Auntie Melanie, you hit on a GREAT topic!
I'm 40 now, and I chose very early on (teens) not to have any children of my own. HOWEVER, I absolutely adore kids, and find it interesting that at some point in every relationship (friend, family, neighbors, co-workers, etc) I have to eventually explain the reasons behind this choice. Dare I say defend it?
Yes, I dare.
I wrote a paper about women in the U.S. workforce. As of 1972 only 23% of women were in the workforce. ( All data for this information came from census reports—links provided here http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/2000/cb00-211.html) as of 2000 it was 72% (same census reporting as source). The age women started having children from 1972 to now has also increased dramatically. I propose that the need society has for us to defend our childlessness stems from Western Civilization's evolution of what a woman's primary role is to society.
It's a social thing- that is my short answer, I suppose. Some interesting conversations I've had only recently--
* Co-worker- You're just one of those strong no-bullsh%# professional women- don't need a guy, you're moving up, you're obviously not the mothering type, so that won't slow you down.- there was so much packed into this comment I wasn't sure what to address first! To be fair this came on the heels of a Congratulations on the career change comment. Since I feel quite certain I'd be a great mom, had I chosen it (we can get to choice later), I could let the dig roll off. However, combined with slow you down? Mothering can slow you down professionally, sure. The fact that this comment came from a woman (whom I like) showed it wrapped in the occasionally jealousy of the Professional Working Mom the PANK. Just a grass-looks-greener-on-the-otherside moment, and best responded to with deeper understanding and carefully worded support and correction-- I'd love have a man!
*Date- Really, you don't want kids at all? You seem so loving and sweet.-- now granted he was a about 7 yrs younger than me and just told me he wanted to wait and have kids when he was 40. Since, I am 40 and women have a finite window in which to choose (haven't forgotten the choice subject) I expressed nicely that I didn't see kids of my own as part of my future. Even though I've heard this one so often in some form or another, it still floors me! Somehow you have to nicely defend the case that not having children of your own doesn't mean you are an emotionally vacant harpie/barracuda.
Finally, a big reason this need to defend our childlessness comes up is that a massive number of women now have an active choice of when and if they will have children. It's still a relatively new concept to CHOOSE not to have children until your 30's, after career or personal goals....or not at all. Society will come around, it's just a new option women (couples) have embraced faster than our social contract can be ratified.
Until then, I'll continue with my patent answer, No, don't have any children of my own, but don't worry I really do love kids!...or with your help, I'm a P.A.N.K.--trust me, it's GREAT!
Hope this helps ya!