“Don’t you want children?” This is probably the most common question a woman in her mid-20s or 30s is asked if she is married. And, the answer is often tricky. Choosing to have a baby is one of the biggest and most significant decisions a woman has to make. A child will change her life irrevocably and she should be clear whether she is ready for this change before she takes the plunge.
Motherhood can be a joyful and rewarding experience. But it should be entered into for the right reasons – a genuine desire to be a parent, and not out of social compulsions. Having a child requires time, energy, money, and compromises on the work front and romantic life. A child can be a bundle of stress along with being a bundle of joy. A woman has to be completely sure she can handle that stress.
Increasingly, women are considering remaining childfree these days. While people feel concern and sympathy for a couple who cannot have children due to medical issues, when a woman ‘chooses’ not to have a child, her reasons are not often understood.
It is natural for motherhood to follow marriage, she is told. You have to sacrifice your career so that you can have and raise a baby, the conservative voices in her family and neighbourhood say. You are being selfish by choosing not be become a mother, she is admonished.
We are conditioned to believe that to become a mother is crucial for a woman for her gender identity, self-esteem and well-being. Women who are delaying having a child are constantly reminded that their ‘biological clock is ticking away’. Some women themselves may be on the fence. They may experience FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) or believe they may be lonely when they are older if they don’t have children.
But one thing is quite clear – motherhood is not a duty or a social necessity. It is a choice. Women have the right to choose what they believe is right for their bodies and minds. If a woman decides that not having a child is better for her well-being, so be it. Not being a mother does not make her less of a woman.
Some of the reasons women may want to remain childfree are:
- They may want to devote maximum time to their careers.
- They may value their personal freedom and fear losing it if they have the responsibilities of caring for a child.
- The rise of individualism has made it easier for a woman to focus on what’s best for her.
- Some women may fear childbirth.
- Others may just not have a strong enough maternal urge.
- In some cases, a woman may not be ready for the financial responsibility of raising a child.
- Sociologically, DINK (Double Income No Kids) families are becoming more common and acceptable.
- If they have had a bad childhood themselves, women may not want to become mothers.
- If a woman is not in a happy and secure relationship, she may not want to have a child.
- For some couples, overpopulation may be reason enough not to have their own child. They may be open to adopting.
Sociologists have found that those who are voluntarily childless are likely to be better educated, professionals, well-off, living in urban centres, and having a less traditional outlook.
Implications of trend
Ahmedabad-based sociologist, Dr Gaurang Jani, who has a special interest in gender studies, says: “Many of my girl students tell me that they don’t want children as it will be an impediment in their careers. There are many factors at play here. Today, women are more empowered and career-oriented. The nuclear family is becoming the norm. As a result, a woman does not get much support in child-rearing, unless her husband is understanding and chips in wholeheartedly. Couples are settling where their jobs take them. This may be away from their families. This way too they are losing out on the ‘kinship network’ that helps in child care.”
Dr Jani sees two sociological implications of this trend. “There will be some decline in birth rates. There will be a decrease in the importance of the institution of marriage as well. Women will choose to live alone or in live-in relationships. The need of the hour, to stem this trend, is to educate the future husband/father from a young age that household chores and child care are not just a woman’s responsibility,” he stresses.
While such a change in the male mindset will be more than welcome, the fact still remains that parenting is a very important and hard job. As Dr Amy Blackstone, author of ‘Childfree by Choice’, has put it – asking someone to do it who is not 100% sure, is not in the best interests of either the prospective mother or the child.