Why is pity still the default reaction whenever you tell people you are childless by circumstance?

By Nina Steele 

I was talking to a lady in her 60s the other day and as soon as I mentioned that I was childless by circumstance, her first words were ‘oh, I am really sorry; that must be difficult’. Never one to shy away from telling people exactly how I feel about my situation, I replied by telling her that actually, I am glad it never happened and that life has never felt better. I generally get a bewildered look and older people particularly cannot hide their disappointment. Reactions generally follow the same pattern, first people try their best to find the right words to keep the conversation flowing, then some tell me about someone they know who does not have children. At that point, the whole conversation feels so contrived that we are both glad when it is over.

Older people with children generally find it difficult to understand how anyone can be happy without children. For them, having children is the natural thing to do and as they grow older, their whole life tends to revolve around the times they spend with family members particularly grandchildren and great grandchildren. The legacy issue in their view is all about procreation. It does not matter what you have achieved as an individual; if you don’t have children, those achievements count for nothing. That anyone can proclaim to be happy and fulfilled without children is akin to blasphemy for some of them. I quite relish those moments when I am given the chance to challenge these outdated views.

There was a well publicised article in the Daily Mail over a year ago, in which a childless by circumstance woman said that anyone who proclaims to be happy without children is telling a lie, based on the fact that she herself is unable to come to terms with not having children. I suppose you can say that articles such as this have the effect of distorting further people’s view of childlessness as a whole. Indeed most people still associate all lives with procreation because that is what we have been taught since time immemorial. Fortunately, we have entered a new era in which being childless either by circumstance or choice is front page news. Whatever your views on celebrities, it is fair to say that having high profile childless/childfree people has helped change some of the public’s perception and hopefully in the near future, the overwhelming reaction to anyone without children will be one of understanding, not pity.

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