Admit it. You pick up a whole bunch of dodgy habits when you turn into a dad. From absent-mindedly whistling songs by The Wiggles to becoming suddenly OK with eating food off the floor, fatherhood triggers a shit-ton of value adjustments. Luckily, most of these new tendencies are fairly harmless (although all that Hot Potato stuff is starting to grate). But one of the more pernicious ones is the self-righteous way some dads start to judge their child-free mates.
Listen, we get it: your child is totally angelic and has sparked an unfathomable love that has transformed your entire world view. Which is all well and good. But that also doesn’t mean that your child-free mates lead meaningless, shallow lives. Even if some of them do pay slightly obsessive levels of attention to their pets.
In fact, the number of adults opting not to become parents is growing. “We’re seeing an increase in voluntary childlessness worldwide, particularly in developed countries, says Imogene Smith, a doctoral student of Clinical Psychology at Deakin University, who recently conducted a study into childless men.
Smith claims an estimated 5 to 9 per cent of men in Western countries are now choosing voluntary childlessness. For her research she conducted in-depth interviews with 11 men from different backgrounds who’d opted not to become parents. “They didn’t express any remorse or sadness about the decision.”
When quizzing the men, Smith identified several common themes behind their decisions. “They talked of the loss of freedom after having a child. People said: ‘I don’t want to give up the lifestyle I’ve become accustomed to – my life is really good the way it is.’”
On reflection, that’s entirely understandable, too. From exotic holidays to relatively functional sex lives, the child-free man enjoys a smorgasbord of delights that are basically out of reach to the father of young kids.
Another recurring theme was a reluctance to have kids due to a negative view of the future. “Global warming, climate change, overpopulation, the political situation – some people thought the state of the world was not a nice place to have a child,” Smith says.
Once again, it’s pretty hard to argue with this. Especially when you reflect on Trump, Brexit and the pitiful state of Optus’ mobile phone coverage.
What most riled the research subjects, Smith says, was other people’s insistence that their child-free decision was simply a phase they’d grow out of. “People felt anger about that assumption being made about them,” she says. “Some felt quite indignant about that.”
But the decision for adults not to have kids still retains a stigma, Smith suggests, with most of her subjects having to endure their choice being intrusively dissected by family and friends. On the back of her research, Smith’s advice to any parent is to be respectful of other people’s decisions in the kid department, even if they may diverge from their own.
“Ultimately, we want parenthood to be a joyful experience, not something people feel like they’re pushed into, or that they’re recoiling from because they’ve been pushed too hard in that direction,” she says. “Parenthood should be something that comes naturally to people. It’s up to them.”
In other words, there are many ways to lead a life, so don’t make your child-free friends feel like interlopers for opting out. After all, one day you’ll almost certainly need them to babysit.