Choosing a different direction
Not having children leads to exclusion for couples, even more so if they have decided not to reproduce
Ask anyone who does not have children and they will be able to easily recount moments when they have been excluded from conversations. Photograph: Getty Images
Ireland is experiencing a baby boom. According to official figures, there were 72,225 births registered here in 2012, a slight decrease on the preceding year, but still a higher per capita birth rate than any other EU state.
Given the large number of youngsters in the country, it isn’t too surprising that their upbringing is a regular topic of conversation. Discussions concerning the right age to wean, the right school to attend and the right life lessons to pass on reign large. Except, that is, if you are childless.
Ask anyone who does not have children and they will be able to easily recount moments when they have been excluded from conversations and even events because they are not parents.
Not having children leads to awkwardness and exclusion for couples, even more so if they have decided not to reproduce.
Bernadette Ryan, a counsellor with Relationships Ireland, believes people generally are suspicious of those who don’t conform and are especially so in the case of childless couples.
“Our society is highly suspicious, resentful even of those who go against the norm. But when it comes to babies and children, there is an added thing as they also wonder what kind of a person wouldn’t want them?
“It is considered fine if a couple can’t have children, then we can feel sorry for them and will offer our sympathy. But if they actually do not want them, then we feel there must be something wrong,” she says.
“I think that especially here in Ireland where children are so cherished we genuinely have a difficulty understanding those who choose not to have children,” she adds.
This view is shared by Trish Murphy, chairwoman of the Family Therapy Association of Ireland (FTAI). She says couples who actively choose not to have children are unlikely to experience the same kind of bereavement issues that couples who cannot have them tend to endure. However, she says they may suffer from unwanted curiosity or comment.
“People can apply their own assumptions to those who choose not to have children and respond accordingly. This is unfair. Couples have told me that they have had people comment on their childlessness in a very insensitive manner such as ‘Any news?’ or ‘When will we hear the patter of little feet?’ Relatives or friends can be particularly forward in their commenting and be unaware of the upset or offence they are causing,” Murphy adds.
Perhaps harder to handle are the unwritten assumptions that to not want to have children means one is anti-family.
There is such concern over this that when The Irish Times tried to find childless couples to speak on this issue, most were unwilling to do so without using pseudonyms.
The couple, who have been together for 18 years (and married for 12), made the decision long ago that they did not wish to have children and are more than happy with their choice.
“We are often asked why we don’t have children, but there is no answer we can give that would satisfy people. We knew early on that we did not want to have them for a whole range of reasons and knew this without even needing to discuss it in great detail,” says Smith.