In praise of the happily childless

So imagine you have a couple of friends. They’re both fond of you and you’re very fond of them, but you find hanging out with them a bit tiring because one of them wants to be looked after all the time and the other one is emotionally manipulative: she spends half her time telling you how great you are and the other half shouting at you because you won’t buy her ice cream. And then she wants to play a game with you, for three hours, except she’s making up the rules as she goes along and you don’t get to choose what they are. While you’re trying to play the game, the first friend keeps hitting you in the face and giggling. Also, neither of them pay their way and they both want to be with you all the time. In fact, they’re both living with you and expecting you to feed and keep them.

To put the above paragraph another way: if you’re used to dealing with adults and with situations you can walk away from, having children is something of a culture shock. There are parents who think everyone else should be parents too. Go on, they urge, you won’t regret it, it gives life meaning, have two! Have three! Have a dozen, why not? You can stop any time you like. Everyone else is doing it. Do you want to be left out, alone in your old age, with nobody to look after you? It’s a BIOLOGICAL IMPERATIVE.

Well, of course it’s worth it – at least most people find it’s worth it, and I certainly do. But while children are great, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend them as a thing to do with one’s life. In fact, studies suggest that non-parents are generally happier. Apparently being richer, less tired, less tied down by responsibilities and more in charge of one’s own life turns out to promote well-being: who could have seen that coming?

I’m not promoting childlessness either, particularly. It’s just that I’ve read posts by parents who think everyone should have children, by non-parents who think parents should have to justify their parenting, by parents who regret having children, and by non-parents who regret not having children. And I fall into none of these categories. Yet the category I’m in is surely not a rare one: I’m a parent who’s happy to have children and also happy for other people not to.

I love having happily childless friends for purely selfish reasons. They’re available to go to the pub, they’ll come over for dinner, sometimes they’ll even babysit. I can go for an outing with them and they’ll enjoy the novelty of playing with my daughters while I lie around eating chocolate. Friends who don’t have children, but do like other people’s children, are brilliant for parents.

So I would urge all my friends who don’t want kids to continue resisting any social pressures they may encounter, and instead to devote their energies to entertaining my children. And in return for their helpfulness now, I shall encourage my children to visit them in their old age and bring them fruit baskets. Or enormous bottles of gin. Whatever will seem appropriate to the 2050 pensioner.

An average baby frequently captures adults, but usually has no idea what to do with them.

12 comments

  1. Sharon says:

    I like this post.
    I am very happy as a deliberately-childless person with lots of children among my friends and family.

    • Sharon says:

      P.S. I’ll totally babysit, even if it doesn’t mean visits with gin and fruit in my old age. Although I wouldn’t complain about those either, unless the fruit is mango.

  2. Maxine says:

    I love the way you write – that first paragraph is particularly awesome!

    On the flip side, I choose to be child-free not because I hate kids, but because I have some strong opinions about how kids ought to be raised and know I’m not willing or able to make that sort of sacrifice/commitment. But I do think that life is awesome, and keeping the species going is kindof a good thing, so massive kudos to anyone who does, and does it well (I think you do).

    (Babysitting scares me though. I think I might break them… or they might break me!)

  3. Crazy – I wrote a blog post this morning on how it’s secretly OK not to be a perfect parent. I’m totally with you on this one. I love my kids, but through my fog of sleepless nights and 24/7 care I would never dream of telling any of my friends they ought to have kids too. Like you say, if they want kids, let them have yours! My childless friends have way more time than me – time they can put to good use taking me to the pub, or my kids to the park.

  4. Jessamy says:

    Very good :)

  5. Seph says:

    I too approve of this post! You’ve always been remarkably tolerant of my child-hating-harridan ways, and I’ve always been very fond of your children. They’re good kids, and I’ve enjoyed spending time with them every time I have :-)

  6. As you know mate, I have spent much of my half century, thus far, in the ‘non-parents who regret not having children’ camp. However as I get older (and more knackered) I find the pain of this diminishing…rapidly. Also I see what having kids costs you (and the other parents I know) and I’m not sure that it’s a price I could ever have paid. It was a bit of a step for me to realise that I wouldn’t necessarily have made the perfect father! Instead I have, and shall continue to, focus on becoming the best possible disreputable ‘uncle’ that I can to your and the other children I know. And shed loads of fun it is too!

  7. Cat says:

    The first paragraph is my life down to a tee. The way I look at it is ‘no pain, no gain’ but it’s my choice – I certainly wouldn’t try and persuade anybody to have children who really didn’t want them (however, I might try and persuade them that they want to babysit for me…)

  8. Ms Katonic says:

    Brilliant article! Love the first paragraph.

    I actually hardly ever get people telling me I ought to have kids. Apart, ironically, from Dr D. I must point him at this if he’s not read it already…

  9. Laura says:

    Great post. I’m childfree for a number of reasons, but I love kids and I don’t think people should stop having them. I don’t get bothered so much about why I don’t want them, I guess being mid-30s and eternally single helps ;-)

  10. Erin says:

    Love it! Thank you!

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