever I want. I ran a theater for 8 years. I have an enormous and varied circle of friends.

- How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?
TBH I never imagined life as a mother. None of those fantasies appealed to me, even as a kid.

- How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?
Some of my friends have had kids and gone into full-blown heteronormative hiding - no activities with just adults, mom-wine culture, the whole works. Some of them have prioritized maintaining a non-parent identity and are still very good friends. I don't blame or dislike the women in the first group, but we don't talk as much and we certainly don't do things because all the "things" we could do revolve around their kids. I don't "deal" with this really because it's not about me? I let people live their lives. Everything is a season.

- What have been your biggest joys? And biggest challenges?
Running the theater, working with my big local convention to put together panels in my areas of expertise, and cultivating deep, meaningful friendships with similar women has been the BOMB. As for the bullshit, my ex's family didn't know how to understand someone who didn't want or have kids, and he was shit at setting boundaries about how I was treated by his family, so those relations were always strained. People randomly express that they feel sorry for me in weird ways (often passive aggressive ways). Certain women see my choices as a judgement on them, and there is nothing I can do about it, since I'm just living my life out here in the best way I can. I've been called selfish. I'm not super interested in being anyone's "aunty" which is the default role for childless women and people are also strangely offended by the fact that I'm not interested in anyone's kids, since they take that as disliking children (not to say I'm a jerk about it when people discuss their kids, but I don't think people's kids are the most interesting thing about them).

- What advice would you give to someone fairly new to this path?
Find out what you enjoy and spend your time cultivating community around those things. Meet as many people as you can. Widen your world as much as possible.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:31 AM on May 3, 2021 [22 favorites]

Best answer: I've known since I was fairly young, before puberty, that motherhood wasn't for me. The reasons at the time were simplistic and trauma-informed, but that certainty has only become deeper and more significant over time as I grasped different aspects of what a childfree life entails.
My personal views on happiness are all about freedom to pursue interests and experiences on a whim, and I feel that's fundamentally incompatible with the stability and reliability required to be a parent. But the social script for success is all about achieving milestones of stability and reliability (career, relationship, income, housing...) I spent my 20s chasing those things anyway, even though I don't need them to be happy, because it's the script and I didn't know what alternatives I wanted to pursue. If you live a life meant for parents without the child at the center of it, no wonder you feel like something is missing. Finding happiness in childlessness has meant letting go of a lot of feelings about those milestones and inventing new definitions for success.
It all clicked into place when I recentered freedom at the heart of my big life decisions. I married someone with compatible views and together we travel and move all the time, do fascinating work and take on new projects as they come, and we are gloriously happy. There's some pressure to "settle down", especially from parents, but they'll just have to die disappointed.
I find an incredible amount of inspiration, motivation and gratitude thinking about all the women through history who were shackled to undesired motherhood and domesticity and who dreamed of the kind of life I can live now. Doing it for my sisters!
posted by Freyja at 8:36 AM on May 3, 2021 [15 favorites]

I'm in my early 50s in a rural but not very conservative part of America. I never really thought I'd have kids--I had a not-great childhood and just never felt the pull. I'm partnered in an long-distance relationship. He has a grown kid with a serious mental health issue who lives with him. That kid has a mom and I am not her. I don't actually know if I would have been able to have kids but there was a chance I couldn't, so I had that handy if people wanted to be weird about it but they mostly haven't been. I travel a decent amount for work (or did before COVID) and it's been nice to have that freedom. And nothing at all personal to parents but I don't get along with most little kids. I mean they are fine but I find them unpredictable, loud, prone to fits of screaming or crying, and I can get emotionally flooded by them somewhat. A lot of this has to do with the parents and how they manage. There are a small group of younger children I like just fine and try to interact with.

To your questions specifically...

- What has been your personal experience as a woman without kids?

It's been fine and a non-issue only because I was SO SURE. And I also felt that if I changed my mind (which so many people would tell me I would) that I could adopt or foster or do something else. I just didn't worry about it. I sometimes think about who will get all my things, and me and my sister are the "last" of my family line, but eh....

- What is/has been meaningful to you as a woman without children?

I have money and I have flexibility that is important to me.

- How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?

I never imagined my life as a mother. My mother was not a great mother. She was a nice person, but not a great mother. I don't know if those two things are related.

- How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?

I am not different from large swaths of my peer group. Many people here don't have kids, for whatever reason. Some of this is because they have kids who are grown. Some of this is because they made choices not to have kids. Some of this is because they're younger. Some of this is because they did not make the choice and couldn't have kids. Having kids is more the norm but not having them isn't super weird.

- What have been your biggest joys? And biggest challenges?

As I said above, I feel like I've been able to 100% have a career this way. I can sleep when I want. I don't have to do things that aren't my choice in the name of setting decent examples for children. I eat what I want. I am really lucky in that my sister also doesn't have kids (slightly less by choice than me) so we are a family where no kids is normal. Challenges are that "family" stuff is often weird because we're the "youngest" in our side of the family in our 50s, so we're a little like the two elderly aunts trope. I am okay with this.

- What advice would you give to someone fairly new to this path?

Try to find a place to be (either literally geographically or some sub-group within where you are) where this is an okay way to be and you're not defending yourself all the time. Realize that social pressure to change your mind will ease off as you age which is super gratifying. And some people will never get it and you'll have to get to a place where you can make your peace with that, have a ready patter "Well I found I couldn't have children so I just decided to make my peace with it" or whatever you want to say but have it be true-ish and also simple.
posted by jessamyn at 8:36 AM on May 3, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I knew from as early as the age of eight I didn't want kids. Everyone told me I would change my mind, I'm now 52 post menopausal and still kid free. I have been lucky I guess friends and family always seemed cool with my decision, I know my mother would have loved me to have kids as she loved being a Grandmother, but she never bought it up in anything but light fun way. I am however Australia and from a very secular background with a liberal/hippy mother who marched for women's rights in her day so come from a place with a lot less expectations on me to conform.

What is and has been meaningful to me is my life experiences. Being present. Friends and family. My niece and nephew, I never thought I'd understand the parents POV on how much they love their children, but I can't see I'd love my own kids more than I love them. I would without a moments hesitation step in front of a bus to save them, they are my heart walking around in human form, they will never really get that, and that's hard, aunts and uncles don't get thought of that way by the world which is a bummer.

I was different from my peers for so much of my life that childlessness doesn't even factor in to my differences. I just thought I was the weirdo until I hit my forties and finally met other weirdos like me. Go make friends like you, you might have to fight to find them, or move countries like I did or whatever, but go find your tribe, seriously it will make all the difference.

My biggest joys. Travelling the world, meeting my now husband, jumping out of planes and off of cliffs and trying new things. Reading great books, seeing the art. Every decade I sit down and write a bucket list for the next decade. Funny thing is when I turned fifty and sat down to do it I realise I'd done all the things I'd wanted to, 20 year old me had a huge long 100 item list. I could barely scrape up 10 things (though have sat down and found a bunch more I had a lot of thinking time during lock down) because I did them all. I fucking had a great and full life and hopefully in another fifty years when I die I can say, hey I did all the things I wanted to, it's just that having kids was never a thing I wanted to do.

My advice to someone new on this path. It's OK to grieve for what you didn't have. It's OK to make a choice, know it's the right one for you and still have days where you go what if things were different, to wonder and grieve. When I found out I was going through menopause I cried for days. I never wanted kids, but loosing the chance to have them was a pain I wasn't expecting.

PS Happy Birthday.
posted by wwax at 8:47 AM on May 3, 2021 [10 favorites]

- What has been your personal experience as a woman without kids?
I knew I'd never have children very early on. I am 50 and the oldest of four girls and there is a huge age gap between us. I spent much of my early years being a surrogate mom to my sisters, and while I adore each of them, it was hugely stressful to have so much responsibility at such a young age. (I was making formula and changing diapers at 9). So for me, the personal experience has been incredibly freeing. In my circle, my three closest friends are also childless women and that makes for a strong bond (and great travel partners!)

- What is/has been meaningful to you as a woman without children?
My career, faith, volunteer work and time with my nieces and nephews ... who are great kids.

- How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?
Can't really answer this one because I never imagined my life as a mother.

- How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?
Most mothers in my peer group are thrilled to get together with another adult and talk about anything other than their children so I don't feel any different. I am happy to hear about and share in the joys/challenges of raising children with them also. I am also happy to be a trusted friend who can take care of their children if needed. But I certainly don't feel different in any negative way.

- What have been your biggest joys? And biggest challenges?
My biggest joy has been being able to shape my life in any way I see fit and also having the financial/emotional bandwidth to be a supportive auntie for my sisters and their children. Challenges: Those only come from work, where it's assumed that since you don't have children, you are free to work 90 hours a week. Because surely, you don't have a life! Also, some men I've dated find it intimidating that I have the freedom that I do ... but that experience hasn't been the norm. Mostly, there are no challenges at all. My childless friends and I have made a plan for our old age and retirement so I don't even have concerns about that.

- What advice would you give to someone fairly new to this path?
Figure out what you'd like your life to look like if you don't become a mother ... and recognize that there are a TON of ways to provide nurturing and be present for children that don't involve being their mother. You can tutor, mentor, run an after-school program, teach a skill that you know. There are SO many children with parents who are overwhelmed by the challenges of daily living, particularly in the US. It's ridiculous how little support there is for families, especially young ones, in this country. An extra hand is almost always welcomed.
posted by simonelikenina at 8:55 AM on May 3, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: 45, divorced, now partnered with a man who has 2 adult children.

- What has been your personal experience as a woman without kids?

As humbug notes, there were some jackass "when will you have kids?" comments, especially when I was married. This is doubly true as I was the only married one out of 7 siblings. None of us have had children, so if you want a fairly large data set of individuals who came from a huge family but have had no children of our own...

My personal experience since getting divorced and hitting 40 has been that no one asks about having kids now but I do get the "do you regret not having kids" questions from time to time. I do not. I never really wanted them. I cannot remember a time when I did. And I am happy to look at other people's babies, admire them, but I don't really want to hold them, I don't much want to play with them, and I suspect I definitely will not be a grandmotherly type, either.

- What is/has been meaningful to you as a woman without children?

I have had a wonderful set of enriching relationships, friendships, experiences, and time to myself over the course of my life thus far. My relationship with my siblings is close. I have a great relationship with my current partner. Some time ago, I was able to get a Ph.D. relatively easily as I was able to devote the time and energy to it without having to care for a child or children. I was able to do the same for tenure. But I do have that time to myself when I need it and I can take it.

Right now, one of my siblings is very sick. I can take the time and space I need for my turn to go care for them. I do not need to find anything more than cat care (that is important! I do spoil the cats), but this is worlds easier than having someone to care for children. If I had children with my ex, I can certainly see how I would be doing all or most of the custodial work of raising and caring for those children.

But mostly, if I need time to myself, or time with my siblings, I get it.

- How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?

I saw the sacrifice my own mother made for her children. Her kids were her world, and I suspect this was what she wanted, but I never can really know. She had a great career for the 1960s-- she was a stewardess-- did she want to continue this? Was 7 kids really her plan? I have what I want, mostly. If I were a mother-- well, there is no good way to say this-- I would not have what I want.

- How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?

Most of my mother friends now have children in their teens. Some of my mother friends have just begun. Of any of them, the ones with whom I have the least in common and have frankly lost touch except for the occasional Facebook Hello are the ones who dove in full throttle. I do not say that with contempt or anything, but it is a life I know nothing about. I ask questions and we chat, but I don't and cannot relate. They relate just as little to my life.

Those mothers who did not, who are still doing things like skiing or trail running or going to festivals (in the Before Times anyhow) either with or without the little ones, I still maintain good friendships with.

I do not react well to the "regret not having kids?" question from any of them. Ask once and I will answer honestly. No, and here is why. Ask again in any other way? I will ask if they regret having them.

- What have been your biggest joys? And biggest challenges?

Biggest joys? Being able to spend all the time I can and want to on my siblings, with my partner, and on myself. I can travel if I like. I can have my cats, I can undertake large projects. I can move if I need to and when I need to, consider new ventures and changes and I am much more nimble.

I have my own, personal agenda for achievement and satisfaction. Too often only men in heteronormative relationships get to have those, and mothers stand by to allow that through their labor.

- What advice would you give to someone fairly new to this path?

This is different. This is just as rewarding. You are enough on your own, do not worry. You are worth all the plans and dreams other people (rightfully!) have for their children, except you will have them for yourself.
posted by oflinkey at 8:55 AM on May 3, 2021 [9 favorites]

45 year old single child-free woman.

To be honest, I have never really thought seriously about having children, save the occasional thought that I think I'd be a hilarious fun step-mom should my dating life every take me that way. I genuinely like kids. They're mostly totally weird goofballs and I share plenty of my favorite activities (making up stories, playing dress up, anthropomorphizing everything) with them, despite having once been a kid, who mostly pined to hang out with adults.

I'm lucky that I come from a family in which no one has put any pressure. I think Mom would have liked to be a grandparent (I'm not sure my biological sister will have kids either), but she also inherited a very young stepdaughter (she's awesome) at about the age when her friends were starting to welcome grandchildren, and that may have both satisfied the urge, in part.

My social circle is about 50/50 kids/no kids, for a whole wide variety of reasons. I'm a pretty extroverted person. I do a lot. I host a lot. I travel. I do most of those things with friends. It's fun. I also get to hang out with their kids, if I want (and sometimes if I don't want, but kids). Sometimes I find myself deep in the currents of a mother-mother land when I'm caught in the kitchen before the start of the school year or whatever. These conversations can sometimes feel exclusionary, but honestly I'm not exactly envious of the preschool selection process or whatever, and I can usually just hightail it to the other end of the party and find someone that wants to talk politics or records or that new Taika Waititi show about Blackbeard and I'm golden. I'm not sad/worried about being left out of Mom stuff, and to be honest, many of my friends (including a couple of best friends) who are Moms, I think particularly relish hanging out with me because they don't feel like they have to talk about breast milk or kindergarten pedagogy. It feels pretty special to be the one they come to when they have a night where they don't want to feel like Motherhood defines them. I know this sounds gendered, by the way. In my experience, it (sadly) still is.

It's worth noting that as we've all gotten older, my friends' kids have likewise gotten older, and parent conversations about sixteen year olds are somewhat different that parent conversations about six month olds. The first round of my friends with kids started sending their kids to college a few years back. A few of them are about to graduate, and I'm enjoying the weird phenomenon of hanging out with my friends' weird lovable goofballs that have now become weird lovable adults. The toddler that once crawled on you while you were drinking wine with her Mom and talking about whether you should apply to graduate school twenty years ago, is now drinking wine and talking to you and her mom about how she's starting a PhD at Berkeley in the fall.

And that is just so awesome.

There are occasional, weird pangs, like hardly worth talking about pangs. I remember having a serious conversation with myself in my late thirties when I realized that, truly, kids were probably off the table. It was bittersweet. I had another such conversation about four months ago, when I realized I'd have to have surgery for aggressively growing fibroid tumors and that surgery would absolutely shut down any possibility of my reproductive system serving its biological purpose. I was forty-four years old at the time. I didn't want kids. And even if I had, it would be have been a crapshoot to even try. But still, I spent about 45 minutes sobbing in the parking lot of my OBGYN's office, and I couldn't have really told you why. I guess sometimes it's tough to let go of the idea of an alternate life. Even an alternate life you didn't want. Then I was cool.

At this stage in the game, the things that make me sad and keep me up at night have less to do with the absence of children and more to do with the absence of a satisfactory partner for like sex stuff and travel stuff and "go to shows" stuff (less critical in Covid days) and companionship stuff and sharing expenses stuff. I'm an eternal optimist though, and women in my family tend to live until almost 100 so I figure I have a few decades left to fall in love. And as stated up top, the odds of me finding a partner at this age and stage in the game that is as kid-unencumbered as I are pretty low, thus I'm working on my not-so-evil stepmother bits.

My best advice is to accept yourself as who you are. Your status with or without kids has nothing to do with who you are as a person operating in the world, having your own adventures, and being deserving of love. Motherhood does not increase or decrease your value as a human being, and it does not define you as a woman. A good mother will absolutely tell you that first and foremost. Make friends that are lovable who know that you are also lovable. Have fun. Make things. Human beings are endlessly creative. Not every thing we give birth to wears diapers. There are some many ways to put love and life into the world--so many! You can hang out with kids. You can not hang out with kids. You can take care of your friends and family and community. You can be the most awesome honorary aunt. You can exercise that nurturing spirit by being the coolest ever friend to yourself. You can bring forth a beautiful idea and nurture it and let it grow. The best ones, like kids, often also take a village. And building community can be joyful and frustrating and beautiful and heartbreaking just like being part of a family.

I have a Thanksgiving potluck every year (last year aside) for 40+ friends and acquaintances and neighbors and "can I bring____" strangers. It's kind of my thing. It's a whole world of created family, and the sweetest moment, the absolute best moment of every year, is when I stand in the middle of all of these people I love and people I will love, this community, this created family, and I see that they are, at least in that moment, content and tended for and happy to be together, I feel like I am well and truly home. I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Apologies for the ramble. Hope that helps.
posted by thivaia at 9:07 AM on May 3, 2021 [21 favorites]

49 years old.

- What has been your personal experience as a woman without kids?

Unlike a lot of the other people who have answered here, I did assume that I would have children. There wasn't a moment when I chose not to. I suspect that I would have encountered fertility issues if I had tried to get pregnant, but we never tried, mostly because we didn't have the financial stability we felt we needed. My husband and I both freelanced for most of our adult lives and it's just recently that either of us had a steady income. Both of us are also reluctant to add another human to this world for all kinds of reasons.
And as the years passed, first one and then the other of us would not be in a good place to consider having a child. I was worried that I would really have regrets, that it would come between us, but that has not happened.
Now, in retrospect, I am relieved that we didn't have children. It's a whole world of anxiety and guilt that I just don't have to deal with. I'm sure it's a good choice for a lot of people, but knowing myself better now, it would have been the wrong choice for ME.

-What is/has been meaningful to you as a woman without children?

Having time to write my books.
Doing my best to look after my husband, my friends and my family. Paying attention to the world.

- How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?

Because I never had children I didn't have to deal with the extreme challenges women with children face, just to claim their space in the world as individuals who exist in their own right and not simply as a caregiver for others. I can spend time on my creative work, or recreational time walking, cycling,
kayaking without ever feeling as if someone else's needs are more important.

- How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?

I don't think about it much. I'm different from most people I know in many other ways as well so not having children is not really an issue.

- What have been your biggest joys? And biggest challenges?

I don't really define myself as a woman without children so my joys and challenges are not related to being without children.

- What advice would you give to someone fairly new to this path?

Life is unpredictable. There is no pattern for you to fit into, or role you are supposed to play. There is just what actually happens. Deal with what is in front of you, forget about what you "should" do, or were "supposed" to do. Be kind to yourself and others.
posted by Zumbador at 9:07 AM on May 3, 2021 [10 favorites]

I am 31 and never wanted children. Also married with two cats :)

I am also not at all motivated by "career" aspirations or external recognition really, so I am missing both of the drivers I am expected to have!

I find joy and meaning in spending time with my husband, siblings and parents. Because we don't have kids, I can afford to work part time, so I have lots more time to spend with them. I know I have limited time left with my parents, I feel lucky to see them so regularly.

I always have my own projects going on. I am currently teaching myself upholstery. I do a lot of DIY. One of my big life goals is to move somewhere I can get a shed, so I can take up large woodworking hobby projects (currently I use my dad's shed, he does antique restoration and some dealing in his retirement).

I actually work at an antique auction house doing a little bit of everything, and I love my job, which again I could not keep if we wanted to afford children. I have no particular ambition to move on or up though, I'm just happy to work with great people and see interesting things every day.

Basically, apart from the fact I never wanted them, not having kids has allowed me to choose time and things I love doing instead of money. If I wanted kids I would have had to make entirely different choices.

So far I haven't had any issues bring different, but I've always been a little bit of a weirdo anyway.
posted by stillnocturnal at 9:35 AM on May 3, 2021 [10 favorites]

I'm 43, definitely assumed I would have kids up until I was at least your age, and I think I would have been a very good mother and had a lot of fun as a mother. I don't have kids, though, and I don't have regrets about having kids.

- What has been your personal experience as a woman without kids?
So, I am 43 and newly widowed. That probably would have happened whether or not I had kids. I'm an ex-librarian and currently a software developer - that also probably would have happened if I hadn't had kids. I love choral singing, sewing my own clothes, and going for long solo walks in the woods - it's hard to imagine I would have been able to keep up with all of that if I had kids. I met my husband (the only person I ever seriously considered having kids with) when I was 35 and I think we would both have been open to having kids at that point, but seriously I don't think my husband had ever met a child before we started dating, and I didn't want to parent with someone who would have needed to be educated from the ground up.

- What is/has been meaningful to you as a woman without children?
My family (sisters, parents, niblings, extended family), friends, my hobbies, nature, my community. All that kind of stuff.

- How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?
I cannot imagine how hard it would have been to be taking care of children and being there for them while my husband was dying. I got to have my grief to myself.

Many of my friends who are parents have gone through some incredibly difficult shit with their children - like, children who have serious disabilities or lifelong, life-threatening illnesses, children who died, children who can't integrate into school or social situations. Even the ones with "normal" parent experiences have dealt with strains on their partnerships, meltdowns in the grocery store, sibling conflict, helping kids through a friend breakup - that all seems very hard.

I'm able to take on more risk than I would feel comfortable with if I had kids. I very much appreciate being able to just pick up and go places. I don't need to worry about children's school or activity schedules. And I also have way more money (and the freedom that money brings) than I would if I had kids.

But I don't really play the "what-if"/"how would my life be different" game, about having kids or about other things. Like, what if I'd gotten a PhD? What if I'd taken that job in Nashville in 2005?

- How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?
I don't actually find the childfree thing to be the biggest way I'm different from my peer group... none of my closest friends from high school have kids, for example, but we're not particularly close anyways, we all seem to have really different priorities. Some of my friends have kids, some don't.

- What have been your biggest joys? And biggest challenges?
Big challenges for me (specifically around childfreeness) are finding community (this just seems easier when you have kids, because you're thrown in with and depend on people who you might not otherwise choose to hang out with), and sometimes I worry about who will take care of me when I am old/dying (and then I think about how creepily utilitarian it would be to have kids just so they would take care of me when I'm old/dying!).

Big joys are all over the place! My loved ones, especially my late husband. Hiking the Tour de Mont Blanc. Growing lavender in my garden.

- What advice would you give to someone fairly new to this path?
Take care of yourself. Make friends younger and older than yourself. Enjoy.
posted by mskyle at 9:38 AM on May 3, 2021 [10 favorites]

- What has been your personal experience as a woman without kids?
I's been...a regular life? I never wanted kids or planned for them on any level, so to me it just looks like the kind of life most people lead until they have kids, right? I have a job and an apartment and I do stuff. I got married pretty young and divorced almost immediately, and that's definitely the last time anyone asked me about kids, because I think they looked at me as like, someone on a crash trajectory. (And they're not wrong!) I guess at this point most of my friends and acquaintances have kids but I don't have a lot of regular interaction with them. I have some niblings, but same--not a lot of regular interaction with them. They're all fine in theory! They just don't live nearby and it...just doesn't come up.

- What is/has been meaningful to you as a woman without children?
Mostly just the ability to be an idiot who makes bad choices without it ruining someone else's formative years and engendering a generational cycle of bitterness. Why yes, I had a lousy childhood, why do you ask?

- How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?
Oh I literally cannot even imagine how my life would look if I had kids. Every single aspect of it would need to be completely different --and would need to have been different, for fully the last 20 years--in significant ways. I couldn't have *this* job, certainly, or live where I live, or keep the schedule I keep, or eat the diet I eat, or...really anything. It would be just a completely 100% different life, basically like a fictional character to me at this point.

I don't feel like my life is just a mom-life with a child-shaped hole in it, it's a life knitted completely in the absence of children as even a thought. You couldn't just paste a kid into it, it's not built for a kid.

- How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?
I mean...again, it just doesn't really come up. I have never had a whole lot in common with my peer group anyway, from earliest childhood on. The stuff I do for fun isn't kid-heavy anyway (concerts, fancy restaurants, bars) so I'm not exactly constantly drowning in other peoples' babylives. Sometimes in conversations with friends something comes up where I realize that my life seems pretty foreign to my friends and theirs to mine, but honestly most of my friends seem to use hanging out with me as their excuse to stop being in mom-mode.

- What have been your biggest joys? And biggest challenges?
Um. I mean, there are not a lot of either? My challenges are mostly not killing myself/drowning permanently in my mental illness, and making enough money to survive without having a nervous breakdown. Can't imagine those are challenges made any easier by being responsible for kids into the bargain. It's not a very joyful life but I would guess that's because I'm not a very joyful person. A different kind of person would probably identify a lot of things in my life as "joys".

- What advice would you give to someone fairly new to this path?
Probably just to be patient with yourself, since this sounds like it wasn't a fun path you chose with joy but rather something you are kind-of being forced into ahead of fully coming to peace with it. Even if it's the norm to have kids where you're at, even if you feel you're going to get a lot of static in general, it won't be everyone. Maybe try to pick up a few hobbies that aren't kid-friendly or kid-centric so you meet people who aren't parents or meet them outside of their parent-context.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:44 AM on May 3, 2021 [9 favorites]

All of your questions but one are things that are beyond my understanding. I don’t think of myself as “a woman without children.” I’m just me, and I happen to not have children. I am the default me.

“How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?” is the only thing I can really speak to. I’m lucky enough to have women friends who both do and don’t have children, so there’s that. And I’ve aged past the expectation that I’ll “change my mind,” and most people I know are aware of my health problems. There have been awkward moments when I’ve been edged out of conversations “that I just couldn’t understand,” but I’ve mostly dealt with that sort of thing by being interested in other people’s children in the same way I’d be interested in their jobs or their travel or any other part of their life that’s different from mine.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:57 AM on May 3, 2021 [9 favorites]

- What has been your personal experience as a woman without kids?
Pretty good, I think. I've tended NOT to live in areas where it's expected to marry and have kids ASAP, so I've never felt like a weirdo.
- What is/has been meaningful to you as a woman without children?
Friends, spouse, pets, family, experiences, interests and hobbies. I'd like to get more in touch with my physical and spiritual sides, but stupid work seems to take up most of the time I'd have allotted for that.
- How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?

I suspect I've aged less quickly than some of my peers but maybe that's just wishful thinking. I don't have much extra money but what I do have I can spend on fun stuff I enjoy. I can have my home pretty much how I like it without the chaos of children. I can read/watch/listen to adult media that I'm actually interested in and not a bunch of kiddie stuff. I have a lot more time to devote to my hobbies/interests. I have a lot of time to spend with friends and have fun doing grown up things.
- How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?
Weirdly, among all the friend groups I've had from high school on there were very few people who had kids. Maybe one or two out of literally dozens of friends. Maybe we non kid-interested people are just drawn to each other. I still make friends with a lot of childless/child-free people without even intending to. Family is a different story - but I live remotely from both my and my husband's family, so the pressuring is minimized.
- What have been your biggest joys? And biggest challenges?
Joys: friends (again), having more freedom to live where I want to, more time and money to pursue the things I love (again), I feel like I'm constantly growing as a person and always learning new things and improving
Challenges: I do have the occasional "what if" moments but they pass quickly, I think if I truly wanted to be a mother, things like other people having babies would be painful for me and there'd be more longing going on but I'm just happy for them and move on after about 30 seconds of wondering; familial pressure - I don't think I have it as bad as some people but when I do get it, my attitude is "Whatever. If you want a kid - have/adopt/foster one yourself, you nosey so and so"
- What advice would you give to someone fairly new to this path?
Friends. Cultivate friends of all ages, types and backgrounds, including people with kids. At work, in your neighborhood, in hobby groups, among family members, in other places...whatever. And be a good friend - thoughtful and low drama. I think a lot of people view that as a nice-to-have after spouse, job, whatever. To me, having a group of friends makes the difference between a joyful life and a melancholy one.
-Follow your interests wherever they may lead you and keep growing. Be your own child in a sense.
-Never feel bad for not having kids. Anyone who tells you you're selfish can fuck right off. You're inarguably doing the planet an enormous favor and should really be thanked for it, just as people who do have kids and raise them well should get accolades for that.
posted by Jess the Mess at 9:57 AM on May 3, 2021 [3 favorites]

- What has been your personal experience as a woman without kids?

It's been fine, and like some of the other people upthread, it's mostly something I don't think about. There was a time when my mom was putting some pressure on me to have a kid, but she's basically stopped a few years ago (I'm in my mid-30s).

- What is/has been meaningful to you as a woman without children?

My time is my own (well, minus work).

- How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?

So much different. I sleep in when I want. My partner and I can plan last-minute vacations. We don't have to worry if our apartment is babyproof. We can also afford a comfortable lifestyle on modest salaries - having a child would really strain our budget. It also makes taking career risks a little less daunting, the prospect of having to move for a new job way less stressful, etc.

I will say I was more neutral in my 20s about kids, leaning slightly against - but if I had fallen in love with a baby crazy man, I'd likely be a mom by now. But my partner is very anti-kids, which is fine by me. And over the last handful of years I've witnessed some friends go through a tough time with parenthood. I know people who are great parents but their kid is just a lot of energy. I know a couple of people whose kid turned out to have a rare genetic condition that will mean they'll be dependent their whole lives, and will likely die young. Absolutely heartbreaking. I know of someone whose body was fundamentally changed from childbirth (and I'm not talking about vanity issues here, but serious medical complications). I also know plenty of people who had easy pregnancies and ended up with mellow, healthy, kids - I think I could probably handle that outcome, but I'm not sure I now think it's worth the risk. Which is to say, I'm glad I fell for a guy who isn't into kids.

- How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?

My friend group is perhaps unusual in that it's a fairly even 50/50 split. While I do feel less equipped to talk to my friends with children about parenthood, it hasn't been a big problem. I find people with kids are often very happy to have the chance to not talk about their kids, as much as they love them.

- What advice would you give to someone fairly new to this path?

You might benefit from watching some TV shows that provide somewhat frank views at parenthood. Ali Wong's comedy specials are great (especially the first). There is an Australian show "The Letdown" and a British show "Breeders" and a Canadian show (which is a little trashy) "Working Moms." None of these are anti-parenthood, but do get into how it's a real trade off.

If you want kids in your life, you can always find some volunteer outlet or offer to babysit for your friends with children.
posted by coffeecat at 10:01 AM on May 3, 2021 [3 favorites]

I'm 48, married with no children.

We tried for a long time but eventually hit the wall of what we were willing to do in terms of infertility treatment. Adoption was never, ever on the table for us. I went through a period of intense mourning. I adopted a special needs dog and discovered that really fulfilled the need I had to nuture.

Even though there was a period of time where it felt like everyone I knew was getting pregnant and having babies, a lot of my friends do not have children. What I will warn you about is that the number of women childless-not-by-choice and who choose not to adopt is vanishingly small and a genuinely isolating place to be when babies are still something you want.

I am well over wanting babies now but 32 year old me would be shocked to know I wake up every single day so glad I am not parenting. My sister's daughter is 10 and my sister feels like this will never end. She's broke and stressed and her child is difficult. I am so grateful that isn't me. On the other hand my closest friend is 36 and trying to conceive and I am so hopeful for her and looking forward to a role in her child's life.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:13 AM on May 3, 2021 [11 favorites]

I am nearly 35. I am not sure I count as childfree for the purposes of this question - my husband and I are trying, but there are clearly some unanticipated and as-yet uninvestigated biological challenges, and I have pretty firm boundaries around how much medical intervention I am willing to undergo, so I'm grappling with that weird limbo status of the chips potentially falling either way. So I don't know if I have useful advice exactly, but you can have my anecdata!

My peer group is probably a little different from yours, it sounds like, because it includes a decent number of single people and people who are married but have chosen to remain childless, in addition to parents. I would say there definitely have been some divides I've felt as we've all gotten older. People with kids have generally drifted away, because just all of their time and energy goes into parenting work or paying the bills, and they tend to gravitate to other people going through the same things. But in a wider societal sense I do get the feeling that people see me and my spouse as less mature, maybe a little softer, a little lazier because we haven't had to deal with parenthood. We're definitely the lower-tier family members - people forget to tell us things about what's going on and sometimes it's clear people have forgotten to tell us about family gatherings until the last minute, because we don't have babies anyone's eager to see. As more and more age peers have kids, or additional kids, it does feel a little like they're on the other side of a bridge and I'm broken down on a toll plaza. The biggest thing for me, personally, is that I have made career choices driven by the expectation that I would be pregnant or already have a baby by now (staying in a job with really good parental benefits, flexibility and lots of accrued leave), and if I knew three years ago where I'd be today, I might have made riskier, more ambitious choices. There are so many ghost ships that didn't carry me.

I would just say to be gentle with whatever feelings you feel - seriously, any of them, even the ones that seem really socially unacceptable - and try not to judge yourself for them. I've really struggled with feelings of brokenness and inadequacy and guilt, and I don't even have baby-fever that much! My therapist has been really wildly unhelpful in urging me to keep being optimistic about my chances for medical intervention and ideas for this or that treatment or supplement to try, and I have come to realize people will judge you harshly for whatever you choose. There is literally no path you can take that people won't be hurtful dicks about. You don't need to add to that pile-on.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 10:33 AM on May 3, 2021 [9 favorites]

I'm 35. I have no desire to acquire a long term spouse. I own 1 home, 2 dogs, and 3 investment accounts. The primary driving force behind my life decisions is avoiding commitment, responsibility, and reliance on others to every extent possible because it gives me fight or flight response to feel trapped or lack agency. I am happier and more satisfied right now in my life than I have ever been before.

Throughout my life I have given remarkably few shits about what other people think of me. This started pretty young, probably as a defense mechanism more than anything else, in order to survive growing up with an emotionally abusive parent. So my personal experience as a woman without kids is the same as my personal experience in any of the other myriad ways I'm a population outlier. I could care that some people judge me about x choice or y choice, or I could not, and I've found that it's easier to just...not. I know that sounds simplistic but for me that's just how it is. At some point as with anything else I've ever caught shit about, I just actively decided not to care. Other people can die mad about it, it's not my problem to coddle them.

The best thing about relieving myself from the burden of other people's opinions is how much time I have left over to just do whatever the fuck I want. Sometimes that's nothing! Sometimes that's a lot of hobbies. Yesterday I woke up at 7 and went out to do a bunch of yard work before it got hot, walked & fed my dogs, then spent the entire rest of the day watching CSI and playing games on my tablet. And why not? I had done everything I needed to do that day before 9am, my time is my own. I literally cannot put myself in a thought experiment of what if I had to spend that time raising humans to be responsible and productive members of society--it seems like an absolutely insurmountable problem that would require nonstop effort forever, and my brain simply does not engage in that way.

I'm very lucky in that I live in a large liberal city and the ways that I make atypical choices just kind of fade into the background radiation of other people making their own atypical choices, even if they are not the same as my own. Most of my friends do not have kids. I don't have any friends who question me on my choice to not have kids. I have those people as acquaintances, sure, but my friends don't try to make me feel bad about myself on purpose, that's how come they're my friends. When my friends who do have kids mention their kids in any way, all I can feel is an overwhelming sense of relief. Even when it's good news they're sharing, I am still just relieved that it's their story and not mine. Asking why I choose not to have kids is like asking why do you choose not to grow a third leg.
posted by phunniemee at 10:48 AM on May 3, 2021 [21 favorites]

50 year old widow, I did not choose childlessness as much as resign myself to my infertility diagnoses and decline medical intervention

- What has been your personal experience as a woman without kids?
I did grow up assuming I would have kids, and planning how I would raise them, but never it was my only purpose. It was simply one more thing that would happen when I grew up: go to school, get a job, get married, have a baby. I never really planned what job I would get, who I would marry, or when I would have a baby, I just wandered out into the world and grabbed onto the first job I found (bad choice the first time but the second one has worked out for 22 years) and proposed to the first boyfriend that lasted more than six months (challenging but worth it in the end). It was a bit of a shock when the baby did not happen as the next step.
I did have a lot to deal with after my diagnoses, and it took about 6 years, some therapy, and the distraction of much worse life events to stop feeling like I was failing by not trying harder to have a baby. I had a lot of feelings that my own body had passed judgement on me and denied me the ability to have kids. I've never had a good relationship with my body and this made it a worse for a while.
At the same time, my husband came to the realization that he did not want children after all, through seeing his own health decline, and watching his nieces and nephews grow up. They were only 5-10 years younger than us, half of them got pregnant before they were 18 and all of them had drug issues as teens. There was a lot in his family history that he thought would be irresponsible to pass on, both genetically and in terms of values and behaviors. So I also had to admit that if I did choose to adopt or to pursue medical treatment, that I would need to do it alone or with a different partner.

- What is/has been meaningful to you as a woman without children?
Meaning for me is in listening to music and in creating things, in taking care of myself and finding small happiness in spite of everything my life has thrown at me and the ways my body has failed me. I have not really framed myself in terms of 'as a woman' in a long time, it has been 'as a person' for at least a decade now.
I deliberately never made my job part of my "meaning" because I saw that tear other people apart, my father struggled with that working in an industry where jobs only last as long as each project. My husband did that and getting laid off from his first job destroyed his sense of self-worth in ways that he never recovered.

- How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?
I have a lot of trouble answering this. For me, coming to terms with my infertility and my husband's simultaneous choice to be childfree has meant I had to release those dreams, and let go of that imagined other me. So I can’t really open that door again to imagine a life with kids. To start with I would have to imagine a different partner, or imagine him as a different version of himself, and either feels like a betrayal even nearly a decade after his death.

- How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?
That's not been true for me. My siblings are also childless by choice, for their own reasons. My mom is disappointed but is grandma-ing up a storm with her siblings' grandchildren these days. Most of my 27 cousins have kids, but my siblings and I have always been isolated from them due to geographic distance in our (pre-internet) childhood. My close friend group is mostly childless by choice or by happenstance. Those few that did have kids, I was a little jealous when the kids were younger but watching them through teenage years certainly made me feel like I dodged a bullet.
While a lot of my work colleagues have kids I can think of only a couple of times I felt weird about it all, there was one ultra-religious lady that made me really uncomfortable for a while until I figured out how to flip it back at her. I confided in her that it was so hard to stay positive when 'those people' would ask me about kids, and I couldn't go around explaining my medical issues to everyone could I? Really, some people can be so unprofessional. Even without me really explaining anything she was happy to be the "trusted one" and after that she would shut other people down for me.
Oddly the biggest pressure I got was from my husband's family. Odd because his mother threatened to disown him if he ever got a girl pregnant, and told him over and over that he would 'ruin' any children because of his utter failure as a human being (I think this started when he was still in grade school, she was a real piece of work). And yet when she met me as his girlfriend she immediately made plans to raise our kids for us. (He made plans for us to leave the state if she tried).
His family assumed I was pregnant when we got married, because he was the only close family member in at least three generations to get married without a baby on the way, and probably the oldest to get married at 24. Also because they are skinny and I am fat, they would assume it again every time they saw me until at some point I burst into tears and they never brought it up again.

- What have been your biggest joys? And biggest challenges
My biggest challenges were internal, I went through a lot of very different phases of self-blame, of guilt for not having kids, and then a bizarre flip into feeling guilty for even wanting to have kids. How selfish, to assume I was important enough to reproduce and that a kid would want me as their mother.
I can't think of any big joys, but that is more to do with my own depression, health, and losses than with not having kids. I concentrate on small joys and comforts, my pets and my friends.

- What advice would you give to someone fairly new to this path?
If you are getting external pressure: Assume that strangers and random acquaintances who ask you about your reproductive choices think of it as harmless small talk and are not meaning to pressure you at all. My life has improved once I started assuming the most generous motivations for any strangers, it's been my best coping mechanism for social anxiety.
Come up with a stock answer you can use to change the subject, and let it roll off you as much as you can. I used to get a lot of people assuming I was pregnant because of my body shape, and I learned to say something like "No, sadly not" because otherwise I might lash out to make them feel my pain.
I went with sarcasm for my own family because that is our love-language. My mom said for several years that she wanted me to give her a baby for her birthday (concidentally mine is the day before hers). Finally I sent her link to a website for finding a surrogate mother and told her I would help her fill out the application.
posted by buildmyworld at 11:08 AM on May 3, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I typed out responses to each of your questions, but deleted it because it came off as bitter. That's because I'm a little bit bitter. I'm 36, childless, and unpartnered; I live alone. I very much wanted children up until about five years ago, when I got ambivalent about it (both strongly wanting and not wanting them). I decided that kids really aren't for me about a year ago (thanks, pandemic, for clarifying that for me!) I grew up in a happy, large family, and was aiming for the same thing. I didn't get it. I'm sad about that sometimes, even though I love my life. It's full and rich and I am so loved and valued. But it's possible to love what you have and still feel overwhelmingly sad sometimes.

But, you know, I wanted a spouse and kids, and I don't have either. Maybe I will in the future, but I have resigned myself to not having either, and concentrated on building the best life I could for the situation I'm in. And I have mostly succeeded.

What being childfree has been like for me (the good stuff first)
- so much time, space, and money
- hobbies galore! hobbies that take over entire rooms and entire weekends!
- getting to be an absolute SUPER STAR of an aunt and a pretty great grown-up friend to my friends' kids
- being active in my community (non-profits, politics, etc.)
- taking great care of my physical and mental health
- a really robust friend group. I work hard to be a good friend.
- taking risks with my career. I was able to quit my well-paying soul-crushing corporate job and take a position at a non-profit because no one depends on my salary. My soul is happy, and my bank balance is healthy enough.
- in general, my life is my own, and I am delighted by that. I don't owe anyone anything; I do not have many obligations; I am very free. My days are filled with things I enjoy, that enrich and improve me as a person/friend/family member.

The bad stuff:
- people assuming/commenting I'm immature or unfinished because I don't have kids, that I don't like kids or didn't want them, or that I'm a crazy party animal, or promiscuous, or whatever. None of those things are bad, they're just not me. Basically people with kids will project a lot on you, and it is wearisome.
- holidays can be a little hollow
- friends who are parents tend to friend up with other people with kids. I do get excluded from things, and that hurts.
- there are not as many built-in communities for childfree folks - no moms' groups, no PTA, no youth soccer league, etc.
- not all workplaces are like this, but one of my employers was heavily biased in favor of people with kids. That sucked. People with kids were given more flexibility with their schedule, with work from home, with PTO, etc. I strongly suspect that people with children were paid more (I know that they got bonuses for weddings and each child, at least.) So don't work at a place like that, where you are treated like a second class citizen

- if you're ambivalent about having kids, or having a lot of feelings about it, get a therapist! My therapist really helped me become okay with being childfree
- get yourself some really cool great friends and really cool hobbies
- if people say mean stuff to you, 1. dump 'em and 2. ignore 'em. Other people's lack of imagination and empathy do not affect my lived experience. I am very much intolerant of anyone who thinks that I am less valid of a person because I don't have kids.
- do have some responses to rude/mean/insensitive stuff ready to go.
- I think cities are more childfree-people-friendly, both in that you will find more childfree people and there's more to do that is not oriented toward kids.

And hey! Happy birthday! You're doing great.
posted by punchtothehead at 11:10 AM on May 3, 2021 [11 favorites]

I'm 35, and only in the last few years have I really committed to not wanting children. I've always been of the mind of "do I want kids? oh sure, someday!" and only as I started to hit the stage of life where almost all of my friends had children or got pregnant or hoped to get pregnant did I realize that the "someday" I wanted to have kids didn't feel any closer than it did when I was 16, and maybe I don't want them after all.

I've always been phobic of pregnancy, the very idea of a fetus living inside of you makes me feel like I might faint. When friends and family are pregnant, I have to leave conversations sometimes because it's grossing me out and I don't want to be unsupportive. I'm also protective of my identity I guess. There's a lot of things that make me the person that I am, and I balked a little at getting married or using a married name, because I didn't want any of the person that I am to be reduced to "someone's wife". That goes double for children - you become someone's mother, and for a lot of your future interactions, that's how you'll be defined. I don't want that.

We have more money and time than our peers who have kids - we are easily able to pursue things that interest us, together or separately, and we don't need permission from each other, which is nice - no one is feeling abandoned with the kids and house while the other person is pursuing things. Also we have more money than we would have with kids (we have quite a small house, etc), so I only work 4 days a week and my husband was able to quit his professional job to pursue work he likes more. This gives us more time and more joy for ourselves!

My husband's first marriage was to a woman with a young child and he became his dad. While he enjoyed parenting, he also feels like he had to give up so many of the activities that he enjoyed to make sure his son could have access to the things HE enjoyed. While it's not like he hated that or something, it also wasn't high on his list of things he wanted to do again.

Being different than your peer group is actually pretty hard. To me, this is the hardest part about not having kids. (also, disappointing my mother.) Your relationships with your friends change drastically when they have babies. Your lives are just, different. Your priorities are different, and some parents (mostly women for me, but who knows) don't really maintain interests other than their children when their children are small. And I'm not that interested in your children, though I like kids fine. My philosophy has been to hold gently to my friends, and hope they drift back as their kids get old enough to need less constant care and attention, but who knows! My friendship group has become a little more male-centric as my female friends have been pressed into the mother role. Men tend to have a little more freedom to hang out and do things, vs my girlfriends where the option is "come to my house and hang out with my kids." which I don't mind doing sometimes, but sometimes I'd like to have a conversation not about, or with, kids. My friends have varied wildly in maintaining their non-mom interests and friendships. Some of our friends with kids hang out with each other now, and don't include us because we don't have kids, and that kind of hurts sometimes.

Enjoy the perks of not having kids. Remember to notice when things are nice - last Friday I had the day off work and got up at late around 9am, drank a cup of coffee in our hot tub while reading a novel and enjoying the silence. Then I did some hobby renovations in our house, got high and played multiple hours of a narrative video game, had afternoon sex, and ordered dinner instead of cooking. I probably could have done completely zero of those things with kids, and it was a really lovely day.
posted by euphoria066 at 11:49 AM on May 3, 2021 [8 favorites]

I currently don't have kids, but I don't know if I qualify as "childfree" because I don't know what the future will hold for me. I am turning 40 this month, and some symptoms and family history indicate biokids may either already not be possible or may soon not be. My partner and I are just now at a stable enough point to seriously discuss kids.

And this is the part I think might be relevant to you-- we really, really don't know. Neither of us individually is strongly pro, neither of us individually is strong con, and as a couple we end up in that same ambivalent place. Our major hope at this point is that we can come to a place where we are ok with whatever decision we end up making (even if that's "try to have kids but then don't end up doing so for whatever reason").

We're at a bit of a doorway; I'm trying to think of the choice, as much as it is ours to make, as choosing between two good paths. One path retains the freedom to travel, the ability to be flexible about friends who have kids without having to prioritize our own kid needs, the possibility of certain kinds of career advancement, the ability to spend time caring for aging parents and to travel to do so, the stable understanding of my place in the extended family hierarchy, and so on. The other path opens the possibility of bringing a child into the world hoping that they might experience some good in it, getting to see that good, and hoping even that maybe they can one day help others experience good in the world.

Both paths are good paths. Both paths have flaws. One path may be closed to us even now, but definitely we can only end up on one path, however it goes. But that is true of any life decision, even the tiny little ones that don't actually feel like decisions. I don't think there's a wrong decision available to us here, and you may be in the same spot; either way is an okay way to go.

(Note plenty of people around us don't feel that way, one way or the other. Ignoring them for the moment, since nobody but us gets to make the choice about whether we have kids-- and same for you!)
posted by nat at 11:51 AM on May 3, 2021 [4 favorites]

Childfree married lady with a cat here, currently in my 40th year. I wouldn't call myself career-focused. I am just an extreme introvert, as is my husband. We like spending time alone and working on projects.

So first I will recommend this episode of the Embodied podcast: Child-Free Not Childless

There are also some books on the topic that might help you navigate the world and your feelings about this.

The biggest challenge I'm still navigating is the fact that the vast majority of my female coworkers are either currently mothers or plan to be mothers. At some point it dawned on me that when most people talk about the experience of "women in the workplace" they mostly mean "mothers in the workplace."

Most people understand on an intellectual level that some women just don't want children, but friendly conversations with groups of female coworkers tend to veer off into Mom territory at which point I feel like I have nothing to offer.

As a childfree woman in the workplace, we become our own little category.
posted by wondermouse at 11:53 AM on May 3, 2021 [8 favorites]

- What has been your personal experience as a woman without kids?
I have a perfectionist streak, and there are no perfect parents. So I feel relief that I'm not doing it wrong when the stakes are so high.

- What is/has been meaningful to you as a woman without children?
I have the time to work on the things I value. Right now I'm helping to organize an online international conference. I have time for self-improvement and self care. I struggle with finding meaning in my life sometimes, but I think finding meaning in raising kids should be an after-the-fact bonus, not the reason to have them. Life is intrinsically meaningful.

- How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?
Parents have compressed time in a way I don't. I have a friend who has half an hour of alone time every day in which he cleans after everyone else has gone to bed. I don't have that concern. I have the freedom to pick up and move any time I want. If I want to leave the house, I just go. I don't need to earn as much money. So I don't work as much as I would if I were a parent.

- How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?
This is not applicable to me. Well, ok. I'm different from large swathes of my peer group, but it's not the not having kids that did it.

- What have been your biggest joys?
Right now I'm feeling pretty community-starved due to pandemic, so I'd have to say being a part of a volunteer-based community. Also being in nature. And gardening. When I ride down a steep hill on a bicycle without using brakes and there are no cars around, my stomach finally just unfurls. Exercising. Also processing food and, separately, eating food. Sewing projects. Swimming. I love swimming. Being in the sun. Learning. Projects generally.

And biggest challenges?
I want more kids in my life. I live in an age-segregated society. I was thinking writing a kid's book might help with that at some point (among other things). None of my other challenges are related to having kids. They're related to living in a society that values different things than me in other ways.

- What advice would you give to someone fairly new to this path?
You got this!
posted by aniola at 11:56 AM on May 3, 2021 [6 favorites]

At some point it dawned on me that when most people talk about the experience of "women in the workplace" they mostly mean "mothers in the workplace."

Yes; I confess I had happily forgotten what it was like to be the only woman without children in a workplace full of women with children. It was exasperating, the constant unwritten, unspoken assumption that I would be the one to pick up all the slack when someone needed to leave work without warning, or when I was the only one who couldn’t avoid staying late because I didn’t have a kid to pick up, etc., et unending cetera. When HR would call me on the carpet for “coming too close” to using up my own earned sick days on my own doctor visits and then turn around and ask me to donate my PTO to women who needed time off for their kids.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:07 PM on May 3, 2021 [14 favorites]

Happy birthday! Much of the above mirrors my (positive) experiences, so I won't repeat. What I will tell you is you have no idea how many moms, after a bottle or two of wine, feel safe confessing to me (because I'm childfree) that, while they love their kids, they would NEVER make all the sacrifices required of American moms, if they could choose to go back in time and not be mothers. (I have European friends who have a much more civilized experience as moms, but America? Hard pass.)

The second thing I'll tell you is ... when and if you make the choice not to have children ... NEVER LOOK BACK. That way lies maudlin boohooing. This is one choice that's entirely yours, and that you can make without reservation. Don't ruin the rest of your life with maybes and regret.
posted by cyndigo at 12:10 PM on May 3, 2021 [8 favorites]

What has been your personal experience as a woman without kids?

I was married for most of my adulthood but didn't have kids through a combination of ambivalence on my part and opposition to the idea by my then-husband. I think if I had been married to a man with romantic notions of family I probably would have had them. So I'm not a perfect example of someone who definitely, no way, no how did not want to have kids, although at times--maybe most of the time--I did feel like that.

What is/has been meaningful to you as a woman without children?

All the same things that are meaningful to people with children? My friends, family, dogs, hobbies, home, etc. I'm not a person with big career ambitions or a burning search for meaning. I just want to live a pleasant life and I think not having kids has been an aid to that. Having kids is usually meaningful but not especially pleasant most of the time.

How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?

Well, my house and car are paid off and I'm on track for a modest but secure retirement, and I've been able to have those things while also indulging all kinds of travel, hobbies, etc. And, if I can be shallow for a minute, my body is still quite nice, which I find enjoyable. I doubt any of those things would be the case if I'd had kids. But more importantly, I ended up divorced after a long marriage and I think with kids that would have happened sooner, leaving me a single mother. And so many people have kids with serious behavioral or health problems that really impact their parents' quality of life and I feel happy to have escaped that.

How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?

I'm not, actually. Much of my family and most of my friends don't have kids. I feel pretty normal. When I was younger it was annoying that people who had kids were totally absorbed in it and not very inclusive toward people without, but who really wants to be around other people's kids anyway? I'm now in the phase of life where kids are leaving home and those same parents are now interested in doing non-kid activities, so this is no longer an issue.

What have been your biggest joys? And biggest challenges?

If anything my challenges would have been so much worse with kids, especially health and marital problems. When I was younger, I felt a little sad at Christmas, but there are lots of reasons for that besides not having kids, and really, Christmas is hard for a lot of people, kids or no. It's not a reason to have them. And now that I'm getting a bit older, I'm starting to be more apprehensive about old age--but I recognize that this too is not a reason to have kids and often doesn't pan out anyway.

But the joys! My life is so enjoyable and most of the things I like are not compatible with kids. I wouldn't even know where to start. I can't even imagine how different it would be with kids.

What advice would you give to someone fairly new to this path?

Not sure you need advice! Your life will develop around whatever choice you make. Good things will happen, bad things will happen. You'll have regrets either way. (This I know for a fact, having had some really eye-opening conversations with women who did regret having kids.)
posted by HotToddy at 12:15 PM on May 3, 2021 [4 favorites]

Late 40’s here and have never wanted children. The main driver for this being my chaotic childhood with dysfunctional parents, but also because I actually don’t like most children and have no maternal instinct. I think that, rather than my childfreeness, is the thing that upsets/boggles most people and I spend a lot more time explaining that, than anything else.

Fortunately I have never felt pressured into having kids. My mother freely admits she didn’t want them. My sibling doesn’t have them. And my partner of 11 years doesn’t want them either. My work colleagues and friends are probably 60/40 children/no children. I have a huge amount of admiration and respect for those who have children; their children are their priority, which is as it should be. They make a lot of sacrifices, do a lot of ferrying around and put a lot of time and money into ensuring that their kids are happy and healthy.

We like to travel, spend money on ourselves and each other and have as few worries as possible. We have a dog, which is in itself a responsibility, and I worry about him getting old and ill, getting lost, etc. That makes me think I would have been an over anxious parent!

This is such an intensely personal subject, I’m not sure that anything I’ve said will be particularly useful. What feels right for you is what you should do. With or without children, a partner, or whatever people around you have that you catch yourself thinking ‘Should I be like that?’ is right for you. Your decision is the right decision. Best wishes!
posted by veebs at 12:16 PM on May 3, 2021 [4 favorites]

42 year old, recently remarried

What has been your personal experience as a woman without kids?

Awesome. So, so awesome! I've spent my life living where I want to live, traveling the world, having plenty of money, and being able to change careers, date and adventure as much as I want. I've never wanted kids, I wouldn't even play with dolls as a child. My friend's kids are fine, but I'm not overly drawn to seek them out. People always say that childless women always want to work with kids or be a cool aunt, but I'm fine with, um, not.

What is/has been meaningful to you as a woman without children?

Everything I decide to assign meaning to? Meaning isn't intrinsic to things, regardless of how society would like us to think. Each person gets to decide what is meaningful to them. My friends, my relationship, my spiritual practice, my art, and my ongoing personal exploration are all meaningful to me.

How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?

I'm not constantly stressed about the rigors of parenthood in the 21st century (which, wow, is so intense!). I'm not worried about getting things 'right' or about my kids getting hurt. I get plenty of sleep and don't have to deal with 'Mommy Group' culture (yuck)

How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?

It's never been an issue for me. I have plenty of friends who are also childless. There's been a slight recent uptick in kid-having among them, but I really haven't ever cared that much about being different in any aspect of my life. I don't have the kind of friends who require adherence to conventional social norms. Quite the opposite, in fact.

What have been your biggest joys? And biggest challenges?

I love my freedom and that I dont have to worry about taking care of anyone except myself (and my pets when I have one). I find my life to be really fun and interesting, in ways that parents I know are sometimes envious of. My biggest challenge has been working through my parent's poor examples of how to be a good human and partner. It's an ongoing project of course, but I've made a lot of progress so far.

What advice would you give to someone fairly new to this path?

Stop worrying about what other people think. Let go of your 'shoulds'. Don't compare your inner experience to other people's outward displays. Go enjoy your freedom, and appreciate it - in the words of Auntie Mame (certainly the coolest auntie ever) "Life's a banquet! And most poor suckers are starving to death!"
posted by ananci at 12:21 PM on May 3, 2021 [8 favorites]

Child free by choice - 31 - married (partnered 11 years)

I want to preface this and day I have NO desire - and in fact an active opposite desire for children. I know not everyone feels this strongly. And I have felt that way since I was 19 and can say I never actively wanted kids. My spouse got a vasectomy years ago. I got a hysterectomy a couple years ago. (That felt amazing. I really hated my “womb”.)

I also want to say that I was raised in a small town with a religious upbringing. I’m not religious now and generally have issues with the whole institution. But growing up I had the same pressures. And had no idea there was a path outside wife/mother until I was in college because of pressures from my ex's parents and not having child-free role models.

BIG PREFACE! I think the society has it backwards. Not wanting kids / not being sure about kids is the ONLY reason you need to not have kids. Really, we should focus on why people want kids -because that is an irreversible act of bringing a life onto the planet. Which has a whole lot more impact than just - not doing that. (Assuming decision making here.)

- What has been your personal experience as a woman without kids?

Overall, fantastic. I don't want kids. Therefore it fits with my wants. In addition - I became disabled. If I wanted kids, that would have been pretty damn near impossible anyway so I guess it's convenient. Being firm on not wanting kids / spouse getting snipped helped me access much needed medical care such as my hysterectomy. (And a good Dr. of course.)

The minor annoyances come from other people, which isn't my problem anyway. I've become pretty good at responding to bullshit about it - and in general opting out. In my years of aging / illness I've learned to give far fewer fucks about people's judgments of my life choices.

I don't have to be responsible for anyone or anything but myself and my spouse.

- What is/has been meaningful to you as a woman without children?

My spouse, my family, my friends, my hobbies, and let's be honest, just uninterrupted time. Again, my situation may be different than most because I'm disabled. But it's a continuation of how I felt when I was more able-bodied. I already have things that are important in my life.

In my opinion, bringing another life into existence just to make yourself feel more meaningful - well - I don't if that's the best option. There are so many places people can feel meaningful - take kitten rescue or something for example - or volunteer - or teaching. Or just being a kind person. Some people enjoy travel or pets. There's endless meaningful things in life.

- How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?

To be honest, the imaging of my life as a parent felt like hell. As a kid it felt inescapable. I also was a fairly typical "girl" and got a lot of mommying stuff pushed on me. (But I more enjoyed video games/tv/movies.) Though I think I got bored of babydolls quickly. I didn't play "mom" that much to my memory. I had a robo-baby in highschool for class and hated it. Literally cried at 3am. Then my ex / ex's parents pressured me and he would use it as a "look, I'm treating you like garbage now but what about when we have 2.5 kids and a mini van! Then life will be great!" Spoiler - he and that life would not have been great.

So my life looks like ME. What I / my spouse and I want.

- How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?

I'm already vastly different. I'm disabled. I can't work or access most things in the world. Partnered/married for longer than most my age. Not religious. I enjoy tattoos and bizzare / edgy fashion and weird music. I have a pretty big love of visual media and gaming.

I enjoy people similar to me. I don't mind people who have kids but it's just HOW. Because if their personality becomes "parent" well, that's just not what I'm interested in. It can sometimes be harder to find people to match with, but it's already an odd age group - some people still very into partying - some people having their second kid.

- What have been your biggest joys? And biggest challenges?

Biggest joy was realizing I didn't HAVE to have kids. It felt like a lightning bolt. Like someone unlocked a secret ending in a story.

Next joy was vasectomy! No more need for birth control (which was making me sick.) Final joy was hysterectomy. Literal no possible way to have kids.

Biggest challenge is other people - specifically doctors. I've gotten lectures when it wasn't medically relevant and I've really wanted to go off on a few people. Some people I've stood up to quite a bit. I'm thankful that now I have a supportive GYN and also having no uterus / being in menopause - most people now realize I don't/can't have kids.

Another challenge is my spouses work - because the novelty of a disabled wife that needs help wears off - but people are generally more understanding of kids' needs. Thankfully, his work has been accommodating. And we all know that lack of accommodations for parents in the workplace. But it's interesting as an outside observer to see that parents get more understanding if their kid is sick, than my spouse at times has when his wife is sick. Similar with people expecting my spouse to have time to work extra. (And in skimming I see similar sentiments from child free people about work expectations.)

- What advice would you give to someone fairly new to this path?

Your decisions only matter to a certain degree. Stay with me here.

Not everyone is guaranteed a child - or a partner - or the life they imagine. If it wasn't clear already - I'm disabled. My life is not what I imagined. But we have to learn to roll with it. So even if somehow you did want kids later or regretted something - you have to do what works for you NOW. And that's okay. There isn't some magic right or wrong answer to most of these things.

Being child free doesn't have to be an identifier. That's part of why I hated having a uterus. I hated the idea that I was in a category often only looked at as a womb. I hated that people wanted to assign "mom" to me. Even though I'm cis, the sexism of it made me despise it. I forget that people don't know that I don't want kids / can't have kid because it feels like it's stamped on my forehead. But It just feels like a basic fact but not some group or label, most of the time.

I would give you the advice to take a moment to look into your life. What actions do YOU want as an individual want? Career? Travel? Hobbies? Pets? Plants? Start doing those more. Invest in them. Make your life more full of joy wherever you can. Nothing is a guarantee. And sometimes, living your life will lead you to comfort or a choice or realization.
posted by Crystalinne at 12:26 PM on May 3, 2021 [4 favorites]

I'm 41 and divorced. I grew up in a huge family and was a primary babysitter for cousins of all ages starting around 11. so was always fully aware of the time and effort required to be a parent, especially a mother. I got married too young and thought I wanted a house in the suburbs and kids and in my rush to be what I thought a grownup was, picked the wrong person. When all of my friends started to have babies, I wanted desperately to be pregnant. Looking back I am so thankful that it didn't happen because it would have been a disaster with my ex.

I have a niece, two nephews, and tons of kids of my friends and cousins. I'm better as a fun aunt and am fairly certain I would have made a crappy, selfish mother even though everyone says I would be a great one.

I love my life now, even though it is entirely different than what I planned. I love my job and I know that my available time and undivided attention has been a real driver to my success. The money is a plus too - I don't have to worry about shoes or clothes or camp or any of the other expenses.

I think my friends and family feel bad for me and think I am less of a complete person because I'm not married and never had kids, but they would never say it to my face. It's hard to stay in touch with some of my friends with very small kids, and when we talk we don't have a ton in common.

I like that my time is my own and I have tons of hobbies. I'm also able to support my family, especially my sister and her 3 kids, by helping out with everything when I visit.

I agree that once you make your decision, don't look back and imagine what could have been - it's a waste of time.
posted by elvissa at 12:27 PM on May 3, 2021 [5 favorites]

- How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?

Having kids is usually meaningful but not especially pleasant most of the time.

When I agreed to not have kids with my partner, it was contingent upon having some Major Long-term Project that we work on together. I think there's a lot of emotional growth that comes with parenting, and I don't want to miss out on the pain of learning faster than is sometimes comfortable.
posted by aniola at 1:03 PM on May 3, 2021 [3 favorites]

As a person from a somewhat conservative Midwestern upbringing, I want to push back just a little on some of the assumptions underlying your questions. I'm not saying this to be condescending; I literally do understand how difficult it is to imagine communities that operate differently than your own, but there are many places in the U.S. where, yes, the default is that you're going to have kids, but if you happen not to have them, you are not defined as a Woman Without Kids. There are, of course, places where you really are. I wasn't conscious of this at the time I made the choice, but one of the reasons I stay where I moved to is that I find it much better to be in the former kind of place.

- What has been your personal experience as a woman without kids?

It's been a human life. Seriously. I never wanted them, and I don't experience my life as one "without kids" any more than I experience it as one "without an M.D." or "without a rural property."

- What is/has been meaningful to you as a woman without children?

My work, my art, my interests, my hobbies, my family, hopefully soon a dog or two. But what's meaningful to you, personally, really is something you'll have to discover for yourself. That is one of the points of having a life.

- How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?

I don't think I would've made a good mother, especially in the early years when the menial labor is so relentless. I would've met all my responsibilities, but I would have been miserable and resentful and there's no way that wouldn't have seeped through to my children. Also my parental role models were not the best and I would've spent at least 18 years battling with my temper.

- How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?

My friends are maybe 50/50 with/without. I've never really been all that much like most of my broadly-defined peer group, so it wouldn't bother me much. You do have to be prepared to be gracious and flexible with your woman friends who do have kids, though, if you want to keep them. (The men friends will mostly be slackers and affected less, but you can't adjudicate labor allocation within someone else's marriage.) It helps to at least like kids (I don't mind them at all, in modest doses), but, more importantly, you need to be willing to deal with irregular schedules and periods of absence. I find that, so far, I can discern people who actually want to stay friends, but are overwhelmed with parenting, from women who think "well, now I've got to the important part of my life and needn't worry about anything else." The latter I let drop; the former, I'm planning to dictate all our fun activities together in retirement.

- What have been your biggest joys? And biggest challenges?

Would you ask a man this, framed in this "well, if you don't have kids, what DO you do with yourself" sense? Probably not, right?

- What advice would you give to someone fairly new to this path?

Due to the way society indoctrinates people, I think a fair number of women don't realize that having kids is not a substitute for developing a mature personality and having a life, including a strong relationship with their partner. Then their kids grow up, and they look around and don't know what to do with themselves or who their partner (if they have one) really is. If you don't have kids, you have to address this question much earlier, and keep on addressing it as life changes around you. There's no fudging the self away. That's hard, but hopefully worthwhile.

As a practical matter, as long as you don't actually loathe kids as a type, it's good to try to develop connections with at least some younger people, to keep your spirit flexible and open to change. You want to be the cool aunt, not an old fuddy-duddy. Nieces and nephews are great for this.

You also need to save more money. Children are no guarantee against poverty in old age, but often at least can be a resource for caregiving. I intend to substitute for children an expensive long-term care insurance policy.

[sorry, mid-40s]
posted by praemunire at 1:20 PM on May 3, 2021 [14 favorites]

I'm 48 and wanted kids but was derailed by a divorce. And by the time I was remarried I was diagnosed with "unexplained infertility." I chose not to pursue fertility treatments because of my age and the expense and pitiful chances of success. So I'm infertile with a side dish of "by choice" that I resent more than a little. As a result, I'm a bit more morose about it all than my childfree by choice sisterhood answering before me.

What has been your personal experience as a woman without kids?
This was not what I signed up for, but here I am. Because I didn't pursue fertility treatments, people sometimes think I didn't want children *enough* and that blows me away.

- What is/has been meaningful to you as a woman without children?
With the exception of "my kids" I'd hope it's the same that woman with children have. I still have family that I love and holidays that I celebrate. Sunrises at the beach, justice for everyone. I'm the one my mother leans on more as she ages, but I think that has more to do with being eldest daughter than childless woman. I'm happy I can help her though.

- How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?
I'm often told, "You would have made a fantastic mother," and I reply "Yes, I would have!" People get weirded out when I say that too, as if I was supposed to simper and say, "I guess God knew best." Nah. He messed this one up. ;)

I worry a lot about who will visit me when I'm old. I know having children isn't a guarantee that you'll be looked in on as you age, but I hope my nephews love me enough to make sure I'm okay.

- How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?
Friendship has been difficult because as more of my same-age friends became parents they became friendly with women from their parent (mostly mom) groups. And mom groups are pretty exclusive - it seems like a sorority. Before the pandemic, my mom-friends had more nights out than I did without kids. Because they'll go out with other mom friends and I don't have that large built-in friend group. All of my friends have kids. Even as their kids become older, my parent-friends are still very hands on, even through college. I've found the lack of female friendship the hardest part.

- What have been your biggest joys? And biggest challenges?
Joy: Basically the tropes: sleeping in, doing what I want, eating my own food, traveling anytime of the year, being able to give 100% to my marriage and my career.

Challenges: This week in particular is positively awful. Here in the USA, I feel that if you're not a mom, you're perpetually at the kiddie table, seen as stunted. You know the phrases "you've never felt love until you've had children?" Not 100% true! I know love. Not the same love, but saying I've never felt love? Nah. I'm not saying children don't add a whole other dimension to life, but people can have meaningful lives without them.

I'd love if parents could say that they love being parents without putting down the lives of people without kids. You don't have to elevate your family Christmas celebration by saying "you don't experience the magic of Christmas unless you have a child" and therefore imply that my Christmas is less magical because I don't have kids. We can both have great Christmases! That negging behavior is pretty widespread even here in the walled garden of MetaFilter. There was a MetaTalk a few months back that stung.

(Conversely, you can be happy about having a childfree life without negging parents. I think some of the vitriolic childfree message boards have damaged the reputation of all people without kids.)

- What advice would you give to someone fairly new to this path?
If you're dealing with infertility, the grief will hit you in weird ways. If I became pregnant today (which everyone says is still possible as if I haven't been off birth control since 2010 with zero kids to show) I'd be mortified because I don't want to be a 48 year old mother of a newborn! I do not want to be pregnant anymore, yet I'm still sad about it from time to time.

Stand your ground at work. Your time is also valuable, and (if you're in the USA) you can't be a one-person solution to the disaster that is childcare in the USA.

It's okay to grieve the life you thought you'd have while still enjoying the one you do have. You are not a lesser woman, your life is not less valuable, you have so much to contribute!
posted by kimberussell at 1:25 PM on May 3, 2021 [10 favorites]

Also I mean, if this is what works for you specifically, OP, fine, but just in general: you don't have to "make up for" not having kids by doing something else huge or long-term or expensive or "impactful." Or by taking on the various burdens of other peoples' kids!

You aren't obligated to be Ultra Self-Realized or the World's Most Incredible Auntie or Climbing That Corporate Ladder or amassing a collection of esoteric degrees or dedicating yourself to a life as a noteworthy political activist or literally anything else.

Kids aren't a thing you owed the world in exchange for your continuing to breathe, you aren't shirking an essential responsibility for which you must balance the scale.

It's ok to just be a child-free garden-variety fuckaround, man. In fact, I recommend it.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:46 PM on May 3, 2021 [46 favorites]

What has been your personal experience as a woman without kids?
I never wanted them, knew from a very early age I never would have them. One pregnancy scare in early 20s freaked me out. At that time I was in a disintegrating relationship, no family support and poor as a church mouse, fortunately was a false alarm, massive relief. Have been single for 20+ years so hasn’t really been a thing.

- What is/has been meaningful to you as a woman without children?
The idea that life as a woman is only meaningful in conjunction with having kids drives me totally batshit crazy. Was that ever asked of a man? I guess I don’t really think life has ‘meaning’ in any case. I don’t think my life has any more or less meaning than anyone else, if they procreated or no.

- How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?
More time, more money, more freedom.

- How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?
I guess I act as if it is totally normal and don’t ever act like I think I need any pity or sympathy. Because I don’t. I’ve had jobs with high percentage of international travel. I got pretty annoyed at being sent overseas at short notice or being lumbered with more work and more travel than colleagues with kids, whether it was a conscious or unconscious decision by managers.

- What have been your biggest joys? And biggest challenges?
Freedom, time, travel and experiences have been a joy. Challenges would be isolation and losing friendships after they have children, trying to keep contacts going but having little to talk about if you don’t know anything about nappies, babies puking after being fed or whatever subject is quite naturally at the front of their minds.

- What advice would you give to someone fairly new to this path?
You are not wrong or weird or selfish, everyone has to find their own path. It would be much worse to have a child and regret or resent the decision. We’re so lucky to be able to choose when in the past it might not have been a physical or economic option.
posted by ElasticParrot at 2:23 PM on May 3, 2021 [4 favorites]

I'm not a woman but I'm an AFAB non-binary person, so I have a lot of the same experiences and am often taken for a woman. Anyway, I worried a lot about this when I was in my early thirties (I'm now in my early forties), which makes sense because that's when a lot of my friends were starting to have kids.

Now? I'm really glad I didn't have kids. My friends are rolling into the real muck of parenting, with toddler-to-middle-school kids and whew is it a grind, especially after a year-plus of COVID. To answer some of your questions:

- What is/has been meaningful to you as a woman without children?
I have a career I love so in theory not having kids allows me to dedicate more time and energy to it, but honestly, as I get older, work-life balance becomes more important anyway. But it's nice to be able to take risks like going out on my own as a consultant without having to worry about feeding anyone but myself and my dog.

As for what is meaningful - for me it's still relationships, just not with kids. Building friendships/community, spending time with friends' kids, being a great auntie to my brother's daughter. Our society can really isolate families, and one benefit to being childless is the time to build those connections.

- How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?
Time. I have so much more time. I love time. I am alone more than I would be as a parent, but I also have more ability to choose who I spend time with.

- How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?
This is probably where being queer has helped a lot, as there's less of one set life path in queer communities. To that end, I recommend building friendships/community with people are also not parents, as well as people in different stages of life (it's great to have a close friend who has already raised a family), and people who are parents but don't act as if non-parenthood is some sort of aberration (which honestly a fair amount of well-meaning people do).

- What have been your biggest joys? And biggest challenges?
Joys: "Raising" my dog from a puppy. Going out on my own as a consultant and making it work. Building a queer community after coming out in my thirties. Watching my niece become a little person. Challenges: I think the biggest thing is still that small worry that I will regret not having kids at some point. But that honestly recedes as the years go by. The other challenges I have are more to do with being single in a society built around nuclear families, but it seems like that would probably be less of an issue for you.

- What advice would you give to someone fairly new to this path?
As others have said, don't feel like you need to be some super-high-achiever or adventurer to "make up" for not having kids. Lean into the things that make you feel grounded, happy, and fulfilled. For me that's been building community, self-discovery, and putting down roots in a city I love. What works for you may be different. But building community will probably be worthwhile.
posted by lunasol at 2:28 PM on May 3, 2021 [5 favorites]

41 y/o

- What has been your personal experience as a woman without kids?
Based on watching my parents' experience as parents and reading a bit of what was available at the time about the best way to raise kids, I decided in my 20s that kids were not something I wanted enough to do it "right". I total my now spouse early in our relationship (I was 21 when we started dating) that I wasn't interested. He was taken aback at first, tried to talk me into "maybe some day," but I pushed back and said that was unfair to him for me to tell him that. He worked on that idea on his own for a while and we are still happily together.

- What is/has been meaningful to you as a woman without children?
The rest of my life, particularly hobbies & travel. I am glad I had more room for a career as well.

- How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?
Gobs more time and space. Disposable income. Not having someone for who I am completely responsible. I am able to consider taking risks. Not having to worry about that school-district choice. I am a little concerned about managing old-age without kids, but having kids doesn't automatically fix that either.

- How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?
I've always been different (gender non-conforming; not neurotypical), so this doesn't bother me. I find other people have a bigger problem with it than I do myself. Different strokes for different folks.

- What have been your biggest joys? And biggest challenges?
Joys: Getting my PhD. Living in Europe for 2.5 years in my early-30s. Traveling with my spouse. Challenges: We did have some early comments from parents / relatives, but those died down pretty quick. Otherwise, nothing that has to do with the choice not to have kids.

- What advice would you give to someone fairly new to this path?
Be yourself. People who are dicks to you about this choice are saying more about themselves than they are about you.
posted by chiefthe at 2:37 PM on May 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'm 42, married, a manager in higher education and tangentially connected to a religious social circle that emphasizes marriage and parenthood as life goals. I'm really enjoying reading the diversity of experiences here. I'm seeing a lot of free-floating thoughts and feelings from my brain articulated beautifully by others.

How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?

This is going to vary so much. I'm lucky to have a variety of folks without kids in my circle (including work) as well as chill parents who relish non-parent time with me and my spouse.

I have had to negotiate what to do when someone gets high-pressure about my life choices and/or gets weird about "sorry, we're going to talk about kids now" conversations and literally turns their back on me (!). I've found it to be really handy to have some pat phrases to circumvent nonsense. For example, when people want to exclude me in a weird way, I will quickly respond "Oh, I was a nanny and babysitter for 20 years. I've found both poop and raisins in my bra." I hope it makes them go, "Right, any human can be aware of tiny/medium/teenage humans and their needs." You may find a pithy comment from your personal experience to convey "Dude, I'm not a parent, but I'm down to have an interesting conversation about parenthood."

As for people who want to push on your choice, I feel like it is so much easier if you are confident and clear in your own mind. You don't owe anyone an explanation, but it sure smooths out the awkwardness (that they're creating!) if you can say something like "Oh no, parenthood isn't for me!" *big smile* "But THANK YOU for helping to continue the species!" I've also said things like:
- "I've got my hands full being the Weird Aunt!"
- "Nope, that's not for me! But I'm lucky to work with kids. It takes a village!"
I think the key is to convey that it's NOT up for debate, but you're not denigrating anyone else's choices. The folks who have gotten really weird with me about not wanting kids, seem to react as if I told them THEY were wrong for having children. When people still persist, I go into full Miss Manners Mode and respond with "Oh wow! What a question!" or "Oh dear, I'm sure you didn't mean to say that out loud!"
posted by annaramma at 2:53 PM on May 3, 2021 [3 favorites]

I'm 47, partnered/married for 21 years, and child-free by choice
- What has been your personal experience as a woman without kids?
I started out wanting 2 kids, though, in retrospect, it was a largely assumed and unexamined desire. My husband and I talked about it for years. We had lots of discussions about division of labor, goals, approaches to discipline, and talked our way through many scenarios. We discussed adoption. We also had unplanned pregnancies that we terminated. Our conclusion was that we saw eye-to-eye on everything important, would both make great parents, and both loved kids. But, we didn't want to have any of our own. Just because you'd be a great parent isn't reason enough to be one. Some of our decision was based on how we saw what the future holds, how much we enjoyed a lifestyle without kids, and we were lucky enough to have close family and friends who had kids and who we've become very close to (if it takes a village, having child-free villagers sure helps). Though we took a long trip through deciding, we are happy to be child-free. I'm also happy to be child free because it meant that I didn't have to sacrifice many of my personal interests in order to devote that headspace to being a parent.

- What is/has been meaningful to you as a woman without children?
I have a great community of friends and family, and have specifically sought out friendships with other women who are child-free by choice,though many of my friends have families with kids. I also have been able to pursue hobbies and interests without much encumbrance. I'm much more available to help aging parents and I have my free time, even if I don't use it to do world-changing things. I've built my identity as a woman around me and not my ability to have kids/be a mom. I love my freedom.

- How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?
I have free time! I get to be selfish! My partner and I are extremely deeply and securely bonded because we have the time to devote to that.

- How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?
To be honest, I don't feel it. I don't feel being different because of the kid thing. I'm different than my peer group in many ways (I think we all have this to some extent), so being kid-free doesn't stand out hugely.

- What have been your biggest joys? And biggest challenges?
I LOVE being an aunt. I love being available to help care for the kids in my life that aren't mine. I had some deeply influential "aunt" relationships in my life and they were critically important to becoming the person I am today. I had a great and positive home life, but the dimensions that older, child-free women brought to my life is immeasurable. I got real-world guidance, I got support and love, I had security through that extended family, and I got to see what being a child-free woman could be like. It made me less scared of becoming a child-free woman because I got to see great models of it in my own life. The challenges have not been many. My family has been supportive and I'm not the only child-free person in my friend groups.

- What advice would you give to someone fairly new to this path?
Don't be scared! Find other women who are child-free and be friends with them. Have frank conversations with them about it. Don't feel guilty and also really take the time to examine the myths of parenthood (like your kids will care for your when you're old and without kids you'll be isolated and destitute or that parenting makes you a whole person). Also, don't feel like you have to do something singularly impressive with your life because you didn't have kids - you can just live a an unremarkable life and be happy. Truly, I feel so lucky that I was able to take the time and had the choice to either become a parent or not. For me, personally, this luck was very much due to me having access to great reproductive healthcare and abortion.
posted by quince at 3:05 PM on May 3, 2021 [4 favorites]

The folks who have gotten really weird with me about not wanting kids, seem to react as if I told them THEY were wrong for having children.

If you pin your identity to being a mother, and give up everything else, as happens in certain religious/social circles, and then have to face the reality that it is often miserable work that gets very little respect especially from the conservative men who purport to believe it's woman's highest calling, having anyone suggest that there might be an alternative is intolerable.

You may find a pithy comment from your personal experience to convey "Dude, I'm not a parent, but I'm down to have an interesting conversation about parenthood."

Right, I wouldn't be up for two hours of poop talk over dinner, but it's not that hard to discuss how they decide what books they're reading their kids at their age for fifteen minutes! Especially if you take a mild, benign interest in the actual kid(s) in question. Growing humans is interesting, even if you personally don't want to grow one. It's just another Mefi topic, to be honest.
posted by praemunire at 3:08 PM on May 3, 2021 [12 favorites]

Just thought I'd drop this in, which I just spotted in the NYT.
posted by swheatie at 3:51 PM on May 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm a 40-something only child of only children who grew up envious of kids with big, loud families, with brothers and sisters or a gajillion cousins and someone who started planning her own motherhood early. Committing every detail of my childhood to memory, to tell stories to my own kids, saving toys and blankets and books (so many books!) and just loved kids of all ages. Babysat more than I dated as a teen, worked in a daycare while earning Child Development credits to be a preschool teacher, so I could transfer that into a multisubject elementary career. And then.. it all just fell apart. I struggled with untreated adhd and depression in college and early tech support jobs didn't need a degree anyway and paid better. And I was hung up on people who weren't into me for most of my 20's and 30's and never had a relationship long enough to consider being serious about much less have kids with. And it turned out my plumbing was all fucked up anyway, but even then I figured there was plenty of time and even if *I* can't have them there's plenty of kids that need love, right? But in all this time, I've pretty much failed to launch as a successful, independent adult and I'm completely unrecognizable from the Me-That-Was and the life she planned for. She doesn't understand that even if magically found the right partner, financial and emotional stability, and could get my ovaries to co-operate, the Me-That-Is *still* wouldn't want to bring a child into this fucked up world with a genetic deck stacked so hard against them. She's still carrying all my hopes and dreams for my own kids, still saving all her little golden books and legos and still wants to see her amazing Dad get to be a grandpa. She doesn't get it and I can't convince her that it's not going to happen, even as my ob/gyn tells me I should have my stupid, useless uterus removed.
What I'm really saying is .. embrace the person you are. Be empowered and enriched by the life you're making. There are always going to be people who don't get it or who overstep polite boundaries to ask about your lack of motherhood, or outright judge. My stock answer to that sort of thing varies from "it just never happened for me" to "that's a really painful/inappropriate thing to say to someone who isn't related to you." You may lose/fade away from friends who get busy with their families, but they may well come back to you when the kids are older, and that's something that's been a nice surprise as I've gotten older.
I wish I had better advice than this.
posted by ApathyGirl at 4:19 PM on May 3, 2021 [11 favorites]

I'm 41 years old, I've never had a long-term relationship, and I have no plans to have children. Which really surprises some people, because I have been EXTREMELY maternal since I was very small and I'm genuinely very good with children. I spent high school and college babysitting 5 nights a week and was a live-in nanny for 6 summers in a row. Because of all this early experience, I HAVE SEEN SOME SHIT. I truly believe that most people who try for kids do not actually understand what it's like to be responsible for a small human 24/7 with almost no breaks. Additionally: my mom and the woman I nannied for were definitely those who had kids because society told them too, and found pretty much everything about parenting a chore. That colored my picture of motherhood as I hit my mid-20s and beyond.

I *did* suddenly find myself a bit desperate for children in my early 30s, but in retrospect, this was all about anxiety, and specifically the fear of being alone. I have never had luck with romantic relationships, so I thought children were the only way to have guaranteed company for the rest of my life. Now that my anxiety has been addressed (hat tip to Lexapro), I see what flawed thinking this is. There is no guarantee that my children would want anything to do with me as adults, and there are plenty of ways to build community and chosen family as we age.

I'm lucky in that I have lots of great role models for childlessness, or at least enjoying life on your own. My grandmother had three kids, but was widowed in her late 50s and never remarried. Frankly, her life seemed pretty awesome to me. She traveled extensively and internationally into her 70s; had a ton of friends and volunteer gigs; and spent long, happy hours alone reading and doing crossword puzzles. Also: in college, I found a group of online friends who were mostly older than me and a lot more liberal/counterculture than my high school and college peers. Twenty years later, we are still tight, with a never-ending WhatsApp chat and lots of domestic and international group trips in our past and future. Out of the 12 of us, one has children and is the least frequent participant in the group. Only 3 of the 12 are partnered or married. The rest of us are just smart, successful, independent ladies who do whatever we want, buy our own homes, travel together, and so on.

I have three best friends -- one lives out of state and has two kids, the other two are a lesbian couple who live 10 minutes away and have three kids. I am Auntie to all five of these little boys, and I really relish that role. I was bubbled up with my local nephews for the bulk of the pandemic, and I both delighted in spending so much concentrated time with them, and rejoiced when I got to go home and be by myself. When I think about dealing full-time with kids during a pandemic, I feel literal dread in the pit of my stomach. And while you are certainly not obligated to like or spend time with kids, I really enjoy it and feel like I'm CHEATING AT LIFE with this whole Auntie thing. Like, DO PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT THIS? My nephews are always happy to see me, we have a blast together, I have someone to dote on if I feel the need, but I am in no way responsible for them! I can give them back whenever I want! It's amazing.

Finally: to me, some of the benefits to being childless are as follows: More flexibility and freedom in terms of where you live, how/where you work, how much money you get to spend and save, etc. Getting to throw myself into social justice work and volunteering because I don't have kids to worry about. Diving deep on hobbies and learning new things. Getting to read as much as I want without interruption. Travel without kids to pay for or worry about -- I would have had WAY less fun in Portugal in 2018 if I were wrangling kiddos, and I doubt my (childless) travel mates would have been very enthused. I feel like I have many years of adventure, exploration, growth, and community in front of me, and I get to do that on my own terms without having to factor kids into the equation. At the same time, I have opportunities to be part of some kids' lives and indulge that side of my personality when desired. Minus the pandemic and the general state of the world, I honestly don't think I've ever been happier in my life.
posted by leftover_scrabble_rack at 4:44 PM on May 3, 2021 [10 favorites]

I’ve just turned 50, married 20 years, 3 cats. Never wanted children - actually I find them kind of annoying and creepy and prefer not to have to be around them. I don’t think of myself as “a woman without children” — there’s no sense of anything lacking. It’s not even the most consequential decision I’ve made in my life - that was to uproot myself and move to a different country in my late 20s. I’m far more interested in others’ experiences as immigrants than as parents.

I’m an academic, as is my husband. We teach and travel, and have fulfilling and rewarding relationships with our students (erm, mostly. Bless their hearts). I can get out of bed when I want, eat without having to share, and just get in the car and drive if I want to, cats permitting. No regrets, 100% would do again.
posted by media_itoku at 5:03 PM on May 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'm 38 this year, and only recently came to the decision that kids are not for me. I'd always assumed that I would have the standard two kids. Then I decided sometime in my early 30's that one kid would be more than enough. Then even just one kid started to seem like way too much time, work, expense, and sacrifice to my health. My fiance was similarly on the fence, which made it easy for us to come to the conclusion that we're not having any. We're getting another dog instead, and I'm super excited for that.

What has been your personal experience as a woman without kids?

There actually was a time when I really did (or thought I did) want kids, so not being financially ready yet was painful. But soon after my (now ex) husband and I got settled in our careers, the cracks began to show in my marriage. My ex husband became this extremely rigid, critical, stingy jerk and the thought of having a baby with him made my blood run cold. We divorced and I had to start over again in my mid-30's. Thinking back, had I married a better guy in my younger years, I might have two kids now.

We divorced and I spent some time enjoying my freedom as single woman. And this is going to sound really Eat, Pray, Love, but as I began discovering myself and doing all the things I'd always wanted to (but didn't because my ex was a cheap, controlling ass), I began to see other possibilities for my life. It was tough when many of my friends started having kids. Especially since most had them back to back. I get that they were going through a big thing, and it was easier for them to relate to other women going through the same big thing. But it was clear that I needed to socially diversify and so I did. I made a ton of new friends through my new hobbies, and haven't felt lonely or left out since.

What is/has been meaningful to you as a woman without children?

I can fully devote my time to whatever I want. Spending time with my aging parents, spending time with my sister (who is also childfree by choice), expanding my social circles, advancing my career, learning new things, traveling, volunteering, etc. When I'm with my fiance, I can give him the best of me, and vice versa, instead of our attentions being split two or three ways. We share a lot of hobbies and spend a ton of quality time together, which is just about impossible for my friends who have to hand off the kids to their partners whenever they want to do something for themselves.

In recent years, especially with the pandemic, having the time and financial ability to help care for my parents as they get older has become extremely important to me. I'm really, really glad that I can do more for them than I could if I also had kids to look after.

How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?

Freedom, glorious freedom. I can change my plans on a whim. I don't have to plan a night out a week in advance. A friend can text me to go hang out and ten minutes later I'm out the door. I can spend whatever money I want, however I want, without guilt that I'm taking away from my kids' futures. My fiance and I go exactly where we want on vacation, not having to take into account whether there will be enough activities for the kids to do, will they be bored, will there be food they'll eat, etc. I can play back to back hockey games on a week night without worrying that my partner will resent me for not being home to help feed and bathe and put the kids in bed.

I'm also free from the anxiety of worrying about them. My friends' kids are all still so little, and there is already so much. This one is showing signs of developmental delays. This one is 5 years old and still not sleeping through the night. This one refuses to sleep in their own bed, mom and dad haven't had a night alone together in years, and their marriage is hanging by a thread. These ones fight like cats and dogs over everything. This one is having trouble making friends and has a meltdown every morning before school. I couldn't fathom dealing with the bigger stuff coming down the pipes, like social media, dating, teenage angst, grades, alcohol and drugs, college, etc. That doesn't even touch the anxiety I'd feel about bringing kids into a world where we're rapidly approaching a point of no return with regard to pollution and climate change.

How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?

As mentioned before, I expanded and diversified. I have lots of friends without kids, friends with older kids who can fend for themselves instead of needing mom 24/7, and friends who have staunchly maintained their identities outside of being a mother. Some of my friendships have been placed on the backburner as they've become consumed with motherhood and have different priorities, but others have never really missed a beat.

What have been your biggest joys? And biggest challenges?

Biggest joys would include the utter relief I felt when I finally made the decision. I had a lot of anxiety that I would later come to regret not having kids. But I did a lot of reading, and sought out perspectives from others who eschewed the narrative that life and love are meaningless if you don't become a mother. Now that I know for sure that I'm not having kids, the possibilities are endless. There is so much that I can't wait to do.

I guess the only challenges have been the expectations of others - mostly that of acquaintances and strangers. Even my parents were surprisingly understanding, and didn't guilt trip me at all. I guess I do still wonder from time to time if I'm going to regret this choice, even though I've thought it all through a hundred times. If things don't work out with my fiance or if something happens to him, am I going to die alone? And given how worried I am about my parents, who will worry about me when I'm old? But kids aren't guaranteed insurance either. I know plenty of people who have awful or nonexistent relationships with their parents and siblings. And I assume if I end up old and alone and unable to care for myself, assisted suicide will be a simple matter by that time.

What advice would you give to someone fairly new to this path?

I'm new too, so I've been reading this thread with interest!
posted by keep it under cover at 7:21 PM on May 3, 2021 [5 favorites]

People in this thread might enjoy this essay about moving to Bolivia.
posted by wowenthusiast at 7:46 PM on May 3, 2021 [6 favorites]

Another thing I had forgotten because it’s been so long since I’ve spent a significant amount of time in the company of other people: There has been a nonzero number of women who’ve seemed to have a general distrust of me being around or interacting with their children. It’s far from everyone, but just enough to notice.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:41 PM on May 3, 2021 [7 favorites]

You might find this book useful.
posted by heavenknows at 4:36 AM on May 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

I've been thinking over this question since I saw it and replied, and I think I figured it out a theme - on my own, I don't feel sadness or regret or much about not having kids. It's like how I don't think about the color of my hair. It's just there, as a fact of life. I didn't really have the choice (that essay about moving to Bolivia and the comments on it were really helpful) and I'm sad that I didn't get the choice. But in my day to day life, it doesn't come up.

It's some parents and a society that focuses SO STRONGLY on families and women having babies that makes me sad. It's the exclusion and comments and pity and jealousy (how can I be the recipient of both?! At the same time?!); it's the feeling of being on the outskirts of real society, which is pushed by some people with kids again and again. I don't count, because I don't have kids. There is a spoken and unspoken assumption by many that the point of life is to have kids, and when you don't do that, you're met with a lot of judgement. Is it because you're a terrible person? Or is it because you're a terrible person. Because if you didn't want/can't have kids, you must be a terrible person. [I hope these last three sentences read as sarcastic and NOT WHAT I THINK at all.]

And that sucks.

So, as much as possible, try to avoid people who think and act like that! They make themselves known pretty quickly. They're trying to justify their own choices, but you don't get to do that at the cost of making me out to be a monster.

Someone noted on the blue recently that news articles about the pandemic have repeatedly said things like "women are overburdened and dropping out of the workforce! women have had enough!" and what they meant was mothers and/or caretakers. I was glad that person called it out, because I had noticed it and thought I was the only one bothered by it. Every time I read an article that said women when they meant mothers and caretakers I thought, oh, so I just...don't count, then? I'm not a woman? Not every woman is a mother or caretaker; not every caretaker or mother is a woman, and conflating the three is pretty damaging.

Also, I wanted to mention - you might feel like people are bristling a little at the questions, and I hope you can read past that. I know that I felt, on initial response, like I had to once again justify my continued existence, and it's tiresome to do that. But then I remembered that you asked this question in good faith, and when I looked at your question and comment history, realized that you're pretty new to thinking about this. So I hope you can understand and forgive the recurring attitude of "why do you think this matters to me at all?" - childless people and childless women especially are forced to say again and again that our lives have meaning and value despite not having kids.
posted by punchtothehead at 6:42 AM on May 4, 2021 [15 favorites]

Hi! 42 here, in a long-term (21 years so far) relationship, 3 cats, no kids.

When I was a teenager, I sort of took it for granted in a distant, abstract sense that someday I'd probably have kids. But by the time I got to college, the more I thought about the practical realities of it, the less I felt compelled in that direction.

Part of it was that the idea of being pregnant/giving birth was (and still is) horrifying to me; I am extremely, *extremely* protective of personal space and of my own bodily autonomy, and I have a hard enough time getting through a dental cleaning, let alone an hours-long session of having my hooha ripped open by a whole other person busting their way out. I know it's not awful for everyone, but you can't really predict how it's going to go, you know?

Another part of it was that I started worrying about "losing myself" in the Mom Role. I have a ton of hobbies and projects, and a job I really love & find tremendous fulfillment in. Not saying parenthood wouldn't also be fulfilling, but in order to manage it (and I do think I could actually be a very good parent), I'd have to essentially disappear myself into the task, and that is also terrifying.

I would be willing to attempt to have a kid if my partner told me it was important to him (and I've let him know this). My love for my partner is greater than my horror of pregnancy or fear of disappearing into motherhood. But both of us have such full and busy lives already that we've managed to reach our 40s without it becoming an existential emergency for either of us, and I'm grateful for this.
posted by aecorwin at 1:07 PM on May 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I am overwhelmed by and so grateful for the diversity and amount of responses to this question! Thank you all.

I really did not at all intend to frame the question as “what do you do with yourselves” or “justify your life to me” or anything even remotely like that so I apologize if my phrasing came off that way. I vehemently do not think women without kids need to justify themselves to anyone - but it’s still out there as an assumption that every woman wants to and can become a mother and that that will be the end goal of her life. In asking this question, my aim was to push back against this assumption and have a thread with a collection of other lives, choices and stories.

What I was looking for - and definitely received, thanks to your fantastic responses - were stories of lives lived outside more mainstream social narratives. It’s still pretty uncommon where I live for women to choose alternate paths so I suppose I am still in a phase of shoring up my own sense of self and confidence as I start out on my own. Like keep it under cover said, I do look forward to “freedom, glorious freedom”.

I am fairly new to thinking about this topic, as punchtothehead said above. Thank you all for sharing in such an open way, and for your patience with me.

The moving to Bolivia article is simply fantastic and such a refreshing way of looking at how society influences and frames the choices people make.
posted by oywiththepoodles at 1:13 PM on May 4, 2021 [6 favorites]

So, I'm 40. I grew up in rural northern Alberta (the Peace), but so my broader community is conservative and some parts of the community were indeed very religious, but my household was atheist and my mother in particular politically left wing. I never experienced a huge amount of pressure to have kids, especially after my sister did. I have worked in government (all levels) for my entire career, in a mix of privacy and policy related roles.

I didn't always plan on being childless/childfree, but I also never had a burning desire to have kids. For awhile I was interested in it, when I have having a bad time at my job, but hindsight on that is really that it seemed like another outlet when my career wasn't in a great space. I think if I was really set on kids, I'd have wanted them regardless of what was happening career-wise. My partner is survivor of childhood abuse, and as a result really didn't want to have kids, and I found myself feeling just very neutral when he explained that. So we didn't have any.

- What has been your personal experience as a woman without kids?

For the most part great. I don't experience discrimination because of it anymore. When I was younger, the perception that I'd leave to raise kids did worry me. I once overheard a Director (in the federal government) say that she didn't want to promote younger women to positions of responsibility until they've had their kids because then she didn't need to worry about mat leave, which left me worrying once I knew that wouldn't happen that would have no paths to promotion. But now that I'm old enough that my childfree status is assumed to be permanent I don't worry about that anymore. In my current role, both my boss and Director (her boss) are also childfree women.

- What is/has been meaningful to you as a woman without children?

I have good friendships, a job that is challenging and I enjoy learning new things and making things. I suspect if I had had kids, these would still be very meaningful things for me as well.

- How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?

As I had an unplanned pregnancy when I was 18 years old that I terminated, I have sometimes thought about what that alternative reality would look like and it's less successful, more stressful and lonelier. For that specific pregnancy, I was completely unprepared and had no supports. I am certain that I would not have attained the education that I did, and I think my intellectual world would have shrunk severely. That's a rather specific version, but I think things are calmer and more structured for me than many of the women I know who had children with planned pregnancies as well.

- How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?

As my friends and coworkers are parents or childfree in relatively equal numbers I don't feel that different from my peers.

- What have been your biggest joys? And biggest challenges?

I find joy in connection and accomplishment. I do have challenges around anxiety but I don't think they are related to not having children. I suspect that if I did have kids, my anxiety may have made me an overly anxious mother (which my mom is/was sometimes).

- What advice would you give to someone fairly new to this path?

I think if navigating others' expectations politely is important to you, it is handy to have a pat response for when people ask. I don't encounter this as much anymore, but when I used to be asked about kids, I would say something like, "No, but it's so much more fun to be an auntie!" which is positive and neutralizes all reasonable people.

With regard to how you see yourself and what you find meaningful, there are so many things, and it sounds like you have a lot of meaning in your life. I'm not entirely certain if your question comes from actual doubts or dealing with/internalizing the expectations of others. When it comes to other people (especially anyone who isn't a friend) I have usually found it relatively easy to simple dismiss them as not relevant. That's not easy for everyone, but I think it's useful to ask yourself, "Does this person have my interests at heart or is their judgement more about them?"
posted by Kurichina at 2:18 PM on May 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

I am in my early 40s and childfree by choice. I think that if I had met my partner slightly earlier, and so we had both been in a more stable financial position sooner, I might possibly have wanted to have a child. But, that isn't how it happened and actually I have always felt that I didn't *want* children and so I shouldn't have one.

I've been fortunate to have known childfree women my whole life, particularly including a married-in family member whose lack of desire for kids ended in divorce. So my template is very much that having children is an option and so is not having children, and that pleasant friendly normal adults might choose either. Now, I just live my normal life - it's not very exciting at all. I'm fortunate that my female friends are of quite mixed ages so some of them have young children, but others have fully grown children, or are childfree like me. One thing that is more challenging is making friends with women who are about my age. Mostly they are too busy to have a non-child related friendship. I imagine that will change in another 5 years.

I sometimes think about what it would be like to have had a child. But the older I get the more comfortable I feel in the idea that was simply not the path that I took, and that I'm quite happy with where I am now. I have neither pets nor am I my nephews' favourite aunt. I care about my nephews, and am mildly interested in my siblings' dogs. I know that the thing that I probably would enjoy but will never experience is a positive relationship with an adult child. There are other choices in my life that I've made that closed certain doors. This is simply one of many.
posted by plonkee at 4:19 PM on May 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

Childfree by choice, cis woman, mid-50s.

I never wanted children, never questioned my choice. Never even wanted to be a dear auntie to my sibling's or friends' kids. I don't dislike kids - I babysat and nannied lots - I just prefer adults/solitude. I've also had ecological concerns since my teens - I mention this because I think it helps that my choice not to be a parent is consistent with my overall values.

I've never felt judged by anyone really close to me, but strangers have been assholes. I just shrug them off because I don't care what assholes think about me unless they have power over me. All of my close friends have kids but many people in my extended network do not. I haven't been bothered by being different, but when their kids were young I sometimes felt left out when conversation centred exclusively on kid stuff.

I have filled my life with study, work that is very meaningful to me, and a good dose of solitude. I have close friendships and all of them have friends. It was harder when friends' kids were very young and they were extremely busy and focused on their kids. I wish I had expanded my friend network earlier to include older/childfree people.

My choice never interfered with finding partners - I was always up front about it very early when I met someone interesting and didn't find many men who felt it was a barrier. My partner has a bunch of adult children and grandchildren and it's fine, nice even, but it still hasn't made me think I missed out. It's just not something I ever yearned for.

Now that I'm older, I've come to understand the reasons I didn't want kids (family of origin stuff), and I've wondered how life would have been different if I'd had a different upbringing and been a different type of person. But I'm not that type of person and never saw it as a problem to be solved so I could want what everyone else wants.
posted by Frenchy67 at 7:30 AM on May 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

38 here, in a 7 year relationship with a man, soon to be married. My partner isn't that interested in having kids but was open to doing so (and embracing it) if I really wanted to, so the choice was mostly left up to me. This has been great and difficult in equal amounts.

- What has been your personal experience as a woman without kids?
When I was a lot younger I assumed I probably would have kids at some point, then in my twenties I became more 'on the fence' as I found it hard to imagine myself enjoying being a parent, but assumed I might change my mind at some point. Now I am in my late thirties and still wake up from dreams where I'm pregnant with a massive feeling of relief that it isn't real, so realising that I'm probably never going to go for it - it's just not a life that I want. I suffer from anxiety and struggle with big decisions, so have spent a lot of mental energy going back and forth on this one, with lots of 'what if I regret it??' worries etc. I've now (mostly) moved past that and am excited about all the options that are open to me in my childfree future.

- What is/has been meaningful to you as a woman without children?
My relationships with my partner, both of our families and my/our friends are all very important to me and I invest in these a lot and get a lot out of them. I have a job that I enjoy and is beneficial to society, and even though it will never be as important as my life outside of work, I feel good about it and appreciate that I don't have to worry about getting a better paid job that I might enjoy less with less holiday/flextime etc in order to pay nursery fees/other costs relating to kids. I've really got into gardening over lockdown, and I also really love animals and am planning to get a dog in a year or so. It is also really important to me to have some involvement with the lives of kids and be able to watch them grow and change etc (I'm a biologist and the brain development part is so fascinating to me!), so I'm a very involved aunt & godmother to various kids and I find that's another thing that the more you put in, the more you get out of it (looking at it very clinically). I'm also planning to to do some mentoring with kids/young adults at some point. I'm actually pretty excited about the various options for creating my own 'meaning' for life over the fairly blank slate of the next 40 years or so.

- How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?
A lot more peaceful free time. Less stress and a bit more disposable income. Relatively good mental health, which is something that I've really struggled with for a large part of my life and so would be loathed to mess with now that I'm fairly happy and stable.

- How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?
This has been a big one for me. In my twenties/early thirties a fair number of my female friends were very uncertain about having kids or even on the 'no' side of uncertain, which made me feel like I had a large group of 'allies' against the general societal push towards procreation. The vast majority of them changed their minds over the next ten years, and now of all the people that I consider close friends, only one couple remain childfree (and are planning to remain so). I definitely had some strong negative emotions come up around some of their initial pregnancy announcements (despite giving them some hearty congrats), made worse by added guilt around not being able to just feel pleased for them as I was 'supposed' to. As someone who worries a fair amount about making the 'right' decision as well, it's been difficult at times to see most of my friends who also struggled with this decision ultimately making the opposite decision to me.
It's also been difficult to watch the majority of my friends move into a new 'world' that I won't be joining, especially if they were people who made up a large part of my/my partner's social life and this can no longer work in the same way (e.g. going out to dinner/events as a foursome), especially in the short term. I've mostly dealt with it by allowing myself to mourn our old relationships for a bit and then trying to embrace the change and show interest in getting to know their kids etc, while still getting some kid-free hang time where possible. Ultimately, I'm pleased that my friends who wanted to have kids have been able to have them, but I do wish that more of them hadn't wanted that. I'm working on forming more friendships with childfree people for a bit more balance.

- What have been your biggest joys? And biggest challenges?
I luxuriate in having free time to do whatever I like with - it really makes my heart happy. The thought of a weekend ahead of me where I can just potter about in the house/garden or plan a movie marathon with my partner or borrow a dog to walk or just whatever I like is always such a joy to me. My relationship with my partner is happy and healthy and full of joy, partly due to all the time we can invest in it. Kids are still a significant joy in life despite not being a parent - for example I'm invested enough in the life of my little niece that the swell of pride I get when I see her riding a bike or reading a word for the first time is (I imagine) a less intense version of what her parents get. I'm lucky that I have siblings/friends who are really keen for me to be part of their 'village' (and they're also lucky to have me!). I know that there are a lot of childfree people who have lives full of joy and meaning that don't involve kids at all (my partner is less fussed, for example), but it is something that I want as part of my life and feel lucky to be able to do so.
I've mostly discussed the challenges above - it can be difficult to choose to go against the 'standard' choices in life, and the cultural idea that women are 'less than' if they're not mothers is pretty strong. I'm also aware that I probably need to give some extra thought to end of life care etc, so that's something that I'll be thinking about more. It also makes me feel a bit sad that i'll never be a grandparent (that looks much more fun than parenting!) but again I'm going to make a big effort to incorporate younger friends/family into my life as I get older so I can hopefully experience that to some degree as well.

- What advice would you give to someone fairly new to this path?
Try to be kind to yourself, and remember that there is not a 'right' or 'wrong' path, just different paths with their own pluses and minuses. This will often go against the message from other people or just society in general, so it's important to hold onto it. It's human nature to sometimes find it difficult to accept someone else making a different choice from you, especially something like parenting which a lot of people go into without thinking much about it, so that explains the negative reaction that some people will have to a decision to not be a parent.

My own mother (who I have a great relationship with and seemed to not hate being a parent in the most part) once told me that she thinks she would have been just as happy without kids, she'd just have different things in her life contributing to her happiness, and I think that was a really positive message to get as a young person (after getting past my initial indignation that she could imagine a great life without me or my equally awesome sibling). Please don't listen to any people who say your life will be void of meaning or in some way lacking without your own kids - your life is as meaningful as you make it and they're just lacking in imagination!
posted by amerrydance at 8:50 AM on May 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

A small addition to my answer above: My mom loved having me and became completely obsessed with early childhood development to the point that she started a Montessori school. But later in life she made many comments about how limiting and difficult it was to have kids. The funniest and most inadvertently insulting of these was when we were in a restaurant eating and there was a little kid screaming his head off and she said, “Don’t you feel lucky that you never had kids?” But my point really is that most people are of two minds about this to a certain degree. You don’t have to be 1000% Team Kids or Team No Kids. You might always feel a little conflicted and that’s normal and okay.
posted by HotToddy at 9:53 AM on May 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Hope this will be helpful; our lives sound pretty different! Wishing you well.

I've never wanted to have kids so my life just sort the way it's always been, I suppose. I like my career but I'm not going to do anything world-changing. I like my partner and my friends and my immediate family. I like living in a big city where I can be engaged in social activities like political organizing and pub trivia and also go to far-flung neighborhoods and see the sights and eat the food and read my book on my own.

I can't say I like the overwhelmingly common (at least in my experience) societal narrative that women are expected to have kids, but my friends and loved ones know that I don't want to and are generally ok with it. Most of my close friends don't have kids at this point (I'm in my mid-thirties), but some do and that's fine, I like other people's kids and my friends who have them don't push me to have my own. I think for me the hardest thing is that I feel alienated from what is, for so many people, a fundamental part of the human experience. I also feel guilty that some people in my life would clearly prefer me to have a child and I'm not going to oblige, but I know with a conviction that's as strong as anything I've ever felt that I can't do it just to please somebody else.

Side note: I just a couple weeks ago read and loved The Nine Lives of Rose Napolitano, a novel whose protagonist doesn't want children and whose husband does and isn't too happy when he finds out she's not taking prenatal vitamins. The book lines out nine different scenarios from there, some with kids, some without. It's just great; I felt very seen.
posted by ferret branca at 8:48 PM on May 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Also, it's probably obvious, and possibly said above somewhere, but you don't need to have one grand passion in lieu of having children. Plenty of people, including some of our fellow Mefites, devote their time to extremely high-powered careers, traveling the world, moving to many new places, having pets, being an aunt, high-level creative pursuits... I don't do any of those things, personally, and I wouldn't say there's any one activity or calling I organize my life around, and that's totally allowed. :)
posted by ferret branca at 9:04 PM on May 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

Early 50s, never married.

For me I feel that not-having-children is just kind of something that happened to me based on a lot of little choices, not a big decision I made or a strong "I never want children" feeling. I don't think I ever said to myself that I didn't want children. I suspect that if I had found a partner at the right time in life I probably would have had kids and been happy with that outcome. On the other hand, I've never had a strong compulsion to have children and have very few regrets that I did not. Neither of my brothers had biological children, and sometimes I'm sorry that my mom never got to be a grandmother (if that makes her sad, she has fortunately never expressed that to her children), that one set of grandparents' line will end with us, and that this might make end-of-life care for me and my brothers problematic. But none of those felt like compelling reasons to me to bring a child into the world, and I believe that being child-free has benefited me in other ways.

I've also been lucky that I have not come under a lot of outward pressure because of my life path. Sure, there was that period where a lot of my friends were getting married and having children. I lived for a time with very close friends, helped to care for their kids when they were little, and consider them my niblings. But not a lot of people came out and openly put that guilt trip on me. A few times I got the "it's so selfish not to have kids" but was able to shut that down quick by pointing out that the reasons they expressed for why they wanted kids could be viewed as just as selfish.

The final thing I would say is that part of the reason I think I've been pretty philosophical about this is that, as a historian, I can put it into a wider perspective. How many people in the history of the world have died before they had a chance to have children? How many had children thinking their descendants would survive, and then the line ended for other reasons? How many people who had children so they'd be "taken care of in their old age" ended up alone in a nursing home anyway? There are no guarantees in life.
posted by Preserver at 1:51 PM on May 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

Watching my mother destroy herself working full time in the 1970s while being a full-time single parent made me realize that marriage and children were not for me. Being a latchkey kid who took care of my siblings when my mom worked, after my parents divorced, made it very clear to me that the role of "mother" was a heck of a lot harder and more thankless than being "dad." Interestingly, my dad's mom told me early on that she would never have had kids, if she was born just a little later. My mom has never pressed any of us to marry or have kids.

It also helps to be queer, in some ways, because it's not like I was EVER going to fit the 1950s model of what life milestones I'd hit. Many of my friends never married or had kids. My life has been focused on my own interests. Sometimes that's friends, relationships or family. Sometimes it's a volunteer passion, or research. But the choice is mine, and it changes. My life is organized for me.

My best friend and I have talked about creating a tiny house village when we retire, so we can have our own spaces but share a common area. That would let me continue to be a crazy animal foster lady, and let her alphabetize her spices and Marie Kondo her possessions in peace. There will also be some travel, and a lot of reading. Our travels have included looking for interesting smallish western towns with open land to consider in the future. So, maybe there's a Crone Village for us in the future.
posted by answergrape at 2:24 PM on May 6, 2021 [5 favorites]

- What has been your personal experience as a woman without kids?
I'm almost 40. I didn't always not want kids. In my early twenties, I thought it sounded nice. I think I would have been an okay mother. I haven't been bothered much by relatives hounding me about reproducing or anything like that. For a while, when my closest friends were first starting to have children, I felt left behind and lonely, but I don't anymore. I am grateful to be child-free. It seems like a ton of work. I've seen it derail many careers (even just from manager bias, not because a woman has chosen to SAHP). It takes a toll physically and seems really hard on most people's partnerships.

- How does your life look different than you imagine it might have as a mother?
I get a lot more sleep. I assume I'd have a lot more wrinkles, gray hair and stress by now if I'd been a mother. I can dink around by myself and enjoy all my hobbies and friends without much time pressure. I don't have to deal with anyone else's bodily fluids or gross stuff, for the most part. I'm happier. I can build savings.

- How have you dealt with being different from large swathes of your peer group?

I've always been a little bit different, so it doesn't really bother me.

- What have been your biggest joys? And biggest challenges?
I guess I hadn't considered these as being any different because I haven't had children. I guess that's just how much I've adapted to the idea? For what it's worth, anyone who says you don't truly know love until you've had a child can get bent. They don't know what's in your heart or your lived experience.

- What advice would you give to someone fairly new to this path?

I'd recommend (for anyone) a gratitude practice. It has enhanced my life. Every night before bed, I think of three unique things that I am grateful for, and I practice not judging myself for them either. Remember that if you love children, friends with children would love you to babysit, and everyone could benefit from a cool aunt in their life.
posted by purple_bird at 2:31 PM on May 6, 2021 [3 favorites]

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