Why Choosing to Not Have Children is Okay

As a child, I was never interested in playing mother with baby dolls — I much preferred to make up elaborate soap opera-esque stories between my Barbies and Kens. Perhaps that should have been my first clue that the desire to be a mother did not exist within me.

Fast forward to high school, when my classmates were dreaming of their future weddings and the huge families they would one day have. I played along when I was asked how many children I wanted.

“One?” I would question.

“You’ll be a great mom,” they would tell me.

When I began dating as an adult, I was surprised by the number of men who wanted children one day — basically all of them. In my mid-twenties, I was in a semi-serious relationship with a guy in his thirties, and while he never spoke of marriage, he would often bring up the fact that he one day wanted children. Still figuring out for myself how long-term I wanted this relationship to become, I would usually just nod along in these conversations. One day I finally asked, “What if I don’t want children? Would that be a deal breaker?”

I knew his response before he spoke because he physically recoiled a foot away from me. Our relationship didn’t last very long after that.

About a week into dating my now husband, I asked him if he wanted children.

“Um, I don’t know — maybe? Probably not.”

The wave of relief that rushed over me was undeniable.

It’s strange to me how women are expected to want children, and any kind of hesitance is typically met with confusion and denial.

 

I have experienced the following responses when admitting that children are not in my future plans:

 

“You’ll change your mind one day.”

Probably the most common response anyone who is unsure of children will receive. This dismissive reply feels like commentary on lack of maturity — as if it is a “stage” one might grow out of one day and wisen up.

 

“But you’ll have such pretty babies!”

There is quite a bit that could be analyzed with this statement, starting with viewpoint that something should be created only if it is beautiful by society’s standards. But without getting into all of that, being curious about what my potential offspring would look like has never been motivating enough to bring a life into the world.

 

“Don’t you want your parents to have grandchildren?”

To take on a lifetime of responsibility so that my parents can have children around on holidays and the occasional weekend feels like an unfair request. It’s also a great assumption that our parents want grandchildren. I asked my father one day at breakfast if he felt like he was missing out if he never became a grandfather, and he quickly said, “Nope.” Perhaps there are those who, if given the option, would prefer to relax after rearing their own children and not be responsible for babysitting grandchildren.

 

“Don’t you want to have someone to take care of you when you are old?”

There is absolutely no guarantee that your children will want to be around you, let alone take care of you, once they are adults.

 

“It’s different with your own.”

Is it? This is usually in response to a child who is behaving badly, as if to say, your child wouldn’t be like that. Maybe they would — in fact, they probably would, because children experience frustrating emotions, and these emotions are typically expressed through a tantrum. Would I love the child through the tantrums? I’m sure. Would that love make those moments less difficult? Probably not.

 

The Physical Recoil

My ex-boyfriend isn’t the only one who has responded this way. I imagine it would elicit a similar response if I told someone I had a flesh-eating disease. This physical reaction is typically followed by one of the phrases mentioned above.

 

Source: Adam Griffith

 

Having children feels like the natural next step in adulthood once one is married, well into their thirties, and established in their career. Up until that point, there has been some kind of tangible goal to work toward, so it leaves one to wonder as they continue to progress: what am I working for?

There is also the fear of missing out (FOMO), which reveals itself in a couple of ways. One is the fear of missing out in the future. Will I regret not having children when I’m older? That is the biggest risk with just about any decision — will I have any regrets in the future. However, once again, there is no guarantee your children will be around when you are older. Consider the best case scenario: you have a child, they are a joy to raise, and they become super successful adults — then they move away and only come home to visit a handful of times a year. Is that parent any less alone than they would have been if they never had children?

 

Suddenly there is a certain exclusivity within a friend group that can only be penetrated if one becomes a mother.

 

Then there is the fear of missing out socially, which is a reason rarely admitted. Although motherhood is known to be isolating, there is actually quite a strong social aspect to it. Once your friends start having babies, the conversations that used to revolve around careers and relationships quickly shift to feedings, diaper changes, and daycare. There is no malice intended in leaving the childless out of the conversation, it is simply the subject that is most pervasive in a mother’s mind. Suddenly there is a certain exclusivity within a friend group that can only be penetrated if one becomes a mother.

To call a woman selfish for not wanting children is inaccurate. I have been guilty of blaming my lack of desire on selfishness because that seems to be the most satisfying reason for those who disagree. However, choosing to not have children is no more selfish than choosing to have them. In the end, people on both sides are choosing a certain kind of lifestyle for themselves, and each one has its benefits. Basically, any of those benefits could be classified as selfish. And being a little selfish isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We have to decide for ourselves what will make us happiest in life — thinking of the self.

 

Choosing to not have children is no more selfish than choosing to have them. In the end, people on both sides are choosing a certain kind of lifestyle for themselves, and each one has its benefits.

 

Source: Benjaminrobyn Jespersen

 

There is a perception that a woman, or a marriage for that matter, is not whole without a child. Several bloggers I have followed over the years write that they were not strong until they had a child. They did not have a true purpose in life until they had a child. Follow mothers on Instagram and it’s a similar story — they are posting photos and stories of playdates, feedings, and carpool, and although they admit to being exhausted, they reaffirm they wouldn’t have a true identity without their children — their life is much fuller and complete with children, and they have a newfound love for their spouse after children.

I’m not saying any of that is a lie — in fact, I’m sure it’s true for each of those women. However, this information can be confusing. It leads a woman to believe she will never love her spouse to the ultimate degree without children. It leads a woman to believe she will never achieve her complete strength or fulfillment in life without children.

 

There is a perception that a woman, or a marriage for that matter, is not whole without a child.

 

There are endless articles and books that state a person should feel content with oneself before entering into a relationship. For some reason, parenthood is left out of that conversation. In fact, if one is feeling incomplete, society seems to push parenthood as a solution  — maybe if the couple had a family together, they would have endured. If a person is unhappy with their life, a child is not going to fix it. If a person feels unloved in their marriage, a child is not going to fix it. The only achievement in those scenarios is bringing a life into an unhappy situation.

Ultimately, having children should be a choice and not a lock-step progression in life. Children are a lifelong responsibility, and the decision to have them should not be driven by societal pressure or be an attempt to fix an unhappy life. While it is natural for many women to desire children, there will always be the few who truly do not long to become mothers, and it should be okay to admit this and not be judged, excluded, or reprimanded.

  • Thank you! Your experience has been my life to a T! I’m 30 now and I’m honestly surprised that people have stopped asking me so much if I want children. My mom pestered me about it for years, telling me my weird hermit brother was probably never going to have offspring, so it was up to me to help make her a grandmother. I’m still firm – I don’t want them.

    I just don’t like children. I’m awkward around them, I don’t know how to act, and I can’t wait to hand them back off to their parents. It’s just not for me. Even if people say it’s different with “your own” – I don’t want to take the chance of being so squicked out by my own kid that I have to make my mother raise it. No bueno, man.

    I guess I’m also lucky in that all the people I’ve ever dated were pretty serious about not wanting kids, either, for various reasons. Hopefully that luck holds out!

    • Esther Greenwood

      I could have written this comment – with the exception that at 30, people are still bothering me about it. I can sense an attitude of general resignation and disappointment from my parents and in-laws that we do not want kids, but they leave us alone for the most part (the rest of our families, coworkers, and complete strangers are another story).

      I even also have a socially awkward brother who is probably never going to get married/have kids. Do you ever feel a tiny bit of guilt at being the only hope for grandkids for your parents? My feelings of guilt and resentment in this area probably stem from a life of feeling like I’m the one keeping my family together and at peace anyway, so apologies if this is in no way a universal thing 🙂

      • No, I absolutely feel that smidgen of guilt – like I need to make sure there are offspring to carry the ‘immediate family’ torch into the future or something. Or to give my mom the opportunity to babysit a small child again – she loves them, me not so much. I just have to remember that her desire to be surrounded by children is not something I’m responsible for.

        Same goes for your situation – having a baby definitely won’t ensure that peace reigns within a family unit and that’s a ridiculous kind of pressure to put on yourself (and a hypothetical child, lol) You might be surprised at how stable things remain if you step back, focus on you, and let your family worry about their own personal woes. It’s very freeing. 🙂

  • kayge

    I loved this article, thank you! I am 27, living with my boyfriend, have a very successful career, but am plagued with the constant nagging of family and societal pressures from friends to have a child. This hits home at a perfect moment in my life! If not for the pressures mentioned, then my boyfriend and I would not even think twice about having to decide whether or not to have children – it would be clear to us not to. Neither of us have the desire in the future once we get married to devote our lives to being parents. However, the pressure is mounting and I hope that if my choice is to not have a child, that I can live with the fear of choosing the wrong path.

    • Coline

      I agree, so much social pressure! If I hear someone telling me once more that I’d make a great mother…

  • Brittany Cerminara

    Love this honest post! It’s frustrating to be a successful, married adult and still constantly questioned about my childless life. Not only is it a thoughtful decision, I made with my partner, it’s also highly personal, which I don’t need to share with all inquiring minds.

  • Nailed it! I’m glad I’m not the only one that lacks the maternal instinct. Kids are fun to hang out with and give back to their parents but I don’t think I’d have enough patience to raise a child. I get aggravated when I can’t get the lid off my salsa so I know arguing with a tiny version of myself about animal crackers and apple juice wouldn’t be a battle I’d want. Most of my “mommy” friends have asked when I’m having a baby and I’m like “are you paying for this child too?”.

  • Coline

    Absolutely! For me, I don’t want children because I feel like I have played the mother role enough already (taking care of my little brother and sisters because our father died early and my mother had to work, babysitting…) and I know how much it asks of you. And this world we would bring our children into ? Not interested. I love my niece, I am a great aunt and will always be and that’s about it. Xo from France.

  • J. Richards (Diva Chronicles)

    YES! YES! YES! This is me! I get the ” You’ll change your mind or you haven’t me the right one” bit all the time. I was even asked what would I do if my future spouse wanted a child and I didn’t as if I had to give in to keep him. Then people have assumed I don’t like children, I do. I just know birthing one or few isn’t for me. The children and marriage questions started after I graduated college. I was just trying to get a job and my own place. One step at a time please?

  • Mallory Marie

    I can’t even begin to describe how much I love and appreciate this article. I’ve tried to write a lengthier comment to express how much I needed to read this right now. But, all I can say is just thank you … Thank you.

  • Dominique

    I absolutely loved reading this article! I am almost 30 and my boyfriend and I get questioned about this on almost a weekly basis! In the past, to combat the discomfort and guilt that these comments triggered, I would often make self-deprecating jokes about how I liked sleep too much to have a baby. Now though I am much more comfortable with my choice and I am able let people deal with their own discomfort around the issue, rather than feeling like I need to appease or reassure them. I especially love that you talked about the social implications of this choice though! I have often wondered how my relationships will be affected when my close friends start having children. Will we still have things in common? What will we talk about? Will I become that awkward “aunt” to all my friends’ children? It’s just nice to know that I’m not alone in my fears 🙂

  • Melissa

    Thank you, I’m so glad someone finally said this! I’m so sick of the ridicule and pity I get from others for not wanting children. Thankfully my husband is amazing and is equally as uninterested in children as well. However, he’s doesn’t understand or see the reactions from others I get for not wanting to be a mother. It’s as if we are less of a woman because we want different things in life. I’m so grateful to hear there are so many women who agree! It takes the sting out of the sidelong glances and disapproval from those who don’t “approve” of my decision, even if I (we) don’t need it.

  • Katia

    My husband has always wanted kids eventually and I was always thinking “maybe one day”. That one day keeps getting pushed off more and more because I realized I really just love my life right now and never really wanted kids in the first place.
    I think eventually I will have them for the sole fact my husband wants them (is that a bad reason??), and I’m sure I will love them. but in the same way I love my puppy sitting on my lap…

    Maybe need to read some articles of moms who have kids but still don’t feel that maternal instinct.

    • If your husband wants a kid, let him adopt! There’s no reason you should have go through the physical labor of growing another human being if you don’t want to.

    • Laura Fugotti

      I was you! I had no maternal instinct, I never was even around a baby until my daughter!!! <—That's crazy, who hasn't been around babies. Uh, this gal. My biggest fear was I wouldn't love our baby as much as I loved our two dogs and cat. Oh how I was wrong! If you believe in God, I believe he more than opens your heart to the overwhelming capacity to love and protect your child. If you don't, I think it(care for our offspring) is also in our DNA and a part of our primal evolutionary biology. I am a Biologist and Catholic so I get to believe in both 😉
      I can't think of a more selfless and loving gift to give your spouse. I think that is why we marry the person we do, because we feel the ability that we can give our lives in service to them and husbands vice versa. Also, being a Catholic, I cannot think of a greater purpose in my life than to cooperate with the eternal God in bringing immortal souls into existence! Such a glorious gift, ability and blessing women have been given.

  • Cassie Hamilton

    Thank you so much for sharing this article. I’m only 21 and half of the people I went to school with have already started families. For me personally I would prefer to be more secure by already owning a house or a business, and having some savings behind me so I’m in a more secure position. I personally don’t like kids at all at the moment. Every time a child screams in the supermarket I cringe, I don’t want to hold my friends baby’s, and I didn’t like wiping their slobber of high chairs while I was working in restaurants. I think I may change my mind when I am 28-30, but it would have to be with the right man and I would have to have every other aspect of my life completely set up before I could commit to it.
    I really liked the part where you said the children could grow up and move overseas so you still wouldn’t see them, making you just as lonely as someone without kids. It really put’s things into perspective. Thank you once again, for the fantastic read!
    @cassieamber__
    https://www.notyouraverage.info/

  • I am so grateful for every article/thinkpiece/reflection I read on this topic. I have never wanted children, despite working with them every day-I love them! It has become harder as I inch closer to thirty, mostly because of the dating aspect. I somehow only seem to meet men invested in becoming fathers-while my friends who do want children meet men who don’t, ha!
    It’s also lovely to see in the comments other women sharing this experience. It can feel very lonely and this helps so much.

  • HisGirlFriday

    I would actually argue that those who have children are the selfish ones in this age of rapid climate change, as overpopulation is one of the largest factors in this world-destroying problem.

  • Ceci

    As a happily married woman who is closer to 40 than 30, thank you for this! For the slightly younger ladies out there… I’m sorry to say you will continue to get asked about having children and continue to have people assume you will still have children eventually. You’ll get the added fun of having your doctor also ask you about this because once you cross 35, you’re “high-risk” from an ob/gyn perspective and nearing that potential “danger zone” for not being able to conceive. My husband and I are happily childless. I know we’ve had more conversations about (not) having children than any of our friends or family members that have had children had (if they even had a real conversation about it). But the pressure is hard for sure!! Society “tells us” this is what we should do. As an only child I’m my mom’s only hope (though she is OK with our decision (or does a really good job faking it) after a couple of years of explaining to her). My husband is the older of two boys and my brother and sister-in-law are popping out babies already. But seriously, having children is no joke. All the time, all the money, all the commitment, all the worrying… Not our cup of tea. And while we’re fairly confident we would make amazing parents and would raise high quality human beings (especially my husband who is one of the greatest humans I know), we simply don’t want that for ourselves right now and most likely never will. And we’ve already talked about that if we eventually do decide we want children and we’re “older,” then we’ll adopt a child.

  • Great article!
    I just turned 40, am very happily to the most marvelous man, and have known for the past 20 years that I didn’t want to have children. They are not my thing, I love my life as it, I feel “whole” just with myself (I’m even a bit too much sometimes), my husband is my perfect family.
    When we got married people asked the usual question a few times, said we would change our minds. Now hey have stopped. They have to manage their own marriage and children struggles and suddenly it’s not that marvellous anymore.
    Our families accept the situation well, I can even say that my parents are happy to be free to travel as they want, without having to consider looking after grand-children during school holidays. They want us to be happy, the way we want to.
    But still, you can feel the pressure from society remaining heavy. It’s improving, but it’s going to take lots of time.

  • Yep! I identify with a lot of what’s written in this article. My husband and I are still telling ourselves that we’re on the fence about having kids, but the answer is probably no. My co-worker tells me that I’ll change my mind “when I’m older” (because that’s what she did). And I do reserve the right to change my mind, but not because I got older and somehow “matured.” It’s a choice and something I think about often. Right now, I know myself and my husband well to know that we don’t want children.

    I think the people in our lives who ask us about children come from a place of love. I know many parents in my life have absolutely loved being parents and raising their children (not that it was all easy breezy) and want to see that love passed on to me and my husband. But, in truth, it’s not for everyone. Like it was stated above, there’s no guarantee that your children will take care of you when you’re older.

    I recoil at the idea that my marriage will only be complete and I will only love my husband the most when I have a child. I chose to marry my husband because of who he is as an individual, not because of what I think could be provided or passed down to potential children. Our marriage is complete as it is now. We love each other and chose each other. It is not less complete or less real or less loving because of the absence of children.

    The only part that does give me guilt is my parents not having grandchildren since I am an only child. I’m learning to get over it.

  • Kristin M.

    I truly love this article and love that it’s being talked about. I shared my opinions on it this past year over my 33rd birthday and got mixed responses. It’s not the responses online that reflect someone’s true perception onto the subject. It’s the questions in person, that you highlighted above, that honestly come more often than most people think. I am COMPLETELY and sincerely happy in my 10 year relationship WITHOUT any plans to have children. I don’t feel less adequate because I’ve chosen to not have kids, but other people put that perception upon me with my permission. I feel like I could have this discussion for hours (over a glass of wine), but opinions on both sides of the argument will always be there. To each their own I guess. Thanks for sharing this great post!

  • krazyashz

    Thank you so much for posting this. I have been struggling a lot with this lately. I am the same as you… “As a child, I was never interested in playing mother with baby dolls — I much preferred to make up elaborate soap opera-esque stories between my Barbies and Kens. Perhaps that should have been my first clue that the desire to be a mother did not exist within me.” This is me. I would look at my friends like they were crazy playing with babies and strollers. I’m now 33, happily married and my husband, 37, just doesn’t want to raise kids and neither do I. We are big kids ourselves. Our friends just had a child and want to know when we’re going to. The gentle answer is, “Well we haven’t been blessed yet.” But honestly we take every set necessary not to make one. We don’t get googly eyed over kids, although we don’t mind them, we just rather be cat parents or “guardians”. My parents are okay with our decision as my little brother and sister-in-law just can’t wait to have a whole house full. My inlaws on the other hand aren’t going to handle the news so well. After all my husband is the only child… Oh lord please let us stay strong. <3

  • vanessa holmes

    Hi! My name is Vanessa Holmes and I just read your post! This is a great article. Thanks for writing it!! I have started a page website and a facebook group called havenonehavefun.com and am looking for others that think like us. I would like to have a fun community that can come together. I’m not quite sure how to go about doing this or even an expectation of an outcome. I just want people to feel supported in their decision to not have children. I would love to know your thoughts and to join up. I think more people need this kind of support around the world!!!