When I am older, will I regret not having children?
It seems I might, if you consider the average American woman in her thirties. She longs for her very own baby to hold in her arms, she cannot wait to feel that unbreakable bond between mother and child. She loves the way that babies smell, the way they coo and giggle. Her biological clock screams for a missed period, a swelling belly, that first little kick in the ribs. Every time she spots a stroller, her heart swells to see that helpless little ball of cuteness staring up at the world beyond him. She is transfixed, transformed by the role of motherhood, and she plans her life out to assume that role one day.
Since I was very young I have known that I am different when it comes to babies. While I do love the children I know to pieces, and have been known to stop and admire the new baby in the office, I don’t feel sad for the crying infant at the table next to me in the restaurant. When I pass the newborn in a stroller, I generally don’t notice (unless the stroller is plowing into me, that is). And no, I don’t always want to hold the baby that’s being passed around the room.
My disinterest in kids has been hidden most of my life because I figured it was weird, or that I would eventually grow out of it. In grade school I babysat just like all the other girls, but I secretly didn’t like it. I pawned off the diaper changing to my co-sitter whenever I could and made sure all my gigs were close to bed time so I could spend most of it watching television and talking on the phone.
Growing up I liked my Barbie dolls far more than my baby dolls; Barbie was an adult and she had a boyfriend (Ken, of course). She and her friends wore adult clothes, they had glamorous jet-setting lives, and they didn’t have to be cared for, fed, changed, coddled or kissed. I would cut their hair (sometimes too short) and fashion new dresses for them out of my old t-shirts and some thread fished from my grandmother’s sewing machine. When I imagined my adult life I pictured it full of other adults, with dinner parties and brilliant conversation, a life filled with whatever I wished (like reading at night without a curfew). Instead of nightly homework I dreamt of nights filled with social events, laughter and cribbage (hey…what do you want from a 6 year old whose grandparents and their friends played cribbage for fun (and cash) every saturday night? You go with what you know).
Even before my teen years, I cringed at the idea of having to plan dinner each night for a household filled with expectant husband and children – the pressure to work and clean without rest, it seemed dreadful to me even then. I grew up in a home with my grandparents and my father (my mother couldn’t handle the pressure so she simply fled home when I was 4), and I remember nothing so vividly as the complaints of exhaustion, sheer exhaustion after a whole day of work, grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, laundry, making beds, sitting in traffic, dealing with bosses…and now this, now you two kids are fighting again. Can’t you be quiet for two minutes? I’m exhausted. I’m tired. Go to bed, please just go to bed and leave me in peace. Peace and quiet, that’s all I want. Please. Just go to bed.
While I wouldn’t call this begging scene an example of stellar parenting, I do understand where my poor dad was coming from. Like many single parents, he never planned to raise kids by himself (good thing he had my grandmother to help out for a few years). The stress must have been unbearable at times. But even before we were born, I don’t think my father ever realized how difficult it would be to raise kids until he had us. And my mother, what of her? Most will say she was unfit, selfish, and she should have thought about her choice to have kids before just popping them out. After all, you’re not allowed to regret having kids.
Well, what if she had thought about her choice? Would she have decided against motherhood like me? Did she even realize she had a choice? I think most people don’t realize it at all. When I was fifteen I told my Aunt Pauline that I didn’t like the idea of having kids (to which she assured me I’d change my mind of course). It wasn’t until I was in my early 20’s that I realized that instead of just dreading the role of motherhood, I can actually decide against it altogether. What a relief that was!
Although there are times I feel alone in my child-free choice, I am not. According to some recent studies, over 40% of women ages 18-44 are childless (sorry, I can’t find the link right now), and almost half of all married couples in the U.S. have yet to produce any children. No doubt, a chunk of those numbers account for people who are infertile or simply waiting for the right time. But the choice to remain child-free is catching on, as more people realize that “parent” isn’t the only kind of adult to be.
So, I have made up my mind about becoming a mother, but this question still lingers in the back of my mind: will I regret not having kids later? Will I be lonely in my old age?
We are all in this culture of planning our futures, now – we save for retirement, invest in large homes, eat healthy, screen for cancer, avoid getting tattoos with boyfriend’s names, etc. We are all very concerned about making the best of our old age. I guess I like the idea of investing in my youth, instead. I am fulfilled by my life as it is and I don’t have any inclination to change it. Of course I am 32 years old at the moment and so I only have about 3-4 more years before my fertility declines, and thus any lingering questions will be closed. But becoming a mother just to insure against regret would be selfish and obtuse. Not to mention that if I regret not having children I can still fill the void with nieces, nephews, foster children, even adoption. But to regret having kids? That’s just not possible. You cannot take back that decision – unless of course you want to be like my mother, or (shudder) like Casey Anthony.
In the end maybe the answer is that being child-free is not wrong, it’s not selfish or stupid. No, the choice is right because it’s a decision I have put time and thought into, a decision that is mine and mine alone (well, and my husband’s too). Like choosing to be a vegetarian or buying a loft in the city rather than a single-family home in the suburbs, being gay or running with no shoes on (he-he), just because it’s a less popular choice doesn’t make it any less valid.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
-Robert Frost. 1920
July 7, 2011 at 4:45 AM
I didn’t intend to have a child; now that I’ve had one, I feel my life is a billion times brighter than the one I had mapped out for myself. I’m also going to have a second, if I can make that happen, because siblings were one of the best parts of my life.
I’m wise enough to know, though, that the fact I’ve found this an unexpectedly beautiful and rewarding experience doesn’t mean it’s the right one for everyone. I’m deeply grateful for it, but there are a lot of things that aren’t going to happen or are going to happen on a lot slower timelines because this is the path I’ve walked. I don’t regret it, but I also don’t feel I do anyone justice by pretending it’s all pros and no cons.
I agree about the time and thought matter. Whatever your end decision, I feel like guilt is best escaped by knowing you came to the place you did after serious, thoughtful consideration. From there, it’s just a matter of accepting there were pros and cons, and that you weighed them all. 🙂
August 8, 2011 at 7:22 PM
Deborah – I am glad that your child has made your life brighter and happier. The world needs more happy moms! I felt the same way when I made the decision not to have children: that my life was a billion times brighter than before. It’s important to me to live my life as richly as I can, in ways that having a child would not let me do. I guess it all comes down to knowing yourself and understanding what’s important to you. Thank you for reading, I appreciate your feedback!
July 7, 2011 at 10:50 AM
Very nicely put Trisha. I felt the same way growing up, and was actually pretty freaked out when my wife was pregnant with our daughter.
I’ve always told the childless that they don’t know what it’s like to have kids until you have them. I went from disliking kids to loving them, especially my daughter. I’ve heard the same from many if my friends, including women. Just saying that to point out that I don’t think your attitude is strange at all. Especially nowadays, it’s a perfectly normal choice. There are plenty of rugrata running around already.
August 8, 2011 at 7:26 PM
I have heard that too, Christian, that you don’t know what it’s like until you have kids. The same can be said of skydiving, or anything else really, for that matter. Of course once you have a child – you need to make the best of it no matter what because there is no turning back! Thank you for saying that my choice is perfectly normal – I wish that it was more normal where I live!
July 7, 2011 at 1:13 PM
Very well said.
August 8, 2011 at 7:26 PM
August 22, 2011 at 3:58 PM
Totally late reading this, but I think I know what you mean. Growing up, I wanted the wife and kid thing and now I wonder whether it wasn’t just because I thought I was supposed to. Now I can’t really see it in the cards for me. I have some friends who are really limited in the things they can do because of their kids, and I’m not sure I want that for myself. I really love running and traveling and although I know I could love kids as well, I don’t want to dedicate all my time to giving one the attention it deserves. I feel like that sounds selfish, but it’s what makes me happy right now. So I make no apologies for it.
August 22, 2011 at 5:40 PM
I’ve always rejected the idea that not wanting kids is “selfish.” Selfishness is putting your desires in front of someone else. But if you don’t have a child, then there is no person that exists that you can put yourself ahead of. Therefore you are hurting no one. What IS selfish, in my mind, is all the reasons people use to have kids: to have someone that loves them unconditionally, to keep from being alone when they’re older, to hold a marriage together, etc. etc. I can’t think of a reason to HAVE kids that isn’t selfish.
August 22, 2011 at 5:47 PM
Moreover, there are some really very UNselfish reasons for remaining childless. Like, reducing your carbon footprint by not adding more people to the planet’s already too-full population, not subjecting a child to the problems that our world has created, and/or not subjecting them to your own biological medical issues, or perhaps acknowledging that your lifestyle or personality is not well suited to parenthood. So there.