Childless in a child-centered society

Oh, the pitter-patter of little feet. Everywhere. All the time. No, not my children – I don’t have any, but perhaps yours?

‘IT CAN be scary and permanent to know our path is different.’ (photo credit: KONSTANTIN TILBERG/FLICKR)
‘IT CAN be scary and permanent to know our path is different.’

“Children are Joy” is a popular Israeli song from the 1970s. It was originally written as a scathing socioeconomic critique of the institutionalized encouragement of citizens to be fruitful and multiply (the lyrics include “Have 10, have 12, why not chai [18]?”), but the sting has been culturally removed from the song and it has since been taken at face value as an undeniable truth: having children is good, not having children is bad.

Israel is an especially offspring-oriented society. Not surprisingly, beyond the personal desire to procreate, there are added elements here that seem to further emphasize discussions of the womb to a broader scale, such as: Jewish values, post-Holocaust trauma and being a persecuted people and nation.

 “How many kids do you have?” is a question commonly asked within a few minutes of having met someone in many social settings here. At a recent team-building day through work, a room full of strangers were asked to introduce themselves. Every man and woman in the room of 16 people stated their name, how many children they have and what they do professionally. The question wasn’t prompted in that way, we were just asked to say who we were, and obviously parenting is a major way one can define themselves. I was the only childless person in the room. As I often am.

I have learned the lingo and nod empathetically when hearing various trials and tribulations of the latest kiddie shenanigans. And I have learned to lighten the awkward moment when there realization hits that I am not in fact a parent and reassure perfect strangers that I’m okay with it.

Being childless, whether within a couple or as a single adult of a certain age, often brings with it immediate pity and concern. It can also come with judgment and endless unsolicited advice. “Aren’t you afraid you’ll regret it?” strangers allow themselves to ask. I wouldn’t dare return the question and inquire if perhaps some of the children born were not particularly wanted in the first place. Not that I doubt the joy and meaning they can bring to a parent’s life. But consider, if you will, that there can be joy and meaning in life without parenting, too.

Science, technology and societal changes have allowed more and more people to make the choice to have a child, one way or another. But you may have noticed that there are more and more people who don’t have children. Sometimes by choice, sometimes by default, sometimes accompanied by tremendous grief and pain, sometimes embraced with freedom and emancipation.

Most of us didn’t grow up thinking we would never have children, but through varying life circumstances, some of us have found ourselves in that position and are embracing the reality of the life it enables. Not everyone can handle it emotionally, physically, financially. Not everyone is equipped for it, not everyone wants it. It can be the better life choice to not have children. Encouraging people to do so, asking invasive questions as to why they haven’t and requesting detailed medical explanations, is never acceptable.

It can be scary and permanent to know our path is different. It can require delicate maneuvering at family events and some existential angst. Yet we are free to come and go as we please, our days and nights belong to us alone, our disposable income can be directed in other ways.

 We will coo at your babies (less so if they are screaming at a fancy restaurant) and compliment their milestones and bring gifts to their life events – but please grant us the reverse courtesy of not assuming we are “less than” for not sharing your exact life experience.