My “childfreedom” is more the result of circumstance than conscious decision. Having never found myself in the right place or with the right person at the right time to have children, I wasn’t at all interested in embarking on a desperate, single-minded mission to be a mother, whether via donor insemination, last-minute fertility treatment or international adoption. When it came down to it, the decision was mostly out of my hands, and this was quite a bonus to me. Why? Because I am a free spirit by nature and having children would have resulted in a far more rigid and inflexible life than I desire.
As a child and teenager, my summer holidays were spent with my extended family, camping on a piece of land on one of Auckland’s wild and remote West Coast beaches. I was significantly younger than my siblings and cousins, so I spent much of the four weeks entertaining myself. For me, a creative person, this was heaven. Although I was surrounded by family, I was free to come and go as I pleased. (These were less anxious times, when a young girl could roam safely on a beach.) I walked for hours by the sea, sunbathed and swam alone, went to sleep in my own pup tent hearing the waves outside, wrote stories and read books. I could set my routine to suit myself.
I have always needed to feel liberated and free. I understand and value commitment, but if I am in any relationship – whether with a partner, friend or work colleague – where I feel trapped, manipulated or emotionally bullied, I will recoil and depart. I hate to feel pressured, especially when it comes to social obligations. And I love to be in a position to make quick decisions and change direction on a whim. Change inspires rather than frightens me.
Following a marriage break-up in my early 30’s I courageously – or perhaps naiively – upped sticks and moved to London. For years my husband had denied me the opportunity to travel, because he didn’t want to “backpack like everyone else”. With a few thousand dollars to my name, I left my job, applied for a work visa, bought an air ticket, and landed in the UK. Somehow, drawing on my as-yet-untested resourcefulness, I fell on my feet, got myself a job and then a flat, and I was off. I found myself advancing my career, traveling all over Europe and the US for work, and meeting people in my field who I could otherwise not dreamed of meeting.
When I needed to move home again, after six years of being away, I could. Not only that, but with my UK citizenship, I now have the opportunity to live and work anywhere in the EU at any time.
A few years ago I met my second husband, and we decided not to have children together. He has one grown-up son and was ready to have more freedom himself. Fertility treatment would have been necessary for us to have offspring, and this would have overtaken our lives. Together we made the decision as a couple to remain childfree.
I love the flexibility this has given us. Here are just a few examples:
1. I have set the wheels in motion to start my own marketing business. My current employer is willing to let me go down to four days a week at the end of this year to give me time to build up the business. This is an incredible opportunity and one that I can grab without worrying how a 20% drop in my salary will impact our family. Even the possibility of starting a business with no guarantee of income would be out of the question if we had children.
2. My work in the performing arts regularly throws up free tickets to arts events, often at short notice. Both my husband and I can make a decision on the day to attend an event that night – and we often do!
3. When we wake up on the weekends, we usually ask each other, “what are you planning to do today?” and the answer is frequently, “just potter”. I love the freedom of a weekend day stretching ahead without scheduled events or obligations. I can then do whatever project or creative task on my list takes my fancy in whatever order I choose.
4. We used my airpoints to fly to Europe last year. While sitting in a café in a small town in Provence, we made a pact to work towards more flexible employment situations (see Point 1) so that every two years we will be able to spend two months in France or Greece. Another idea is to head off for a year or two, renting out our house back home to cover our living costs.
5. Before I met my husband I loved being that flexible person who could attach herself to any family at any time. For example, I would join my friend and her children camping for a few days over summer. When I was ready to leave, I could, to head back to my peaceful apartment to write and read books.
I highly value the possibilities that this level of flexibility brings me. It makes me feel I can manoevre myself in and out of situations and places to ensure that I am always safe, employed, happy and comfortable. And it keeps my life varied and stimulating, something that would not be possible with the year-in, year-out routines and stability necessary when raising children.
This morning I went running along the waterfront near my home. Every now and then the path was blocked with couples wearily pushing prams, or waiting for children whose attention was caught by something on the road. As I wove my way through them, I thought about freedom. I am lucky to have it and I want to hang on to it. Being childfree allows me to be free. And for me, that’s essential.