I spoke to my friend the other day who is child-free by choice, and she asked me how she could handle people who want her to have children, including her own parents and close friends.
What can she say to the naysayers?
Well, as a woman pushing 50 who is also child-free by choice, I can share my own personal experience with that. But I’d also like to broaden this concept to include anyone who doesn't agree with your unconventional life choice.
Why Do Others Even Care About My Life Choices?
It is not easy to make a life choice that flies in the face of convention, tradition, or acceptability in our society. Conformity and norms are what make people feel safe in our society, and those of us who make our own choices are often met with other people’s often unconscious fears.
First, a little detachment is helpful. Realize that other people’s reactions to your choices (as long as they’re legal!) say more about them and their beliefs than about you. Our society has been built over thousands of years by people agreeing about how we will behave. Changes in these agreed-upon behaviors make people feel threatened. The need to belong, to fit in, is conditioned in us from birth, when we are helpless and need others to survive. Challenging these needs in order to be our authentic selves is uncomfortable for others, as well as for us.
To see this need to fit in, to conform exhibited in a funny way, just watch the Candid Camera video below:
It’s funny when used in such an inane way, but when it is extrapolated to your life choice, not so much. When you refuse to turn and face the way everyone else is facing in the elevator, others believe you are rejecting THEIR choices, even if you are not.
So, just realizing this can help have you have compassion for others who have made a more conventional life choice. Oh, and by the way, I wouldn’t recommend sharing this wisdom with them, because most people aren’t aware that they even feel threatened by your choice, much less why. It can be our little secret.
How To Handle Those Who Don’t Understand
Once you have mustered compassion for those who disagree with your unconventional life choice, it’s time to strategize on how to handle the either repeated or infrequent comments that will likely come your way.
The most important thing you can do to prevent unwanted comments is to
ACCEPT YOUR OWN CHOICE.
What I have found in my own experience is that the more comfortable with my choices I am, the less others feel the need to question or comment on them.
This means that I feel sure about my choice, and I am clear about why I am making it. I no longer judge myself for it, and because of that I can respond with clarity and compassion (versus confusion and defensiveness) to others.
If others' comments and questions bother you, it's likely because you are not yet totally comfortable with your own choice. How do you get there? You need time to live alone with your decision, and some self-reflection. And sometimes outside help.
Some self-reflection questions to ask yourself, to journal the answers to, and/or to just sit with:
- Is this truly my choice, or am I being influenced by something or someone else?
- Is this choice aligned with my deeper values in life?
- What are the likely consequences of this choice?
- Is this choice important enough to me to accept the consequences?
- Am I willing to feel uncomfortable, alone, unsupported, and likely judged to live this choice?
I have learned that there are only a few people in this world that have “earned the right to hear my story,” as Brene Brown would say, and that means very few people would see the more vulnerable side of my decision-making. Those that can have unconditional compassion towards me, and not add angst to my already fragile sense of self while making unconventional life choices.
If you are not there yet in terms of accepting your own choice, you don’t need to share it with others. But you DO need to find at least one person who can support you while you are shaping your choices.
How I Handled My Unconventional Life Choice
In the case of nosy friends and family regarding child choices, it’s a bit more complicated. I mean, not only do we have the unconventional choice in terms of society, but also biology!
In my own journey to childfree by choice, I had a great partner. My husband and I decided that every year we would have the “kid” discussion on our anniversary to check in with each other on where we were individually with our choice. We assigned a “%” of certainty to our choice, as in “I feel 90% sure I don’t want to have kids.” We gave each other permission to change our minds and to be open to talking about it.
There were a few years when one of us was lower in certainty, and one year when my husband (who was always MORE sure than me) told me, “If you wanted to have a baby, I’d be okay with it.” But overall, neither of us were ever lower than 75% sure, so we never had kids.
So, it was great that I had a partner in my choice who could support me and back me up. But I still got unwanted comments, mostly from friends and the Vietnamese ladies at the nail salon.
To those people I said, “I didn’t have kids because I never felt the urge to.” I didn’t really expend a lot of energy explaining something to people who
- would never understand no matter how much I explained, and
- didn’t mean that much to me anyway
Now, Back to My Childfree Friend…
So, what about my friend? How should she handle HER situation?
Well, here’s what I recommended to her:
1. Get clear about your choice before sharing it with the outside world. Until then, it’s between you and your husband and anyone who has earned the right to your vulnerability.
2. If you are NOT totally clear, if you are still open to maybe having kids in the future, AND if your close family and friends have earned the right, you can vulnerably share with them something like,
This is an open issue for us, and one that I feel very vulnerable to criticism about. I know you want to support us in making the best decision for us, and right now that just means listening and understanding. Can you do that for us?
3. If you ARE totally clear AND if your close family and friends have earned the right, you can vulnerably share with them something like,
We have given this issue much soul-searching and we feel sure that this is the right decision for us. I completely understand why you may not agree with it, and that there may be consequences for us in the future because of our decision. What I really need now is your support, and that looks like not continuing to question us about it or making negative comments about our decision. Can you support us with that for right now?”
4. And finally, anyone who has not earned the right to hear your vulnerability deserves a short, standard answer (see mine above), a little compassion, and not much else.
How about you? Have you ever had to stand by an unconventional choice? How did you handle it? Leave a comment below and let me know.
P.S. If you know someone who is grappling with an unconventional life choice, would you mind sharing this with them? Sometimes we need support and don't even know it. Take a risk and be a friend.