I’ve known for most of my life that I didn’t want to have kids, although I didn’t know or use the word “childfree” until I was in my 20s. For a while, it was easy to be childfree. My peers were also young, single, career-focused, and not worried about meeting The One, let alone procreating with The One.
Then I turned 30. Now that my friends are partnering off and starting to have kids, the way that I configure my childfree identity has changed. I still firmly believe that I don’t want children and am actively planning not to have any. But the way I talk about my choice with other people has definitely changed. Being childfree is definitely different in your 30s than it is in your 20s.
1. Friends start to think that you hate kids – and, specifically, that you hate their kids. I don’t hate kids at all. I just don’t want to raise any of them myself. While I definitely roll my eyes at two annoying teenagers making out on a crowded subway car, this doesn’t mean that all children annoy me. In fact, some of the most important people in my life were adult relatives or family friends who served in mentor-type roles for me when I was growing up, and I dream of being able to fill that role for children in my life. Just because you’re not a parent doesn’t mean you have no interest in being involved in a kid’s life. So feel free to invite me over to have dinner with you and your kid next week. I’d like to be friends with both of you.
2. People assume you have fertility problems. Now that I’m in a committed relationship, people think that the reason I didn’t “change my mind when I met the right guy” meant that I was using my childfree status as some kind of cover for fertility-related issues. Thanks for the knowing nods, concerned shoulder touches, and those links to support groups, but I’m fine. Save your support for someone who genuinely needs it.
3. You will know a ton about every aspect of birth and pregnancy, even if you had no intention of learning. It’s normal for friends to want to talk about what’s going on in their lives. It’s normal for me to have coffee with a friend and catch up on work, relationships, travel, and whatever else is happening. But now that lots of my friends have children, I know more about the ins and outs of pregnancy and labor than I ever thought I’d find out. The upside is that while I may never use this information myself, I do feel slightly less panicky about what will happen if I’m trapped in an elevator with a pregnant woman. (TV has taught me that all pregnant women go into labor while in stalled elevators, so I feel I need to be ready for this situation.)
4. Sometimes you will have to answer awkward questions about marriage. I don’t want kids but would like to get married someday, which many people find confusing. Friends, acquaintances, and sometimes total strangers who read my work on the internet ask me why I care about getting married if we aren’t going to make babies. I don’t think that the two things have to be connected: I know unmarried couples with kids, married couples with no kids, and plenty of variations in between. If we’re going to say all families are valuable, then we should count families without kids in that group, too. Two adults choosing to commit to each other is not the same thing as two adults choosing to bring a child into the world, and each decision should be treated with respect.
5. You start wondering if you’re going to have any friends in ten years. Rationally, I know that plenty of my friends who have kids will still want to hang out with me. But I know how much time they devote to their family and how much less they have for late-night drinking and spur-of-the-moment weekend vacations. Every once in a while I start to panic that I’ll be the only childfree person in my social circle and, thus, the one who gets left out of every party invite. So far, this hasn’t happened, but it doesn’t mean I don’t get anxiety about it anyway. After all, I’m a New Yorker, so I get anxiety about everything.
Have you noticed people treat you differently when you are childless in your 30s? Let us know in the comments.
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[Image of a crying baby via Shutterstock]