Ever since I was a little girl I was never 100% convinced that I would have children. I was open to the idea, but I was also aware it was one of many possibilities for my life.
Nevertheless, I was acutely aware of the expectation that I would a) grow up and meet a nice man b) have children and c) live happily ever after.
This is the ‘dream’ we are sold on early by Disney and then later on by Hollywood. This never felt like a done deal and my young mind was resistant to this assumption. What if my life was going to be about something else?
Saturday 1 August was International Childfree Day, a day that honours people without children and aims to prompt discussion about what it means to be childfree in a culture that is increasingly kid-focussed.
Almost a quarter of Australian women aged 40+ do not have children and this figure has doubled in the past 10 years.
Women without children are a rapidly increasing demographic for a host of reasons.
There is a growing phenomena called ‘social infertility’ whereby many women would like to create a family but do not meet a suitable partner.
Not everyone wants to or can afford to embark on a solo parent journey or a couple may experience inexplicable infertility.
Some women partner with men who already have children from a previous relationship.
More women are also consciously choosing not to embark on motherhood, but focus their energy elsewhere. So often these women’s stories are largely ignored, belittled or trivialised.
Occasionally, articles about childfree women portray them with pity or suspicion. Take for example, the way that childfree Jennifer Aniston is often viewed, compared to Queen of the Kids Angelina Jolie.
Many women hear comments like, ‘you’re selfish’, ‘you’ll change your mind when you meet Mr Right’ or ‘you’re a career woman’.
How many men have you ever called a ‘career man’?
Consider the way that female politicians are treated, especially those without children. We don’t have to think too far back to remember the repeated abuse that the ‘barren’ and ’childless’ Julia Gillard experienced.
When a woman is childless or childfree, she is often judged and subjected to intrusive questions that ultimately boil down to one worrying assumption: ‘what is your value beyond being a mother?’
My work as a coach for a growing number of women in Australia who are without children is fascinating. I have the privilege of witnessing women be honest with themselves about what is truly fulfilling for them when children are off the agenda.
No-one asks a mother, ‘Why did you have kids?’ because surely that is a bigger question.
In our society, we are conditioned to this norm and when women do not fit into the mould, they can feel isolated and judged by family and friends. Too often I’ve heard ‘I never experienced that ticking biological clock so I wondered if there was something wrong with me’.
We live in a society where the lines between womanhood and motherhood are very blurred. My aim is to help women define what their version of womanhood looks like.
Motherhood is not a mandate and there are many ways to experience fulfilment. I’d love to see all women unshackle themselves from the stereotypes that restrict the possibilities available to them.
Let’s support all women to choose and create the life that is right for them and respect each other.
I have just launched a podcast series titled Unclassified Woman for women who don’t have children but are seeking to create a meaningful life they love. Part myth-busting, part story-sharing, the series is available in the iTunes store now. It features inspirational women from around the globe.