Christian Lady, No Baby

In many circles, being married without kids is no big deal. But being a member of Club Christianity- I run in circles that are  well known for being pretty old school in their take on gender roles. So I decided it was time to be open about the fact that I really love not having children. I talk about it all the time with my husband, but rarely with other people. Mostly because Christians seem kind of uncomfortable with it.

I’ve been married for almost eight years now and I’m headed towards 40. Not having kids is one of my favorite things about my life. But there is almost no context in which I can really express that. People who have kids feel very excited to share about that experience. But I always have this sneaking feeling that it’s not very Christian Lady of me to be so happy that I don’t have kids. This post is not some big ole Biblical apologetic about whether or not to have kids. Pope Francis already scheduled a phone call with me next week. This is just a personal reflection on being one of the few Christian Ladies that I know that has chosen not to have kids.

So let me start with why I like it.

The main thing I love about not having kids is the freedom.

The freedom in my schedule on a day to day basis, the flexibility in my life and in my finances. The amount of sleeping in readgirland cuddling time I have with my husband. The amount of time I save not fighting with my husband about chores and tasks regarding kids. (Cause we already fight about chores without kids.) I love that we were able to downsize to renting a room in a friend’s house and then to move to Portland with relative ease. I love that we are able to travel abroad easily. (Not financially, but logistically!) I love that we can go out on dates regularly with no thought to childcare. I love that we both have emotional energy to dedicate to our ministries. This year my ministry role changed and I travelled 5 out of 6 weeks. I never would have been able to do that with little ones.

I revel in being an adult woman, with a career, who is happily married with no kids. When I lay in bed each morning reading the news, attend grad school at the same time as my husband, and travel for my work- I enjoy it. I just enjoy the space that is in my life and the emotional energy that I have.

As I’ve thought about it- here are a few reasons why I feel discomfort about communicating that I enjoy not having children.

DISCOMFORT #1- AM I A BABY HATER?

Right after I tell people I don’t have kids, and that it is on purpose, I usually feel required to tell people that I do in fact like children. Why? Why do I do this? I’ve chosen not to have kids. Why am I reassuring you that I like them? Or on the flip, people feel the need to reassure me that I have some other maternal outlet. images-192

Why would it matter if I didn’t like children? It’s like I have to prove that I am not a heartless baby hater incapable of love. But maybe I am. Maybe I think most babies are ugly. Maybe I think children are annoying and tiresome and smelly. I’m not saying that is true. I’m just asking why it would be a problem. I’ve chosen not to have kids and I don’t work with them, so it’s odd that I feel the need to reassure people that I am maternal. I think that nurturing children is really connected to Christian femininity and it seems unwomanly not to like children.

DISCOMFORT #2- IS MINISTRY MY BABY?

People who know I’m in ministry feel the need to tell me that the students I minister to are like my children. Again- we have to find some way to paint me as maternal. And I think “No, they aren’t.” They are the people I lead. I love them. But as I tell my students allll the time- I’m not their mom. Nobody feels the need to tell men in ministry that the people they lead are their children. I work with young adults. I’m a leader. They aren’t surrogate children.

 

DISCOMFORT #3 – DO I HATE WOMEN

Two women fighting and screamingThe other reason I feel the need to assure people that I support my friends who have kids is  the weird dynamic in Ladyland where women hate on each others choices. Or rather, the assumption that a different choice equals judgment. Women who have kids and work are judging stay at home moms. Women who breastfeed are judging bottle feeders. Baby makers are judging non-babymakers.  I don’t know why we  waste time hating on each other. Men are finally letting us make own choices and we’ve decided to troll each other.

I’m pumped for you. Be pumped for me. I want you to nurse in public. I support your boob freedom. Support my womb vacancy. Let’s just high five each other about the dope choices we can all make.

 

DISCOMFORT #4- I DON’T VALUE PARENTING

Sometimes I feel the need to defend my respect for the role of parents. This is a subset of the “Am I judging you” discomfort. I believe in parents and the importance of parenting. And so I believe that if you don’t want to make kids a priority, if you don’t want to give them attention and energy- then for the love of God don’t have them. I don’t have kids because I take parenting seriously. And I don’t want to do it. So unless, or until, I feel happy and enthusiastic about rearranging my entire life and marriage to accommodate another little human, I shall joyfully proceed without kids.

 

DISCOMFORT #5- I MUST COME OUT AS PRO- EVERY FRIEND WITH KIDS

Subset of “Am I judging you” number 2.

I  feel required to say that I’m very supportive of my friends who have kids. I hear myself saying these words and I wonder what decade I live in. Why do I feel the need to say that?  Truth is- I am happy for my friends but it really kills their availability to hang out with me.  I get it that people are experiencing a life changing joy. As a friend, I celebrate with them. But do I need to be head cheerleader of the club?

 

DISCOMFORT #6 DO I EVEN KNOW WHAT LOVE IS?

There is also a belief that you don’t really know how to love until you’ve parented. True and False. I hear it all the time. You don’t know what love is until you’re a mom.  I do agree that there is a kind of love and sacrifice that is unique to parenting. But lets all agree that it’s pretty patronizing to say that people are fundamentally less loving and sacrificial if they haven’t had children. And we know a lot of people with kids who have managed to stay selfish jerks.

There are ways that parenting really shrinks your world and makes you less available as a friend and minister. I don’t think that anyone would argue that Mother Theresa didn’t know how to love sacrificially cause she didn’t have a baby. ( It’s always good to throw in a Mother Theresa example. It’s the counterpoint to a Hitler example.) Parenting teaches you about a certain type of love. Being committed to loving people when they aren’t your offspring also takes a certain type of character and commitment.

Let just all give each other some shout outs when we manage not to strangle the people in our lives and and manage to throw some  love out in the world.

 

So those are some the reasons I feel awkward talking about not having kids. I don’t feel any real oppression because I don’t have kids. My main experience is freedom. But I do feel a bit different and I do feel like I’m supposed to be quiet about the fact that I really like my life. So I’m sharing a bit of my life that I don’t often talk about. If you can be nice- feel free to share your thoughts with me.

42 thoughts on “Christian Lady, No Baby

  1. Unlike you, I’ve chosen to be a parent. And I couldn’t agree with you more. I don’t have much flexibility over my sleep, travels, cuddling, etc. Nor do I have the corner on love figured out. I think you are right on (amongst many points you made) about parenting not being the ultimate expression of love. It is certainly one “profession” that requires significant and regular growth in loving others, but it is not the only one, nor the pinnacle of love.

    • Thanks Scott. I appreciate your thoughts. Watching you love students at Oxy and then your daughters has always been one of my favorite pictures of love. You and Vero inspire me constantly to open my heart more.

  2. You are hilarious.

    Also, very much appreciate your honesty. Having just had a kid after years of trying I strongly support your desire to not have kids for the reason you’ve mentioned. Not to say I don’t love my son – I do, usually – but you’re wise to count the cost.

    Appreciating your vulnerability. Preach on.

    Karl

  3. I appreciate this so much Erna–I’m only 24 and people already act like I’m crazy for not wanting to have kids. Same as you, I take parenting really seriously, and because I know I can’t dedicate the time or energy to kids because of medical school/residency, I’d prefer to not have kids. It’s really uplifting to hear a mentor and leader feel fulfilled and serving the Church in ministry without children… Because, yes, I’ve heard of multiple occasions that children are God’s gift to women, and by not having children, I am rejecting God’s goodness and not fulfilling my role in the Church. It’s really great to get a fresh, honest perspective to see the possibilities.

  4. Blessings dear one … I have lived this story for many, many years (with the added chapter on why I am not a wife) -and after a long time folks just sort of give up on you I suppose, and spare you the conversation. I am not the mom to any students (or staff now) and do not call what I do “mothering”. I made my peace with the Lord and love the gifting he has given me and am trying desperately to spend it all, every day as much as I can – because I love it and it just gets better and better. I’ll look forward to seeing you at the Big U to which I am delightfully committed – because I can be! Rock on – you are a star, a crazy, sparkly one and I admire you!

    • Susie- thanks for your encouraging words and I can’t wait to see you at the Big U. I love the image of spending it all for Jesus, every day. You’re an awesome leader and I’m grateful for you.

  5. This is so great to read. I am a mom who chose to parent, and I think it is great when people are honest with themselves about not wanting to have children. You are dead on about the amount of free time it takes away from your life. It was a sacrifice I was willing to make, but I get that it is not for everyone. I love that women like you are making decisions that make them happy instead of just doing the parent thing because they are “supposed to”. Your choice makes you happy AND it benefits the Christian community because of your availability.
    Here’s a fist-bump to you for choosing what makes you happy. :)

  6. Thanks for sharing this Erna! It is a relief not to feel like it is my responsibility as a Christian to produce children. Your posts are always very well timed for me. My husband and I have been talking about when we want to have kids, but I hadn’t realized how much pressure I had been putting on myself to fulfill my Christian duty of having children. It is refreshing to hear about the good parts of not having kids yet!

    • Pressure is an interesting word. There is a flow and momentum of expectations- even non verbal- and can it can create a lot of internal pressure. It’s funny how we don’t even realize its happening. Thanks for reading!

  7. On Sunday I told someone in Church about my decision to not pursue marriage. Jaws dropped. “WHAT!? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU!?” they asked without shame or apology. It was hurtful, and just reminded me how little tolerance Christian culture has for ministry folks who don’t want to be married with children. Thank you for writing this. It helps to hear from other, older, wiser, highly respected people that my choices are valid and the struggle is real. You da best :)

    • Older- but like still cool right? Cause I had a visual of myself wheeling myself over to you with my walker! Be encouraged Shane- our creative, artistic, limitless, imaginative God is far more comfortable with variety than Christians let on.

  8. Thank you so much for articulating these thoughts. I am a 27-year-old married Christian (BCF alum… you spoke at one of our FallCons once!) and I am sick and tired of having to defend our decision to not have children. (Why does the defending always fall to the wife anyway?!) When people ask those judgmental questions or make critical comments, I’ve started responding by saying that I don’t want kids for the same reasons I don’t want a pet pig — they’re messy, smelly and loud — yet nobody seems to criticize me for not wanting the pig, so why is not wanting kids the feminine felony? Gees.

    • That’s an interesting observation- that it usually falls to the woman to explain this type of choice. I hadn’t thought of that. Take courage. Even if people don’t get you- Jesus gets you.

  9. Seriously thank you for this. I could have written these same words (but of course always struggle to admit that I’ve chosen not to have children and am happy with that choice). So, yes, thank you. Seriously.

    • I’m so glad it was helpful. I’ve actually been surprised how many other women identify with my experience, and also with the incredibly positive response I’ve received. Thanks for taking time to read.

  10. Thank you, Erna. It is encouraging and freeing to hear your story. I don’t know if I want kids as we get closer to actually maybe having kids, for many reasons you put. I’m not sure what I will decide, but I am thankful for your choices and that you are working out not justifying yourself to others, but living fully in who God made you to be. That’s always awesome :)

  11. Thank you for being you, and filling a different role in The Body than I do. You are able to spontaneously entertain after church, I have a strategic plan for a quick exit, lightning fast lunch, and a variety of nap inducing techniques. Having children provides unique ministry opportunities, but if everyone was lovingly encumbered, then certain ministry needs do not get met when they should. The diversity of the body, even in family form, is vital.

  12. I like what you said about how being a parent doesn’t make someone more loving. It’s true! Becoming a parent doesn’t automatically make us saints. We are still who we are, with the parenthood dimension added to the mix. Still have to do the same old character work.

  13. Thank you so much. I wasn’t interested in kids but knew I’d accept that path if God set me upon that of parenting. I experienced all the above for the 6 years of marriage where I threw myself whole heartedly into ministry. I rarely connected with women in my church because I didn’t want kids. They shunned me. It annoyed me to no end.

    Then God gave use a child. They stopped shunning me and acting all crazy, instead wanting to be my new bff. I made it clear that I already had close friends.

    It is a crazy weird place in the Christian world. More power to you for speaking out about it!!

  14. I LOVE this. I have 3 kids and am very aware of how that limits my life. I’m 42 and embracing the tensions of all the roads not taken, in part bc I had kids, and in part bc of other blind spots, black and white thinking, and other constricting frameworks some of us take a while to grow out of.
    GOOD FOR YOU!! Enjoy it. Revel in it. Do your thing. It is not just valid but glorious to choose no kids and the freedom that comes with it. I am happy for you!!

    • Heidi,
      Thanks for being so encouraging! There really is something meaningful about having women who have had children rally around me and be so supportive. I was afraid that it would trigger some of that negative vibe I wrote about. But it has really been the opposite. I really appreciate your encouragement. You mention the tension of roads not taken. That would be worth writing about too. You name a lot of categories I resonate with- black and white thinking, blind spots, constricting frameworks. You’ve got me pondering another post!

  15. So interesting to read your piece, Erna. An early “Dear Mentor” piece at The Well asked “Can A Christian Couple Choose Not to Have Children?” (http://thewell.intervarsity.org/dear-mentor/dear-mentor-can-christian-couple-choose-not-have-children) The questioner really wanted to hear from people who had made this decision to not have children and were now older. How had they come to the decision and did they have regrets? The article has remained one of the most read at The Well. I think this is a very real question for many Christian couples and one that is not discussed very often. Thank you for adding to the conversation.

  16. I have five kids and I love being a mom (most days! ), but it’s not for everyone. As much as I love my life, I envy the freedom and flexibility my friends without kids have. I agree that women (and men) have to stop judging others and focus on accepting different choices. Women struggled to earn the right to make choices, so let’s let them make the best choices for themselves. No explanation required.

  17. This is fantastic. I love the truth-telling. I wonder if some of the discomfort might also be the desire to not flaunt your happiness? Or that some of the weirdness/negative vibe from moms might just be plain old jealousy? I confess that I’m totally jealous of the freedom of my childless friends. And reading this, truth be told, while I am happy to hear someone be refreshingly honest and actually admit that not having children is awesome, and I’m happy for you, I’m also jealous. It’s a nasty feeling to admit, but true. And I get tired of the pressure on christian moms to always have to say how damn “blessed” they are to have children… it’s gets so fake after a while. I’m in the toddler years, so I don’t always feel very blessed. 😉 But anyway, good on you for speaking truth, and I hope this gets wide circulation to offer more people a new perspective.

    • Eliz,

      Thanks so much for your honesty. I think that all around our Christianity would be healthier and more satisfying is we were more honest and hid less behind euphemism. For having such an amazing and expansive God, we can be incredibly uncomfortable with complexity and sadness and jealousy. I lived with my close friends for many years as they had young kids- and toddler years are hard years. There is so much unseen love, servanthood, and isolation and frustration. Slapping the word blessed on something as complex as motherhood seems stifling. And I think it’s hard to talk about what is difficult about being a mom because you feel like you have to defend that you still love your kids. Thanks for your honesty.

  18. Insightful article. I’ve been thinking lately about how Christians overemphasize biological families. This hyperactive drive for the nuclear family alienates people who are not part of a two-parent, 2.5 children home. Jesus, on the other hand, did not have passover with his family as would be traditionally expected, but with his disciples.

    Hey, side note: I wish your blog had tweet links or facebook links for easy shares.

  19. Wonderful post! I am a working mom of an only child, and I strongly support your choice not to have children. My husband and I wrestled with whether or not to have kids before deciding to have one. Having kids isn’t for everyone. Having one (and only one) was the best choice for us.

    The only times I get my hackles up in the childfree vs parent debate are (1) when people like me who decide to have children are scornfully called “breeders,” and (2) when people say, “I’m too selfish to have children” with great satisfaction or even pride. (This is not the same as “I like the freedom of not having children”). I always want to say, “Well, by all means, don’t have children, but you need to tackle that selfishness.” You aren’t doing either of those things.

    I wish we lived in a world where you didn’t have to defend your choice to be childfree. I’m glad you spoke up.

  20. Over 30 years ago I prayed and told the Lord that I was perfectly happy being single, I was 21 at the time, and I quite happy in my single state, I lived alone, I even had books on how to be a Godly single woman. This was not a whimsical thought, I was really sincere.

    All around me at church were girls and women who were earnestly seeking “The One”. Not me. Unfortunately everyone at youth had to go to a course on marriage. We were divided into girls and guys and the lady leading the girls was about ready to drop her 4th child. We were asked to express to each other the qualities we are looking for in our “One”. Well they got to me and I bravely looked this very pregnant lady in the eye and stated that I did not intend to marry. There was deafening silence followed by shocked gasps. Needless to say from then on I was councilled, prayed for, cajoled and frowned upon, at every turn. I had previously felt apart of the family, but no longer. The attitude of others hurt at first but then I just felt like I was not apart of this wonderful family at all, I felt like an outsider looking in.

    I eventually moved away and at my new church I actually met “my one”. Because God had other ideas and “my one”, incidentally, had been fervently praying for the desire for a partner to leave so he could commit himself more fully to the Lord. At our present church there are a whole heap of girls who are all earnestly searching for their “One”. I council and pray for them all to seek first “The Heavenly One”.

    How does this equate with your desire for a child free marriage. Being looked down on for any reason is just plain Ungodly….”by this shall all me know”… We can love the unmarried, we can love the childless just the same as we love the married and those with children. This means I may have to learn to look beyond my own little reality and learn how to include those who fall outside my personal family outlook. Yeah that may take some work and a bit of thought but that’s what we are called to do.

  21. I really love this post, especially your point about the fear that making one choice will make it seem like you’re automatically judging those who made a different choice. I feel like this is something one faces constantly as a Christian, relating to various moral dictates of Christianity… even relating to being a Christian!

    I also love your point about the “you’ve never experienced real love until you’re a mother” line, which one hears distressingly often. What a slap in the face to people who can’t have children. To people who choose a celibate religious vocation. To men!

    The only place I differ here is in the idea that it’s okay not to like children. I mean… how would you feel if someone said “I just don’t like people over 65… they’re grouchy and smell bad”? Children are people. They are varied, like all individuals. Some are more lovable and some are less so. I think our culture sets them apart as subhuman in many ways, so I can definitely understand why you worry that other people might project the “doesn’t like kids” idea onto you even if you don’t feel that way. Still, I believe this is a mode of thinking we should conscientiously resist.

  22. Although I haven’t seen you in some time, Erna, I was actually thrilled to learn that you don’t want children. Rock on! I suppose I feel this way for several reasons, not the least of which is that it opens doors to reconfiguring our idea of femininity, service, not wasting our talents (which I think can be especially relevant for those of us with creative callings/careers).

    But… I suppose I’ll weigh in from a different (supportive) perspective I never hear in the church but do from many of my intellectual friends: how is it possibly ecologically acceptable to bear a child these days? In an age of rapid over population in which we are all rapidly devouring what’s left of the earth’s resources, how is it possibly fulfilling a Biblical mandate to take care of the earth by bearing more children? I would think that Christians were truly thinking ecologically if they all banded together and decided that in our day and age, the Biblical thing to do is not to have children.

    Those of us who opt not to have children will be far more available to deal with the looming crisis of climate change, depletion of resources, drastic droughts and famines, as well as cities under water that will be our legacy to the children (and their children) of our friends and family.

  23. Has Cam has ever felt the need to explain why he won’t be having kids?

    My husband and I speak regularly about the potential for being foster parents – not because we can or can’t have kids of our own, but because there are already older kids out there who need a stable home and don’t have one; and my husband’s been really outspoken about that issue. I mention this because we get similar surprised reactions from people; something about the joy of breastfeeding and glorified sacrifice for early morning diaper changes and Costco runs for boxes of wet wipes and worthy pain of pregnancy.

    • I don’t think so. But his peer group got married a lot after us and not as many of them come from Christian background. I find Christians are more traditional about these things. It interesting there is a hashtag in Germany that has been trending #Regretting Motherhood. Not that I think that we need to paint a terrible picture of motherhood in order to justify not wanting to be moms. More that, its hard to have real conversations around the topic.

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