Childfree discussion and debate generally focuses on women, curiously quiet on the topic of childfree men. But a March 2012 Psychology Today post by Ellen Walker (clinical psychologist and author of Complete Without Kids) titled, “Childfree Men: Misunderstood and Often Maligned!”, examines childfree men. Walker’s look at the reasoning behind childfree men’s choice and the perception of childfree men within our society is thoughtful and compelling
Childfree men fly under the radar screen more often than their female counterparts. In our culture, the role of father is not deemed essential in the life of a man. For women, on the other hand, many consider being a mother to be a chief purpose in life. Some people go so far as to propose that this is a woman’s main reason for existing. But men who do not become dads are still viewed with suspicion, and they often get a bad rap! They are often thought to be immature little boys who never grew up and whose primary goal in life is to play. (Psychology Today)
I’ve laughed off this last judgment often enough. In fact, I’m happy to admit that there’s some truth in it. But these dismissive stereotypes inevitably can damage a man’s character and — as Walker points out — can even damage a man’s workforce opportunities.
Employers often prefer men who are dads, as they are viewed as more reliable and responsible employees than are guys who have no one to consider but themselves. (Psychology Today)
This is ironic given the fact that childfree mothers are perceived as profiting in the workforce due to increased focus, lack of maternity leave, etc. (Read Jessica Valenti’s Why Have Kids?)
Childfree men also risk stress induced by failing to living up to social expectations.
It’s hard for many people to imagine that a couple simply would prefer to be on their own, unencumbered by children and the responsibilities that come with parenting. (Psychology Today)
Negative stereotypes are attached to childfree men of any social standing including celebrities who are often painted as immature playboys if they choose to remain childfree. Witness George Clooney and Simon Cowell, both childfree men inspiring endless tabloid, who both devote themselves to their careers and civic goals and are wildly accomplished.
Archetypal Childfree Men
Childfree men are as diverse as their female counterparts, with distinct personalities and differing reasons for not having or choosing not to have children.
- Childfree by happenstance: “Some have simply never met the right partner with whom to create a family, and their ambivalence about this is such that they’re not going to go out to actively seek it” (Psychology Today).
- Childfree by choice: “They have made a conscious decision to not have kids, either due to lifestyle or to life values. If they are in a relationship, it’s with someone who shares their view and also has chosen a life without kids” (Psychology Today).
- Childfree by circumstance: “They would have loved to have become fathers, but they simply couldn’t make it happen. Perhaps their partners were infertile, or perhaps they never married due to shyness or other barrier to meeting a mate” (Psychology Today). These men may wish to be fathers and may feel grief that they do not have children or have the chance to be fathers.
I would augment the first two examples. With respect to childfree men due to “happenstance”, I suspect that ambivalence transcends matching up with the appropriate partner. Men often say, “It really didn’t matter to me whether or not we had kids, but it was important to my wife.” Perhaps this is bravado, a sort of guy-to-guy way of dumping the parenting instinct on your spouse. But I suspect it’s sincere. I’ve never felt a burning desire to be a father. I’ve been curious at times, and I’ve even felt a poignant twinge of sadness now and then. This is especially the case when I witness my brother interacting with his daughters or my sister-in-law and brother-in-law interacting with their sons. But these same children, as my nieces and nephews, more than compensate for the few glimpses of sorrow. And in all cases these wonders and laments are short lived. From what I can tell, this ambivalence toward having children does not hinge upon finding the right mate. Some of us simply feel ambivalent about having children!
Walker’s notion of childfree men who’ve been motivated to forgo childbearing due to values or lifestyle overlooks some other likely reasons that both men and women elect to remain childfree. A couple of obvious examples are genetics and economics. Many childfree men and women do not consider their gene pool or their earning potential sufficient to safely risk procreating. Perhaps she sees these as somehow falling under the broad value/lifestyle categories, but these are important and relevant considerations when evaluating whether or not to have a child. If reproducing is genetically or financially risky, some prudent men (and women) opt for prudence.
Childfree Men Tomorrow
With an eye to the future, Walker acknowledges that choosing to remain childfree is becoming an increasingly acceptable option for individuals and couples. Perhaps low-cost and no-cost contraception, shifting social norms and broader education will reduce unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, resulting in intentional childbearing and a stigma-free childfree option. Walker concludes with an optimistic prediction:
Who knows, maybe in twenty years, no one will bat an eye if a man doesn’t have kids. He won’t be viewed as an immature playboy who never grew up. He may even be perceived as someone who is more able to fully focus on goals and aspirations, because he is not distracted by the responsibilities of parenting. (Psychology Today)
Let’s help make her prediction come true, childfree men!