Society still tries to pressure people into having a family – but a life without children can be full of joy and meaning, author Sheila O’Flanagan has told Lunchtime Live.
She was speaking after Guardian Columnist Emma Gannon revealed that she had made a list of ‘alternative milestones’ to celebrate after she decided not to have kids.
In the column Ms Gannon wrote that she is ‘child-free by choice’ and has recently realised that she will never experience life milestones like her children’s first day at school, first missing tooth or first partner.
As a result, she made a list of things to look forward to – including making a ‘dream travel list,’ deciding ‘nurture new friendships’ and having a regular day that simply ‘celebrates yourself’.
On Lunchtime Live this afternoon, author Sheila O’Flanagan said she looks at her own decision to remain childfree very differently.
“I kind of feel that that the article is in some ways saying that she has to fill her life with other things because she doesn't have children,” she said.
“I feel that if you've taken that decision to be childless as, as indeed I did, that your life is already full.
“You know, you shouldn't be saying, we need children to fill our lives and if I don't have them then I have to fill it with other things.
“You know, if you're making that decision not to have children, it's because you’re living a life that is already full of joy and meaning.”
Ms O’Flanagan said people who choose to remain childfree are constantly being told that their lives are incomplete in some way.
She said that she was always told she would regret it when she was younger – with people telling her she would change her mind or that time was running out for her.
“Now I'm in my 60s and, obviously, it's way too late for me, but I have not regretted it for a second,” she said.
“And I haven't felt the need to fill my life with other kinds of things and say, well, I'm celebrating this instead of my child's first day at school.”
She said she always finds it interesting when people ask her why she didn’t have children.
“Obviously we're only talking about women because men are never asked this question but nobody ever says why did you decide to have a child?” she said.
“It's like it’s a baseline norm.
“Nobody says, did you sit down and think through this whole thing about having a child?
“Really that's not a question that's asked very much but people do say, ‘Why did you not have?’ and the background is, you know, is there something wrong with you?
“You know, mentally, with your mental health? Or is there something wrong with you physically?”
Ms O’Flanagan said society has changed a lot in recent years but for some reason, people still seem to treat having children as something we should all aim for.
“I can tell you that I have one or two friends who said to me, you know, they had children because they felt it was the thing to do,” she said.
“They love their children and they don't regret having children, but they would have been equally happy not to have children.
“That's a really hard thing, I think, for people to say.”
She said people need to allow themselves to believe that they can be happy without children.
“People will say, it's a love that you won’t experience any other kind of way and until you have a child, you don't know how much you're going to love having children,” she said.
“Well, it's a bit late, you know what I mean?
“If you're going to be hopeless at it, if you think I didn't want to have children and now you have a child, it's a whole other person's life you're responsible for.
“So, I think you have to be thoughtful about these things.”
You can listen back here:
Main image is a splitscreen showing author Sheila O’Flanagan and a parent and child on the beach.