by Laura S. Scott
~Author of Two Is Enough: A Couples Guide to Living Childless by Choice,
Director of the Childless by Choice Project~
As a life, leadership and executive coach, I understand the importance of having role models or mentors during the course of your life. These are the people that guide you, inspire you, and have strengths or attributes you admire and want to develop. Without these role models and mentors it’s sometimes difficult to imagine yourself doing something or achieving something you secretly desire. Without these real-life examples, it’s difficult to imagine yourself doing something beyond your current reality. Alternately, when we have these people in our lives we can begin to believe that if they were able to do it then there’s a good chance we can too.
Let’s face it, the decision to remain childfree is certainly not the norm at this point in our history. In fact many of the people I interviewed for my book told me that they zero role models for a childfree life and that fact made it difficult for them to move confidently towards that choice, or be confident in their decision making.
As I reflect on my own experience of growing up in the 60s and 70s, I too recall that there were very few role models for a childfree life. The only ones I had were high school teachers who I assumed were not parents. These teachers did not rush home at the end of the school day and, instead, volunteered for extracurricular responsibilities like coaching and club leadership. I don’t know for sure if these teachers were childfree by choice but I suspect a few of them were. As my friend and fellow childfree author Marcia Drut-Davis experienced as a teacher, in the 1960s, if you went public with your childfree choice there was a good chance you would be fired, the assumption being you couldn’t be trusted to do the right thing for the kids.
The teachers I assumed had no children by circumstance or choice were also my favorite educators as they seemed to have a fiery passion for their work and I felt they showed more respect for the students than the teachers who were parents. I noticed the teachers who were parents had a tendency to talk down or be maternal or paternal in their tone with their students because that’s the way they spoke to their own children. My favorite (non-parent) teachers tended to speak to kids as peers rather than talk down to them. I sensed this difference in tone and attitude with these teachers and I really appreciated it so when I began to mentor teens in my thirties, I emulated that tone and approach.
Looking for Role Models
Perhaps I wanted to assume that these teachers were happily childfree because as early as 14 years old I started articulating my desire to remain childfree. I was clearly looking for some role models to see if this choice might be a good one. I had aspirations to be a teacher as well and felt I could be a much better teacher if I wasn’t distracted by my own brood of kids waiting at home for me. I truly believed that I couldn’t have a bunch of kids and a successful and rewarding career and claim success at both.
I now know many successful executive women are able to achieve success as both parent and business person. In fact, they are my clients so I know that it is possible. Yet that young age, I had a feeling that I wasn’t one of those people who could find that balance without driving myself to some inevitable breaking point of emotional or mental distress. Back then I was quite hard on myself and a bit of a perfectionist and didn’t like to do anything half way. So, my little 14-year-old self made a promise to herself that I would never go there.
I also really liked my alone time. I was one of those introverted kids who preferred spending the entire day in my room reading books or listening to music and the only time I ventured out was to hang out with a few close friends, roller skate, or to babysit. My baby sitting experiences were so bad that I began to wonder why people would choose to have kids in the first place. Yet I had no outwardly childfree role models to show me another way to live. In the absence of role models, I felt like a pioneer venturing out in a new frontier; I didn’t know what lay ahead of me, I just knew I had to go there.
Would it have been easier if I had a role model back then? Absolutely! Unlike what the media portrays, real childfree role models help us understand what it’s truly like to live a childfree life. Every good life starts as an imagined story and it’s much easier to imagine a happy and fulfilling childfree life if you have a role model for that kind of life. It’s better if that role model is a real person who you can talk to, and who can answer your questions. Share with them your highest aspirations and worst fears around your childfree life, and allow them to help you separate truth from fiction and challenge any assumptions you have about a childfree life.
Seek out advice from childfree people; don’t be afraid to ask personal questions on topics like sterilization, division of labor, legal aspects of wills, financial planning and end-of-life care. Gravitate towards role models that have similar values and aspirations as you. Those same values probably informed your decision-making in the first place and so they’re important to hang onto as they will inform your decision making in the future as well.
The primary values that drove my decision to live a childfree life are the values of independence, autonomy, and freedom, particularly freedom of choice (self-determination). My role models as an adult are those folks who embrace and honor these same values. They have also had the courage to go against the norm and that is why they continue to inspire me. I needed role models for courage so I could confidently navigate life outside of the norm as well.
It takes courage, support, and inspiration to live a happy childfree life. Look for ways of finding those for yourself, and other like-minded people who share your values and desires. Then go boldly towards your dreams.
Thank you, Laura! She and her work can be found at Two Is Enough: A Couples Guide to Living Childless by Choice and Childless by Choice Project.