CHENNAI: Varun* (30) and Sanjana* (29), IT professionals, have been married for the last six years. In the first year of marriage, they made the choice to not have children. “There are people who sulk about the job they do and yet work for the sake of the pay. But, Varun and I have always loved our jobs. When we got married, we were indecisive whether to have a child or not. But the first year gave us enough time to think about it and we decided to not have kids. We wanted to just focus on our careers and travel the world together. Having a child meant not having enough time to do that,” explains Sanjana.
Varun’s father enters the room, looks at us and makes a snide remark. “I hope Sanjana isn’t giving you any ideas,” he laughs mockingly and heads to his room. After taking a collective breath, we come back to the conversation. “Our parents haven’t been supportive of us being childless by choice. There’s just a lack of awareness and stigma about such a lifestyle. We are called ‘selfish’,” he shares.
Procreation is no more seen as the natural progression in a marriage, and the reasons for opting this path vary from couple to couple. From the desire to lead a Double Income, No Kids (DINK) life, environmental concerns, the pressure of protecting a child from social evils and an unsafe environment, economic insufficiency to uncertainty over the stability of a parenting relationship, the reasons are never-ending.
But, despite the changing norms, there are millennials who still choose to have a child only because of societal and family pressure, and the high value placed on parenthood. “I see them raise children for the sake of it. I don’t think it is fair to anyone involved in this process, especially the child,” Varun says.
Rekha* and Subash*, travel consultant and engineer, recently celebrated their 10th year anniversary. For the couple, choosing voluntary childlessness has separated them from their families. “We have always been worried about raising a child in a world where there are so many crimes happening against them. From abuse to sexual assaults by perpetrators, some who are even family members. I cannot imagine having to live through that stress to protect the child. I appreciate and respect parents who do it,” says Subhash.
Initially, the duo’s parents thought it was a case of infertility and suggested them to take the opinion of a health expert. “We were aghast when everyone in the family started giving us advice on how to get pregnant. I was told that my biological clock was ticking. It took us a while to explain that we didn’t want to have a child because we simply didn’t want to! It didn’t go very well. We have moved to Chennai now and we visit our parents only once in a while. They think we are an embarrassment,” says Rekha, giving us a taste of societal attitude, stigma and shame that comes along with the decision.
But for a few, like entrepreneurs Sahana* and Madhan*, their family and friends have been supportive of the decision. “My reason was very personal. In my formative years, I was never able to spend time with my parents. They were always at work and occupied. There was a void in my life. When I got married to Madhan, who comes from a similar background, we took this decision. We are working professionals too and we didn’t want to commit the same mistakes as our parents. We didn’t want to alienate the child,” she shares.
When the couple announced their decision and the reason to their respective families, they were surprised by their response. “My mother broke down. She was upset that she wasn’t able to spend time with me when I was a child. They agreed that this was the right decision and said that they will support us if we ever decided to change our mind. Today, we are happy with our work, our freedom and also get to make up for the lost time with our parents,” she explains.
But there’s a looming question of old age, waning health and the possible loneliness that follows. “Retirement communities are slowly catching up. So, by the time our hair turns grey, I am sure we’ll have a place where we’ll be taken care of. Or, we could start a community for people like us and take care of ourselves. If all those people have children to make them happy and take care of them when they turn old, there wouldn’t be so many old age homes in the country, would it?” asks Madhan.
(*Names changed on request)