Salvo 01.25.2023 8 minutes

Childfree Doesn’t Mean Pain-Free

Portrait of pensive woman sitting at table in the kitchen

Protection from pregnancy will not protect you from suffering.

The world is ending because we’re running out of people. 

Or at least, one world—the one where people think babies cause problems. In this bleak dystopia—i.e., Current Year America—only half of women under age 45 have children. 

But this is only half the story. The other half of the story—the weird half—is they think those numbers are good news. More women avoiding motherhood? That is progress now, dear.

An alarming article published by The Daily Mail explains why this is happening: “Adults are changing their attitudes towards having kids. Millennials and Zoomers prioritize their careers, travel and relaxation over building families.”

These superior intellects have figured out how to game the system and avoid pain and suffering with this one, neat trick: never have a kid. Stay childfree forever and you stay free. 

After all, the list of pain points childfree people exempt themselves from is not short. Abstain from procreating and you unlock a paradise of kidless pleasures. You get to avoid childbirth, newborn sleeplessness, changing diapers, messes, tantrums, fevers, pediatrician visits, expensive baby gear, swim lessons, schools, puberty, tests, SATs, getting them in to a decent college, paying for college tuition—there is a well documented tsunami of tsuris triggered by child eruptions.

Imagine waking up on Saturday and never having to drag your tired, hungover self, a heavy cooler, and a cranky kid to a soccer game, swim meet, interminable sunbaked little league game, or excruciating birthday party at a trampoline place, park, playground, or bowling alley—ever.

Imagine never having to scramble for a babysitter. Or a new school. Never having to worry about bullying or report cards, buying school supplies, owning a minivan, or installing car seats. (The LATCH system works great, if you have foot-long fingers.) Never having to remember your Apple password ten seconds before the plane is taking off so you can install the only app they like for the flight. Getting them to stop fighting and smile for just one g#%*n photo for the Christmas card picture, please, just one.

The struggle, as the kids say, is real. Oh dear—perhaps I’ve revealed too much. Why would anyone in their right mind sign up for all of that? 

On top of all the practical challenges of daily parent life, our clueless Gen Z cohort says they won’t have babies because they’re bad for the climate. Their plan to save the Earth for future generations is to not produce a future generation. They think they’re playing 4-D chess, but they’re the ones getting played. 

They don’t understand that the real hellscape is a world of only themselves, old, alone, starved for food and attention, stacked up like cordwood in overcrowded nursing homes wearing unchanged Depends and covered in bed sores.

They don’t know that without fresh young recruits in our population, there will be no one to see that faraway dystopia—and that those of us alive now will perish in an even worse one. 

There is only one way out of this nightmare, and it is my way out. 

To Those Who Are About To Die, I Salute You

But I am not trying to change the minds of the childfree. Au contraire! If a dog hater declares himself forever unwilling to dogsit for you, I am glad he let me know. 

Likewise, if people choose genetic suicide, who am I to stop them? I say, good for you. Never interrupt your enemy when they are making a mistake, and so forth. You know yourselves better than I do, so I can’t argue with your choice. When I see the average-soaked blood baby-hater screaming at pro-life marchers on TV, I am inclined to agree that yes, indeed these women should never be allowed to care for children. 

I bet they’re all preschool teachers. 

But they’ve got this thing all wrong; a childfree life is not a pain free life. You do not get to escape the tsuris tsunami; you just get a different one, and you get it at the worst possible time. 

Bedpan for One, Please

The temporary torture that new parents suffer through happens mostly at the beginning; it is front loaded for you, as a mercy, during your relative youth. You can put the hardest part behind you while you are still young enough to endure the sleeplessness and the schlep. This is primarily what your twenties used to be designed for: to have and tend children. Did you know that your nubile youth was not given to you so you could do a lot of Bikram yoga and go trekking in Nepal or start a girls’ surf school in Costa Rica? Those things are fine, but that’s not what your ability to operate on little sleep and endure heavy loads for nine months was built for. 

Your twenties are when you are gifted great but temporary power; but only the wisest will choose to do the hardest thing then, when it won’t feel hard at all. 

If you are childfree, you don’t experience any of that in your youth. But make no mistake: your pain is on a time-delayed release. It is coming for you. At first, it’s all good vibes and trendy vacations and DINK money and tidy interiors you can use in the backgrounds of your TikTok videos and Insta reels, and almost zero laundry. Your only jobs are careermaxxing and pleasuremaxxing.

That’s max fun while it lasts. But right around the time your burden inexplicably increases and the fun-to-pain ratio starts to tip in the other direction, your age cohort who chose children is in an upswing. Just as you are starting to feel the pinch of those decisions you made decades ago, they are enjoying childfree nests, maybe planning a wedding or two, and anticipating the delights of grandchildren. 

You are frantically budgeting for your retirement and old age in your one-bedroom home, where you will continue to age alone, or perhaps with another aged childfree individual. You will watch in quiet despair as your former college roommate welcomes a growing clutch of descendants home each Christmas. You will cope by bragging about baroque hobbies and trips, but something will start to gnaw at you, and it won’t just be your cats devouring your body when you croak.

One day you will need someone to look after you as you recover from a deep plane facelift or a series of unpleasant chemotherapy treatments or get around during a lengthy recovery from a hip replacement.

If you are fortunate enough to be in relatively good shape going into your dotage, and didn’t get too many booster shots, you can look forward to 20, 30, or even 40 years as an ancient. That’s a long time to spend on your own, watching your face melt off the bones. There is no fallback plan for you, unless you still have friends and siblings still living. (The ones who hate you don’t count.)

You may discover as you age that any family that doesn’t make a serious, concerted effort to grow will start to shrink rather dramatically. The sudden atrophy can be shocking. A family of three loses a parent and it’s down to two, including one overburdened child who decides to move far from their burdensome aged parent. 

A single woman in her seventies loses the old codger she’s been cohabitating with, and it’s just her. Party of one, and it’s not going to be much of a party. 

In a household of one, you will rely on the kindness of strangers. Bad news for you: the strangers filling up the cities today won’t care too much if you need a ride to the doctor, or to borrow a few eggs, or a hug.

A Cautionary Tale

My mother once lived next door to an old widow, whom I will call Jan. Jan was in her late eighties and lived alone. She had no children. She dressed in pastel Chanel suits and wore pantyhose every day. Her white hair was always perfectly coiffed. She looked like Betty White, if Betty had been 200 years old. Jan’s voice warbled and she never quite knew where she was. One day, Jan announced to my mother that her new “boyfriend” would be coming over to take her shopping. This “boyfriend” began coming by daily to take her grocery shopping. Jan glowed as she bragged to my mother that her boyfriend “loved her” but never tried to touch her. “He wouldn’t dare, he’s a perfect gentleman!”

Jan’s boyfriend turned out to be a heavyset Russian man in his mid-thirties. Jan gave him her Mercedes, which he would load up with most of her groceries and then drive away to his own house. It was like The Giving Tree, only in this case the tree was writing large checks made out to cash for a gold-chain wearing boy.

At some point during these shenanigans, my mother asked me to check Zillow to see how much her own house was worth, since she lived alone and was thinking about selling so she could be closer to her many grandchildren. To my surprise, Jan’s house, the one right next door to my mom’s, was for sale. My mother called Jan to inquire. Jan insisted that my mother was wrong, her house was absolutely not for sale, and she would never dream of moving from the home her late husband had bought years ago. 

I called the Coldwell Banker realtor on the listing—a blonde, middle-aged battleax—and discovered that this scammer was colluding with the Russian to sell Jan’s house right out from under her and dump her, penniless, onto the street. Russian collusion! 

The day before escrow closed, an estate lawyer my mother found managed to scuttle the sale. The furious Russian cursed my mother, hopped into his purloined C-class, and scurried home to the wife and three children he had been supporting by stealing over $50,000 from Jan.

Jan died years later in her own home, surrounded by kindly nurses. 

Her estate lawyer informed us that this happens all the time. Nursing homes are full of bewildered old women robbed blind by false suitors and elder-abusing caretakers.

Jan got lucky. You may not have the good fortune to live next door to my mother. There may be no one to intervene when the swarthy new “boyfriend” 50 years your junior makes off with all your apples, all your branches, and saws down your trunk.

Heirs and spares are no guarantee of a tranquil old age; look no further than King Charles III for proof of that. But they’re still your best bet—the only insurance policy that can provide someone who actually loves you to hold your hand at the end. 

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

Suggested reading

to the newsletter