Some millennials opt for child-free life

Some millennials opt for child-free life

Financial insecurity, uncertainity abut the future and a rising cost of living have pushed many to opt for a future sans children

Sherin John

Starting a ‘family’, that is, having children, has long been thought of as a mark of a successful life. However, today, more and more people are moving away from the idea.

According to recent data from the World Bank, the fertility rate in India has been significantly declining over the past 70 years - from 5.6 births per woman in 1950 to 2.22 in 2020. Many people, especially millennials, are delaying when they have children or choosing not to have them at all. The pandemic it seems have pushed more people to adopt a childfree life.

Sherin John, 28-year-old academic counsellor, says that even though he always wanted to be a father, the pandemic helped him come to the realisation that he did not want to have children. “The realisation that this world is beyond salvation helped me. Why bring another life into existence to suffer the consequences of what their forefathers’ greed did?” he says. 

Things are only going to get worse and more pandemics will follow soon, he says. “Did you not see how people were running for toilet papers?” he says, when asked what specifically about it pushed him. However, his long-time girlfriend is not on the same page as him, and he assumes it could be a problem. However, he is not too concerned about upsetting his family and relatives. “Nothing’s beyond explanation. And, at any point, if things change, adoption might be the right way to go,” he adds. 

Childfree India, a social movement advocating voluntary childlessness or ‘childfreedom’, has also seen an increased interest in this way of life. The Facebook page, as well as their Whatsapp forums, have seen an increase in members, says Anugraha Kumar Sharma, co-founder.

Reasons are personal

“The reasons are usually based on their personal views and baggage,” says Anugraha. For him, personally, watching his parents struggle raising him, was what led him to make the decision of never having children of his own.

The Covid-19 crisis has revealed the failure of many institutions, from healthcare to education, along with the fear of job loss, among other things. Increasing expenses, the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic are other common reasons. “Parenting is costly, and many don’t have that kind of money, and others who have it, want to invest it or save for themselves,” he says.

About 52 per cent of the members are women, 47 per cent men and the remaining one per cent are non-binary. Patriarchy, gender-roles and the kind of expectations that women deal with is a major reason why women choose to live a childfree life. “This has been further accentuated during the lockdown. With work-from-home, the kind of power imbalance in their relationships has come further to light for many,” he says. Many undergraduate students and fresh graduates too have come to an understanding about themselves and have made the same decision. 

Neha Cadabam, consultant psychologist, says that the pandemic has really been testing times for couples, new parents and families. “It has been like a DIY year, where you have to do all the roles and responsibilities, from teacher and disciplinarian to party planner, cook, entertainer and a fun parent. This experience has been very overwhelming for new parents or couples who are planning for kids,” she says.

The financial strain and work-life imbalance while working from home has added to this. “We have also seen many couples adopting dogs or cats to try their hand at parenting,” she says. 

Parenting, unlike earlier, is a choice. “Some see parenthood, especially motherhood, as a self-sacrifice phenomenon. The role of a parent is taxing, it comes ahead of your own personal dreams, career aspirations and goals,” she adds.

Dr Geeth Monnappa, obstetrician and gynaecologist, says that she has not seen a significant increase in numbers. “During the initial lockdown, we asked couples who were trying to conceive to put things on hold as we didn’t know the effect the pandemic would have on the pregnancy or the baby,” she says. However, since, things have gone back to normal. However, she says that there is a sizeable section in the urban populace that don’t wish to have children. “They are happy with their life as is and don’t want the hassle. Or, they don’t think they need a child to be a family,” she says. More often than not, the decision for a childfree life stems from the women, she adds. 

Adoption, an option

While Childfree India, being a more radical organisation, don’t actively dissuade people from adopting, they believe that the process is complicated. “There is no regulation in many third world countries, that prevent children in the system from going into families that will give them dignity of life,” says Anugraha. 

However, many, like Sherin, who choose to have a childfree life believe that adoption is a much better alternative should they ever change their mind. 

Sreemoyee Piu Kundu says that she always wanted to have a child and felt strongly about adoption. “I have PCOD and other biological problems that make childbearing difficult. I strongly considered adoption in my 30s, because I enjoyed the idea of taking care of a child, but didn’t want to put my body through the struggle,” she says. Financial constraints, she says, was one of the reasons she decided against it. “Being in the creative space, income is not steady and I didn’t want to have to rely on my family,” she says. However, now, as a big sister to their househelp’s daughter, who her family is fostering, she says that she no longer feels that urge. “I have realised that the void people talk about, is this need for caregiving. And I think, that can be achieved by taking care of a sibling, a pet or even a plant,” she says. 

Judgement and scrutiny

But childfree people today — especially women — still face scrutiny or judgment over their decision not to have children. “Motherhood is not a singular experience that comes with having a child. We need to start looking at it through many different lenses,” says Sreemoyee. As someone who runs a community of single women, many, she says, have taken the decision because they enjoy the freedom.

“Life is all push-and-shove as single mothers, and even in two-parent households, usually the women take on most of the burden,” she says. 

Gender-roles and stereotypes have allowed society to be sceptical of women who decide to not have children. This is doubled down by the fact that infertility receives a lot of negative connotation. “Women are always blamed for infertility or miscarriages. Those stereotypes will always exist. You have to see what works for you,” she adds.

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