I often cringe at weddings when the officiating priest tells the bride and groom what to expect when the “pitter-patter of little feet,” or children, come.
I squirm for these couples because I have been there and hated it. I wince because most of the weddings I’ve attended have brides in their mid-30s. The disconnect is that most of the inquisitors are either elderly (whose brides in their day were in their fertile teens and 20s) or were teenage or twentysomething parents themselves.
They do not seem to understand that today’s brides are usually older, and not always by choice. Even without the prevalent Peter Pan syndrome of most men who hang on to their freedom for as long as they can, for a number of these couples, finances get the better of starting their happily ever after.
A 2010 Pew Research report said: “There has been a general trend toward delayed marriage and childbearing, especially among highly educated women. Given that the chance of a successful pregnancy declines with age, some women who hope to have children never will, despite the rise in fertility treatments that facilitate pregnancy.”
Then there are couples who choose to get married with no plans of having children. It’s not due to fertility or financial reasons; they just don’t ever see themselves as parents. People seem to forget that this is a perfectly valid path to take.
Child-free, not childless
In a Time magazine article titled “The Child-free Life,” Lauren Sandler said that the choice to stay child-free is not socially acceptable: “We’ve always had the mandate for motherhood—it’s what women have been deemed ‘for’ in human history.”
Deciding whether or not to have children is private, yet society continues to liken womanhood to motherhood.
Itchy and Scratchy (not their real names) decided not to have children, even if the bride, Itchy, was only in her 20s when she married Scratchy three years ago.
“We did not get married to have children,” said Itchy. “We are enjoying each other in this blessing called marriage. We enjoy our freedom and remain passionate about our work and interests, and instead of raising one child on limited resources, we would like to use the same to aid a bigger family—help unwanted children and set up an orphanage or training center for helping disadvantaged youth toward upward mobility.”
Their decision was mutually agreed upon. “We are married, in a partnership of mutual trust and respect, so yes, this is a joint decision. If one feels strongly enough to reverse this decision, a discussion is needed,” she said.
Like any other kid-free couple, this is Itchy and Scratchy’s lifestyle: “We work long hours, go on lots of business trips, know how to save our money, and go on planned leisure travel and go out on weekends with friends.”
While typical couples with children plan for college funds and family vacations, Itchy and Scratchy’s financial plans include: “Investments, relocation, purchase of a home to include parents/in-laws, capital for setting up either our own business or the orphanage/training center that we eventually want to have.”
The couple remain happy with their decision. Itchy added, “Our parents/in-laws are also supportive of our choice. They trust us to be rational adults who are able to make our own decisions and respect them, as well.”
Not parent material
Jim and Sonia (also not their real names) are in their late 40s. Jim is English and Sonia is Filipino. Why did they decide not to have children?
“We both feel that we are not parent material,” Sonia explained. “When I was younger, I was ambivalent about parenthood. Just the thought of getting pregnant, giving birth and raising humans gave me discomfort.”
Jim, meanwhile, was firm from the start that he didn’t want to have children. “He thinks that no child will be happy to inherit his genes,” Sonia said, laughing. “He can be harsh about himself sometimes.”
Before Jim and Sonia settled down, they talked about their dreams and aspirations. “There were no children in the picture,” she said. “It was a joint, conscious decision. There was no big discussion. We just talked about it casually. Of course, he was uncertain about my stand at first, knowing that Filipinos are deeply religious and attached to the idea that marriage is synonymous with reproduction.”
Sonia believes that she and Jim have a normal lifestyle: “Our social circle includes ‘normal’ parents, couples with adopted children, childless couples (I don’t know if it’s by choice), couples who don’t believe in marriage and children (I guess), singles, and even same-sex couples. We can relate to all of them. We are so different, yet we have the same concerns and revel in the same stuff.”
She added that they also plan for the future: “We can only rely on ourselves in our sunset years. We invest a little, we save a little. Hopefully, our physical health will not outlive our economic health.”
Jim and Sonia are happy with their decision. “We enjoy our freedom,” said Sonia. “There is no pressure from either side of our families. For Westerners, our situation is ordinary, but for Filipinos, it’s not. Luckily, my family is quite open-minded.”
How do they handle the usual inquiries about their situation? “If people are just being nosy, my standard answer is, “Wala kaming pambili ng gatas, eh.” But if I feel that the people asking really care to know the reason, I tell them honestly that it’s our choice to be child-free.
But for Paolo and his wife Ericka (not their real names), the decision to be child-free was not mutual. “Unfortunately, I made the decision for both of us. And I made it after we were married,” admitted Paolo, who’s now 43.
The couple were together for five years before they got married. At the time, kids were never mentioned.
“I never liked kids,” said Paolo. “I absolutely love dogs, though. Even when I was younger, I never liked hanging around noisy and makulit kids. They drive me crazy. Now I’m old enough to know who I am, and I know that I don’t like being around kids, so why should I have them? My friends and family tell me, ‘No, you’ll learn to love them because they’re your own!’ But how can you be sure? From experience, there is no ‘magic’ that happens once you have a baby or once you get married.”
He added: “I absolutely adore my wife, but I already did way before we got married. There was no magic that happened when we got married. I love her with the same intensity to this day, maybe more. What magic is going to happen when I suddenly have a kid? None!”
Paolo sees the only reason for having children is societal pressure. “But if I look deep into my heart, I really don’t want one,” he said. “Seriously, why should I have a kid? What for? Why would I need a kid in my life? Because that’s what I’m ‘supposed to do?’”
He feels that having a child is a drain on time and resources. “I tell my friends, 1 kid = 1 nice car. I guess I’m still in my ‘car phase’ right now and I’m not ready to give that up. Not only cars, but traveling! I don’t think I would’ve been able to afford these if I had kids,” he reasoned.
Paolo’s dad once had a heart-to-heart talk with him. “He asked, ‘Isn’t the way you live your life a bit self-centered?’ I replied, ‘Daddy, I never denied that. I am being self-centered! Since when did it become wrong for wanting to enjoy your own life?’ I’ve asked myself so many times, why would I set aside my dreams for a person who might grow up answering me back, disrespecting me, disobeying me?
“My friends and family would say, ‘No! You’re a good person, you won’t raise bad kids.’ But how can you be sure? Can you really foretell how a person will grow up? If you’re willing to bet your life on it, I’m not. I have very good friends who brought up very good kids. But in reality, for every single one of those ‘good’ kids, I know a hundred who are ‘bad.’ I don’t like those odds. You’d get better odds in a casino.”
He tells his family and closest friends that he’s too busy with work, and so he tries to live his life to the absolute fullest. “I love what I do and I love the way I live my life. Given that, I know that I won’t be able to devote much time to raising kids. I know that I won’t be a good parent; hence, I decided not to be one. That is probably the most honest and responsible thing I’ve ever done…”
He stressed: “I will categorically say that I love my wife to pieces, and that I’ve never loved any other woman in my life as much as I love her. That said, I don’t believe in marriage; I will also emphatically say that for a guy, there is absolutely no reason to get married. There is simply no upside. The only legitimate reason I think a guy should get married is to make his partner happy. Even if we weren’t married, my love for her would be exactly as it is now. The marriage is only between the people involved, not with some tradition or institution.”
It was interesting to discover how they actually got married. “I totaled my car with Ericka in it. I almost killed her. I couldn’t hold back my tears. The thought of almost killing her really screwed me up emotionally. When we recovered, I asked her to marry me.”
He was then 36 and she 29 when they got married in 2007.
What is their lifestyle like? “We travel every year, sometimes twice or thrice. We eat out almost every night. We go out drinking with friends at least weekly. We sleep till noon on weekends,” he said.
As for Paolo and Ericka’s plans? “More travels,” said Paolo. “I’ve been to seven continents and 28 countries. We’re targeting 50 countries before I retire. Also, more cars. I have six now and my wife has one (but she has free access to two of mine). I’m saving up for an Audi R8. Hopefully, next year, I can get one already. We intend to keep living the way we live now.”