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Even in 2019, society sells us the idea that if you’re not a mother you have no value. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Motherhood isn’t the only path in life, and we have to stop making it the most important. Yes, motherhood is amazing. But having childfree women in our lives is important too. Women who don’t want kids shouldn’t be made to feel like they’re less than. And we need to stop expecting childfree women to become mothers.

Motherhood requires a lot of sacrifice. It’s not fair to assume that all women are willing to make those sacrifices. Not only that, but we need to stop expecting them to want to make those sacrifices. The women who choose not to have kids are usually doing so for a very good reason: they’re cultivating lives that don’t include motherhood. And that’s entirely their choice.

People love telling childfree women the outside factors affecting their decision. “You just haven’t found the right person to have kids with!” “You’ll feel differently when it’s your own!” are two of the more common things people with kids will say. And sure, that may be true for some people. But again, that’s making hefty assumptions that a woman wants the life that comes with motherhood.

Men who choose to not have kids aren’t being told they’ll feel differently once they become a father. They’re not being sold this idea that their lives will become a million times better if they have a child. Men aren’t told that by becoming fathers they will find their true purpose in life, which is some other bullshit women are fed. Why does society allow men to live their life as they please, never casting judgment on them if they choose to stay childfree?

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If a woman doesn’t choose motherhood, something must be wrong with her, society tells us. But there is nothing wrong with not wanting children. It’s not a personality flaw or a thing about a person which needs to be remedied. Honestly, we should be applauding women for knowing what their boundaries are. For some, it’s simply that they don’t want kids, which is valid enough. But for other women, there are deeper layers. Some may have trauma from their own childhoods that makes them not want to be mothers.

Society places too much weight on motherhood, and as a result we believe that without children, a woman brings nothing to the table. But women are whole people, whether or not they choose to have children. And by placing a woman’s value on whether or not she raises a child, we diminish everything else that they contribute to society.

In a piece for HuffPost, Kerry Graham writes, “I also often feel that because I don’t have kids, I need to do more to prove my value as an adult, and especially as a woman.”

There is a notion that women who don’t choose motherhood don’t like children. But not wanting to have children of your own rarely equals hating children. Yes, they may not want to have their own children, or they might not love being around children the way others do, but not liking children and not wanting children are completely different things.

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Lots of women who don’t choose motherhood love children. And they express that love in many ways. Some become teachers, giving them the ability to touch many more children’s lives than if they just had children of their own. Many of them are aunties, either biologically or through friends. Women who don’t choose motherhood are the best aunties — they love the kiddos in their lives fiercely. But because they don’t have children of their own, they are able to offer themselves in a different way. Childfree women have more energy to keep up with the kids, so they’ll get down on the floor and play.

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Kids with these aunties are likely to get more attention, because their aunties have the means to take them for an overnight sleepover or an afternoon at the zoo. Mom gets a break, and the kids get to see that a woman doesn’t need to have kids to live a great life.

With astronomical childcare costs, maternity leave options that are practically non-existent, and rising maternal mortality, it’s no wonder women are choosing to forego motherhood. Women who don’t choose motherhood may actually be on to something, protecting themselves from a life where they can never get ahead. Currently the U.S. birth rate is declining, and it wouldn’t be surprising if that continues for a while.

And as more women choose to stay childfree, it may help to shift the thoughts of society. Women don’t exist solely to be mothers — those who choose to remain childfree have value beyond their ability to give birth. Society needs women who don’t have kids, because all women have a role to play in the world — not just as mothers, but as people.