Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Hubbub About Insensitivity to The Child Free By Choice

Lisa Velmer Nielsen Advice to ALL presenters. Don't assume audience members are or will be parents. It's offensive to the people for whom that is not true.

I posted this tweet following the Tech Forum conference on Friday. After which I received 16 comments on Facebook, various emails, BBMs, Tweets, ReTweets, and DMs. My boyfriend and others asked what happened? Who said something offensive? There was such a stir, that I felt the topic was worthy of it's very own blog post.

The fact is that nearly every time I go to a conference and oft times at meetings, people make comments along the lines of, "We're not only teachers, we're also parents." or "You always have to wonder, is this a school I'd want my child to go to." or "And, for those of you who don't have children yet, when you do..." or in the case of this conference, "We're all parents or will be one day." Some people I deeply respect make these comments because it never occurs to them that the world is a changin. There are new choices for women whose incomes are now about equal to mens, who have the right to vote, who can purchase land all by themselves. In fact, October will be the first month in which women outnumber men in the workforce, women are holding more management and supervisory positions than men, by a margin of 37 percent to 31 percent, in like-for-like work women and men with the same amount of work experience are earning the same, and women's pay is actually increasing faster than men's. (Read more at:
What's Happening To Women's Happiness?). It's hard to believe that it was such a short time ago that things were very different. Today women have new choices and they may have chosen to live a life without children.

Unfortunately, the word isn't out yet to mothers and fathers that this is a perfectly fine choice. People, especially those who speak publicly, need to be aware that there are more and more women who will not have children in their present or future. Assuming the women do, or will have children, is alienating a segment of the population that I contend will be some of today and tomorrow's biggest movers and shakers. I have chosen this life and I am extremely fulfilled. Despite this I have been told by others I am hiding my true feelings, am selfish, and I will regret this one day. To date I have not regretted this decision and I'm not interested in the debate about whether I will one day. The conversation seems as inappropriate to me as one to a parent suggesting they'll regret having their child. Sometimes I wonder if it's something that people with kids need to tell me to make themselves feel better. I can't imagine my telling them they have made a mistake. I should mention there are some, who confide in me (men and women both) that if they had it to do over again, they would have preferred a life without children. Interestingly, those who have said this are the men and women who are the primary providers for their children.

I think it's time that women who have made this choice speak up. We are here. We are growing. We don't need excuses. We are not selfish. And we don't appreciate those who don't honor and value our choices. We are not asking for any approval, and this choice doesn't mean there is something wrong with us. While I acknowledge that most who make the assumption and then the comments about how we are all parents, may be unaware. Now that you are, please be considerate of this new and rising class of citizens and please share with others that we would appreciate if they do the same.

You can
View all 16 comments from my Facebook Friends below.

Fri at 8:59pm via Twitter · Comment ·
Lisa Velmer Nielsen
Lisa Velmer Nielsen
Hey Sam. This just has to be said. Definitely fodder for a blog post. I'm often soo offended by those I respect who unintentionally make comments assuming this is the way it is for everyone. It happens at least once a day at ed conferences and I just want to scream. In fact, I think i just did :p
Fri at 9:06pm · Delete
Danita Cobble Russell
I'm right there with you Lisa!
Fri at 9:08pm · Delete
Lisa Velmer Nielsen
Lisa Velmer Nielsen
Thanks Dan. I think the population is growing as women realize there are other options. I definitely need to devote some time to this topic at some point. This is a minority for sure, but it is a lifestyle that has much to be celebrated and I think attention needs to be brought to the topic.
Fri at 9:33pm · Delete
Danita Cobble Russell
I chose a long time ago not to have children. I have often been asked why I did so especially since I went into education. But, I have never had the desire to be a mother. I make a great aunt, though ;o)
Fri at 9:59pm · Delete
Lisa Velmer Nielsen
Lisa Velmer Nielsen
Huh, well, I don't make a good aunt. I don't have siblings. I was always told I'd change my mind. I never did.

I love my life. Have exciting goals and am happy and fulfilled. I have not felt personally that having children would enhance my life and my work. I know some have felt this was what they were supposed to do and the thought that an alternative exists never had crossed their mind.
Fri at 10:29pm · Delete
Danita Cobble Russell
I don't have any blood siblings either. All mine are steps. Curious that both of us are onlies and neither wanted children. Wonder if there's anything to that?

I've always been just as happy with my "babies" that are four-legged. I've never had the baby urge and been attracted to them. I don't care for the toddlers or young children, either... Read More

I, too, feel completely fulfilled with my life and don't feel like there's anything missing. I have had some people tell me I will regret it when I'm old. I think that is a completely selfish reason to have children.
Fri at 10:44pm · Delete
Lisa Velmer Nielsen
Lisa Velmer Nielsen
Yes. The, "you'll regret it when you're old" is the thing I hear often. There are people who live in those scary worlds. I have always had an awesome and interesting network of people in my life. I would love to become a golden girl with these sort of people. Time will tell I suppose. Hopefully, I'll be living the digital life and when I'm old, I can tell younger women from experience, that this is a choice available to them about which they can feel comfortable.
Fri at 10:55pm · Delete
Lisa Velmer Nielsen
Lisa Velmer Nielsen
Thanks for the thumbs up @Myrielle. I am excited to find the time to focus on this topic more widely...maybe during one of my upcoming trips to Florida :)
Yesterday at 12:13am · Delete

I agree with you both...I keep getting "You are still young and you still have time to change your mind" I however don't want and am honest with the fact that having children is a HUGE responsibility that I just don't want. I love my four legged child too. Another issue I have is the jealousy. We all have to remember we make the choices in our ... Read Morelives. And as I am reading these comments we have made the choice to not have children and live our lives to the fullest. People get jealous because we can just pick up and go. I am feeling you both on this one. Thanks for letting me vent too :-)
Yesterday at 7:00am · Delete

Oh and I am not an only child. I have an older sister and it's not all it's cracked up to be. There is a lot of jealousy. But again we make our choices and we have to live with them. I love the choice I made :-D
Yesterday at 7:01am · Delete

I have preconceived biases about people who stereotype.
Yesterday at 11:01am · Delete

I've enjoyed reading these comments (which sort of seems more like a 'thread... Read More’ now!). Lisa (& co)- I couldn't agree with you more about being put off by people just assuming everyone wants to get married, have kids, etc. when that's simply just not always the case. it's a choice and a decision, just like having a career is. not every woman (or man) wants it. not every person can have it even if they do want it. it's true that this mistaken assumption is made unintentionally and while there are certainly generational/cultural factors at work, in this day and age people should be more cognizant that we're not all driven solely by evolutionary urges and that it's insulting to imply things like 'life isn’t' full without your own children', etc. in my opinion life isn't full without making your own choices and doing something that truly makes you happy -- for some it's studying astrophysics, for others it's improving the education of the next generation, for others it's raising children, and of course for some it's a combination of many things, but that's for oneself to decide and if one doesn't, that is what he/she will regret later in life.

and for the record Lisa, you make a good 'first-cousin-once-removed' (aka 'aunt') to our little girl and I’m sure to many of your friends’ kids as well.
Yesterday at 1:25pm · Delete
Lisa Velmer Nielsen
Lisa Velmer Nielsen
Alice, thanks so much for that thoughtful response. Love having the extra opportunity to connect with family in virtual worlds. Thank you for the first cousin-once removed compliment too. My friend Melanie calls the relationship Nouzins. Niece-like cousins. And, for the record, I'm best with cool kids like Talia ;-P
Yesterday at 6:37pm · Delete
These were the reactions a friend received from sharing the post.
just got a link to a friend's blog article about why it's not cool to assume that everyone in the world wants to have children and why life can be plenty complete without them. I feel like sending it to anyone who has decided it's perfectly ok to interrogate me on the subject. You know who you are...

Mon at 8:06pm · Comment · Like / Unlike · View Feedback (17) Hide Feedback (17)
Libby, David, Carol and Franz like this.

Does your grandma have a facebook page?
Mon at 8:19pm

Surprisingly, my grandmother never actually asked that question. She always figured I was busy doing whatever people do in the big city.
Mon at 8:24pm

Di's grandmother was only slightly less active on facebook than Diana is.
Mon at 8:36pm
I'd like to read it. I have other friends who would appreciate it. People can really be idiots sometimes.
Mon at 8:37pm
I thinks pugs are sufficient and they'll never ask to drive the car
Mon at 9:17pm
Did they have a follow-up article on why some people should just not procreate at all?
Mon at 9:57pm
I think they should have to get a license to procreate- eg. take a course, pass the oral and practical...heh heh...
Mon at 11:03pm
Lisa Velmer Nielsen
Thanks for sharing Di :)))
Mon at 11:07pm
Thanks for the link. Many interesting points. People project their own values and insecurities so inappropriately on so many subjects. I have a single lesbian friend who is pregnant and someone asked her "was it a mistake?". WTF? People also ask her "what is it?" and she will occasionally respond "a kitten" and they look at her like they are ... Read Morehurt (she does not, nor does she want to, know the sex of the baby). Then there is the whole issue of infertility, pregnancy loss and how inappropriate and insensitive we as a society are about those issues. Sigh. I enjoyed reading her blog post and all the comments.
Yesterday at 4:07am
I was "childless" in my first marriage and was fine with worked for us. We were career focused and had goals we wanted to accomplish. In my current relationship, we have 3 daughters (My hubby had two and we had one together)...I can not imagine life without them...they are wonderful, but life is different now. My husband is all about family...I ... Read Moream a stay at home Mom (for now)...I feel like I have had the chance to live two lives. Bottom line what works for you and yes, people need to mind their own business.
Yesterday at 9:01am

Further reading Ann Landers' famous "The Childless Couple"


  1. Good posting ... good point... and way to raise awareness of something that make someone feel really negative or "non" even if its not the intention...

  2. You do bring up some very good points, in a very logical and consistent manner. It is important for speakers (and people in general) to try to avoid making assumptions about others, whether it is related to the decision to be a parent or other aspects of life. (For example, I think the 'digital immigrant' and 'digital native' classifications fall into this area as well.) I do think it important that those of us in education remember our responsibility to act in loco parentis - "the responsibility of a person or organization to take on some of the functions and responsibilities of a parent." So an appropriate remark of a presenter might reference this, rather than a parental (now or future) assumption.

    Have you seen the TED talk entitled "The Danger of a Single Story?" ( Although not directly related to this issue, it does peripherally address the idea of stereotyping based on too little information. As with TED talks in genera, very well worth watching.

  3. AMEN!!! LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS...I am glad you wrote this blog and couldn't agree with you more. I find people telling me the same exact things. I feel the same way. I am fulfilled in my life without children and that is the choice I have made. Mostly I find others to be jealous because I have made this decision. But it's my choice just like they made there's. Thank you again for writing this and posting a status on Facebook. I am so beside you on this topic 100%

  4. Thank you, Lisa. This is a topic that speaks to the heart of many I think. The preconceived notions of times past, of the "should" and "should not" opinions, have little bearing in today's "You can be anyone you want to be" world. The possibilties are endless. Young women especially need to be aware of their choices and to not be made to question decisions to follow their passions. We can all make a difference in the life of a child, or an adult for that matter. Period. Thanks for the post.