An exploration of the self-fulfilling lives of people who, by chance or choice, have no children of their own
Not having children is on the rise in many countries across the globe. August 1st has been named International Childfree Day, with a Childfree Woman and Man of the Year Award. Yet being childless is a subject not much talked about--the focus tends to be on having families and raising children, in rural, town, or city life. Let’s talk about not having children, about what people like us do with our time, about how we spend our money, and--most of all--how we find purpose and fulfilment in our lives.
Never attracted to family life herself, Lisette Schuitemaker began openly discussing why people didn’t have children and how that was for them, resulting in intimate conversations with childless women and men and surprising insights. Inspired to delve further, she interviewed non-parenting people aged 19 to 91 across the globe. She found that no story was like the other and that many had been waiting to be listened to with sensitivity.
This book is for everyone who has not gone the way of parenthood, who has close family or friends who lead self-directed lives without offspring, and for all those who are still contemplating this essential life choice. The stories in this book also testify that not having children of your own in no way means the joys (and trials) of children pass you by altogether.
She has come straight from work, eager to talk to me about the topic of not having children. Not yet for her, she says--maybe later; potentially, never at all. How to decide? How to know what will give true fulfilment in life? How to realize what is meant to be?
I pour tea and let her catch her breath, but she is on a roll.
“A friend of mine has never wanted children, nor has her partner. When they say this out loud in our group of friends, they are met with an icy silence. Those who are trying for children turn away, singles raise their eyebrows, people who just had a baby look offended, and no one really knows how to start the conversation again. Yet I feel some envy, for they seem to have this clear-cut idea of their future. I waver in view of the momentous decision whether or not to have children, because it will colour my life forever.”
She takes a small sip and frowns whilst I remain silent, allowing her to think her own thoughts, marvelling at how we can’t predict what will arise in another person.
“I think I would love to have the experience of being pregnant,” she says eventually, “but with so much to do and to discover, this doesn’t really rank high on my priority list. Also, of course, after nine months of pregnancy, there is a lifetime of worry and care about another human being.”
She shudders involuntarily, and I am not sure if she notices this physical reaction to her own words, before she continues.
“I wonder if, later in life, I will regret not having children. I also question if I am even capable of having a child and a partner and a job. I don’t know how people do it. Can we have it all? I don’t think so, to be honest. Yet, wouldn’t it be great if we could?”
Having put her cards on the table, she looks at me questioningly, this young woman. Clearly, she wants to hear how I who have no children look back on my life, now that children of my friends start to have children of their own.
“I do not envy my friends who become grandparents one bit,” I can truthfully say to her. “I just see the whole child circus start over again, and whilst I note my friends’ deep pride and joy and begrudge them none of it, not one little smidgen, I am delighted to be able to go my own way, unhampered by granny days.”
I pour more tea, always more tea--pu-erh this evening, cultivated high in the mountains of Taiwan, pressed into compact tablets, brought down on muleback, shipped all over the globe, sold in a small shop here in Amsterdam, now fragrant in our cups. I think of the tea farmers and their daughters and sons, who may not have the wide array of choices that the young woman across from me at the kitchen table and I have. They may be destined to marry someone who is willing to toil the land of their forebears and procreate so there will be new hands to pick the leaves.
Across the globe, the freedom to choose what will define our lives is vastly different. We who have many options open to us often suffer from stress, because this freedom brings with it a responsibility of being a good judge of what fits us best. We cannot blame our parents or the system for forcing our hand. The choice about how we lead our lives is up to us, so we had better get it right. At least, this is how it seems.
Another angle is that we do not lead our life, but follow it. Lately, I have been working with the image of an inner film reel. In the old days, when films were not shot digitally but truly on film, they would come in large round tins and be projected at the back of the movie theatre by an operator. In the 1960s, when my young father showed his home movies to us, all ready for bed in our pajamas, the small projector would make a purring sound as the pins passed through the perforations moving the reel along. That was until one got stuck, and before our eyes, the material would melt, and my father would quickly stop the machine, take the film out, cut the damaged piece out and, with lips pursed, glue the two ends together with a special little device. We would sit still, not utter a word, lest he lose his concentration and we our evening entertainment and late bedtime.
Being of that age, I still picture the inner film reel as a band of celluloid with the essential ingredients for our life on it. We bring the images to life when we let the light of our heart shine through like the warm lamp of the projector. The more we are able to open our hearts, the brighter the light can shine and the more colour we are able to bring to our own lives and that of others.
The film reel, however, has a certain width. It is my job to stay within the projected bandwidth. This width defines the scope of who I am meant to be and what I am meant to do. Whenever I stray outside of the projection, I move into the dark. I become irritable, then unhappy, as I grope my way outside the path lit by the lamp of my heart. I don’t feel good in my own skin. My energy becomes heavy because I need to manufacture it all myself, now that I am disconnected from the source of my being, the universal life force. I need to get back to centre somehow, back to where the light shines through life as it is meant for me to live.
Lisette Schuitemaker founded, ran, and sold a communications company before becoming a healer, life coach, and personal development author. She studied the work of Wilhelm Reich as part of obtaining her BSc in Brennan Healing Science. She is the co-author of The Eldest Daughter Effect. Lisette lives and works in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
“So many girls and young women are still growing up in a culture of assumed motherhood. This important book draws a line under that presumption. It helps us take an important step toward an egalitarian world where we are free to decide not only what’s best for ourselves but also what’s best for the planet--and each other.”
– Tanith Carey, author of The Friendship Maze, What’s My Child Thinking?
“A colorful, comprehensive, and nuanced treatment of a complex subject, this book brings a new depth nd perspective and helps to liberate childless living from outdated social stereotypes.”
– John Clausen, president of the Hygeia Foundation and “a member of the club!”
"In Childless Living, Lisette Schuitemaker creatively takes readers through the seasonsof the lives of those who have no children by choice or circumstance and offers worthyinsights for fulfilling life journeys that don’t include parenthood. It will inspire rumination and reflection, no matter what season of life you’re in!"
– Laura Carroll, author of Families of Two and The Baby Matrix
“As most of her work, this latest offering of Lisette Schuitemaker is an affront to conventional thinking. She offers a radical reformulation of what is described, in many cultures, as ‘a curse,’ as ‘lacking,’ or ‘a barrenness.’ She challenges definitions of women asguarantors of reproductivity and as responsible for the continuation of the tribe at theexpense of choice. Instead, courageously, she hugely expands our understanding of generativity as a choiceful and joyful embracing of what circumstance or biology seeminglyimposes upon all women. Highly recommended.”
– Bernd Leygraf, consultant, psychotherapist, and founder and director of Naos Institute
“Thank you, Lisette Schuitemaker, for the fascinating research in Childless Living that provides social and cultural context for decisions I made in my 20s not to have children.It’s like reading the story no one has ever asked me to tell about my childless self--through the four seasons of my life. I am so reassured by the final metaphor of endinglife as Open Space. It delights and inspires me for being true to the choices I have made.”
– Marylin Hamilton, PhD, CPA(ret), author of the Integral City book series
“I was literally there when the seed of Childless Living was germinated and witnessedthe tingle of its upsurge of intention and creativity begin to flow. This is what this wonderful book, I feel, is about. To show us that whether or not we give biological birth tochildren, if we live our lives with purpose we give birth in many other ways--to creativeventures and in a wide range of roles, including as caregivers, custodians, nurturers,encouragers, inspirers, role models, and even soul models.”
– Jude Currivan, PhD,cosmologist, futurist, and author of The Cosmic Hologram
“Whether as aunts and uncles leading a ‘childfull’ life with nieces and nephews or by living a fulfilling life despite how we imagined it, Lisette Schuitemaker’s Childless Living is an ode to discovering and celebrating the joy of life no matter the choices, circumstances,and challenges we face when our desire for parenthood is in question--and questionedby others.”
– Melanie Notkin, author of Savvy Auntie
“This book provides new insights into the choices and circumstances of the ‘childless’and ‘childfree’ as we navigate through the seasons of life. More importantly, it paves theway for much-needed conversations on how we are challenging and negotiating astraightjacketed normative world, just by being ourselves. As a single woman, viewingmy own life choices and experiences in the larger frame of ‘childless living,’ this bookgives me greater confidence, courage, and conviction in my own life journey … knowingthat there is a larger solidarity despite our seemingly solitary journeys.”
– Nirupama Sarathy, development sector professional working with young people
“This unique ‘seasonal’ approach to living a childless life reveals insight into aspects ofchoice-making entwined with life conditions accompanied by a spectrum of personal andsocietal implications often uncomfortable to voice and examine publicly. Personally, I wasreaffirmed knowing that I was not as much of ‘a renegade’ as I had been thinking. Generally, Lisette Schuitemaker opens a portal for a societal inquiry: How are ‘childless’ livesenriched through diverse expressions of pro-creativity, and how might those uniqueindividual chosen expressions be comparably enriching to societal and humanpotentials?”
– Michael Keller, designer for transformative learning and human becoming
“Lisette Schuitemaker’s best book yet! Childless Living brings sunshine and fresh air tothis often dank and stifled topic. With flowing vibrancy, her light touch, and thoroughinquiry, the author brings new possibility to the tender path of living childless. Read itand be nourished, be inspired, and experience that life is richer than you thought. Thankyou for this precious gift, for childless women and men and all of us.”
– Adele Napier, consultant, educator, soul counsellor, and childless
“Childless Living is a beautifully crafted and wisely written book addressing an ever-growing section of our society, which has traditionally been looked down upon as lacking. As the real-life examples based on rigorous research by the author show, life is notless for not having had children. I wish this book had been around when I was needingsome clear guidance that I was not weird for feeling ambivalent about having children.It would have saved me many hours of therapy!”
– JANE DUNCAN ROGERS, author of Before I Go and founder of Before I Go Solutions
“This book by Lisette Schuitemaker is a reaffirmation of the fact that there are thosewilling to carve out a life of their own and that it is completely fine to do so, just like itis completely fine to want to go through the usual set patterns. It is a ray of hope forthose souls who may not be joined by nations but by beliefs--the most basic of whichis free will that allows you to make decisions for yourself. It is also a great reminder ofthe fact that individuals make choices depending on their circumstances.”
– Alveena Jadoon, editorial assistant at The Nationand content producer at Maati TV
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