In addition to the Brangelina split, Jennifer Aniston was recently in the news for addressing rumours that have persisted for the past 20 years on tabloid covers the world over: no, she wasn’t pregnant. Nor was she “in pursuit of motherhood because I feel incomplete in some way, as our celebrity news culture would lead us all to believe.”
Writing for Huffington Post, Aniston asserted that “The sheer amount of resources being spent right now by press trying to simply uncover whether or not I am pregnant (for the bajillionth time… but who’s counting) points to the perpetuation of this notion that women are somehow incomplete, unsuccessful, or unhappy if they’re not married with children.”
In this op-ed, Anniston gave voice to a growing number of women who’ve decided to live their lives child-free, a term that gives agency back to us rather than the more common “childless” label, connoting that not having kids is something that happens to us by circumstance, not choice.
As a young, single, non-famous woman with no intention of having children myself, I by no means face the kind of scrutiny that child-free women such as Aniston do, but I’m still privy to the kinds of off-hand comments many fellow child-free women face on the regular. Not wanting children is “just a phase”. “You’ll change your mind when you’re older”. The faux-concern of “but what if you regret it later?” Labelling women’s current decisions as having the consequences of painful regret diminishes our agency in the present. And how come these questions are never directed at men?
Sure, some of us will change our minds. Decisions we make in childhood, adolescence and early adulthood often don’t stick – and that’s ok, because changing your mind as you grow up is natural. How many of us still want to be what we dreamed of as kids, or think that belly button piercing is still totally awesome? Probably only a handful.
In high school I wanted to have four kids one day, but over the past decade or so, that number has dwindled down to none. Why? I’ve remained single, realised I’ll probably never own a home and my dreams of becoming a full-time freelance writer are further away than I’d initially thought. I entertained the idea of adoption for awhile, but it is an increasingly difficult option for single women and same-sex couples. Further, do I really want to be bringing kids into a world where previously eradicated diseases are resurfacing due to low vaccination rates, young people of colour are killed by law enforcement at an alarming rate and Donald Trump could be the leader of the free world?!
If having kids is the result of sound decision making and not blind adherence to a blueprint set out for us by the generations before, then go for it! But we have the luxury of changing our minds. We should also be given the decency of not having our choices invalidated. I might change my mind about what I want to eat for breakfast or wear today, but for some reason they aren’t met with the same response as my decision not to have children. As Aniston writes, “We don’t need to be married or mothers to be complete. We get to determine our own ‘happily ever after’ for ourselves.”
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