Long Reads

I don't think I'm selfish because I am child-free

anamika@khaleejtimes.com Filed on August 21, 2021
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The fact that you can be 30-plus, happily married and yet not want a child is something that most people find unfathomable

When you are 36 and married, but are yet to have a child, there are people who begin to take a peculiar interest in your life. The curiosity piques about what exactly is wrong: if you managed to tick one box of conventional life, what stopped you from taking the next obvious step?

There are some well-intentioned suggestions too — to not let the career clock or self-love take precedence over the biological clock. The fact that you can be 30-plus, happily married and yet not want a child is something that most people find unfathomable before they begin to rationalise others’ quirks saying, “They’re childless… so they don’t know.”

Child-free or childless? I have had both terms being thrown at me by people who look at the world in binaries. The first feels empowering while the second reeks of inadequacy. Personally, I have never cared much for either of the labels because being without a child has neither been an achievement nor a failure. It has simply been a state of being that has allowed me and my partner to steer our lives in a direction we have wanted. He is no Bill Gates and I am no Sheryl Sandberg. There are no high-flying careers that have stopped us from “having a family”. What has is our love for our own independence and retaining that space to pursue our passions — his in art and mine in writing. Parenting, to us, would have been a deviation neither of us was prepared for. But that hasn’t stopped us from jumping with joy whenever a friend we love announces the birth of a child and neither has it prevented us from empathising with those who struggle with parenting.

But what often does irk — bordering on hurt — is when easy assumptions are made about us being less empathetic than those who are raising a child. This accusation, arguably, is mostly directed at the woman in the marriage who is “childless” or “child-free”. The rationale is because the woman has gone through the rigorous process of giving birth, losing her sense of self, in order to direct her emotions and affections to a child, she is capable of looking at something bigger than herself as opposed to the one who hasn’t.

Can a biological process alone decide what kind of person you will be in life?

As I write this, I am aware that conversations around having a child or not have also changed immensely. Women who are mothers are actively pursuing careers and putting the “self first” before anything else. And while those who are child-free are not having to explain their choices at the drop of a hat, there are still aspects in our lives that are scrutinised occasionally, sowing the seeds of self-doubts. The idea that’s thrown most often is who will take care of you when you are old and dependable and what if one partner outlives the other.

I have often questioned the idea behind having a child to secure a free caretaker in old age. Moreover, what we deem as ‘old age’ itself will last for a span of one or two decades. Should the preceding four decades be directed at building that safety net for old age?

To nurture someone with love is a matter of joy. But in our pursuit to nurture someone else, we tend to forget we need to nurture ourselves too. For people like us who do not have offsprings, that nurturing is directed at ourselves. And while this is seen as being selfish, I see it as being self-centred — which is really not such a bad thing. It means you have a life that you value enough to keep yourself at its centre. And this does not make you a lesser being — morally or socially.

Which is why rather than being over the moon about parenting or rejoicing the absence of it, I would much rather celebrate life as it is.


Anamika Chatterjee

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