There seems to be a lot of social media shaming childless people at present.
They mock us for ageing alone.
They point out how selfish we are.
They bemoan the future of the Church, saying its decline is imminent without procreating couples—as though the Church were on the fragile precipice of implosion and childless people were the final grenade.
Besides the fact that such comments are ridiculous, insensitive and just plain mean (funny how online bullies sound just like any other bullies), they miss the core fact of childlessness: it is defined by a distinct lack of choice or control. Many childless people found themselves in an unwanted situation and were unable to change it.
Childlessness is defined by a distinct lack of choice or control.
They were infertile. Their partner left them. They were turned down by fostering or adoption agencies. They were too old. They suffered from a medical condition. Their partner did not want children. They had a miscarriage, or multiple miscarriages. They tried, they wanted to, but they couldn’t.
Such circumstances are beyond our control. Childlessness—the state of not having children that one wanted to have—is vastly different from childfreedom, where people freely and happily choose to not have children. Childlessness is the polar opposite. Why would you shame someone for being in an unwanted, unchangeable situation?
Personally, my situation falls into the childless-by-medical-condition category. I feel no shame about this. Pain, yes. Grief, absolutely. Loss of the hopes and dreams I had for the future, for sure. But no shame. Why would I be embarrassed about being sick? It’s hard and frustrating, but there’s no shame in it.
My situation falls into the childless-by-medical-condition category. It’s hard, but there’s no shame in it.
It’s baffling to me that others would laugh at my childless state. I’m not sure why they do it. Perhaps they’re bored. Perhaps they lack empathy. (Make that ‘definitely’.) Perhaps those online bullies are really bots. Perhaps they are ignorant of the circumstances that may lead a person to being childless. Or perhaps they are simply unaware that the chief experience of childless people is not one of selfishness, but grief.
And being alone is the least of my worries. Honey, I’m an introvert. Solitude is my ultimate fantasy.
The fearmongering about the imminent collapse of the Church is unnecessary. The Church has survived for thousands of years through persecution, war, suppression, misinformation and patriarchy. I doubt the presence of childlessness in our ranks is going to destabilise our foundation—which is Christ, not offspring.
Our foundation is Christ, not offspring.
Being childless has its perks too. I have more time to rest, to recover from work, to write, to participate in ministry in my local church. I have more reserves to give to my friends and loved ones. And my furbaby. Plus, there’s that all-important alone time to factor in.
But that will never change the fact that childlessness hurts. A part of me will always feel sad about that. I feel different to mainstream society too: othered, excluded, rejected. But I’m not embarrassed about that. That stigma is society’s issue.
I’m not embarrassed about that. That stigma is society’s issue.
If they want to make wrong assumptions about me, they can go right ahead. It just proves how little they know about me.
Hi, I’m Steph. I’m childless—and unashamed.
Has anyone ever belittled or judged you for being childless? How did you respond to that? How can we help to unshame childless people? Share your story. Let’s have a countercultural conversation.