On Being Happily Childfree

I wouldn’t say that my childhood was the most stable. It was warm, loving, and full of laughter, but stable wasn’t part of it. My mom has been divorced more times than I would like to mention here, and those marriages resulted in four kids total, many with different fathers. So all of my siblings are technically my half siblings, even though we grew up in the same house, and the idea that they are anything less than my flesh and blood and integral to my life has never even crossed my mind.

This has a lot to do with why my mantra growing up was, “I’m never getting married or having kids.” Well, half of that turned out to be wrong. I had no idea that I would meet someone that I felt that I could share a life with. I didn’t really think that love, real-life love existed until I met my now husband. And I resisted getting married for about as long as I could, but in the end it was the right choice for me and for us. The other half of the mantra is still intact.

Two of my siblings are younger than me—my brother is five years younger and my sister is seven years younger—and I did a lot of babysitting and general child maintenance when I was growing up. In part, I feel like I raised them. It’s not that our parents were not around. In fact, we had more parents around than most kids. And it’s not that they were neglectful; it’s just that I was the built-in babysitter. Because of this experience, I realized at a pretty young age how hard taking care of and raising kids can be. That informed my decision not to have kids for a long time. But to be fair, I was under eighteen at the time, so you could also add being a high school student that wanted to go to college as just as valid a reason.

But now I am in a completely different place in my life, and the to-have-or-not-to-have-kids question has changed. I am thirty-one and so is my husband, we own a condo, we’re responsible adults with jobs and money. The really easy answers are not available any more. We could very easily support a child financially, emotionally, and spiritually. We’re mature adults, and we know what we want out of life—and it’s not kids. Thankfully we are on the same page.

My husband and I have been together for twelve years now, and we have revisited this question at various points during the relationship. We have always come to the same conclusion, although the older we get, the more we understand that change is inevitable, so we’ve worked in some contingency plans. We have talked through every scenario. We have asked ourselves the tough questions like, “What if we wake up at forty-five and want kids?” ” Would adoption be a valid option for us if we change our minds?” “What will our lives be like when all of our friends have kids and we don’t?” “What if my husband gets a vasectomy and then we break up and he marries someone else that wants kids?” “Will we be okay with just us and a few animals?” We talked about it all, and we’ve come up with what we think are pretty good solutions to them all, for now. We will come back to the table soon, I’m sure, and check in. The only rule is that we are brutally honest and open to hearing what the other has to say.

I am now at the age that a lot of my friends are trying to get pregnant. Some have been successful and some are having a really hard time. The way my friends who want kids now or in the future talk about it lets me know that I am doing the right thing and making the right decision for me. I have learned that for a lot of women, wanting to have a child is something that isn’t a rational decision that they make. It comes from deep within them, from a place that they may not even understand themselves. The way they have talked about wishing they were pregnant even though they themselves know that they are not ready financially or in a stable enough situation to raise a kid confirms what I have known all along. You either have that feeling or you don’t. I don’t have that feeling.

But I don’t want anyone to think that this is an easy decision for me. There is a very strong part of me that wants to want kids. There is a part of me that gets teary when I think that I’m not that person, because I think that being a mother and having that strength is the most powerful thing in the world. I don’t like feeling like I’m missing that piece. And I really resent anyone that makes me feel that way. It ain’t easy to be the married couple that doesn’t want kids. There is an unfair amount of explaining to do. I know that thirty-one is young and I have a lot of living and growing and maturing to do, but I hate it when my decision is belittled by someone saying, “Oh, you’ll change your mind.” Because you know what, I might and that’s fine too. But in the mean time, I just want people to have the courtesy to treat me like an adult and respect the decisions that we’ve made. When a married couple says, “We want to have kids,” no one ever says to them, “Oh, you’ll change your mind”.

It’s not an easy thing to explain because it’s not that I don’t think I would be a good mother, or that I don’t like kids, or that I don’t want my life to change. None of those are true even (though I think that any reason is valid). I think ultimately women need to give each other (and more importantly ourselves) a break when it comes to this stuff. We spend too much time judging each other’s lives and the way we live them. To have children is just the beginning of the conversation, then we judge each other for the way we raise our kids and whether we work outside the home or not. Then there is the perception that people that don’t have kids don’t ever want to be around them. In fact I think that spending time with kids is going to be an integral part of our lives. I don’t want kids, but that doesn’t mean I don’t find great joy in hearing that a friend is pregnant or meeting a new member of the family.

So let’s just call it a truce. I will be happy to hear your pregnancy news, and you will be happy to hear that I am still not pregnant.

Photo by: Emily Takes Photos

Featured Sponsored Content

  • Rose in SA

    Great post Avis!

    I am right there with you on most of this. My difficulty though is that I’ve only come to realise that I don’t want kids (I think) in the last couple of years, after being married, and it feels like I’m reneging on a deal I made with my husband. We are still in the place of talking and figuring out what to do, but it’s hard. I’m really struggling to find the right times to talk about it (not when we’re tired and stressed, but then I don’t want to ruin a great day either). It came up the other night and I told my husband that I think about this question every single day, sometimes multiple times a day and he was really shocked. It’s different for men I think.

    Anyway, rambling comment, just wanted to say that I hear you and this resonates for me (especially how people don’t question when a couple says they want to have kids!).

  • Shawna

    Great post!

    And I hear you about knowing how hard kids can be. I am the oldest of 6 children, and the age span between me and the second is 6 years— then the distance only grows until the 6th child, who is 16 years younger than me. Talk about being the built in babysitter! Ugh. And, my parents weren’t/aren’t always physically or emotionally available, so I still feel like I’m raising the youngest ones. And, as they near high school graduation, I think to myself “do I really want to start over with an infant????” (even though those I’m raising now aren’t really mine and don’t live in my house– still, I’m their sole source for all questions– how to deal with the opposite sex, how to deal with the same sex, how to cook, how to balance a budget, how to open a bank account, how to use a debit card, and the list goes on). But, I think you are right in that it is something that comes from deep inside. I do still want to have children (two, and not six). Even though I know very well the realities of having and raising a child, somehow, my uterus is crying out to me to do it. And sometimes it is annoying. I honestly wish I could be on your side and not want to have children. So, great post. And here’s to a truce! Some of us can want children, and some can want to remain childless. And we’re all ok and doing it right!

    • meg

      I actually *don’t* agree with Avis that it’s always something that comes from deep inside (I’ve been in both places and I think that deep inside thing is a fancy word for hormones…) but we’ll discuss that some tomorrow.

      But, what I did want to say is that this was exactly how my grandmother was. Helped raise six kids, and by the time she had her own three she was TIRED. It all worked out well in the end, but it was one of the defining features of her motherhood: tired, because it was the second time around.

      • I’ve been in both places too. For a period in my twenties I didn’t think I’d want kids, then it hit me at 29. Hit me really, really hard. I want a baby more than anything right now and it’s completely irrational and out of control. I agree that it’s hormones.

        But even though I had the experience of having the biological clock hit when I didn’t know if it ever would, I don’t ever expect other women to have the same experience. I think it’s horrible when people say “you’ll change your mind.” Maybe you will and maybe you won’t, but either outcome is fine. What’s it to them? Jeez.

        And right now I’m very grateful for those couples who don’t want children. There are so many kids in the world and I feel rather guilty for wanting them. I’m relieved every time I hear a woman say that she doesn’t want them. Makes me feel like there’s more space for me to choose to have them!

      • Christa

        Its funny, because my mom had the same experience, and totally different conclusions. She’s the oldest girl out of 11 kids. When she was 16, she ended up effectively raising all the younger ones because of some drama. She says she loved it. She learned how to handle babies and kids, and learned how different people can be given the same experience, so she wasn’t worried that our quirks are her fault. She says it was much easier the second time.

        People are different.

      • HH

        A dear friend of mine pined for children for three years, and when she and her husband decided to give it a whirl, she went off the pill. Immediately after going off the pill, she DID NOT WANT kids anymore. AT ALL. So yes- hormones. yours and manufactured. Crazysauce.

        • That’s a bit terrifying! Well, at least I’m not on the pill (because it does other disturbing things to my mind and well being), so I know my baby fever is not pill induced! lol

  • Steph

    I’m going to go back and read the post in a minute, but I just have to comment how EXCITED I am about this week’s APW theme. Being the female half of a couple who are in our 30’s, happily married, and consciously choosing not to have kids, I have often felt invisible (and when not invisible, like a crazy anomaly) in society. I’m sooooo excited to read about other couples like me, and also to learn more about APW families who have made a different choice than me and my husband. Thank you so much for this weeks theme!!!!

    • Steph

      Ok, so now that I read the post… Avis, you so much for this:

      “It ain’t easy to be the married couple that doesn’t want kids. There is an unfair amount of explaining to do.”

      This: “The really easy answers are not available any more. We could very easily support a child financially, emotionally, and spiritually. We’re mature adults, and we know what we want out of life—and it’s not kids. Thankfully we are on the same page.’

      And This: “You either have that feeling or you don’t. I don’t have that feeling.
      But I don’t want anyone to think that this is an easy decision for me.
      There is a very strong part of me that wants to want kids. There is a part of me that gets teary when I think that I’m not that person, because I think that being a mother and having that strength is the most powerful thing in the world. I don’t like feeling like I’m missing that piece. And I really resent anyone that makes me feel that way.”

      If you are ever in the Philly area I seriously owe you a cup of coffee for puting into words so perfectly some of the things I’ve been feeling and experiencing since entering my 30’s (I”m 33 and married just before my 30th birthday).

      It’s funny, my hubby has grwn more and more comfortable with our stance, where I”ve felt more outside “pressure from the world at large” (which has made me feel more insecure) ever since getting married. Probably b/c I”m the woman and I”m “supposed” to want kids, while he is “supposed” to be the one hemming and hawing. Dominant cultural narritives suck sometimes!

      • MDBethann

        I’m sorry you’re getting pressure. Because of you and another dear friend, I’ve learned to say “You don’t want kids? I have friends who don’t want kids either.” and if they’re open, ask questions about why they don’t want kids. I know your reasons, and if they change, great. But please, please, please don’t ever feel pressured into changing your mind. You should only have kids if that is what you and your dear hubby really want, not because other people think you should have them.

        I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – if/when I have kids, you are perfectly welcome to borrow them and spoil them any time you want :-)

      • Amy

        These are the very excerpts that I swear I am going to print, laminate, and just hand to people when they start the “you’ll change your mind” song.

        Perfectly captured, my friend.

    • meg

      You know, the funny/ awesome thing about the APW community is that we had to work harder to source the non-taboo topic of choosing to HAVE kids. At one point Maddie says, “Well, we can do No Kids Week?” I love that you guys are always BEYOND ready to talk about the stuff that’s more taboo to discuss in public.

      • I’m hoping you have something though!
        As someone who went through a phase of definitely not wanting kids, then realised that I wanted to want to have one and am now pregnant (and not particularly liking it, but nervously excited about whats to come), I feel like a really odd one out a lot – we decided to have a baby, rather than needing to have one… Its quite a different experience to any of my friends who have had children (or are trying to have children), and I feel quite guilty for how easy it has been for us – we decided (with lengthy discussions) that we would try, set a date to stop trying not to and found ourselves pregnant immediately, no time for second guessing there!

        What we have found hardest is that people dont understand that we have chosen to get pregnant, but before we started trying we adamantly decided that we would not undertake any treatments – natural or nothing. Apparently, if you are meant to be a mother, you are meant to want motherhood-at-all-costs. grrrrr to the cultural narratives about parenting!

    • Kelsey

      My computer has a hard time with the “exactly” button, so I just wanted to say I’m also very relieved and excited to talk about this, as always. Thanks, APW!!

  • PA

    I am so sorry that you are being second-guessed, and that people are behaving as if they know your mind better than you do yourself. I have a hard time understanding other parents or potential parents who get offended (or derisive) when they meet a couple that does not want to have children.

    Further, I think it’s great that you and your husband are on the same page, willing to make the right decisions for yourselves, and also committed to discussing the issue regularly to make sure you stay on the same page and keep making the right decisions!

    Thanks for sharing!

    • meg

      I seriously think this is nuts, and part of the whole ‘teamification of women’ concept that I still owe you all a post on.

      I mean, lets be frank, I’m THRILLED we have friends without/ who don’t want kids. They are way more likely to play auntie to our kids, or come and force their babysitting skills on us and make us go to the movies. But, selfishness aside ;) having a mix of people in your community, on anything, is always such a blessing, no?

      • Ambi

        I feel the same way about this as I do about people who claim that gay marriage will somehow destroy straight marriage – I just cannot relate to a mindset where, if someone doesn’t want to do what you are doing, they must be against it or attacking it. It is just a world view that doesn’t seem to have much tolerance for diversity at all, and honestly, to me, it just seems to come from a place of insecurity. When people are secure in their own decisions and life choices, the fact that someone else is choosing to do something different usually doesn’t make them defensive about their own choices.

        All of that said, I have noticed a bit of a cultural trend lately that kind of mocks parents. From TV and movies to blogs and everything else, it seems pretty popular right now to make fun of the time, energy, money, emotion, etc. that parents put into raising their kids – the message seems to be that these parents are crazy/obsessive/neurotic/etc., so I can see how I might feel a bit defensive if I were a parent right now. It is almost as if society/the media is creating a “bridezilla” kind of narrative around parenting.

        • meg

          I’d say more properly, in the same way that there is a huge section of society with a legitimately obsessive approach to weddings, there is the same thing currently happening with parenting. It’s something actually happening, not something made up by the media, but the media response is not terrifically nuanced. It’s worth discussing, but same as with weddings, the cultural backlash isn’t constructive.

          • Ambi

            I agree that there is a real phenomenon happening, but that only furthers my point. Whether a parent is defending her choice to be a super-involved, some would say over-protective “helicopter parent,” or is defending herself as NOT being one of those kinds of parents, they are both on the defensive and having to battle against a societal narrative that makes them out to be a bit crazy. I really do compare it a lot to the bridezilla idea – whether the bride DOES have a very strong vision and opinions and is trying to execute those plans the best she can, or whether she doesn’t care at all and is happy to let everyone else make the decisions, she is still going to find herself fighting against the bridezilla stereotype, just in different ways. It’s the negative stereotype that puts people in that defensive mentality. So, for example, I have a coworker who is a classic example of one of those helicopter-type parents, and has been for the past 13+ years. She was completely open and secure about discussing her child and their life before, and then a year or so ago, she started to pepper her conversations with disclaimers about how ‘this may seem extreme, but I’m really not one of those crazy obsessive parents’ and now she DOES the exact same things, but talks about them much differently. I feel like she is now in a much more defensive mindset, and I can see how parents in that kind of mindset might take discussions about how someone doesn’t want to have children as more of an attack than she would have before. So, all I’m saying is that, whether the stereotype is true or not, it is out there, and it is viewed as a very negative thing to be, and I think that has put a lot of parents in a defensive stance that adds to this “teamification” that you have talked about.

        • Marisa-Andrea

          I don’t know. To be fair parenting has kind of taken on a life of its own in a way that a lot of people (including me) find crazy. The craziness is very very real.

          • meg

            I agree. And why I don’t run a parenting blog. I think there is general feeling that if parents have opinions on parenting, that’s a problem. We should all be blank slates! Love everything! Not discuss things we’re finding really problematic! And any conversation that moves beyond that safe zone turns into a screaming match.

            So yes, no writing a parenting blog for me.

        • I think it’s part of the whole damned if you do/damned if you don’t trend that’s been going on about almost every decision a woman can make in life right now. I think the fact that women do have access to so many different paths now than we used to, even if many of them are still very hard to access, just gives society more space to judge. And there are just too many different rubrics out there.

  • Liz

    As someone who’s known since childhood that she does not want children, I have to chime in and say that the “oh, you’ll change your mind” response is so unbearably smug and condescending that it makes me livid. I genuinely don’t think people know how awful they sound when they say that. Sorry you’ve had to deal with it… and I love that you’re putting contingency plans like that in place. Then you’ll always know that whatever decision you made, it was the right one.

    • We’ve decided not to have children and are very comfortable with that decision. But I hate the “You’ll change your mind” or “You’ll see” or “Things change” responses so so so much. I try to cut people some slack because I don’t think they realize how unfunny or uncaring that response may seen or just HOW OLD it gets to have very important life choices questioned.

      I’m sure I’ve said things that were similarly construed as insensitive to couples with children or couples struggling with infertility and hope that they would give me the same benefit of the doubt. I’ve sort of laughed this off but I’m leaning towards, in the future, being gracious but a little more firm.

      • KEA1

        As a very contentedly child-free person, may I put in the vote for more of the “gracious but firm” responses to people who question another person’s life choices? If I tried to explain how furious I am at all the times I’ve been told how I feel (or how I eventually will feel) about things–kid decision or otherwise–my blood would begin to boil, and I do not want to spend my day off that way. Every time someone explains, nicely of course, that it’s not fair to anyone to discredit their decisions, life gets easier for everyone.

        • Let’s band together and give it a shot. It can only help, right?

          • KEA1

            I’m in! %)

    • Lynn

      In my early 20s, as I was searching for a doctor who would give me an IUD as birth control, I had a gynecologist actually say, “You’ll change your mind” as she patted me on the thigh. I stood up and said, “Perhaps, but not today so thank you” and walked out the door.

      The level of condescension is maddening.

      • Patrick

        I had a urologist tell me basically the same thing at 18 or 19 or so: “You couldn’t possibly be sure about that, come back in 10 years.”

        Ten years later I sent him a short note saying that I had since been snipped, and that he might want to reconsider his smug attitude.

        My step-sister, of all people, gave me a line recently, too. She’s an OBGYN and she’s pregnant. I found out via Facebook, and said congrats. She said, tongue in cheek, “Hey, it might be hereditary”.

        No, pumpkin, it might not. We’ve discussed my vasectomy before. I’m not going to change my mind.

      • On the flip side, I had the perfect reaction from a doctor:

        We expected the same reaction when we went looking for a doctor that would perform a tubal ligation on me at 27. I brought my partner with me to the consultation and we had a million well considered reasons and you know what? The doctor just asked if we were 100% sure, gave us the run down of complications and the difficulty of reversing (in a manner that acknowledged my obsessive research before hand) and was ready to schedule the surgery. He actually believed us and we didn’t have to justify a thing.

        It just isn’t that hard for doctors to handle well…

  • “You’ll change your mind” is probably the sentence I loathe most – when it’s leveled at a person’s life choices by someone who thinks their own life choices are superior. For a long time I didn’t want kids. And … I *did* change my mind. But I still HATE that phrase and all the assumptions that go along with it. Ick. So condescending.

    I like your proposed truce, Avis, and I wish people would apply that sort of “you do you, I’ll do me, we’ll be happy for each other” in so many other areas of life, too.

    I am heartened to see that the choice not to have children is becoming more accepted – at least in my circles, and, I would imagine, circles like our APW community. And I really like the way you presented it, so thank you for sharing!

    • meg

      I wish I could think of the exact post where someone said it (though I referred to the idea in my maternity leave post last week). But. The thing about changing your mind is that even if you DO change your mind on something (or just slowly change period, which is actually normal, not a bad thing), it still comes from a place that it’s internal to you. It’s not like you suddenly become a new person, or you suddenly realize what you thought your whole life was wrong (which is what the phrase ‘You’ll change your mind’ is really implying). It means you’re still exactly the same person, but for some reason things shifted. Which is ok. Not gross, in the way that phrase somehow implies. We all have the possibility of changing our minds about anything, right? No one choice is more ripe for mind changing than others (certainly not having kids). But if we do, it doesn’t mean we were WRONG and they were RIGHT and suddenly we GOT IT and now we’re a NEW PERSON.

      • Marie

        “But if we do, it doesn’t mean we were WRONG and they were RIGHT and suddenly we GOT IT and now we’re a NEW PERSON.”

        I couldn’t have said it better. I have a friend who didn’t want children, but changed her mind and decided to have them. It was still HER decision, not the random people who tried to convince her otherwise. She is still the same person, just made a different choice.

        Oh, as an added bonus story, her family threw her a “We Told You So! Party” (I-shit-you-not). She took it as graciously as she could, whereas I could not speak cohesively after hearing about it.

        • meg

          No. NO.

        • Oh, GROSS. Kudos to your friend for managing a gracious response to something that gross.

      • “But if we do, it doesn’t mean we were WRONG and they were RIGHT and suddenly we GOT IT and now we’re a NEW PERSON.”

        Exactly! Mind-changing is totally okay. Life is change! The smugness of those “you’ll change your mind” and “I told you so” type comments is just so disappointing. I think it discourages people from feeling comfortable having an honest conversation. I know when I was starting to realize I did want children after all, I dreaded the day it would come up with some people who had given me the whole speech about how I would GET IT SOME DAY and change my mind. Because yeah, I did change my mind, but not because I SUDDENLY GOT IT. It’s because my life changed, in ways I had no idea it would, and having a child became important to me.

      • AnnDee
      • Alexandra

        Personally, having gone through a couple of “Oh you’ll change your mind” moments where I did end up changing my mind, I never saw this statement as being that offensive. Sure, at the time, I thought it was a little smug and arrogant. But then I grew up, looked back at who I was 5 years ago, and realized that that poor girl who thought she had everything figured out was mostly wrong. I had views at age 8 that I thought were crazy when I was 13, and views at 13 that I thought were crazy when I was 16, and views at 16 I thought were crazy at age 20. And now I’m 26, and if someone tells me “You’ll see” I figure they’re probably right, and the reason why is probably “Hormones and brain development.” One day, I probably will look back on my decisions with a completely different mindset. That’s what growing up seems to be.

        It doesn’t have to be an insult. It doesn’t have to mean that who we are now is somehow under-developed. Someone once commented to me, when I was worrying that one day I’d look back on my wedding and think it looked dated, that what I really should think is that one day I’ll look back on my wedding and think “That’s exactly who I was at the time.” So yeah, if someone tells me one day I’ll change my mind, I just tell them “Maybe one day, but not today.”

  • Annie

    “But in the mean time, I just want people to have the courtesy to treat me like an adult and respect the decisions that we’ve made. When a married couple says, “We want to have kids,” no one ever says to them, “Oh, you’ll change your mind”.”

    So much agreed. I wish people would give couples more support and respect on this decision. My husband and I want children someday, but for now I don’t think of us as any less of a family than we will be when we have kids. And honestly, if a couple decides that not having kids is the right choice for them, I want to high five them. I’d way rather a couple make that decision than fall prey to the idea that somehow your life isn’t complete or that your womanhood is invalid if you don’t give birth. So glad to see people like Avis give voice to such a major issue that’s rarely talked about.

    • I have actually asked some people who told me that I would change my mind if they ever changed their minds about having their kids.
      They all said that no, having a child was the single most fulfilling thing they did with their lives.
      Now that I am pregnant? As I suspected, the truth has come out from some of them… (inlcluding my SIL who is trying to persuade me already to have a second when I’m not halfway cooked my first by telling me she hated being pregnant too, but it must have been worth it because she did it again… Like that helps at this stage!!?!)

      On the plus side, now my ILs might actually treat us as a small family unit rather than as spares who will move their entire lives around for our nephews.

      And for us, telling people we were not having kids was easier than saying “we might in the future” when we hadn’t made a final decision either way (not having kids was very much on the table) and then having people badger us about whether now was the future. When people started talking to us about having kids, I started talking (very excitedly) about plans for overseas travel and house renovations.

      • MDBethann

        Good for your younger self who changed the topic to things that mattered more to you at the time – travel and house renovations – than some hypothetical future in which you might or might not have kids.

  • anon

    I am now 38, and always wondered if the feeling would kick in that I want kids – it hasn’t. I’m getting married next year to a man who has always known he doesn’t want children, so we are also on the same page. There certainly seem to be some poeple who think their decision to have children is the right one for everybody – and a lot of people, too, who don’t even make a decision – they just have kids because it’s what they think they’re supposed to do at that stage in life. I’m glad I can be true to myself and that neither my fiance or I has to compromise on that.

  • laura

    This is such a tough one- well written post.

    I feel like what makes this all so hard is that people really love to initiate a dialog about this sort of thing. People want to talk about kids and all the ins and outs of it. They like it because it’s personal and momentous and joyous and scary and devastating and beautiful, all of these things at once. Who wouldn’t want to talk about that? Who wouldn’t NEED to talk about that?

    But talking about it can cause a lot of internal conflict, even for people who do want to have kids. We’re not all in the same boat, no matter what our setup is. I’m in a different sort of scenario (my husband has a child from a previous marriage; we very much want children of our own but we lost our first and only pregnancy so far), and the comments we get come with – and invoke – their own set of baggage. I find myself thinking, all the time, that I wish people would just stop talking about it and asking questions. Just stop. No questions, no comments. It’s hard enough.

    I do feel that deep desire to be a mom and I agree that it can often come from somewhere inside that is not entirely rational. It wasn’t a decision I made, it was something I always carried with me. And I believe strongly that some have this and some do not, and also everywhere in between.

    Regarding “you’ll change your mind,” it is a very, very presumptuous and smug response, as someone said above. For sure. No one should ever say this. But you can see why people do say this, right? It’s because most people do change their mind. Not everyone, of course, which is why no one should ever say this (also because the hypothetical of the future doesn’t matter compared to the reality of the present). But people make assumptions based on their experience and it is the experience of many people that, of those we’ve heard say they never want kids, most (in my case, all) of them have changed their mind. It doesn’t make it ok to say something so insensitive and presumptuous, but you can see why people who are not very circumspect about their interaction will just blurt something like this out. They’ve seen it happen and are categorizing/stereotyping, which is an unfortunate natural impulse of the human brain that we must work against.

    • meg

      I actually don’t think most people change their minds. I think that’s sort of a false construct we’ve set up for ourselves. Some people change their minds (both ways, it’s just that the people who wanted kids once and then chose not to have them are often less visible). But the majority of people I know who don’t/ never wanted kids are not in fact having kids. Which is no big surprise to me.

      When people tell you who they are, believe them.

      • KC

        Absolutely. When our friends tell us who they are, we should believe them. This would solve so many problems. So many.

        I planned to not marry, because:
        a) I had never met, nor heard of anyone remotely plausible as a truly good match for me, and
        b) was 100% convinced that being single for life was way better than a bad (or even mediocre) marriage. If I could not have a marriage that made both of us better, I did not want to get married.

        So, the people who were all on the “You’ll change your mind, but it’ll be too late; you should lower your standards for guys” were fundamentally wrong, even though I did get married. My not-planning-to-marry conclusion changed because the you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me match was found (and investigatively verified by dating). If I hadn’t found a good match (I’m a pretty weird person, so there aren’t all that many good complements out there), I kind of hope/expect that I would have stayed single. That would have undoubtedly gotten less comfortable as my pool o’ single friends/roommates married off, etc., but I was and am pretty confident in those starting assumptions.

        People who decide not to have kids would, I assume, often (albeit not always) have similar levels of reasons underlying their decision, and I don’t think it’s fair to be confident that their decision is just a surface thing which they’ll change their minds about as they “grow up”. That’s patronizing and also stupid.

        I’m not sure what part a) the scary potentially-changing hormones and b) peer activity play in changing peoples’ minds (about marriage and about kids); when 90% of your peers are doing something, there’s some degree of flow resistance required. Plus, if you’re in the maybe-but-definitely-not-now, it’s often easier to say “we’re not planning to have kids” rather than to go into it all.

        So, while there’s probably a narrative filtering emphasis on the and-then-they-decided-to-have-kids-after-all side, there are probably other factors at play in the story as well, as there are in marriage decisions. But in any event, we should skip the “oh, you’ll definitely change your mind” side of it! Even if someone feels the need to give advice in the form of anecdotal “when I turned 31, I suddenly wanted kids, so be aware that hormones can do bizarre and unexpected things”, it’s possible to do that in a restrained manner *and* without making assumptions about how things will necessarily play out in their life. But most of the time: the recipient has already heard it, just like the super-tall person has already heard that they should be a basketball player slightly too many times. People can shut up already!

        • “Plus, if you’re in the maybe-but-definitely-not-now, it’s often easier to say “we’re not planning to have kids” rather than to go into it all.”

          THIS. Totally THIS. Absolutely my experience! I was a maybe, but needing a lot of persuading (not the best word perhaps, but it took us a LOT of conversations to get to me saying ok, we can try now), and it was just easier to say No. Unfortunately, most people think I was adamantly no, rather than maybe later, so it looks to all intents and purposes like I did change my mind…

      • Angry Feminist Bitch

        Growing up, I always wanted TONS of kids – from when I was three or four, I’d tell my parents I wanted 20 kids. I think some of this desire stemmed from being an only child, which I didn’t like at the time but now appreciate as an adult (seeing the BS my partner, best friend, and own father have gone through with their siblings).

        I always assumed I’d want kids “some day,” but as I reached my late twenties, I realized that I was leaning far, far toward the “hell no” side of the spectrum. I started reading “childfree” literature, and biographies of childless women I admired, and I realized that’s who I was: childfree.

        And, yes, I’ve met “the one” (groan); I am in an amazing relationship with a unicorn feminist dude, and I STILL don’t want kids (or to get married – but that’s for another day!). I am now 33, and I am more sure every year, especially as I see virtually all of my friends become parents. That’s just not the life I want. And, frankly, though I love and respect my friends, care about their cute kids, and think they’re great parents who’ve made the right decisions for their own lives, I would like to meet more like-minded childfree, unconventional folks with other interests. I just don’t get it, and I don’t want to. So far the early thirties have been pretty alienating, even though I have great, supportive friends.

        I wrote a post about realizing I was childfree a few years back: http://stellacooks.com/2012/02/22/on-resisting-motherhood/

        Thanks to APW for addressing this topic and providing space for these discussions. I am very grateful to see this lifestyle choice being intelligently discussed, respected, and explored here. I hope this provides support for other women who are where I was a few years ago. There’s nothing wrong with you if you don’t have that “deep from within” feeling!

        • meg

          As I’ve been noting throughout the comments, there is nothing wrong with you if you don’t have the ‘deep within’ feeling and DO have kids. It’s overrated, I’d say.

          • Angry Feminist Bitch

            I know, and it’s a good point, too.

            My mom didn’t want kids, but couldn’t take the Pill, and – here I am! Of course she says it was the best thing that ever happened to her, etc., etc. Luckily, despite being an only child, I get zero pressure from my parents. Cause they understand.

    • as someone who has, supposedly, changed her mind on the subject, i have two reactions to that phrase.

      first, for me – and often, i think – it wasn’t my mind that changed, it was my situation. my thoughts on having kids are the same as they were when i was sure i wouldn’t. the difference is that i now have more to answer to than my own whims (of course, i put myself in that situation by choice; when i chose to marry my wife, i also chose to have kids with her).

      second, i think the unspoken second half of “you’ll change your mind” is “and so your current opinions are invalid”. as if there is only one truth; as if one thing cannot be true for you now, and its opposite true for you later. particularly in things so complicated as this. which is to say, not only is it presumptuous, but it is also irrelevant – even if it turns out to be true.

      and, so much so, what meg said: “When people tell you who they are, believe them.”

      • meg

        “second, i think the unspoken second half of “you’ll change your mind” is “and so your current opinions are invalid”. as if there is only one truth; as if one thing cannot be true for you now, and its opposite true for you later. particularly in things so complicated as this. which is to say, not only is it presumptuous, but it is also irrelevant – even if it turns out to be true.”


  • Anonymous

    Thank you, Avis, especially for this:

    “I have learned that for a lot of women, wanting to have a child is something that isn’t a rational decision that they make. It comes from deep within them, from a place that they may not even understand themselves. The way they have talked about wishing they were pregnant even though they themselves know that they are not ready financially or in a stable enough situation to raise a kid confirms what I have known all along. You either have that feeling or you don’t. I don’t have that feeling.”

    I’m one of those people who desperately wants children — so much so that now, a few months into trying to get pregnant, I’m growing more impatient and sad and scared with each month that passes. For me, the desire to have a child is bone-deep, and that surprised me greatly when it hit sooner and harder than I expected. It’s been difficult for me at times to understand friends who don’t want children, but the way you’ve phrased this helps a lot.

    By the way, I’m curious to see what this week brings!

  • I am really excited to hear the different perspectives and conversations this week! Thanks for working to pull together a whole week on this theme….

  • Jess

    As a pregnant woman, I really love this post. I’m excited for the whole week of posts on the topic of kids/no kids.

    While I’m not in Avis’ position, and this baby was no accident, I can’t imagine EVER saying to another couple, “you’ll change your minds.” So condescending! I agree that it’s unfair to put this burden of explaining on couples who choose not to have kids. I have a friend who, along with her husband, knew they never wanted kids, and I’m always impressed by how happily she’ll explain their position – and then play auntie and uncle to other people’s children.

    Oh, and I so respect the people who asked me, after our wedding, “are you going to have kids someday?” not “when are you going to have kids?”

  • Katy

    “There is an unfair amount of explaining to do.”

    This amused me a little — women who have kids don’t get a free ride on “explaining.” There are still tons of questions from strangers and friends: “Why aren’t you having him cry it out? You’re still breastfeeding? You send your child to daycare? Oh, you’re not going to work anymore? Shouldn’t you stop cosleeping by 2 months old? What’s wrong with your baby that he can’t [point/clap/walk/talk/…] yet? What schedule is your 3 week old baby on?

    • KB

      “What schedule is your 3 week old baby on?” “The 24-7 One.”

      Or – “I don’t know, I’ll tell you when I can discern a pattern between the cuddling, crying, playing, feeding, and God knows what else I got going on here.”

    • meg

      It’s true, motherhood is a whole different ball of wax. But we tend not to have to justify the fundamental decision we made, if we choose to have kids. It’s relatively rare (even in a very liberal area) to have to answer the question, “You’re pregnant? Why the f*ck would you have a kid?” And as stressful as those other questions are, it’s not the same questioning of the very foundation of the choices you’ve made for your life.

      • Katy

        I do not at all mean to diminish the decision to have children or not. Dealing with the issue of “to be a mother or not” is not inherently more difficult than the issue of “what kind of mother do I want to be” (and I don’t claim that either is more difficult — both can be hard). For each decision, there are heaps of societal expectations.

        For the choice to have kids or not, maybe it’s one question that’s repeated over and over again (“why aren’t you having kids?”). And for people with kids, it’s a million variations on the theme of “what kind of mother are you?” repeated over and over again.

        Though I’ve decided to have children, I still have to decide what kind of a mother I am, which is a fundamental decision to my life.

        • meg

          We’ll agree to disagree! We’re talking about the second question tomorrow, and obviously that’s something I live every day right now (unpleasant).

          But even as a pregnant woman dealing with difficult cultural narratives, I actually think I have it WAY easier than my friends fielding the “You don’t want to have kids, oh you’ll change your mind,” statements non-stop. I’m being questioned in a shitty way, but the questioning feels less fundamental. It’s like if every day someone asked me “Oh, you believe in God? Why? That’s f*cking stupid. You’ll change your mind.” That would rattle the shit out of me, because it’s insane to have to answer questions on something so bedrock to your life (and so TOTALLY no one else’s business). While I hate the parenting questions, and am looking forward to a nuanced discussion about them tomorrow, it’s easier for me to say, “I’m not co-sleeping because I don’t want to, and it’s none of your damn business.” Because it feels like frosting, not the cake.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          I’d add that, for better or worse, whether you have kids is a public thing and comes up in more contexts. From my observation, virtually any adult has opinions on the Kids/No Kids question, but only parents (and really, only mothers) with a child close to the age of your child ask about parenting issues.

          Whether appropriate or not, I can imagine a male colleague asking me if I have kids, when I plan on having kids, etc. I can’t imagine co-sleeping coming up at my male-dominated workplace, where my colleagues’ kids are all high-school age and older. Obviously, there are different kinds of workplaces. At the OB-GYN’s office where I used to work, I’m sure I’d be hounded by pregnancy and parenting questions. But I think people can be hounded by the whether-to-parent questions anywhere.

          • Katy

            It’s interesting — which questions come up in more contexts. I’ve gotten the parenting questions in a range of contexts from a range of people, so I don’t think other moms are the only people asking the questions.

            Riding the tram at an airport — do you breastfeed? [from an older woman, with grown kids]
            Standing in line at 7-11 — shouldn’t you stop carrying your 4 month old? he’s too old for that. [from an old man]
            University faculty meeting — what’s your birth plan? [asked by a male colleague]
            At my own home — your kids are better off with you watching them. are you sure you want to work? [male contractor redoing our kitchen]

          • meg

            Yes. We’re currently having some cultural BOUNDARY ISSUES on what’s ok to ask when. Miss Manners would probably say, “Well isn’t that an interesting question.” before you give a chilly glance, is a perfect response.

            Just because a stranger asks an inappropriate question does not, in fact, mean we have to answer it.

      • Anonymous

        “It’s relatively rare (even in a very liberal area) to have to answer the question, “You’re pregnant? Why the f*ck would you have a kid?””

        I just want to chime in here and point out that that might be the case for women whose family structure, socio-economic status, and race make motherhood acceptable to mainstream society. But there are plenty of women who receive the “Why the f*ck would have a kid?!” response (in some form or another) who don’t fit that norm — too old, too young, too poor, too single.

        • meg

          Ah, in fact, many of our friends had kids at 18 or 19, poor, and single. We grew up in the second most impoverished city in the country, so we’ve lived this (not a lot of friends with babies around, but a lot of friends with 11 year olds.) That’s a different question, and a complicated one we probably can’t do justice to here, as it needs to be discussed inside the community it’s happening in. But quickly, did our friends get that question? Yes and no. It was very, very, complicated.

      • sarahdipity

        “You’re pregnant? Why the f*ck would you have a kid?” And as stressful as those other questions are, it’s not the same questioning of the very foundation of the choices you’ve made for your life.

        I got this reaction both while pregnant and since having our baby. Well, the “politer” version of it without the swearing. It usually included asking if I’ve thought about over population, how society is headed, how dealing with baby gunk (puke and poop) is horrible and how I’m going to turn into a boring person who only thinks about kids.

        If you are a kid person and are horrified, this is basically the same as saying how could you not want kids to someone who doesn’t. We should all just be nice to each other because the decision that is right for us isn’t necessarily right for our friends.

    • Well, women who have children get a more, uh, diverse battery of questions, and new questions at every step. Women who don’t want children get the same question (or a variation thereof) over and over and over again, and I’d imagine that it goes on for their entire lives.

      • I mean, eventually the “how are you raising your child” questions have to stop, right? Because the child becomes an adult in their own right.
        But even when you are so old you cant have kids, people would still ask “how are your children?” and then you would get pity for not having had any… (I can so picture this going down in nursing homes)

        • ElisabethJoanne

          I remember being about 15 at a party on vacation with my family, including my grandfather, and someone (Grandpa? Mom?) asking someone Grandpa met on the vacation why none of her 3 kids were married. So, yeah, it keeps going. I suppose at some age, “Do you want grandchildren?” creeps into conversation.

          I’m not sure what the nice-to-meet-you questions are for retirees. I like to ask pre-retirement people the very open-ended, “How do you like to spend your time away from work?”

  • North Star

    “When a married couple says, “We want to have kids,” no one ever says to them, “Oh, you’ll change your mind.”

    I’d never thought about this before but it is so true.

    • KB

      Haha, no, but they sometimes do say, “Ahhh, you want them NOW, but…” and launch into a story about how hard it was to get pregnant or horrible their own children were/are. Seriously, you just can’t win on the baby front.

      • meg

        Well, yes. But you are generally still being talked into having kids, even if the narrative is that they’ll ruin your lives. They’ll ruin your lives, but you still have to have them. Something we’ll discuss at length tomorrow.

        IE, yes, you often can’t win. But I think it’s really different.

    • People say this to me. Or more accurately, they say, “don’t.” They say it ruins your marriage, it ruins your body, it ruins your life. When I try to talk honestly about having kids soon, people tell me I’m too young (I’m 27) or that I don’t have/make enough money (I do), or they just get uncomfortable. The grass is always greener in somebody else’s uncomfortable judgmental conversation, I suppose.

      • 27 being “too young?” Good lord, at what point can we agree that we’re all adults here and can make our own decisions?

        (says the lady who is 27 and due in February.) :)

      • K

        This is such an interesting topic for me right now. This might not be the correct forum but I would be interested to hear from some parents about how their lives have changed after having kids, both in ways they expected and didn’t expect, and what preconceived notions they had about parenthood have proven true or false.

        I always find it so interesting to hear a parent say they “love their kids more than life itself”, and I want to know what that feels like. But I’ve also heard parents say (in what sounds like total seriousness) “if I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have done it!” Really? Because that scares me. I feel like I would be one of those people. Is there any parent out there who actually regrets having their kids? Any parent who would admit to it, anyway? I don’t know. Having kids or not having them, and then how to raise them once you do have them… Such big, complicated issues. Of course we can only scratch the surface here, but I really appreciate APW tackling this topic this week!

  • Christina

    Thank you so much for this post. I never considered being child free until right before I met my husband, when I decided that I’d see what happens but would prefer adoption if I had children. Then I met him and fell in love, and he is resolutely child free. People tried to tell me he would change his mind, but I’ve seen him with small children, and he feels no connection to them. He thinks every kind of animal is cute, but not babies. Doesn’t hate them, just… no connection. My dad had a crappy life in part because his mom didn’t really want him or his brother, and so I’ve always very strongly believe that people who do not want children should not have them. So I decided I loved my husband more than kids I didn’t have and wasn’t sure I wanted. I’d love them if I had them, since I do like kids, but I can also be happy without them. I see how some mothers seem to lose their identities in their children and it terrifies me, even as I know sometimes I will wish I had them.

    People have mostly been understanding. My mom will miss grandkids a bit but understands how hard raising kids is and sees why we would want a different lifestyle. His parents are a bit disappointed but they know he’s never been interested in kids. He even had the surgery, so people can’t really tell us we’ll change our minds.
    But as to that issue of being questioned about it, this makes it seem like parenting is a club that other parents want everyone to join. I am not saying they think this is true, but just how it comes across to us. Therefore, I am glad there will be a discussion of this here this week, where I think people are pretty open to other opinions and lifestyles.

    • Cleo

      “I’d love them if I had them, since I do like kids, but I can also be happy without them.”

      This is exactly how I feel (but when I say I like kids, I don’t mean I instantly bond with them…it takes me a while to get comfortable, like with meeting any person), however in my case, my partner made it clear to me very early in our relationship that being a father was important to him, so the kids decision was more his than mine (in that, I’d be happy either way).

      • A-L

        I fall into this camp as well. I felt as though I could take’em or leave’em, depending on how my spouse felt (and whether I thought my spouse would be an active, involved parent, or just someone who wanted the title of “parent”). Well, I married a man who wanted kids, and who I thought would be a great parent. So the decision was made (or so I thought).

        But now my husband has started thinking a bit more along the lines that I was originally (that kids would be great, but that they’re not necessary to his/our happiness). I guess he had always been in an environment where having kids was the expectation, and since I didn’t feel some internal imperative to have children, maybe we should hold off on having them.

        Now, I seem to be the one more in favor of having a kid. I like the idea of having a kid with my husband. That’s an experience that I want. But it’s because I want a kid with HIM, not as much because I have hankering for a wee tot whenever I see a baby stroller. I still don’t have that biological/hormonal urge to have kids. We’ll see what happens, but all this is to say that things can change over time.

        • Christina

          I can sympathize with your husband. I wanted kids earlier in life mostly because that was what one did. Then, I had my realization that my life didn’t need to fit into a pre-tedtermined pattern, and soon after met my very childfree husband–and since I love him to pieces I am glad I didn’t have to dismiss him after a few dates! Sounds like he too is realizing there are other ways life can go. I am sure you both will make the right decision for your marriage, and it sounds like you guys are stable enough to be happy either way.

  • KB

    I have to totally call myself out here and say that I was caught doing the “You’ll change your mind” thing to a friend without meaning to. She has always talked about how she’s never going to find the right person to marry, she’s getting older, she’s resigning herself to be a cat lady. But she also has said that she’s not sure if she ever wants to get married because she doesn’t believe in the institution, her parents’ divorce was really bitter, etc. It’s hard when the other person seems to vacillate between these things – although that’s completely fine, too. But I was mortified when she told me that she felt that I was judging her for not wanting to get married when she said, “I’m never getting married” and I was like, “Eh, you never know, there could be a guy out there somewhere right now who’s perfect for you.” I think I was trying to be reassuring, as in “It’s OKAY if you change your mind” rather than “You WILL change your mind” because I really do think that it’s good to be open to all possibilities rather than go back and forth like she’s been doing.

    I also think it’s hard when we get to our 20s, 30s, and even 40s because there ARE value judgments involved and it’s difficult to unpack the idea of “I can be excited for you and your baby/job/marriage, but I personally don’t want that for me” because it leads to the question of “Why don’t you want that?” which leads to some form of a negative answer, no matter how you put it, which then indirectly reflects back on the person doing the wanting. It was so much easier when we were all in grade school and everybody was doing the same thing every day. But with adulthood comes choices and differences that make us question who we are and what we want.

    • meg

      Maybe. I’m not sure. I somehow super love having friends doing totally different things, and I feel like it enriches my life a ton. This may be just because our friend group has ALWAYS been doing a variety of different things (we were among the first to marry, lot of our friends may never marry, and about the same is true with kids).

      I don’t feel like my friends who are single, or choosing not to have kids, or choosing not to get married, or Fill In The Blank Choice are judging me, I mostly feel like they are making my life experience wider and deeper. I think, knowing me, I’d start to panic if I looked around and everyone I knew was married and starting to have kids. I’d think, “Man! We need to get to know more kinds of people! This is boring!”

      Plus, how enriching for our kids to get to grow up around people making a huge variety of life choices? It lets them know they can grow up and live however they want. That a two parent family with kids isn’t their only option.

      Maybe the key is not asking “Why don’t you want that?” but instead asking the positive question, “What makes you happy about whatever it is you’re doing?” That way we avoid value judgements ourselves, and just get to think about other people’s choices, why they’ve made them, and what makes them happy.

  • Taylor B

    Thank you for writing, you capture so many perspectives so beautifully. I appreciate your true understanding of the power of my desire to be a mother. I think perhaps you understand it better than I do. After reading this post, I feel better understood, and respected, by you than I have in lots of conversations where I tried to explain the need I feel to raise children. (Interestingly, the drive I feel is rooted in my body, but it’s really raising children that is important to me, less so giving birth to my children). You are right about an unfair share of explaining falling on couples who choose not to have children, but I think with your respectful and tolerant approach, you are opening up space for safer and more honest conversations for us all. Thank you for writing!

  • Peaceofmind

    “There is a very strong part of me that wants to want kids. There is a part of me that gets teary when I think that I’m not that person, because I think that being a mother and having that strength is the most powerful thing in the world. I don’t like feeling like I’m missing that piece. And I really resent anyone that makes me feel that way.”


    I grew up assuming I would have kids (because everyone does, right? have kids, I mean). As I got to college and started working and living in the real world, I came to the same realisation that I didn’t have “that feeling” of kids being imperative. And I think you should, if you’re going to become a parent – a child is a huge responsibility and commitment to make lightly.

    I also hate the “you’ll change your mind” thing. I haven’t gotten that very often, thankfully, but it’s annoying every time. Have I changed my mind about other major life events? Would you tell me I would in any of them? Then be quiet, please.

    • meg

      Oh! Right here! What I’m talking about above, trying to re-frame people doing different things from us as a positive. If your kids grow up around people making different choices from you, then they never have that idea that ‘everyone has kids, right?” and I LOVE that.

      • Ambi

        Just to give you an example of how young that mindset is formed, we have a three-year-old little boy that spends a lot of time at our house and has even lived there from time to time while his parents work some stuff out (long story). Anyway, the other day, while eating pizza and doing a craft project, he casually asked us, “where are the kids that live here?” Confused, we said “no kids live here, buddy, just the two of us and our dogs.” He responded with, “But when are you gonna gets some kids to live at your house?” It took a little while, but we figured out that he thought that if two adults live in a house, there just MUST be kids that live there, too, because obviously that is how the world works . . .

        • meg

          (Awww! And then he learned something, yay!)

          • Ambi

            Oh, yeah, you better believe we used this as an opportunity to talk about the fact that there are lots of different types of familes! Luckily, I know his parents have the same views we do, so I wasn’t stepping on any toes by talking to him about the fact that some people choose to have kids, some don’t, some kids have two parents, some have one, some have a mommy and a daddy, some have two mommies or two daddies, some kids live with their grandparents, etc. He loved it. And when his mom picked him up, she was pretty shocked that he had these ideas about families being two parents with kids, when they live in a pretty non-traditional setting themselves and had always assumed that he was absorbing more open ideas about families, living arrangements, etc.

      • Peaceofmind

        Me too. :) It wasn’t even an expectation from family or anything (as far as how my life would be when I grew up), but I don’t remember anyone from my childhood who was child-free. I was completely cool with the concept of never getting married, but somehow I always assumed that if I did get married, it would come with kids and grandkids and all that. (Which, I suppose, further spreads the cultural narrative if I was assuming that my hypothetical kids would also have kids!)

    • FV

      Peaceofmind, my “exactly” button isn’t working, but I you’re describing my own feelings almost exactly, and I want to say thanks for doing that! Thanks, Meg and Avis, for the post too.

      It’s hard that there’s so little support for this decision. I don’t have any coupled friends/acquaintances who are deciding not to have kids, so I feel very alone in this choice, and it’s easy to begin to think I must be making some sort of mistake. I mean, if everyone is doing it…

      Along with the” you’ll change your mind” line, which I know well, it’s also very hard to hear people say that having kids is an experience of unmatched intensity and satisfaction–a way of living more fully and being more fully human. I know people who have kids sometimes experience this, and I totally respect their experience. It still doesn’t make me want to have a kid though. Even so, I think somewhere deep down I fear they’re right, and that I’m somehow missing out on living fully by not having kids.

      It’s hard to shake that fear because I have no role models and no companions in this choice. And it will really hurt my mother if I don’t have kids. I’m prepared to do that–but, ugh, I hate to do it.

      Anyhow–thanks again for the post and form this forum!

      • Peaceofmind

        Glad to find a kindred spirit (or several, judging from the comments)!

        I have gotten a variation of “you’ll change your mind”: “oh, that’s what [insert person who’s now a parent] said.” Not that I have anything against said person, their kids, or their choices, but really, does the fact that they changed their mind have any bearing on whether I’ll change mine?

        “I know people who have kids sometimes experience this, and I totally respect their experience. It still doesn’t make me want to have a kid though. Even so, I think somewhere deep down I fear they’re right, and that I’m somehow missing out on living fully by not having kids.”

        This is me too. I’m pretty sure I’ll be quite happy with my (furry/four-legged) kids, which is a major reason I choose not to have kids. That said, the narrative around having kids and being a parent is so strongly bent towards “greatest job I’ll ever have” and “most wonderful experiences ever” and “I didn’t know what love truly meant until I had my child”, it does feel like I might be missing out a little bit.

        One thing I have going for me is that my parents never pressured me to have kids, and seem totally cool with my choice. I’m sure they’d like my kids if I had any, but they don’t give me the sense that I’m letting them down.

        • K

          That’s really the thing that has me considering the possibility of having kids someday… because I don’t want to miss out on the “best/most fulfilling experience life has to offer”, or so people say. I don’t want to have kids for so many reasons, and I’m 98% settled on that decision, but the thought of missing out on an amazing part of life or that my life will always be “lacking” somehow… well, it sucks. And I’m not sure I believe it, but it’s definitely making me think longer and harder about whether to have any kids than any other decision I’ve ever made. I really believe my husband and I could be happy and fulfilled without kids (we already are), but I wonder if we’d actually feel like we were missing something… We don’t feel like that now, so I can’t imagine that feeling would just hit us one day, but I don’t know. Our friends and siblings are just starting to have their own kids, so we haven’t been in a position to see our loved ones with their kids and how amazing/fulfilling their lives are as a marked contrast to our own child free lives. Everyone I’ve ever talked to who chose to remain child free says they absolutely don’t regret it, and even some parents I know say they’re happy they had kids but could have been just as happy if they didn’t… For now, I’ve concluded that having kids probably is an amazing, incredible, probably can’t put it all into words it’s so awesome feeling, but I don’t think that those of us who are child free are lacking anything. It’s just a different way to live, right? Not better or worse? That’s what I’m hoping, anyway!

        • MDBethann

          Peaceofmind – but isn’t that the “risk” we take with any choice we make in life? There are always “what ifs” – what if I had gone to an ivy league college instead of a state school? What if I’d gone to law school? What if I’d stayed with my college boyfriend?

          You reminded me of the famous poem by Robert Frost. Its been years and years since my English lit classes and I’m not sure this was where he was going with it (I think he was basically saying we should be more adventurous and not take the same route as everyone else), but I think there are a few parts that fit this discussion:

          The Road Not Taken

          Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
          And sorry I could not travel both
          And be one traveler, long I stood
          And looked down one as far as I could
          To where it bent in the undergrowth;

          Then took the other, as just as fair,
          And having perhaps the better claim
          Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
          Though as for that the passing there
          Had worn them really about the same,

          And both that morning equally lay
          In leaves no step had trodden black.
          Oh, I marked the first for another day!
          Yet knowing how way leads on to way
          I doubted if I should ever come back.

          I shall be telling this with a sigh
          Somewhere ages and ages hence:
          Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
          I took the one less traveled by,
          And that has made all the difference.

          Towards the end, I think he sort of wonders what might have happened if he took the road more traveled, but he didn’t, and is content with his choice.

          • Peaceofmind

            Yeah, my point is more the social pressure/concept that you’re missing out, or that having kids is the Best! Thing! Ever! If being child-free were a more socially acknowledged/accepted choice, it would just be “oh yeah, hey, your life is awesome because of X, Y, and Z”, and less “your life is great but it would be so much BETTER if you just procreated”. I think it’s totally normal to make a choice, accept it, and move on without necessarily dwelling on the “what if” (though dwelling a bit happens too sometimes), but society seems unable to allow people to do that when it comes to parenting.

            Logically I love that poem, emotionally I loathe it. ;) I went to a middle school named after Frost, so we had that poem drilled into our heads relentlessly, which (unfortunately) made me lose any appreciation for his work.

      • Christina

        I sometimes fear the “missing out” too, but I try to tell myself that I can’t miss what I don’t have, and it’s okay to actually choose NOT to have everything in life. I think that is one of the cultural narratives we’re dealing with on this issue: having everything. I’d rather have a few things that are really good than try to run around having everything (sounds exhausting to me); it’s cool if others want to but there is no reason we should all want it.

      • The thing to remember is that the choice to *have* children leaves a road not traveled too. This isn’t to buy into the narrative that kids are the end of your life or that you’ll never do anything exciting or awesome ever again, but they do change things. I really honestly believe that there’s a million ways to “live fully” and that at least half a million don’t have to involve kids of you own.

  • margi

    I know it may be too late to request this, but can we talk about the situation from the other side? Avis articulates how I feel perfectly. However, my boyfriend of 4 years does not understand my perspective – he thinks because we are both mature and financially stable that there is no reason not to have kids. He thinks I’m scared and just doesn’t understand my feelings of us not wanting kids a t my age of 31. My friends have been super supportive of my decision. I know we will have to end our relationship over this issue and I don’t believe I will ever find a partner who will be on the same page as me.

    • meg

      We’re talking about various kids of complications and ambivalence and all sorts of things all week, never fear!

    • Dawn

      I’m not sure if this will be reassuring or not (and hopefully you and your boyfriend will be able to work through things) but I had always assumed I’d have kids (first because hey, that’s what you do, right? And then when I started to suspect that I really didn’t want them, I figured everyone else wanted them so I’d be stuck having them anyway). And then I started to realize that actually, at my age (mid 30s), there actually are men out there in my age range who have also decided they don’t want kids (and are single because they can’t find a woman who also doesn’t want them).

      I actually found my partner though online dating and we pretty much established no children as a deal breaker really early on in our relationship. We kind of tip toed around it for the first month or so doing the whole ‘well I’m not really sure if I want kids or not’ until finally just flat out said he didn’t want them. Apparently he’d had a really hard time finding women to date because it was a very firm deal breaker for him and he somehow never met a woman who didn’t want kids. For about the first year of our relationship he would regularly hug me really hard and thank me for not wanting children.

      I had always assumed I’d have to have children that I didn’t really want (though still thinking I’d be a good mom) because I’d never find someone who didn’t want them because everyone I talked to did want kids. I think as people who choose not to have children become more commonplace (and I do think it’s becoming more common), we’ll all feel a lot less isolated.

      • Peaceofmind

        Yes, they do exist! (Albeit perhaps only online? I also met FH online, but we’re computer geeks so it’s probably the only “place” we would be at the same time, so there is that.)

        Anyway – I think both of us are of the “if you were desperate to have kids, I’d go with it and probably end up being a pretty decent parent” variety, but we’re both very grateful that each of us seem pretty firm on the “no kids” stance.

        We visit family with kids (of varying ages) and keep “checking in” with each other that yes, we still don’t want them. We like those kids, and enjoy spending time with them, but we also really appreciate being able to go home at the end of the day and not have kids be there.

    • KH_Tas

      <>, this is one of my fears although my situation is the watered down version of ambivalent (me) + must have kids (him).

      I don’t suppose there’s any chance you could get him to read anything about being childfree (and have him actually take it in)? Just so maybe he could understand your perspective a bit better?

      Good luck with whatever happens

    • Michelle

      I ended a serious relationship for this reason. My boyfriend wanted to be a father more than anything, and I had such doubts about kids that I saw no other option than to end our relationship. I’m still gladly child-free.

      In hindsight, for our situation, counseling would have been helpful for us. It was really too big of an issue for us to work through on our own. I wish you the best on this.

    • Rose in SA

      Oh Margi, I feel you! Part of what I’m struggling with at the moment is that my husband is mostly pro-kids but I believe it’s because he’s never truly contemplated the alternative, just lived with the cultural assumption that married couples have kids. I’ve asked him to spend some time thinking about what childfree might look like for him and if that’s something he could be happy with….so, that’s where we are…we’ll see.

    • Atlantalee

      “…there is no reason not to have kids.”

      While I don’t really think anyone needs to justify not having kids, there are so many reasons not to. One of the first childfree blogs I came across was this one, and she’s got a great list of reasons:


  • Caroline

    I wonde if people’s rudeness comes partly from not understanding (as well as being plain rude). What I mean is, I have a very very hard time understanding why someone would want to be child free because I want children so very badly, and have since I was about 14. In the bone deep, longing obsessive way. So while I respect friend’s ability to make their own choices about wanting no children, it is exceedingly difficult for me to imagine making that choice. A part of me has spent the last 7 years with my partner counting the days until we are financially stable enough for us to feel comfortable having kids. (Not that you have to be totally and completely stable and rolling in money to have kids, but since I’m only 22 now and just started an undergrad degree past year, we have understandably not reached a level of stability we are comfortable).

    All this meandering is mostly to say, I’m sorry people are so rude to you. While I can understand where they might be coming from, it by no means gives them the right to be rude.

  • Becca

    Okay, I have a weird dichotomy going on in my head when it comes to kids. I really do want kids (or at least one), but… and I’m almost afraid to say this for sounding odd… I’m terrified of pregnancy. The very idea of being pregnant is just unsettling to me. Not to mention the fact that my body will never be the same afterward (at 30 I’m just now getting to a point where I really love my body, and I don’t want it to change any time soon!). I’ve mentioned this to my FH more than once, and I don’t think he gets how much it bothers me – he’ll laugh it off, and he appears to be living in a dream world were my body will still be the same afterward and that honestly worries me, too.

    Anyway, I think a lot of that just comes from body image anxiety, and I also have general anxiety disorder – doesn’t make it any less real to me, though.

    Sorry that anyone ever said to you, “You’ll change your mind someday.” People have said that kind of thing to me since childhood and I can’t stand it. I make a conscious effort not to say it, and just accept that some people make different life decisions from the rest of us.

    • meg

      Yeah, pregnancy is (or can be) difficult, often, no sense lying about that. So it’s a reasonable thing to be worried about, but it’s generally pretty * manageably* difficult (though, hey, not always, but pregnant our not, life has no guarantees). First, as someone with GAD, I really suggest talking to a pro about this, they are helpful. Second, pregnancy is NOT the only way to have kids, and if it’s not something you want to do that’s *totally ok.* Look at other options!

      As for the body stuff, I don’t have body image issues, so I can’t fully discuss that, but I can say that the way your body changes is, in fact, a strange thing. (So many changes and so fast!). I have no idea how my body will be after pregnancy, but from what I hear it changes and changes some more, and then usually settles down. With some love and care, it usually settles down into something pretty ok. The real deal is, your body is going to change ANYWAY. So that bit can’t be avoided. But pregnancy and post-partum is a crash course in it changing a huge amount very fast (like, every week, every day), and it changing in functional ways, not in ways related to beauty. So it’s hard, yes. But it’s also probably instructive.

      • Becca

        I just read the post that you linked to at the top, and turns out it was something I really needed to read. Here I sat, thinking I was one of the weird few women on the planet who had not-so-happy thoughts about pregnancy. Man, I sure do love APW.

      • Lauren

        No body image issues? Is that a thing?! I had no idea.

        Seriously, no female that I know personally has no body image issues. I’m amazed that someone could go unscathed.

        • meg

          Yup. It’s a thing.

    • Laurel

      FWIW my partner is 100% sure she never ever wants to be pregnant, but is up for having kids some other way. I think that experience is more common (or at least more commonly discussed) in queer women’s relationships, where you often have more than one available uterus and everyone knows there are going to be hard decisions about genetics and biological relationships from the get go. If having kids is right for you but being pregnant is not, that is a complication but not an insurmountable one.

      • meg

        Totally. Even though there were (obviously!) other complications and questions, one of my girlfriends always acts like she won the lottery, “I get babies and I don’t have to have them, yayyy!”

        But yes, this should be a conversation that mixed-gender couples feel ok with having too.

    • I had a kid 7 months ago, and do a ton of fitness classes, so I can talk a little about the post baby body, based on the wide variety of bodies I see every week.

      I currently do between 2 and 5 mom and baby fitness classes a week, not so much to be in shape as that the exercise helps my moods and they force me to leave the house and they break up the day.

      The post partum body ranges WILDLY and seems to be in large part based on what your pre-pregnancy body was. One friend of mine has, basically, a totally flat stomach and just enough body fat to keep nursing going, and not much else. She used to be a cruise ship dancer and is still tiny and tight. I, who have always been muscular and plump, and still that, although my stomach is zebra striped. (I got my first stretch mark at 8 weeks pregnant, after I LOST 5 pounds. Stretch marks were enevitable for me.) Another friend weighs a good 20 pounds less than she did before she had her second, as she’s been working out and dieting to change her body. The bodies at these classes range drastically, but I am willing to bet money that 6 months post baby, most people have returned to a similar shape that they had before pregnancy.

      Sure, not everything is the same (my belly) but that’s okay (I never showed off my belly prebaby either). I’d say that more is the same than is different, and while I hardly claim to talk to everyone’s expierence, and I know that people who attend a fitness classes are a self selecting group, I have been pleasantly surprised how much my body still feels like my body.

      (Although, I do look forwards to the day when I eventually wean and my boobs stop being a G cup. That’s not a normal expeirence, but it is mine, and while I’m used to it, I can’t say I love not being able to do up my favourite coat…)

      • meg

        Yes! I didn’t say. I know people who are 3 sizes smaller after two kids. Or a woman in birth class who was back to teeny tiny three weeks after having her (early) baby. By which I mean to say, really, who is to know? Bodies change, and if partum and post partum do anything, they teach you that, for sure.

      • Becca

        Thanks for sharing, Morgan. It seems the attitude I keep getting from women around me (particularly my mother) is, “well, you better enjoy that body of yours now, once you have kids it will all be destroyed!” Of course, I should consider that many of these women have body issues themselves, so they are bound to be hard on their post-partum bodies no matter how much they’ve changed/not changed.

        • meg

          EXACTLY. I wonder how much of the postpartum body talk has to do with body image issues in the first place. If you didn’t know how to love your body before you got pregnant, learning to love it after is going to be really tough, I’d bet.

    • haelmai

      Oh, Becca, I feel the EXACT same way about pregnancy! I’m am so terrified of getting pregnant. I do not feel the need to have children, and my fiance does not want children, so that’s something at least. But, to me, the very idea of getting pregnant scares me so much. So I totally understand your fear (and I’m glad I’m not alone).

      • I’m IN pregnant and it still terrifies me. Every single day.
        Sorry, I know that doesnt help, but you really are not the only one with this issue!
        (and Megs suggestion of pro help is something I need to look into, with my history of depression and recent struggles… off I go to research)

    • Christina

      I became terrified of the same thing as time went on. This was why I was considering being more option to adoption before I met someone child free. That is sadly not an option for everyone financially, though. I wish it were more accessible. Plenty of great kids need homes.

  • “There is a very strong part of me that wants to want kids. There is a part of me that gets teary when I think that I’m not that person, because I think that being a mother and having that strength is the most powerful thing in the world. I don’t like feeling like I’m missing that piece.”

    At the moment, I don’t want children. I have read so many articles written by women who don’t want children, and none of them have presented this grey area that I so strongly identify with. I don’t want to be a mother right at the moment, but there’s such a strong part of me that wants to want to be a mother. Thank you for saying that out loud. It makes me feel less ambiguous about my own feelings.

    • FV

      Yes! This feeling of wanting to want to be a mother isn’t something I’ve seen expressed–and it’s so great to see it expressed.

      I’ve been haunted by this question: if I don’t want kids, but feel this sad wish that I did want kids, do I have some sort of obligation to figure out a way to get to wanting kids?

      Should I go to therapy to try to work through whatever makes me right now not want kids? That would be treating not wanting kids as if it was a pathological or symptomatic thing–wouldn’t it? Or is this not a symptom/pathology/disorder but just the way I am?

      • meg

        No. I think that’s societally fed crazy talk (in the most loving way possible). Not taking a path is always a little sad. We’re currently taking the path to parenthood, which means we’re felling sad about NOT taking the path to staying just the two of us. That’s normal. It’s going to happen no matter what choice you make, chances are. While therapy can help you talk through the issues and sadness, not wanting kids is not an illness you need to get over.

        • This is so so true. We all make choices that close doors in life (that’s just how things work) but that doesn’t mean we dwell on not becoming a doctor or majoring in economics instead of chemistry, we made that choice, we own it and own the results of what it brings (and if things change, we change our path).

          • meg

            Or sometimes we do dwell. I mean, there are past choices I dwell on, and wonder what would have happened and did I do it right. Then there are other choices I own. It’s all really normal.

          • Okay, so maybe we dwell, but how about “we deal”?

      • KC

        I so wish that we were allowed to go to therapy without having a “problem”.

        We (potentially) get:
        a) annual checkup that includes medical advice on how to be more healthy and how to proactively take care of things as they come up (as well as age-related vitamin need changes and stuff)
        b) car maintenance where they clean stuff up and make it run better (changing the oil, etc.)
        c) courses at work where we learn more tools for how to better do our jobs

        Why on earth can’t we go to a specialist to learn more tools for how to do mental/emotional life well *before* there’s a definite problem? It makes sense to me to find out how to deal with minor fears/anxieties before they become life-affecting. Or if you’ve got a big decision and want someone’s out-of-the-situation unbiased opinion, it seems like that’d be a good thing, too, right? But nooo, preventative therapy seems to not be a concept yet, except for pre-marital counseling. Hmph.

        • YOU TOTALLY CAN!

          • ElisabethJoanne

            Sure, you can, but we treat mental health very differently than bodily health, with far-reaching ramifications.

            The ones I’ve studied deal with insurance: I have read about people being denied health insurance for having seen a mental healthcare giver once in the last year – no diagnosis of an illness, no on-going treatment. Just suspect you have a problem, and you can’t get insurance. [Yes, recent legislation was meant to fix this; but legislation is implemented slowly and barely addresses the unemployed and self-employed.]

            I had an extra round of underwriting for life insurance because I decided to be honest and say I’m on birth control for PMDD. I’m still waiting on how it will affect my ability to obtain coverage and my rates. If I were on birth control for the primary indication, I’d have gotten coverage faster at the lowest rates.

          • Today is Thanksgiving, up here in Canada. Today I am thankful for many things, but one of them is that I am Canadian, and live in a place where the healthcare system, although flawed, is not so bizarrely broken as that south of the border.

            The ONLY health question I had to answer for any kind of insurance is “Have you smoked in the past 12 months?”

      • p.

        I did go to therapy in large part because I felt so conflicted about whether or not to have kids. It felt like everyone around me was so clearly pro or con that I thought there was something wrong with me because I just didn’t know. I can’t speak to the insurance issues raised below, but it has helped me take some of the pressure off the kid decision and it’s taught me a lot about how I make decisions in general. It also helped me deal with the loss I felt as many of my friends became parents and began living very kid-focused lives.

    • http://maybebabymaybenot.com/

      Liz (blog writer) is seriously struggling with this exact issue, and has been for a while. She seems to recently be leaning more towards maybe not, but there are some excellent posts about the days where your mind changes and what that means and all that stuff.
      She is basically the reason I decided maybe I was ok with having a baby after all.

      • Hahaha, she’s funny. Thanks for the link.

  • Anon

    This conversation makes me finally own the fact that I am trying to get pregnant more for the other people in my life (husband, mother, sister), and less for myself. And I struggle with this. Is this ok? I don’t have the bone-deep desire to have children, although I *do* have a bone-deep desire to be close to children in my life. Will I struggle (emotionally) as a mother? Will I love my kids as much as other mothers who knew for years they couldn’t live without a child? Is there anyone out there that did it more for someone else (partner, other family) than for themselves and found themselves with that bone-deep desire after the fact? Maybe it’s all just so abstract to me right now that I can’t find that deep desire, or maybe I’m just too scared to really want a baby in case we can’t?

    • meg

      I disagree with Avis on that one. I think the idea that you need to have some sort of bone deep desire to become a mother is total culturally fed nonsense (and that bone deep desire often has loads to do with hormones, says the girl who used to have it INTENSELY before her hormone balance changed).

      Anyway! I recommend therapy for talking through this stuff (clearly I’m recommending it constantly in the comment section!). And doing something for you too, even if you don’t have a bone deep desire, is probably damn important.

      But I also just want to disabuse us of the myth that you have to desperately want kids to have them, or be a good parent. We have a cult of motherhood currently dominating society, but y’all. Since the dawn of time, people had babies because they had babies (no birth control). And somehow, the world has continued to turn. Some of the best mothers I know are the ones who DIDN’T desperately want kids, fact. (Possibly because they had an easier time balancing self/ motherhood after the fact, which made them have loads of self to offer their kids. This is one of my theories.)

      • Ambi

        I am so with you on this, Meg! I know without any doubt that I absolutely do want kids, but I also know that I am not ready for them YET. I don’t have any bone deep phyiscal desire to be pregnant – I actually fear it just like I did when I was much younger. It is perfectly normal to know you want kids and to not feel any desire to have them right now. At the same time, I think you are right, you can have a deep physical desire to have them now (often due to hormones, I’d bet), which is wildly impractical and which the rational part of your brain vetoes. I guess I have always hated the old trope about marriage that “when it’s right, you just know” and I really really hate that idea about kids. Yes, many people have deep-seated opinions about whether they want them or not, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have mixed emotions and hesitation, either way.

        • meg

          My body “just knew” at 16. HAHAHA body.

          AKA, your body “just knowing” can have a lot to do with things other than say, logic. Or even good decision making. Or fate.

          Hormones are a powerful, powerful, brain altering thing (says the pregnant woman).

      • Marisa-Andrea

        Hmm. How about this? I was emotionally and physical ambivalent about having children and I never had a bone deep desire to have them at any point and had one anyway on purpose. Complicated much?

        • Me too.

        • And me! (and I’m ok with that and I do NOT think I will be a bad mother because I did not CRAVE it)

      • AliceMay

        I agree with Meg on this one. I think, also, that the cultural narrative of the ‘bone deep desire’ has a lot to do with the even deeper-running idea that women should think with their bodies, not with their brains. It is absurd to suggest that one of the most life-changing decisions should always and only be made on the basis of hormones/emotions, and not as a rationally considered choice. (I also think this applies to a some extent to the idea of ‘just knowing’ about marriage).

        For me, while I do not have the kind of bone deep desire for children, though may well do at some stage (and unlike my sister who has quite genuinely longed for a child since the age of 15), I do know that the way in which I would like to see myself grow through adulthood involves taking on the task of being a mother.

    • yes! i realized in a convoluted way after we were married, that the big unspoken vow i made in marrying my wife was to create a family with kids with her. that is not something i ever wanted. but i want a family with my wife more than anything, so if sharing that family with some other folks is what will make it work, so be it.

      it’s funny, though. while it was a difficult transition to make (it was not really a difficult decision, but it was hard to adjust to), i have never felt that this was not a very solid foundation for making the decision to have kids. i, however, have not figured out how to tell other people “i’m having kids for my wife” because that is heard as a sign of doom and dysfunction.

      but, to answer your question (as well as i can as a foster parent, which is truly a different beast), even now that i am parenting, my thoughts and desires about doing so have not changed. i love it, and i love our kids; i love a lot of kids, and do what i can for them, but that is unrelated, to me, to being a mother. however, i am not happier as a parent than i was otherwise. it does not make me feel fulfilled; it is simply another way of living our life. and it’s one i’m happy with, but nothing bone-deep about that.

      • sarahmrose

        “i am not happier as a parent than i was otherwise. it does not make me feel fulfilled; it is simply another way of living our life. and it’s one i’m happy with, but nothing bone-deep about that.””

        Thanks for sharing this, I think this is something people need to hear and realize is a-ok. As Meg mentioned earlier in the comments, we have serious cult of motherhood (and parenthood) issues in our society these days, and there is so much judgement of people who say anything less than that their children totally changed their lives and became the center of their universe…

        There are so many ways of living, and living well and happily — not just for different people, but for the same individuals too. We’ve talked about this idea with spouses, but not with kids, and it’s good to hear it said.

      • I sincerely hope to be a parent like you.
        I want to love my child, but I also want to honour, respect and continue to adore my husband first. And its for him that I am doing this. And for us. But certainly not for me. I could have gone on without this.
        “Simply another way of living our life” is totally the decision we made in regards to having a kid. No better or worse than our current life, just different. Thankyou.

  • Amber

    I am in the won’t be a good mother, don’t like kids, won’t change my mind camp. I have zero maternal desire. The closest I get to liking kids is liking cats, and even they can try my patience.

    When I first met my husband, I told him I don’t want kids and if he sticks around he’s agreeing to that deal.

    I’ve known since college that I don’t want kids. (That’s about when I realized it’s not just about picking fun names, it’s non-stop raising someone for at least 18 years.) I know my mom didn’t like being a mom. I don’t know if that’s because of general depression or actual motherhood, but I’m pretty sure I’d feel and act the same way.

    It seems like every married female in my Facebook feed has kids or is pregnant and I have a very hard time with it. One of my closest friends just had a baby and I couldn’t bring myself to say congratulations, because I honestly didn’t feel happy for her. (Not that that’s rational, but it’s how I feel.)

    Going against the stream is hard. Even though no one has really said anything to me when I say we won’t have kids, I see all these other people doing the opposite of what I’m doing and it feels like one more way I’ve self-ostracized. Being different means drifting away from other people and having this difference between us. (What’s going to happen when my closest friends all have kids?!?) People often make friends from school or kids’ activities and so I’ve cut myself off from another avenue to making friends (which is extremely hard for me already). It’s hard to know what you want and to be able to make that decision, but then feel like everyone else is different from you and your choice has left you alone.

    • meg

      Well, as someone about to have kids, I get really sad when I see friends who don’t have kids drifting away. We still want to be friends! We don’t care if they have kids or not! Come back please!

      So that is my perspective for you today :)

      • Amber

        It’s not that I want to drift away.

        I haven’t yet from my close friend (her baby’s only a week old), but with people I’ve met since moving where I am now, they seem to drop off the face of the planet as soon as the baby is here (which I do understand, it’s very demanding and all consuming, etc.) and we didn’t have a long or deep enough friendship before to transcend the gap or have many pre-baby memories to talk about. Part of that is also me and whatever weirdness I have at making/maintaining friends though.

        The friends where it wouldn’t be as difficult to stay friends after baby are on other continents and opposite coasts. :P

        • meg

          People DO drop off the planet right after the baby often. But to be fair, they’re still bleeding and healing and not sleeping and getting to know a brand new human. Best move: bring them dinner, give them a hug, and leave. Repeat as needed. The month after, ask if you can watch the baby (while they go to the movies… or just shower). Babies are hard to break, so don’t worry about that.Those little things make a huge statement.

          And for GODS sake, please visit a new mom and talk to her about something other than her baby. She’ll probably be thrilled.

      • Meg, I’m glad you wrote that. My one addition to this post is: Since I wrote the post, I found out a dear friend is beginning the process of having a child. And while I was very supportive when we spoke about it, I did sob the whole way home, collapsing into my husband’s arms as I arrived, trying to explain the state I was in. I was not prepared for the emotions I experienced. My husband calmed me down, explaining that we knew this day would come and that our friends would start having kids and that things may change.

        And I know rationally that we will still be friends and I am excited to be a big part of her kids’ lives but apparently I have a lot of fear about the changes to come.

        I haven’t spoken with this friend about this yet but I know that we will talk about it as we navigate the future of our friendship that is so important to both of us. At this point, I feel positive and only a little scared. But on the flip side, I’m sure she is feeling all the same emotions.

    • Ambi

      My experience has been that when a close friend has a child, the first year or so is a pretty big change as far as our friendship goes – we usually end up spending less time together, and we have to be much more purposeful about scheduling time together or it just won’t happen – but then, after about a year, things seem to settle back down a little bit, and I have usually found that those friendships pretty much go back to the same as they were before. If we were the types of friends that had to get together and catch up at least once or twice a week, we still find ways to do that. If we were book club once a month and a few emails in between type of friends, we do that. Of course, things are different – what we talk about changes a bit, the way we hang out changes (we do a lot more entertaining at home rather than going to restaurants), but we are still the same people and still have the same friendship and history. So, in my experience, I’d say that just because things seem really different when your friend has a 4 month old, don’t assume that they will stay that way. Keep putting effort into the friendship, and in time it will usually settle back into a comfortable place. You may have to carry the weight of the friendship for just a little while, as your friend learns to balance all the new parts of her life, but I’d say that any meaningful long-term relationship comes with ups and downs and times when one person has to put a bit more effort in to keep it going.

      • Yes, I totally agree. We’re now 7 months in, and I’ve started to feel more like, well, me, and I am increasingly ready to leave the baby with someone and just get out of the house. See firends, or date my husband, or whatever. It was hard to do that between like, month 2 and 6, and I felt bad for not being the driving force in some of my friendships, but it was what is was. Now, as things are settling down in the new normal (and I can leave the baby for 4 hours at a time without having to figure out a baby feeding plan) things are so much easier, and I try to say yes to all invitations now.

        • Ambi

          Congrats Morgan! I actually remember two good friends who had babies within a week of each other, and right around the 7-month mark, things finally got a bit easier for them. We were all out at lunch one day, and one of them said something along the lines of “I am finally getting more sleep, and I finally feel like myself again,” and the other one lit up and said, “Oh my god, ME TOO!.”

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I just find the practicalities are harder, as others are mentioning. If someone is breastfeeding on demand for 12 months, she’s probably missing 2 seasons at the opera with you.

      I like to entertain friends in my home, but it’s not child-proof (antique furniture, low-lying porcelain). It’s really not a set-up I can change in an afternoon for a dinner party. But I can’t afford to meet friends in restaurants, and feel bad making them get sitters. So it has to be the people with kids inviting me over, and figuring out good picnic spots (and picnics are hard to plan the necessary weeks in advance).

  • RachelM

    “But I don’t want anyone to think that this is an easy decision for me. There is a very strong part of me that wants to want kids. There is a part of me that gets teary when I think that I’m not that person, because I think that being a mother and having that strength is the most powerful thing in the world. I don’t like feeling like I’m missing that piece. And I really resent anyone that makes me feel that way.”

    This. So, so this. I am exactly three weeks away from 30, which is exactly 8 months away from my wedding. Neither of us want kids. It’s one of the things that we bonded over early on in our relationship and it’s something we’ve talked about extensively – what if one of us changes our minds? is adoption something we’d be open to? We have explored all the questions. We know what we want for now and that it can be a continuing conversation.

    The thing that I struggle with most is the feeling I’m missing that piece. It’s something I feel from within and then the outside criticism – those who say I’ll change my mind or ask WHY in that what’s-wrong-with-you tone of voice – just compounds it and makes me feel broken in some way. But I’m not. I know that there isn’t anything wrong with not wanting to have children. It’s refreshing to hear that other women, other couples, struggle with the same feelings.

    I am very grateful that APW provides a place where we can have discussions like this! Thank you Avis for sharing your story, and the APW community for sharing such wonderful perspectives.

  • I’m looking forward to this week, so thank you Meg and the rest of your fabulous staff.

    I’m in the same boat as a lot of commenters seem to be- 30sih, relatively newly married, and currently we’re not planning on kids, and cringe at the “when are you having kids?” demand. BUT.
    a) I want to want them because since I don’t especially, there must be something wrong, right? (don’t worry, I don’t usually think there’s something wrong with me, but I almost always want to want them)
    b) There are pregnant women EVERYWHERE forcing the question in my mind every. single. day. It’s kind of exhausting
    c) I kind of want to be pregnant just to see what it’s like. Am I crazy?
    d) I’m not willing to permanently say “no” to kids partly because I think about not having a legacy or people to give family stuff to or people to impart all the stuff I’ve learned over the years to. Which seems like a strange reason to me. But it’s there.

    I’m so glad there’s this space on APW for this discussion, because it’s not one I want to have with my mom or even my friends (yet?) and this makes me feel less alone in my crazy head. thanks!

    • meg

      C) Yes ;) I wish I could just trade you for a day. It just feels like being stretched out, and having a alien inside you (weird), and like when someone kicks the back of your seat on an airplane, but in your stomach. Oh yeah, and sometimes you’re really really sick. But you know what being really sick feels like. SOLVED.

      (But I’m sure someone can tell you about the magical part! Just… not me!)

      • yes, a day would be perfect! I’m very curious, but not curious enough (yet?) to actually make a tiny human.

        I hope your good days are a growing proportion of your pregnancy!

      • Rebecca

        Meg, I know it hasn’t been much fun for you, but your descriptions of pregnancy are my favorite. They’re so honest and funny at the same time. It is possible I still giggle to myself about when you said something along the lines of “I don’t feel like I’m glowing, I feel like an aquarium.” Gold, I tell you, pure gold.

  • Claire

    This post (and the subsequent discussion) is so interesting to me! Thank you for hosting this discussion, Meg. And thanks, Avie, for writing such an honest post on a topic that still feels somewhat taboo (at least in my social circles).

    I realized just last week that ALL of my friends – every single one of them – either already has kids or else is pregnant, or is actively (often painfully) trying to have a baby. I am the ONLY one who has decided not to have children and that is beginning to become a very lonely place to be. Not because I’m second guessing our decision, but because sometimes I do feel “less than”. When I hear my friends gush about how you never really know what true love is until you hold your new baby for the first time, sometimes I prickle at the implication and sometimes I do wonder whether I’ll be missing out on some transcendent experience.

    My partner and I both feel that, for us personally, deciding to add a child to our family is something that we should only do if its something we both actively want and not just do because its the socially acceptable “next step”. And right now, neither of us want that. Neither of us have ever felt that desire, and unless we do, we’re gonna stick with the family we have right now.

    I do occasionally wonder if this desire to mother will reveal itself later in life. In that case, there are other routes to parenthood and we have discussed them and would be good with a child that does not necessarily share our genes. I have spent years raising siblings and nieces and I know that families aren’t defined by shared dna.

    • I hate that “not knowing true love” thing. I expect to love my child. I dont know if it will be the first time I hold them or some time later. But my husband IS true love.
      And that whole saying makes women (like one of my closest friends) who dont feel that connection immediately feel bad about themselves (although said friend got through it by remembering that Angelina Jolie said she didnt like her babies till they were 6 weeks old).

  • I think about this every day. But for me, the question isn’t whether or not to have kids, but when to stop having kids. I’ve had two kids in the last two years. I also have a six year old and my husband has a nine year old from his previous marriage. I think the average reader would look at this and say, “Hello?!? You’re done!” And you’re probably right. I’m just so used to being pregnant now that it feels weird not to be. And I look at my two babies and think “Are you it?” “Are you the last ones I’m going to have?” And then I change a dozen diapers in one day and think, “Yes, you are!” It’s hard. I’m 34 and raising four kids is a lot. And I could always change my mind (my mom was able to have babies well into her late 40’s). I think that a big part of me just wants to make a decision so I can enjoy the moment more.

  • Claire

    I don’t want children and neither does my husband. The conversation usually goes like this:

    random person: So, when are you guys gonna start your family?
    me: We started our family way back when we got married. We’re a family of two.
    random: Haha. You know what I mean, when are you gonna have kids?
    me: Actually, we’re not having kids.
    random: Well, you’re still young. You still have time to change your mind. Just don’t wait too long.

    This assumption makes me so angry.

    • Well, I love your initial answer of “We started our family way back when we got married. We’re a family of two” and I’m totally stealing it.

      • meg

        Oh. We talk about that all the time on APW. I’m pregnant, and we never say we’re starting a family (hello! we are a family!). We say we’re adding to the family. Lucky baby, getting to join such an awesome family ;)

        • I know we talk about it all the time here, but it’s never occurred to me to use it against all the people wanting to know when we’re having babies. Mostly I tend to freeze up and smile nervously. Having a little ammunition at the ready can be handy :)

  • Michelle

    Haven’t read the comments yet, but felt the overwhelming urge to Exactly! this whole post. Thank you!

  • Sara

    I’m really glad that you’re doing this week. My friends that are mostly married are going through this discussion right now, and this article in particular helps me to understand a few point of views.

    As someone who has always wanted children, its occasionally tough to wrap my head around another point of view. Its not like I’ve been trying to judge my friends, but they haven’t explained it this eloquently and this honestly made me say “oh THAT’S what she’s talking about”. I liken it to when I found out that all my friends weren’t the same religion as me (in like sixth grade) – I know that viewpoint is out there, but I assume people I know follow the same…viewpoint? life line? path? as I. I’m not sure of the correct wording, or why I’m surprised, but I guess that’s why they say you should never assume! (It makes an ass out of you and me!). Thank you for helping me understand what my friends have been trying to explain to me.

    That being said, I promise I have never uttered the words “You’ll change your mind :)”

  • Elizabeth

    I really appreciate this discussion and all of the different perspectives. I wonder, though, about people who don’t feel strongly one way or another and would appreciate advice.

    My husband and I have been married one year next week. He is 34 and I am almost 32. In the past year, we have lost one grandfather each, both my parents were seriously ill and hospitalized, and my godmother has become unable to leave the house due to severe illness. We also each have grandmothers suffering from dementia. We start to wonder, what happens to you when you get old if you don’t have kids? Neither of us are sure about having kids (we are a bilingual, bi-national couple living in Europe, which brings its own complications). We feel like we are running out of time to choose.

    When I was growing up, most of my parents’ friends, as well as my godparents, had no children. I saw that they had really nice lives and didn’t miss out. At the same time, I came from a huge family with lots of kids. We also had really nice lives. So I see both sides as good options. What I can’t see is how and when each couple made the decision, whether the kids were intentional or not, et cetera. Thus, I feel perplexed.

    When you don’t have a strong yes or no feeling, how do you decide to move forward?

    • Susie

      The exactly button didn’t do justice to how much I agree with your ambivalence uncertainty Elizabeth!

      • Amy

        Me too! Mostly because I can see myself being equally happy with or without kids, but it feels like at some point I’m going to have to make a specific decision. I’m a pretty diligent pill-taker so I’m fairly certain a decision won’t accidentally be made for me ;)

        Maybe there’s some kind of quiz we can take, or flip a coin?

  • I’m really conflicted about WANTING kids. As an environmentalist I’m pretty horrified about what we’re doing to the planet and my brain tells me it would be much more ethical to NOT have children. Too bad I have that feeling your talking about, that longing to have children. I often wish that I felt like you do, I’m wishing that I didn’t want kids.

    • MDBethann

      Though whether you have biological children or adopt, you would then get to raise environmentally conscious kids yourself. Maybe adoption or fostering would work for you – the kids are already here, so it sort of eliminates your ethical argument about over-population (I’m guessing that’s what you’re referring to) – but it would enable you to parent and raise good environmental stewards. Just my 2 cents (I sometimes wonder whether adoption wouldn’t be better than biological because there are so many children out there who need a loving home…)

      • I’d just like to throw it out there that I would love to see posts/hear experiences about alternative parenting/family structures. Whether it’s adoption, step-parenting or especially fostering kids.

        We’re ambivalent on kids, but the odds are it’s too late anyway, but I have no big desire to adopt. The few times I have told people that I could imagine having foster kids, the reactions have been so unequivocally negative that I’ve vowed not to bring it up to anyone again.

        Anyone out there with any thoughts/stories/experiences?

        • Natalie

          This is a great point. And I am sorry that people have given you negative reactions about adoption. When we approached my parents about adoption for the reason that there are so many children out there who NEED homes; they are here now and they have no parents—they shot back asking us if we had already tried to have our own kids already, with the attitude that adoption should be some kind of last resort.

          I worked with a woman who proactively adopted without even considering having her own chidlren because she believed that there was a soul out there who was destined to be her child—a soul who needed a home and love and care and a chance at a wonderful, loving life. It was inspiring to me, and I know there are other couples out there who view adption as their FIRST choice because of their personal beliefs and not just as some kind of default because they can’t conceive.

          Although I think adoption is a wonderful option in either case ;)

  • Alicia

    I also love this discussion… as usual it comes at a great time!
    I’m dealing with a similar running out of time/sort of ambivalent/very curious situation. When I got married both of us were ambivalent, and my husband has remained so. He has a big family and many nieces and nephews that will be around as he gets older. I have a very, very small family and my only sibling has already made the no children decision… and the only pressure I feel (not because others aren’t pressuring me, but because I really only care about how my husband and I feel about it) is my own, as I think about what it will be like when I’m older, or my mother never being a grandmother, etc. I am also shocked at how much more I am leaning toward having a child over the past couple of months- and I am both doubting my own new-found desire to have children (is it hormones? is it all the societal pressure that I reject feeling or maybe even wanting to be closer with my friends who have children? Do I really have any idea what I want?) and feeling as though I’m betraying my husband and our previously-mutual ambivalence. But still, every day I’m terribly tempted to ditch the birth control. I love hearing from everyone else on what they have experienced since it helps me reflect more carefully about my own upcoming decision.

  • Hi, author of Families of Two and The Baby Matrix here…to understand the wanting to want to have kids, that “feeling” either you have or don’t, and to help make the most informed decision about parenthood I have to say that The Baby Matrix is a must read. It challenges engrained beliefs we have about parenthood, and looks the powerful history of social and cultural conditioning-here is link to intro-check it out!

  • Heather

    Great discussion, I’m so glad you are approaching this subject this week. Some things that come to mind as I read through the comments:
    1. Not everyone who decides not to have kids does so early on. I have several friends who thought they might have kids until they hit the 40 mark, and then had to really decide. If they weren’t married or in a relationship some went for adoption, some decided it wasn’t something they needed, and others were kind of relieved.
    2. You can be in the not-having-kids camp and still have kids in your life. I have one friend who has made a point of being very involved in the lives of her nieces and nephews. Not having her own kids she is in a unique position to offer a special relationship with another adult. I know I would love for my daughter to have such a relationship. I’m sure there will be things she can’t discuss with her mother, but her cool auntie…? It also provides a good role model for someone who decided not to have kids.
    3. I had a baby seven months ago and what I can’t wrap my head around is why people are so eager to pressure couples into having kids. It’s consuming and challenging in ways I could never have anticipated. I love my baby, and I wanted her desperately, but it’s HARD. If you don’t want a baby – DON’T HAVE A BABY! – and good for you for knowing it and making the decision.
    4. A related topic – choosing to have one baby. We’re already getting the “so when are you going to try for number 2” questions. I think it’s becoming more and more common to have just one, but we still run into people who think we’ll “change our minds” and have another one. I know our parents were a little disappointed too, but also grateful to have the one grandchild. I’d love to hear from others who chose to have one child and what went into the decision.

  • Jen

    I think that not wanting kids is a lot more common than we realise, but it’s hidden behind this social expectation that all women must want children. I’ve never wanted children, and spent my 20s and 30s being told I’d change my mind. I didn’t, and now in my 40s I’m still just as happy to be childfree, and have absolutely no regrets about my choice. My brother has three wonderful children, and I love being an aunty to them, but I love even more being able to hand them back to him at the end of our visits :-) Never once have I felt the need for children of my own.

    Of course, I still get the constant pressure from friends and family telling me one day I’ll regret my decision, and reminding me that 43 really isn’t too old to have children these days. But amongst them is the odd friend who whispers to me that she wishes she’d been brave enough to make the same decision.

  • April

    Oh, goodness – I’ve been away this week and nearly missed this series! And it’s a doozy and something me and my husband live with every day so I find the topic most intriguing. Can’t tell you how many times we’ve been told we are “selfish” for not wanting children and that our lives will be empty and meaningless without family. But we are quite the opposite.

    Even though my husband and I have chosen to be child-free, children are a big part of our lives, since close to 95% of our community of friends & family have kids. We have had to broaden our views and adapt our social lives as well, to include our friends and THEIR children. And it’s been very, very rewarding.

    Contrary to what people often think about our childless choice, we really and truly adore kids.
    We just don’t have a burning desire to be parents. Never have.

  • Natalie

    Responsible adults with money, a condo, decent jobs…yes, you can afford a baby, but the question is DO YOU WANT ONE…it is a personal decision that is more complex than just CAN WE AFFORD A BABY PRACTICALLY SPEAKING; can we raise it with good values and a decent chance at going to college. It is such a tough decision…one that I have changed my mind over and over about, and I am married. I would love to have a baby, but the fear of not being able to have one, or the nightmare of trying and doctor visits and talk of tubes and placenta and c-sections sometimes is just too much for me. The fear of trying and failing is enough to spend me spinning into a fit of panic.

    Telling someone that not wanting children makes them selfish is the most narrow-minded thing I have ever heard of…there are so many positive ways to impact children that have nothing to do with being a biological parent.

  • Nina B.

    I’m coming to this conversation late, but I have to say a big THANK YOU for this post. Now I don’t have to write one! (If I did, it would link to this one and say, “ditto.”)

  • First off, I’ve been waiting for this series to exist on APW all along and I’m so happy it is here.

    Second, I just want to shout YES to everything Avis had to say. Best.post.ever.

  • Katherine

    (A little late to this post but oh well)
    I had a sigh of relief after I read this. And then an even bigger sigh of relief when I read most of the comments. Its nice to know I’m not the only one.
    I recently had the conversation with my fiance about why I never had or have had the “feeling”, “desire”, “need”, or “want” to have kids. My whole life I’ve known how I feel and when it comes up in conversation the reaction is always the same; friends or family just disregard my decision as a phase or that I’ll change my mind or that I can’t possibly be serious. I understand that when a 10-year-old says she’s never having kids she might not be taken seriously, or even when she’s 16. Now I’m 27 and people still don’t believe me (yes, that may still be young but it doesn’t warrant the automatic assumption that I’ll change my mind). The part that bothers me the most is that those around me think that because I choose to not have children means that my life is not as complete as theirs with children. I’m about to get married and both my fiance and I don’t want kids. We discuss it often as well. We talk about all the scenarios and the “what if’s” and we’ll continue to talk about it. One day we might change our minds but maybe we won’t and I wish that everyone around us could just respect our decisions and that they are ours, not theirs. I wish that we could talk about our decision openly without judgment or odd stares and as openly as others talk about having children. It’s a harsh reality and I feel bad for all those who also have to go through this without support from their friends and family.
    Its refreshing to see a conversation about this though since it’s not a usual topic of discussion. Hopefully as more people talk about it, and it becomes something more common, then the reactions or shock or disbelief won’t be as common either.

  • Sharon M.

    Just got married about a month ago, and there are quite a few people who are expecting the babies to come within the year. I’ll be 40 in August, and I don’t think that it is going to happen no matter how much THEY want it.
    I don’t know where I’d find the time and energy to properly raise a child, and honestly, the whole possibility of having a special needs child that needs more care than the average child scares the living shit out of me. I enjoy having kids around occasionally, but there’s a point at which I can’t deal anymore – maybe because I’m an introvert – and I need time to rest and reflect; the parents I know never get any of that.
    My husband is kind of on the same page – he would rather be a grandfather than a father: spoil ’em, send ’em home. So his cousins’ kids, any future nieces and nephews my brother produces, and pets will probably be the recipients of our generosity rather than our own offspring.