The Value of those without Children in Society

I’m going to write this piece as politely as possible and my intention is to get everyone to think rather than offend people.  This piece also is not directed at any one person as this is a societal norm.

Until infertility came along I never fully recognized the bias society has towards those with children.  In the work place in families, in the media and everyday life people with children are given a break more so than those without children.  If you have two employees one has kids who can’t stay late because of their kids softball/baseball game and the other doesn’t have kids but has a dinner date with their spouse it’s easy to know which one will have to stay late.  Same goes for families with aging parents where the sibling without kids has to take on the responsibility of taking care of their parents rather than the sibling who has kids.  The idea is the person with kids and their time and life is more valuable than those without children.

The situation when this is at its worst is when someone tragically dies young be it from cancer or some other awful tragedy.  You’ll hear how a person died at the age of 34 and had two young kids and how awful it is.  Yes, it is awful.  Anyone whose life ends so young is an awful situation that is unfair.  However, would it have been less awful if they didn’t have two kids?  Would it have been less awful if it was just a spouse and other relatives that were grieving that person rather than adding on the kids?  I know the intention isn’t to do this but basically our society is saying that those with children have more valuable lives than those without children.  It tells me that my life is less valuable because I’m unable to have children.

Things like this can drive the so called “commodification” of children that opponents of third party reproduction and anti adoption groups talk about.  Though none of them recognize or talk about the bias against those without children nor did any of them have to make the choice that those going through infertility have to.  I’ve always taken them with a grain of salt and recognize their agendas that could care less about those going through infertility.  But they do have a point in this regard, having children has become a status symbol in our society as the difference between the socially acceptable haves and have nots.

I don’t believe that all people with children are like this.  I also don’t think they believe their life has more value than those without children.  But I believe they have the power to think about the message they are sending to their kids and society that people without children are just as important as those with children.  Next time someone tragically dies or faces some unfortunate circumstances I hope they recognize what’s happened to them regardless of whether they have kids. 

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31 thoughts on “The Value of those without Children in Society

  1. My Perfect Breakdown

    I have to disagree with you on this one. I understand from your view point this may be true, but I can promise you when someone dies, with or without children, the fact is people tend to care and mourn the person that is gone because of who they were. And who they were is more then if they had children. In my opinion it is tragic whenever a good person dies, whenever a person who cares about others, helps others, gives to charity, volunteers with an animal shelter, works hard, is compassionate, helps take care of their parents, etc. I can write a list a mile long that never mentions children. And, what about those who have children but never saw them, never made an effort to be part of their lives or never treated them well (i.e. abuse)? These people, who are parents, are most definitely not mourned for their greatness as parents.
    As for working late. I don’t think children make a difference any more then other life priorities. When my husband’s grandfather died, I left work for a week to be at his families side – I left all my priorities and let others pick up the slack. My parents had 3 kids, and to balance his life on a regular basis my Dad went back to work at 9pm once the kids were in bed. He found a way to be present in our lives and to be a committed employee.
    While I don’t mean to belittle your opinion, I do feel that you are looking at the situation through a certain lens and aren’t being fair to all circumstances and all people. Yes, children are great, but I just don’t think they necessarily define a person – I know I don’t want to be remembered for being a parent only, it’s more important to be remembered as a great person who loved and lived compassionately.
    All this said, I know you are struggling right now, and I think of you often. I am wishing you the best and sending you love.

    Reply
    1. gsmwc02 Post author

      Oh I don’t think this applies to all but it definitely applies to the majority of people. If more people were raised like you were this wouldn’t be an issue.

      It has less to do with my perspective now and more with general societal actions. I appreciate your feed and perspective.

      Reply
    2. cateyes

      My Perfect Breakdown I’m afraid I totally disagree with you on the inaccuracy of this post, but I would like to say that you sound like a lovely, lovely person. I wish everyone really did think like you.

      Reply
  2. clwalchevill

    This past week, the news has focused on 4 children who were orphaned because their parents both did stupid things that landed them dead. The mother crawled into an ice cave that collapsed on her (despite multiple warnings not to) and the father was shot after getting into a fight at a bar. I can’t think of any chatter where the parents have been seen as valuable because they had kids.

    I get where you’re coming from. There is a default where work prioritizes child-focused activities. The assumption being that one day the people picking up the slack will get similar outs. But I don’t think having kids means one should be exempt as their time is more valuable. Yes, caring for a child is time-consuming, but everyone needs to be treated fairly. Similarly, having children doesn’t mean one’s life is more valuable. I know so many wonderful people who are pillars of their community who don’t have children. Their lives are meaningful because of who they are, not because of their ability to reproduce.

    Reply
  3. J.

    I can totally see where you are coming from. The “ideal” life as depicted in commercials, media, etc, is having two kids (generally a boy and a girl). You don’t see as many people who are childless and happy.

    In the military community, those without children tend to be volun-told they are doing duty the day they come back from a deployment or on Christmas, etc. HOWEVER, for days like St. Patrick’s Day, the day before Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve etc, the people with children tend to get volun-told. Of course, it does happen that most of the single and without-children folks CHOOSE to work child-friendly days so that they, in turn, can get the other days off that are more important to them. I myself volunteered many times to work over those with kids for certain days… not because they are more important, but because kids are only young for a short amount of time and I think it’s important for them to spend time with their parents on holidays to make memories. In return, though, I got other days off that I enjoyed just as well.

    On the other hand, I do have to disagree with the thought that people are more valuable when they have kids, as evidenced when someone dies young with vs without kids. As others have pointed out above, just because you have kids, you aren’t lauded. I think when they point out that it’s tragic because of young kids, they AREN’T pointing out that the person’s death is (more) tragic because of the kids, only that it’s tragic for kids to lose someone when they are that young. Parents are so very very important in a kid’s life that when they lose them, it’s horrible… it’s horrible for THEM, not that the person was more valuable. Kids can’t process things as well as adults and it can really screw them up for life whereas adults are much more likely to be able to process death better. It’s tragic that someone so young (the kids) have to face the realities of death.

    For example… it was horrific that my mom and grandma had to witness the death of their father/husband by choking to death at the family table. Horrible. But you know what? It took little 10-year-old me a LOT longer to understand and process it. While I had lost a grandfather before and lived on a farm where animals died/were killed via vehicles/etc, watching my grandfather choke, gasp, go blue, the paramedics not be able to revive him, etc… well, that screwed me up for quite a while on top of learning to grieve it. My mom and grandma surely went through grief, but they had a better capacity for understanding death and grief. I think THAT’S what is more tragic… when a kid has to be faced with events in life that they are super tough for an adult to deal with, let alone a kid who doesn’t have the capacity for understanding and working through the grief.

    I hope I articulated that well… I’m a bit fuzzy today.

    Reply
    1. gsmwc02 Post author

      I understand your points and respect them. However, I still believe you are making the point that those without children are not as valuable. If they were their deaths would be just as big of a loss and they’d be just as worthy of spending the holidays with their loved ones as those with children.

      Thank you for not taking offense and providing a well thought out post.

      Reply
      1. J.

        Nope, not that they aren’t as valuable. Not at all. Their deaths are just as big of a loss to those around them. A husband will grieve for his wife the same whether they have kids or not. And they ARE just as worthy to spend holidays with family… my point on that that I was agreeing with you that society tends to cater to those with kids more. But that isn’t right. And it doesn’t mean they are less valuable.

        However, have you thought of another perspective? Society caters to the married without kids vs the single without kids more. Everything you said in your post is more amplified for those not married. And what about those not married, with no family, just friends?

  4. My Ectopic Experience

    I agree with all of this 100%. I’ve seen it my whole life in society. In work and even in my own family. As the only one without a child in my family I have personally felt all of this. Thank you for writing it. This needs to change, but I can’t see that it ever will. 😐

    Reply
  5. anabea1

    I’m a little surprised at some of the comments here. I have to agree with every word in this post!. Including the part where you acknowledge it is not society’s (or any one person’s) intention to make infertiles feel this way. The intent doesn’t change how I feel every time I have to help my mother because in her words “your sister is busy with the baby this weekend”. Don’t get me wrong, she’s my mother, I don’t mind. But My time is valuable to me too. I experienced the work example hundreds of times. When a co-worker needed a day off everyone looked at me to fill in, to put in the extra hours. And they did so as if it were the only obvious solution! Especially around the holidays, when said co-worker’s kids were out of school. I think it’s up to us infertiles (and fertiles who choose a childfree life) to politely stand up for ourselves. Allow the people around us to see such situations from a our point of view. Thank you for posting!

    Reply
    1. gsmwc02 Post author

      I am so sorry you are dealing with it. You are absolutely right that your sister should be able to pitch in and not always have it fall on you to take care of your mom. If I were you I would have said you had plans around the holidays.

      Its not so much infertiles feeling this way as it is everyone who doesn’t have kids. As J pointed out its even worse for singles that are childless.

      Reply
      1. anabea1

        Agreed. That is why I mentioned fertiles that have chosen a childfree life in my comments. Unfortunately, I fit into both situations. I am an infertile that has chosen not to pursue fertility treatments. I did not choose a childfree life. Then I did. I eventually stood up for myself at work. Not everyone was happy about it but I couldn’t work myself into the ground for everyone but myself. I have never had a problem standing up for myself but since my diagnosis I have struggled with standing up for myself politely and respectfully. I do not want to be an angry/bitter person but those are the emotions I usually feel the strongest. So it just takes me a little more time to speak up. I wait until the storm of emotions has calmed so I can share my real feelings rather than my immediate emotions. That has been helpful. Thanks again for the post. It always helps to be reminded we are not alone.

  6. Jeb

    Thanks for this post. I come felt agree with and understand what you are saying – that societal norms effectively treat people with kids preferentially in many situations (like the ones you mentioned) than people without kids – even if the intent is not to do so. Thank you for making this point. It’s also generally much more socially acceptable and acceptable at work place to talk about child related issues (day care, sick kids) than about other responsibilities or problems we may manage in our private lives (elder care, mental illness, other illness, infertility…..the list is long). I’m not saying dealig with or talking about child related problems is easy – but it is FAR more accepted to do so in general than these other personal and family issues I list above.

    Reply
  7. Mali

    Lisa on Life Without Baby has several times run posts about the fact that those without children are often required to fill in at work for those with them, or those without children end up doing more of the care for elderly parents. There is certainly a huge amount of anecdotal evidence for what you describe. I haven’t really come across it at work, perhaps because I’ve tended to work much more closely with men (who – in my experience – didn’t tend to ask or expect allowances for their kids). Or perhaps because in NZ there are much more generous leave provisions and labour regulations than in the US. In my personal situation, my younger sister and I both live on another island from our ailing mother. So whilst we don’t do the bulk of the care (our elder sister – with adult children – does that), I certainly end up doing a lot more than she does, with her seven year old. There’s no question I give her more slack because she has a child. She probably is so busy with life, she doesn’t realise this. Not realising your privilege (to use the jargon which seems to have been a theme in a lot of things I’ve read this year) seems to be behind a few of the comments here. I really wish there was data to back this up. (Surely someone somewhere has done a sociology thesis on this?!)

    I too have certainly felt the same about deaths of people without children. There’s often the statement, “at least they didn’t have children.” Or even just the implication of the statement. Or is there? I don’t know. I’ve felt this a lot. When I’ve had the occasional health issue, I’ve imagined people saying, “at least she doesn’t have children.” And whilst that may be true (because it makes it easier for me to deal with the issue, as well as it means that children don’t suffer), it certainly does make me feel as if my life is less valuable than a parent’s. I guess though, when it comes down to it, I don’t have a child dependent on me. It doesn’t mean my life isn’t valuable. It just means that there are children who won’t suffer too. But the way society works and expresses itself, it certainly makes us feel as if our lives aren’t as valuable.

    I think back recently of deaths around me. A friend – a single woman in her early 50s – died of melanoma. She had a 19 year old son, and I felt for him. But I felt more for her because she was single, and had to go through all this on her own. Then my childless, single uncle died. He was in his 70s. Many of his nieces and nephews turned up at the scattering of his ashes. One of them commented, “he belonged to all of us” which in some ways made his life more valuable, because he touched us all, he belonged to us all. Whereas the aunts and uncles who were parents tended to belong to us (as a group) much less. It was nice to recognise this difference, hoping that my nieces and nephews might feel that we belong to them all too.

    Sorry – I’ve written a book again!

    Reply
    1. gsmwc02 Post author

      I wish the situation that happened with your Uncle was the case with all of those without children but unfortunately it won’t. Thank you for sharing. I really appreciate it.

      Reply
  8. lauracharlie1988

    I do see where you’re coming from. On our infertility journey, myself and my wife were often not regarded as a “family” because we didn’t have kids.
    I think everyone should be valued the same. We are all humans at the end of the day, whether we can, can’t, choose not to or choose to have children. We’re all just flesh and bones in the end

    Reply
  9. Kitten

    I do agree that in the workplace, people with kids are given more leeway, in general. Some workplaces (like my sister’s lab) are more diplomatic about it – they rotate holidays, for instance, so EVERYONE has to work Christmas at some point, whether they have kids or not. My office affords everyone the same flexibility to leave early for any reason or take off in the middle of the day for an appointment, regardless of your parental status. On the other hand, my single and childless best friend often deals with taking on extra work when her colleagues with kids need to suddenly leave to pick up a sick kid.

    I have to disagree with you about the death thing. I don’t see it that way at all. The tragedy of the death of someone with young children lies in how hard it is for those kids, who may not even be old enough to understand the permanence of death. Is it LESS tragic for adult children, or for the adult friends and family members of someone without kids? Well, yes and no. Tragic is tragic, but adults are more capable of dealing with the complex emotions of loss and grief, so we typically don’t worry about them as much as the younger kids. It has nothing to do with their “value” to society just because they are parents.

    On the other hand, consider this: My cousin’s 21 year old step-daughter recently died after being hit by a drunk driver. The word “tragic” was used copiously when describing her death, not because she had children, but because she was young and involved with her community. Would the same word have been used had she been a burnt out high school drop out with no job? I would argue that we put more value on youth in general, as well as on what a person contributes to society, than whether or not they are a parent.

    I know you’re speaking in general terms, but let me make this more personal. Should you die tomorrow, your death would be felt deeply by many people who haven’t even met you. You’ve made a huge impact on us with just your written words. Not to mention that your wife, parents, and countless other family members and friends would mourn your loss deeply. Your coworkers with kids may think it’s okay to bulldoze over you because you don’t have kids, but that has nothing to do with your value to society.

    Reply
    1. gsmwc02 Post author

      But my death wouldn’t be nearly as tragic as it would be if I was fertile and had kids because the people in my life would be better able to deal with it than kids would. Thus if it came down to saving the life of someone with kids vs someone who didn’t the one with kids would be the one who would be saved. That’s my point and it’s not right.

      Kids become adults at some point in their lives they’ll deal with tragedies and losses no matter what. So it’s not something they can avoid.

      Reply
      1. Kitten

        I’m sorry, Greg, but that part about saving lives is some of the most ridiculous bullshit I’ve heard lately. It’s true that in general our society looks at parenthood as something that everyone strives for, that everyone can and will achieve, and that a person can’t live a fulfilled life without kids. You’re learning that that last part is sometimes true, but it’s not true for everyone without kids. I have no doubt that you FEEL you are not valued as much. But I think that comes from inside you more than from society.

      2. gsmwc02 Post author

        If it’s not coming from society why are Mothers and Fathers Day widely recognized as big holidays while so called “Auntees Day” isn’t and there isn’t a non parents day?

  10. Kirstin

    I understand where you come from. I think it goes a lot deeper too. I recently wrote a blog about a similar thing, about how some mothers treat non-mothers and unconsciously think of our lives as less valuable. After all, how many times do you hear people talk about how much meaning they did in life with children… Like our life has no meaning?

    I have the work thing all the time. I work split shifts and am always told how I’m so LUCKY I have no kids to sort after their school finishes. Never mind I run my own business and work two jobs per day on those work days. Yup, lucky and so relaxing!

    Reply
  11. cateyes

    Yes!! Just…Yes!! I have dealt with this nonsense all of my life from both family, friends and co-workers, both from being single and childless. For example, a cousin informed me that “there’s no one left worth marrying” after age 28, referring to her son’s reluctance to marry his girlfriend. I, of course, was single and in my 40s. When I was planning an extended trip to Europe, a friend informed me that if I had kids I wouldn’t be so selfish as to take such a trip.
    A conversation with a co-worker about a mutual acquaintance who had just passed away from cancer:
    Co-worker: It’s just so terrible for her children.
    Me: It’s probably terrible for her entire family.
    Co-worker: But the kids lost their mom.
    Me: Her husband lost his wife. Her parents lost their daughter.
    Co-worker: I just feel so sorry for the kids. It wouldn’t be so bad if she didn’t have them…
    Me: Of course it would! She’s dead!
    Co-worker: Yeah but at least there wouldn’t be any kids to be hurt.
    Think about how news stories about accidents are presented. The first words out of the announcer’s mouth is about how many kids are affected. Even if no kids were involved in the actual event, the announcer will still make it child-centric. If any of the victims had kids, the story will focus on those children. I remember one news story where the announcer focused on the parents who were killed and how it would affect their children. At the end of the story, the following was stated: “Three other adults were also killed but one of them was NOT pregnant as was reported earlier.”

    So…I’m not worth marrying, I’m selfish for taking vacations, and I don’t have kids so I don’t count.
    Yep, I’m the bottom of the barrel in this society.

    Reply
  12. beckdogenator

    Let me share a different perspective regarding one of your points. I was the single, childless sibling who had the *privilege* of taking care of my mom during her fight with cancer because I didn’t have children. I got to spend intimate moments with her after surgeries and during hospice that my brother and sister didn’t get to have because they needed to take care of their children.

    I understand what you are saying – but anecdotally, from the kid perspective – my mom worked 70 hours a week. We couldn’t afford to do after school activities and when we were sick we stayed home alone and she kept working. Possibly socioeconomic status has something to do with which parents are deemed “more valuable.”

    I have had many of the same thoughts as you and will be writing a post sometime soon about how apparently I am no longer invisible to society at large. I get it.

    Reply
    1. gsmwc02 Post author

      But to me you being single and childless taking care of your mom has just as much value as someone raising their kids. Unfortunately it is not recognized this way in society.

      Reply
  13. andthewindscreamsmary

    Personally I’m not sure that I agree with 100% of this, but I do agree with a lot of it. One thing that always annoys me at work is when women come back from maternity leave – I’d say that over 50% of them get flex schedules and get to work 1 or 2 days from home. Even though our flex schedule policy states working from home should not be a substitute for child/elder care. Yet the majority of them get to do it. Now, me, being childless – if I wanted to work from home I’d have to get approval from my manager, VP and CFO (since I work in Finance) and our HR partner. And I can assure you it would be “frowned upon” to even suggest it. Yet when you have a child it’s almost a given that the women will work from home. It really really annoys me. In fact I did mention it to our HR Department in a “town hall” type meeting with them, and I was glad I did because several other people in th meeting agreed with me.
    That’s just one example that gets on my nerves, and I see it every day at work. I think I should be able to have flexibility too, but I don’t have a “reason” for it so too bad for me.

    Reply

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