From concern for the overcrowded world to not wanting the emotional responsibility, there are lots of reasons why couples choose not to have kids.

Making a choice Indian couples who dont want childrenImage for representation
Features Choice Friday, November 18, 2016 - 12:32

Ramesh Prabhu was about 20 years old when he met Chandrika. He describes her as a tough cookie, an environmentally conscious woman with strong opinions. “In our time, it was a must for a woman to have children. But India was different at the time: there was widespread poverty and jobs were tough. It was hard to put your kids through school and college. So, I decided not to add another life to the already overpopulated world,” recounts Chandrika.

The idea stuck with Ramesh, and when they got married at 25 in 1984, they both knew that it wasn’t to have children. Over three decades later, at 58, they have no regrets. 

World over, one of the primary objectives of marriage remains procreation, and that holds true for India too. This makes the choice of some couples to not have children a hard one to digest for families and others. 

While Chandrika’s parents did not object to her decision of not wanting to have kids, her mother-in-law had a much harder time. “She even implied that I was infertile! I asked her how she knew the problem wasn’t with her son and that they should bring this up when Ramesh was home and not with me alone,” Chandrika says. 

Eventually though it appears that Ramesh’s mother had to come to terms with it. “It helped that my younger sister got married and had children,” he says. 

But Shreya’s* and Arun’s* decision to not have children was governed by different factors. The Bengaluru-based couple are 32 and got married two years ago. For Shreya who comes from a conservative family, this is her first taste of freedom and she is in no mood to give it up. But more than that, it is her sister’s experience with two children and an awareness of her own needs and desires makes her believe that having children is not her cup of tea.  

Shreya’s sister is an air hostess, which means she is constantly on the move. Living with her parents before marriage, Shreya would usually help her parents look after the children. “It’s not that I don’t like kids, but taking care of them made me realise how much work it is. There’s also the post-delivery stress and depression which I’d rather not go through,” she says. She also noticed with her friends that their husbands aren’t as willing to contribute to child-rearing, which puts many restrictions on their lives.

Shreya says that she has never been the “responsible” kind: cooking or maintaining a home have never caught her fancy. She adds that she enjoys attention, and noticed how it shifted to the kids from the pregnant mother in her sister’s case. “Maybe I’m being selfish, but I know it would bother me. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for the sort of emotional responsibility which comes with having children,” Shreya asserts.

Shreya’s view is something of a taboo for women, who are epitomised at their selfless best in media and in real life. There is also the stereotype of women being “natural” caregivers, which makes it all the more difficult for them to opt out of motherhood.

Feminist writer Urvashi Butalia, in an evocative essay on not being a mother for Livemint talks about these notions. She says that she was called a “natural” mother by a former partner simply because she loved kids. Her own mother worries about her unmarried, childless status and suggests that she adopt a child. Urvashi questions if wanting someone around when you grow old is reason enough to adopt.

Shreya’s mother tells her that she should have at least one child for the same reason. While the “who will take care of you when you are lonely and old?” argument does not convince Arun, the fear of being lonely does bother him on some nights.  But both he and Ramesh say that the idea is rather selfish and may not materialise in the end. “My parents are also quite old and live by themselves. I go visit them once in a while; that’s how it is for many people,” Arun argues.

Moreover, Ramesh’s experience tells a different story: “It has always been just the two of us so our companionship has always been solid. We enjoy having our time to ourselves and spending as we please,” he says.

For Arun, the emotional vulnerability which comes with having children in today’s world also keeps him from wanting to have his own: “Being a part of today’s society is nothing short of a never-ending rat race. I don’t want to bring another life into a world where we cannot protect children from corrupt influences and are unable to give them a childhood outside of gadgets and computer games,” he maintains.

“I know I will want to protect them, but at the same time you cannot impose your will on others. It will create conflicts I don’t think I will be ready for,” he adds.

Arun hasn’t told his parents about his and Shreya's decision yet. He admits that there is pressure from them but he’s just trying to buy time. “I’m hoping that they will be happy when my younger brother gets married and has children. In any case, it’s better if they think that I haven’t ruled it out yet or they will worry unnecessarily,” he chuckles.

Ramesh, who has been a professor at a journalism college in Bengaluru since 2003, also notices that many of his students are unwilling to have children these days. “I think career and money has become much more important to the younger generation than it was to us. And perhaps they are unsure of how long their relationships may last. Having a child then makes it more difficult,” he opines.

Designer Suchismita Dasgupta discusses this fragility of relationships in an interview to Amrita Mukherjee for the latter’s blog, raising the problem of ‘bandaid’ children – when couples have children hoping that will save their relationship. Although she has been called “selfish” for her decision to not have kids, she says, a child shouldn’t just “happen”. Especially in case of parents looking to repair their own marriage, the situation puts undue pressure on the child to “cope with the constant competition between the parents for attention”, Suchismita says. 

Ultimately, for these men and women, affection towards children does not translate into wanting parenthood. Suchismita’s “sudden motherhood rushes”, as she puts it, are satiated by being the favourite aunt to her nieces and nephews. Arun and Shreya too, love spending time with their nieces and nephews. Ramesh even mentored a child for a year at an NGO called “Dream A dream” (which works with and for underprivileged children in Bengaluru) and the couple love having their friends’ children around.

(*Names changed on request)

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