The pressure to live a productive and meaningful life

By Victoria Fryer 

Once, in the midst of a conversation among a gathering of friends—of which I am the only one childless—one of them said to me, “You really should just quit your job and have children. It’s not like you’re saving lives.” It cut me in a way I hadn’t expected it would. My career means a lot to me, and I work hard to succeed in it, though I definitely do struggle with whether or not the work I do means anything.

I don’t know about you, but for me, I feel a heavy pressure almost daily to build extra meaning into my life because I’m childfree.

The prevailing wisdom is that parents are doing the most important work there is—I don’t disagree, at least not completely. They’re ensuring the continuance of our species, raising the next generation of leaders and thinkers, and, essentially, forming the folks who will be taking care of us when we reach old age. It’s critical work, to be sure, and not easy.

It is from here that stems, I think, the argument that perhaps the childfree are selfish. What is it that we’re contributing to society, if not the next generation of humans?

So I ask myself constantly: what am I contributing to society? Does my career have meaning? Am I making a difference in the world? And—even more than that to me, but perhaps less important in the grand scheme of things—am I using my freedom wisely?

Another assumption made about the childfree is that we’re doing all the things that parents feel like they’re not able to do. We can get up and go whenever we want to, we have disposable income to use on fancy toys and fun vacations, and no one has to be sober enough at night to put the kids to bed.

But for my husband and me, we live a pretty average, normal life. Can we get up and go whenever we want to? Not really. We have two dogs whom we prefer not to board at the kennel, and besides, we don’t have the kind of disposable income people assume we do just because we don’t have children. I mean, sure, if we want to go somewhere for the day, we don’t have to pack diapers and snacks and car seats and baby wipes—but it’s not all steak dinners and Caribbean vacations.

Honestly, sometimes this sends me into a tailspin over whether or not I’m “doing the childfree thing right,” or “taking full advantage of my (child)freedom.” Should I be volunteering at the local animal shelter? I definitely have some free time in my evenings; am I wasting it by reading books and catching up on Game of Thrones? And why haven’t I published a novel yet? Maybe if I was more disciplined with my free time, the time I’ve been blessed with thanks to my childfree choice, I would have. And we haven’t gone on a proper vacation in a couple of years—are we wasting our freedom and our (relative) youth?

It’s easy to get caught up in the shoulds and the pressure and the guilt. But feeling pressured to live the Most Meaningful/Entertaining Life is almost as bad as not having the privilege at all.

Victoria Fryer is a 31-year-old writer and content strategist. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two pit bulls. You can find her on Twitter @extoria.

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