“I’m so sorry,” She said as she pulled her young son away from me, “Kids, eh!”

I smiled politely and shook some of the dirty, brown water from my trouser leg. I was on my way to a meeting when the aforementioned child decided to jump full force into a puddle next to me, soaking my lower half and catching a couple of other passers-by in the crossfire.

“Don’t worry about it.” I said, my lack of sincerity probably more obvious than I meant it to be.

 

As it turned out my meeting went very well and I came away with a new client, but that didn’t completely remove the irritation caused by my wet socks. If I had kids – I found myself thinking on the way home – I would control them a little better in public places. You’d think he’d stabbed me in the leg from the mood I was in, but what can I say, I hate wet socks.

The thing is, I don’t have kids, so who am I to judge anyone for how they bring up their offspring? For all I knew that woman was doing her best trying to keep tabs on an excitable child while doing the weekly shop. I have literally no concept of how difficult it is to bring up a child, so my righteous indignation wasn’t really warranted. Besides which, most people probably would have reacted to the same situation with a laugh and a typically polite British disposition. It’s only water; we Brits are more than used to it.

By the time I arrived home I had decided to stop being so miserable and to try not to judge people whose situation I simply couldn’t relate to. While I was somewhat more cheerily changing my socks I also had the idea for this article – how society reacts to people who don’t want children.

I’ve never really had the paternal instinct – I wouldn’t say I don’t like children, but I have no real desire to produce one, and as it happens, neither does my girlfriend. I had always assumed this was a perfectly reasonable position; kids aren’t for everyone after all. What I’ve noticed however is that many people find this entirely confusing and, in some cases, rather selfish.

“So, when are you two having kids?” Asked the wife of one of my oldest friends last time I saw them.
“Oh … um …” I stammered, “We don’t want kids…”
She looked at me as though I’d just told her we were quitting our jobs to go and join ISIS.
“Well,” she said, “I’m sure you’ll change your mind.”

 

To married couples with children, our desire to remain a childless double-act appears almost unfathomable. The traditional milestones of dating, engagement, marriage and pregnancy are so culturally ingrained that any deviation from this path seems odd to others – but why is this?

The answer could be evolutionary (the driving forces behind most mammals are to avoid death and further their genetic line), or ideological (the purpose of life is to raise children), or it could be cultural (it’s simply the done thing). It’s likely a combination of those things, but whatever the case it seems to be considered unusual in the modern western world to not want children.

Not only that, but as we get older the inherent social pressure to have a family is increased. My parents begin to drop hints about wanting grandchildren, references to the ‘biological clock’ increase and – as our friends all begin their seemingly inevitable trajectory towards parenthood – the expectancy that we will join them grows. This is particularly true for my girlfriend, with people constantly checking in on whether or not she’s starting to feel ‘broody’, and asking when we’re going to be adding to our numbers (despite knowing the answer from previous iterations of this conversation). The general consensus seems to be that someday a switch will flick inside her uterus and she’ll wake up wanting a child, and I’ll be expected to go along with that sudden realisation.

The only understanding I get appears to be from my single male friends, but then they have to deal with somewhat patronising questions of their own – about whether or not they’ve met anyone yet and if not, would they like to be set-up. It seems if you’re not moving through the social milestones people assume this can’t be out of choice, and you’re just a sad case in need of a push in the right direction.

Who knows, perhaps one day our biological alarms will sound and we’ll decide we want a progeny to inflict our own unique brand of parenthood on, but if I’m honest I don’t think that will be the case. I’m 33 years old and have no desire to have children, and whether I like it or not, that seems to make people squint at me slightly with more than a hint of suspicion.