Sparents, Childless By Choice, and Child Free: Problematic Framings of Women Without Children

From a very young age, I always knew I either never wanted to have children or I simply wanted to adopt. There was always something romantic about the idea of a child and I finding each other through situation, rather than by some biological imperative. It seemed so perfectly modern to me: a woman choosing a child by her own means, rather than purely by situation alone. I knew that if I ever came to want children, adopting a child would be my ideal option. And for her part, my own mother never pushed me one way or the other regarding the having of children. A busy mother of two herself with a husband, a home and full time job to take care of, I doubt she would have insisted that anyone, least of all me, choose a plate as full as hers.

Now, I know that this picture I paint is an ideal one, which many women aren’t as lucky to fall into. Many women have all kinds of influences – familial opinion, romantic relationship constraints, socially charged motivations – that affect how worthy or unworthy they feel about their own feelings of potential motherhood. Yet the idea that we as a society are still wrestling with the idea that women might not want kids at all, and we are uncertain of why or what that might mean for society as a whole, seems so preposterous to me, especially in light of the American population’s numbers as a whole. Aren’t there enough people in the world to stop asking why a person might not want children? And still, that is exactly what we are doing.

Jezebel recently released a piece entitled “Shockingly, Not Every Woman Wants to Procreate,” which responds to an article from The Daily Beast, aimed at addressing the reason why some women (albeit a small population) seem to have no desire to have children. Some women even shockingly express this lack of desire as young as age six. Both articles discuss a community of women who identify as “Childfree” or “Childless by Choice.” There’s even a website devoted to Childless by Choice women, which provides a “safe haven in a baby-crazed world.” The Daily Beast also discuss the issue of biological imperative: isn’t it strange that a woman wouldn’t feel her “natural” desire to procreate, even if the circumstances weren’t ideal? Doesn’t biology trump society?

Apparently not. Biology and society are still head to head, it would seem, and trying to sort out what’s biological in a world of birth control, fertility treatments, and celebrity-based social cues such as Octomom and Angelina Jolie’s international family, looks about as realistic as finding a needle in the proverbial haystack. Even for my own part, I have to wonder what might change my mind regarding children, if my own history were different, and what the future holds for me in time. How can we even hope to identity what bio-motivations trump social pressures?

Yet this problematic face-off between what’s “natural” and what’s societal hasn’t stopped other editorial writers from positing a potentially positive crossover between the childless woman and the child in need of parenting. See: Sparents! Also known as Spare Parents. Spare mother-figures, really, if you read the theme of the article from the Australian website MamaMia. The author suggests that women who have not had, or cannot bear, children can also find satisfaction in caring for other’s children. Ultimately, the article’s goal is to promote ways for the childless to feel a part of the child-rearing process, disregarding that there might be some women who are happy to sit this one out, indefinitely.

No matter which way you present it – Sparent, Childless by Choice, Childless – it almost goes without saying that no one would characterize a man’s independence from the notion of children in such a manner, whether he were single or otherwise. And the fact that women have to defend themselves, especially from other women, is the most disheartening aspect of it all.

If you’re interested in this topic, you might find it of interest to read Baby Not on Board: A Celebration of Life Without Kids or Two is Enough: A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice.

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About Sarah Elspeth Patterson

Sarah Elspeth Patterson

Masters Student. Sexuality Educator. Bossy Femme.


    Terrific article! I agree with everything you said. I had grown up with the idea in my mind that I did not want a child. I had never considered adoption though. However, under social pressures of a relationship with my boyfirend (now my ex); I had forced myself to get used to idea of becoming a mother at one point. But, now that pressure is not there anymore, and I find myslf cherishing my child-less life. I have even decided that if after a certain safe & healthy child bearing age (say maybe 35yrs old), I decide to become a mother; I would adopt a child whom I love and want. But, I refuse to succumb to the pressures of the society anymore. Thank you for sharing this post…….I wish more people spoke out the same way!

  • lara

    Thank you for posting this article. I am a college student and already find I am affected by societal pressures to have children. I don’t feel a need or desire to have children in the future. This stems from my personal situation, as I do not want my children to suffer some of the illnesses I have and I am opposed to genetic modification. I also think that the near future will not be a good time to have children, especially if the economy and population keeps going the way it is. Thanks for bringing up this view. It gives me hope that others feel the way I do.

  • Sebastyne

    I was one of the kids who knew at 6 or 8, certainly before 8 that I didn’t want children. In my social circles and family it was never considered odd, given that out of 5 aunts and uncles, I had no cousins, added to that a bunch of childless great aunties and other relatives and family friends. I didn’t realize it was a problem for anyone, until I became bored with mommy blogs that seemed to be all there was to choose from in the genres of 30 something female bloggers. Ironically, only after I started looking for like-minded people, I realized that it was somewhat of a problem for the society. :o