This week, TIME magazine’s cover story reported the growing trend of women choosing “The Childfree Life.” The article reveals that childlessness—the term used to describe the ‘condition’ of a woman who is not a mother—is at an all-time high and the United States birthrate is at an all-time low.
Jonathan V. Last, author of What to Expect When No One’s Expecting, is one voice among the chatter that accuses childless women of acting selfishly. He claims that by opting out of procreation childless women contribute to a future economic downfall as with less children there will be less adults to grow up and pay taxes and purchase goods in our consumerist economy. Still others are simply baffled by the choice: “What do you mean you don’t want to have kids?”
The facts may be surprising, but the number of childfree women ages 40-44 doubled from 1976 to 2010. As the battle between stay-at-home moms and working moms—known as the Mommy Wars—ebbs and flows, it may soon be overshadowed by the latest central conflict in American culture: Women Wars. I’m not talking about the “War on Women” and all of the pro-choice/pro-life discussions that accompany that term. I’m talking about a struggle between women who have children and women who do not.
Yet, in this battle, the criticism seems to be remarkably one-sided. While mothers dish out insults to women without the Mommy moniker, non-mothers don’t seem to fault women with children for their lifestyle choices. American culture tells women who forego motherhood that they are selfish (for the economic reasons Last argued and otherwise). According to a 2009 Pew Research study, 38% of American say the childless trend is bad for society (up from 9% in 2007). Yet, there seems to be an absence of criticism for a woman that may five children she cannot afford who then must rely on government aid or food stamps. Why does our culture consider it more selfish to opt out of these parental situations?
At the same time, paradoxically, we may be scaring women out of becoming moms. As sociologist Julie McQuillen said in the TIME piece, “If we make motherhood unrealistic, why would we want to do the job?” From my friends who are parents, I personally hear less about the joy of pregnancy and beauty of motherhood and more about the sleepless nights and the loss of a social life. Is it any wonder that more women are opting out?
It seems that women are in constant competition with each other over which female archetype is the ideal: the working mom, the stay-at-home mom, and now the non-mom. TIME touted that this childfree life is the new way of “having it all.” We all seem to want to prove that we are the best, and the best seems to be judged upon how many plates each of us can keep spinning without going insane. We all want to be in the group that “has it all.”
By current definition, the struggle to “have it all” is a woman’s battle to balance motherhood, a profession, a life of her own, and a successful relationship with her partner. While the Mommy Warriors debate over whether or not "profession" needs to be on that list, the latest archetype of woman declares that "motherhood" does not need to be included, either.
The real problem here is the singular definition of “it all,” which causes women to constantly compete against each other, rather than support each other. We need to allow for flexibility in each other’s choices without a barrage of judgment because truly one size does not fit all.