In the interview of the month Layla tells us about her decision to not want children. Women who do not want to have children face sexist and paternalistic attitudes from people in society. There is still a huge taboo on not wanting children as a woman. Our Shakti is a platform where women with different opinions are being celebrated. Having different opinions is okay and healthy. There are women like Layla who don’t want children and there are women like anonymous in the interview on motherhood and career who love to be a mom. In this interview, Layla tells us her story.
Layla, can you tell me about the process of not wanting children? Since when did you know you didn’t want children?
Ever since I was a teenager I have said that I didn’t want to have children. I was about 12-13 years old at the time. I thought there were plenty of children who didn’t have parents, so I wanted to adopt children. I’ve held onto that idea for quite some time. Later in my early twenties I started to have doubts. I was no longer sure I wanted to adopt children. When I was around 25 years old, I was sure I also did not want to adopt children, because then you still have a child. I was learning more about foster children. Taking temporarily care of children. In the Netherlands, foster children fall into three categories: up to 3 months, longer than 3 months and shorter than 1 year, and longer than 1 year. In the latter category, there is therefore a chance that a child will continue to live with you until his/her 18th birthday. I’m still thinking about this because I want to offer them a safe and stable home. I don’t want to have children of my own.
You knew at a young age that you didn’t want children. How did your family and friends react?
My family doesn’t take it seriously. Still not. They see it as a phase that has been going on since my teenage years. I’m like how long does a phase last for you guys? They don’t take it seriously because it is culturally unacceptable not to have children. Sometimes I think my mom realises it because she’s worried and panicked. But then she makes a comment that makes me feel like you just don’t get it. I really don’t want kids. I’m not going to change my mind. When I meet someone, he’s not going to change my mind either. I don’t want children so I’m not going to start a relationship with someone who does want children.
When I was younger, friends said they don’t want kids either, but they related it to their age. So because they were young they didn’t want children. However, that was not what I meant. I meant that I never want children of my own. Now that we are older, most friends take it seriously and they also understand that having children is not for everyone.
Do you have specific reasons why you don’t want to have children?
Sometimes I think that if my own upbringing had been different I would want children. I have experienced my childhood and family situation as unpleasant and I am therefore of the opinion that some parents are not suitable for parenthood. As a child I had to take care of my parents for a large part of my childhood. This is also known as ‘parentification’. This is when children take on the role of caregiver in the family. Because I’ve had to take care of others for ten years, I don’t feel the need to do that any longer. Before I know it I will be 50 years old and then the peak of my life (30s and 40s) will be about raising children. Those are the years of your life when you are the fittest. People always say your 20s are your prime age. I do not agree with that. People in their twenties have unhealthy lifestyles and don’t earn that much. From your 30s onwards that starts to improve, more money, better self-care, stability etc. If you have kids, you don’t enjoy that prime age. You take care of them 24/7 for the rest of your life, you are responsible, you worry. You have no moments of rest. And that’s not worth it to me.
I still want to do so much and I am aware that no matter from what perspective you look at it having children affects the things I want to do. Especially for women. There will be a break in your life, you always have to put children first and they are a huge responsibility. If you always have to take children into account, there are many things that you cannot do. At least not when you want it. You give up freedom. A sacrifice that people make. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s a sacrifice I don’t want to make.
Suppose a human life lasted 150 years and you stay fit and healthy for a long part of that life, then I don’t think 20 years that you lose to raising children is such a big sacrifice. Now you are hopefully getting 80 years old, but the last years of your life you are not fit, unhealthy, and dependent on others. Relatively speaking, it’s too skewed for me.
What do you dislike about the way women who don’t want children are treated?
It saddens me that it is not taken seriously, because it is not a random decision. Having or not having children is a life decision. When you don’t recognize someone’s life decision, you don’t recognize the person. Women are patronized, addressed as if they are children and therefore unable to decide for themselves about their lives. It is a mature woman who makes a mature decision. And that’s not respected.
I think the worst thing is that women are forced to have children. For women who do not want children and who eventually have children, this social pressure has been the reason for doing so. That is a serious problem because it ruins their lives and the life of a child. I believe that a child senses when he/she is unwanted. I really blame the people who put pressure on women.
There are several ‘I regret having children’ groups on Facebook where people share their stories anonymously. You cannot openly admit that you regret having children, because then you will be demonized. There is a huge stigma attached to openly admitting by parents that they regret their decision to have children. I have seen stories where the child feels that he/she was unwanted and that has had an impact on the child’s life. While it should not be like this.
What is known about women who do not have children?
There are several studies that show that women without children are happier than women with children. I have seen on social media that people want to deny this, but this is a finding you can not ignore. This group is the happiest. Recently, I saw a study that was even more specific: unmarried women without children are happier. I can imagine that. If you look at the division of roles between men and women, women have more responsibilities in marriage. They take on a lot of the care. The connection lies in taking care of others. If you were to have children, you would take care of them. If there is a skewed division of roles in marriage, you also take care of your husband. If you always have to put others first, you will eventually suffer and you will be unhappy.
I do not believe that women should not have children at all because that would make them unhappy. No, I’m trying to say that if women feel they don’t want to be mothers, they shouldn’t be forced. Then you automatically get a larger group that is happy to be a mother. If we live in a society where a proportion of women are forced to have children, you automatically get statistics of unhappy mothers.
It is important for women to be aware of their options. They don’t have to choose children. Sometimes women realize when they already have a child that not having children was also an option. They are often influenced by their environment, they see that everyone around them has children and at some point they think that everyone has a child, so I also want one. If women are not forced, there will be more women who do not want children and are happy with their lives. Then other people see that that is also an option. And you will not be dismissed as an alien. I do have that feeling a bit, especially because I come from a culture in which it is ‘not done’ not to have children. I have not met anyone in my community with similar beliefs. Maybe they exist, but they don’t speak up because it’s such a huge taboo.
There is criticism of women who do not wish to have children because a woman is expected to have children or it is believed that that makes them a woman. How do you feel about this? What does femininity mean to you?
I find it appalling that people have such views about women. You’re saying that a woman who can’t or don’t want to have children are less of a woman. That she is not a worthy woman because she has no children. You reduce women to baby machines. As if a woman can only be valued for her uterus if she has a properly functioning one.
Femininity is different for everyone. And I see plenty of mothers that I don’t consider feminine myself. They are in their masculine energy. I see femininity as an energy, the way you carry yourself, how you take care of yourself, how you behave, and how you talk. It has nothing to do with children.
To what extent do people react differently to men who do not want children compared to women?
Very differently. For some reason, men are taken seriously when they say they don’t want children. Men are treated like adults. Their decision is respected. In Eastern cultures, there is still a fuss when a man says he doesn’t want children, but it is generally accepted by the family over time while this is not the case for women. Recently, I watched a video in which a woman said that if she says she doesn’t want children she will be called out, while if her husband says so people immediately accept it. I was stunned. It seems that a decision about whether or not to have children is in the hands of a man. Something that I find odd since a woman carries the baby and gives birth to the baby. It’s her body. This gives men authority over a woman’s body.
Men are also taken more seriously when it comes to sterilization. It becomes a struggle of many years for a woman and then she also has the chance that she will not succeed in becoming infertile. Why? She is refused by doctors. Or she has to meet absurd requirements.
One of the requirements, for example, is that women who want to be sterilized need permission from their husbands. Her husband has to sign so she can get sterilized. Then you literally say a man is in charge of her body and she is not.
Doctors also say things like: “What does your husband think? You don’t have enough children, I don’t sterilize until you have three children. You will regret it, first have one more child.” This is so insulting and it makes me very angry.
While men can be easily sterilized, they just need to answer a few questions and then get treated. I even came across a woman who had created a database of doctors where you can get treatment because there are simply too many doctors who refuse it. It was striking to see that there were many female doctors on the list who do treat women.
What would you like to see different for women who don’t want children? How should people react?
Acknowledge it. Take it seriously. Respect it. Take women seriously just as a man would be taken seriously. Don’t pressure them. Don’t make them feel bad about their decision. Don’t pretend that children are their only purpose in life. Don’t pretend a woman isn’t a woman because she doesn’t want children. And don’t pretend that women are selfish when they choose not to have children. Sometimes people say, who’s going to take care of you when you’re old? I think that’s a selfish reason to have children. Moreover, I have worked in elderly care, there are many parents whose children do not visit them. That whole idea of children taking care of you when you are old… people have to let go of that because in practice this is not the case.
I have noticed that women who do not want children are criticized by other women. This really has to stop. Especially mothers who react negatively. Often mothers say to their daughters, “I knew what my purpose was when I got you” or “I knew what happiness was when I got you.” Well you know? I’m sorry you had no purpose until that time of your life. Or did not know what happiness or love was until then. But that’s not the case for everyone. Not everyone is aimless or does not know what love is until they have a child. And not everyone needs to have a child to experience those things. I think mothers who react like this have once had to give up their dreams and motherhood has been harder than they expected. They see that there are women who consciously choose not to have children and that can cause jealousy. Otherwise I honestly don’t understand why they react so fiercely.
It’s not your life. It’s not your body. So don’t interfere.