I’m Not Sure If I Ever Really Wanted to Have Kids in the First Place


Who really decides what we're supposed to do?

by Diane Day

child taking off her socks

“Do you have kids?”

“You’ll be next!”

“So when are you having kids?”

As a thirty-year-old married female, I find that people say variations of the above to me all the time. After all, I have all the trappings one would expect of a woman who has, or will soon have, children. I have a good job, a wonderful partner, and a lovely little house in a charming New England town with good schools.

But I don’t have children, and I’m honestly not sure that I ever will.

If you asked me about my plans for children ten years ago, my answer would have been very different. Growing up, I assumed one day I would get married and have children. In high school my best friend and I daydreamed about our various crushes and what our kids might look like.

When my husband and I started dating the year after I graduated college, we shared a “not now, but maybe someday” attitude. I had a vague assumption that around the time I turned thirty, our respective parental urges would kick in and then we’d make two beautiful little babies. However, in the past few years, my husband has come down on the no side of the fence. He’s admitted that he doesn’t really like children and doesn’t feel a strong urge to reproduce. He’s willing to have children if that’s what I want. He’s willing to do anything to make me happy.

Did I mention that this is a ton of pressure?

My husband’s reluctance to have children has made me seriously examine my previous assumptions and desires. I have made lists, meditated, journaled, and read basically everything I can find about how others make this decision. As I’ve been contemplating all this, I discovered an uncomfortable truth: I don’t know if my prior assumption that I would have children was based on an actual desire to raise a family, or the result of living in a society where motherhood is so closely entwined with womanhood that I simply hadn’t ever imagined not being a mother until now.

I’m starting to suspect it’s the latter.

When I think of my younger self and my reaction to motherhood, one particular memory often comes up. I was in college watching Sex and the City with my friends. In the episode, Miranda remarks that she doesn’t really like other kids besides her own, and I joked, “That’s the sort of mom I’m going to be!” At the time I was trying to be funny, but now I wonder if that was one sign that I’ve never really been a kid person.

I will admit I’ve had a few brushes with baby fever, but they have all been very brief. If I hold the cute baby of a friend or coworker, I’ll fantasize about having my own. I can picture them, blue eyes and freckles, maybe with my husband’s red hair. They are adorable, I long for them, and then the feeling dissipates within a few days.

As I contemplate this huge, life-altering decision, I keep wondering: Is the assumption that I would always have kids a good enough reason to do it? Is that really what I want or simply what I think I’m supposed to do? To be honest, that is what alarms me the most. I have always done what I’m supposed to do, but many of those things haven’t made me happy. In fact, some of them made me incredibly unhappy, and I’m suspicious of the popular narrative that motherhood will bring me fulfillment and joy. Life doesn’t actually seem to work that way.

Sometimes people tell me I’ll regret it if I don’t have kids. They may be right, and I do worry about that. But I also can’t help but think that fear of missing out isn’t a good enough reason to bring life into the world.

Diane Day

Diane is an attorney and mediator in Connecticut. When not in court she enjoys yoga, margaritas, and trying to convince her dog or husband to snuggle on the couch.

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  • Carolyn S

    One of the best tools I’ve ever heard to help facilitate this discussion with yourself is “what do I want my life to look like 10 or 20 years from now.” Do you see kids in that picture/ a family in that picture? When I personally think about having BABIES it is easy to feel overwhelmed because I’m not a huge baby person. But when I think about my 40’s and 50’s I do want a FAMILY so for us that played part of the decision. Might help you think about the long term.

    • Bethany

      I think this is really good advice, and I feel the same way. I’ve never been a huge kid person in general, but I absolutely want the family.

    • Rachel

      I agree that this is absolutely good advice, and can be very enlightening in terms of reflecting what you want most long-term.

      I’ll also add a second step to that thought experiment though, in the form of a question along the lines of “am I comfortable with it if that life 10-20 years from now looks wildly different than my romanticized vision, as long as it includes the core element of kids or no kids (whichever you lean towards)?”

      So, for example – if you aren’t super into babies/toddlers, but picturing your life 10, 20, even 30 years from now, your ideal scenario includes a big extended family around the Thanksgiving table, doting on adorable grandchildren, a golden retriever at your feet, a loving, boisterous, close-knit group of blood relatives who all live within a reasonable distance of each other and see each other regularly… you get the idea… are you also cool with alternative visions of that life? Is the concept of having a family that includes kids in the future still appealing to you if that looks more like your kids moving away to different cities or even different countries to pursue their own dreams, often not making it home for holidays, choosing not to have children of their own, and so on (all common enough scenarios)? The answer may very well be yes! And if that’s true, then that’s great. But if the answer is no – if a future that includes grown children is only appealing to you if it plays out in a narrow range of ways – make sure to factor that in to your decision making, because life is usually a lot messier than that.

      This could of course be flipped around to apply to no kids too. Maybe you’re picturing your future without kids, and that includes adventurous travel, seeing the world, taking up extreme sports, pursuing active hobbies, etc. When you picture your life 20 years from now, you have a vision of all of these things and they’re pretty awesome. Do you still want the future without kids if life has other plans, and you instead say, develop a chronic illness that makes travel difficult (like me!), or take over the care of an aging relative, or for whatever reason, can’t pursue that life you imagined? Does not having kids still seem appealing in that scenario? If it does, also fantastic. I know in my case, that’s true. Kids just aren’t appealing to me no matter what the future holds. But it’s still a valuable question to ask, to ensure you’re making the decision based on a broad range of possible outcomes, rather than just an ideal romanticized scenario.

      I don’t know if any of that made sense, I’m a bit sleep deprived, but hopefully the gist is there!

      • Carolyn S

        So well thought out.

      • G.

        I think this makes tons of sense and is really smart. Often, the “what do you envision” assumes everything works out — kids are healthy, partner is healthy, everyone is playing their expected roles…when often that’s not how it plays out. So if you have a kid with a terrible genetic disorder (as one friend of mine does), or you’re stuck in a tiny apartment because unemployment happened (as another friend faces, with a couple kids), or your teen gets arrested for petty crime and ends up in the system (as happened to a mentor of mine), or your introverted self actually can’t stand having your extroverted kids zillions of friends around (another friend talks about this as an unexpected part of parenting), etc etc, how do you feel? Or whatever may be tough scenarios for you…I think it’s worth thinking about the non-romanticized version and working through those, not the perfect ideal scenarios.

        • Cellistec

          Heck yes to all this.

      • irishelf

        Rachel thank you for writing this! I’m the writer and I think you bring up a really great point. People have given me the advice of think about what you want your life to be like in 20 before, and I’ve found its very easy to fall into romanticized visions of what the future with kids would be. But then when I start to evaluate all the possible variations of how this could look, like what if I have handicapped children or children who simply don’t ever want to speak to me once they’re grown? Do I really want that future because that could be what I get.

        For now I generally picture my future as being child free but adopting as many rescue dogs as my husband will let me :)

        • Rachel

          I’m glad it was helpful!

          It’s so easy to think about things from a romanticized perspective (human nature, I think!) when imagining the future, but it’s much more pragmatic to at least entertain other realistic scenarios. I don’t think people should worry themselves sick thinking of every possible worst-case scenario that could ever occur – but imagining futures that include fairly common and realistic outcomes that may differ from your idealized scenario can be a good gauge of whether you really want a particular thing, or if you really just want the Hallmark version of it. This is especially true when we’re talking about kids – who end up being (hopefully) autonomous adults with their own thoughts and feelings and opinions and goals that may or may not be compatible with what you imagined.

      • Mary Jo TC

        I like this a lot. One major reason I had kids (2 so far, and considering up to 2 more) is because in my old age I want to be a matriarch surrounded by kids, their spouses, grandkids and great grandkids, as my grandmothers were. The Thanksgiving dinner picture you paint is a version of that. I know it might not turn out that way, for reasons that could be benign or tragic, but if it doesn’t work out, I think I’ll feel best in old age knowing I gave that dream my best shot and that I could be ok with second-best versions of that future if I had to be.

        • gonzalesbeach

          I’m going to be boldly selfish here: I won’t expect my (future) kids to look after me in my old age, but I hope that I foster the relationship with them over their lives that makes them want to look after me. I will take on responsibility for my parents and my partner’s parents if and when I need to and do whatever I can to help them stay independently in their homes; it’s unlikely that with kids plus my own parents’ care and partners’ parents’ care that I will have much energy left over to take on the responsibility of my 5 childless aunts and uncles. One of the major reasons I moved back to my hometown was that during my work in direct healthcare, I saw the huge challenges and very sad situations when elderly don’t have their kids/main next of kin in the same place when they run into health issues/hospitalizations or just generally getting older and less able. I didn’t want that to happen to my parents. I was helpless as a babe and they looked after me; I will return the honour when needed, out of love, not expectation.

          • Mary Jo TC

            Very true. I feel the same way. Also, I don’t want to spend my final few holidays tagging along to my nieces’ and nephews’ holiday parties. I want to be the center of my own family’s celebration. That sounds really selfish too, but there you are.

          • gonzalesbeach

            I totally get what you mean. plus, I also know that I don’t have control over whether my siblings have kids (and right now one doesn’t want and one’s partner is against) and partner’s sibling is childfree. So there wouldn’t really be a celebration to attend (I know that you can make friends and ‘adopt’ family, but it wouldn’t feel the same based on my own cultural values)

          • Kara E

            Yes! One of the things I am really grateful about for my parents AND my inlaws (especially my mom) is that they fully expect us to carve out our own lives, traditions, and celebrations. And my mom, in particular, has been very vocally of that.

            And yes, I look forward to helping take care of my folks if and when they need it. And my brothers and I really try to help each other out as we’re able, which is something my folks also really wanted.

      • We thought of that too. I realized that I could mentally work my way through every scenario that didn’t have kids and had 2 or 3 versions of my life with kids that I could love. That was one of many signs that kids were not for us. That and I plain just don’t want to; which is the most valid reason of all.

        • Sara

          I think this is where I’m at and how I know they are not for me. I actually love babies – but I only want to have my own kids if I can guarantee X: they won’t turn out to be axe-wielding murderers; Y: they will be girls, not boys; and Z: they will be biologically “normal” and smart and independent enough not to rely on me past 22. I can’t guarantee any of these selfish things and thus, I will not have any.

    • Cellistec

      Yup, I make a lot of short-term decisions this way: what would Future Me want? Which is a guessing game sometimes, but so far I’ve been right. And I think in the long term, Future Me wants a family, so Present Me had better get that moving.

      • Sara

        I try to get Present Me and Future Me to stay in regular contact. Like you, so far, they have not failed each other.

    • Violet

      Really. Good point. My mom enjoyed raising us as kids, but she REALLY appreciates having us now that we’re young adults.

      • Carolyn S

        whereas my mom has literally said to us “I don’t really feel like I know how to be a parent to adults.”

        • Violet

          It’s SUCH a shift in the relationship, for sure.

        • Cellistec

          Which is funny if you think about it, because parenting a child is (about) 18 years of your life, while parenting an adult could (hopefully) be several times that span. And yet I’m pretty sure there’s zero training on how to parent an adult.

          • Carolyn S

            or how to parent a parent… (my mom is running off to marry her boyfriend of 3 months but THAT is for another thread…)

          • Not Sarah

            YES! My parents are convinced that they are preparing to die in the next ten years and at 28, that’s just really not something I want to deal with, especially with completely healthy parents. Parenting parents is so messy…

          • Cellistec

            Oh man, no kidding.

          • Meg Keene

            There is zero training on how to parent, like, period ;) It is a fly by the seat of your pants endeavor.

      • Sara

        When my youngest brother turned 21, my dad basically said ‘I’ve been so excited to have adult children.” He loved us as kids, but he’s really more of a bond over a glass of wine and nice dinner kinda guy than a teach you how to fish one.

        • Lisa

          I think this is how my dad is, too. He was never a really active part of our lives as kids the way my stay-at-home mom was, but now that we’re older, we turn to him for career and financial advice and discuss current events with him. I think this is hard on my mom because she’s trying to figure out how to interact with her adult children and relevant to their lives, whereas my dad’s personality fits more easily into the lives we children have created for ourselves.

    • Kristina

      I love this piece by Dear Sugar where she suggests a similar thing. I read it over and over again while I was thinking about this decision. “I’ll never know and neither will you of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours.”

      http://therumpus.net/2011/04/dear-sugar-the-rumpus-advice-column-71-the-ghost-ship-that-didnt-carry-us/

      • Lisa

        I was wondering how long it would be before this piece was mentioned. It’s one of my favorites, and so helpful in thinking about major life decisions.

    • Jessica

      I was just talking with someone, who is a nanny, that I don’t really “care” about the babies, give me the 5-10 year olds to play with, hang out with, and teach cool stuff to. That is a way better thing to look forward to than the diaper, burping, and breast mutilation (my own viewpoint) phase.

      • Amy March

        Must we refer to it as mutilation? Even in passing? It’s a really really offensive thought to communicate.

        • Mary Jo TC

          I was just about to post to say I’m in the midst of my second go-round with breastfeeding, and yes, it does feel like mutilation to me. It’s brutal. I guess I can see why talking about it that way might add to a stigma, but it can be someone’s truth.

          • Antonia

            Yup. I read an article (I believe it was called “F*ck Breastfeeding”) where the author’s nipple WAS ACTUALLY HANGING ON BY A THREAD. “Mutilation” doesn’t do it justice.

          • Melinda

            No doubt, breastfeeding can be very very difficult for many women, and there can be complications. But honestly that particular story is extreme and will not happen to the majority of women. My mother loved breastfeeding and said it was hard at first, then it gets better.

          • Meg Keene

            That’s a REALLY RARE thing to happen (and should be able to be avoided with a lactation consultant to adjust latch). For most women breastfeeding is hard to learn, but if they end up sticking with it, it’s super routine. The horror stories about breast feeding are usually about the first few weeks, which are HARD as you and your body are learning something totally new. It’s like focusing on the baby period but not the rest of life. It’s hard to learn, but once you learn, generally like riding a bike. Some people like bikes more than others, but still.

          • Jessica

            I’ve read enough from both people who loved breastfeeding and people who literally had a nipple fall off (!) to plan on approaching it with a wariness and a container of formula on hand, along with a few years of telling my husband that while we will have discussions about breastfeeding and I’ll give it a shot, it’s my body and my decision in the end.

            Good luck with the feeding, I wish you all the best (or breast, as it were).

          • Mary Jo TC

            That’s a good attitude to go into it with. I gave myself a deadline where if it wasn’t working by x date I’d quit. That happened to be when it all got better with my first son. I agree the nipple falling off is rare and extreme, but bleeding and cracking skin is common. It freaked me out to see blood on my five-day-old baby’s mouth like he was a tiny vampire.

          • Antonia

            That sounds like a great approach, Jessica. My personal experience, FWIW:

            Daughter was an enthusiastic and voracious nurser. Painful for the first three days, and then it was fine. AND I FRIGGIN’ HATED IT. Hated dealing with painful, engorged breasts, hated leaking milk and having to wear a bra and breast pads 24/7, hated being constantly physically attached to my child, hated feeling “exposed” when I nursed, hated the stupid politics around breastfeeding, hated waking up constantly and getting in these awkward positions so she would latch and then having to hold those positions for what felt like 80 million hours, hated pumping, hated interrupting my work day to pump… And now, six months in, I feel like breastfeeding is akin to… brushing my teeth? Not my favorite thing, but just something I do without really thinking about it. Supplementing with formula and starting solids have made a huge difference — I’m down to pumping once per day and only nursing evenings and weekends. And she’s much less interested in nursing now anyway. I suspect we’ll go till about nine months and then be done.

            tl;dr: I super hated nursing for reasons that had nothing to do with pain, and then it was boring and mildly inconvenient but fine, and I’m now looking forward to being done.

          • Sarah

            My kid had a tongue/lip tie so 2.5 weeks in had it revised (basically “cut” with a water laser) and it got better slowly. He’s nearly 6 months now and it’s going well and is definitely easier than bottles in my opinion. But it was nearly 2 months in before I’d say it’s easier.

          • Meg Keene

            I, on the other hand never expected to, but love breastfeeding. It was hard the first few weeks (I think it always is the first time), but I nursed my son to 2.5 (turned out to be his personality), and am now nursing my daughter. So I’ve been nursing for 3.5 years at a go, with more to come.

            It is a little like brushing my teeth as someone said below (it’s so automatic at this point) but with cuddles. And it’s not mutilating my breasts, though time is taking care of that for me, as it does for us all. It’s actually strange to realize that it won’t be part of my life at some point, because by then it will just just been a routine part of my life for 4 to 5 years.

          • Michelle Phelps

            Ugh, yes, the cuddles. I planned to be militantly un-militant re: breastfeeding and then loved it. It was just this beautiful connection to my baby. I had no end-goal in sight. Then, after an ear infection, my strong-willed 9 month old decided he was suddenly DONE with the boob last week. It is hard to describe to my childless/free friends just how devastating it’s been. Anyhow, as with so many things around motherhood/parenting, breastfeeding is a crap shoot. And everything changes all the time.

          • Kara E

            This is pretty old, but figured it might be worth responding to…

            I turned out to (mostly) love nursing my daughter after I got over the infant hurdle. I finally cut her off at 2.5 (she was NOT interested in quitting before) so that I could take some new meds, but she still asks when she’s really stressed (almost 6 months later). She’s pretty intense and sensitive and I think it helped her through some rough early development times – in addition to helping us get through early food sensitivities (soy!). Pumping, on the other hand, stunk (though my body was pretty good with it).

            And it’s important to get help if things aren’t going right! Interestingly, my mom had zero problems with breastfeeding newborns (when it’s the hardest) and her identical twin did…

        • Gina

          Agreed. There is enough crap we have to deal with about breastfeeding without calling feeding babies “breast mutilation.”

        • Jessica

          You’re right, I changed it with an asterisk.

    • Sara

      I agree completely – babies tend to make me very nervous, but I love kids. Maybe this means I adopt some older kids, maybe it means that I just power through the baby years, but watching my nephew grow up (and how fast those years go by) really cemented my future plans for kids.

    • Anon

      Totally! Babies scare the shit out of me TBH but I absolutely picture myself having a family. The baby phase is just going to be something to get through, LOL.

    • Alison O

      I know a lot of people use this reasoning when they aren’t enthused about babies or young children but do want that family later on in life.

      I think about this too, but in the opposite way because I love babies and small children, but after about age 8 I’m not that into them, and I don’t feel particularly drawn to having adult children. If I had kids, it would have to be with the faith that I would like them (or love them, if not always like them) as older kids and as adults because they’re my kids.

      For now, this leaves me wanting neighbors and friends with babies I can babysit, eventual nieces and nephews, and probably to foster young children in the future. (That can present a challenge, however, because many child welfare systems seek foster parents who are also willing to adopt in the case that efforts for family reunification of the child with their biological family fails.)

  • Like you, I always assumed that I would have to have kids because it’s so societally entwined with the idea of womanhood. But I never strongly wanted them. I had periods when I was open to the idea and I had periods when I knew that I definitely didn’t want them. For a long while, I was sure that I’d be the Miranda-type mom too since I figured that I would love my own child if I had one but I wasn’t a huge fan of kids from ages 3-20. My husband knew he wanted kids, but me? Not so much.

    Eventually, I was open to considering the idea, and that’s all.

    In my 30s now, with one child, I’m glad so far that we decided to have hir, but I fully agree with you – fear of missing out isn’t nearly a good enough reason to have them if you’re just not sure enough to take on the work and the sacrifices. It IS a lot of work and sacrifice. I don’t mind either of them in this case, so far, but I don’t know if I’ll have regrets in the future if my currently-darling child becomes a person that I don’t respect. Either way, it’s so much work that, even in the post-delivery recovery period when your hormones are supposed to make you all lovey and happy with the world (so I hear), I found myself nodding emphatically when thinking about the necessity of having the choice to bear children. No one should HAVE to go through this if she’s not ready and doesn’t want to.

    In any case, it’s not for anyone to say what you’ll regret, or not. We rarely know everything that we’re giving up when we pick one path over another, but that’s the case for all our major decisions in life, isn’t it? Can you really properly regret the benefits of not taking one path if you were not equally willing to appreciate the pain associated with it? After many years of wondering how different my life would have been if I didn’t change my career path due to medical problems, I’ve come to accept that we can either live with possible regrets or embrace the beauty that stems from the choices we did make. I hope that whatever you choose, you will love the life you built.

  • Violet

    Thanks for this honest post. I think you tap into the thoughts that countless women have had over the course of their lives.
    When people talk about regrets, they forget about the sort of Physics Law of Regrets. That is, for every option we choose, there is the equal and opposite option we *didn’t* choose. I.e., someone could easily regret having kids as much as regret not having them. This is the future we’re talking about, folks. None of us know it with certainty. Best we can do is approximate based on knowing ourselves. Which, surprise, you probably know you better than other people do. Hence, their ideas about your regrets are likely not going to be as good estimates as yours are.
    One part of your personal story really sticks out to me. We talk about the desire to have kids as some static, individualized thing. Maybe that is the case for a select few people who are either staunchly OmigodBabies or just as adamantly Nopenopenope. For the rest of us, the desire is heavily contextualized. By the people around us, where we are in our lives, and our partners. When I was younger, I had a vague sense I wanted kids. The context being, most of the adults around me had them. As I got older, I still had the sense that I wanted them in the abstract (I certainly like interacting with kids in general) but you know, not *now*. Now that the timing is getting better, I am aware of just how much my partner’s enthusiasm is helping me get excited about the concrete aspect of kids. If he were as on the fence as your husband is, I frankly don’t know how I’d feel right now. But I’m guessing less interested in going forward with it. I think it’s fair to say, “Look, this is my context now. It looks different than before, so it makes sense I’m thinking and feeling differently at this point.”

    • La’Marisa-Andrea

      I NEVER hear about people regretting having children though there are probably many people who do and they would never utter those words. I’ve heard one woman lament about her choice to have kids. She hates being a mother and regrets it with every fiber of her being (so she said).

  • Larkin

    If you don’t want kids, then don’t have kids! :-) There’s no shame in that whatsoever.

    That said, I want to add this food for thought… I have two female friends who made this same claim after their significant others said they didn’t want kids. Both of the women I have in mind previously very clearly wanted kids and talked about future kids like they were a given. Then both of them wound up with guys who said, “I don’t want kids,” and suddenly they both started saying, “Well, I think maybe I never really wanted kids anyway and it was all just society’s expectations.”

    But here’s the thing: Both of them still regularly talk about kids like they want them. They talk about decisions they would make re: raising children, wonder aloud if their 10+ years on the pill might adversely affect their fertility (if they were to change their minds), etc. All while sticking to the “I probably never really wanted kids anyway” story.

    I realize this might come across as a little bit “You’ll seeeee!” but I swear that’s not what I’m trying to say. If you actually don’t want kids: awesome! Don’t have them! Enjoy your child-free life guilt free! But also be honest with yourself about where that decision is coming from.

  • the cupboard under the stairs

    I am absolutely torn on whether to have kids. I was the kind of child who was happier hanging out with the adults than I was playing with my peers, and I was pretty adamant that I’d never want any kids of my own. As I got older, social expectations softened my resolve and I assumed that someday, probably in my early 30s, I’d get All The Baby Feels and have a family. (I’m 28 now.) FH and I have always been on the same page about this–if we have a family, we’ll stop at just the one child–but in the last few weeks we’ve both been wondering if we even want one at all. I have no problem going with the flow and seeing how life plays out, but I can’t help but wonder if the only part of me that really wants a kid is the part that’s been socially conditioned to want a kid.

  • Anya

    My husband and I used to talk about how we’d have 2 kids, and how we would want a house big enough to have them. We now have a house. We have a very cushy life. We are both 30. We have job security with jobs that we love. And we are now both unsure as to whether or not we actually want kids. Whenever we see our friends with kids, we always go: sure, they are cute, but oh god – the headache, the screams, the disarray, and the sacrifice. We also found that while some people really want to hold babies, we are both of the “I suppose” camp.

    Everyone says that it changes when it’s yours. But what if it doesn’t? What if we have a kid and we are like “nope, don’t want it”?

    So I hear you loud and clear. One of the things that helped us: we started having discussions as to what it would be like to be DINKS (double income, no kids). We’ve started planning alternative paths. It really helped to know that there’s a lot we can contribute to society outside of our genes. And I think the biggest realization was that we could still be parents without the biological: you can adopt and foster at any age.

    • the cupboard under the stairs

      “Everyone says that it changes when it’s yours. But what if it doesn’t? What if we have a kid and we are like ‘nope, don’t want it’?”

      Yes. That is my biggest fear.

      • Anya

        And everyone is like: oh no, it changes. which makes me start thinking: “did you have a kid when you didn’t want it and it changed? Is that how you know?” And then that thought makes me sad all together.

        • Cellistec

          I think of my older sister, who had an unplanned pregnancy at 19 and now says her kids are the best thing that ever happened to her. But I also think she always wanted kids anyway so it wasn’t a change of mind, it was just a change of timing.

          • Meg Keene

            I know multiple people who had kids accidentally and DIDN’T want them (obviously chose to carry the pregnancy to term, but didn’t want them going in), and adore them. i mean, kids are hard, but life is hard and it hits you one way or another. And I think they’re happy about how their hard worked out.

            If that helps anyone.

      • Kara

        EXACTLY. Every other major life decision has an undo. Get engaged; call it off. Get married; get divorced. Buy a house; sell a house.

        Having kids doesn’t come with an “undo” button. You’re stuck.

        I’m in the no kids camp for this reason and many others.

        • raccooncity

          Pascal’s Wager for reproduction.

      • irishelf

        Yes me too! When people say things like that to me it sounds rather hollow to me.

      • NSU

        The reason it changes when it’s yours is that most people are biologically hardwired to take care of their own. “Mommy instinct” is a real thing, and its the hormones that prevent you from throwing the sucker out after weeks (or months) of sleep deprivation.
        I never felt strongly about having kids, but my husband did (strong yes). I don’t really like kids. I definitely don’t care for babies. But I DO love having a family. Now we are expecting #2.

        Living in NYC, actually the vast majority of my social circle is childless/child-free. Most of the “I don’t want to have kids” rationales I hear are either:
        1. I’m too fucked up (bad childhood)
        2. I’m too selfish (can’t take care of another person)
        3. I like my life the way it is and am afraid of change

        Typically the people I know in the 3rd camp frantically start trying for babies at age 35 when they are actually pressed to make a decision. People in the 1st camp probably shouldn’t have kids. And I see people in the 2nd camp split between coming around to wanting one (to care for them in their old age) OR eventually splitting with their partner.

        Just my 2c.

        • raccooncity

          I have a couple friends who just. don’t. want. kids. I’ve talked to them about it nonjudgementally and they just don’t want them. They give those rationales you listed to people who ask, because they are required to give a rationale, but as a person who knows them both well, they are like “it’s just something I know in my gut”. and that’s how I felt about HAVING kids, so I can get behind that.

          • Ashlah

            It’s a shame that isn’t enough, because that’s really the most important reason of all.

          • Melinda

            I knew by the time I was 19 that I didn’t want kids. I couldn’t explain it, but I knew. There was just zero desire on one hand and actively not wanting that life on the other.

            I thank my younger self on a regular basis now because I’m so happy not to have the endless neverendiing responsibility.

          • Sara

            I’m like your friends who know in their gut kids are not for them – and the best conversations I have are with my friends who are like you, who know in their gut that they DO!

    • Cellistec

      Are there parents who regret having kids? I can’t say I’ve ever heard from any. Maybe because it’s frowned upon to admit it, but the feeling is there anyway?

      • Violet

        There definitely are- I remember reading an article in a British publication (Telegraph, or something) about a woman who regretted having her two children.

      • Rachel

        The anonymity of the internet has definitely made it more apparent that there are definitely parents out there who regret their choice. It’s just always been something that’s so socially taboo to admit, that it’s been perceived as a thing that doesn’t occur. There are message boards full of people under anonymous pseudonyms talking about how much they regret their choice to become parents, even though they love their children. It’s a tough situation to be in.

        That doesn’t mean it’s common – human psychology is such that if we’ve made an irreversible choice, our brain will go to great lengths to convince us it was the right choice – which in the case of kids, is probably a useful adaptive strategy. But that doesn’t mean that occurs with the same intensity with every person.

      • Just Me

        Last weekend I was at a big family gathering and one of my more distant relatives who i don’t see that often mentioned several things that made me feel like she regrets having kids. She talked about the things she could have done with her life, and made several comments about how difficult every age has been (currently her kids are 14 and 11).

        I also had a friend through work when I was an intern who was ~15 years older than me and talked openly about how she wasn’t sure if she ever wanted kids. I was only 19 at the time but felt the same way. I saw her about 7 years later when she had a two year old and she told me “remember how I wasn’t sure if I should have a kid? Well, if you’re ever on the fence then just don’t do it”. She clearly loved her kid and was an awesome parent from what I saw, but I’m sure if she had a do-over, she wouldn’t choose to have a kid.

        • Cellistec

          Wow. That’s some real talk right there.

        • Rachel

          I actually had a fairly similar situation recently at a bridal shower. I ended up making small talk with a coworker of the bride-to-be, who was about 20 years older than me. She asked me if I was married, and I said yes, and she then asked me if I had kids. I said no, she asked if I planned to, I said no, we were pretty sure we weren’t going to have kids. Up to this point, pretty routine small talk. Then she responded by essentially saying that she thought it was awesome that I’d had the opportunity to think through my options and make a decision based on what was right for me. She went on to say that she has three sons, who are now 16, 18, and 21, and that while she adores them with every fibre of her being, if she could go back in time and start over again, never having known them, she would have made a different choice, and wouldn’t have had children. She didn’t define it as regret so much as the recognition that she didn’t really make a decision – she just did “what was done” at the time. It was some serious real-talk from a near-stranger.

          • raccooncity

            I know I’ve shared this here before, but working with new/er moms I did hear some clearheaded (i.e. not postpartum-related) regret of becoming a parent. Does that clear up a little when your kids are adults themselves and you can relate to them on an adult level? I think so. But is it fair to bring new people into the world when you hate even the “fun parts” of parenting? Probably not.

      • Ashlah
        • Violet

          (Whoops, think I downvoted you trying to click the link. Ignore that please; you know I think you’re awesome!)

        • Cellistec

          Wooooooow. I did NOT know that existed.

      • Melinda

        There have been studies that show a decrease in happiness once children come. Though I think they said happiness goes down and satisfaction goes up, or something like that. Studies definitely show that most childless people don’t regret it.

        • KC

          There are studies, but the two biggest Example Of Awesome Without Kids older-than-middle-aged couples I knew both took me aside in my late 20s and said, basically, “Have kids. Seriously.” Which is kind of terrifying! I’m not sure if it’s a matter of their age – their friends getting older and all having kids and grandkids and the shiny side of that being all over Facebook, whereas these couples have the whole getting-older thing all on their own shoulders or what, and I think there are rational arguments for not having kids, but it’s still slightly scary that *both* my “see, you can skip kids and be totally happy!” examples think they should have had kids.

          • Melinda

            I’d widen the scope of childless people that age to ask, because it’s only two couples. I do know people that age who have no regrets at all.

      • I know several. I work with a few. Since I’m pretty open about our “no kids” stance, I feel like people are more open about their dislike of parenting. No one wants to be the one to talk you out of having kids. Which is weird because so many want to talk you into it.

        • Cellistec

          Good point that many people might refrain from admitting they regret kids if they’re talking to someone who has them or wants them. That probably accounts for at least some of the dearth of “kid regret” confessions out there.

      • Anon

        I do. Not nearly as dramatically as that reddit downthread, but I certainly like my life before much much much better. And if I had it to do over again, I would honestly, most likely choose child-free

        • Cellistec

          I appreciate your candidness.

      • La’Marisa-Andrea

        YES. I met one woman who did many years ago and I felt so badly for her because she felt like such a shitty person for feeling that way. And she wasn’t. She just didn’t like being a mother.

      • Mary Jo TC

        I always wonder about people who say they regret having kids–do they regret having that relationship with their child, or do they regret having to do the work of parenting, particularly with the tiny/nonexistent amount of social/government support they get in the US? Do they regret it because of the BS expectations that come with parenting, or because of the trade-offs they had to make, or maybe because their particular kid was a terror? How much of this regret would disappear, and how much easier would this decision be for those on the fence, if we did a better job as a society of supporting parents, both financially, and with more forgiving cultural expectations, particularly for women?

        • Alison O

          FWIW, if I lived in a country with great parental leave policies and socialized child care, medicine, better schools, better land use policies and public transportation, etc (I don’t think the cultural expectations matter that much for me…I’ve gone against a number of them already) ….it would probably change the game of my thinking about having kids. I’m on the fence leaning toward foster/adopt. Partner leans no or only child, but I have a pretty strong aversion to the only child thing. But this decision is always situational, even at the family level, if you have a grandparent who wants to provide childcare, for example. I suspect for some folks it would be hard to separate the parent-child relationship with the context, in part because your context can make a big difference in what resources you have to really foster that relationship.

  • Mrrpaderp

    I empathize. I’ve also struggled with whether my desire for children comes from me or if it’s something I was socially conditioned to want. You do the best you can in high school, get into a good college, grad school if you need to, get a job, get married, have kids. That’s what your life is supposed to look like. So in my teens and twenties that’s what I was working toward.

    But then something changed for me after I started my career and met my fiance. I’m no longer working toward all of these goals; I’m pretty much at the goal. And for the most part, I like our life just as it is. The idea of trading in a good thing for so much uncertainty is daunting. Not to mention the fact that I already feel like carving out couple time and me time is an uphill battle; adding kids on top of that? How do people even do it?

    Having kids was always something for years down the road when we would have more time and more money and be more adult. But at 32, I’m not sure I feel any more ready than I did at 22. Maybe less so, because at 22 there was so much I didn’t know – about finances, time management, and how to “selfishly” care for my emotional well-being. It’s like how I feel every morning when my alarm goes off – can’t I just have 10 more minutes/years?

    • stephanie

      “But then something changed for me after I started my career and met my fiance. I’m no longer working toward all of these goals; I’m pretty much at the goal. And for the most part, I like our life just as it is. The idea of trading in a good thing for so much uncertainty is daunting. Not to mention the fact that I already feel like carving out couple time and me time is an uphill battle; adding kids on top of that? How do people even do it?” Funnily, this is exactly how I feel about having a second. We’re definitely not, but this is more or less what I always tell people. I like our lives as they are.

      • Meg Keene

        Which is funny, because I think two is easier than one. Sometimes I find time weirdly elastic like that.

        • Tennymo

          Um do say more! We are planning on just the delightful one we have now, but super interested in your perspective on how two is easier. Cause part of why we’re thinking just one is definitely the relative peace and simplicity.

          • Meg Keene

            I wrote something about it. Perhaps I should publish it :)

            But I 100% find it to be true. I’m not the everything for my kid anymore (though God knows he still wants more attention than is possible). And he and his sister love each other to PIECES, even though she can’t talk yet. So already they play together, and I’m sure that will only happen more with time.

            But also, I find a real ease in the fact that now something just always has to be done. It’s weirdly mentally way easier. Because it’s just like “do A or do B” not “how can I avoid doing A, ugh.”

            As a friend put it, kid one is emotional work. Kid two is logistical work. The latter is WAYYYY easier. (Plus there is no identity shift. You’re like already a parent, done.)

        • My mom always said that, too. (Because with 2 they can interact with each other and entertain each other).

          • Sarah

            If they like each other. My husband’s father is 14 and 16 years older than his brothers as his mom couldn’t get pregnant after him. So when she was surprise preg with number 2 and age 40 she decided to make another so she wouldn’t raise two only children. And those two little brothers never got along….

    • Diane

      I really agree with everything you’re saying here. My husband and I are happy with the life we have, why mess with it? We did take the leap on adopting a dog not too long ago. She’s awesome but hard enough to take care of sometimes that I wonder how people where both partners work full time manage to raise children.

      • Sara

        Yes this! We have a rescue dog and 2 rescue cats (who require special care sometimes…) and I constantly think, how on earth do people deal with/afford/manage HUMAN children?!

    • LucyPirates

      I am in exactly the same situation. Whilst I know I do want a family, some mornings like today where I just want to sleep for a million years but I have so much work/career/life (and voting!) to sort, I desperately feel like I need more time just for now. And that makes me reluctant to embrace something I also very much want but that will take all of my time and energy for a good few years…

    • Anne

      There is a saying that you hear a lot if you work in some kind of IT related job: If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

      I feel like that matches your line of thought. And while I honestly feel the same about my situation, if you work in tech, you also learn not to listen to that saying too much or you’ll end up with something that works, but that’s it. And maybe you want more than that. Maybe you want it to be up to date, you want to try something new or there just becomes a better option available.

      If I apply that to the kids/no kids question, I think it means I shouldn’t make a decision based on the fact that I like my life now, that it’s working fine so why change anything? I probably wouldn’t approach other major life decisions that way (Get married? Works without it. Get a new job? It’s fine now. Buy a house? We’re happy in our rental apartment.), so why would I do so with this particular issue?

  • Kara

    This could have been written by me except I’ve never had baby fever, my husband would love to be a father, but he’s said for years that since it’s my body (meaning me the potential pregnant one), it’s 100% my choice.

    I’ve never liked kids, wanted to hold them, or babysit them, but like so many others, I had assumed that was part of life. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20’s that I started realizing that I don’t like them, but I don’t want them.

    I recently read this Bullish post, and thought it was timely to share: http://www.getbullish.com/2016/02/bullish-qa-how-should-you-decide-whether-to-have-kids-and-how-to-tell-your-relatives-to-back-the-f-off/

    These lines really struck me:
    If you prefer pleasure over meaning, maybe don’t have kids?

    If you prefer meaning over pleasure, maybe having kids would be one of the ways to do that?

    • Anon

      I was ready to get all up in arms about how rude that sounds. And I still don’t think pleasure vs. meaning is an accurate way to compare things. But I read the original article, and she does go on to soften the statement a little bit (though not enough for me). She adds “Of course there’s pleasure in parenting and meaning outside of it. Obviously.”

      Obviously. I’m choosing not to have kids because of my values and the social justice issues I care about. I find great meaning in the decision not to have kids.

      • Violet

        Yeah, I don’t think her point was meant to be as straightforward as “Don’t want kids? You must not like meaning.” I think it’s closer to, “Gonna have kids? Hope you like meaning, ’cause otherwise the gig is a bit of a racket. You can get pleasure much more easily elsewhere.” Kind of like how all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.

        • Kara

          Thanks Violet :).

          I love the squares reference!

      • Kara

        I understand your point, but thankfully she does soften it.

        I also come from my own life from the opposite direction. I don’t need my life to have meaning.
        I’m in the no kids camp.

    • Amy March

      Oh I hate those lines a lot. So very very much. It makes it sound like not having kids is all about hedonistic thrill. There are all sorts of reasons to not have kids that have nothing to do with pleasure.

      And since when are kids not a source of pleasure?

      I appreciate that she softens this stance, but if obviously there is pleasure in parenting and meaning outside of it, then why frame it like this at all to begin with.

      • raccooncity

        I was lucky enough to make it to my late 20s without hearing someone call a childless couple “selfish”, so I was absolutely bowled over when a good friend used that descriptor. Said friend knew I was ALL IN for kids later on, and encouragingly said “Don’t you think it’s selfish, though? Not having kids?”

        I was SO confused by that concept. I thought “well, sometimes I feel selfish for wanting to have little biological templates of myself”, and also “the most selfish thing has to be having children by choice when you don’t really want them”.

        I think pleasure and meaning is found in different things for different people, not objectively in one pursuit or another.

        • idkmybffjill

          Oh yes! I feel SUPER selfish for wanting biological children instead of adopting. It would never occur to me that… not having one at all would be selfish!

        • CMT

          Yeah, whenever I’ve heard of one side of the kids/no kids choice being called selfish, I always immediately figured it was those who choose to have kids. (Not that I think *either* side actually *is* selfish. I’m just talking about what I’ve heard.) Like, if you were going to make the argument, wouldn’t it be more selfish to want to reproduce and have a little you running around in the world, using up resources? Obviously both sides are infinitely more complicated than a single argument that can be boiled down to Selfish/Not Selfish.

        • Greta

          Oh man – I had an epic drunken debate with a friend who told me that he thought not having kids was selfish. I just couldn’t. even. fathom. We really got into it, (to be fair, I don’t think either are selfish!) but I definitely feel like not having them is super not selfish. His whole point was that if you choose to not have kids you are denying the world someone who could potentially be great. But that argument holds absolutely no water for me so yea…

        • Alison O

          Ugh, the debates about what is selfish are so tiresome.

          The idea that not having kids is selfish boggles my mind. Like, it’s selfish to want to not bring a child into a world that often sucks? It’s selfish to not want to contribute to overpopulation? It’s selfish to become centered on your individual family life (as most parents I know have done) instead of potentially contributing more to the well-being of other people in the world with your work or charity?

          For me personally, I think having a biological child would be the most selfish significant thing I can see myself doing (and it is a possibility I have not ruled out). I’ve had a very cushy life, and I think life is still pretty tough. Having a child would be about fulfilling my desire to be a parent, and to have my child be genetically related to me. Yes, of course, I would do all I could to foster their well-being once they were around, but I don’t see that as particularly selfless. It’s a consequence of what I wanted.

          I am a little puzzled at the idea that children should thank their parents for having them, as well. Like, thanks for doing what you wanted, and I had no choice in the matter, and I wouldn’t have known what I was missing out on if I hadn’t been born… Again, yes I’ll thank them for their care and support since I was born, but not for having had me. That was a matter of how they wanted their lives to be.

      • Kara

        Those lines may rile people up, but they brought comfort to me.

        In no way do I believe that everything is black and white or all or nothing, it was just a different way of viewing the question. Maybe it helps someone else?

    • Gina

      This plays into the larger cultural narrative that having kids is all work and no fun (or even more pain than it is joy). Which is just a terrible way to view children, as this societal burden we have to take on in order to continue the human race. Different people find pleasure in different things–traveling, going out with friends, working 80 hours a week, reading a book. But many of us parents do actually find pleasure in parenting, on pretty much a daily basis. I literally find more pleasure in my day-to-day life with a child than without. Obviously YMMV, but I feel like this just plays into this narrative that parenthood is this sticky, chaotic, exhausting slog and that is just not true for everyone (or even most people, hopefully). I don’t think her savings clause saves it because it carries forward the premise that it is mostly terrible with some brief redemptive moments. And contrary to her thesis, I am happy. I am not in the middle of some terrible journey to Mordor. I have a job I mostly like, a partner I love, a dog who loves to hike with me, a home in the mountains, friends I connect with, and a little person who cracks me up and inspires me. If you view kids as just one piece in this larger puzzle, and then decide whether that’s a piece you want or not, it becomes a lot less fatalistic.

      • Violet

        I agree with everything you’re saying. Especially about this fatalistic thinking. And. But. If I was considering becoming a parent because my main goal was to get pleasure out of it, I probably wouldn’t go through with it. Because I personally don’t feel comfortable putting that kind of pressure on an unborn person- to bring me pleasure. Obviously even in very painful parenting circumstances, one can find happy moments. But I wouldn’t go into it with that as my primary goal. Whereas I feel more comfortable saying I can go into parenting assured that I can find meaning in it, and that goal is not as burdensome to the child. So I think that’s where this balance of meaning over pleasure, pleasure over meaning comes from, for me, at least. Does that make sense? I mean this in a very nuanced way, which I hope comes across. So it’s not that I don’t want pleasure in my life, or that people who choose kids eschew all pleasure, or people who don’t have kids are selfish because all they want is pleasure. All of those ideas are all-or-nothing thinking, and not accurate, or what I mean. I just can’t see myself pursuing parenting primarily as a means of obtaining pleasure. I’m sure many aspects will be pleasurable, but I wouldn’t choose it for that reason primarily. I would choose it for meaning.

        • Gina

          Oh, I definitely agree. One should never have kids to fill some hole in their life or make THEM happy. I like how another commenter put it that, whether you were happy or unhappy before kids, you’ll probably stay happy or unhappy after. Thanks for pulling out that nuance.

  • Victwa

    This still remains one of my favorite pieces of writing on this topic– other people have shared it but I just think it’s fantastic, even after many times reading it: http://therumpus.net/2011/04/dear-sugar-the-rumpus-advice-column-71-the-ghost-ship-that-didnt-carry-us/

    • Rachel

      YES. So beautiful. I go back and read that often.

    • Anon

      Confession: I have a picture of my ghost ship. My ex (we broke up because I wasn’t sure I wanted kids) and his daughter walking side-by-side, her wearing adorable little glitter shoes. That is one of the very few times I’ve felt the pang of what-could-have-been.

      • Danielle

        <3

  • Carolyn S
    • Rachel

      I didn’t have high hopes clicking on a Cosmo article, but that was a good read!

      • Ashlah

        It seems like Cosmo’s really been stepping up their game lately! I mean, I haven’t browsed through the entire contents of their magazine or website so maybe they’re still majority-terrible, but I often come across articles I appreciate!

        • Carolyn S

          Yeah mostly I’ve noticed a couple articles by comedians/podcasters/twitter people I know about (Elizabeth Laime also wrote an article for them recently – some may know her from Totally Mommy/Totally Married/Totally Laime)

          • toomanybooks

            I love Elizabeth Laime’s podcasts!

    • irishelf

      Thank you! It’s so refreshing to read an article that doesn’t try to convince me that motherhood is the key to all joy

  • Melinda

    If you know any, try and find some childless women in their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s who chose not to have children and ask them if they regret it. The idea that someone is going to wake up one day after a lifetime of not really desiring kids and suddenly wish they had is coo coo for cocoa puffs.

    • G.

      This interview with Terri Gross (who did not have kids and thinks she made the right decision) is pretty great: http://longestshortesttime.com/episode-79-terry-gross-on-not-having-kids/

      • Melinda

        Yep. I love that they mentioned “alone time”. I need way more alone time than most people, so kids are out of the question.

    • Sara

      One of my aunts is childless by non-choice – it was difficult for her to get pregnant, and then she miscarried. She didn’t really push it – sort of the ‘if it’ll happen, then great. Otherwise, whatever” type of decision. Her and my uncle are fun loving, fantastic people and I sometimes look at their life and think “yeah, I could do that”. They’re both retired now, and dote on their nieces and nephews but also live pet free and travel at the drop of the hat.
      It was interesting to hold up their life to my other aunt who basically panicked at 37 about never having kids (and really overshared her journey with 18 year old me) and went through an insane amount of treatments and expense to have her daughter with a husband who was in the ‘not really’ camp.

    • Meg Keene

      I know older women that regret not having kids. I also know older women who regret not having MORE kids. However, I think sometimes what people regret is the lack of opportunity. Life doesn’t always work out the way you want. AKA, making a choice to not have kids because you don’t want them is great, but it’s not always as cut and dry as that choice.

  • Rhie

    I change my mind about this every other day. Ugh.

  • Kaitlyn

    I’ve been suffering from baby fever lately, even though our GP is that kids are at least 3 years away (which still sounds terrifying haha). But my biggest fear is that I’m going to inadvertently screw them up. I think about my own childhood, which was pretty idyllic (until my parents got divorced at 21). Overall, it was pretty awesome. But as an adult, I realized there’s some things that definitely have affected me without realizing it. Body image issues/eating disorders run rampant in my family and I’m terrified on passing that on. There was a conversation at dinner with my entire family (mom, siblings, partners, nieces) and everyone is going on and on about this new diet they’re on and blah blah blah and my five-year-old niece looks down at her little five-year-old belly and goes sadly, “Why do I have a big belly?” (She is not overweight by any means and is very, very active with dance). It broke my heart, and I reassured her that her belly was beautiful and she was a very strong girl, but I don’t think she believed me.

    Anyway, what if you put in all the time and effort and you pass your issues onto your kid? What if you try your hardest and give them every opportunity and it still doesn’t work out? I suppose that’s a part of the risk of having children, and it’s not enough to sway my decision to have children in a few years, but it still terrifies me.

    • stephanie

      As a parent, I’ll just say this: you will, inevitably, fuck them up. But hopefully, with enough love and genuine desire to help this person grow into a good, solid human being, you’ll do more good than bad. I have no idea how many mistakes I’ve made, only that they are numerous. I have no idea how many more I will make. There are days where it feels like all I do is fail, but I still love this kid and everything about him and I still want to be here, in the thick of it, parenting him… so I do. I’m sure I’m passing on issues to him, but I hope that I’m also passing on coping mechanisms. We do try our hardest to give him every opportunity we can, but it doesn’t mean that anything will happen from that. I hope that he is a well adjusted, confident, decent, kind human. I hope that I can always be the kind of parent who truly just wants him to be happy, do what makes him happy, and not bring harm to others, and support him whether or not he’s doing the things I hope he would. There’s no way to know if that will be the case, like no way AT ALL, but… that’s what you sign up for.

      • Kaitlyn

        I love this and it’s very reassuring :)

    • emilyg25

      Oh yeah, you’ll definitely fuck up. And you won’t even always realize when you do. My mom still lies up at night worrying about things she said or did that I have no recollection of, and I still smart from things she probably doesn’t even remember saying. But the key is that I know my mom loves me and she did her best. Having some self awareness, apologizing when you need to, and overall just loving the shit out of your kid go a long way.

    • Alysssa

      There is a lot of research that very clearly shows that families that talk about dieting around their kids influence children to have body image issues and eating disorders. Maybe you could share some of that information with your family so they stop talking like that around your niece? As for your own kids (if you have them), talking to a therapist about this might help you to 1. have a place to air your own feelings about your body without sharing them with your children and 2. learn coping strategies to help you avoid “passing them on” to your offspring.
      <3

      • Kaitlyn

        There’s also research that shows eating disorders run in families, and we’re already three generations strong on that front but I’m glad I know that fact so I can be hyper-aware. I also like the idea of talking with a therapist. I’ve been very clear with my partner that there’s going to be zero negative body image around our children, but I know I’ll need his help keeping myself in line. As for my niece, I’m not sure there’s much that I can say to my family to educate them (they’re a stubborn bunch), but I try to redirect the conversation and focus my compliments more on her non-body strengths.

  • The other trap/argument technique that gets thrown around is the “but you’d make such a good parent” form of pressure. Uh, yeah. I know I’d be a good mom but that’s not a good reason to have kids. There’s lots of things I’d be good at that I have no interest in doing – professional chef, concert violist, mom. I don’t do some things because I lack talent; I don’t do them because I lack ambition.

    • Sosuli

      Yup – I so relate! I volunteer teaching 2-5 year olds, have lots of nieces and nephews, babysit regularly for my friends… I know I’m great with kids. Doesn’t mean I 100% want them or want to constantly hear people tell me how wonderful a mom I’m going to be. I don’t even know if I could physically have kids if I wanted to – I’ve never tried!

    • CommaChick

      I hear this but with teaching. Everyone tells me I should be an elementary school or middle school teacher “because I’d be good at it.” I am good at teaching, but I don’t like children. Being good at something is not a good reason to do it as a career or major life decision.

    • Sara

      Yep, I get this all the time. My response is usually something along the lines of, “I’d probably be great at skydiving too, but I’m not doing that either.”

  • Lisa Campbell Robbins

    This could have 100% been written by me. As such, unfortunately I don’t have any great advice, but just know you are not alone.

  • Cellistec

    I feel like a lot of APW pieces lately have been about the do-I-or-don’t-I of wanting kids, and I just want to chime in that I appreciate all of them. Also that I love that it’s even a question open for deliberation at this point in history, and there are as many different paths as there are people.

  • Antonia

    I’m almost 38, and my husband and I have a 6-month-old daughter. I never really wanted children, but we eventually decided to take the plunge and I’m so glad we did, even though it’s brought its share of stress and anxiety (and was preceded by a very sad and tragic 32-week stillbirth).

    That said: Now that I’m in my late 30s and most of my friends either have children or won’t, by choice or circumstance, the thing I’ve noticed is that my friends who were relatively happy/content before children continue to be relatively happy/content with children, and those who weren’t, aren’t.

    I understand that before you’ve committed firmly to one camp or the other, the kids/no kids thing seems like a life-or-death decision, and I do think it is something that should be weighed thoughtfully and carefully. However, I don’t think children “make” you a happier, better, or more fulfilled person.

    tl;dr: If you’re a happy person without kids, you’ll be happy with them. If you’re a miserable person without kids, you’ll be miserable with them.

    • toomanybooks

      That’s a really interesting observation! I’ve actually never heard anyone say that before, but it makes a lot of sense. (I think I’d be a miserable person with them, since I am without, which is part of why I don’t want them.)

      • Meg Keene

        This is so, so, smart. Respect.

    • Kaitlyn

      I’m so sorry that you lost your first-born. I lost my son, too. The questions that the author starts with – “when are you going to have kids? How many kids are you going to have?” – take on a whole different, brutal life when you lose a child (and, along with the child, the sweet and innocent notion that life was ever under your control).

      • Antonia

        Thank you. <3 I'm so sorry for your loss as well.

        "…the sweet and innocent notion that life was ever under your control." Ugh, still grappling with this. Once you've seen behind the curtain, there's no going back.

    • Meg Keene

      “That said: Now that I’m in my late 30s and most of my friends either have children or won’t, by choice or circumstance, the thing I’ve noticed is that my friends who were relatively happy/content before children continue to be relatively happy/content with children, and those who weren’t, aren’t.”

      WISE. I’ve never heard that said before. Kids actually made me a happier (and I think generally better) person. But they also made me a tireder person, so it all sorta comes out in the wash right now ;) But kids don’t solve problems, or cure depression, or fix relationships, or make you someone you were not before. I think there is a message that they change you in some profound way… but at the end of the day, you are you are you are you. Kids both enrich your life and make it harder (which hopefully balances out), but nothing much is going to move the needle on who you are, and HOW you are.

      And I’m so PROFOUNDLY sorry for the loss of your child.

    • Anne

      I think this is the most helpful thing I’ve read on the topic yet. So thank you!
      I think a lot of writing about the baby question is focused on either how great or terrible having kids is. And both mostly focus on the emotional part, on how kids either make you happy or not. But now that I really think about it, that seems like the wrong point to start. Maybe we should really think about it the other way round: Not “How would my life change if I had a baby?” but rather “What would my life as it is now look like with a baby?”
      I think a lot of trying to make that decision is trying to figure out what would change with a child. But if I’m being honest, I see a lot more things that wouldn’t change (I’ll still have a difficult relationship with my mom, I’ll still be chronically ill, my boyfriend will still be awful at handling stressful situations, I’ll still need a job, etc.), so why not start there? Can I imagine having a extra helping of stress with that? Do I feel like I could handle that, seeing as my life and me, as a person, will overall be the same as is now? Do I think I’ll personally experience enough joy about being a parent to make up for that?
      I’ll give that some thought while I try to figure out what I want. Thank you and congratulations on being happy with the choice you made!

  • toomanybooks

    Yikes, after reading the title I was worried this article was going to be like “and I had kids and now I’m miserable.” Which I guess would’ve been a perspective you don’t always hear!

    I have always, since I was a little kid, strongly not wanted to have kids. When I was little (and didn’t understand where babies came from) I thought maybe you automatically had them after getting married and I was terrified. Like I’d basically have panic attacks anytime I saw anything related to babies (a store with baby clothes, for instance) because I thought I had to do that someday. When I learned “the facts of life” I was SO relieved that I wouldn’t have to. To be honest, despite always wanting to get married, I always imagined my future older self alone. Throughout my teen years I was very vocal about never wanting kids. It hasn’t changed. Sure, sometimes I feel like it could be nice for various reasons, and I kind of envy women who have just always wanted kids. It’s nice to be so sure you want such a big thing. And babies are adorable! But I just don’t know that I could do it. I could see having my feelings swayed if my fiancée and I could have kids together – I could see the appeal of making a child that’s part me and part her. But that’s not an option, and both of us are happy to be DINKs.

    • Sarah

      there was a dear prudence article about a woman with a 9 month old or so who hated it, still hasn’t bonded, etc. That is terrifying to me.

  • Catarina

    So, I wasn’t sure I wanted kids until I got pregnant. It was an accident, and after much thought we decided to keep it. I never really liked kids, and had only actually held a baby a few times. I didn’t see myself as the “maternal” type at all, and it took me while to figure out the parenting thing, and really feel like I loved my baby. She’s 2 now, so I know I have a long way to go, but what I’ve learned so far is that you don’t have to be super maternal, or love (or even like) kids to be a good parent. With lots of reading, lots of clear minded decision making and lots os patience, it turns out I’m great at it (sure I make mistakes, and feel like a failure on hard days, but I think that’s the case for everyone). And I still don’t like babies and kids in general, which is weird, because I genuinely like to and know how to play with my toddler, but have no ideia what to say/do in front of the other toddlers at her school.
    So, I don’t regret my decision, I love my child like hell, and I think I’m doing a decent job. I really look forward to seeing her grow and having real conversations with her, and for her to actually remember our moments together. I tear up when I think of her all grown, though I guess part of it is because I have a deep relationship with my own mom.
    I do miss being child-free, but in a good way – I remember fondly of those times, but for me personally it’s still worth it. I guess my point is: think about it carefully, if you’re still on the fence! Obviously not having kids is the best decision for many people, but if the only reason is not really liking kids, my experience so far showed me that it doesn’t have to be a problem.

    • Antonia

      I remember reading something like this one time and it’s so simple and obvious, it blew my mind:

      Some people who want children would make terrible parents.
      Some people who don’t want children would make great parents.
      Some parents who think they’re doing a great job raising their kids are doing a terrible job.
      Some parents who think they’re doing a terrible job raising their kids are doing a great job.

      • Catarina

        It’s so true! There’s really no way of knowing for sure beforehand (or even during, I guess).

  • Alison O

    If experiencing pregnancy or having your children closely resemble you (which can be negative or positive…) are not a major part of your desire to have children, it takes a lot of pressure off in terms your decision making timeline. Regardless of your age or fertility, you can foster and adopt children (including newborns) through child welfare systems in the U.S. (basically for free and receive payments toward their care until age 18 depending on the state you live in).

    • Antonia

      I totally agree with this. Another option: one and done. My husband and I haven’t completely ruled out the possibility of a second child, but at this point, we’re thinking our daughter will be our only child. A big part of this for me is we got lucky with a beautiful, healthy, easy baby; why roll the dice? The other part is we get to experience parenthood without the chaos and decibel level of a larger family. We also think a lot about overpopulation and climate change, and how we can work to be part of the solution. Our daughter is 6 months old and I can already see the light at the end of the tunnel — more time to ourselves, better sleep, solid foods (breastfeeding is not my favorite activity). I kind of think of having an only child as “parenting lite.” ;-)

      • Lily

        Holy sh*t, this is us too! 6 month old baby girl, in perfect health and widely known among our family/friends as the easiest baby ever. I’d always wanted 2-4 kids, but I also work in acute peds health care, and frankly, rolling the dice again scares the crap out of me. I’ve been trying to ease my spouse into the idea of adoption, since he wanted a bio kid first. We don’t have to ‘decide’ anything final anytime soon, but it’s so hard not to ruminate on the decision.

    • MTM

      Just going to drop a little HONY here… “My husband and I have been trying to adopt a child from foster care for six years. The process is unbelievably difficult. There’s a reason people choose to adopt from foreign countries. Right now I’m waiting on my son to finish his ballet performance. He came from an orphanage in Guatemala. Can you imagine how different his life would be if we hadn’t adopted him? So this time we tried to adopt in America. We’ve inquired on 530 cases in five years. We’ve reached the final round several times, but each time we’re not chosen. Once it seemed like we were finally on the brink of adopting five siblings. We spent so much time with them. We were bonded with them. But at the last moment, the top administrator vetoed our case. No reason was given. He thought we ‘weren’t a good fit.’ We were devastated. I still have their pictures. We’re good parents. We have six grown children and two who still live with us. Everyone is doing well. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to adopt. Everything moves so slowly because the bureaucracy is overloaded and underfunded. These kids have no money so they have no voice. I’m in a support group on Facebook full of people like me. Everyone is agonizing over the reasons that they aren’t being matched: too old, too many children, not enough children, not enough money. The guesses are endless. In the meantime there are 100,000 kids in this country who are waiting for a family.” https://www.facebook.com/humansofnewyork/photos/a.102107073196735.4429.102099916530784/1282968868443877/?type=3&theater

      • Cellistec

        We want to adopt through foster care, and when I read things like this HONY post and the (amazeballs) Fosterhood blog, I feel incredibly relieved not to be in NYC. As I understand it, the red tape (and bureaucratic incompetence) varies state to state, and though there are heartbreaking stories to be found anywhere, I think the bell curve is still an accurate representation of how challenging the system is. That said, international adoption certainly works better for some families.

        • “I Don’t Knowww, Margo!”

          Fosterhood is so heartbreaking and good- I’ve followed her for years now, and I can’t believe how up in the air her situation is.

        • MTM

          Oh I don’t doubt (at least I hope) that this is an extreme situation, but sometimes people talk about adoption as this easy process (you get a baby! and support!) and from what I’ve observed, it just doesn’t go like that.

          • Cellistec

            So true.

        • Alison O

          Ooh I’ll have to check out Fosterhood.

          So far I’ve been a big fan of fostermoms (instagram and blog at fostermoms.com).

          • Cellistec

            I used to follow them too! But then I realized I had too many foster care subscriptions and pared it down to the ones focused on older kids rather than (admittedly adorable) babies and toddlers.

      • Greta

        Yes – it can be so so hard. A dear friend of mine really wants to be a parent – she is 37 and single, and would like to adopt above all else – but it’s too expensive! She’s done extensive research and adoption is the most expensive of her options. She’s looking to go the sperm donor route, but that ain’t cheap either! And she’s not even sure that she would even qualify as she is a single lady who doesn’t have a very large income. Ugh, red tape!

        • Alison O

          One of the greatest myths about adoption from foster care is that it’s expensive. In many states it is free and you get additional financial support for varying periods of time to care for the child.

      • Alison O

        Yeah I saw this. An N of 1 that I fear does children who are waiting for adoption no good. The child welfare systems from state to state vary a LOT. I have worked closely with child welfare leaders and adopters in Los Angeles, however, and based on that experience something like the post above would be a true outlier. It makes me wonder about what may not be visible in this story that may have been a factor in this particular couple’s difficulties. The way she talks about the process of being “chosen” and the “final round” was somewhat strange to me, as well. I wondered if they might be adopting through a private agency contracted with the public child welfare agency rather than through the public agency itself. There are both of those routes available in LA. I don’t know about NY or wherever this woman is from, but we have a massive shortage of foster and adoptive families in LA, particularly for very young children (including newborns who are safe-surrendered) and older youth. While I have many misgivings about our system here in LA, I doubt they would be turning people away without real concern.

  • Jenna S

    Please read Cheryl Strayed’s Dear Sugar book. She tackles this exactly in a couple parts of her book – and this book is just in general a really well written, life changing book. Specifically the section in the book called ‘the ghost ship that didn’t carry us’.

    • Kate

      Any time I make a major life decision I read “The Ghost Ship that Didn’t Carry Us”, it really is amazing.

  • Jane

    YES. I went through this whole process about six years ago with my then-boyfriend, now-husband.

    After passing 30 without any epiphanies—and much soul-searching—I eventually fell back on the fuck-yes-or-no test. Neither of us felt like we couldn’t NOT be parents… and at some point we realized that was our answer. It was tough to feel like I was the one who had to make the final call, but it has been the right thing for us. Trust your gut! If you feel ambivalent, that may well be your answer.

  • Emily Nourse

    I’m 37, have been married for 3 years and have two step kids, 13 and 11. Nothing brings the answer to the question ‘do we have kids?’ into sharper focus than accidentally skipping a pill and observing my reaction. The answer is hell no. I was pretty sure before but this clears up any residual uncertainty.

  • VKD_Vee

    Serious question… Does anyone feel like global warming headlines/scientific predictions are keeping them from taking the leap into getting preg? This is seriously the biggest factor keeping me on the fence, but since I’m the only person I know who seems obsessively worried about it, it makes me feel a little crazy. What are the odds the world is going to be unliveable by the time my kids grow up? What about *their* kids?

    Am I insane? Or at least letting my anxiety get the better of me? If so, someone talk me down from the ledge….

    • Ashlah

      This article was posted in Happy Hour a few months ago and speaks to that issue. The author herself is still grappling with it. It’s definitely something my husband and I think about! We are planning to have a kid, but we do talk about climate change. I’m the more optimistic of the two of us, in that I mostly believe (most of the time) that humans are very adaptable and will figure something out (in simple terms). Husband isn’t as optimistic/optimistic in the same way, but likes the idea of “keeping the experiment going.” Sounds like a really insensitive way to talk about your future spawn, but it’s in a similar vein as my feelings. Essentially, humans have always done kooky and amazing things, and why not keep that going? Humans have survived through many very difficult times, and still had lives worth living, so why not through climate change? Of course, I could be wrong and everything could be terrible. There are always new, terrible things happening that make people think twice about bringing kids into the world. Are the risks of climate change enough to prevent the existence of your hypothetical children/grandchildren? Would they have lives that are worth it anyway? We can’t really ever know. It’s a tough decision.

      • Antonia

        I’m super worked up over climate change, but I do agree with this.

    • lady brett

      yes. i mean, we already have kids, but i am terrified of that.

    • Antonia

      Yes. I live in a Northern climate and it’s scary as f*ck the changes I’ve seen just in my lifetime. I haven’t had to put on my winter tires the last two years; massive glaciers I used to visit as a kid have literally disappeared. It’s real, and it’s happening. We’re very likely only having one child by choice, and overpopulation and climate change is a big part of the reason why.

      I understand people wanting larger families, and that’s fine — climate change is only one of myriad reasons we’re probably “one and done.” I don’t typically go looking for reasons to be offended, but it drives me nuts when people encourage couples to have more children (or even one child) because “Your child might become a scientist who ‘cures’ climate change! Or cancer!” Um, nope – she’s not. There’s a very good chance she’ll be a productive, contributing member of society; there’s a smaller (but still decent) chance she won’t. And either way, she’ll have a carbon footprint – a relatively large one, in fact, since she lives in a developed nation.

      If we’re talking extremes, then sure – there’s a one in a billion chance she’ll be the next Marie Curie. There’s also a one in a billion chance she’ll be the next Sandy Hook shooter. So.

      • VKD_Vee

        I love this response, Antonia, thank you…. I’ve been guilty for having feelings of “the world is maybe probably sorta doomed …. but i want a kid ANYWAY” followed-up by thoughts of ‘well, if i’m *that* selfish maybe I’d be a horrible parent!’

        • Antonia

          Eh, people have children for “selfish” reasons – they want someone to love, to show off, to care for them in their old age. People DON’T have children for “selfish” reasons – more money, more time, more sleep. Since we’re doomed to be “selfish” no matter what, may as well do what feels right for our particular situation. ;-)

    • Alison O

      Totally…though not obsessively worried; it just makes sense to me. It’s also a part of why I lean toward foster/adopt, if I have kids at all. Kids in the system already exist and need families, especially if the world goes (farther) to hell.

  • Alexandra

    Derp a derp. Schmer Schmer. I feel like I’ve seen at least six versions of this article on APW over the past four years. “I don’t know if I really want kids, it would change everything, but what if I regret not having kids, hand wringing, hand wringing”.

    We got pregnant three months into marriage without thinking about it much. Then we had a kid. He’s great. Now we’re pregnant again. Great. Whatever.

    Having the choice (I’m referring to birth control here)…great in extreme cases, but it seems to have led to so much existential angst about this basic function of life that has only been a thing (the angst, not birth) for the past two generations.

    Here’s the thing: babies take over your life for a short time. It’s an intense couple of years. There’s self-sacrifice involved. It’s frequently un-fun. Then it gets easier. For most people, anyway. My kid(s) aren’t the center of my existence. I had a life before them and I’ll have one after them. I’m incredibly thankful for them, but in a way, it isn’t a giant deal one way or the other. If I hadn’t had them, I’d have had an interesting, meaningful life (like a good friend of mine who is married and decided not to have kids). Having had them, it’s an interesting, meaningful life in a different way.

    Also, I’m not actually “cut out” for motherhood. Not a major nurturer, not super into babies, not a natural “mommy”. I have a level of competency and am more or less capable of being responsible, loving, and caring towards people, and also capable of putting the needs of others ahead of my own as necessary. That’s basically all that’s required. You don’t have to be a Pinterest master, you just have to be present. People have been parenting for thousands of years. Kids are resilient. Women are, too.

    I think all the pressure that goes into this decision nowadays isn’t really doing anybody any favors. I know this is pretty debatable, but the point I’m trying to make is that the stakes are not as high as people think.

    • Hope

      Love this. Amen! The angst!!! I don’t get “liking kids” or not. Kids are just people, diverse as that group is. And it’s all so temporary. The people remain, the babies are gone in a moment. I say this as a sleep-deprived mother of a 6-month old.

      • Alexandra

        Right? So true; you just kind of deal with the baby/kid part. It’s really magical sometimes and totally not at other times. Everything doesn’t have to be your life calling to be worthwhile and a good thing to do.

  • Kayjayoh

    I always wanted/assumed I would have kids, until my peers started having pregnancies. Then I realized that I really, really didn’t want to sign up for that. I figured, however, that I would end up with a partner who wanted kids, or birth control would fail and I’d have to make a decision, or my mind would change.

    Well, I found a partner who straight up really doesn’t want to be a parent, I have never had a single pregnancy scare in my entire life (I’m 40), and I never stopped finding pregnancy and childbirth to be a horrifying idea. So…

    (Yes, adoption and fostering are options, but I am not interested in the hoop jumping that comes with either.)

    I still really love kids. If storks magically brought one, I’d have at least two. But I never want to have kids, and that isn’t just to accommodate my husband. (And my life is amazingly full of other people’s kids, including my to nephews, my niece, my god daughter, her brother, and a wide assortment of friends’ wee ones.)

  • educateallCO

    I’ll admit I didn’t read all the comments but I don’t know there is a right answer. I never expected to have a kid, I never even yearned for it like you described. I still can’t imagine being a stay at home mom but I kind of love motherhood! I think I’d be happy just with my spouse too. For me it was not about thinking too much it was just about going where life took me (which is not how I tend to live life otherwise)

  • Catriona

    Read that and first thought was: Same. Actually everything is the same. Except husband went from probably no to yes. You’ve just articulated everything that’s been on my mind. I too have a chronic illness (endometriosis) that comes with varying amounts of endless fatigue. I feel that I can only have 2 out of 3: work, health, or kids. I don’t know how did fare as a mother being health challenged. There’s too many unknowns. What I know is how I don’t always handle my pain and fatigue well around those I love and who know me best. I don’t want that to be how my (imaginary future) kids would remember me.

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  • Cat

    This was a great read, thank you for sharing! I’m in the same position as you; it’s nice to know others struggle with all the “what ifs”… Some of the comments on here actually push me in the pro-kids direction because they make me realize that becoming a parent is one of the most powerful ways to challenge fearful or self-centred assumptions—e.g., “I only want biologically “normal” female offspring” (holy f*** what a ridiculous thing to say, on so many levels!). Maybe that person really will go their whole life thinking of boys or “abnormal” (?!) people as dangerous burdens, and I guess that’s fine as long as you keep that opinion to yourself. But I want to take on a wide array of “life challenges” in the hopes that I will grow and learn as much as I can with the time given to me. In short, I see now that the biggest thing holding me back from having a family is fear, and I never want to waste my life making decisions based on fear. Thank you. xo