Terri Fuller and her husband, Patrick, don’t want kids. They talk about it openly, and have even detailed the reasons for their choice on their YouTube channel.
“It just isn’t for us,” Fuller told HuffPost. “My husband is on active duty in the military and that plays a huge role. I know there are are so many couples with kids who can live that military lifestyle and do it with seemingly no issues, but we don’t want to.”
Fuller, who lives in Norfolk, Virginia, also has reproductive issues: “I didn’t want to further complicate things in that department,” she said.
In spite of the couple’s candor and respect for couples who have kids, people on- and offline can’t help but tell them they’re making the wrong choice.
“We get told all the time that we’re missing out on life’s biggest blessing,” the 36-year-old said. “We also get told that we’re being selfish ― we get that one a lot. Other women have told me that not being a mother is going against God’s will for women, that I should be ashamed.”
Fuller’s critics might want to get used to child-free women. Survey data doesn’t distinguish between those who are involuntarily childless and those who are child-free by choice, but 2014 Census Bureau figures reveal that 47.6 percent of women between ages 15 and 44 have never had children ― the highest rate ever reported. By age 40 to 44, 19 percent of women remain childless, according to a 2014 Pew report.
The number of women opting out of having kids may be growing, but the judgment from others continues. Below, Fuller, therapists and others who choose to remain childless offer their best advice on dealing with critics.
Remember that no one is entitled to know why you don’t want kids.
Lifestyle blogger Jenny Mustard has trotted out her reasons for not wanting kids countless times: She doesn’t want to add to an already overpopulated planet, she’d rather not raise a child in such politically fraught times and, most importantly, she’s never felt the urge to reproduce.
She’s well-versed in her reasons, but at 33, she’s wise enough to know that she doesn’t have to reveal them.
“I really think it’s helpful to remember that you don’t have to explain yourself. It is your body and your rules and your wishes,” she said. “It’s a very personal decision and you choose with whom you share the reasons for that decision.”
“The only way I suggest responding to people who nag others for not wanting children is to just not respond at all,” she said. “It’s just another life choice that people have to make for themselves. I mean, you don’t find many people asking why I wear regular underwear but won’t touch a thong to save my life.”
Realize that empathy isn’t as common as you’d expect.
There’s relief in knowing you’re not alone in having to field prying, presumptuous questions about your choice. Those outdated beliefs your family members or co-workers hold about women and kids are depressingly common, said Michelle Turner, a couples therapist who works primarily with millennials in Dallas, Texas.
“When you decide to not have kids, you’re different, aka you’re out of the norm, even in today’s world,” she said. “It’s common for others to deal with someone different by criticizing their life choices. It is easier to blame than to empathize with another person’s choices because empathizing requires hard work and commitment to learn.”
Hopefully, seeing you live a happy, well-rounded life sans kids will help enlighten them. If not, keep doing you.
Reiterate the reasons you don’t want kids to yourself.
Kids can be wonderful, but they’re not for everyone. While you shouldn’t feel compelled to outline the reasons you don’t want to have them to anyone, it’s helpful to have a firm understanding of the reasons for your own well-being.
Knowing your reasons will embolden you and give you confidence to deal with any future criticism, said Deborah Duley, a psychotherapist and founder of Empowered Connections, a counseling practice that specializes in women, girls and the LGBTQ+ community.
“I work with the client to first be really solid as to why they don’t want children,” she said. “What are their personal reasons for this choice? Once they have clarity on why this decision was the right one for them, it helps give them confidence to begin working on not letting other people’s opinions matter.”
Duley also recommends creating daily or weekly affirmations to repeat to yourself to help you engage with others: “I don’t want kids so I can make all my travel and career-building goals happen ― and that’s totally fine,” for instance.
Know that the older you get, the fewer opinions you’ll receive.
With age comes fewer pesky questions about your personal life. The concern over your ovaries peaks during your childbearing years and eases up the older you get. (It’s harder to tell a woman, “You’ll change your mind when you get older!” when she’s inching toward 50.)
“I used to hear, ‘Just wait until that biological clock starts ticking!’ — that kind of thing. Luckily, after turning 30, that mostly stopped,” Mustard said. “Overall, saying you don’t want kids when you’re 16 or 20 is very different from saying it at 33.”
Turn the tables on the other person and ask why they want to have kids.
If you’re feeling particularly annoyed by the umpteenth question about your fertility, ask the other person why they want to have kids ― or why they’re so invested in you producing some kiddos.
“I think turning the focus over on the nagger and politely asking what they mean by their questions or critique and why this issue is so important to them is another way to get out of the feeling that you’re in the uncomfortable interrogation chair,” she said.
Remind yourself that your value isn’t determined by the number of kids you have.
At the end of the day, your decision to have ― or not have ― children holds no inherent value. Remind yourself of that often: You are so much more than your child-bearing capabilities.
“Children don’t define our worth or our value, in spite of what our society wants us to believe,” Duley said. “More and more people are choosing not to have children for many reasons. If a woman can acknowledge and accept that children don’t define us, it’s a game changer.”