29 June, 2020

Societal change and the Childless

For the last five months, I’ve been writing mostly on my No Kidding 2020 Project, running through the emotions and actions of healing. I’ve enjoyed it, but rather got out of the habit of writing. There are a lot of topics for which I have half-written posts sitting in my files drafts, but my mind isn’t quite there yet.

I thought I’d comment briefly on Loribeth’s post last Monday about the cultural shaming of childlessness, and wondering if we would gradually see greater societal acceptance over the next 20-40 years in the way acceptance of the LGBTQ community has normalised. Go read her post here – as you can see, it got me thinking.

I like to think that in the future the No Kidding community will feel as accepted and unexceptional in society as those who are parents. But I see several possible scenarios, varying from the pessimistic to the more hopeful:

  • The first is not hopeful. I think that today, compared to perhaps 40 years ago, there is sometimes more shame and judgement of people who don’t have children because there are “things we could do” to avoid our situation – eg, IVF/donor egg or sperm, surrogacy, or the old perennial, “you always adopt,” with reference to international adoptions* where there is seemingly an “unlimited supply” of babies. (We see these assumptions even within the infertility community, and we therefore know they are out there in wider society.) So with all this technology and all these options, when we come out of an infertility or other journey without children, when we had at one time hoped for them, is seen as failure, and either a lack of will, or perhaps insufficient finances, which brings its own judgement, given that societies often equate financial well-being with morality. The very availability of options means that there is less understanding of why some people cannot and do not have children. That’s not going away anytime soon.

  • Thirty or forty years ago, when feminism was all about choice and opportunity, I was hopeful that it would mean that women wouldn’t be judged on whether they had children or not. But society has become even more pronatal – perhaps as a backlash to feminism, ensuring that women stay in “their place” and are less able to challenge the position of men. We’ve seen women who are childless take prominent positions and bear enormous criticism because they are not mothers. And our own PM Jacinda Ardern was criticised by choosing to become a mother whilst she was leading our country, though I hear little criticism along those lines these days, it might ramp up in the next few months as we approach our election in September. I don’t know how feminism is going to progress in the future, but the position of women in society is still difficult, is still subject to judgement and criticism and objectification. Whilst I have seen some positive developments over the last decades, I see a lot of stuff that has just been reinvented and recycled in different packaging to keep us in our place. So I’m not wildly hopeful that feminism will improve things for the childless.

  • Our numbers are however growing. And we are speaking out more. So maybe we will reach a critical mass that sees us recognised as a legitimate group in society, with a recognised voice and specific interests. I hope so. It’s one of the reasons I continue to blog. But we have a way to go.

  • Finally, I wonder if issues like climate change and environmental degradation will see a societal shift away from glorification of parenthood and towards an increasing recognition of the real impact of the world’s burgeoning population on the planet. Maybe society will recognise the dangers of unmitigated population increases and realise the value of the childless population, and the contribution we make towards the next generations. I don’t know. The risks to the planet of continued population growth are rarely uttered in any discussions I hear. I keep wondering how long commentators and politicians can continue to wilfully ignore it.

I realise I’ve come across as quite pessimistic. I'm not sure if that's representative of my views, or the fact it is Monday, and it's cold and rainy here!

What do you think?

* PS. It’s worth reading Lori LavenderLuz’s post and links on international adoption and the assumptions around it here, and Jess's post on the same topic here.


  1. Oh man, I'm with you, not super optimistic. Such an interesting idea that the further into time we get the more options are out there and technologies, and there's that feeling of "HOW could that possibly NOT have worked?" It's horrible that I am relieved when there are famous people for whom things don't work, because they have practically limitless finances and yet MONEY DOESN'T ALWAYS GET YOU TO A BABY. And while you may have money to pay for option after option, you may not have the stamina. And it all just reeks of inequities. And it's awful when people just do not understand (and refuse to understand) how you could come out the other side of treatments and/or adoption and not be a parent. I also see that overall judgment of women and their choices (or non-choices) that you'd think would have lessened by 2020 but apparently not. Amazing how you can be judged for being a world leader WITHOUT children and then judged just as much for HAVING a child while being a world leader. If you're a woman, that is. Grrrrrr.

    It is interesting that a lot of the people I know who are millennials are thinking of not having children because of the climate crisis. I wonder sometimes if that philosophical stance could also increasingly be a biological stance as our world shifts and changes and becomes more toxic.

    Great post, so much food for thought! I hope that there's far more understanding of all families in the future, and of paths that didn't end the same way as the majority. But lately I'm really feeling that so much of humanity sucks. :(

  2. I think you are probably spot on. As we in the US are learning AGAIN, societal change toward inclusion takes so much more time than it seems like it should.

    Your voice is so important to this change. So glad you are in this space.

  3. Oh, and thank you for the shout out!

  4. I am of two minds on this. There is plenty of reason for pessimism. I was reading a long article from the Globe & Mail today about the pandemic & how it is (once again) exposing the lack of affordable, high-quality childcare in this country... & whether schools will be able to reopen this fall & how... and what impact this is all having on women in the workforce, and how many are dropping out because they need to return to the office, and cannot handle their family responsibilities without schools/childcare (and since women are generally the lower wage earners in a couple, they're the ones who sacrifice their careers)... and then what impact this is going to have on the economy too. Pretty depressing, after how hard we've fought to get where we are right now (which is not ideal either...!).

    But I see reason for hope too. As Jess points out, more & more young people are considering not having children -- not always for positive reasons, sadly, but they are recognizing that it's a perfectly valid option. Online, in blogs, on Twitter and in other social media, I see more and more people speaking out about childlessness/childfree living (the good & the bad), and challenging pronatalist thinking and assumptions about childlessness. It takes time -- longer than we all like! -- but I do see signs of progress, slowly!