I love my child-free life. Why do other people have such a problem with it?

I'm happily married with no kids. I'm more than OK with it. Here's why you should be, too.
Image: Dana McMahan is in a happy, childless marriage -- and that's good enough for her.
Dana McMahan says she didn't decide to not have kids. She just never decided to have them.Chelsea Stahl / NBC News
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By Dana McMahan

With every birthday through my late 30s and into my 40s there's been a growing relief. Each passing year brings fewer occasions to contend with the dreaded question: "Are you going to have kids? No? Why not!?"

No answer is the right answer because if this is a person who will ask such a profoundly personal question, it's a person who won't find any response — let alone my fumbled, "umm, because I don't want to," satisfactory. Worse, they seem to take it as a personal mission to convince me I don't know my own mind.

I'm turning 45 on my next birthday and am celebrating that the days of answering "The Question" may soon be behind me. Unfortunately I fear the next phase will go something like this: Do you have kids? No? Do you regret it?

They're not going to like that answer any more than the first one, because it's a resounding no.

Where else do we evaluate someone's life by the things they don't do?

Don't hate me because I'm childfree

And here's where I feel bound to lay out all the reasons to please not hate me for not having kids.

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You know, like "it's just not for me but I fully support those who feel differently." Well obviously, and I thank (and owe) those of my friends choosing to have and raise caring, curious, socially conscious children. We're going to need them to run this place!

Oh, and then there's the "it's not that I dislike kids" argument, though so what if it was? So often I see women hasten to protest that theyjust love their nieces and nephews whenever the topic of their childfree life comes up. Again, of course I love the kids in my life, and between family and friends with little ones there are quite a few. But I don't feel the need to hold that up as a shield (though every time I see a movie where the childless woman is the villain I understand why my fellow non-parents doth protest too much).

And let's not forget the good old "selfish" debate. This one's an eternal mystery to me. No one has been able to explain how it makes me selfish to not want to create a miniature version of myself who will take care of me when I'm old. (Side question: does anyone really think that's a guarantee?)

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And don't try to tell me what I feel

The winner of the comment that raises my blood pressure the most is this one: "But you'd feel differently if it were your own!" "And if I don't, are you going to take that child?" I always want to reply.

What I struggle the most to understand is why women — mothers — have so often felt compelled to urge me to join their ranks. Is motherhood such bliss that they just want me to revel in it too? Mmmm, I'm not buying it. From all accounts motherhood is unutterably difficult and plenty of women regret their decision (or to be more accurate, their lack of a decision, since nearly half of pregnancies aren't planned).

I'm feeling like John Candy in a wonderful scene in Planes, Trains and Automobiles when he confronts a hostile Steve Martin with a heartfelt “I like me.”

In fact, the whole notion that this was a decision for me feel somehow backwards. I didn't decide to not have kids. I just never decided to have them, same as I never decided to become a skydiver, a scientist, or a gardener. Where else do we evaluate someone's life by the things they don't do?

It always seemed so incredibly simple for me, but for nobody else. I didn't want kids from the time I was old enough to understand that little girls were supposed to want their own. Nothing prompted a decision, it was just not something I wanted, same as I didn't want to eat liver and I didn't want to play dodgeball. Making me eat liver wouldn't make me like it, and having my own kid wouldn't make me like the idea anymore — and what a horrendous thing to wish on a human, that they be born to someone who doesn't want them.

Explaining a non-decision is as ridiculous a premise as explaining why I don't like bell peppers. It's impossible to explain a lack of something, whether that's a desire or a food. I just came that way, that's all.

Dana McMahan and her husband in Paris in 2018.Courtesy of Dana McMahan

But the other bright side of that bigger number with every birthday is that I care a whole lot less how much other people seem to care. I've spent a great deal of emotional energy caring what people think, trying to justify my (non) decision, and wishing people would understand. And there have been more than a few tears at hurtful, thoughtless, and sometimes well-meaning remarks — always from women. Square between 40 and 50 now, I realize: I just don't care. I'm feeling like John Candy in a wonderful scene in Planes, Trains and Automobiles when he confronts a hostile Steve Martin with a heartfelt “I like me.”

I like my life. I like it quite a lot, actually, and although part of me has been conditioned to say I should feel guilty for enjoying this childfree existence so much, you know what? That's where I am making a choice. I choose to feel not guilty, but grateful — grateful that I've had the ability to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, grateful to be married to someone who didn't run away at my first date proclamation that I didn't want kids, and grateful for this life. It's never been perfect, but for sure it's my own.

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