Inspiration for childless and childfree women

Thoughts and ideas to inspire, uplift and affirm the childless and childfree, by circumstance and by choice


When I first made my decision to stay childless/childfree it felt a little like, well, freedom.

Previously, I had wondered how on earth I would be able to keep up all the different parts of my life that I found meaningful if I had a child to care for, since there didn’t seem to be enough hours in the day as it was. It was a beautiful thing to realise not only that I didn’t have to give anything up, but that I could actually shape my life even more closely around the things I felt genuinely passionate about.

But along with that freedom came another feeling I hadn’t anticipated – a very distinct kind of pressure. It went something like this: If you’re not going to be a mother, Olivia, then you had better make up for it by being crazily, crazily successful in some other field. You have a whole lot of extra time and energy to account for, so anything you fail at for the rest of your life will be ten times the failure from now on.

To be perfectly honest, I haven’t entirely moved past this feeling. But I have learned to be aware of it and talk back to it. I’ve also learned to take advantage of it as a motivating force that gives me courage I might otherwise be lacking.

The most useful thing I’ve realised about the feeling, though, is that I am pretty sure it is the exact equivalent of the pressure some of my friends-who-are-mothers experience regarding the careers they’ve decided to compromise, or else forgo. Their internal dialogue seems to go something like: If you’re not going to pursue a career, Olivia’s friend, then you had better be crazily, crazily successful at motherhood to make up for it. You have a whole lot of extra time and energy to account for, so there is no excuse for anything less than the happiest, healthiest, most sociable, super-advanced children ever to be brought up by mother-of-the-year.

The reason this has been a useful connection for me is because it locates the pressure outside of my own personal circumstances and places it in a much broader context. Lots of women, regardless of whether they have children, careers, both or neither, seem to be living with the feeling that they  signed up to be all things in one lifetime and have reneged shamefully on their agreement. In fact, none of us have agreed to, or reneged on, anything and its a horrible inner dialogue that needs challenging.

I’m not sure that this pressure is a childfree thing. I think it might be a woman thing.

If you’re interested in challenges faced by childless and childfree women, you might enjoy reading about bias in the ways our life stories are represented and the doubts and ‘what ifs’ some childfree women experience.

But in the meantime, I wonder if anyone relates to the pressure to be a super-non-mother?

[The beautiful image featured above is presented with permission from cornflower blue studio]

17 comments on “super-non-mother

  1. roisin
    March 17, 2012

    Olivia, I completely relate to the pressure to be a super – non- mum. I voluntarily gave up a high flying career (that I never actively sought and just kept falling into my lap) at 34 because I realised it wasnt really me. I wanted something else, something that involved a serious relationship and maybe children and I felt that unless I pro-actively made it happen by working fewer hours and being less intimidating/successful, I’d miss my chance. Fast forward another 5 years and having left the serious relationship that I subsequently found and still not being a mum, I feel a tremendous sense of failure, as if people are saying , “well what does she does she actually do with her time then? ” or “What a waste of all that education.” or “how dare she moan about her life when she has no responsibility at all.” If you are not a career woman or a mother, there is simply no slot for you to fit in. Spinster seems to be the only category. Fantastic (not).

    • olivia
      March 17, 2012

      I know what you mean about there being no slot, Roisin. On good days, perhaps there’s something freeing about not fitting into any of the main categories. Being easily categorisable has a lot to do with being aggressively marketed to, since as a mother or a high flying career woman, you can be told exactly how you should look, what you should be wearing, what car you should be driving, what kind of food you should be eating etc. I enjoy the fact that no one really tells me what to do. But I agree that on more difficult days, it can be a bit non-fantastic to be in identity-limbo.

    • Myth
      March 26, 2012

      I struggle with this too. I’ve chosen not to breed. I’ve also chosen to limit myself to fairly non-demanding jobs that don’t interfere with my personal life. I’m not incapable of a high-flying career, but it’s hard not to feel like people are judging me as inferior because I’m in my 30’s and still an “administrative assistant”. If I were a mom at least I’d have a valid “excuse”.

      • olivia
        March 26, 2012

        They sound like such a self-aware, self-awake set of choices that you’ve made, Myth. For what its worth, I would ‘judge’ you very favourably for the more spacious lifestyle you’re creating for yourself and I have no doubt that other readers here will too.

  2. sam
    March 17, 2012

    Hi Olivia

    I just wanted to write and say how much I’m enjoying your beautiful blog – discovering it has been one of the highlights of my week.

    I’m an artist who has chosen to not have children, and at times I feel tremendously liberated and that I can ‘take my time’ to develop but at other times I feel panicked into being super successful to somehow justify my choice. It’s crazy. But like you, I take the time to acknowledge that thought, and just let it be- for very soon it passes and I get on with my work.

    Thankyou Olivia, keep on writing and inspiring!


    • olivia
      March 17, 2012

      Sam, thank you so much for the encouragement. I really appreciate your kind words.

      It is lovely too to hear that I’m not alone in these peculiar thoughts and I love the way you describe your approach to them. Acknowledge, let it pass and get on with your work. Words for every artist to live by…

  3. Megan
    March 17, 2012

    Absolutely do relate to this. In fact, as with many of your posts, I feel like I could have written this myself (but not as eloquently). I am a lawyer in my work life, and last year when my husband and I decided we would make our flirtation with the childfree idea a permanent decision, I did begin to feel some pressure to become a more successful, harder-working lawyer as a result of all the “free time” I had just provided myself. However, now I have begun to get comfortable with the idea that I have instead freed up time to do something completely different – things that make me happy, like travel (as much as possible), sleep, eating out, reading, and spending time with friends and our new puppy. In other words, life itself.

    • olivia
      March 17, 2012

      Megan, I love your description of ‘life itself’. What a beautiful life it sounds. Sometimes the decision to be childfree feels like the gift of an extra couple of decades, doesn’t it!

  4. Angie
    March 17, 2012

    I am also a lawyer and early in my career felt enormous pressure to be wildly successful because I knew even then I wouldn’t have children. I worked like a mad woman for the first several years and could already feel myself burning out. It was my boyfriend at the time (now my husband) who said, “We can’t live like this.” He was absolutely right. Twelve years later, I am successful in my career, but not wildly so. Now my idea of being a super non-mom is exploring various creative interests, traveling as much as I can, cooking, reading, and constantly learning new things. I have traded the higher paying firm jobs or high-level government consulting jobs for lower paying, less stressful jobs, that allow me to have a life. I love what I do, but I also love that I can leave work on a Friday afternoon (early) and not think about it again until I go back on Monday morning. I like that I can take two week vacations and not worry about what is going on at the office in my absence. I LOVE that I have a boss who is also childfree and encourages me to pursue my hobbies and outside interests. I believe that not having children has allowed me to realize my full and true self in a way that many of my friends with children will never be able to.

    • olivia
      March 17, 2012

      Angie, I like your idea of being a super non-mom very, very much. And how wonderful to have such a simpatico boss! I don’t think the peace of mind that can come along with this lifestyle could ever really be over-estimated. Two week vacations with no thoughts of the office? Amen 🙂

  5. Sylvia D. Lucas
    March 18, 2012

    I enjoyed reading this post and the responses. I had no idea there were so many people who felt it was important to compensate for their decision to not have children. I’ve never experienced that. The only time I’ve felt pressured to achieve (beyond the normal desire to achieve/need to be productive) was when I took a year off work to write. I simply couldn’t justify being at home unless I put in a full eight hours writing (after all, my husband was paying the bills and working, so if I was going to be home, I’d better be “earning my keep”).

    But never has not having children made me feel like I need to do, or be, something special or extraordinary.

    • olivia
      March 18, 2012

      Sylvia, in addition to having felt relieved that a few people did relate to the feeling, it’s also reassuring to find that some people don’t! I wonder why it is that some of us feel it and others not – if its to do with different temperaments or more to do with different social forces? Or something else altogether? Thank you for expressing an alternative angle on this issue. It’s great to have a contrasting view.

  6. Pingback: A Bit More on Childfreedom and “Fulfillment” « "Anonymous" Was a Woman

  7. Nicole
    March 22, 2012

    This is a really insightful and thoughtful post.

    I have friends who are moms who tell me how they want to be seen as more than a Mom and still have their own lives, careers, etc.

    And I have known other women who aren’t have children b/c they can’t or choose not to – are like “OK, if I am not a mom, what am i?” So, I think this might be a woman thing.

    Women in general are supposed to be super heroes and do it all I think. My career is in a really good spot, so I think I haven’t felt this pressure yet. I also think that most of my friends/family do not entirely believe that we are entirely committed to not having children. But, we are. So, I think we don’t have any external pressures yet. I do feel like as we get older, we should be doing lots of fabulous things like traveling all over the place, etc, to fill the time we have.

    wonderful observation on this pressure we face to “succeed” – as if we aren’t already by just living life on our terms.

    • olivia
      March 22, 2012

      Thanks so much for these thoughts, Nicole. I loved your final point especially, about success being the accomplishment of living life on our own terms. Beautifully put!

  8. olivia
    April 3, 2012

    Sylvia D. Lucas has continued this discussion on her blog here:
    Very interesting!

  9. Anonymous
    September 27, 2012

    It’s funny…casting this as a woman thing is so intuitive, but it feels so surprising and reassuring to read and think about! Thank you for your writing, and for this new (to me) angle on the whole thing!

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