Bella Online’s Lori Bradley recently wrote about the most annoying questions she gets about being childfree. Two questions have to with how the childfree spend their time and boredom: “What do you do with your time?” and “Don’t you get bored without someone (kids, grand kids, great grand kids) to worry about?” The assumptions behind these questions are a bit maddening. Here’ s why.
Regarding the first, to have to ask what the childfree do with their time seems to imply that they must have lots of free time because they aren’t parents. Not so. Now some might be like Ms. Bradley who has chosen a more “contemplative life” but many childfree would say their lives are just as busy as parents’ lives—what they do with their time just consists of different things, including but certainly not limited to dedication to their professional lives, sharing avid interests, volunteering to contribute to their communities and causes they believe in, tending to family (such as their parents, or their aunt and uncle roles). The idea that the childfree have loads of free time is just a myth, but there is truth in the idea that they retain more control over their time.
With regard to the idea that the childfree must be “bored” because they don’t have someone else to worry about reflects the ludicrous assumption that because they don’t have children, they must not have anyone else to worry about. Like everyone else, they have loved ones in their lives who are very important to them, that they do worry about. The childfree just don’t worry about their every move like parents need to do when raising children.
The idea that they are not worrying about their kids also reflects the assumption that the childfree must be worrying only about themselves. This notion points to the popular myth that the childfree must be self-absorbed people. Again, not so. Because they don’t have children, the childfree actually have more time to think beyond themselves and their immediate family, to larger community, national and global issues, and use their time to be part of solving these issues. Additionally, just because they don’t have children of their own does not mean they are not dedicated to their family, extended families, their friends and their children.
In reality, the childfree are just as likely not to have their lives be “all about them” as parents. Yes, parents. Just because one is a parent, does not mean s/he is not selfish, or s/he will never act selfishly. In surveying parents, even they say that it is selfish for example when parents try to live their lives through their children – to try and shape their kids to do what they always wanted to do, or be what they always wanted to be. And there are plenty of other ways parents can be selfish. “It’s about me” behavior can look a myriad of different ways, whether one is a parent or not.
Instead of asking the childfree questions that imply we only focus on ourselves and have plenty of time to do this, how about taking a genuine interest in the person’s life without bias or judgment around the fact children are not part of it? When the questions come from this place, we will have made progress on letting go of crazy childfree myths.
Childfree out there, have you been asked these kinds of questions?
I can’t say I have been hit with these rude questions (a.k.a. “bingos”) very often due to being childfree. Being single and male (as opposed to being married and/or female) has mostly insulated me from these attacks.
I can say that retiring in 2008 at age 45 caused me to get hit with some of those questions (i.e. “free time”) but I did not mind. I now had more time to do my volunteer work which included working with children in several area schools. That usually shuts up any critics!
Hey deegee, Yes, you definitely have a great answer to the “free time” question! You also are a great example of why the free time and boredom kind of questions are such a myth! ~L
Interesting. I’ve never thought that “not worrying” = “boredom.” As a person with major anxiety issues, it’s always seemed more like “not worrying” = “peace of mind.”
I spend (waste, really) way too much of my life worrying as it is. About my husband, parents, grandmother, and siblings, mostly, but also about myself if we’re being candid here. I can’t even imagine having to worry about small children for whom I am completely responsible. I think it would take me beyond “anxiety issues” and all the way to “permanent nervous wreck.”
Someday, with help, I hope to know what this boredom she speaks of might be like. I don’t, however, think that having kids will help me get there.
I haven’t ever heard any questions about what I do with my time; rather, I have heard snide comments about the fact that my time is mine. A former coworker of mine said “It must be nice to be able to go home and not have to worry about anyone but yourself and your husband.” I just smiled and said that yes, it was nice. She went on to complain about having to fix dinner for her kids, give them baths, and do the other kid-related nightly routine things. (She made this comment more than once, and complained about her life more than once.) I also had a high school classmate of mine (I’ve been out of high school 14 years and was visiting my hometown) tell me that “It must be nice to be able to just get in the car and drive wherever you want, whenever you want, because you don’t have kids.” I smiled and said that yes, it is very nice. I don’t really know what else I am supposed to say to comments such as these. It’s almost as if these people want some kind of apology because my life is different from theirs.
Elizabeth, sometimes those snide comments can reflect unspoken feelings of regret..easier to judge you than to admit they have made a mistake they can’t turn back on…!
I haven’t heard those bingos yet either. When I come across questions like that I try to answer as honestly as I can, but it’s hard. I have to remind myself the person asking those stupid questions are really talking to themselves more than they are to me. Or else they’re processing their own stuff out loud. I guess I’m “supposed to” feel lazy or guilty or immature because of my free time, but I don’t. I don’t feel the need to defend myself because I’ve worked out a pretty comfortable life for myself. I’m guessing I DO have a lot more free time for myself than most parents. If you can’t stand that, well, that’s your problem.
Since there seem to be so many introverts among the childfree, I wonder if childfree people tend to be people who are good at entertaining themselves, maybe on average better at it than childed people. Having a kid as a way to fight boredom is just about the stupidest thing I can imagine!
Hey Scott, I do see lots of childfree introverts out there, but have to say I encounter lots of extraverts too…both seem to have no problems with boredom! ~L
P.S. The questions people ask are pointed questions, but hell, at least they’re questions. The person asking may be disbelieving and not understanding, but the person might actually be curious. They’re asking what your life is like instead of just telling you what your life is like. That little bit is progress, of a sort.
Amy-I feel you on that. I don’t have major anxiety issues, well, not enough for a diagnosis of anxiety, but I can get so worried too! I will ruminate on worries for so long sometimes. “Did I lock the door? I’m not sure if I locked the front door. Oh man, I hope locked it. What if someone breaks in? Take what you want but leave my cats alone! But what if my cats run out the door? What if the robber hurts them?…” At least I can usually calm myself by trusting that my fears probably won’t be realized (“You probably did lock it, Christine, and even if you didn’t, you live in the back. No one is going to bypass the other apartment building to get to you”). I think if I had children, that inner-worrier would just blow up and I would be a “permanent nervous wreck” too.
I LOVED this!!! These were my two favorite parts “…but there is truth in the idea that they retain more control over their time.” AND “The idea that they are not worrying about their kids also reflects the assumption that the childfree must be worrying only about themselves.” Yes, I have more control of my time, but I don’t spend it worrying just about me. I’m DOING things with my time. Learning to play tennis, learning more about photography, writing, spending times with friends, helping neighbors, gardening…I try to be the change I want to see in the world. Which is to say I try to tread softly and put joy in it when I can. I assume parents are trying to make sure the kids they’re putting in the world grow up to be respectful people, but…honestly I don’t always see that.
So what were these people doing before they had children?
I do exactly as I always have and more every year. I love it. I find I am the one friends and family turn to for ideas/opinions about many aspects of life apart from family. They need me and love hearing my stories. Sometimes I can see them dreaming about the life they never had.
You know, reading through the other comments reminds me of this gem you often hear from parents: “I don’t know what I did before I had little Brayden/Madisyn! I honestly can’t remember life without him/her!” REALLY? Wow.
I agree with you, Laura, they’re definitely silly questions – ones that says more about the asker than the person who’s being asked. Having 1) already made the choice and 2) continually rationalized said choice I believe that their ability to envision the alternative is extremely limited – they’ve spent so much time telling themselves that THEIR way is THE way that when they come across someone who’s made different choices they don’t know what to make of it because it disrupts their idea of how things are “supposed to” be.
I also think there’s a tendency to conflate being bored with being unoccupied. Boredome, IMO, is a matter of INTEREST. There have been countless times in my life when I’ve been occupied with a lot of tasks and/or people and bored out of my SKULL. Factually Someone who is actively parenting will be occupied with more tasks and more people that I will be as a childfree person, but having more to do doesn’t make their life more INTERESTING.
mtuni, What a great point re being occupied does not mean it’s interesting! I think many things involved in parenting keep one occupied, but can be Boring! ~L
Just the other day a coworker demanded to know what I do with all of my free time–She has two kids and two jobs and works almost sixty hours a week and still struggles financially; I work no more than twenty hours a week and my husband and I are completely debt-free. She did not like my answer of “Whatever I want”. The truth is I fit the stereotype of having tons of free time, but my husband and I are happy living this way and I never get bored. I feel like Elizabeth, when people question me like this it’s as though they expect some sort of apology or justification from me, which they never get. This type of interrogation shows that these people are jealous and maybe even regretful about their own choices.
Elizabeth thats so true! Childbirth must cause severe memory loss.
Obviously they had such empty lives that required filling up with the business of raising kids, because they didnt know what else to do.
Its still insulting though and perpetuates the myth that whatever else you do in life is not worthwhile or contributes to society unless it involves children.
Angie, Thanks for writing…to your point about being “nothing in society’s eyes” I say keep visiting here and on other childfree sites and communities–you won’t get that at any of these places, to be sure! We get your choice, the challenges and frustrations that go with being childfree…you are not alone!
If i get some alone time i like to rest/listen to music.
You missed the big one though. You will go to hell if you dont have kids cuz be fruitful & multiply as the obsolete old testament says lol
Yeah….so will jesus using that logic!