Things to do if you have no children

Image by the lovely Stuart F Taylor

You’ve probably heard of Holly Brockwell – she has no children, and she doesn’t want them. She’s been trying (and trying and trying and trying) to get sterilised. Recently, after countless doctors appointments, refusals, referrals, more refusals and referrals, she was finally granted her wish, and is on the list for sterilisation.

Obviously, I am pretty damn impressed with Holly’s determination, particularly in light of the reactions to her decision. I’ve been watching the story with increasing horror as the ridiculous, patronising and tedious comments roll in: you’ll change your mind one day, aren’t you being selfish, who’ll look after you in your old age…

But the one I want to deal with here is this one:

Is that our sole purpose in life? To reproduce?

Is it?

Because that feels a bit flimsy. There are lots of things you can do if you have no children – things that give your life meaning and purpose, or simply bring you and others joy.

You can have a fulfilling career.

Set up a business that helps people.

Give to charity.

Work for charity.

Support the people around you.

Fall in love.

Spend money on things that you enjoy.

Give all your money away.

Build friendships.

Read books.

Teach people how to do things you do well.

Learn how to do things, then pass that knowledge on too.

Campaign for something important.


Swim the channel.

Learn to drive.

Watch every episode of House of Cards back to back.

Phone your gran.

Pick up your nieces from school and take them for a sneaky ice-cream.

Play Jenga.

Eat chips.

Walk the Great Wall of China.

Do a reddit AMA.

Complete Call of Duty.

Miss a penalty at the World Cup.

Go vegan.

Buy a house.

Have sex.

Of course, none of these things are exclusive to childless people: anyone can do them. And that’s my point, really. There are myriad things that give our lives meaning, and purpose. Countless small acts of generosity or little bursts of joy. Dreams. Goals. Achievements. We can choose some, or all, or none.

While we all get judged for the choices we make, the decision to have children gets disproportionate attention. It’s rarely seen as one choice among many. People – and it’s mostly women here, I’m afraid – are told that while we might be able to have it all, there are some things we can’t opt out of. If we explain that we’d rather not have children, we’re told that we’ll change our minds: as if we can never possibly know our own

But I think what gives our lives purpose is exactly this: knowing our own minds. Making choices. Being able to sift and judge and assess what it is that brings us joy, and what we want to contribute to the world: whether that’s a baby, a business, a beautiful sonnet, or even bugger all if we feel like it.

Claiming that having children is the only purposeful thing in life wipes out in one clumsy stroke all of the other choices on the list: whether they’re made by people who are infertile, deliberately childless, or even parents themselves. In doing so, it makes a boring hash of what it means to be human. It’s humanity as explained by a robot, who can’t feel excitement, understand desire, or weigh the countless different experiences that go together to make us who we are.

If the human experience is about anything, it’s about rejecting biological necessity – having children not because the species deems it vital, but because you deem it desirable.

Your purpose in life is not to make babies, but to make choices.


  • Molly says:

    As a parent (Mother) I take huge exception to that statement by Katie Ann because if that is true the only meaningful thing I have done with my life is to reproduce. The rest of my life has been a waste of time and I guess once they are adults and I can just be dispensed with whatsoever or maybe I am supposed to just sit around and hope and prey they give my life more meaning by having babies of their own and making me a Grandparent so I can yet again have some purpose to my woeful pathetic life.


    Parenting has been a huge part of my life and possibly one of, if not the hardest jobs I have ever undertaken. I love my kids very much and I am super proud of them, even when I want to throttle them, which is surprisingly often but if I had my time again (sadly no one has this) knowing what I know now, I would do it all very differently and that would probably not feature children. Before anyone accuses me of wishing them away, I am NOT doing that. I merely musing on a fantasy option in life, that is not the same as saying I would get rid of what I currently have.

    The idea that my children are my biggest achievement is offensive to both me and them. Firstly it implies that they are not autonomous human beings but little robots I created and secondly it totally demeans anything else I have done or achieved in my life. Yes, they are in fact one of my biggest achievements but I am more than just their Mother, I am more than just a parent. Those things are not the defining parts of my life they are one just part of who I am.

    And as for the last line you wrote here…. It is something I have always and will continue to teach my children about their futures. Make choices, do things, be happy, find what makes you happy. If one day you want to have a child do that, if not, then do that. If neither of them ever decide to have their own children I will be perfectly happy for them because I know without a doubt there is way more to life than reproduction!


    • Girl on the net says:

      THANK YOU Molly. One of the things I love about you is that you’re so up-front about how you feel about parenting and your decisions, with no judgment of those who’d choose either way.

      And I couldn’t agree more re: achievement. That children could be not just the biggest but the *only* achievement in a life that’s otherwise full of amazing things? Pah.

  • sub-Bee says:

    All the yes to this! As someone who is childless by choice I’ve lost count of all the various insults I’ve received because of it.

    There is so much out there to do and see, I don’t want to be held back because of a child. I don’t have a maternal bone in my body which is a trait that runs in my family, my mother should have stuck to her guns and not had me, she would have been much happier.

    As for those who are infertile and have chosen not to go through the heartbreak of children by other means, I can’t imagine how painful each and everyone one of those words must be when you’re told your life has no purpose.

    Keep your nose out of other people lifestyle choices and go and enjoy your own lives!

  • SKapusniak says:

    Assuming we were put on the earth for that…

    …whoever did it was obviously lacking in genre savvy about the extensively literature of robots/monster/golems/slaves/klingons successfully rebelling against their creators/masters.

  • Janine says:

    I have always known I didn’t want kids. Even at a young age when my friends were play acting the whole wedding, homemaker thing I just couldn’t do it. Wanted to be a stunt woman or explorer or famous reporter. Not a lot of encouragement for that in the 70’s. The amount of times asked when I was going to “settle down”, get married and have babies in my 20’s was frustrating, in my 30’s when my guy and I got married the barrage of baby questions increased. It’s shocking how rude people can be. It’s like your decision not to have kids is some sort of personal attack on their decision to have kids. The assumptions that were made were that we were irresponsible, selfish, hated kids, immature and would one day totally regret our decision. We are both in our early 50’s and have not regretted once our decision to be childless. We have done things professionally and personally that would have been difficult to accomplish with children. I find Kate Ann suggestion that the only reason to be on this planet is to reproduce, is the main reason our planet is heading for disaster. Too many people on a planet that is finding it harder to sustain us all. It’s 2016 and am sad that women and couples even need to justify any decision they make regarding procreation.

    • Girl on the net says:

      “It’s like your decision not to have kids is some sort of personal attack on their decision to have kids.”

      Absolutely – I’ve seen a lot of this. Some (although not all) of my friends who’ve had kids seem to be quite defensive when talking to me about it. I can see why – for so long it’s been accepted that having kids is the ‘right’ decision, I can see that people might be uncomfortable that a shift away means having kids is now seen as the ‘wrong’ decision. But obviously that’s not the case. It does muddy the waters when we’re talking about it though, and I think that’s one of the reasons why many parents take it personally if I say ‘I don’t want children.’

      Thank you for your comment – I couldn’t agree more.

  • Muse says:

    I always knew I wanted children. I was the highest earning babysitter on the block. I always thought I would have at least 4 of my own. Possibly 6.
    I struggled for 10 years to have one. I grieve still for the 5 babies I lost. During all that time, the message I received loud and clear was that as a woman the most natural thing in the world is to want and have children. I had a successful career, a busy social life, major creative projects going on, but that message made me feel an abject failure. How could I be a woman if I could not manage to do the one thing our bodies are supposed to do? The medical interventions I endured were the most demeaning experiences of my life. I became a slab of meat with no useful purpose.
    Those who know me will know I was eventually able to have one beautiful boy. And I adore him, and my life revolves around him. That’s me. My way. I have friends who do not want and will never have children of their own. I can see that’s right for them.
    It never stops, this judgement by society. And often, I regret to say, the judgement of me as a woman, came from women. And even when, after much grief and pain, I was able to hold my beautiful child, it didn’t stop. ‘Have you only got one?’ ‘ Did you just want one?’ ‘It’s unkind not to give him a sibling’. ‘You know if you only have one he’ll end up a spoiled brat?’. ‘If you stay home you’ve thrown away your career’ ‘You’ll have to stop all that work nonsense now you’re a mother’.
    Judgement. I had a gutful of it. I don’t care if you want kids, don’t want kids, decide to emigrate and adopt a troupe of orang-utans. I just wish women would stop judging other women, then maybe society would start to shift too.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Oh wow, thanks for your comment and I’m so pleased that you’ve got your boy and you’re happy. Was a bit teary at the start of your comment, and I agree that there’s something truly appalling about the narrative that women are only ‘truly’ women if they bear children.

      I think the ‘women on women’ judgment thing is interesting. While it may well be the case that women are more likely to judge other women, I think there are so many more layers. Possibly because we’ve been socialised to expect that our lives/choices will be judged more than a guy’s, and maybe also because we are naturally more defensive about our choices because we’ve had to fight harder to get them. This might be one for a longer post, as I’m a bit waffly today.

      • Muse says:

        Hey, thank you. I would be interested to read that post. I detest the way women bring each other down. As you say, society has done it for long enough. Time to stick up for each other’s freedom of choice and ensure our daughters/ nieces/ sisters/ cousins who are littlies are doing so with their friends too. I see women setting such a dreadful example for the next generation.

  • Babybanks says:

    At the ripe age of 42 and a lass who has worked her entire life in very male dominated environment it’s no surprise that my tomboy like existence has never really fancied the idea of popping out anything, let alone a sproglett.
    Also, having worked in said environment all these years, comments of “when are you going to…” Generally get the standard response of “And what the flying fuck has that got to do with you?”

    There is also the fundamental fact that most of these ‘opinion parents’ that can’t leave us sensible girls alone who don’t want to breed for whatever reason, which is they’re actually jealous of the fact I am comfortable enough with my existence and life and have no intention of fitting in. That and I’ve been listening to them all moaning on Farcebook how much they hate how manic their lives are.

    Mines not. It’s peaceful and just how I like it thanks.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Side-eye at “us sensible girls” – I don’t think implying that choosing to have children is ‘not sensible’ will help at all. The reason I wrote this post is to point out that not all of us have to make the same decision. I’m delighted that you’re pleased with your own choice, but it’s frustrating that you want to turn this into a judgment on people who’ve chosen differently.

      • Babybanks says:

        In the same way the majority judge me for my decision? Constantly? Yes, of course that’s very fair now isn’t it?

        Maybe I should start pointing out to every woman I see everywhere with a sprog in tow that “bet you regret that decision now don’t you?”
        Blimey that would be a very long day.
        But I don’t. Because that would be forcing my opinion on them which is none of my business. I don’t like their choice but I wouldn’t as its RUDE.

        On the flip side, they never shut up poking their noses into my being sensible.

        I am sensible for my choices by not contributing to an already struggling planet. For not bringing yet another being into a world that is for all want and purpose screwed due to greed, corruption and bad morals.

        Expecting this world to improve when human race are stuck with a prehistoric notion that we won’t change it because we’ve always done it this way doesn’t ever make it right.

        So I am sticking with my ‘us sensible girls’ quote thanks as it really does cover it perfectly.

        • Azkyroth says:

          As irritating as it is when people develop a SUDDEN interest in fairness and benevolence when you FINALLY lose your cool and starting punching back, metaphorically speaking, you’re splash-damaging a lot of people here.

          • Babybanks says:

            Youre right. Thank you.

            I shall leave them to their own little worlds, even if they could only give me the same courtesy!

  • The judgements from others never stop whatever you do. I have been accused of being weak, not understanding opportunities, boringly predictable etc, etc, etc. What was my crime? Having kids. Apparently by having kids I undermined all the women who don’t want them.

    You say that some people with kids are defensive when they talk to you. There are times that I come across as defensive with friends who are very passionate about not wanting kids – not because I have any judgement of them but because of the judgements that they throw at me.

    I think everyone should make their own choices and others should keep their judgements to themselves.

    • Girl on the net says:

      “There are times that I come across as defensive with friends who are very passionate about not wanting kids – not because I have any judgement of them but because of the judgements that they throw at me.”

      Yeah, this is shit. And I agree – people should keep judgments to themselves, especially in areas like this where the choices are so deeply personal, and can be made for a huge variety of different reasons. I’m sorry you’ve had people be shitty to you about your choices. x

  • Sadie says:

    My parents were physically and emotionally abusive to both me and my brother when we were kids. I have chosen not to have children because I fear that, while I would never consciously abuse them, I couldn’t parent them well on the examples I was given.

    People only seem to want to call parenting natural when it suits them, but by saying the only purpose humans (and women especially) have is to have children ignores the fact that raising children well is damned hard. If I was a good parent I’d be pretty fucked off to be lumped in the ‘natural’ camp with someone who beat their kids and made them feel frightened.

    Also my parents will have no one to look after them in their old age because I am estranged from them and because they don’t bloody deserve my care when they denied me theirs. And the fact I can say that makes me feel my choice to not to have kids is probably wisest for everyone…

    • Girl on the net says:

      Oh God I’m so sorry, that sounds awful, and I think you’re absolutely right about the ‘natural’ thing: offering a one-size-fits-all explanation parenthood lumps all the bad parents in with the good, and minimises the work that good parents do.

    • rare deeds says:

      I was saddened to read your post.

      I too was brought up in what was, I came to realise much later, an abusive family environment. My mother was unable to have children, & I was adopted. But the long struggles which I think she must have gone through, trying to conceive, seemed to leave deep scars in her psyche. Both she &, to an extent, my father became alcoholics…&, in the midst of all of this, I bore some of the brunt of the crossfire.

      So, I swore to myself that I would *never* have children, mostly because I didn’t want to subject any possible children I might parent to the sort of misery I endured.

      And then, seemingly impossibly, my partner – whom the medical profession had assured could not conceive – discovered that she was pregnant…& I have been fortunate enough to discover joy in, through & with my children.

      I would only add one thing to GotN’s final point about choices – whatever you choose to do, try to find ways to celebrate your choices to yourself – & take as much happiness as you can in as many moments as you can.

      And do whatever you can to enable others – both those who are close to you, & those who may not be – to take happiness from their choices, & to find happiness in their moments.

      (ps – I’ve sent you a couple of emails about blogging & related stuff, GotN – I’m not sure if they’ve got through to you)

      • Girl on the net says:

        Hi rare deeds – just a quickie as I noticed your PS. I’ve got your emails but I get swamped with them so it often takes me a long time to respond. I’m trying to catch up a bit over the bank holiday weekend – sorry for being slow!

      • Anna Sky says:

        THIS THIS THIS > “I would only add one thing to GotN’s final point about choices – whatever you choose to do, try to find ways to celebrate your choices to yourself – & take as much happiness as you can in as many moments as you can.”

        Thank you.

  • JonMOMB says:

    We live on a vastly overcrowded planet with 7 billion + people. If some of those people don’t want kids for whatever reason then fair enough. It’s not like we’re suffering a population drought. Everyone is different and everyone wants something different. Not wanting kids isn’t wrong, judging people for it is.

  • Ada says:

    I had multiple conversations with my sister (who want to be sterilized) and my partner about this. He has the attitude of ‘It should be hard because, different with an vasectomy, it isn’t reversible. What if someone changes their mind?’.

    I thought about that one. But I don’t think that someone who makes this choice do so on a whim. Probably furthest from that. But also… Why should we stop someone making from that mistake (mistake as in maybe having regrets)?

    How arrogant to think that we as a society can ‘save’ someone from having regrets about children? Something that probably won’t happen? At least far less than someone do having kids?*

    *This is purely based on my own interpretation of the world and society demands on people with or without kids.

  • Toria Lyons says:

    Going to be totally honest…

    I recall one of my family calling me ‘selfish’ for not wanting to have children.

    Whereas I consider the decision to have children is actually the selfish option – to choose to bring another human being into the world without first having financial or marital stability strikes me as total self-aggrandisement, especially when others have to suffer for the choice.

  • SpaceCaptainSmith says:

    ‘We are put on this Earth only to reproduce’ isn’t true even in the most basic biological sense. Whether you credit human existence to evolution or God, the obvious fact is that our natural lifespan is much longer than the age when we can safely have children. Why should that be, if having children is all there is to life? Does the person who wrote this think everyone over childbearing age (and everyone who is infertile) should just kill themselves, or what?

    In reality, even in pre-modern tribal societies, not everyone has children, and not everyone spends all their life having and raising children. Their are lots of aspects to life, and lots of ways a person can contribute to their community.

    I wonder what it would be like having the person who wrote this as a parent, knowing that you bear the burden of being the entire purpose of their life. Not a lot of fun, I imagine. What awful pressure. What a way to fuck up your kid.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Jesus, yeah that’s a good point. Kids growing up knowing they’re the sole purpose of their parents’ lives – stressy as fuck.

      Also, good point about communities. I was chatting to a guy about the original comment and he spluttered “WHAT ABOUT BEES” and then continued to list off a bunch of different insects which mostly reproduce via a queen. We then got onto the point that even if people are not directly contributing to raising children (i.e. by babysitting or what have you) we’re all indirectly contributing via tax etc going to education + healthcare + etc. So even without children of our own, we’re all worker bees supporting the sproglets of the queen. I realise this reads like I am stoned, but I don’t care =)

  • Beboo says:

    Or how about adopt or foster? Plenty of kids in care…. , improve the status quo instead…

  • Sarah says:

    *claps* Bravo! It is, indeed, one choice among many. And I often employ a quote from Amy Poehler when I’m voicing my desire to not have kids: “Great for you, not for me.”

    I’ve noticed that people often take my desire not to have kids as an admission that I dislike kids, which isn’t true. My friends’ kids are adorable! They’re great! I believe they’re going to grow into some really cool people, and I like spending a bit of time with them. But I don’t really understand kids very well, and I don’t have any desire to parent one.

  • Elphaba says:

    I’ve found a great response to this.

    “Why don’t you have children?”

    “I don’t like kids.”

    I don’t actually mind them, but nobody ever knows what to say to that.

  • Dave - Everywhere says:

    Children are a trial and a joy. We had two fine boys although like most parents with teenagers, we had our moments that made me wonder if having them had been the right decision. Eventually, we made it through the teenage years and they turned into fine men. One we lost young, age 26, and it has broken our hearts. Our other son, the younger, is starting his career and will be married soon. The happy balances the sad.

    The decision to have, or not have, children is a deeply personal one and quite frankly, none of anyone’s business. If you consider the number of unwanted children who come into the world and are mistreated, abandoned or brutally abused, shouldn’t we be thankful for those who make the decision not to reproduce? If we are only put on the Earth to reproduce, how do we explain the differences between humans as sentient beings and the one-celled creatures who do nothing but reproduce? If we add value in our lives (however you want to define value), is it all for naught if we don’t reproduce? I think not.

  • The quiet one says:

    If you have kids, great. If you don’t have kids, great. Just enjoy life as much as you can (just not at the expense of others)

  • TrinityWoman says:

    I first asked to be sterilised at 22 and was told to come back at 30 as I would change my mind.

    At 33 I had to have exploratory surgery anyway and my GP said, why don’t you get sterilised at the same time? I wept that she had heard me. The gynaecologist said I would change my mind and should come back when I’m 40. But he did the surgery in the end. Bliss, no more pills!

    In all the years I have been asked why I don’t have children, I have offered the following:
    “I can’t have them” cue: “you could always adopt” or intrusive and intimate questions about exactly why.

    “I don’t want them” cue: “you’ll change your mind”, or “why not?” With the expectation that I will share with them my many reasons for not having children, which actually boil down to, “I don’t want them”. A good response to “you’ll change your mind” is: “have you changed your mind about having children”. Those that have them have a momentary flash of the freedom they could gain if they could give up their kids. Those that don’t have a naive and happy belief that they will never change their mind.

    Or exclamations of “you’re selfish”. I am selfish, but not about this. I can come up with 5 unselfish reasons to not have children and parents can rarely come up with a single reason why having children is unselfish – and the answer “to repopulate the world” can be responded to with: “but why you and your kids?”.

    “I’m 47, the time has gone”. Cue: “plenty of women have children in their 40s” (not without help or a pregnancy before 40)

    I have found the following helpful, though they don’t win you friends:

    “Why do you want children?” But then they get defensive.
    “I couldn’t eat a whole one”, though they get nervous in case I’m serious.
    “None of your damn business”, though they get hurt: “I was only asking.”

    The two comments that do work really well are:
    “Why do you think I don’t want them” which has led to revealing comments about how I am perceived, “because you’re a career woman”, was fun – I’m a barmaid at 47 on £8 an hour for 18 hours a week.
    “I was never with anyone who wanted to settle down with me and have them”, which puts the blame on men, but a lot of male questioners use that as an opportunity to make sexist offers of fatherhood, usually as soon as possible.

    But most effective is, “They just never came along”, which elicits sympathy and an end to the conversation.

    It shouldn’t be like this. I’m a woman with my own mind and if I was capable at 16, or 22, or 30 or 33 or 39 or 42 of choosing children, why am I not capable at 47 of choosing not to have children, when any gynaecologist would tell me I’d left it too late?

    For the record, I have never changed my mind.

  • Vida says:

    With the world being what it is, and human psychology being what it is, I think the very best thing you can do if you don’t want children is not to have them. Anyone who says it’s selfish is afucking moron.

    I think that one of the best things parents can do is raise the very best people we can – having said that, I also think you should have to pass a lot of tests to have them – I wanted children more than anything else, and I’ve fairly fucked the job up. If I could go back and not, I would.

    However, sterilisation comes with a lot of risks – including cancer risks. I can understand why doctors might refuse it for those reasons alone. At this stage of medical advance, we should have a better, safer definitive method.

  • I Just Wanna Be God says:

    Yay, superb!

  • DM says:

    This is an excellent essay by Rebecca Solnit on the same topic and well worth a read.

  • Dommy_nick says:

    I’ve never wanted children either and I’ve been saying that since I was 15. I’m 41 now. For most of my life, “friends” and people have been saying “Oh, you’ll change your mind when you’re older”, always complete with a dismissive wave of their hand.

    I never have and I don’t think I ever will. In my professional career, I’ve worked with a lot of people who imagine that their way of living is the only correct way and a lot of people who accept me as a single person, without kids, but who is a Cat Mother. You can imagine which I prefer.

    I’ve often wondered why it is that it wouldn’t occur to me to try to change someone’s mind about having children, but it doesn’t work in reverse. Surely we’re in the 21st century now, and we have choices.

  • AC says:

    My marriage has just ended, in part because I’d changed my mind about wanting children. On phoning my grandma to tell her the news, the first thing she said was that I’d ruined my mum’s life because now she’d never be a grandmother. You are so right that to have that as your focus in life is to miss everything else.

  • ANON says:

    That twitter post has disappeared. It shall never be seen again. Move along citizen.

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