Living Without Children Does not Equal Living Without Responsibility

Should those folks with children judge those who have opted out of parenthood? And if the answer is no, do they judge the childfree anyway? These are the salient questions author Katie Roiphe (pronounced ROI-fee) asked in an article on last April 26.

Katie, a divorced mother of one, affirms that not everyone should have kids and that life without children can be a “pleasant possibility.”

Author Katie Roiphe

Katie Roiphe

She observes that while one in five women in their early 40s has not given birth, “to many, a woman without a child is still a tragic, or at least disappointed, figure.” Roiphe looks at both sides of perceptions of those with offspring and those without.

What interests us, however, is Katie’s apparent lack of awareness of how she perceives those with children as “we” and those without as “them,” as if the default state of adulthood is being a parent. She refers to the judgers with some form of the word “we” more than a dozen times in her short essay. As an example: “ We know of course that we are not supposed to judge other women for something like not having children, but we do it all the time (italics added).”

Roiphe, however,  admits to having encouraged a friend in her late 30s to have a kid and then catching herself in the act, because she couldn’t justify an argument for having kids. And she questions why her friend would want to. She wonders if she (and others) is having trouble imagining life being transfigured by things other than becoming a parent.

It’s at this point that we ponder how the heck any Americans with their eyes halfway open cannot see efforts of childfree individuals who have transformed society. For decades Oprah Winfrey reigned as the inspirational goal-oriented guru of adoring housewives and mothers. Would anyone argue that consumer advocate and political reformist Ralph Nader has not been a transformative figure for the last half-century?

Ellis remembers that in the late 1990s, Mavis Leno, wife of Tonight Show host Jay, spoke in TV interviews about a then-unknown group of woman-oppressing religious fanatics known as the Taliban controlling Afghanistan. Jay and Mavis made a conscious choice to remain childfree. That does not mean they missed out on transformative experiences.

Katie Roiphe also considers perceptions of men who opt to live without rug rats. While she opines that “we” do not judge them as “missing out” to the degree that women do, she admits that there are often judgments about men as being “immature, Peter-Pan-ish, and somehow clinging unnaturally to a freer state, an unseemly perpetual adolescence.” In the case of men, she feels, they are judged as people who won’t grow up.

Coming to the defense of men, Roiphe says, “After all, why should you have to grow up if you don’t want to? Why do we feel the need to impose or foist this very particular variety of grownup life on other people?” We’d call this a backhanded defense (did we just coin a new aphorism?). Does an 18-year-old demonstrate maturity by becoming a parent because he or she didn’t have the presence of mind to use protection? We’ve seen as many immature parents as mature folks who are childfree.

While Katie describes those without broods as partying until 3:00 a.m., sleeping late or suddenly taking off for three-week vacations (we’re all entitled to flights of fancy) she ponders whether those “with”  who judge those “without,” might just be parents taking the freedoms of the “withouts” personally.

In our experience, we have never been aware of anyone judging us negatively for not reproducing. Of course, what is said behind our backs is something of which we have no knowledge.

In referring to a passage from Tolstoy’s War and Peace about Natasha no longer being robust, slim or lively in motherhood, Roiphe says, “I am wondering if it’s the ‘ever-glowing animation’ of the childless, the desire, or pursuit of that desire, that gives at least some of them their provocative radiance.”

Could be.




  1. Except for those of us who are independently wealthy, we childfree can’t party until 3 am, sleep late or take off on a moment’s whim, either. We’re too busy being gainfully (and responsibly) employed. I wish parents would wake up and realize that “party animal” is a function of age and personality, not childed status.

  2. I’m childfree, and don’t party until 3 am. And by the way, parents get sitters and party until 3 in the morning. Irresponsibility does not mean childfree, and I happen to know that there are not responsible people with kids, so it’s an absurd evaluation. I hate hearing things like this, but it’s good to keep on the radar.


  3. Well, once you reach a certain age where your parents are eitehr deceased or dying,a nd you have not family, tehn you become invisible. There is really no purpose to your being except your employer, or as a productive consumer contributing to the economy.

  4. Childfree Woman says:

    Ellis & Cheryl — Thanks for your most interesting analysis of this article (which I hadn’t gotten around to reading). I think it is the terribly envious who want to portray the childfree and childless as not making a contribution. If you look at so many of the greats of the past they often didn’t have children or didn’t have children who lived.

    Dave — you have a very narrow & short-sighted (& perhaps depressed) view of life it seems to me. Being a serf or employee or adult child is the only reason for living? IDFTSO. Surely you jest! I definitely recommend lots more reading and philosophical thinking on the meaning of life. Maybe some philosophy and other liberal arts classes too. There is a reason a classical education is a liberal arts education — to make one think and have a richer life.

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