We often hear women who don’t want children described as “selfish”, “self-absorbed” or worse. Some maintain that it’s actually quite the opposite. When asked why someone wants to have children, it is rare to hear as a response, “Because I want to bring someone into the world who is going to make it a better place.” We are more likely to hear “Who else will take care of me when I’m old?” or “I want a mini-me.” On a recent guest appearance on American Idol, Kelly Clarkson projected a stage-to-ceiling picture of her baby and announced, “I want to have a another one because she looks like my husband and I want one that looks like me.”
As Alanna Vaglanos wrote in The 19 Best Things About Being Childfree, “ . . . while being a parent is an undeniably wonderful and life-changing experience – it’s not for everyone, and that’s ok.” Since the choice not to have children is being more and more accepted as “ok”, more and more women are making the choice to live their lives the way they want rather than the way traditional society expects. There was a recent article on the Marie Claire website entitled Things You Should Never Say to a Woman Who Doesn’t Want Kids which has attracted a lot of attention in the social media, especially by those feeling vindicated by the article.
Some may be surprised that many of these childfree women are married. Ellen Walker, PhD. reported in Psychology Today that “A 2009 New York Times article documented two decades of research examining the impact of children on marriage. The conclusion was that marital quality often drops after the transition into parenthood . . .”, so many are opting for a higher likelihood of marital bliss and skipping the parenthood experience.
At the same time, it has been well-reported that women are not only opting out of having children, but they’re opting out of marriage, especially during their childbearing years. And then something happens. This single-by-choice woman meets a man. They fall in love. He has children. Now what? Once again, she has options. She could remain childfree and forfeit the love she has long sought, or she could accept that his children come as part of a package deal and tell herself that she has the best of both worlds — having children in her life, but not giving up all the freedom that would be required of a biological parent. Obviously, many women are making this choice. In 2010, The Pew Research Center reported that “ . . . there are 61.6 million biological children in U.S. households, as well as 1.6 million adopted children and 2.5 million stepchildren. This report analyzes only the population of women who have not borne biological children.” That’s a lot of stepchildren and a lot of childfree stepmothers.
We often hear parents telling their children how much they sacrificed for them — as if the child owes the parent for bringing them into the world. Maybe there is sacrifice involved, but in the case of planned births, it is desired sacrifice because of the love they have for their children. The childless stepparent makes sacrifices out of love as well, but it is initially for the person with whom they fell in love; then, with time, the love evolves to include the children. Or at least that is the hope.
Because men don’t have the proverbial “biological clock” ticking away, the majority of discussion on this topic tends to focus on childfree women; however, men undoubtedly experience the challenges of being childfree stepparents as well. For example, Jeff Probst, host of Survivor, recently reported on his own adjustments to marrying into a family that includes two children. He also spoke of the rewards and offered advice to those encountering the same changes and challenges in their lives.
Whether your decision to become a stepparent was motivated by selfishness or selflessness, the important thing to keep in mind is that children haven’t yet gotten to the point of having the freedom to make choices. They didn’t choose to be brought into the world, they didn’t choose for their parents to get divorced (or die), and they didn’t choose for their parent to fall in love again. So, for better or worse, selflessness is a key ingredient to be a good stepparent. Parents and stepparents alike must “be concerned more with the needs and wishes of than with one’s own.” And while a stepparent might sometimes long for their former childfree days, hopefully, they can look at the role they play in their stepchildren’s lives and be proud that they chose the selfless road.
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