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08/28/2014 08:19 am ET Updated Oct 28, 2014

I Don't Have Children And I'm Happy About It. Can You Handle That?

After years of strangers telling her she'd regret it and giving their (uninvited) opinions, High50's Kate Battersby explains why not having children was a positive choice that she should not be judged on.

Why is the word 'childless' acceptable? It screeches of loss or tragedy, even sterility. At best it's offensive to those who have chosen not to have children, and at worst it's grotesquely insensitive to those permitted no choice.

Speaking as someone who has specifically chosen that course and who is grateful to have lived in an age where that choice could be exercised, it is quite clear to me that the word 'childless' is loaded with assumptions; that reproducing is the norm, something to which everyone aspires, and that to be without children is clearly to have failed.

Those who judge me for not having children seem to think it's a kind of strange freedom.

Why should being childless be a negative?

Those of us who have opted not to have children are wearily familiar with the inevitable conversation pattern once a near-stranger learns we have not reproduced.

First, they never hesitate to ask why, apparently oblivious that it might be cruelly sensitive territory; and when they have established that (in my case) it is a positive choice, it is not unusual to be informed baldly that I will regret it, and that I am selfish.

I can see that it is at least possible that I will regret it, although at 50 I show no sign yet. On the other hand, the idea that I might not regret it, and indeed might feel entirely content without offspring, is overlooked by the free-speaking commentators.

I like meeting children. I like holding babies. But I've never thought: 'God, I've got to get me one of these'.

But the allegation of selfishness makes no sense to me at all. If it is selfish of me to choose not to have children, then it follows that those who choose to have them must be selfless - that is to say, they must have chosen to have children on the specific basis that they did not want them. Obviously this is the argument of the madhouse.

Yet still I am asked: "If we all thought like you, who would produce the next generation of doctors and inventors?"

For one thing I know of no one who yearns for a baby on the grounds of sociological philanthropy; and besides, somebody somewhere is giving birth to the next generation of yobs and murderers. Why not you?

It's not to do with fertility or freedom

Those who do not attribute my choice to selfishness frequently assume I wanted a career "instead", or that I prized what they (but not I) define as my "freedom".

A girlfriend of mine who also has no children calls this the flying-down-to-Rio defense, where the lives of those who choose not to have children are assumed to be a constant whirl of glamorous travel taken on a child-free whim, funded by earnings imagined to be mysteriously limitless.

But I've always felt faintly exhausted by the flag-waving label of those who want to be described as "child-free" because it dictates that to have children is to be burdened; and while the responsibilities of parenthood are boundless, no parent of my acquaintance defines their offspring as a ceaseless encumbrance.

Meanwhile, those of us who have opted not to reproduce are frequently asked: "Don't you like children?" Yet no one expects to like all people without exception between the ages of, say, 22 and 29. Why expect it of children?

I like children on the same basis that I like adults, depending whether they're likable as individuals.

Not having children is nothing to do with work

This month an unnamed government insider apparently pronounced a senior female British politician a turn-off to voters because she does not have children; apparently it implies she is "obsessed" with work.

It is irrelevant. I am no likelier to give my vote to her on the basis that neither of us has children, than I would limit myself to candidates who are 5ft 7in, or who have brown hair (with increasing traces of grey), or who share a 13-year-old cocker spaniel cross from a rescue center with their ex-partner.

For a lot of us who have chosen not to have children, it isn't about career or freedom or loathing infants. And often it isn't actually a negative feeling at all. Contrary to assumptions, it is not the equal and opposite imperative of the primeval desire to reproduce.

For me, there was a gradual realization that many around me seemed to possess an instinctive need and I just... didn't.

It's a bit like ancient archaeology; some people are absolutely passionate about it, but the rest aren't ragingly opposed. They just happen not to be interested.

I like meeting children. I like talking with them, and listening to them. I like holding babies. But I've never thought: "God, I've got to get me one of these."

So how about we lose the pejorative labels, if nothing else in a bid for greater kindness? Surely there is room for everyone, with no need for overt statements which judge and assume.

Parenthood is not the core identity of every adult's life. I do not have children. I am whole. There is no "but" in between.

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