Childless Doesn’t Mean Less

By Melissa Stefanec

Since becoming a parent, nothing has been the same.

My sense of reality has been forever altered. I’ve discovered emotional high and lows that I couldn’t have conceived of before having children. My children are part of my being.

Despite the exhaustion, self-sacrifice, frustrations, self-doubt and seismic shifts in my self-perception, I would do it again. I’m all in on being a mother.

I truly believe being a parent has enriched my life in a way I simply can’t express. However, my ability to have this perspective is based on one simple truth: I wanted to become a parent. I had no idea what I was in for, but I chose this path anyway.

This path isn’t for everyone. Being a parent means a lot of guts and not a lot of glory. But instead of saddling up my high horse to talk about how amazing parents are, I want to take a moment to reflect on that other path — the one where someone chooses not to be parent.

It’s an awesome path, but many people seem to have problems with it. If you are one of those people and have ever made someone feel guilty for their choice, you need to read this column. Being childless (whether by choice or circumstance) doesn’t make someone less of a whole being. Every line you’ve been fed that has tried to persuade you otherwise is an injustice and a lie.

I know there are many people who don’t agree with me. There are people who, whether tacitly, unwittingly, or aggressively, bully the childless. If you are one of these folks, I don’t think anything I could write would persuade you that being a parent doesn’t make you better or special.

However, maybe something I can write will persuade you to keep your opinions to yourself. To do that, I want you to imagine how childless people are often treated by society. I want you to imagine if people treated parents that way.

• Imagine if when you gathered socially, someone cornered you and asked you why you chose to have children.

• Imagine if at any given family dinner, someone, between mouthfuls of mashed potatoes, asked why you went ahead and reproduced.

• Imagine if when out having coffee or drinks, you had to defend your choice to become a parent.

• Imagine if society thought there was something wrong with you for choosing to have children of your own.

• Imagine if everyone implied you were selfish because you continued to populate an already overpopulated world.

• Imagine if society labeled you as being greedy because your choice to have kids is further depleting the Earth’s resources.

• Imagine if people made you feel shame for giving up or scaling back your hobbies and passions instead of investing in them, just because you are too busy raising a family to nurture them.

• Imagine if people implied that you were an incomplete being, because you chose to give pieces of yourself to others.

• Imagine if having children was viewed as a slight to society, because you couldn’t possibly contribute in the same way someone without a child could.

• Imagine if every time you said you had children, you knew most other humans would perceive you in a more negative manner or wonder if there was something “wrong” with you.

• Imagine if you were viewed as less of a woman or man because you became a mother or a father. Imagine if “parent” was somehow less than “woman,” “man” or “person.”

If you can even begin to imagine some of those scenarios, maybe you can understand why nobody should be made to feel inferior because of their choice not to have children.

‘Being childless (whether by choice or circumstance) doesn’t make someone less of a whole being.’

As hashtags about inclusion and equity trend on social media and difficult conversations are being had at dinner tables around the country, I invite you to evaluate how society marginalizes and maligns those who are childless by choice. It isn’t right; we owe our fellow humans more.

Whether or not to have children is one the most monumental choices in a person’s life. That choice will have permanent implications.

As with many monumental choices, there isn’t a clear right or wrong. There are just two, wildly different paths. Neither of these paths is better, wiser or inherently elevated. Debating that would be like arguing whether strawberries or cherries are the better fruit. There isn’t an answer; there is just a preference.

So, the next time you want to corner someone and belittle them for their reproductive choices or stand idly by as someone else does this, flip the tables on your own narrative. Imagine if somebody made you feel small for being a parent. Then, apologize for anyone you’ve belittled and mind your own business. Let good people make good choices for themselves.

Thanks for listening.