Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Childfree Life: The Oprah Problem and Other Myths

Photo-illustration by Randall Ford for TIME
Last week's Time magazine coverstory caused a backlash for, among other things, propagating certain stereotypes about the childfree life. In the aftermath, I thought I would republish a slightly revised version of my own piece on myths about being childfree, which first appeared back in June 2013 on the Choices blog.

I already know what you’re thinking. You’re about to read something fabulous and envy-inducing. Because surely, since I chose not to have kids, I must be living the life exotic AND making a difference along the way. It’s not your fault for thinking this. It’s not even Time magazine’s fault for printing that cover featuring a childfree couple relaxing on the beach. No, that blames lies directly with Oprah.

While the childfree life has become quite stylish with celebrities today–everyone from Rachel Ray to Ellen and Portia to John Hamm and his girlfriend, Jennifer Westfeldt, are doing it–the flagship celebrity for the childfree cause is Oprah. And this is a problem because the woman is such a damn overachiever. It would be one thing if I could quietly rock the corporate life mediocre and write a bit in my spare time. But no. Thanks to Oprah, I am expected to own my own television network, publish a magazine with my picture on the cover every month, and educate all the girls in South Africa. Anything less and I am failing to live up to the career superwoman assumptions that have been mistakenly bestowed up on me as a childfree woman.  (My sincere apologies to all my exhausted, discriminated against, working-mother friends. I know I am supposed to be smashing glass ceilings on your behalf, and I really do feel bad about this when I use my middle-manager paycheck to buy a third glass of wine.)

Hang on to your seat because, now that I have busted the first myth about childfree women being career powerhouses, there’s more to debunk. Let’s start with the polite but misplaced belief that my marriage must be awesome because my husband and I have so much time to focus on each other. Au contraire, my na├»ve mother-friend. In fact, sometimes I think it was a mistake that my husband and I didn’t have kids, primarily because we don’t get the benefit of having that distraction for eighteen years or so. There are no exhausting efforts getting a little one to eat or sleep, or, later, crazed schedules chauffeuring them around to school and soccer and ballet.

In the absence of such demands, you actually have to make conversation with your spouse.  Like every day.  And because my husband is the one between us who’s in touch with a feminine side, his favorite insult to throw at me in a fight is that we don’t have anything to talk about anymore.  My instinctual reaction to this is, “What on earth do you expect after twelve years of marriage?  What, exactly, is the quality level of discourse you require during every single breakfast and every single dinner of every single day?” The irony is that, of late, our go-to topic of conversation is one that is also popular in the homes of parents of young children. This, of course, is poop. I chalk this up to being middle-aged–I certainly don’t remember being so scatological before forty. But now, the morning contents of the toilet bowl, or lack thereof, are a reliable topic of conversation. 

I have just one final bubble to burst for all the moms out there, which is you would be full-figured at forty even if you didn’t have that kid. That’s just what happens to our metabolism when we hit middle age. I am embarrassed to tell you that I’ve gained the best part of twenty pounds since I got married. Admittedly, this is also because I get to drink a lot more wine than you do, moms, and that goes straight on the belly. I never had to cut back for a pregnancy, or to breastfeed, or because I might get drunk and drop my infant.  Hell, I wish I could blame my post-marital weight gain on not being able to lose the baby weight.  It’s much more dignified than being an old wino.

So what does all this tell you about the childfree life? Well, for me, choosing not to have kids wasn’t a sacrifice I made for something else I wanted to do (be a CEO), have (a “fulfilling” marriage) or be (unnaturally super-hot well into middle age). Lacking sufficient enthusiasm for what is quite possibly the hardest job on earth, it was simply a choice I made. And so here I am, a childfree woman in all my middle-manager, scatological, slightly bloated, wine-drinking glory.
Jennifer Richardson is the author of Americashire:A Field Guide to a Marriage, the rural idyll memoir for every woman who ever questioned having kids. You can find Jennifer online at:


  1. Hilarious and wonderfully written article. I can relate!