The Child-Free Option
In 2014, the birthrates in the US were at an all-time low and that trend is only expected to continue. While more couples are choosing a child-free option, there is still a great deal of pressure placed on a woman to prioritize family over career. A stigma still exists and it usually comes with a look of pity when the issue of having kids arises at family functions and within social circles.
Society has developed only one social construct in which a woman could feel complete and whole and that is by having children. Any deviation from this is somehow perceived as a shortcoming in which women are made to feel inadequate. This is simply untrue, women could have a fulfilling life without children. Women also put pressure on themselves with a belief that they’re not living up to societal expectations and this narrative is perpetuated by each generation that plays along.
This issue is being raised by UK Channel 4 drama “I Am Hannah,” starring Gemma Chan best known for her role in Crazy Rich Asians. It's one of a trilogy of powerful stand-alone female-led TV films which strive to focus on women's stories. Read my interview with BBC on the topic here.
Societal pressure on women to play traditional gender roles is still pervasive with majority of the pressure coming from family and friends. A young woman recently told me that when she told her mother and her grandmother that she didn't plan to have children they went bananas. Her grandmother began to storm around the house screaming “You MUST have children!” “You WILL have children!" Having children does fall in line with the natural order of our own evolution. On the most primal level, reproduction is critical to the survival of our species but we also have the capacity to reason which allows us to choose our options.
Friends can also put undue pressure on each other and it isn’t always explicitly stated or even intentional but it can be reflected through behaviors. When friends in your social circle begin to have children and you don’t, this can lead them to alienate the childless couple which isn’t always intentional. Generally, couples with children have more in common with other couples who also have kids and they often prefer to socialize with one another.
The best way to cope with the pressure is to know yourself and to have a solid understanding of why you have chosen your particular life pathway. If you've considered the options and decided to not have children, have a full awareness of your reasons for this. Keep in mind that we cannot do it all in life. We have to make choices, and with each path taken there is another that is left behind. The more awareness we have of why we are choosing a particular lifestyle, the less we will experience uncertainty in the face of pressure.