I Don't Need Science to Tell Me I Resent the Child-Free

People resent child-free couples
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If you've ever attended a party on a Saturday evening (and not the mayhem-filled pizza-and-bowling kind with your kids) and overheard a childless-by-choice couple talking about where they planned to enjoy an upscale Sunday brunch the following morning, you may have wanted to stab them in the eyes with your cocktail fork. Well, you're not alone. A study has found that parents have a definite bias against couples who are voluntarily child-free, and, on some level, I think I understand why.

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A study published in the March 2017 edition of Sex Roles: A Journal of Research revealed that while adults in the US are delaying the decision to have children or skipping the parenthood business entirely, that choice isn't sitting well with others.

Leslie Ashburn-Nardo, an associate professor of psychology at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, looked into the bias that exists against those who've decided they never want to be called "mom" or "dad."

"What's remarkable about our findings is the moral outrage participants reported feeling toward a stranger who decided to not have children," Ashburn-Nardo said. "Our data suggests that not having children is seen not only as atypical, or surprising, but also as morally wrong."

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Seems sort of old-fashioned, doesn't it?

I can remember growing up and overhearing relatives talk about a certain married cousin who was choosing not to have kids. As soon as that pair left any family events, older aunts and uncles started in about just how "selflish" that decision was. I always wondered, How? How was it selfish not to have kids?

Maybe it seemed selfish to my great aunt, who was dying to be a grandmother. But to the rest of the world? Not so much. Unless the couple was definitely going to spawn the next Steve Jobs or Oprah, how was their private decision depriving the rest of the world? Heck, what if they raised the next Ted Bundy or Charles Manson?

Parenting is hard work and it's not for the faint of heart. If you're not up for it, it's best to know that before you bring dependents that you don't intend to care for into this world.

Which brings me to my next point -- do people only resent the child-free-by-choice couples because their lives seem so much easier? Because they can sleep in on the weekends? Because they never risk stepping barefoot on a Lego or having their walls marred by dirty fingerprints or their couches secretly stuffed with Cheerios?

Is there a misery-loves-company aspect that makes us, as parents, so resentful of those who can grocery shop in silence without little ones tossing marshmallows in your cart and demanding to know why you're buying tampons and how exactly they work? 

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When I first got married, my husband's good friend would ask every few months when we were going to have kids, to the point that it started to seem odd and invasive. Then, he paid us a visit, and we realized that he was raising an absolute terror disguised as a toddler. Suddenly, we understood: "He wants us to be as unhappy as he is!"

It seemed to be literally killing him that we could still stay up past 10 p.m. and had no idea who Barney was. Or, maybe he was just eager for us to experience the "wonder" that is parenthood. In the study, Ashburn-Nardo explained that participants rated voluntarily child-free men and women as "significantly less fulfilled than men and women with children."

After I had one child, I remember talking with a childless-by-choice friend and trying to explain the difference I felt. I told her, "Having a child is like having a dishwasher: You can get by without one, but once you have one, you wonder how you ever lived without it." Still, joy and fulfillment alone aren't good enough reasons to decide to become a mom.

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I adore my kids, don't get me wrong, but there are days when I feel like I need a hazmat suit just to enter their bedrooms. There are afternoons when I'm not up for their bickering. And, when a childless friend tells me she and her husband are off to vacation at a Ritz-Carlton on a tropical island while I'm headed to Six Flags, yes, there is rage.

Apparently I'm not alone there either. Ashburn-Nardo explained that the "moral outrage" felt toward child-free couples includes feelings of "disapproval, disgust, and anger." I get it, but it seems a little over the top.

Parenting simply isn't for everyone. Maybe instead of hating on childless-by-choice couples, we should try pitying them instead. Sure, right now they can pee in private, and they might not be lugging around 30-lb diaper bags or answering "Why??" 300 times a day, but who is going to care for them in their golden years? At least that's what I tell myself every time I'm awakened at 3 a.m. by a small person who wants to go to the zoo "right now!"

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