Challenging Assumptions, Changing Lives: An Interview with Nina Steele

Nina Steele

Today’s interview is with Nina Steele, the 42-year old founder of nonparents.com.

Can you tell me about yourself?

I am originally from the Ivory Coast, now a British citizen. In short, I am a British Ivorian.

In terms of which ethnic groups, I would rather be known as Ivorian as opposed to a specific ethnic group. This is because ethnicity in Africa, and the Ivory Coast , has  become a highly divisive issue. People have lost their lives because of it, so I prefer the more inclusive approach of identifying myself as an Ivorian.

What do you do for work?

I work full time running nonparents.com. It’s a global community for people without children either by choice or circumstance. The site’s overriding aim is to promote a positive image of people without children. For far too long, the narrative has been that we are all destined to be parents, and that those without children are somehow missing out. The site debunks that myth by showing how fulfilling being a non-parent can be. From having more money to spare, to the freedom of doing all those things that parents often have to wait until the children have left home to start doing, the advantages of being a non-parent are endless.

Another myth the site has continuously challenged is the assumption that anyone without children will automatically suffer loneliness in old age, implying that parents always have their children around in old age to look after them. Well, I worked for an old people’s charity for eight years, and I can put that myth to bed. In my former job, the majority of elderly people who complained of being lonely had children. Being lonely in old age can strike anyone, regardless of whether they have children or not.

How long have you been childfree? Have you always known that you wouldn’t have children?

After trying to conceive for 9 years, my husband and I chose to accept that having children was never meant to be. Once we made the decision to stop trying, we never looked back. That was in 2013. In retrospect, I can see clearly that the only reason why I kept trying was because I had bought into the narrative that having children is a must for every couple. Not only that, coming from an African culture where having children is viewed as a person’s greatest achievement contributed to warping my view about what constitutes a life well lived. But of course, I became enlightened and realized how misleading all this message about parenthood is. For example, many of my relatives in the Ivory Coast have children they cannot afford. Some of the children are left to fend for themselves. And of course, many of us know of children in Nigeria and other parts of Africa being abandoned for being witches. I mean, the utter hypocrisy of it!

How have your family and friends reacted to you being childfree?

There was resistance at first. Some of my relatives had assumed that we would end up adopting. Now that everyone can see how happy we are as a couple, the subject of children is seldom mentioned.

You mentioned your husband. How does your partner feel about you being childfree?

My husband was never keen on having children to begin with. It was me who wanted them at first because of all the societal pressures and cultural issues I mentioned before. He is as happy to be childfree as I am.

Do you feel that society is accepting of your decision?

My relatives have certainly accepted our choice to be childfree. As for society, overpopulation (and all the issues that come with it) is forcing people to reassess their views on children. It is now obvious that finite resources cannot sustain an ever growing population. Not only that, increased pollution and damage to the environment are linked to overpopulation. These are issues that will affect all of us.

Do you think your advocacy is contributing to changing ideas about being childfree in general and for black people in particular?

My website is translated in 30 languages and so reaches people in all corners of the globe. I feel strongly about educating people about the benefits and advantages of being childfree. For too long, the narrative has been negative around this issue. But thankfully, people are now waking up to the reality that parenthood is far from the ideal we have been made to believe that it is.

As for black people in particular, I  believe that social media and the Internet in general are helping many see that parenthood is not the only way. Many people from Africa have reached out to me through social media to tell me how much finding my website has changed their lives. A woman from Nigeria whose husband left her because she could not conceive went from being totally depressed to being empowered, thanks to nonparents.com. She is one of many, and that’s just the beginning. As the site continues to grow, I anticipate that many more lives will be impacted positively, wherever people happen to be in the world.

Photo credit: Nina Steele

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No, You DO Want to Date! Single-Shaming and the Childfree African

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I came to party on my own

Four years ago, I made the decision, after an awful date (not entirely unlike Grace’s encounter with Aziz Ansari), to stop dating men.

I’m not going to go into details, about what happened, but it was an awful date. I did what people screaming on the internet about how Grace should’ve said no and was ridiculous to expect Aziz Ansari to be a mind reader (I’m not going to give any of those garbage takes clicks, but you can find them if you Google.) I said the word “No” explicitly and repeatedly, and dude didn’t give a shit.

I deleted him from Facebook, and he sent me a message saying “Oh! I see we’re not friends on Facebook anymore!” A month later, he sent me a message cussing me out for not fucking him. For context, this is a man that my roommate at the time set me up with, so I had gone into it expecting to not have to be on guard for rapey behavior.

So I quit dating. Prior to this, my entire dating experience had been with men, and to say that it had been awful would be an understatement. For some reason, any time people find out that I am no longer dating, I have experienced the whole range of disrespectful behaviors that childfree people are usually subjected to, only this time for a different reason.  From people asking me “What would you do if you met someone you really liked?” (Does “I don’t date” sound like “I’d be willing to date someone if I met someone I really liked”?), “Are you seeing anyone?” (What part of “I don’t date” makes you think I’d be seeing someone?), arguing with me nonstop (some nonsensical version of “You have to go out with guys”), giving me unsolicited sexist advice on dating men (“you see, men want a woman who will play hard to get” — how the fuck is that relevant? I don’t give a shit what men want) and even going as far as to bringing other people into the discussion to get them to gang up on me.

As embarrassing as it is to admit, my entire life, I assumed that I’d meet someone one day, because I had bought into the bullshit cultural narrative that “There’s someone for everyone!” (There is literally no evidence to back up this claim, but it’s often repeated as though it’s some kind of a universal truth.) I did once get engaged to someone, but that relationship didn’t work out. I  eventually came to terms with the fact that there is a huge disconnect with what I want from a relationship and what men actually do. Yet, people  find it extremely important to blatantly disrespect me and try to force their amatonormative  values on me, and try to argue me into continuing to put myself in harm’s way. As we’ve found out, even a man who’s made a name and tons of money off of marketing himself as a feminist ally, going as far as to write a book about modern romance, isn’t a safe person for a woman to be around. (There were already hints of this in his first stand-up, but I wrongly believed he had learned and evolved his ideas on women.)

So yeah, there might be a handful of good guys out there, but is it a good use of my time to keep putting myself in physical and emotional danger just on the off chance that I happen to meet one of the good ones, who also happens to be available, who I am attracted to and who is also attracted to me, and is also childfree?

Obviously, it’s not. I just can’t wrap my head around why people (and especially when it comes to women) find it so important that I devote my life to doing something that makes me absolutely miserable. I’ve taken a hard line on this: if you choose to treat me this way, I no longer have room for you in my life.

When I was in Ghana — mind you, I hadn’t even stopped dating then — the extremely religious, heteropatriarchal culture meant that all my family members and acquaintances had plenty of unsolicited commands about what I was meant to do with my life and my body — shit about me being single (like I’m just supposed to go to the boyfriend store and buy a boyfriend?), me not “giving a chance” to guys I was not at all interested in, not going out with every guy who demanded I do so simply because he demanded it, and not having children. These people didn’t know I was childfree. They just demanded that I “have kids now”, just because they said so.

People can choose to live their lives in a number of ways, and none of them require making themselves miserable just because other people say they need to. The amatonormative, natalist shit just needs to stop.  I live my life on my terms, not yours. The significance that people place on culture is disproportionate. People create culture, and people can change it.

Photo by Mpumelelo Macu on Unsplash