“In a kingdom far away there was a queen who did not want to have children. So, she told the king and he understood. And they lived happily ever after.” A few days ago, I came upon an inspirational Scoopwhoop article that listed fairy-tale endings (like the two-liner here) for the modern woman – if she chose it. But I could not help but wonder – can this be turned into a reality in Indian society? Is it okay to be voluntarily childless?
Since the dawn of human history, gender roles have been defined for married couples. Men work; women bear children and take care of the household. And this is supposed to be the secret to a happy marriage and a stable society. In some communities, for example in Christian communities, there is a divine aspect added to reproduction. It is believed that the sole purpose of human creation is procreation and that a child is a gift of God. Not to forget, the ancient belief worldwide – a woman’s greatest gift is motherhood, and that her very existence remains incomplete without the role of a mother.
Why do couples opt to have no children?
Nevertheless, in the 21st century, things are drastically changing, taking in their stride the changing definitions of motherhood, marriage, gender roles, along with notions of personal and conjugal happiness. Today, the modern woman is not afraid to demand her rights and assert her will. She holds the reins of her own life and body. One such individualistic decision by wives around the world is to go childless or ‘childfree’ as the term goes. Miraculously, they are getting the support of their husbands. A happy marriage without kids is possible.
“I choose an orange because I like oranges. You choose an apple because you like apples. There’s no reason to think that your experiences should be any better than mine,” said Stone. “The orange is different than the apples. Having kids is different than not having kids. It doesn’t mean that one is … intrinsically better.”
Let us look at some of the reasons why couples go childless by choice:
- They share a more individual approach to happiness in marriage. Couples feel that they need to spend their lives with each other and for their own self. Bringing a child means the division of time and cutting off a chunk of one’s personal endeavours (in the case of women, pursue their careers). For them, happiness is being with each other and doing what they love without having to compromise it for anyone else
- Some couples feel that they aren’t exactly parenting material. The kind of selfless love, devotion, affection, and commitment required to raise a child is simply not their cup of tea
- On the other side, couples hold a pessimistic view – “children bring only disappointment”. So, the golden rule for these married couples – no expectations (from children), no disappointments!
- There are other couples who hold environmentalist views that the earth is already burdened by children who have no parents. So why add to the human population?
- Sometimes, the decision to go childless is solely that of a woman. Pregnancy brings a lot of physical and emotional changes. Not to mention, the amount of pain a woman undergoes during the process of childbirth. So, after years of dealing with the menstrual pain, she decides to spare herself the ultimate pain of childbirth
- Other factors – advanced education, less social pressure to bear a child, advanced contraception, and support of NGOs and Childfree supportive groups
Related reading: Six reactions to women not wanting kids
Childless couples’ statistics in India and worldwide
There has been no extensive research regarding the percentage of voluntary childlessness in India. Here, infertility or other physical, mental, social or economic factor is still one of the dominant causes of childlessness among married couples. However, according to the National Family Health Survey, 2007, childlessness in India is estimated at around 2.5%, with 5.5% for women aged 30-49 and 5.2% for the 45-49 age group.
Pew Research Center, with the supplement of Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, has observed the global trends in childlessness. The percentage of women without children around the world aged 40-44 rose to 18% in 2008 from 10% in 1976.
Research conducted mostly in developed and European countries shows that the rate of women choosing to be childfree is on the rise. These women fall under the urban and educated category of society.
What is life like for couples with no children?
Life, in the case of childless couples, is like parental couples, but with less drama.
I know a couple who used to be my neighbours. In my entire history of knowing them, all I have seen is a life of marital bliss and happiness. There was nothing ‘abnormal’ in or ’empty’ about their life.
The wife loved cooking and experimenting with dishes and provided tiffin services in the locality. The husband was an animal researcher who wanted to travel abroad someday. Both were doing their best to save money. Being childhood sweethearts, they always seemed so complete with each other. They worked hard for five days and in the weekends set out for dates on their bike.
It has been years and their Facebook pictures and stories still remain the same – happy and content.
So, this must be the life of every childfree couple out there –
- Living a life without the emotional, physical, or economic burden of bearing and nurturing a child
- Being a master of one’s own time
- Enjoying greater health and wealth
- A sense of fulfilment by focusing on one’s own personal, financial and emotional growth
- Chasing one’s own dreams, whether it be travelling or a baking
Lastly, no heartbreaks, guilt, resentment or sleepless nights and days because of that devil called ‘child’.
But life isn’t always sunny for childless couples. At times, they pay a price for their choice.
Common problems faced by childless couples
It’s no hidden fact that the Indian mind thinks and rethinks every important decision of life-based on the dictum – Log Kya Kahenge or what will the society say? In a land where pleasing a society is often given more importance than personal happiness, childfree couples have a tough time sticking to their decision.
Listed below are six major hurdles faced by the couples:
- The judgement of others: The first needle is inevitably the free judgements passed from neighbourhood aunty to colleagues at the workplace to friends and family at home. Each one of them says that it’s a huge mistake and that one day they’ll regret it. They talk behind the back and make nasty theories about the couples’ personal lives.
- Defamation: Slanders and slurs are common. Women are maligned as ‘barren’, ‘cruel’ and ‘abnormal’ while men are taunted as ‘impotent’. Childless couples are thought to be cursed. They are accused of being hedonists and egoists. The couples constantly struggle psychologically. It affects their health as well.
- Social stigma: The family is considered as the fundamental unit of society. So, when married couples decide to be childfree, it becomes more of a social problem than personal. They are considered as deviants who are wrecking the stability. The couples feel stigmatised and ostracised. Being considered a bad influence, social acceptance becomes a huge hurdle.
- Professional stigma: On a more problematic level, women who choose not to have kids are taken as someone who is yet to grow up and learn. Because motherhood is considered a part of maturity and learning. On a certain level, she is seen as incompetent. Men also face stereotypical judgement as weak or incapable since they agree with their wives.
- Care in the old age: This is one of the fears that hold back married Indian couples from going childfree. There aren’t enough social or activist groups or NGOs in India that provide welfare facilities like National Alliance for Optional Parenthood and No Kidding! In North America.
- Marital discord: Even though the couples go childfree by choice, there is a constant threat to their relationship equation. Those weak in resolve break down and cannot help but give in to the questions raised by the society. So the very cause of happiness becomes the source of unhappiness between the husband and the wife, leading to mood swings, arguments and in the extreme case, divorce.
To conclude, while the educated, urban society has become more accepting of childfree couples, there is no universal and unanimous acceptance from the world at large.
Are childless couples more likely to divorce?
Childlessness has been considered an influencing factor in the divorce cases in India, according to statistics published in Livemint. It states that women with no kids have ten times higher chances of divorce than women with at least one kid.
In the US, research proves that the divorce rate for childless couples is more than that of parents. While 66% are childless, 40% who divorce have kids. But there have been cases of happy marriages too, as author Laura Carroll has said, “I’ve been tracking the childfree for over 10 years now, and see many, many happily married childfree couples out there.”
Author Laura S. Scott, head of the Childless by Choice Project, has concluded, “People assume children are the glue that holds a marriage together, which really isn’t true. Kids are huge stressors. Despite that, there is a strong motive to stay together. The childfree don’t have that motive, so there’s no reason to stay together if it’s not working.”
It’s also a universal truth that when things get messy, the only thing that makes the married couples work on their relationship is children. And when that factor isn’t there for childfree couples, divorces are more likely to happen.
Are childless couples happier than parents?
Happiness is more a state of mind than the situation. There is no standard parameter to measure the happiness of childless couples pitted against parents.
A report by Princeton University and Stony Brook University published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found little difference in terms of life satisfaction between parents and childfree couples once other factors like health, education, religion, etc., were taken out. Its co-author Arthur Stone explained in an interview that being childless or parents is more of a personal choice. They are two different lifestyles and cannot be compared.
“I choose orange because I like oranges. You choose an apple because you like apples. There’s no reason to think that your experiences should be any better than mine,” said Stone. “The orange is different than the apples. Having kids is different than not having kids. It doesn’t mean that one is … intrinsically better.”
Thus, if you want to go ahead and decide not to have kids then there shouldn’t be anything stopping you. There isn’t anything abnormal or selfish about such a decision. Giving birth to a child is always a selfless act of love. You make a baby because really you want to! Not because everyone else is doing it.
And coming to the big question of ‘happiness’, you get to create your own happy world. I’m sure making babies isn’t the only way!