What You Should Never Say To A Woman Who Chooses Not To Have Kids

Not sure about motherhood? You're not alone. Choosing to become a parent is an individual experience, and it's one that more and more people are opting out of. A recent study released by Michigan State University showed that one in five adults don't want children — and they're making this decision early in life. "People are making the decision to be childfree early in life, most often in their teens and twenties. And, it's not just young people claiming they don't want children. Women who decided in their teens to be childfree are now, on average, nearly 40 and still do not have children," explained associate professor and co-author of the study, Jennifer Watling Neal.

In fact, the national birth rate has been steadily declining since 2007, with fertility rates in the U.S. hitting an all-time low in recent years as more and more couples choose to be child-free (via CNN). It seems more people than ever are choosing to be childless, but many still face stigma from family, friends, and strangers alike. From tasteless comments asking about your personal life to unsolicited comments about your biological clock –– it's time to change the conversation around motherhood.

Whether you've been on the receiving end of this type of comment or you're just looking to check yourself before making someone else uncomfortable, we've got you covered. Here's a look at the things you should never say to someone when they tell you they don't want children.

1. Aren't you worried you'll change your mind?

One of the most common responses to childfree people is the assurance that you'll change your mind one day. You just need to meet the right man first and settle down, they'll say, and insist that everyone changes their mind eventually. However, the data shows a very different story. A 2021 Pew Research Center study showed that 44% of 18- to 49-year-olds who don't have kids are unlikely to change their minds about having them in the future.

It seems the majority of those who are deciding against starting families of their own are doing so out of uncertainty about what the future holds, among other personal reasons. "I'd rather regret not having kids than regret having kids. Can't be gambling with another human life like that," explained social media influencer Zoe Koena on Twitter. This is part of a growing trend of people who, for reasons ranging from financial to political to economic, are choosing not to have children in favor of a child-free lifestyle.

2. Don't you think that's a little selfish?

The "usual order" of things, according to society, demands that two people fall in love, get married, settle down, and start a family of their own. And when two people decide to live an alternative lifestyle, accusations of selfishness are sure to arise when couples decide to be child-free. However, many child-free individuals point out that their decisions not to have children were not made lightly. "My choice to be child-free was rooted in a deep respect for taking on the role of raising a child," content creator Allie Hough-Barkley, shared with Newsweek, "And one of the main reasons I chose to not be a parent is because my heart would not fully be in it."

Another assumption that's often made about childfree people is that they all hate children and hate being around them. This attempt to paint this ideal on anyone who chooses to exist outside the nuclear family structure is not only inaccurate; it's damaging to others. "On most occasions, I don't feel the need to engage with people who offer their opinions as to why I've decided to be childfree as most of the time I find it's like arguing with a brick wall," one childfree woman shared with Zoella, "I do find it upsetting when people think I'm mean or somehow uncaring because I don't want children. I am still a loving and caring person."

3. How does your partner feel about your choice?

Aside from the fact that it's inappropriate to probe others about their personal decision to have children, it's tone-deaf to assume everyone who doesn't have children doesn't want them. In the United States alone, about 9% of men and about 11% of women of reproductive age in the United States have experienced fertility problems or experienced trouble conceiving (via NIH). Asking someone about the intimate details of what their partner thinks about their choice is not only invasive, you could be prying into someone else's private medical issues without even realizing it.

This line of questioning can reopen old wounds for women who wanted to be mothers but ultimately could not. "Every decision I made in my life [hinged on] me thinking I'm gonna have kids," Lindsey Trott explained to MSNBC. However, like many who dream of becoming parents, Lindsey learned after several three unsuccessful rounds of IUI and two rounds of IVF that having children wasn't in the cards for her. "I had been trying to conceive for four years and I had a hole in my heart that a child couldn't fill and a child couldn't be expected to fill. Not everyone who wants to be a mother gets to be one."

4. Who will take care of you when you're older?

These types of comments are right up there alongside threats of spinsterhood and becoming an old cat lady. Comments like these are often used as a way to scare women into believing that children are the only people who will care for them when they get older. "All throughout my adult life people have said some really rude things like, 'You'll change your mind about having kids when you're older,' or 'You'll regret not having kids when you're old and lonely, and no one's around to care for you,'" Dr. Jessica Hawk-Ippolito told New York Post, "But here I am, 52, and that hasn't happened yet. I'm good."

Choosing to have children shouldn't be about creating a built-in retirement plan, and these comments reinforce the system that demands that women forgo and sacrifice their own careers, financial security, and time to care for their family members and aging parents (via The New York Times). According to a 2020 AARP report, more than 40% of adults expect to provide financial support to their parents in the future in lieu of other traditional retirement options. And it seems that rather than address the increasing costs of retirement living and the looming social security tax bubble, many older folks expect their children to bear the brunt of care (via NASI).

5. Having kids makes life so much more meaningful.

While there's no arguing that many people find joy and fulfillment in raising children, it's not the only way to find your purpose in life. In fact, many people are speaking more openly about the lifestyles they envision for themselves as childfree adults. Women are sharing their visions of a child-free life via the #CoolAunt hashtag on TikTok, which has racked up more than 144 million video views along with related tags #RichAunt and #ChildFree. These videos paint a picture of how many childfree adults plan to spend their time and resources supporting loved ones who have chosen to start a family.

And as women have gained more social and political freedom, they've been given the chance to explore the world beyond the roles they've been forced to occupy for so long. For many, raising children doesn't fulfill the long–term vision many have for themselves and more people are opening up about the true cost of motherhood. "People talk a lot about the fact that parenting is difficult, and in friend groups, women in particular talk about the challenges of managing the majority of child care responsibilities in addition to work responsibilities," associate professor of demography and sociology, Caroline Sten Hartnett told HuffPost, "I think that type of discourse creates a context in which it seems very reasonable to say, 'I don't think that lifestyle is for me.'"