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Podcast Ep. #2- Bronagh Fleming

In this episode, I have a great conversation with Bronagh Fleming about her choice to be childfree. Bronagh is a really interesting person, with a wide range of passions and interests. You can follow her at to see her wonderful interior styling ideas.

Bronagh is approaching glorious middle age with the hope that people will stop asking her when she and her partner are going to have children! She highlights the importance of finding like minded people to feel connected to and supported by.

Episode Transcript

Margaret O Connor 0:12

Welcome to the Are Kids For Me podcast. This podcast is for you if you have ever asked, or are currently asking yourself this question. It's a big question which can be hard to answer for lots of reasons. I'm hoping to provide you with some information that can help. In each episode, I will speak to people with personal and/or professional experience in this area. My own name is Margaret O Connor. I'm a counselor and psychotherapist who offers specialist counseling on this topic. I conducted my Master's research on how women in Ireland make the decision to become mothers or not. And I really, really love talking about this topic. I hope you find it useful!

Today I am joined by Bronagh Fleming. Bronagh lives in Limerick. She is a digital content creator, interior stylist and color consultant. You can see her wonderful creations on Instagram if you follow Fox Hollow style. She's child free by choice and is welcoming glorious middle age as maybe then people will stop asking when she and her partner are going to have children. As soon as I thought about doing this podcast, I knew I wanted to talk to Bronagh. She's a very warm, funny and interesting person. We talked about what being child free is like for her, the range of passions that she pursues, and the importance of finding like minded people to feel connected to. I hope you enjoy.

Okay, hi, Bronagh. Oh, you're so welcome. I'm really glad you're here today and to talk to you about this topic.

Bronagh Fleming 1:48

Thanks, Margaret. I'm delighted to be here to chat to you.

Margaret O Connor 1:51

Brilliant. So I suppose I thought a good question to start with maybe would be to ask was it a decision or a realization you came to that maybe you didn't want to have children?

Bronagh Fleming 2:03

It was always something I think I've known. I think from a young age. I didn't ever really see myself as a maternal person. I didn't see myself like from very young age, I didn't see myself at any stage with children. Whatever factors around me I just still it didn't seem to change that. But there was no lightning bolt moment of realization like that. It didn't happen that like that. It was as I got older and say from my 20s onwards, it became, it was something like a whisper there, and it just became a louder and louder voice. And for me, I think I went through all the milestones, I got married, all those kinds of things, bought a house, bought a different house, all those fun things, I did all that and it still was there, it still wasn't changing, wasn't changing who I was, and then I spoke at your event two years ago. When you launched that and that was a huge catalyst for me because it was the first time I spoke about it publicly, the first time I recognized that publicly, this wasn't what I wanted. You know, it wasn't what I wanted, maybe it was just different.

Margaret O Connor 3:15

Okay. And I suppose just to say so when I launched, it was the Are Kids For Me counselling service. So we had a launch event and had about four different speakers. So with yourself being the childfree rep, and somebody who was childless, somebody who was talking very much about the decision making process, and we had somebody who had done research on single mothers in Ireland, so I suppose we were really trying to have as many different perspectives as possible. Okay, I don't think I realized that that was your first.. can we call it a coming out?! (laughter)

Bronagh Fleming 3:50

(laughter) Yes yes! She won't go back in the box now!

And so that was my first, the few days leading up to it, I decided to put it on social media to say I was doing it. And it was the first time that I had done this. and I got massive support. I was really surprised. The amount of people that messaged me, the amount of people that messaged me to say that they were the same, people I never knew, I mean it's their business, it was never my business. But a lot of people messaged me say, you know what, I'm in the same boat. Some people messaged say that they had always wondered themselves and had kids since then and and their struggles around that. But it brought a whole new realm to me. And I didn't realize that there was so many people like that.

Margaret O Connor 4:43

Were you nervous? Were you expecting kind of a bad response?

Bronagh Fleming 4:45

I was expecting a bad response. I was I was because I suppose over the years, the way people speak to you when you say you don't want kids or you don't have kids...people can make quite flippant remarks and they probably don't realize a lot of the time, what that feels like to be on the receiving end. And so when I came out and said, I'm child free by choice, this is my life, this is.. I'm doing this, I'm going to be speaking at this event and all of a sudden, it just, it was like a weight lifted and I didn't even realize at that point how much it was going to.. what a positive effect it was going to have and the peace it brought as well.

Margaret O Connor 5:32

Okay, well, that's that's really lovely to hear. So, you didn't really realize it had been causing you any kind of stress before that. But once you actually came out and said it, something shifted?

Bronagh Fleming 5:44

Yeah. I mean, obviously people in my private life knew. Yeah, my family, my mom, my sister, my partner. I mean, there's never any pressure or anything there and everyone knew, everyone who knew me knew but not in the wider aspect.

Margaret O Connor 6:00

I'm interested to see for some people it's quite a defining part of their lives, and for other people it is just another aspect of themselves. How do you think this sits for you?

Bronagh Fleming 6:09

It is just another aspect of me. And I think for me, I suppose I thought at the time that I did speak about it.. It was probably actually back more in my 20's, it would have felt like it was a defining thing because there was that pressure, not as I said from family or anything, but that societal pressure was there. And I felt that, I suppose I felt like there was something wrong with me really a lot of the time because I didn't know other people felt like this. And so once I accepted it, and once I acknowledged it., and once I spoke at the launch event, as I say it did bring that kind of peace. And no it is literally just one aspect of the person that I am. It's not a defining feature at all. It's just like being right handed or having hay fever, you know, it's just another thing about me.

Margaret O Connor 6:09

Okay. And do you think it's impacted your life, like has it meant that you've been able to do certain things that maybe you wouldn't otherwise have done?

Bronagh Fleming 7:22

I have definitely got freedom that I probably wouldn't have had. I mean, but has it impacted... I suppose the way I look at it is my life is just my life. So my foundation of my life is no different really, to anyone else that has the same you know, moral value as I do. I mean, it's, it's, it's just that one aspect of that I don't have but my life is a very positive life, it is a very happy life. And it's, you know..

Margaret O Connor 8:01

Yeah, I really like.. I think even in your introduction like you, you do a lot of things, you have variety, you have different jobs in different areas. Is that something you always wanted to do?

Bronagh Fleming 8:11

Yeah that's something I always wanted to do. Yeah, there's a real freedom Yeah, the fact that you don't have that hold on you.. I've always been fiercely independent. And I've always been. I've always just wanted to march to the beat of my own drum. I know that's a really overused term! But I think I've always just wanted to.. if I want to do a night class next week, I can just do that. I don't have to think about how it's going to impact my time or you know, there's.. so I have all that freedom. If I decide to start a new business, that's okay to do that. I can take that risk. I don't have to worry about, obviously the mortgage..(laughter) pay the mortgage, pay the mortgage and pay the bills. Yeah, that's it. So I don't have to worry about what I can do with my time or how I give my time.

Hhmm..yeah. And does that ever get boring? (laughter)

(laughter) No that never gets boring! I came home one day and I bought a ukulele. So there you go that's the kind of stuff..I'm taking it up..god love him! So no it never gets boring, you just have your own freedom and it's I've always been that person who has always wanted my own space as well as my own freedom. I'm I'm kind of an introvert as well at some some points. And I was like that when I was younger as well. I like my own space. I love my own time. And all those things are really important to me. And there's, I have that, I can still I enjoy that all the time.

Margaret O Connor 9:50

And I'm not being flippant, but as well sometimes I think people think you know, what do you do? And that is part of what I want to show in this podcast is like you can live a very happy, childfree life if that's what you want. And so with the time that you have you quite easily fill it and you're not bored!

Bronagh Fleming 10:11

I know, people with children think what do you do all day, (laughter) I lie in bed all day, what do you think I do? I'm on a quest for the best lie ins ever? No. I mean, of course you fill the time. Oh my God. That's the thing about being child free, versus.. not versus, there is no versus in this but being child free or having kids.. My time is as valuable as anybody else's time. And that's something that people forget.. people can impose on you sometimes for your time because they don't see the value of your time. It means just as much. Everyone's just got a finite amount of time. Mine means just as much as anybody elses.

Margaret O Connor 11:00

So there might be a presumption that you're more available..

Bronagh Fleming 11:03

Yes, yeah, that's what comes across. I mean, that concept. That's not just in personal life, but in a working life as well. And that's a big thing. That you're more available, you know, you can do the early shift, you can do the late shift, you don't have to pick up a child in the creche. You don't have to look, I have to go already because I have to go, you know, to a game. So that kind of stuff, it belittles your time. But I need people to realize everyone's time is their own. Yeah, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if I'm just going home to read a book, it still has to be evenly divided.

Margaret O Connor 11:45

Okay..And I suppose we've kind of covered maybe this already, but I'm always interested to see if people do share the fact that they're child free. So I mean, sometimes you can be asked about whether you have children or not in quite strange, and very random places. (laughter)

Bronagh Fleming 12:05

Really strange! (laughter) Yeah.

Margaret O Connor 12:07

Do you have kind of a policy on it or do you..?

Bronagh Fleming 12:09

I didn't but it used to happen to me before I spoke at your event. Probably going back.. I've been married for donkey's years now..we are 15 years married, on the night we got married, we had a party the night we got married and people started asking me then and you know, that's it's petered out now thank God. As I say middle age is fantastic (laughter). But I think people would sometimes make the assumption that you're obviously having problems with fertility issues or marriage issues. I don't know. And not that I ever said obviously I didn't. People would always assume those kind of thing not always, some people would assume that. Yeah. Then when people would ask me directly, I would say things like 'it's not for us' and hoped they would just leave it there. I was very shy about saying it, I was a bit embarrassed about saying it because I didn't realize there were so many other people like me. But then I realized there was and as I say then two years ago I spoke at the event. And then it did, that literally did change so much for me. So now if people ask me, do I have kids or have I kids or am I having kids? I say no, no, I'm really happily child free by choice. And they can get quite.. they don't really know what to do with me like I'm oversharing when they're the ones that just asked me about my womb (laughter). I just feel like that they don't really know what to do with that information because people are really uncomfortable with it. And I'm really happy to talk about it. Yes, I literally look for people to tell on the street (laugher).

Margaret O Connor 13:52

And that's the reason I thought I may as well make a podcast because I talk to everybody about this anyway! (laughter)

Bronagh Fleming 13:57

And it is the reason I said yes (laughter)

Margaret O Connor 14:02

And have you had any negative reactions?

Bronagh Fleming 14:07

I've had a lot over the years, I've had a lot of the whole you'll change your mind. There seems to be like certain milestones that people think when you've reached that you will if, you know, say when I was 18, saying I don't want to have a child, people do not take that seriously. And as you know, I met my husband when I was 20. So, as I went along, as life went along, and we got married, we bought, a house we moved and bought a different house, all those things, people say, are you now going to change your mind, because they think like a friend said, Well, you know, the house that we're in now, Fox hollow, she kind of said, I said, well that's our forever home and she was, well now we're going to have a child. But it doesn't work like that. It didn't.. that didn't change, my forever home is still my forever home.

Margaret O Connor 15:00

Do you think it was an age thing? Like, is that why people stop asking?

Bronagh Fleming 15:05

Yeah, it probably is. I mean, I mean, I'm 45 now so I suppose yeah, I people, you know, I mean we're together a really long time. Like, yeah, we're together longer at this stage than I don't know. Yeah, we're 20 odd years together now. So it's a long time so people will stop asking. I don't think he gets asked as much as me now. That's a whole other story though. And, and, yeah, I presume at this stage people know if anyone out there doesn't know what the stage then I'd be happy to tell them! (laughter)

Margaret O Connor 15:39

Okay, and has it ever impacted your friendships because it sounds like it was pretty okay with your family..

Bronagh Fleming 15:48

No with family, no. I know that it's not, it's kind of the exception more than the rule in Ireland. The kind of family that I've had. It's just my mother, my sister. Yeah, you know, I just was like look I don't think this is for me. Uh, nobody was like what, there was no shock or anything.

Margaret O Connor 16:07

Oh right. It's odd to say that you're very lucky.

Bronagh Fleming 16:12

Yeah, it is sad to say but like they're my two closest female relatives and obviously I said it to them and there was never any judgments on that side of it...I'm just wondering what was the question again?!

Margaret O Connor 16:24

I was just wondering in terms of friendships, has it ever caused difficulties maybe

Bronagh Fleming 16:27

Yes, sorry, friendships! not with the.. I wouldn't have a massive social circle anyway. It's kind of a few friends and you know yourself good friends are like gold dust, you just hold on to them. And so those people no, it hasn't impacted those friendships. But I have had friends that have had children and then have said things like, you know, you'd go to visit them and you are holding the baby and they go, you know what you'd make a really good mother, and it is this unsolicited and unsolicited projection on you. So I just and I don't, obviously people don't mean in a bad way I know that. But all of a sudden they're taken away from just who you are, you know, am I not just enough as I am as the person that I am right here?

Margaret O Connor 17:15

Oh ok, would you ever address that?

Bronagh Fleming 17:19

I probably no, I didn't, I never really addressed, now I would (laughter) because now I've learned the power of just speaking up a bit more about it, but I think, but then again, it's an age thing that most people know. I suppose it's, I'm lucky I'm at the other side of it really.

Margaret O Connor 17:35

Okay. And even in terms of I suppose people can find it challenging if maybe a lot of their friends or family are having children. And maybe you're feeling left out of that or a bit isolated, did that ever happen? Was there kind of a phase of time where lots of other people in your life were having children?

Bronagh Fleming 17:53

No, as I say, I'm not really one for a big social circle or anything like that. And I know people do talk about like, you know, you'd see if people are going to like thirty weddings a year, because you know, they're in that those kind of groups. And they'll start and you know, they're going to be hitting where everyone's having babies at the same time. But I have a few friends across groups, across ages, and they're so precious to me, but they didn't.. I think they are all mothers, yeah a good few of them are, but it just has never been an impact. I've never felt isolated from anything.

Margaret O Connor 18:31

Okay, that's good. Cool. And this was another thing that comes up and is something I really want to address in this podcast. As you said, there are kind of milestones so if you're having children, I mean, time tends to kind of fill itself. There's a lot of things to do there for a stretch of time. And if you're thinking about being child free, sometimes it can feel like there's a bit of a void, like what do you do? What does child free life look like, because we don't have many representations in the media. So yeah, I'm going to ask what does child free life look like for you? Big question (laughter)!

Bronagh Fleming 19:12

It's glorious! (laughter) As I say, a 10 hour lie ins, no. Child free life.. it's a life. It's still a really good life. It's a happy life and what kinds of things do we do.. like what other people do. And we have time, we both have time to do things. My husband's an artist. So he has time for that. I have time to be creative. And I have time to also just sit on the sofa looking out the window (laughter). And the fact that we don't, I mean, it's like somebody said about lockdown. You're either.. there's two only two levels. You're either cleaning skirting boards or staring at squirrels outside the window. And so you just have time, your life is your life, my life is just really happy. Like okay, I'm happy where I am, I am loved, I love other people. That's all anyone could ever want.

Margaret O Connor 20:09

That's wonderful. And it's just so important for people to hear that because we tend to think that it's going to be empty and boring and cold. And I was going to say filled with 500 cats, that's not necessarily a bad thing but it's generally not projected as a good thing. And so it doesn't have to be, so it is just to clarify, it is very possible..

Bronagh Fleming 20:27

It is, it is, it is your life and your life is worth as much as anybody else's. Just because you don't have children does not make you less of a person. It doesn't make your life any less valuable. And the way you spend your time any less valuable. That's a huge thing, time is the big thing.

Margaret O Connor 20:46

Okay. And it is that time that allows you to kind of fulfill your passions as well. That's something I really like about you. You're interested in so many different things.

Bronagh Fleming 20:56

Yeah. Who knows what tomorrow will bring with me really?! (laughter) And there's just that freedom. I can pick up and go. Obviously I can't right now because there is lockdown but before lockdown, actually on the day that lockdown happened I was in Dublin for an event. I just said, okay, I decided on a Monday I'm going to go to this on Thursday and off I went. Obviously I picked up and came back pretty rapidly but there there is that freedom. And there's the freedom just to hop in the car and go somewhere and to take on jobs, take on roles, to take on projects.

Margaret O Connor 21:36

And you're obviously really open to that, you're open to kind of possibility and opportunities as they come up.

Bronagh Fleming 21:41

Absolutely. I think there was about two years ago, I kind of did this whole year of saying yes to a lot of things and that's why I said yes to your event as well. But there was a few things and I think my natural inclination, I can be a little bit timid about things My natural inclination is to go no no I can't do that I wouldn't be good at that, and I just said no I will actually do that. And once I said yes to something, it all started changing and then there was just more opportunities and more work and there's just a lot of different things happening.

Margaret O Connor 22:19

Okay, that's really interesting! I suppose there's two questions and I know when I put these on the list, they're kind of sarcastic questions. So we we've done the one with what do you do with all your time? The other question that tends to get asked a lot, which I think makes everyone cringe, but who is going to look after you when you're old Bronagh? (laughter) What plan do you have in place for this?

Bronagh Fleming 22:38

(laughter) I was going.. and don't know if I told you this before but I was going off to Italy on holiday. I was going for two weeks with my husband, off to Tuscany. And it was I couldn't wait and I went in to get a pedicure with a girl that I had never met before and she was doing the pedicure and we were chatting away and I was all excited. And she said to me something about kids and I said no, no, I don't have kids and I don't want kids. And then she said to me, and she was horrified, who is going to look after you when you get old? And I couldn't get away from her with my feet in a bubble bath. And she's like, Who's Who? who is going to look after you when you are old? Like you're gonna die alone and oh, it was awful. I have never gone back obviously. But I just remember thinking wow, imagine having a child, imagine being such forward planner that you have a child to mind you. What happens if they move to Australia, and you know, that happens now, people go other places. And it's a really such a macabre question, isn't it? And people want to know things like that. Who knows? Who knows? Who knows what's around the corner?

Margaret O Connor 23:43

Ok, so it's not something you actively plan for right now?

Bronagh Fleming 23:43

No, no, no. The one thing I do and I have gone to a few of the Death Cafes here and this the one thing that has come up is people talking about graves, because it's death cafe and I have a friend who has a few kids, they said oh I want to be buried somewhere they can call in and mind the grave and I thought oh, that's you know you're putting that on somebody.. So just so it's out there I want to be cremated. (laughter) Okay? throw me off the Cliffs of Moher, cremated or my ashes whatever but yeah that's it's a big thing I wouldn't expect anyone.. put a bench somewhere (laughter) .I'm not so sure and but yeah it's a terrible thing to put on people that you will mind me when I'm old, you will you know, you'll mind my grave when I'm gone you know it's it's not fair to somebody. That's not a legacy.

Margaret O Connor 24:39

Yeah, and I suppose that's another word that comes up a lot and because I suppose a lot of people..and if that's what you feel that's fine, but I suppose to kind of see children as being their legacy, what they are leaving behind or carrying on either their family name or traditions and things like that. Do you? Do you think about legacy?

Bronagh Fleming 24:59

I probably don't just like.. I see, my husband's an artist, and I think that when I see his paintings going off, I love the fact that they're going. They come from our house and they're going off around the world and they're becoming part of somebody else's home. It's part of him. Do I have the same, no digital content isn't quite the same. I don't think anyone's going to want to inherit my Instagram account or my website, (laughter) but no, I don't know what kind of legacy I'd leave. Who knows? Maybe I have got a great book that I haven't written yet inside me somewhere.. who knows who knows.

Margaret O Connor 25:37

But it's interesting because these words and very heavy concepts come up and as you said, people just ask you, people that you don't know, like, think it's okay to ask you those questions in the middle of a pedicure (laughter). That's uncomfortable (laughter)

Bronagh Fleming 25:51

(laughter) Yeah it's an existential crisis in the middle of a pedicure (laughter).

Margaret O Connor 25:55

Absolutely. And, I'm often struck by, exactly as you said how hard it is to plan ahead for those things, and yet I suppose when people have a child, and again it's impossible to plan what's going to happen, there are so many variables along the way, but again that's not really questioned, it's just assumed that it will work out and that they're sure that's the right thing to do.. so it never quite seems balanced to me.

And the last kind of question, and I hate asking this but again, you probably have been asked before.. Do you have any regrets?

Bronagh Fleming 26:30

About not having kids, absolutely not, no. I regret not telling people to mind their own business more (laughter). I regret not finding other people like me earlier. I regret that because I felt really lonely for a time and I felt quite scared because I thought there was something wrong with the way that I, the way I saw things because there seems to be this moral obligation on people to have children when that doesn't exist, nobody needs to. Women do not need to have children. Yeah, I know it's society. And I know in the wider sense, it's still looked on as the be all and end all. You know, it's the pinnacle of success for a woman to have a child.I'm not talking about women, I mean in media and advertising and all those things. And I just regret that I didn't find people like me sooner, but now, it's fine because I have. And I just I think it's just really healthy to talk about it. I mean, if and if somebody is questioning it now and they're not sure how they feel if it's right or wrong. I mean, try and find people that have the same values as you, you know, talk to people ask them about their decision because it does make it that bit easier.

Margaret O Connor 28:02

Okay. Okay, brilliant. Yeah, I was going to ask you your advice for people and we were even chatting before like, it seems to come in waves every now but at the moment there's loads of stuff which is which is fantastic. O social media and in the media, and it's being discussed in lots of different formats, which is brilliant and I really think as you said, maybe just spend some time, kind of immerse yourself and see what sits with you and what doesn't yet

Bronagh Fleming 28:28

Yeah, have the conversation that you need to have, with people you know, try and drive out the other stuff and then just focus on what you need to know to make a make your own decision. There's so much information out there and there's so many people happy to talk about it. I know when put it on social media I got a huge response. And even after that, I think I spoke to Maria Moynihan as well and the Irish country magazine. Again, another wave of response from that as well which was all positive, all positive. That's people just saying that they felt the same and they didn't know, they just didn't realize that there was someone else like them out there.

Margaret O Connor 29:16

Because I suppose statistics are showing that it will be.. I always get this wrong because numbers... that it's going to be one in five women by the time they I think they named forty five as being finished your childbearing years, and that's one in five who won't have children by the time they reach that age. Now that can be mixed with people who can't have them but also people who choose not to have them like that is a large group that you're looking at.

Bronagh Fleming 29:44

There's no representation of that and then we're still in the wider sense, we're still living in this pronatalist society where it's just pushes it everywhere, you know, you know yourself it is the media and advertising and all of those things.

Margaret O Connor 30:02

Do you have any kind of child free role models, any TV shows or any areas you think there is good representation in?

Bronagh Fleming 30:13

I was just was thinking about this. And I think, for me the whole thing about childfree in the media or child free like celebrities, it doesn't sit that well with me, because there's such a massive focus on watching women to see whether they're going to become pregnant. It's just at saturation point. I don't know how the likes of Jennifer Aniston like, how does she do? I know I suppose she just tunes it out, or any other woman, I guess her name comes up because she's, and we know nothing about her, about why her reasons is she she doesn't have children. We don't know. And it's just this obsession. So it's really unhealthy. I think for as regards to role models, there were no role models for me growing up, because it just wasn't seen whether it was there or not, it wasn't seen. But I think now, role models would be people that you can actually have a conversation with, that you can talk to, that can mentor you. And that have the same values as you. And the same beliefs as you really. Anyone who can show that there's a good happy life to be had like this. They're real in real life.

Margaret O Connor 31:29

Yeah that's really interesting. And thankfully, I think with social media I know, there's a lot of bad things, but it's a really good way to to find people like that

Bronagh Fleming 31:37

Really good. Yeah.

Margaret O Connor 31:43

Okay, is there anything we haven't covered or anything else you'd like to bring up?

Bronagh Fleming 31:48

No, I think we got it. I think so.

Margaret O Connor 31:51

Absolutely. Yeah. Thank you so much. I really, really appreciate you sharing so much, and we'll look forward to the next project.

Bronagh Fleming 31:59

Yay! Thank you.

Margaret O Connor 32:01

Thank you.

Thanks very much to my guests for taking part and to you for listening. I would love to hear your feedback and any suggestions for other topics you would like to see covered in this series. I would also love to build a community of like minded people, so please follow the 'Are Kids For Me' pages on Facebook and Instagram if you want to find out more on this topic. I look forward to hearing from you and watch out the next episode soon.

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