Why we must not shy away from challenging false assumptions about childless/childfree people

By Nina Steele 

I was recently having a conversation with a lady in her 80s about Christmas and how she intended to spend it. She was quite proud of the fact that she is very close to her children and grandchildren and saw them regularly. Because of various marital arrangements that meant that it was not always possible for all the family to be under one roof at Christmas, it has become customary for all the children and grandchildren to meet up for lunch a few weeks before Christmas. She beamed with pleasure as she explained how fortunate she is to have a family that dote on her, then she proceeded to tell me about a friend of hers who does not have children, is also a widow and according to her, is now finding herself alone in her old age. Apparently, the friend in question was childless by choice and the implication here was that, she was now paying a price for her choice.

Coincidentally, just a few weeks before this encounter, I had met another lady this time in her 60s who has an only child who works abroad and by the sound of it, does not intend to return to the UK. The last time she saw him was almost a decade ago when she went to visit him. She hated the experience so much so that she has vowed never to visit him again. She is divorced and has been single for quite a while. She would like to marry again but her search for a partner has yet to materialise. The whole experience has had quite a profound and negative effect on her and she was somewhat relieved to have someone to open up to. She made it clear that she resented the fact that her son moved abroad and blames him for some of her loneliness.

The reason why I am presenting both stories is obvious for the contrast could not be any starker. The lady who is part of a close-knit family assumes that having children is a guarantee for avoiding loneliness is old age, when the reality is anything but. She was so quick to judge her friend for making the decision not to have children, that I felt compelled to challenge her. I mentioned the story of the other lady who is estranged from her only son, along with the many surveys on loneliness in old age that have been widely reported in the press. One such survey from the campaign to end loneliness, shows that almost 4 million older people in the UK only have the television as their main source of interaction. Once I mentioned all these facts to her she was quick to acknowledge that she was wrong to hold such assumptions against people without children and that experiences differ from person to person.

There are many other false assumptions about childless/childfree people and only by challenging them whenever the opportunity presents itself, will we rid society of the negative stigma that is too often attached to not having children.

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