The Decision to be Child-Free
Many individuals choose to not have children. The process of deciding to have a child or not presents the opportunity for individuals to determine whether parenthood is best for them and for hypothetical future children. While it can be a very difficult decision, a person may make the careful choice to remain child-free for one specific reason—or many. One's mental health can be affected throughout this decision-making process because it can involve conflicting emotions, but it can also be affected after the decision has been made because of the stigma associated with being child-free. These two situations can be difficult to navigate at first, but there are self-help and community resources available. See our page of Marriage & Family Self-Help Resources for a couple child-free resources.
Choosing to be Child-Free Due to Personal or Familial Mental Health Reasons
The Atlantic asked for public input on decisions around becoming a parent or not. The comments addressed how personal experience with mental health issues was a factor in the decision to not have children. One woman recollected her childhood experience growing up with mother who dealt with anxiety, and how it impacted her childhood. And after noticing the same traits in herself that she noticed in her mother, decided against raising a child. To her, a child would contribute to her anxiety and put her in a position of potentially becoming a burden.
Another woman, diagnosed bipolar disorder, felt it was best to prioritize her personal health over raising a child. To her, a child would be another person to care for when self-care is a necessity for her own mental health. She includes a deeply personal statement that touches on the difficult decision she made, given that she had always imagined herself raising children:
"When people ask why I don’t have kids, as they always do, I turn it into a joke: 'I forgot,' or 'shit happens.' I don’t mention the crippling suicidality that made it hard enough for me to embrace my own life, let alone that of another. And ultimately I do know the pain and wanting to die will come again, so everything turned out for the best. When I leave this earth, I will leave no survivors behind, no victims of this intergenerational tragedy."
Stigma Associated with the Child-Free Choice
Those who do not have children by choice may have a critical eye directed at them. Whether someone does not plan to have a child due to mental health reasons—as illustrated above—or due to any number of other well thought-out reasons, it is a very personal decision. One struggle child-free individuals have is dealing with the questions and comments made about their child-free existence. Perhaps from experiences of the individuals who submitted these comments, The Huffington Post released a list of things that should never be said to someone without children. Again on Huffington Post, another person has personally experienced comments like these as well, for which she shares her responses. Her humor is one way of dealing with stigma and remaining confident in her decision to be child-free—a tool that can be employed by all who decide to be child-free.