Constructing a Queer Life: On the Choice to Parent, or Be Child-Free

Arrow Pointing Over Rainbow

Many people grow up following a cultural life script: you go to school, get a job, marry your one true love and start a family. Happily Ever After!

At least, that’s a common scenario many cultures, based on heteronormativity, have historically supported. But as many of us grow up, we realize that that version of Happily Ever After may not work for us. This is especially true when we realize that who we are-non-monogamous, LGBTQ+ and/or more-diverges from the mainstream narrative.

Without a role in that cultural life script, queer people are in a unique position to live with intention. As we shape our own narratives, we may question each element in the mainstream prescription for happiness, including that final step. Is having kids really essential to a happy, fulfilling life? What does it mean to become a parent if you and your life don’t align with heteronormativity?

How can you decide whether or not you want to have children at all?

Benefits of Parenting When You’re Not Heteronormative

A non-heteronormative identity, relationship and/or lifestyle doesn’t necessarily affect one’s desire to become a parent. Many, many people feel an innate desire to have children. If that’s you, then no matter who or how you love, you deserve that opportunity.

To see how passionate many are about parenthood, just look at the on-going fight against bans on same-sex adoption. In 2016, the only remaining same-sex adoption ban was lifted. However, in 2017, Alabama, Texas, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Virginia and Michigan all passed laws allowing adoption agencies to discriminate against same sex couples. In 2018, the battle for the right to foster and adopt regardless of your gender or sexuality continues.

Still, whether through adoption, surrogacy, sperm or egg donation or something else, 122,000 same-sex couples in the U.S. were raising children under age 18 in 2015. And that number only includes same-sex couples-not all those other parents who are consensually non-monogamous or otherwise living outside of heteronormativity.

It’s clear that many non-heteronormative people are seeking the countless benefits of parenting. Here are a few examples:

  • Love and deep connection
  • Bringing a part of you and/or your partner(s) into the world
  • Nurturing a young heart and mind
  • Supporting a child’s journey to live in a way that honors their most authentic self
  • Defying traditional roles and oppressive limits to expand the definition of family
  • Continuing your family legacy, as well as your individual legacy
  • Bonding with other non-heteronormative families
  • Offering your child a uniquely extensive system of support and care-perhaps with more than two parents
  • Modeling healthy relationships, compassionate self-knowledge and honest self-expression
  • A sense of purpose and meaning

If you’re polyamorous, also check out Dr. Eli Sheff’s informative five-part blog series, “Children in Polyamorous Families.”

Challenges of Parenting When You’re Not Heteronormative

The above description of the fight for same-sex adoption doesn’t just demonstrate that people want children. It also makes clear that becoming a parent isn’t easy when you’re not straight or monogamous.

From bigoted legislation and systematic discrimination to donors and diapers, there are many challenges making non-heteronormative people hesitate when it comes to parenthood. Here are some examples:

  • A major one: the immense responsibility of raising a child
  • Limited time and energy to pursue your passions, whether that’s your career, art, social justice advocacy or anything else
  • Parenthood’s potential to force you into unwanted gender roles or relationship dynamics
  • Pregnancy- and procreation-related gender dysphoria
  • Difficulties of navigating fertility treatments, sperm or egg donation, surrogacy, adoption and other routes to parenthood
  • Legal costs and medical costs, as well as the cost of child-rearing in general
  • Lack of a support systems [especially if your family of origin is not part of or does not support your life, gender, partner(s) or chosen family]
  • Losing touch with your community or social circle because you’re one of the few who have children
  • Small- and large-scale oppression and marginalization (e.g., social rejection from other families, obstacles to custody for consensually non-monogamous parents)
  • Difficulty with the highly gendered nature of child-oriented traditions and markets (e.g., “gender reveals” at baby showers, gendered toys and baby clothes)
  • Loss of a sense of individual identity

What Does It Mean to Be Child-Free?

Having children is an enormous decision, and it’s okay to have doubts. Struggling with uncertainty now doesn’t mean you won’t be a wonderful parent in the future, if you so choose.

However, if your doubts are huge and only growing, it’s important to realize that having children is not an obligation. You don’t have to follow any set life script, especially one that doesn’t fit your personality, goals and needs.

To put it simply, being child-free means making a voluntary choice not to have children. (This is distinct from being “childless,” a term that many feel connotes involuntary childlessness.)

For a variety of reasons, more and more people around the world are not having children. You aren’t broken or less-than. You are simply making a choice that’s true to your vision for your life. If you can’t imagine bringing a child into your life, you are not alone.

Take Your Time

If you have shared with others your lack of parental instincts, you’ve likely heard, “You’ll change your mind.” Or, “You don’t have to like other people’s kids. It’s different when they’re your own.” And on and on.

The pressure to procreate can be heavy, especially when it’s coming from your parents or other loved ones. But the fact stands: The choice is yours to make.

And, you don’t have to be certain right now. Take your time and do your research. Talk to the parents and non-parents around you. If you have a partner or partners, talk to them as well.

Some of these conversations might be difficult. It’s essential to be patient and compassionate with yourself and others throughout this period of reflection-however long it takes. Then, you can make an informed choice about your life and your future.

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About Cindy Trawinski, Psy.D., Dipl. PW

Cindy Trawinski is a licensed clinical psychologist, a Diplomate in Process-oriented Psychology (also known as Process Work) and a certified Imago Relationship Therapist. She is a founding partner of LifeWorks Psychotherapy Center and North Shore Psychotherapy Associates and has offices in Skokie, IL. Cindy is the former CEO of the Process Work Institute, in Portland, OR and a member of the International Association of Process-oriented Psychology (IAPOP), in Zurich, Switzerland. Cindy is a frequent speaker on topics including: Diversity and Multicultural Issues; Sex Positivity; Rank & Power; Therapist Bias; and Polyamory.