#1 - You'll hear the question, "Do you have kids?" for the rest of your life. So it really helps to have an answer ready. At least for now, inquiring about one's reproductive output is a socially acceptable, expected behavior when you meet someone new. Fielding this common icebreaker question can be complex when you don't have kids.
If you wanted them and, for whatever reason, you don't have them, feelings of inferiority or sorrow can surface. And if you're satisfied not being a mom, you might find yourself poised to defend your choice.
But if you have a strategy ready, you can guide where the conversation goes. Since we already know there will probably be a pregnant pause after we say "No," we can take initiative and mindfully fill it. Here's what Terry Gross has to say on not having kids.
#2 - Friendships change when babies are born. Grandbabies, too. Once friends start having kids, we can feel demoted from our place in the solar system, kind of like Pluto. Then, just as we get used to having our friends back after the kids leave home, it can happen again. With the arrival of grandchildren.
When the inevitability of a shift in our relationships is accepted, we can talk with our friends about how to stay connected. Folding into the family's orbit and scheduling regular times to interact without the kids are some options. Actively maintaining the friendship needs to be a two-way priority for it to survive.
Make it a point to cultivate friendships with women and men who don't have kids. About twenty percent of American adults don't have kids. And the number is growing.
#3 - Your siblings who are parents will define family differently than you do. As sisters and brothers add to their branches on the family tree, the tree gets bigger. Without offspring, our family branches stay the same--siblings and parents remain our nuclear family. But the addition of new fruit on adjacent branches forms a new, separate nuclear family.
How do you navigate the divide? The role of auntie can be fulfilling. Consider in advance what kinds of involvement you want to have with your nieces and nephews. Talk to your siblings about their vision, too. Over and over again as the years pass. Before long you can ask the kids what they think.
Another route is to gather others into a family of the heart. Design your own holiday traditions. Give time and attention to those in need. Mix it up.
#4 - Women who haven't given birth are at significantly greater risk of breast, ovarian, and uterine cancer. You can thank Catholic nuns for helping shed light on this unfortunate fact in the 1960s. Link to study. Numerous studies worldwide have confirmed that not having children can increase a woman's risk of reproductive cancers two- to three-fold. Though there are lots of theories, no one knows for sure yet why.
What's a non-mom to do? Please get regular mammograms, pap smears, and pelvic exams. Learn the warning signs for ovarian, breast, and uterine cancer.
Make sure your physician knows you never had kids, and advocate on your own behalf if you have symptoms. If your physician doesn't take your concerns seriously, get another opinion. Some docs aren't aware of our increased risk, but now you are. Help them help you.
#5 - Non-profit organizations love to hear we don't have any kids. Not having children is the single most reliable predictor of future charitable giving. When we're not raising future citizens, there are myriad ways to contribute time, money, and attention to causes we care about. Non-profits want to hear from us. Just ask.
Many organizations will work with us to put together a plan for both the present and for after we're gone at no charge. We can define our legacy creatively and with purpose. Because we leave behind something other than our children's footprints.