Why Wife & Mother Do Not Have To Go Together (Part II)

After talking about kids and deciding when to have them, I said that this week we’d take on NOT wanting kids. So here we go. Obviously this is a complex and many faceted subject, but here our first crack at it:

Dear Meg,
I wonder how familiar this scene is to married APWers:

Well-meaning but infuriating family member/friend/stranger : “So when are you starting a family?”
Me: “I’ve been married for three years. I already have a family; it just doesn’t have any kids in it”
WMBAFMFS: *vacant expression*

I don’t want children. Neither does my husband. I don’t like kids. I like adult pastimes and adult conversation. I’m awkward and uninterested around babies, toddlers, tweens and teenagers.

But I have a funny feeling in my stomach.

I think it’s the feeling of injustice at the way my childless marriage is viewed by others as incomplete. I think it’s genuine rage that our decision is looked upon with distrust and distain. That our marriage is viewed as pointless if children aren’t to follow.

But maybe it’s broodiness. And maybe I’m afraid of that because of what it would mean for us, our life and our relationship. The thought of loving something more than I do my husband is terrifying to me. Although not as terrifying as him loving someone else more than he loves me.

I’m paralysed by the fear of making a mistake. Will I reach 40 and wake up every day next to my husband wishing we’d had a child, or wishing that we hadn’t? I’m not sure if this is even a real dilemma, or just a projection of the expectations of others.

I wonder if you have any insight.

Warm regards,

Laura, UK

Ok. First of all. I just want to state for the record, and for all of us, how much I detest the phrase, “start a family,” when applied to kids. I remember the very first time I heard it. It was back when I was first dipping my toes in the Reclaiming Wife waters, and people were getting riled up. I mentioned something about not wanting kids right away, and someone left an angry comment that said, “Well, I guess the difference is that some of us think marriage is about starting a family, and some of us don’t.”

And my head exploded.

Because REALLY??? I’m sorry, what’s getting married? Just chopped liver? Just a prelude to getting knocked up? It makes me livid. Every time I hear someone use the phrase, ‘Start a family,’ I want to snap, “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought that’s what I just did. You know, when I got married?” Or as my friend and APW commenter Marisa-Andrea says (slightly less angrily) “I think there is a lot of cultural noise that tells us your marriage isn’t a real marriage until you have children. There really isn’t anything between the wedding and babies in terms of models. And I wonder, how can marriage be rich and meaningful without those culturally prescribed big events (having a baby, buying a house)?”

So in that sense, I see each childless marriage as part of the fight to make all of our our marriages more valuable, to help show that being married is something different than having kids. That being a wife is a different thing than being a mother.

Second. The fear of being childless being a mistake. As I thought about this over and over in the last week, what I came back to is the lesson that we all learn planning our weddings. The wedding industry is based on our fear of regret – if we don’t do XYZ, we’ll regret it, so we better do it just in case. And what I learned during the planning is that you almost never regret following your heart (or gut), but you almost always regret doing something just because to were told that you had to. I learned that a firm, “No,” when something isn’t right for you, spares you endless heartache. And I think the cultural noise around having kids is similar, “DO IT OR YOU’LL REGRET IT.” Which, first of all, is hardly a compelling reason to bring a human into the world, and second of all, is not true. We regret not being ourselves, we don’t regret not living the life we were expected to live.

And finally. Selfish. For that, I wanted to quote Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed, in what is hands down my favorite passage about not having children, ever. I can’t fit it all in here, so maybe you want to get the book and flip to page 109, but this is the best part about ‘the consistent 10% of women within any population that never have children at all’ (though, the rate swings from 10%-50%, it interestingly never dips below 10%):

All too often, those of us who choose to remain childless are accused of being somehow unwomanly or unnatural or selfish, but history teaches us that there have always been women who went through life without having babies. … The number of women throughout history who never became mothers is so high (so consistently high) that I now suspect that a certain degree of female childlessness is an evolutionary adaptation of the human race. … Childless women have always run orphanages and schools and hospitals. They are midwives and nuns and providers of chartiy. They heal the sick and teach the arts and often they become indispensable on the battlefield of life. Literally, in some cases. (Florence Nightingale comes to mind.) …

Such childless women – let’s call them the “Auntie Brigade” – have never been very well honored by history, I’m afraid. They are called selfish, frigid, and pathetic. Here’s one particularly nasty bit of conventional wisdom circulating out there about childless women that I need to dispel here, and that is this: that women who have no children may live liberated and happy and wealthy lives when they are young, but they will ultimately regret that choice when they reach old age, for they shall die alone and depressed and full of bitterness. Perhaps you’ve heard this old chestnut? Just to set the record straight: There is zero sociological evidence to back this up. …

Even within my own community, I can see where I have been vital sometimes as a member of the Auntie Brigade. My job is not merely to spoil and indulge my nice and nephew (though I do take that assignment to heart) but also to be a roving auntie to the world – an ambassador auntie – who is on hand wherever help is needed, in anybody’s family whatsoever. There are people I’ve been able to help, sometimes fully supporting them for years, because I am not obliged, as a mother would be obliged, to put all my energies and resources into the full-time rearing of a child. There are a whole bunch of Little League uniforms and orthodontist’s bills and college educations that I will never have to pay for, thereby freeing up resources to spread more widely across the community. In this way, I, too, foster life. There are many, many ways to foster life. And believe me, every single one of them is essential.

This is not to say that you need to make up for not having kids by being Mother Teresa. Not at ALL. You don’t have to make up for not having kids, period. But it is true that we all have limited resources in this world. We have limited time, money, and energy. When we have children, a lot of those resources get focused (rightfully) in one area – on a few lives. When we don’t have children (permanently or temporarily) we can use those resources on other projects. We can spread our focus. And that’s a fantastic thing, for us and for society (even when society is too short sighted to see it that way).

Or as commenter Marina said last week:

As someone who’s sure I want kids, and soon (I mean, scared sh*tless, but sure) I just want to add that I am SO GRATEFUL that I have friends who want kids but not for a long time, and friends who do not want kids ever, period. I have friends in the first category who have told me they’re looking forward to babysitting duties and knitting little baby clothes, which, oh boy, I would be a LOT more scared about having kids if I didn’t have that kind of community around. And my friends in the second category, who do not want babies, who will never want babies–I am so thankful for them. I don’t want to get lost in my child(ren), and I feel so lucky to have people in my life who I know I will be able to hang out with and talk about things that are NOT related to babies. So all y’all who are decidedly against babies, or ambivalent, or all the other messy permutations of decision-making–I’m glad YOU’RE part of my community too. I know having lots of smart sassy women I can read at a moment’s notice will make me a better mom, and is already making me a better person.

So selfish? No. Let’s replace selfish with vital.

PS I know this isn’t technically about not having kids, but I’m really uncomfortable with the cultural assumption that we automatically love our kids more than our partner. If having kids meant that I’d love someone more than my husband, and he’d love someone more than me, I’m pretty sure I’d be out. But I think we love our children totally differently (and hopefully not more) than our partners or ourselves. As always, the been there done that Cate of Project Subrosa can speak to this better than me, but I thought I’d throw it out there.

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  • Eliza

    This is an amazing post. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more glad I found APW.

    I can’t possibly speak to all of it – this is a huge, HUGE issue! – but I did have one immediate thought. We hear a lot from women who’ve never thought they wanted kids and then they “changed their minds” for a wide range of reasons, including social pressure. I’d be very interested to hear if there are any (other) women out there who always thought they DID want kids and then actively changed their minds. I have always loved kids – babysat since I was a kid myself, pretty much, loved kids of all ages – and always assumed I wanted them. But I’m finding incredible autonomy and power since getting engaged and moving in with my partner in the idea that we might NOT have children. And that that would be ok, too. Thinking about all the things we could do if we didn’t have kids – the “auntihood” I could have, the adventures we could have, (less importantly) the disposable income we could have… I’m not saying I definitely don’t want them. It’s more of a definite maybe. But for once (for a type AAA person) I’m really enjoying the “maybe” in “definite maybe”.

    • I definitely always wanted children. LOTS of children. Five or six. I loved babies, I loved kids… I even moved overseas to work as an au pair for a time, and taking care of three children under the age of three didn’t squelch the baby desire at all.

      And then… well… I have no idea what happened. Maybe my crazy hormones subsided, but when I reached 25 – 26ish… the urge just kind of went away. And then I got engaged, and my fiance and I would talk about the future, and… I started having an incredibly hard time picturing our future with kids in it. I realized how happy I am with the status quo. And he said he could go either way, but definitely wouldn’t be heartbroken if it never happened.

      I really can’t say what happened, but I just don’t feel this need for children anymore. I’m so happy with our little two person, two cat family. That’s my family, and right now I don’t feel like anyone’s missing. I feel like we’re all here. Does that make sense? I’m not ruling it out completely… because who knows what the future holds… but honestly, I really just want to be an aunt. I want all the fun stuff and none of the responsibility.

      • Eliza

        It totally does make sense! (We are a two person, two cat family, too :D )

        Also, when I went to bed there was one comment, and I just got up and there are 223 comments! Yikes!

    • HoppyBunny

      I grew up wanting children. Then I met my fiancé, who did. not. want. kids. I figured, we were young enough, we could just break up after having some fun together (yes, high school sweet hearts). But then… we stayed together. For years. And the whole time I thought to myself: why DO I want kids?

      I couldn’t put my finger on it, I just wanted them. I had grown up with dollies and my mom telling me how great a mom I would be someday. It was just something that would obviously happen someday when I met the right guy, right? I mean, these biological urges have a logical root, don’t they?

      And then one day I realized: I wanted to know what they would look like. I was curious to see how they would act. And I reflected on that realization: what a horrible reason to want kids! Babies aren’t some science experiment, they are people! That sort of broke the spell for me.

      Thus, after years of wanting babies, then years of wondering why and crying that I would have to choose between my love, who wanted no kids, and my curiosity about what my kids would be like if they existed, I found that I didn’t really actually want them. At least, not like I thought I did–I didn’t NEED to have kids. Maybe we’ll have kids someday–he is not 100% opposed to it, but I am not 100% in favor of it anymore either. Lots of reasons, mostly due to money and environmental ethics. In fact, I am surrounded by babies at work, and while I love to hug them and teach them words and admire their sweet little outfits, I think they are perfectly awesome in small doses–they aren’t giving me my own baby bug.

      Plus, my sister is going to have babies like crazy, and we look alike, and she actually wants them. So… I’m thinking she can have babies and I can spoil them. What would my kids look like? Probably lot like hers. :D

      • Ashley

        Thank-you so much for writing this, thank you, thank you, thank you. This is why I love APW so much, because here there is always someon who just gets it.

        I grew up wanting kids, or at least I think I did. I know I was always good with them and liked being around them. But honestly I don’t really remember specifically wanting them, in fact when I was in university, I do specifically remember thinking, maybe I won’t have time for them and being okay with that. But for some reason when I met my love, I just assumed we’d have kids. My sister’s have kids, my cousins have kids, everyone talked about when I would have kids. It was just logical. And then, 9 months in to our relationship and totally, head over heels in love, he tells me he doesn’t want kids. Like, never. I was devastated, like really seriously freaking out. So we talked and I cried and we talked and I cried and he felt terrible, like he was taking something away from me, like there was something wrong with him for not wanting them. Basically it was awful. I asked him to do me a favour and consider his life with children, like really consider it, consider wanting it, not giving in and having them just for me but what if someday he really wanted them. I told him to think about this for a while and we’d come back to it. While he was doing that, I considered the opposite, why do I want kids? What would my life be like without them? Would it be terrible, would I be miserable, would I regret it forever, would I feel like he took something away from me, like I settled. I thought and I thought and I thought. In the mean time we talked again and he was really sure, as in sure-sure that he was sure. He’s 33 and figured that if the desire was going to kick in, it would have. While he never completely rules it out, he’s about as positive as he can get.(Hence all the sures) So I went back to thinking, because i just don’t make decisions as fast as he does. I’m not that good at trusting my gut. But over the nearly two years it’s been since that conversation. I’ve discovered that I can look all the way into my future and not see kids and not be one bit sad about it. Three good friends of ours and one of my bestest best friends are pregnant, it doesn’t make me one bit jealous, just afraid that I’m going to loose them. I have three nephews and a niece and I love them to bits, I love to spoil them and hang out with them, leave work early to take them to Dr.s appointments. I’m a good aunt. I work in recreation therapy for kids with disabilities, I love my job, I call my kids at work, my kids. I want to go back to school to do nursing, hopefully to specialize in pediatric nursing. I love kids. I’m good with kids. But, do I want kids? Do I need kids? I honestly don’t think so. When I think about giving up my love just in case someday I decide I was wrong, that I know I can’t do. It’s him that I’m sure about, that I know I want. And honestly, as hard as this whole process has been, I have learned to much about myself, and about my partner that I wouldn’t take it back, not even for a minute. But I do feel the pressure, from other people, I get lots of you’ll regret it’s and you’ll change your minds. And they do make me mad, because I know that I have researched and read, and thought and pondered and cried about whether so much more than so many people i know who have kids and really I’d like a little credit for that. So when I read these posts and comments, and realise there are other women out there like me, thinking the same things, dealing with the same emotions. I get so excited. It’s so nice to not feel alone and crazy. Thanks APW….:)

        Now breaking the news to my mom, that’s going to be another story…

        • Ashley

          whoops. that was really long. sorry.

    • Jennifer

      I have experienced this, but I though I was the only one!

      A couple of years ago my boyfriend and I had a conversation about children and I said I would never feel 100% satisfied in life if I didn’t have children. He said he didn’t want them. I worried that it might be a deal breaker.

      But then I thought about it, and I realised that he grew up with a lot of wonderful role models in his life who did not have children of their own. He has always been very close to these people and I think he looks at them and sees the amazing lives they have been able to have (without children) and wants that for himself. My role models growing up were midwives and mothers so a future without children was just not something that had ever really occurred to me. The realisation opened my eyes to the option of not having children.

      We are now busy planning our wedding and although we don’t know whether or future will include parenthood or not, we do know we will have an amazing life together either way… which is very liberating.

  • LauraB

    “”DO IT OR YOU’LL REGRET IT.” Which, first of all, is hardly a compelling reason to bring a human into the world, and second of all, is not true. We regret not being ourselves, we don’t regret not living the life we were expected to live.”

    Yup. Since writing that email to Meg, this is the truth I’ve come to realise.

    People who want kids will try to have them. My husband and I don’t have to justify ourselves or second guess our decisions, because the decision not to have children feels right for us- it’s dealing with people’s comments and expectations which is more difficult.

    • I wonder if anyone has any suggestions for dealing with others’ expectations? If you do, please share. If I try to change the subject, the person I am speaking to has a nasty way of hanging onto the baby issue. If I do go ahead and tell them I just don’t want children, they feel like it is their personal duty to change my mind. Like they are baby evangelists come to save my childless soul. It’s so frustrating.

      So if anyone knows of a good response to shut down the conversation, please reply!

      • I think this is the kind of situation where you are fully within your rights to say “I’d rather not discuss this issue.” Period. If someone is being nasty, is it is perfectly acceptable to be firm and straightforward in return.

      • abby_wan_kenobi

        I’m not really polite all the time (and I’ve paid the consequences for it), but in a lot of situations I’d rather speak my mind than maintain the reputation of being really nice. So I go for rudely honest or obnoxiously sarcastic.

        “I cannot fathom how that is any of your business.”

        “Wow, that’s an overly invasive and personal question. Why don’t you tell me about you and your husband’s sex life and then I’ll tell you about our family-planning decisions.”

        “My reproductive system is protected by uterus-owner privilege, so I’m not at liberty to discuss that.”

        “Y’know, being married is more fun than I thought it would be. I get to stop talking about all those things that I used to pretend interested me and instead, talk exclusively about how important it is to my family, friends and casual acquaintances that my husband and I start popping out babies immediately. To that end, we’ve started a charity to support the little bundle of joy – I mean everyone is so invested in it we figured they wanted to contribute. What days can I put you down for for day care duty?”

        • Jo

          Hilarious. And Meg, spot on. You ladies rock my (potentially childless, but Auntie driven) world.

        • Vee

          ““My reproductive system is protected by uterus-owner privilege, so I’m not at liberty to discuss that.””

          LOVE IT!

      • Kaitlin

        My fiance has come up with a pretty good idea of what to say when people start asking “So, when are you going to [start a family, have kids, etc.]?”

        “Every time someone asks us that, we push it back another month.”

        If you say it with a light-hearted tone, then it sort of catches people off guard without being rude. It also shuts the conversation down pretty quickly because, heck, if they keep asking about it then they are only delaying it — this assumes, of course, that they are ‘baby evangelists’ who assume that all married couples need to have kids.

        • I love it!

        • Kara

          LOVE THIS! Will definitely have to try it out the next time someone asks.

        • deidre

          perfect! ( and i have children)!

      • caroline

        I can’t take credit for these comments (they were posted on East Side Bride on 7/22), but I’m still laughing about them over a month later:
        “when people ask us “when are you two going to have a baby?”, responding with either “when we need to save the marriage” or “maybe we will make one tonight”. It’s fun to watch people’s reactions.
        – LindsFM”

        • Umm, yeah. That was me. :) It really works.

      • Want to shut down the conversation? Pretend you ARE trying and its not going well.

        “we gave up after the second round of IVF. We just couldnt do it anymore”.

        Unless they have been there (and hopefully you should already know if they have), most people wont be able to think of anything to say. Mainly because they will feel like insensitive prats. Sure fire end of harrassment. (and yes, I’ve seen this done!)

      • Amandover

        You know, I used to be an evangelist of babies. I come from 2 huge loving families, and I always wanted babies, and I thought it was sad when people didn’t. That was in high school. Now I’m a grown-up, and I have realized there are all sorts of great reasons not to have children, and I think it’s sad when people have kids for the wrong reasons.
        But a lot of people have simply never been introduced to the idea of leading a fruitful life without offspring. So I for one am a proponent of the educational retort. If they don’t want the information, they’ll change the subject. And if you manage to plant a seed of comprehension, maybe they won’t bug the next newlywed so much.

      • Rachel

        I would never use it, but I know a couple that says, “We used to have kids but the state took them away.” Because, really, who would want to continue that conversation?

        My own personal approach to defending my decision not to have children is to be equally as disrespectful to the decision to have children. I know that makes me an awful person, but I’ve found it’s the most direct way of demonstrating how rude I find accusations that my life is incomplete without children in it. So when people talk about little tiny babies and my mom looks at me with big accusing eyes like, “WHY DON’T YOU WANT TO MAKE ME A GRANDMA?” I say that I like doing adult things like washing my hair every day and having a full-time job. Trying to make it clear that there are more ways than just having babies to demonstrate my adulthood seems to drive the point home pretty well.

        That being said, before I could adequately argue my point, I had to find out why other people so badly wanted children. There are still things I don’t understand (like the time that my best friend and I were eating breakfast out and there was a young toddler screaming bloody murder at the table right behind her, and she said to me, “I can’t wait to have children,” and I just raised my eyebrows in utter disbelief), but asking other people what drove their decision helped me accept my own. For some, the deep nudging desire was it. For others, it was the need to see their legacy passed on. For (probably too many) others, it was the need to be needed. And when I heard these reasons and realized that they spoke to characteristics I don’t possess (1- innate motherhood; 2- thinking my legacy would be so good it should visit somebody else; and 3- loneliness), then I was able to move forward and realize why I don’t want children.

      • ItsyBitsy

        Ms Bunny –
        I know this response is delayed (I just found APW and am happily spending my afternoon digging through the archives), but perhaps it’ll help? A while back I went to a discussion panel at my college on the decision to have (or not have!) children. One of the women running the discussion told us that if ever she and her husband were faced with the “OMG WHY DON’T YOU WANT KIDS? DO YOU HATE CHILDREN OR SOMETHING??” questions, they respond with, “We love children, we just love sleep more.” I imagine it breaks the tension pretty well, and (hopefully) sends the message that you’re not up for having a serious discussion with them about it.

    • Aine

      I am reminded of my friend’s great aunt who never had children, and when her niece asked about it in her seventies, said something like “You know, I always thought I’d get around to it. I guess I didn’t want them particularly badly, or I would have made a point of it.”

  • Laura

    I want kids. I always have. But now, newly married at 36 and not wanting to run and get pregnant right this second, I know that the clock is ticking and frankly, it might not happen. And I’m ok with that. Really, honestly, OK. The problem is, no one around me seems to be. When I discuss this with friends or family and reveal my pragmatic “eh, maybe I won’t be able to get pregnant” attitude, I get a chorus of “OMG DON’T SAY THAT”s. As if saying, out loud, that you may not be able to have children is some sort of curse that can’t be spoken or you’ll DIE childless, miserable, and alone. I mean…come on. I have a hot husband, a relatively low cost of living, and the freedom to travel at will and work late without guilt. What’s the downside here? I love kids, don’t get me wrong. I think they’re supercool. But the attitude that every woman MUST have them or she’ll be sad and lonely with a terrible ache deep in her soul is just ridiculous. We are not our reproductive organs and our lives don’t need to revolve around what we do with them.

    • Jennifer

      Seconded. Only I’m nearly 38 and about to be married instead of 36 and newlywed. I’m lucky in that most people seem to be polite/not nosy enough to leave it alone, but there are a large number for whom any time I mention children with an “if” it’s met with “oh, plenty of women are having children around age 40 these days” or “don’t worry about ‘if’, there’s always adoption.” The assumption is always that the “if” is solely due to concern about getting pregnant at my age, never that there might be other medical issues involved, never mind that the “if” could be “if we decide we want kids” rather than “if we can have kids.”

      • Hearing your points of view calms the butterflies in my ovaries. I’m not sure whether I want kids or not, but the pressure to decide RIGHT NOW is overwhelming, and only gets more so as time passes. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective. I wish that there were more women’s voices in conventional media that speak sanely about reproductive issues. It would be good for everyone, I think.

    • Kim

      “We are not our reproductive organs and our lives don’t need to revolve around what we do with them.”

      F*cking right.

  • lou

    again, like so many readers say, i really needed this today!

    this whole issue is swirling around in my head on a pretty regular basis recently, it must be the wedding and 30th birthday approaching! i’m not sure i have anything too insightful to add, other than i already feel like i am a family with my fiance. and whether we have kids or not is secondary to what we have with each other. i’m sure that having kids would enrich our lives in some ways and would limit our lives in others. as with everything in life there is always sacrifice – if only for a limited amount of time. but the main thing is that we focus on being ok just the two of us.

    i guess one of the big fears i have is of turning into some of the couples i see around me who have children. if i’m honest they often seem resentful of each other, desperate to have a break from their children and partners and grudgingly admiring of our child free lives. i know that i don’t get to see all the joy that i’m sure they experience as well, but the idea of my relationship changing into that is really scary.

    i guess there are no answers until you actually experience it, but i think i’ll hang at the back of the line for a little longer, maybe forever – who knows?

  • I got married a month ago, and although I’ve been asked “so when are you having babies?!” several times, it’s only been from women with children. While there is definitely a lot of pressure to have kids, and soon, the average age of first childbirth is rising (right?) and I know out of my work and personal contacts, not that many of the women under 35 have children. I wonder if subconsciously, some of my friends and colleagues are looking for validation for their being working (white-collar/creative class) mothers, or trying to build the ranks so it becomes more normal and accepted.

    I’m trying to keep that in mind and not get annoyed, since I am pretty sure that though it’s hard for me that people suddenly expect me to have kids at 23 because I have a ring on my finger, it’s harder to be working and have children in an environment where that’s not the norm. (Please don’t misunderstand me – I’m being sympathetic here, not judgy. If I DO ever have kids, I want to still work, and like most of you I see having children or not as a personal decision we’re entitled to make, and one that our communities should support.)

    What about the rest of you? Who is asking you about babies?

    • After reading Pamela’s comment, I think there is probably a big part of parents wanting me (all of us) to share their joy as well. Good point.

      • Michele

        Or their misery. ;)

    • I feel a need to confess.

      It actually does make me sad when people I love say they’ll never have kids. Not because I think they won’t be fulfilled, but because I love them and I think that the world would be a better place with kids they raised in it. In college, it seemed like a lot of girls I thought would be wonderful mothers never wanted to be, whereas a lot of girls I went to high school with were having kids and I just thought at best they’d be mediocre. Which means, my logic continued, that the next generation might end up being kids raised by mediocre parents. lol.

      Also, when I was younger I dated a guy who didn’t want kids and I went through a ‘maybe I won’t have kids’ phase for about 9 months. But ultimately I realized I definitely, 100% want kids. So I think there’s a little in me that’s testing whether that person really means it.

      But if they really don’t, I hope I accept it and don’t pressure them anymore. I don’t really mean to, after all.

      And, for myself, part of that has to do with the fact I’m not part of an auntie brigade yet. So maybe I want my friends to have kids so I can be part of one before I have my own. My friends are just now starting to have kids, so prior to this I just didn’t really know any kids. Growing up I had an older sister, so she got all the baby sitting jobs (who wants to hire the girl two years younger when they can get the older sister?) So I LOVE kids, but I’m not an ‘auntie’ to any… yet. Actually my first close friend had a baby Friday (I’ve not gotten to meet him yet). And my best friend is two months pregnant. So my auntie days are coming. Maybe when they’re here I won’t feel that ‘really??’ response so suddenly?

      • meg

        Go be an Auntie to the world then. Do daycare for your battered woman’s shelter, become a big sister, give money to support a kids little league team, etc. You don’t have to, you can also just support your travel habit (cough, me) but if you want to there are so many kids that could use a little more love.

      • Rachel

        Pamela, I’m one of those people that makes other people sad that I don’t want kids, and I need to testify on behalf of those women.

        I constantly get guilt-tripped because my husband and I *could* be wonderful parents even though we don’t want to. I know I’m making people sad, and that makes it even more frustrating for a number of reasons.

        Reason numero uno, though, is the insinuation that the best thing I have to offer this world is my womb. I’m a coach to 11 and under Y swimmers and to college track and field athletes, and I’m very busy being a member of team “I don’t have kids but I can still foster the world’s future.”

        Reason number two is the possibility of bad fortune. I can be great with kids for 2 hours. That’s pretty easy stuff. But being great with kids for decades and decades? That’s a different story. Who’s to say my husband and I won’t get in a car accident when our kid is 6 years old, and that child will suffer for the rest of its life having lost its parents? Who’s to say that my impatience outweighs my patience and I end up being terribly bitter? Anything is possible, and, even if we hope for the best, our collective weddings have taught us that “the best” is never what happens. Ever.

        My final reason is one that a jaded adulthood has taught me and that most parents-to-be resent, and that is resentment. When I said things will not go the best? Yeah, who doesn’t take that out on their parents? At some point, your kid is going to be a teenager who dislikes his/her curfew or have a significant other you don’t approve of or pursue a job you find unfit. And when you, the parent, say your piece, your kid is going to get angry at you and resent you and promise to never turn out like you. And what I’ve noticed is that parents are never prepared for that moment, and it really really hurts them. Call me selfish, but if I can avoid that unfathomable pain (and, okay, save a bunch of money along the way), is that really so wrong of me?

        • Rachel, I hope you don’t feel I was saying it’s wrong to not have kids. Cause that’s not it at all. I accept it. I just realized, reading about this, that without meaning to do it, I’m guilty of this occasionally. I’m one of those people who, when caught off guard, tend to react rather then keep their peace. And so when someone who I thought would be an awesome mom says she never wants to be, my reaction tends to be ‘really??’

          Below, someone talked about mourning their divergent futures (I scrolled looking for it but I couldn’t). Basically she was saying she’s decided not to have kids, but when she thinks about it, she gets sad. At first she thought it was because maybe she wants kids, but then she realized it’s not that she wanted kids. It was that when you make a big life choice like that, to have or not have kids, there are lots of things that will never happen. It’s a divergent life path. So her sadness was in mourning the life path that will never be, not that she wanted kids. That totally resonated with me.

          And after reading that, and thinking about it, I think that’s why I react that way sometimes too. We all want things for our loved ones, often without even realizing it. I think when a friend tells me she’s not having kids, I feel sad because her kids will never be… not because I’m saying she’s less for not having them, but because I’m mourning this idea of her future that I had. Oh, I had no right to have an idea for her future, probably, but I did. Without even really knowing I did sometimes, until I realize that it won’t be. And yet, it’s okay. Ultimately, we want our friends to be happy, and if she doesn’t want kids, then that’s what will make her happy and that’s good.

          But I also think my reaction might be because my role in that friend’s life will change. I will never be an auntie to her kids, and, if I have kids then she and I will have less in common. And, from a narrower look, I confess that as someone who wants kids, the idea of me not having kids makes me sad, so I project that on others sometimes. And I have PCOS, the leading cause of infertility, so it’s something I think about a lot.

          But, I’m not really trying to change someone’s mind. I’m not a ‘baby evangelizer’ as some people have said. I just might mourn the awesome little people my friends could have raised. But if that’s their choice, it’s their choice. It’s just sometimes my first reaction is ‘really???’… but it’s not my reaction forever. I can accept and move on, and I think after reading through all these awesome responses, I will be better with reactions to such things in the future.

        • ddayporter

          first I just want to say that I don’t think it’s wrong of you At All to not want children. I’m curious about your feelings toward resentment – are you talking about just the teenage brand of resentment or are you talking about resenting your parents Forever?

          I have to agree that if you become a parent, having your teenager scream “I HATE YOU” to your face is a pretty good possibility. And if you don’t want to go through that, I don’t blame you. But if you meant that kids grow up and continue to resent their parents into adulthood, I’d be interested in discussing that further.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      In the 10 weeks we’ve been married (and the previous 10 months of engagement) I haven’t gotten much pressure about having kids, but I have gotten a lot of honest questions. Just inquiring minds wondering if we’re trying already. *Mostly* I haven’t found this offensive, because the people who’ve asked have done it in a respectful, curious way and not a pushy, there’s-only-one-acceptable-answer way.

      And I’ve tried to do this myself. I mean, sometimes you are close enough to ask (if the couple in question happens to be your sister and her husband), but I never want to be presumptuous or pressuring.

      “So are you guys thinking about adding a baby to the mix in the next couple of years?” The answer can be no (because we’re never having kids) or no (because we’re not getting started in the next 2 years). But “no” is more than enough, and no further explanation is needed.

      • Liz

        yeah, i really never minded those sort of questions. in fact, i have those discussions with friends all the time. it’s the WHEN questions. as if things are inevitable and there are not options. those are harder to navigate.

      • Michele

        As someone who has always been 90% ambivalent/10% curious about having kids, I’ll admit that I ask people about their plans surrounding children ALL THE TIME. I also ask people who already have kids why they did it, whether they regret it or would do things differently if they had the opportunity, and people who don’t have kids and are long past child bearing age if they wish they had.

        Nosy? Absolutely. But like I said, I’m curious and I’m trying to wrap my head around all of this. I don’t ask these questions as some thinly veiled attempt to make them question and/or feel bad about their choices, but as a means of gathering information.

        It’s pretty obvious when people don’t want to talk about it, and the subject is quickly dropped. But you know what? Most people DO want to talk about it, because most people LOVE talking about themselves.

        • abby_wan_kenobi

          I think it’s totally okay to ask these sorts of questions, the important thing is to first ask *if* a couple is planning to have children before you ask *when* they are. It’s the little things that make all the difference.

        • Jackie

          I had to add a comment in addition to my exactly. I’m like Michele. I always ask people about having children. I’m very unsure whether or not I want kids myself so I ask with the hope that the more I learn, the more easily I’ll be able to make my decision.

          • Alicia

            Totally on board with this, I’m always asking people whether they’re thinking of having kids – not assuming that they will but interested in other peoples’ processes of thinking about it. I’m sure it’s been overly inquisitive a couple of times, but in the main I’ve had some incredible conversations with good (and even not-so-close) friends about how they’re thinking about it and the pressures they are also sorting through.

        • Lady D

          Couldn’t resist throwing my two cents in here. Usually when people ask me whether my husband and I are planning to have kids, I squirm for a minute while I think about whether this is someone I feel comfortable being honest with. I ALWAYS resent the question, always, although in the moment I feel it would be rude to tell them so. I think it is very tacky and along the lines of saying “So, when are you going to divorce that awful man that everyone hates?” or “How is that dead-end job going?”

          The other thing: I know several women who have struggled with infertility, and you are bringing up a very painful issue for them. Whether your intention was benign is not relevant.

          I have to say, though, that I have been very lucky. Hardly anyone asks me this. Either I’ve been really good at selecting polite friends, or everyone just knows that I don’t like kids, but either way is great!!

    • angela

      My mom and my mother in law was the only persons that have risk themselves and ask about us having childrens to the day (we get married4 moths ago)…but with a different kind of question. My mom ask about our planning in future years, so she gave us the option to say no, we don´t want kids in X years, and my mother in law ask if i was pregnant right this moment….let me tell you that was rude and awesome at the same time….
      The only advice i can share: mind your own business is the right answer if is someone you really dont care.

    • Katy

      Once my fiance and I moved in together (without a ring) the question started to rise to the surface. Fist was “Well…since you live together, you are planning to marry him, right?” which made me feel like I might have a stroke. As if moving in together wasn’t a big enough step – everyone wanted to know when I thought HE would propose. Then the ring came — then the baby question. Family has told me “it is the whole purpose of life to have kids.” WOW – so my life is wasted if I don’t have the need to bring yet another human into this world? People call it being selfish if you DON’T have kids but I don’t see that bringing more people into the world is a selfless act. If you are selfless you would adopt or foster or….donate your time and money to those who have been brought into this world for selfish reasons only to be left behind and fall through the cracks.

    • This reminds me of a shift in my own life – I got married in June, and I’m now an early 20s military wife, just out of undergrad. With plans to start law school next year. I know I want kids, but in an ideal world the law degree will come BEFORE the kids. So it’s just a bit odd that here at a military post, I get asked decently often with a straight face either if I have kids, or will need childcare for an event, or if I am planning to have kids soon. It’s just a very different reality than even 6 months ago when I was finishing my undergraduate degree. It doesn’t strike me in a particularly negative way, but more of just an odd way. The more I think about and read about and observe families with children, the more I am convinced that it is a lot of work that I’m not ready for yet – but that I will be ready for someday in the not super distant future. (Or if not ready, it’s as good a time as any other.)

    • ash

      Always the mothers! It’s the same for married people asking when you are go to get married. I vow not to be one of these insecure marketers.

      I don’t know if my fiancé and I will have kids. I feel like the “someday” might never come, which sounds lovely and if we are blessed with children we will make killer parents. (as with anything in life, you try to make the best of it. no?) I do not take the responsibility of parenting lightly.

      Omg I could go on and on about all the personal ins and outs of this. I don’t feel like it now but I’m so happy to have a community like this. Thanks Meg! your the Woman :)

      Oh and I wanted to mention that when my fiancé is asked about kid his standard response is that he wants a bunch cats instead. It always makes me smile. He also likes to say that will have kids when we win the lottery.

      • ash

        oh and being a foster parent or adopting is much more appealing to me.

  • Erin

    Please sign me up for the Auntie Brigade. That pretty succinctly sums up my stance on not wanting children. I am thrilled to be able to give to my community and to be someone that children may come to as a confidant. I just don’t want to have my own child. I have talked with my fiance about fostering or adopting at some point possibly down the road. I just really love to help other people but I like the ability to retreat back in to myself afterward or to take a break from trying to save the world. :)

    • Christen

      I concur wholeheartedly. I love to help. I love to give.

      But I don’t want kids. For me, and this is SOLELY FOR ME, I would feel selfish having a child. There are so many other kids out there that don’t have homes, and the prospect of adopting or fostering is completely compelling. But not for a while.

      On another note, a multitude of people keep saying to me “Oh, you’re only 26. You’ll change your mind. You’ll want a baby. You’ll see.”

      No, people, I won’t. I don’t like kids enough to want my very own spitting, gurgling, incommunicable ‘bundle of joy.’ I appreciate my friends’ kids because my friends want that. They need that. And I don’t mind being around little ones, as long as they aren’t my responsibility. I don’t feel confident enough in myself to be in charge of another life in such a huge way. Maybe that part of me will change, which would lead to adoption etc. But the part of wanting one for my very own that I carry around in my body … which I have a very deep feeling (no medical evidence as of yet) is not willing or capable of bearing a child … leaves me feeling a little nauseous. And I’m perfectly fine with that.

    • Sign me up too! One of the most important people in my teenage life was a member of the Auntie Brigade. She was someone I knew could talk to about anything, without the same fear of getting into trouble with my mom.I’m not sure I want kids, and most days I lean more towards not having them. (A lot of days all the way towards that end.) The idea of fulfilling the same role as she did is something that fills me with joy, and anticipation.

  • First of all, on the idea that a woman who doesn’t want kids when she’s younger will wake up at 40 and regret not having kids, I’d say that there’s always adoption. I’m not saying that she WILL wake up later and say she regrets it, but I wanted to point out that even if you can’t conceive it doesn’t mean you can’t have kids.
    Secondly, as a woman who is 100% sure she wants kids, I can say it bothers me when people pester other women who aren’t. Oh, I’ve teased my sister who is married without kids, but I also know she does want kids someday (and I want to be an aunt!). I also hate it when people judge women who don’t want to get married, which I realize isn’t the subject at hand, but still.
    Actually, I personally am pro-marriage if you’ve found the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, and it bothers me when couples, living together without kids, who claim to be committed only get married because they’ve come to the ‘I want kids stage’. Like they’re only marrying to have kids. When I see that is just hits a ‘wrong’ button in my gut, though it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why. I think it’s that if the couple wasn’t ready to make that commitment for each other, why do they think they should for kids? I’m not trying to judge you if that’s you, I just don’t get it.
    My parents will have been married for 30 years this October (aww!) and are happy. Actually when I was a kid, my mom always told me she loved me and my sisters equally. And one day I said something to the contrary (I was like five) and I said, before she could, “I know, I know, you love me and my sisters and dad equally.” And I’ll never forget her reply. She told me I was wrong. That she loved me and my sisters equally, and deeply, but she loved my father more. She told me that someday me and my sisters would grow up and leave, but that she and dad were together for life.
    And I think some people would be aghast at that, say ‘you told your child she wasn’t the most loved thing in your universe?’ But the truth is, it didn’t bother me. It made sense, and it made me feel secure. That’s the kind of marriage you should have. My parents still greet each other with a kiss whenever dad comes home, and have endured a house burning down, job loss, cancer, the death of dad’s mom, and more. They inspire me.
    On the flip side, my guy’s parents are also still married. But they are unhappily married. They still are together, which he is glad of because unlike if they divorced, there’s hope they might someday reconcile. They’ve both had affairs. And he is very, very aware that both of them love him more than they love each other. And it sucks. He hates it, and when we talk about having kids someday, he went on and on about how that can’t happen with us. And it shocked me, because for me such a concept didn’t cross my mind.
    So I just wanted to offer that about the loving a baby more than each other thing. Because it doesn’t have to be that way, and honestly, I think it’s not supposed to be. (That doesn’t mean that sometimes the kid isn’t more of a priority– after all, kids basically can’t do anything for themselves for a while, where as your spouse is an adult. But love and attention aren’t always the same thing, at least in temporary situations.)

    • This is (so far) the most interesting piece I’ve read on NOT loving your child more than your spouse:
      “Truly, Madly, Guiltily”

      And apparently, many women/mothers castigated her for writing it… so while I think it’s certainly possible to love your husband more than your children, I think it’s not something you hear about much… anyway, I think it’s awesome that your mother explained it to you like that.

      • Bummer, I thought I could use html…

        Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/27/fashion/27love.html

        • Can I just say that I have bookmarked that article, and if I DO have kids, I want to have a marriage like that.
          I dont get my friends where the baby becomes the centre of the world.
          I wasnt for my parents. When I was 6 months old, they left me with family for 3 weeks to go on honeymoon. Did I have abandonment issues? Nope. My FSIL is struggling with the idea of leaving her nearly 1-year old for a night to go away on honeymoon.
          I dont get her obsesive attachment.

          I think this is where helicopter parents come from – they forget that they should love and adore their spouse and instead love and adore their kids. No wonder they cant let go when the kids go to college! However would they cope without them?!? They’d have to learn how to make do with just one another again!

      • I went and read the article and had to rush back and reply because what this woman is talking about is different. My mom has said many times to many people that she fell desperately in love with her babies. I’ve been told many times by her that “I knew I’d love my kids, but I didn’t realize I’d fall in love with them!” Whereas the author who wrote the article didn’t share the same phenomena. (Though I’ve heard of many moms who share the author’s viewpoint as well, it’s just not my mom’s.)
        My mom fell in love with us, and was just more in love with Dad simultaneously. :)

    • I know this is a minor point to today’s conversation, but I was thinking of it while reading the comments and I’m so happy to see another person who’s mom also explained the difference between loving your children and loving your spouse. My mom told me the same thing when I was about 10. I have never doubted that I am loved by my parents, but I also know that they were always more devoted to each other than to me. I’m happy about that, and I really think that’s the way it should be. At the end of the day the kids leave, but your marriage remains. My mom explained to me that when the kids grow up and move away they are left alone. If their relationship was neglected for 18+ years while kids were the center of attention it will fall apart. Marriage must be nourished and cared for and for me a part of that is knowing that I will be more devoted to my husband than I am to my kids. I’ll love my kids, but ultimately it’s my husband who is my support and the one who I will grow old with (hopefully!).

      P.S. as part of the group of wanna-be mama’s I am so THRILLED that there are women out there on the other side of the coin and that you guys are so vocal. It’s so easy to get swept up in the babypalooza, and I love having this balance. Like Marina said, you give a different perspective and make all of us better people.

      • Just want to add…I know my mom loved me in a way that is indescribable, and I know that I will be the same with my children. It’s hard to say “loved more” without it sounding like someone is getting the short end of the stick. That’s not how I feel and it’s certainly not how I want to describe it. There just aren’t enough words to describe the feelings we equate to love!

    • Amy

      I wish I could feel like my parents loved one another more than they loved us kids. It has always (even now, when we are all adults living on our own) been obvious that we are their first priority. Their marriage has always taken a backseat to us, and I have always hated it. Quite frankly, seeing their marriage suffer over the years, how awful their communication is, and how much they have drifted really turned me off of marriage until I met my mister. It was terrifying to me growing up with that as a marriage model, and while I am incredibly grateful to my parents for everything they’ve done for me, I really wish for their sake that they had invested a bit more time into each other than into us. A strong, healthy marriage is a wonderful thing for kids to see, and I think you can provide plenty of emotional support and nurturing to your child without sacrificing the emotional wellbeing of your partner or relationship.

      • This how it is for my guy. He’s an only child, and is living with his parents right now. He can afford to live by himself, but has a lot more financial freedom living at home, and his family likes having him there. (I also live with my parents, but I’m unemployed and desperately searching so it’s a different situation) And there’s some anxiety that maybe when he moves out, they’ll divorce. Still, it’ll happen someday, and he’s *not* staying there cause he’s afraid to leave. But when he does… we’ll just have to see what happens. For some reason they’ve stayed married as long as they have, and he thinks it’s because they have some sort of love for each other. Just no real communication and issues that stem from before he was born that he can’t really fathom. We just keep them in our prayers.

    • Marina

      That made me so sniffly and happy.

    • Laura

      Thank you for elaborating on this idea! And thanks, Meg, for bringing up the idea that love for one’s children does not have to outweigh love for one’s partner/spouse. This is an idea that has been on my mind a lot lately; my parents are heading toward divorce while my husband and I have ramped up our discussions about having kids. We both really want to have children, but I’ve been dealing with a lot of anxiety over whether we can be good partners to each other and good parents. The examples all of you wise ladies have been sharing give me hope!

    • Fab

      I hate to be a downer, but I think that my childhood was a partial example of the “wrong” way to love your partner more than you love your child. On the one hand, I grew up in a family that loved and supported me all the way through. On the other hand, my parents…aligned with one another in a way that felt like a slap in the face to the 6/9/15 year old that I was. Direct quote: “If there’s a fight, I will always side with your mother. Even when she’s wrong.” And the thing is that sometimes parents are wrong, and knowing that I was the only person on my “side” was a weird thing to figure out as a child.

      My parents both loved me, deeply. They never figured out how to love without choosing sides, which is a legacy that I won’t continue when it comes time for my dreamed-about kiddos.

      • I think parents always should side with each other, they always stand together when it comes to disciplining their children because it shows respect for one another. Your father had it right until he said “even when she’s wrong” because that’s basically admitting that they were wrong, which is a bad example to show your kids in my opinion.

        • Marina

          I don’t think it shows respect for someone to back them up when I think they’re wrong. When I think highly of someone, I want to hold them to be their best self. I agree with Fab that family shouldn’t be about choosing sides–maturity is about finding solutions that work for everyone, not sticking to one stance without willingness to compromise.

          • Jacqui

            My parents have a very stable and loving relationship and have been married more than 30 years. The way I have always felt about their love for us kids is that it is an extension of their love for one another – as our parents they share that parental love that no one else has for us and also have their own love for each other – which kind of feeds the parental love in some ways. Their love for each other feeds their ability to love us wholey and unconditionally I feel. Mum has told me that when she was pregnant with her second child she was really afraid that she would have to divide her love as she couldn’t imagine loving anyone/thing as much as dad and my brother – but then she found the love just grew to include each child (4 of us). Also on the parents backing each other topic – my Mum has told me since that they always made a point of discussing any contentious issues privately before presenting a ‘united front’ to us. But if one of them felt something the other had said to us was unfair they would sometimes jump in – not nastily but in a reminding kind of way. Dad also would always call home before leaving work to find out if there was anything he needed to know about and get the general mood of the household so he was prepared.

          • Jacqui, yours was the first description of parent-child love that made me say, “Yeah, that’s it! That was my family.” I never thought that they loved us either more or less than each other, and I’m still kind of surprised by that idea (and that people even mention it, though of course that’s how it is for some people so of course it should be talked about!). I like the idea that the parent-child love is an extension of the parents’ love for each other.

        • Amandover

          I totally see the point of presenting a united front, but I have to disagree that parents should always agree. I do like the idea of talking things through before arguing with the kids, but that’s not always an option. And while I think it’s a good idea to assume that your co-parent has a good reason to argue, I think it’s *very* important to listen to and respect kids. Growing up, I felt like my home was the one place where my opinion was respected, and that helped keep my self-esteem afloat. If one parent took the time to explain the other’s viewpoint to me instead of saying “Because I/we said so,” the argument ended. And I have a great relationship with my parents now because of that mutual respect.

          • I think that’s where the balance comes in. I have a unique perspective on this from working at a residential treatment facility for youth. There was a policy there that when a staff member gave a consequence, the other staff members all enforced it. The kid could talk about it to whomever he/she wanted, but no one but the original giver had the authority to revoke/change the consequence. Other staff members were absolutely allowed to talk to the consequence-giving staff member and suggest alternatives, but the final decision was theirs.

            I want to carry this over into my home, that united front. It’s easy for me to say this, though, because my mom set a very good example of listening to us, encouraging us to help set our boundaries and consequences, and being willing to negotiate eventually. It taught me great skills in working as a team and in accountability.

            I think I’m agreeing with both perspectives echoed above, and saying that they don’t necessarily contradict each other.

          • ash

            Your parents sound wonderful

    • I would love to meet your mom! She sounds like such an awesome woman! Seriously, this comment made my day. I love the fact that your mom said it so simply and that she wasn’t afraid or worried about the consequences. I really hope that this idea can circulate in mainstream culture a little more. It would definitely make the “not having kids” thing (which shouldn’t even be a ‘thing'”) so much easier to understand for baby evangelists.

    • Moz

      Great comment.

  • Liz

    first off. when it comes to the baby pressure, i think it’s a lot like the wedding pressure. which is just as bad. but, i think is usually LESS rooted in what’s “expected” or “supposed to happen” than we realize. and probably more rooted in “this is what made me unbelievably happy, so i’m assuming it’s going to make YOU unbelievably happy, so i’m going to quasi-pressure you into it.”

    at least, this is what i’ve found in my circles.

    how could anyone ever regret making the decisions that are best for them? say you turn 65 and suddenly you desperately NEEEED to have kids. um. adopt. become a foster parent. we need to shake ourselves from the idea that it’s eventually going to be “too late” and OH NO what are we going to do then?!

    as far as this baloney selfishness… not everyone has the same brand of compassion. not everyone participates in the same kinds of charity. i love working with underprivileged high schoolers. but i would NEVER volunteer to read in a nursing home and visit the elderly. not because i’m selfish. but because my talents and desires have me geared toward a different selflessness.

    • I think you nailed it on the head when you talk about other woman who have children who think their decision to have children has brought them immense happiness. I understand a lot of cultural pressure stems from people thinking since they are happy, everyone else should do what they did to be happy.

      But logically it just doesn’t work that way. My decision is my decision. You are not me. You should not judge my life and my happiness based on your life and your level of happiness. If we were all the same, society would not function. Just as we need doctors, lawyers, trash people, and museum curators, we need mothers and “aunties.”

      • I just wanted to ‘exactly!’ this. I did confess above I am one whose gut reaction is ‘really??’ when people say they don’t want kids, but Ms. Bunny, this is exactly why it’s totally okay if they don’t. :)

      • Liz

        totally. doing what makes someone else happy will NOT result in happiness.

  • Can I throw a wrench into this? You see, I’m 100% happy with never having kids. I think they’re vaguely annoying, actually. Not during short interactions, but let’s be honest – I have a relatively short fuse, and the last thing I want to do is have kids only to find I don’t have the patience to, well, deal with them in a way that won’t make them really screwed up. My friends’ kids? No problem – I’ll volunteer to babysit anytime they want. I’ll hold them, bounce them, race around maniacally in the yard with them. But then I can hand them off.

    But my fiance isn’t so sure. He sortakindamaybe wants kids. Or at least, kid. He *does* have the patience (that’s why we work so well – I go apeshit, and he sits quietly until I calm down. then he tells me I’m crazy.). He would probably make a really awesome father. We’ve joked about how if we had kids, he’d be the stay-at-home dad while I went to work. That’s just how we are – I’m much more career-oriented, he’s much more life-outside-of-work oriented.

    So what do you do in that case? We’ve talked about how if he ends up truly, desperately wanting kids, to the point where it makes him unhappy, we’d have kids. But if it stays in a vague “I’d like to have kids someday” stage, what then? Because it’s not just the wife’s choice of when to have kids. It’s *our* choice. Or am I making a mountain out of a molehill since I’m 25 and still 2 months out from our wedding?

    • Liz

      i have a friend in the same boat. so she caved and got pregnant. i thought it was a huge mistake. she bitched during the ENTIRE pregnancy about how she didn’t want the kid. (uh, yeah. that’s a good sign)

      i just saw her again for the first time since she had gotten pregnant a year and a half ago. i asked, “how’s the baby?” with an inner wince. she pulled out stacks of photos and gushed about how amazing he is. to the point where she started crying (she’s an acquaintance… a coworker… i had never seen her cry). she blubbered, “it’s really the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me.”

      i still don’t know that i agree with her choices. it’s just funny how things work out sometimes.

    • This is my exact predicament. I know I’d be 100% happy without children. But my fiance would really like some. He would be a great dad. I just don’t have the patience. We haven’t come to a solid conclusion as to what we will do, but I am open to children as long as we adopt and as long as he stays home with them. He seems agreeable to this idea so that’s where we’re at right now. The possibility of future adopted children and a stay-at-home dad arrangement. However, he’ll probably need to be the one to get the ball rolling, because I don’t think I’ll ever be the instigator of parenthood.

      • That’s actually the other snafu for us. Neither of us so desperately want children to make adoption an option. We feel like (yes, we’ve discussed this at length) the only way we would ever have children would be if they were ours by blood. I understand that’s a controversial opinion, but both of us feel the same way.

      • This is sort of how I feel… My husband claims to be pretty “meh” when it comes to kids, but for some reason, I wonder if that might change when we reach our thirties… (but I could be wrong).

        “However, he’ll probably need to be the one to get the ball rolling, because I don’t think I’ll ever be the instigator of parenthood.”

        Exactly. But at the same time, I wonder if he’ll feel comfortable instigating, since it’s much oftener the women who campaigns for a child…

        • “But at the same time, I wonder if he’ll feel comfortable instigating, since it’s much oftener the women who campaigns for a child…”

          That’s a very interesting and thoughtful point. I never thought about that. I hope communication between my partner and me is strong enough that if the baby urge ever hits him and he’s ready, he’d speak up. Maybe something to discuss now to let him know that I won’t be the instigator, so he needs to say something if and when he’s ready to start the parenthood path. Figure out what should be said when it’s time so that neither party feels put out.

          • meg

            I don’t know, David and I talk about the kids debate and our various thoughts all the time. I can’t imagine him not being able to say, “Ok, I feel ready,” and also can’t imagine him not being able to listen to me say, “Yeah, I don’t.” So. I would hope our partners would feel ok bringing that up. You just have to lay the groundwork for it.

          • This is in response to Meg’s comment —

            I think my worry is that, when it comes to having biological children, the woman is the one who is … more physically entwined, at least in the beginning. I think if my husband has some kind of sudden, deep longing for parenthood, he will communicate it… but I just wonder if it might be a bit harder to broach the topic, because *I* would be the one carrying the child, birthing it, possibly nursing, etc.

        • Jen

          For what it’s worth, my FH is much more vocal in his desire for kids than I am. As in, I have reservations, and he definitely 100% knows he wants them. He is also working towards his teaching credential and wants to teach kindergarten, while I don’t want to step into a classroom in which anyone is under the age of 18. So while it is not perhaps the cultural norm for the masculine partner to express his desire for kids first or more strongly, it definitely happens!

          (PS this whole post is such a wonderful discussion. Thanks, Meg!)

        • If it helps, of my coupley friends who have been married for a few years, it’s the husbands who have been very vocal about being ready to have a child and well before the wives seem to be ready. This may have more to do with the fact that they’re very open about their opinions and less to do with the fact that they’re dudes, but it still surprised me.

          If you’re concerned about it though, tell your husband he needs to speak up when the time comes. I’m sure he’ll appreciate your encouragement for him to be forthcoming.

          • Aine

            I feel like there is less baggage about this for men than women- a lot of them have the “of course I’ll be a dad” idea, but they don’t have the whole subculture of feminism saying “you need to think about important things like this before jumping in” OR the scary bio-clock going “if you don’t start doing this now it will be too late and you can’t have any or the ones you have will all have developmental problems or or or…” etc. And there’s no “I want kids but omg I have to share my body witht his thing for like, a year, and it will take over everythign and make me throw up etc etc.” So in one respect i htink they have a clearer path to their decision, and in another, I don’t think they’re pushed as much to make one.

      • I do want to have kids, but I don’t have a strong urge rightthissecond. Whereas the fiance is ridiculously keen and would have kids tomorrow if I let him.

        We’ve talked about it, and agreed that when we get to that point (or when I get there), he will be the stay-at-home parent. I would stay home for 6 months probably, but until the child/ren were old enough to go to school, he’d be taking care of them at home. It makes sense for us because he is much more patient than I am, less ambitious career-wise, and earns less than I do. Also, he is an Electrician, so it is the kind of job he ca just pick up again when he can go back to work full-time.

    • Emily

      I’m in the same boat. We’re both ambivalent about kids, but he definitely leans a little more towards wanting them. Although I’m not even sure if he wants them, exactly, or if it scares him to imagine not having them (because then you have to figure out what to do with your life without a cultural roadmap, and it’s hard).

      To throw another wrench into the works, I also worry a lot about his parents, especially his mother. I come from a big family, and my siblings have already taken all the pressure off me to have kids. I don’t get any nudges from my parents. But his family is much smaller, and there are no grandchildren. I know he worries about disappointing his parents, and depriving them of the opportunity to be grandparents. I feel simultaneously resentful of their needs being involved in this decision at all, and guilty about inflicting pain on them. After all, they will be my family too. I want them to be happy. Just not at my expense.

      I know my partner and I will sort out our feelings. We don’t know how yet, but we know we’ll figure this one out. There’s a lot of common ground there. But I worry more about his parents. I just don’t know that they’ll understand how their son could be married, and happy, and not have kids. I know they expect it, and if it doesn’t happen, I worry about how our relationships will be affected.

      • Oh goodness, the grandparent guilt! Yes I have that in waves because I’m an only child. But that is not a good reason for having a child, but still I feel bad disappointing my parents.

        • The first words out of my mother’s mouth when I had a miscarriage were “ohhh, but I wanted a granddaughter.”

          Ummmm, ok.

          • ouch! that’s tough. I’m sure her heart’s in the right place somewhere, but that was definitely not the thing to say at that moment. *hugs*

          • Jessie

            Ooo… sorry you had to hear that. :(

          • oh man, I just cringed and gasped a little, and want to give you a giant hug and some sugary love.

      • Michele

        You know what comes in handy when it comes to grandparent guilt? Having a young step-mother! I talked last week about the fact that my own parents got started on the baby-making quite young – my dad was 21 when I was born and is now 53. My mom passed many years ago and he’s remarried to a younger woman. Not MUCH younger in a ‘whoa, is she your wife or daughter?’ kind of way, but in a ‘she could definitely still have kids’ kind of way. She’s 44. So on the very rare occasions that my dad tries to broach the subject of whether or not we’re going to have kids, I tell him that if he likes babies so much, he should get his wife pregnant.

        Works like a charm.

        • That is amazing. AMAZING.

      • “(because then you have to figure out what to do with your life without a cultural roadmap, and it’s hard).”

        That’s exactly it!

        I got married a few weeks ago, and on our honeymoon, I was sitting next to a beautiful alpine lake at sunset and said “I am sometimes envious of those who want kids, because their life is planned, you know? Their compass is set. How do you make a life meaningful off the beaten path?”

        My husband and I had a good talk about it, and I think our answer was that it’s just plain hard. Who knows what makes a meaningful life? Maybe kids do, maybe they don’t. I AM sure that it’s different for everyone.

        But it just burns me up that some people can’t see a true life value beyond having kids. The comments of “Oh, my son was the greatest thing that has ever happened in my life. Don’t you want that?” What the HELL are you supposed to say?

        • I understand exactly, but from the other perspective. I am *NOT* with a capital *NOT* a career woman. My sisters both knew what they wanted to be years before they graduated high school (history teacher and astronomer). But not me. Not at all. I wanted to be a ninja turtle, ballerina, writer, country singer, french teacher, etc etc.

          In college I majored in theatre and minored in religion. I loved both my major and minor very, very much, but when faced with the idea of working with either for 40 hours a week for 10 years (I figure I didn’t have to commit to a lifetime, since most people change), I shuddered. I could think of several part time jobs that’d be okay, but nothing, I mean NOTHING, I’d want to commit to full time.

          I’ve worked a couple different jobs, completely different, since I graduated. Currently unemployed and I HATE having to pick a ‘field’ or ‘objective’ when I’m using a job search site. Cause seriously, I have no idea. I just need something that will pay me cash that I am qualified and I won’t HATE. Cause I’m like a major idealist with anxiety issues and while I can *suck it up* for about two weeks and do something I hate, after that it literally makes me sick.

          So you might go, whoa, so you really have no idea what you want to do with your life?
          Well, no, that’s not true. See, I actually figured it out in college. It took me two years to feel confident enough to tell people and not just wimp out and lie and say ‘I don’t know what I want to do’. Cause I do.

          I want to get married, have children, and be a home school mom. Like that’s my dream. I will be a teacher. I will teach them their alphabet, to read, to spell. I will teach them about science, math, and art. I will make sure they learn a second language and I hope they will learn to play a musical instrument (I still haven’t, though I keep telling myself I’ll learn to play that guitar in my bedroom). I will teach them their colors and why the sky is blue. I’ll get to see the wonder in their face when they get it. I’ll get to see the frustration when they don’t. I get to take them outside on beautiful days, take them to field trips whenever I want and it’s feasible. I’ll introduce them to Jesus, the first love of my life. I’ll also teach them to be kind, to get along, to value animals and people. I will teach them to gaze in wonder at everything around them, and to see the beauty in all people despite color, culture, or size. I’m not saying other mother’s can’t do this, but I’ll get to do it in a way that other mother’s simply cannot when their child spends seven or more hours a day in another person’s care. I get to be on the front lines of my child’s life. It may not be possible, but if there’s a ‘career’ for me, it’s home school mom.

          And that’s great, right? But when I tell people I get disgust, judgment, condemnation. I get friends telling me why would I be a useless burden on my future husband like that? I get others telling me homeschooling is so bad for children (I have 13 homeschool friends I met in college and it’s just not true, if done right. It can be done wrong, but I’ve been researching this for years now and I’m not going to do it wrong. And unlike formal education, it can be tailored to different personalities, so it addresses them specifically, and therefore turns out some really awesome characters. I’m not saying it’s wrong to have public education– I’m a product of it myself.)

          And maybe most frustrating, I can’t just be ambitious with a dream like that. I don’t want to marry a guy just to marry a guy. I want to fall in love just like my parents did (I’m the same Pamela from above) I won’t settle for less. You can pound the pavement for a job, you can rise a corporate ladder, you can change companies or own your own businesss. Careers are really products of ambition most of the time.

          But for me, I just have to let it happen. And if I never marry or have kids, my dream will never come true.

          Because of that, when I met my current guy and told my friend I was convinced I’d met the man I was going to marry instead of being happy for me she was hurtful and skeptical. Because I think she thinks since I want to be married so badly, I’m foolish or something. But I’m not. As I said above, I know what real love is and I won’t settle for less.

          So while my situation is basically the exact opposite of yours, I know exactly how you feel. And it sucks. Love to you! (PS. My guy never thought about homeschooling until I introduced him to the idea but now thinks it’s fabulous. <3 him! Oh, and sorry this is soooo long.)

          • Class of 1980


            What the hell does it mean when someone tells you that you’ll be a burden on your husband?! You certainly won’t be eating bon bons on the sofa all day! The needs of children are RELENTLESS. I have known so many women that said they went to work to relax a little.

            When did this notion come about that a person who raises children, cooks meals, maintains the house, and takes on the education of their children is a BURDEN? If you hired a nanny, a cook, a housekeeper, and a tutor, would they be a burden?

            You are right about homeschooling. It can be done very right or very wrong. The neatest 20 year old I know was home schooled. I saw some of her study materials and they were closer to college level than high school. I think her materials were religion-based, but scientifically accurate. Some are not.

            Her mother helped to run their family business and home schooled at the same time. Her mom had the disposition and intellect to really enjoy the courses too. That kid had the coolest life. Home school kids even get to go on field trips with each other. She also has great social skills and is working now.

            Yes, it sucks that your ambition can probably only be realized via marriage. That is hard.

            My grandmother was the same way. She had the opportunity to go into nursing, but all she really wanted was children. She wanted four, but only had two. My parents married very young and moved back in with my grandparents for three years. My grandmother took care of me until I was three years old. When they moved into their own house, she said it was exactly as if they were taking her baby away.

            That sounds bad, but it wasn’t. I was super close to my grandmother all my life and my mother was never as maternal as my grandmother was. All these years later, I have come to realize that my grandmother was more like my mother than my real mother was. I also now realize that if it weren’t for having this one very maternal person in my life, I might have gone down some really bad roads. I think her love gave me a lot of self esteem.

          • Thanks. :) Yeah, I know. I’ve got two best friends. One is homeschooled. She’s amazing. She went to college when she was 15. I’ve also got lots of close friends that were home schooled. They were the movers and shakers in college. They led student government, made As, and were also just able to be their quirky selves because they grew up in a more encouraging atmosphere then public school as far as supporting people with love and not peer pressure.
            The other best friend was the one who said that about being a burden. You might say, what, best friend? But yeah, she definitely is. We’ve known each other since we were 9. And she’s pregnant right now. So partially I think her telling me had to do with hormones, and partially maybe with a fear of stay-at-home-momness, since she’s a total workaholic. She’s the kind of person who can’t sit still for 20 minutes without feeling like she’s the most lazy person in the universe. She makes herself sick overworking a lot. And I tell her heaven help her if she gets put on bedrest during this pregnancy! She’s trying to rest though, because she really wants to be a mom. But she was attacking me for being a ‘stay at home mom’ and I told her that I wouldn’t just be a stay at home mom, I’d be a homeschool mom (not that there’s anything wrong with stay at home moms either!!!!) and she said yea, but before they went to school why stay at home and be “useless” and stuff (she only grudgingly thinks I wouldn’t be if I was homeschooling, since she thinks I should just send them to public school and get a job). And I laughed and was telling her when her baby was born she’d see. And she was like ‘yeah, but babies sleep like 16 to 18 hours a day! What are you going to be doing during all that time!’ And I told her, well, there’s housework. She says ‘yeah, but like, that takes an hour at most’. I told her with the amount of pooping and throwing up a baby does, it will increase by like three or four times. She said ‘sure, okay that’s just 4 hours out of eighteen’. I told her well there’s sleeping… and it went on until I made her realize there’d not really be any spare time….
            I know that when her baby is born (she’s only 9 weeks along now) it’ll be a smack in her face and she’ll realize being a parent is a 24/7 job. So I try not to take it too seriously, though it did hurt a little. And also, I want more than one kid, and I know that two kids equals three times the work, three kids equal five times the work, etc lol. I don’t think she does yet…
            Thank you for the support.

          • You know what you want. And that is *awesome*. We need people of all kinds!

            Society has this weird backlash where no position is 100% safe.

            I personally grew up in a very restricted homeschooling family where none of us were happy because we didn’t have choices. I ran far and fast when I had the chance. One of my sisters loves to homeschool her own children and would be happy to do that all of the time. I am a very nurturing person but when I have children I will strive very very hard to split time between family and an outside job, as my partner will.

            He was homeschooled, in a very liberal hippie house.

            Night and day difference. His mom (who isn’t pressure-y at all, so this surprised me) mentioned us homeschooling when we have kids. Due to my own experience and my/our goals, we probably won’t.

            If you do, that’s awesome. There are really great ways to do it and have your children come out well-adjusted, dynamic adults who aren’t grounded in social anxiety. Some of my sisters came out almost unable to interact with people and have had to work hard to do so. For me there is a stigma with “homeschooled” or “stay home” because that’s what I ran from. Luckily I have managed to learn to recognize that those are my issues and not representative of the real thing.

            You go get ’em. I’m sure that you’re aware and making good decisions, and I wish you the best of luck, as well as a cartoony boxing-glove to put down all those naysayers!

          • Jennyusagi

            Oh Pamela I sooooooooo feel you! I was in almost the same position. I’ve known forever that I wanted to be a stay at home mom, I’m still on the fence about homeschooling, but I lean toward it more and more with the way the education system is going. I finally gave up on finding the right guy, and decided that what I would do is work until I could retire, and then I would adopt and do the stay at home thing then. For me I didn’t want to be a working single mom, I wanted to be a stay at home mom, and if that’s how I had to do it, that’s how I’d achieve that dream. But I have friends who adopted and did the single mom thing, it’s just what I personally needed to decide to follow my own dreams.

            Of course, once I gave up was when I finally met the love of my life, who is totally fine when I say I want to be a stay at home wife and mother (even though our friends always laugh or stare). Funny how things work like that!

        • Emily

          It *is* really hard. But you’re right that there is no guarantee that kids will make your life meaningful. Especially if you’re unsure about having them to begin with.

          My mom had kids very young. She spent 30 years raising us, and now spends a good deal of her time helping raise her grandchildren. She’s a wonderful mother. She used to teach childbirth and parenting and breastfeeding classes. She helped helm the local chapter of the La Leche league. She worked for a midwife and in a maternity ward and at a childcare facility. Kids were, and are, her life.

          But you know what? She’s never stopped searching for meaning. She still struggles with whether her life matters (of course I think it does, but that doesn’t solve this problem for her). So the point is, even with kids, there are no easy answers to that question. In some ways, kids can make answering that question more difficult. They consume your lives for years and then, one day, they don’t. You still have to figure out what you’re going to do when that day comes.

          I consider myself lucky because my mom is willing to be open about this stuff. She knows I’m mature enough not to take it personally (as in “What do you mean having me and raising me didn’t fulfill you in every way?”) and that I can recognize her as an independent person and not simply my mother. Her willingness to admit that no matter how much she loved having kids, it’s not the be all and end all to a full life, makes it easier for me to imagine a variety of futures for myself.

      • I have the grandparent guilt from my side. Not directly, but the way my mother lights up when I mention even that I might actually be willing to have kids, or a kid. Someday. Not now. In a few years. Maybe. That’s enough to get her really exited. And she’d be a great grandmother. I’m an only child, so all hope for grandkids rests firmly on me. She’s sacrificed so much for me as a single parent, and I’d love to give her anything to make her happy. Except this one thing. *sigh*

      • KT

        I just wanted to thank you so much for writing this. Basically, it seems like you’re in exactly the same place as my husband and I. When we talked about kids right after getting married, he told me that he always just assumed that he’d have them because “what else will we do?”. Even though he has more family members than I do who chose to not have children, it was always women in his family, never the men (especially not the married ones). Also, his mom’s toast at our wedding included how happy she was to start thinking of grandchild names (yikes!!!), so I definitely understand the grandparent guilt. I’m glad to know that we’re not alone in this.

    • Aimee

      That is exactly how it was for us–I have always known I didn’t want children, but was resigned to the fact I may have to have them someday for P. Then our closest couple friends got pregnant, and once P realized what having a kid meant, he came around. He is 100% in support of our childfree choice. After each time we see them and their kid (once a week usually) he reiterates how glad he is we are not going to procreate. AND this kid is the world’s best child–super sweet, smart, loving, friendly, engaging, adorable–seriously an awesome little person.

      I think it is so important for women to realize that THEY are in charge of their lives–no one should have to have a kid for any reason other than wanting to be a parent.

    • Danae

      My husband wants (3!!!) kids and I don’t want any. During the engagement, I told him: “It might be that I change my mind – I think you think that i will change my mind. You may well be right. But I need for you to marry me understanding and accepting that I might never, ever want children. Are you okay with that?”

      He said yes, which made me very, very happy.

  • Rose

    I have so many swirling thoughts on this that I’m not sure I can say anything coherent…

    I think this whole debate of whether or not to reproduce became an issue for me when I lost my faith in the “women these days can have it all” myth. I truly believe that it is not possible to have it all and that any life choice you make is a compromise of sorts (you gain something and you lose something). With the kids choice, that compromise seems to have VERY high stakes. And, that freaks me out! I used to feel like I was pretty sure I’d end up having kids someday and now I feel like that’s WAY too huge a decision to drift into and I’m leaning towards the no kids option since it seems a bit safer at this point. That said, my husband isn’t on the same page (and I think for men the stakes are completely different) and was truly suprised when I brought up the idea of not having kids. Many more conversations about this in our future…

    • lou

      this is so true! i don’t think you can have it all either. yet, many of us have been raised with the idea that you can. so it’s painful when you realize the truth.

      to have kids you have to sacrifice something. a lot of time that will be your career. if you don’t want to sacrifice your career you sacrifice time with your children. no one way is better than the other – it’s just a fact that there are only so many hours in the day and only so much energy.

      and in the relationships i see around me who have children, it is always the woman who has had to make the sacrifice when it comes to the career/kids balance. it’s infuriating, but it is the way it often goes. trying to explain my fears about this to my fiance can be difficult, as a man it is hard for him to see how having kids may affect us differently. i do have to say though he has stated his willingness to be a stay at home dad many times so we have a pretty good dialogue about this now :)

      • meg

        I think you have to talk a lot about it if you want it to be different, that and you have to realize that early on it probably won’t be exactly equal. If I’m having the kids and nursing, I know my life will have to slow down for a few years, because hello, David can’t do that for me even if he wanted to. But once that stage is past, he might get to take the lead a little.

        • lou

          so true. and it’s funny, because for me when i think about having kids they somehow stop at around 3 or 4 years old. it’s difficult for me to imagine having kids that are 10, 16, 25. but it’s after those initial years that things can even out a little bit. but communication really is so key, especially for my fiance and I, he was raised with a pretty traditional family set up so an alternative view has been hard for him to take on board. it’s taken many conversations for me to get him to understand that, for me, working is like breathing. there’s no way i can be a full time stay at home mum. it’s not part of who i am. so we’ll have to work around that. finding ways to be parents that doesn’t stifle either of us or the kid. oh man, it’s hard work just thinking about it!

          • meg

            If it’s important to him, you should talk to him about being the stay at home parent. Like the name change debate, no matter what the end decision is, people often come around once you lay it out as a totally equal issue. “Ok, you want someone to stay home with the kids, I want to work, how about we consider you staying home for 5 years or so?” And suddenly, he may understand where you’re coming from (or if not, SOLUTION!)

        • Rose

          Just to clarify, the compromises for me aren’t so much between my husband and I in terms of equality. We already very happy operate with perhaps ‘unequal’ roles but ones that work really well in our relationship. I was talking more broadly about having to give up/change the things I love (gym, yoga, wine, working, bookclub etc, etc) to accommodate the massive life change that is having a baby. Now obviously I know it’s not a black or white thing and there are options to make things work BUT I firmly belive I can’t (women can’t) truly have it all, which means something in my currently very full life will have to go or change…and that makes me sad.

      • Marina

        My brother in law (who has a PhD) has been the primary caregiver for my nephew since my nephew’s infancy, while my sister in law finished her medical residency and then started hospital work. I mean, of course it was difficult for her, and I’m sure she had to make certain concessions to be able to pump breastmilk regularly, etc, but if one of the two of them gave up their career, it was definitely him. So… it’s rare and certainly not easy, but it does happen, and can happen. And my nephew is an adorable healthy happy daddy’s boy.

    • Moz

      I think that women know now that neither option (home mum or have it all mum) is perfect. I mean we REALLY know this. That has to be one reason why more of us aren’t so sure we want them.

      I’m going to say something that I hope isn’t rude but I honestly believe it to be true.

      Women inevitably end up carrying the extra weight with children. Even the greatest fathers don’t do certain things and women are the ones who carry children in their bodies (those of us who have biological children, obviously). And the cultural expectations for women are so much greater when it comes to mothering.

      My point is that women REALLY need to want it (having kids). Dads do too, make no doubt about it, but I think women need to be right there and wanting it, really badly. I know that some women don’t know they want children until they get pregnant and that others take a while after having the baby to bond and become a mother. And that’s great, because they end up being OK with it, better than OK. But what if they don’t? What if being a mum is a colossal mistake?

      But for me – I’m not sure. And I think I really need to be SURE before getting pregnant. Because being a mum is a whole different ball game to being a wife, as has already been said.

  • Arachna

    110% yes! a married couple is a family.

    And I have never understood how “selfish” is leveled at everyone as this terrible accusation, everyone is selfish, having kids is hugely selfish there is nothing wrong with being selfish. Ahgr.

    Now my two points of not agreement.

    I too have seen families were the parents love each other more than the kids and I don’t think its a good thing at all and every bit as bad as a parents that love the kids and grow apart from each other.

    In this family the wife obviously adores her husband and always had and… just didn’t have that much energy or interest for her children. She didn’t neglect them in any way the state would object to, she raised them fine and gave them great educations and took care of all the basics. But I absolutely believe she neglected them emotionally, I don’t think they were ever secure that they were loved, and now as adults I think they still aren’t. They are loved. But… not as much. To me the damage its done is heartbreaking.

    The other thing is that, Gilbert and others say it ridiculous that older people will be lonely if they don’t have children. I hope that’s true. I really hope that’s true and I’m willing to believe it is if there is any proof available whatsoever. But when she says there’s no proof for it… she also doesn’t offer any proof against it.

    I think its been researched and is more or less obvious that most humans’ happiness depends on the strength and number of their relationships. The more people you have who love you and interact with you the happier you are. And I do think the statistics show that family tends to stick around the way friends and more distant families don’t. I will always prioritize my mom and dad over my aunt etc. I don’t think fear is a good reason to have a child but I don’t really know what to do with the above.

    One of the things that adds to my confusion is that both of my grandparents and my parents (all of whom had kids) regret not having had more kids.

    • Liz

      i think perhaps the regret of not having MORE kids is different than the regret of having kids. i know a good number of couples that are older, have had a few (some of them, a TON) of kids… and wish they had had more. i think it comes with parental territory and naturally prepares those who have kids for grandparenthood (hence, all the pressure we get to pop some out for them)

    • Have you ever visited a nursing home? The people in there are LONELY. They are sad, and they are alone most days. And almost all of them have kids. And in any retirement community, it is the same. My grandmother is 90- she raised 9 kids and she raised my brother and I and a few of our cousins. She has a huge family, and she is still lonely, because she lives alone and most of her family is spread out around the country. The sad fact is that our society does not value elderly people the way that we should, and so most of them end up lonely, except for annual visits from their kids or grandkids.

      I’m not saying this is always the case, and I do my best not to let that be the case in my family, but the fact remains that having kids in no way ensures that you will not be lonely as an elderly adult.

      • lou

        i already ‘exactly-ed’ this. but i had to write a response too. just because you have kids does not guarantee you wont be lonely when you get older. the world is a very different place to what it was even 1 or 2 generations ago. as someone who lives overseas from my mum i see the truth of this every day.

        it’s also a massive amount of pressure to put onto a kid by saying ‘i had you so i wouldn’t be lonely when i get older’. i have a friend in this situation and she feels so much guilt about her mother that she bought a house only 2 minutes drive away (after moving out of home well into her 20’s). it’s obviously unhealthy for both of them, but her mum is lonely and my friend feels that this is her responsibility when it’s not. everyone is responsible for their own lives and their own happiness.

        • Yeah, my aunt never got to have kids and she wanted them. She didn’t marry until she was 39, and even though she wanted kids her husband said ‘not right away.’ And she went through menopause and they aren’t in a financial situation that recommends adoption. She’s an excellent, loving aunt, and gets along with me more than any of her nieces/nephews. So when I was like 17, my mom (my aunt is her sister) made me promise that I’d take care of my aunt when she’s old if she needs it. Which is kind of like whoa. Now, I really don’t mind. That’s what family does and I love my aunt dearly.
          What is kind of whoa is telling my guy, ‘oh yeah, besides the fact we might have to do that for one of our parents one day, I already promised I’d take care of my aunt.’ lol
          At least with my parents, I have sisters. I still might be the one to take care of them (they both do not EVER want to be in a nursing home and have vocally expressed it many times) I don’t know. But with my guy, he’s an only child, so he’s the only one to do it if they need it.
          But that’s the future and who knows what will happen? And, I’d much rather take care of them when they’re old then them not grow old at all. But it is a lot to be considering already, when I’m 24 and the oldest of those five is 54. lol.

        • Arachna

          LOU, I agree with both your points 100%. Its in no way a guarantee and its a lot of pressure to put on a kid. But neither of those makes the situation less complicated IMO or addresses what I find problematic.

          A lot of it has to do with the old people that I know – the happiest are the ones living close to family they are close to. All the people I know best – haven’t been abandoned by adult children. When I see the importance of their children and grandchildren to them… its hard.

          • lou

            i guess it all depends on the examples we see around us!

            for me, i have seen many older people who have family and are still locked away in a retirement home with a once a week/month visit from family.

            on the other hand my awesome, fiesty great-aunt joyce who passed away a while ago now, lived on her own, never had children and lived a happy, interesting, fulfilled life all on her own. she traveled all over the world solo and had adventures and was happy as a clam. the best picture my mum has of her is her astride a camel in front of one of the great pyramids.

            so, i guess from the other examples i mentioned i have absorbed that kids don’t always equal companionship and stave off loneliness and on the other hand i learnt from joyce that a happy life is not dependent on having kids.

            however, i am not negating the fact that many people find great happiness in having kids and grand kids around. i guess i’m just wary of thinking that having kids means i will be surrounded by family when i get old. there are just no guarantees.

      • & think of it this way – if you DON’T have kids, you won’t be sitting around all day fixated on why they aren’t visiting you. You’ll be gossiping it up and playing Wii bowling and eating all the crap you couldnt when younger. And you’ll have more money.

        • meg

          Though David and I look forward to gossiping about our kids behind their backs and making inappropriate jokes about them in the retirement home. More that then them being around all the time ;)

    • meg

      Gilbert DOES offer proof against it, I just didn’t quote it.

      As for loving your partner more, like a commenter above, my parents were always very clear that they loved each other more, and that was always a very secure feeling as a kid. We were not emotionally neglected, we just knew that my parents priority ultimately was their relationship (yay), and short term was us. And guess what? They are still happily married. That’s good for us kids even as adults.

      • I guess this book is next on my list after I finish Savage’s. Meg, you have the greatest book recommendations it seems!

      • This comment really stuck me because it made me realize what I didn’t have as a child. We were a very tight knit family, but my parents did not love each other more than they loved us kids. Though my parents did love each other, in a way my sister and I were the glue holding the family together. I didn’t realize it at the time, of course, but in retrospect I can see how I was missing that feeling of security that you mention having.

        My parents ended up divorcing after 28 years of marriage. They split right around the time my fiancé and I were getting serious and it really threw me for a loop. My eyes were opened to the flaws in my parents relationship, and one of those flaws was not loving each other more (or at least as much as) they loved my sister and I.

      • I smell the October book club brewing…

        • meg

          Ok, FINE.


    • Alyssa

      I believe with every part of me that loving your spouse and loving your children is not a matter of more or less, but it’s different, just like Meg said.

      I think the problem in the families you’re describing is how those different loves manifest. Kids are amazing but they are HARD and sometimes hard to like. (I’m saying this as someone who is not a parent yet.) It’s so easy to be in love with a child, but to actually like them and their behavior and the fact that they’re leaking from EVERY orifice and OMG what did you do NOW? That’s hard to deal with. So maybe it’s just easier for that woman to show love for that spouse because he’s not yanking on her leg and always NEEDING something from her. And that’s a shame.

      Also, it might be cultural. Americans elevate their children to a status that isn’t always healthy. But in some cultures, the man of the house is the elevated one and in others it’s the grandparents or elder relatives who are. I think the problem comes in when a family with that culture emigrates and then the children are influenced by their new country rather than the country of origin.
      My dad is Guyanese and came over as a teen. In Guyana, children tend to be communally raised so in essence they belong to everyone and can be disciplined by everyone. Another cultural trait is that older people are considered wise and should be listened to and honored. My grandmother has had a hard time with this while I was growing up because my father put my needs before hers. He also had issues when she tried to parent me and he disagreed with her. She had been raised differently so my parents having more of an American dynamic to their parenting was strange to her.
      Maybe this family had different cultural beliefs and the children, raised as Americans, found fault with it, whereas it may not have fazed them if they’d lived in that culture themselves.

      I dunno, I get what you’re saying and agree it’s bad. But I also think what you’re describing might be an example of bad parenting rather than loving a spouse more….

      • Arachna

        I do believe the love for a child and a spouse is different and not a matter of more or less. As everyone says I plan to spend my entire life with my husband in a way I won’t with any children. But several people seem to be commenting that its a good thing to love the child less than the spouse and I disagree. I believe that it worked out well for the commentators but I am wary of that dynamic. My parents were never “child focused” in the sense some are and we were never the only important thing in their lives but we were also always loved to the out-most of their capacity to love and I have a hard time picturing children who know they are loved less than their parents love someone else being good with that. It might well be true – I’ve just never see it and can’t imagine it.

        In the family I was speaking of (and several I know less well but are somewhat similar) there were no cultural differences.

        • Liz

          your husband is the person with whom you are building and sharing a life.

          your children are people who you guide in creating their own lives.

          i’ve spent more than a few minutes trying to put into words why i agree that one should love her spouse more than she loves her children. but words are failing me. and my room is about 105 degrees, so i’ll blame the heat.

          your role as wife and mother are entirely different- in no way comparable. in both instances, you’re “family,” yes. but you have the opportunity to choose one person specifically for the purpose of sharing life and enjoying one another. your role as wife really has no other strings attached- just, i like doing you and spending time with you and i agree to face all of your hard times with you. (i’m simplifying things, of course)

          in the role of mother, love isn’t so much an option as a necessity. your role has many duties and responsibilities (few of them as clear-cut as society would have us believe) but you are in this child’s life for the express purpose of helping them create their own life. whereas your husband is your life, your children are beings that you are equipping to build their own lives.

          you’re training them to be able to exist without you. whereas, the more time you spend with your spouse (ideally) the less he’ll be able to live without you.

          • N

            “i like doing you and spending time with you and i agree to face all of your hard times with you.”

            best. definition of marriage. ever.

          • I hope you don’t mind, but I totally plan on paraphrasing you at some point in our wedding
            “you have the opportunity to choose one person specifically for the purpose of sharing life and enjoying one another. your role as wife really has no other strings attached- just, i like doing you and spending time with you and i agree to face all of your hard times with you.” is such a simple and succint way of describing marriage.

        • The thing about love is there’s not supposed to be losers. My parents loved each other more than they loved their kids, but they loved their kids just as much or more than any other parent. You don’t only have so much love to give. The more you give, the more you have. That’s how love works.
          Now, I do understand some people had situations where the parents loved each other more and the kids felt excluded. That’s not how my parents were at all. I don’t really understand why those parents were like that. I can only say what I know as well.
          But I didn’t feel less loved than any other kid I knew. I felt more loved then some of them. Yes, you only have so much time and energy, but you don’t only have so much love. When we were little, we took up their time and energy for the most part. But they still tried and endured with each other. When we got old enough (high school basically) my parents started taking a trip together once a year and leaving us alone. It was fine with us and kind of fun. When we got to be adults, Mom and Dad started having Thursday night (payday) date night.
          I’ve never once, not once in my life, doubted Mom and Dad love me. Additionally, I have never doubted they love each other.
          And I think that’s how it’s supposed to be. I know it’s not how it always is, but I think that’s how it should be.
          (I don’t mean to imply my parents are perfect. They’re not. And they do fight sometimes. They’re just people. :-P )

          • Liz

            yeah, yeah. all this. i don’t think growing up i felt like, “mom loves dad more than me.” but i did know that there were things and times to which i was not invited. that mom and dad had a Special relationship, and together they loved me a whole heck of a lot, but that my dad was my mom’s Person and vice versa. and i couldn’t wait to have a Person, too.

          • I’m reminded of something an old coworker told me she used to say to her kids: “I chose your father. He is exactly what I wanted. I love him all the time. I did not choose you. I do not love everything you do, all of the time.”

            Her kids know that she loves them. They’re a very close family. But this sentiment resonates so closely to the feeling I got from my mom growing up, and I can’t wait to express this sentiment to my future spawn.

    • “The other thing is that, Gilbert and others say it ridiculous that older people will be lonely if they don’t have children. I hope that’s true. I really hope that’s true and I’m willing to believe it is if there is any proof available whatsoever. But when she says there’s no proof for it… she also doesn’t offer any proof against it. ”

      Arachna, I think this study makes for decent proof that childless adults aren’t doomed to loneliness in old age:

      The researchers examined subjective happiness/well-being in adults, with kids and without, aged 55+. It’s not the newest study (it appeared in 1993), so I imagine valuable research has been done in the area since it was published. But it does effectively combat the notion that childless married couples are bound to regret their decision later on in life, or that they’ll be socially isolated in old age. On the topic of subjective well-being in voluntarily childless adults as compared to parents who have strong relationships with their adult children, it has this to say:

      “Regardless of gender, no significant differences [in subjective well-being] are found between close parents and the childless by choice. This suggests that the childless by choice and close parents share similar levels of mastery over their lives; the childless by choice in fulfilling their desire not to have children and close parents in fulfilling their socially prescribed role as parents who have good relations with their children. These results also suggest that the childless by choice develop social support networks which are similar to the networks of close parents in their ability to serve as effective buffers of stress, thereby enhancing well-being.”

      Connidis I. & McMullin J. A. (1993). To Have or Have Not: Parent Status and the Subjective Well-being of Older Men and Women. The Gerontologist, Vol. 33, No. 5, 630-636.

      • Arachna

        Thank you for the link! I’m very glad to see it.

        • You’re very welcome :o)

  • Cupcake

    Great post, Meg. I am a little ambivalent about wanting children and have wavered back and forth over the issue. But fiance wants them desperately, so we are planning on having 2. And until I have my own, I absolutely see myself as an “auntie” to my friends’ and cousins’ children. It is part of my responsibility as a member of our community to help as I can those who need it, and generally speaking children always need some kind of help! And I do expect the same from my best friend of 26 years, who is never having children/ We decided as teenagers that if either of us is having children it would be me (she’s never ever wanted them) and that she would be the auntie who spoils them, takes them from me for an afternoon so I can have some quiet time, and reinforces my authority, whatever I need. She and he husband frequently have friends over for cookouts and have no problem paying for the more expensive food and letting friends with kids just bring chips, because they openly acknowledge they have more spending money being child-free. And those parents appreciate the afternoon with grownups and good food that doesn’t set them back financially! So I guess, the name of the game is community. We aren’t in competition with each other to be the best at being a woman (for whatever that means), we help each other out so we can fill different roles and enjoy our lives as we live those roles.

  • Such a well-rounded view of things in this fantastic post Meg!

    My mom is reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book currently & told me it was great… so I already had it on my list to read – but that passage just threw me over the edge — I must buy it immediately! :)

    Thanks Meg! and YES to needing all sorts of fabulous “with-baby”, “no-baby-yet”, “no-baby-ever” women in our communities! :)

  • Rhiannon

    The implication that when the time is right you’ll change your mind is deeply and profoundly insulting.

    I have childless friends who equate the certainty that they don’t ever want children with the certainty of sexuality. You wouldn’t say to a gay friend that “You’ll see… when the time’s right and you meet the right man/woman…”

    I don’t really understand what it must feel like to not want children (as I’ve been a parent all my adult life), but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect that choice and that statement.

    • Courtney

      It’s interesting that you bring up the “you’ll change your mind one day” thing. I always said I wasn’t having kids. I always thought I had too much ambition, too many plans, and would be content with my life without children. I said this since middle school.

      But then. Well, I changed my mind. As much as I resented the smug “you’ll change your mind” people at the time, turns out they were right. Which, because I’m the most stubborn person alive, it actually took me a very long time to acknowledge.

      I think it was a matter of my priorities shifting. Now that I have a career – and one that is baby friendly – and I have female role models with kids, and I’m married to man I love – now the sacrifices I thought I’d be making by having kids either don’t seem to be real anymore (naive assumptions I made when young) or don’t seem like sacrfices anymore.

      Now, that is not to say that I will go around telling people, “you’ll change your mind” because they might not. But the decision to not have children – or have them – can change. It’s not a fixed entity. I think it’s more important for me to share my journey with someone seeking advice rather than preaching to anyone who’ll (be forced) to listen.

      • abby_wan_kenobi

        I think this is kind of a common story – which is why the pervading opinion is that everyone will change their mind – but I wonder if it is as common the other way. Certainly there are people who thought when they were young that *of course* they wanted kids, but later changed their minds. I’ve never heard anyone tell a teenager, ‘You think you want kids now, but you’ll change your mind when you’re older’, but I’m sure it’s sometimes true. (Although if you change “kids” to “a tattoo” or “a body piercing” then you really hear it all the time.)

        I think it is just an element of our society that really still sees women as having a single purpose – procreation. We’re “allowed” to have a career, hobbies, the right to vote, and sex-just-for-fun *also*, but only so long as it doesn’t prevent us from fulfilling our one true purpose. It’s gotta be why we assume older, childless women are filled with regret and the impetus behind pressuring young women to get pregnant.

      • Christine

        Oh man this happened to me too. Well, kind of. I’ve always known that I wanted to eventually be a mother, and since I was 16 or 17 I’ve been determined to adopt. It was only a couple of months ago that I turned to my fiancé and said, “I think we’re going to have 5 children. And I think I’m going to HAVE them. I just feel it.”

        Then I withdrew emotionally for a few weeks, and we ended up having a huge fight, during which I realized that I was mad at myself for giving in to the you’ll sees. I felt so ashamed and like I’d failed both myself and the unloved chdren of the world who I’d promised to hold and feed and love.

        So that’s eaten me up a little bit. But my fiancé talked me off of the proverbial ledge and helped me feel like I’m not SUCH an awful person. I still have twinges of guilt about it at least once a day though. Oh the perils of my psyche….

    • Class of 1980

      I lost track of how many people told me I would change my mind. It was a bunch of horse feathers.

      • Rhiannon

        I’m not saying it doesn’t happen – and just as much there are people whose sexuality also changes drastically.

        It’s just a bit patronising (usually technically matronising) response.

        • Liz

          yeah. i totally agree.

          i’m okay with acknowledging that i’m young and- in most cases- inexperienced about things. so things may change. i may change. who knows.

          but telling someone, “you’ll see…” as if one day they’ll wake up to life, is sort of invalidating their opinions and decisions. and then i want to slap people.

          • Ohhhh yeah. That’s true whether it be about having kids or any of your opinions. This smugness of ‘I totally know better than you’. I go to a weekly Bible Study where I’m now like the only regularly attending one without kids. Most of them are older then me, some aren’t. And while I totally want kids, there’s tons of time when they say stuff with that ‘oh you’ll see’ attitude and while it doesn’t make me want to smack them, cause I love them, it makes me want to go ‘Is that REALLY necessary?’

  • Jessie

    This really hit home for me. As a woman who may not be able to have children (but desperately wants to have just one), I’ve often felt angry at capable women who say they would rather not. But, we don’t choose our circumstances. Luckily though, we choose how we deal with them. The idea of the Auntie Brigade really hit home because what it said to me is, “Hey, person who wants a child but can’t have one of your own, you are still going to be able to influence every child you touch and play a vital role in their raising.” To me, that changed my entire outlook. Thank you for that.

    I think our marriages are so incredibly special without children. I have two dog children who make my life so special – silly as it sounds – and I get to see my husband interact with them and fall more in love every time I see him take a caretaker role. Human or not, they bring out the best in both of us. Some people don’t care to see that in their partner. I respect that. We do, and we found a way to make it happen.

    I think the real issue isnt about being selfish or having a meaningless marriage (which those without children definitely don’t). It’s that those that can choose do and those that can’t deal. We have to take what we’re given and do what makes us happy with it. So, cherish your choice and rememeber that not everyone has it.

    • Jessie

      Also, I’d like to point out that the expectations are especially hurtful for me. The words “When will you start a family?” cut like a knife. I have my family – quite possibly in the only form it will ever be in and I love them. A few times, I’ve replied “I may not be able to have children” and have been either greeted with silence or an “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.” We’re not sorry. We’re dealing.

      • EXACTLY! When will we learn that nosing into other people’s business can bring up really giant hurts?!

        I personally DO NOT ask questions about marriage or kids or any of the other things because a) it’s none of my business b) if they want to talk about it they will–and usually do– and c) there is almost always a more complicated answer than you expect, and you never ever know when you just brought up something that they’ll cry about that night.

        But maybe I come from a more complex family so this makes sense to me.

        Nosy or judgmental people actually send me into a blind rage.

        • Jessie

          Unfortunately, it doesn’t make sense to everyone. But thanks for being one of the few that know when to ask and when not to. :) I like people like you!

        • Liz


          i have a friend who was constantly asked, “so when are you two popping out kids?!” little did everyone know that she had recently had an emotionally painful miscarriage. i could strangle every. one. of. them.

          also, up until this year, i was convinced that i wouldn’t be able to conceive (told by doctors and tests, etc). so the question was always a little bitter for me, too. how do you answer then? “when are guys going to have kids?!” “when my ovaries stop being deformed. thanks for asking.”

          • Jessie

            Oh Liz. I think I’ll start using your response. ;)

          • Jessie & Liz, I want to hug you both.

          • Jessie

            Awe, thanks Kristy.

          • I am in a similar position at the minute (apologies if the following is more suited to part of 1 of the discussion) – At the very least it will take me a while to get pregnant because my ovaries just doesn’t work the way they should. The way I have decided to deal with it is to just tell people the truth. Both sets of parents know, plus most of our friends and a number of my work colleagues – and largely this is because they have asked when we are going to start popping out babies (wedding is still 6 weeks away!). There is such a stigma attached to couples who find it difficult to concieve, when in reality it is true for so many people – don’t get me wrong I don’t go into the finer details, and some people do look at me like I’ve shared way too much information – but as far as i’m concerned they asked the question they should be able to deal with my answer!

  • Replace selfish with vital. Oh, Meg, those are words I have needed to hear for so long as I’ve really struggled with the decision that my heart, soul, and head feels is right in regard to not having children.

    Thank you.

  • Erin

    This hits home for me. While I have always always wanted to have kids, my sister and my best friend from childhood have always always always NOT wanted kids, and mostly don’t like them. I know that not having children is imperative for their happiness. Period. And since I love them, I want them to be happy. But, even though I always raised an eyebrow at their pro-child interrogators (thinking, really, have you been paying attention to what she’s saying?), this post encouraged me to take a more engaged stance in standing up for them to the aunts and grandmothers and well-meaning friends who insist that they’ll change their entire personalities once they meet their own children. Um, not likely. And that’s ok.

  • I 100% believe that the decision to marry should be invested in the decision to spend a life with one’s future spouse. We don’t marry our children. Those who want them, or who have them and then love them without ever really “wanting” them, are just as legitimately married as those who do not or cannot have children.

    I think people forget that children leave, but the marriage is (hopefully) still present. Children can be a happy component of a marriage, but they are not a necessity.

    I’d be just as happy (maybe happier, who knows) without them. I’ve never been maternal or desired them as some intrinsic part of my life experience. I HATE it when people act like I’m crazy for feeling like that…or like my marriage and relationship must be flawed.

    • “We don’t marry our children.”

      For some reason, this summed up everything I’ve been thinking and trying to say to those close to me who are babybabybaby and therefore looking for the first guy to snag.

      • meg

        And, I’d argue, its inappropriate to put that level of LOVE/responsibility on a child’s shoulders. Our spouses choose us, our kids don’t. So we need to love our kids, but not make them our everything. That, I think, is unfair to the kids.

        • Jessie

          You’re so right here, Meg. My husband’s parents’ relationship unfortunately fell apart recently after years of marriage and in a way, because of the love she invested in her children while neglecting her relationship with her husband. Do I think you should ignore or not love your children? Of course not, but now, my husband is expected to replace his father as her rock and her everything. He has his own wife, his own life, and the burden is extremely unfair. Although, he feels that he owes this to her and that he is in some way responsible for fixing what’s gone wrong. It’s made me think a lot about how I’d like to raise my (maybe) child with parents with a healthy relationship instead of investing all attention into children and neglecting the relationship that created them. Children aren’t the center. Love is the center, in my very humble, child-less opinion.

          • Exactly. I personally know a lot of people who had a parent switch from loving the spouse to solely loving the children, the marriage fell apart, and the children carry the guilt with them. It’s so…selfish.

  • I am in love with this post. A few months ago I read a story in the NY Times mag about people who were childless by choice. I loved that story, and it was one of the first times I was confronted with the realization that maybe I did not want kids and was OK with it. And then I read the comments on the article. It seemed like a 50/50 split — half of the commenters were cheering on the decision to be childless by choice, while half of them were spewing all the arguments here: selfishness, regretfulness, etc. Of course, I let those comments get to me and make me wonder if considering not having children would banish me to a life of selfishness and regret.

    So what a great example here (BTW, love Elizabeth Gilbert — she speaks a language I can understand), showing that childless does not equate to selfishness. Thank you for tackling this subject.

  • Emily

    I don’t want kids. I technically categorize myself as “ambivalent” on the issue, because I’m open to the idea that I might one day change my mind. I feel pretty sure (I just turned 30), but you never know. It’s hard to say exactly how you’re going to feel about something in five or ten years, because I know the circumstances of my life will be different. I’ll be different. My partner will be different. But all I know for sure is that right now, when I envision our future, there are no kids of our own in it.

    I understand there are risks to this line of thinking. Obviously I’ve thought about the fact that I might realize I want kids later on, and then realize it’s too late for me to have them. But I’ve thought it through. I’m absolutely open to the idea of adoption, and in many ways I think this would be a better fit for someone like me. Also, and more importantly, I’m okay with the idea that there will be things I want in life and don’t get. Matter of fact, it’s happened before. And I’ve learned that often those disappointments are opportunities for my life to take an unexpected but glorious turn. That doesn’t scare me. I find it exciting.

    The hard part is getting other people okay with this approach. I’ve gotten a lot of negative reactions. The most common is “Oh you’ll see!”, as in one day you’ll have kids and you’ll see what an idiot you once were. But I also get people who seem personally offended, as though my disinterest in having kids is automatically a judgment on their decision to have kids. I try really hard to convey that this is not the case (I adore my niece and nephews, and I was beside myself with joy when our best friends told us about their pregnancy last week), but I am still frequently lectured on how difficult and importing parenting is (I agree and I really don’t need the lecture). And then there are the people who assume I hate children. A coworker approached me last week saying, “I know you hate babies, Emily…” She wanted to show me a photo of her adorable son. I don’t hate babies! I don’t hate people who want babies! I just don’t think it’s for me.

    To get myself to a place where I can handle these reactions (meaning not get defensive and combative and angry, which is how I “handled” them before), I have to take a long view. I know my life will be worthwhile. I know I will find meaningful and valuable ways to contribute to the world, and that I will never stop learning and changing. I know this because I know myself. And to the second guessers, I tell them (in my head), “Oh, you’ll see…”

    • K

      “The most common is ‘Oh you’ll see!’, as in one day you’ll have kids and you’ll see what an idiot you once were.”

      Yes. Yes. Yes. And it’s the only subject that seems to generate such attitudes and comments.

      This whole comment is very insightful and intelligent. It’s given me a new perspective to consider in regards to my feelings, which are very similar.

  • K

    My fiance and I are on the fence, but lean more away from parenthood the majority of the time. What happens is yet to be seen.

    The majority of people who make comments about our indecision or possible choosing not to have a kid assume, smugly, that we’ll change our minds. Often my age (late 20’s) is quoted and I’m told to wait a few years and then I’ll want to. It’s very condescending, but I try to take it in stride. Also, any talk of us getting a pet is automatically met with comments how we really want a baby or how it’s a temporary substitute for a baby and once he lets me get that pet (because we’re not deciding it together apparently?) he’ll get a baby next. These things REALLY get me steamed up.

    Is there something to the idea that those who regret not having children are likely in the category of wanting to be parents, but not because of physiological problems or not meeting the right partner until a later age? Julia Child comes to mind. I just finished her memoir and at the end of the book, when she’s in her 80’s, she writes of feeling sad she doesn’t have a daughter to share things with. However, she did very much so want a child, but it just never happened, which she accepted and moved on from.

    The regret and what I’d be missing are really what bothers me. The whole idea is so romanticized…

    I watched Marley and Me last night and was struck by how AWFUL the baby and early childhood years were portrayed. Remembering caring for my siblings of 10+ years my junior, it seemed accurate. The couple did stay together and, as the children grew up, life seemed to become more enjoyable. I still couldn’t help but see that that was their life: caring for the children. School, homework, sports, events, playdates. It’s an 18-20 year commitment nearly all day every day. I just don’t know.

  • Alyssa

    I desperately want children, but I also completely understand why people don’t want to because they are gross little messes until they’re teenagers and then they’re jerks. (I’m simplifying, but I’m also kinda right….)
    And I don’t know about y’all, but the people that my parents knew that didn’t have kids? They were the most awesome people to be around. They had the coolest stuff and the best snacks and they didn’t talk to you like you were a baby and sometimes they forgot and actually CUSSED in front of you. They were AMAZING….

    BUT, can I also add to the “you’ll regret it” issue…what is wrong with a regret? Yeah, it’s sad, but it’s an option you have to deal with when you make any decision. Just because you MIGHT regret not having children doesn’t mean it’ll cripple you. You’ll be sad, but you’ll have to find a way to deal with that. No one is every totally fulfilled and anyone who tells you that they are is a liar liar pants on fire. Regret is a part of life, it’s how you deal with it that defines you.

    If someone tells you that you might regret not having children, I see nothing wrong with saying, “Yeah, I might. But that’s better than regretting having them,” and changing the subject.

    • Yes yes yes- this is what I was trying to say below!

    • “Regret is a part of life.” So totally yes, yes, yes. If all we did was second guess our decisions because we were worried about regret, then nothing would ever get decided. I’m loving the “I may regret having children” retort too.

    • meg

      Yeah. No sh*t. That’s exactly what people should say, and exactly right.

    • Meredith

      You rock my socks!!!

      • I think a good option for the “You’ll regret it one day” or “You’ll change your mind one day” is to say, “Yeah, I might regret/change my mind, and that’s ok. For now, my family is complete” and just leave it at that. I know for me, even if I did want to change my mind one day, I’m stubborn enough not to just so I won’t prove those people right, and that is giving them way too much power over a very deeply personal decision.

    • “the people that my parents knew that didn’t have kids? They were the most awesome people to be around… They were AMAZING.”

      THIS is exactly what I needed to read. My childhood Auntie Brigade was headed up by two gay men: fabulous house, awesome dogs, adult conversation and enough spare change to buy all the Girl Scout cookies I tried to sell them. They made my childhood rock.

      • Alyssa

        It may be silly, but between my former Miss Gay Texas dancer/drag queen best friend and my yogi, kinda boozy, cusses like a sailor while she bakes you cookies sister-in-law, my kids’ Auntie Brigade will be AWESOME.

        • Liz

          can i be your kid?

          • Alyssa

            YES, because then I get to be a cool young grandma who feeds your kid too much candy and lets them run wild…

      • ME TOO. (and exactly)

  • great post!

    I know this post isn’t necessarily about not being able to get pregnant and it’s more about judgemental people, but I still have a comment in regards to people asking “when are you having children” or “I bet your parents are ready for grand babies”. Whenever I hear that question/comment made my first thought is, “what if they want to have children, but can’t”. What is every time their asked, it’s a reminder of their in ability to get pregnant? IMHO, people shouldn’t ask that question or make any comments about something very personal.

  • Class of 1980

    Well, I’m posting before reading any comments, because this applies to me. I’m 52 and never had children.

    I started questioning whether I wanted children when I was 19 years old. At that age, the thought of having children filled me with dread. I have no idea why.

    As life went on, for various reasons, I never felt I was in a good place to have children and never felt confident that my husband was up for the job. Looking back, I know I was right about that.

    I also knew myself. I have NEVER had a high energy level, so I wasn’t down with the idea of working full-time while raising a family. “Second Shift” be damned. I could have done part-time, but that wasn’t in the cards in an era where the tax rate for families has gone up, while the tax rate for corporations has gone down, making it impossible to do what was easy 50 years ago.

    (NOTE: I stayed with my sister for two weeks after her baby was born. It was mind boggling draining and her baby had colic. And who knew that breastfeeding takes up so much of the day?)

    But more importantly, I didn’t have a shred of desire to have them. I actually had a hard time understanding why other people wanted them so badly, when I could think of a million reasons not to! Yes, I know how that sounds. It sounds weird, but it’s how I felt.

    Also tied into to my feelings were issues with my father. If I was ever as bad of a parent as he was, I couldn’t live with myself.

    The funny thing is that I was very good with children. I knew that if I ever had them, I’d want to make sure I did the best for them possible. I knew I’d probably be somewhat of a “helicopter parent”.

    (I am a helicopter pet owner.) ;)

    I had my share of people asking me if I was going to have children. And it persisted for a LONG time because I always looked about 15 years younger than my age.

    There was the joker who used to say “Tick Tick Tick” to me as a way of saying my clock was ticking. There were kind people who said they were disappointed I wasn’t having them because “all the wrong people were having children”. These I could laugh off.

    The most infuriating thing was the people who said “Well, it’s best that you don’t have children if you don’t want them. After all, it isn’t fair to the child to be mistreated because they are unwanted.”

    Wow. The stupidity of that one just took my breath away. I remember sitting in the lunchroom at my job with a lady who had just said that to me. I said “Just because I don’t want children doesn’t mean I’d mistreat them if I had them! I’m very good with children.”

    She looked utterly confused. People, she just didn’t have a very high IQ. She literally wasn’t capable of holding the separate thoughts that someone could have the ability to be a great parent, but just not want to.

    As nonsensical as some people can be, I pretty much don’t give a rat’s ass what they think. After all, since they aren’t paying my bills or doing my chores, they don’t have a say.

    So let’s talk about regrets.

    I don’t have them. This is not to say I haven’t evolved, because I have. I’m happy to say that I gradually changed in my forties to truly understand why people want children and what a joy they are. I truly understand why it would be horribly painful not to have them when you want them so much. I understand how deep the love of a parent is. I even understand the people I’ve known who love their spouse to death, but love their children more.

    I am capable of being filled with love for a baby.

    What this all means is that if I remarry and my husband has children who have children, is that I will be a great grandmother. Or if I am called upon to baby sit, I will be fully present.

    But I can’t say I’d change my past decisions. Looking back at my past emotions and situation, not having children was absolutely the right thing for me.

    • ElfPuddle

      Thank you. I’m going to go sniffle now.
      Thank you.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your story. Hearing that you have no regrets and that not having children has worked for you is very reassuring to hear. I also feel like I can think up a million more reasons not to have children than to have them!

      • Class of 1980


        And I should add this. Since I didn’t have children, after my divorce, I was able at age 42 to pick up and move halfway across the country with no specific plans. It was a huge financial risk and I would never have done it with children to support.

  • I don’t want kids, and neither does my husband, and if we had to make a definitive decision right now, we would say no. But I am turning 30 in a few days, and have always been aware that my feelings on the subject could change.

    Strangely, for a good part of the first year of our marriage, I found myself kind of searching for that “I want a baby” feeling. I still don’t want them– when I babysit I am exhausted after two hours and thinking about caring for a PERSON for 18 years feels more like a prison sentence than anything else– but maybe I subconsciously believe that there is a part of me that WILL wake up and want kids, and I’m kind of waiting for it to turn on? This feeling has started to fade, but it was interesting to me that being married made me search for something that I never really wanted, maybe just to make sure I really didn’t want it.

    The most important thing for me has been acknowledging that it is ok to mourn the decisions that you DON’T make in life. I’ve talked a little bit about the “tiny deaths” that come with joining your life to another person’s, and choosing to have a child or not is another major life event that by nature kills your other choices. Either you choose to have one, or you choose not to have one. Either way, it is ok to spend some weeks or months taking extra special care of yourself and your emotions while you put to rest the life you might have had if you had chosen the other option. Maybe you do not need to mourn your decision since it is always the one you knew you wanted. But maybe you do, and that is OK.

    I learned this from a friend who is about ten years older than me, in the happiest marriage I have ever seen. She and her husband have never wanted children, but she described once a visit to see a friend with a new baby. My friend held the baby, and described how he was perfect in every way, with his tiny fingers and toes and lips and baby smell, and for the first time in her life, felt sad for the fact that she would never have that. It did NOT make her want kids– she still didn’t want them– but she needed a moment of silence for the kids she would never have.

    I think we need to work harder as women to give each other permission to have those moments of silence if we need them, even if the choice we did make is a happy and wonderful one.

    • Class of 1980

      You said what I should have said. Excellent post!

      Yes, it is possible to have those moments that tug on the heartstrings, even while KNOWING for sure you made the best choice. That is the nature of life. We have to close a million doors in our lives, so that we can open other ones that beckon more.

    • K

      The idea of grieving for the life you won’t have if you made another choice gives words to a feeling I’ve had. I’ve felt like if I choose a childfree life, it should be something I embrace completely happily, but the thought of not sharing that experience with my partner and of not having the motherhood experience is bittersweet. The idea that it’s okay to feel that way and to mourn the children you will never have — but that it doesn’t mean you should be a parent — is wonderfully liberating.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      Effing brilliant. We are so hard on ourselves, every tiny feeling of loss or longing is something we tend to blow up into a whole regret, a wish that we had a different life, something to feel guilty about. We all need to be able to acknowledge that when the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence, it might just be the perfect shade for somebody else. And it’s okay to think about what it would be like to live there and then continue living happily on your side.

      I think I felt this way when I got married. I’m still mourning a little the path I left. I honestly don’t think I’d be happier there, and I don’t for a second think I made the wrong choice. Nevertheless it’s okay to recognize that there were things on that other path that are no longer available to me, that may have been good. I can feel those losses even when I celebrate the things I’ve gained.

      And it’s *so okay* to have those emotions.

      • Amanda

        This is definitely late, and a little off topic. But that comment reminded me of the book Conscious Bride. The author talks a lot about the feelings of loss and mourning so many brides go through that just aren’t talked about because they’re “inappropriate”. Marriage–and, I imagine, having a child–is such a big change (or can be) that it’s only natural to be scared or sad about the things that will, or have, changed. Both situations are often a rite of passage in other cultures and have all the guidance the bride (or groom) needs to make the transitions. In America, it’s treated as inevitable, but we’re not guided through it (in a lot of cases) except for what society tells you is the right way to do it–no thought for the emotions that go along with it. I’d like to say also that although I definitely agree with that view of how our culture deals with such big life-changing events like marriage or having a child, that I don’t mean it’s a rite of passage in the sense that everyone inevitably goes through it if they want to be a real-live contributing adult. I myself do not want (and cannot have) children. But if I were to have a child, I would want the freedom to be able to grieve the parts in my life that would be left behind or no longer possible, just as I grieved giving up my life as a single woman despite being absolutely certain that I wanted to marry my now husband.

    • I just want to say, beautifully said. Not just about deciding to have kids or not, but about all life’s choices which change it’s path. Brilliant, wonderful, lovely, EXACTLY. :)

    • Barbra

      Wow. This comment resonated with me so much just now. I have been struggling with those feelings, but haven’t been able to put them into words the way you just did.

      I decided I didn’t want kids around age 12. Everyone said, “you’ll change your mind when you meet the right person,” and all that, but I just never got that “baby” feeling. Then I met my boyfriend, and when the comments kept coming, I found a little part of myself wondering if the fact that I still didn’t want a baby meant that he was not the right person. What?! That’s ridiculous.

      Then ALL of my friends (or at least it felt like it) got pregnant. And I was happy for them, but sad that this was the moment where our lives took divergent paths. And it makes me incredibly sad that we (probably) won’t have kids that grow up together. Incredibly sad. But I don’t think that’s the same as wanting to have children.

      Coming to terms with the fact that my live will not follow the traditional path if I continue to be child-free is really difficult for me, especially with all of the cultural pressure that goes along with it. But I really think your comment is helping me to start separating mourning the life I won’t have from actually wanting that life. I’m not there yet, but it’s helpful to be able to think of it in that way.

      I still feel like if just a small part of me think that I MIGHT want children, that’s not enough to make the decision to have them. I’ve seen too many women who love their children and are great moms, but seem like they would have been happier being child-free. That seems harsh, but I”m not sure how to put it. If I ever feel like I NEED to have children, then maybe I will, but until then, I’m not going there.

      • K

        “And it makes me incredibly sad that we (probably) won’t have kids that grow up together. Incredibly sad. But I don’t think that’s the same as wanting to have children.”

        I’m dealing with that too as friends are pregnant or “trying.” If I don’t have a child, I also won’t be able to share pregnancy and child birth and child rearing with them. There’s a reason why many mothers gravitate towards friendships with other mothers: a common interest that plays a HUGE part in their lives.

        I also don’t think that’s the same as wanting to be a parent now, thanks to Lauren. I’m taking some time to explore the difference between mourning a lost life opportunity and true regret. It also applies to other areas that I’ve always ended up burying because I could never get to a place of peace about them. I’m really excited to see where this new understanding can take me!

    • Barbra

      And sorry if this seems stalkerish, Lauren, but I just clicked on your name to see who you were and realized you’re Lauren from Suburbalicious Living! I love your blog and I’ve meant to email you several times because, so often, you say things that sound like they’re coming from my own brain. We are so on the same page about so many things!

      • Barbara- email me! :)

    • Thank you. So perfect – to feel “sad”that there are certain things you won’t have, yet it doesn’t automatically translate into “wanting” them.

    • Ashley

      Thank you so much for that. really. I even got teary and had to read it aloud to my partner. That is honestly EXACTLY what I needed to hear. EXACTLY. That I can mourn for the things I’m “giving up” but also know in my heart, it’s the right thing, it’s what I want.

      I feel guilty and afraid all the time that people will think I gave up kids for my partner but what if I want to give them up for him. I want him, he is a choice i’m not willing to live without and I want to be able to wonder how my life would have been different but still be so overwhelmingly happy that it is the way it is.

      I don’t ever know if that made sense – but I’m just so happy to have read that. I’m going to stop myself now, before I ramble and ramble.

  • CaitStClair

    I just have to hugely second Marina. The world NEEDS the “Auntie Brigade”. My aunt never had children and is a huge and wonderful influence in my life. I can’t even imagine how much I would have missed out on without her. I hope you child free-ers understand how valued you are by many of us. I have a friend who I think will probably be my (future) children’s favorite Auntie and I am thrilled. You have so many good lessons to teach. And to be honest, I think I’m the selfish one for wanting to have kids.

  • I love that comment my Marina. I want children (although not now at all) but I am so unbelievably grateful that there are women who don’t want children ever. I feel like to Not Lose Myself is a struggle even in marriage (although my husband makes it easier than it ever could have been with someone else. I’m unemployed and so am a temporary house-wife, something I never wanted to be, which makes it hard) and I feel that these women will keep me me, will keep me grounded in who I am without children, when that day comes.

  • I was pleasantly, pleasantly surprised when one of our Pre-Cana sessions had a younger couple (relatively, they were in their 30s with a few kids) who very clearly and blatantly stated “Your first priority in your marriage is God. Second priority is your spouse. THEN come your children. If your spouse holds the same ideals, your own needs will be taken care of.”
    My mom has very wisely told me the same thing. Even in a practical sense, she said “honestly, your kids are going to leave home in 18 years, but if you’re lucky, you’re stuck with your husband for 40-50 years after THAT. So if your relationship with each other isn’t good, it’s going to be a miserable old age!” There is life in the relationship before, during and after children that I think everyone forgets about. Or we fall into that whole icky woman guilt thing that says that if we don’t put our kids above all else we are horrible women/mothers/wives/ etc.

  • Kara

    Sooooooooooo why do we have to decide now anyway?? Not that I feel any pressure from this post — but just pointing out how peoples’ questions allllllllllllways seem to be a step ahead. When my fiance and I started dating it was “so when are you getting engaged??” and then post-engagement it’s “so when is the big day”…. and on and on… apparently the babies question is the natural next step… and I’m dreading it…

    I find it really hard to answer that question succinctly when my real answer is:
    “Well, I’m not even sure I really want kids, but I so love the family that I was raised in that it’s quite encouraging, but I’m not-so-loving all of the body/relationship/time/responsibility changes that seem to come with kids, but maybe in 5 years my opinions will change, but you know, I really don’t want to talk about it for the next 5 years because I DON’T KNOW and can’t we just talk about things we’re doing RIGHT NOW like movies and books and bike rides and favorite recipes and vacations and other peoples’ children that ACTUALLY exist and stop talking about hypothetical futures that freak me out????!!!”

    • meg

      Right. That was the last post though. That’s when I suggested just saying, “We don’t have kids right now,” and leaving it at that… and getting rid of the term “waiting.” This post is aimed at people who already know they don’t want kids. That’s not a decision for them, it’s a reality.

  • Becca

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for addressing this subject in such a grown-up manner. It saddens me when most articles about this take the opportunity to bash motherhood as if we are pathetic to want to reproduce, letting down the feminist sisterhood or something, and refer to children as smelly and dirty. I should’ve known APW would get it right! :)

    I will never understand people who ask such personal questions – I’d be terrified of asking if someone was going to have children just in case they had some kind of fertility issues and found the subject sensitive. I don’t think that in this day and age it’s as much of a social stigma – I think it’s that some people are just rude.

    As for selfishness – I’m selfish because I want to carry my own children in an overpopulated world, and I honestly can’t explain why. Mothers who don’t raise their children to treat others with respect are much, much more so.

  • The requisite family question is completely offputting in my opinion. Just because you get married does not give people the right to ask about your personal choices to have or not have kids. It’s gross that these two things go hand in hand.

    I’m planning my wedding, not even married yet, and folks at work, etc. are all too happy to butt in to that part of my life. Um, not your business!

    Also, I loved Committed. I know it got flack in the reviews but I really enjoyed it. It stirred up some great thought for me right after getting engaged that I’m happy to have indulged in.

  • Pamela

    Thank you so much for this post!

    My almost-husband and I know that we do want a kid or maybe two at some point in the future, so we’re kind of past the decision making process; we just need to figure out the timing (note to nosy family members: Not Now! Ahem.) However, this issue hit me square between the eyes the other day when we went to get our marriage license (state of CA). Included in the packet was a rather large booklet on having a healthy pregnancy! To be fair, said booklet also included a few pages about domestic violence and a page or two on avoiding HIV infection, and the pregnancy part was decent (if basic) information, but still. I was *shocked* We weren’t applying for a parent license, you know? It just reinforced the social expectation that marriage = parenthood, and that’s just not cool.

    (Don’t even get me started on the fact that said booklet was passed out to same-sex couples during the all-too-brief time that gay marriage was legal in CA, given that said booklet said nothing about alternate routes to parenthood such as adoption, surrogates, etc)

    • An aquaintance of mine recently told me that her #1 gift for weddings is a box of pregancy tests. I was taken aback – I know they can be useful even if you aren’t planning to have children, but wow. I would’ve been a bit icked out by the implications, if we’d received that gift.

      • Liz

        can we say, “PERSONAL”?

        • Alyssa

          Yet, also, when appropriate? (i.e. you know the bride and know she won’t kill you?)


          Especially if you decorate the box with glitter and puff paint.

          • Liz


            well. i guess you’re right. as i received much flavored lube from beloved friends and didn’t find it tasteless.



      • Class of 1980

        Horrible. Beyond horrible. ;)

      • Oh my god, I would have been horrified to receive such a gift. Either a) the giver is implying that maybe I’m already pregnant?! With society’s view of “shotgun” weddings, seems like a mean trick — even though there’s nothing wrong with having kids before marriage, but since society views “shotgun” as bad, she’d probably be implying a possible pregnancy as “heehee were you naughty?”… or b) they’re implying I need to start popping out babies. Either way, not cool. WAY not cool.

      • Cathie

        And here I was thinking that nothing could top the fire blanket I received as an engagment gift! Oh my. Well at least I know what to expect as a wedding gift. (I’m sitting here shaking my head in disbelief – I just don’t understand people sometimes)

    • Marina

      Yeah, Oregon passes out that info too. Really freaking creepy.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      In Illinois we got a packet about human sexuality. Apparently everyone who gets hitched in IL is a virgin. I think it’s the same pamphlet that was available in my middle school guidance counselor’s office. It mentioned both how babies are made (and prevented) and how STIs are spread. Fascinating to see our tax dollars at work :)

    • Alyssa

      To be fair, even though I think it’s stupid, straight marriage does lead to pregnancy in that, well, if you’re married you’re probably going to be having sex. Hopefully a lot and in many fun ways, but generally, yeah, you’re gonna be having sex. And sex can equal babies, whether you want them or not.

      I guess it’s my lack of faith in the general population that doesn’t have a problem with the state making an assumption on the future of my marriage if they also make an assumption on the future of someone’s marriage who could actually use the advice.

      Then again, I’m a Texan and know lots of rednecks who could use that kind of infomation, so…*shrug*

  • It is true that childlessness is still often considered some kind of an abnormality in our society. But really, why? Funny that if you’re straight, people start assuming you’ll pop kids as soon as you’re married, but if you’re gay, like my sister (who wants kids and is now in the process of deciding how this could work with her wife), people will often frown upon the fact that you *want* to reproduce.

    I think if you’re totally sure you don’t want kids, it’s a valid, great choice that should be celebrated. I’m expecting my second, and people are always surprised that I don’t defend the “traditional family” option more strongly, but I don’t think it would be fair, and it can’t work for everyone. I made my choice (I was one of these women who really didn’t want them before 30, then changed my mind, so yes, it can happen), I’m absolutely happy with it, but at the same time, I understand why all the studies on happiness conclude that childless people are happier. I mean, I’m not complaining, but they require *a lot* from you.

    For sure there will be nosy and annoying questions, but bear in mind that these questions never stop. I had my son a little later than most of my friends did, and consequently as soon as I moved in with my now husband people started to ask: so, kids? You guys are not getting any younger, you know? Then we had our first before getting married, and people kept asking why don’t you guys make it official and become “a real family” (as if we weren’t one already)? After one kid, I thought I would finally be free, but from what I experienced, it actually got worse. People almost immediately asked: when is the second one coming? And when I told them I wasn’t sure at this point there would be one, you should have seen their faces… And my friend who has three kids is also facing weird looks, because apparently three has become “too much” in our society. What I’m trying to say I guess is that we have come to have a very narrow definition of what a family should be, and that is “a straight married couple with two kids” (and according to that same twisted logic, preferably a boy and a girl, preferably the boy first). And all people who don’t meet these criteria, not just the childless couples, are judged and endlessly questioned.

    Having kids is indeed a big thing, and too many people do it too lightly or without fully understanding what it implies. So, I really admire people who completely think it through and then are secure enough to say that it’s not for them. However, I must say that I think the parallel between “being told what you should do” when it comes to wedding planning and when it comes to choosing to have kids or not is a little ill-fated… Those are two completely different things, with very different implications and repercussions. (I do understand the rationale though).

    • meg

      How so? Obviously very different choices, obviously very different effects on your life, but I’m curious as to how people telling you what you should do when you’re planning a wedding/ marriage is different than people telling you what you should do when you’re planning (or not planning) a pregnancy? I’ve found the telling you what you should do seems to have the same root “This is how it’s done, please don’t question the existing structure, it makes me very insecure, hence I will guilt you,” even if the topic (say napkins vs.. childbirth) seems night and day.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      I love how homogenous our society pretends to be. With all the beautiful, copious types of families out there people still fully expect you to marry someone from your own socio-economic and religious background before age 30 and want 2.5 kids, in that order and in quick succession. Anything else requires a lengthy explanation.

  • Renee

    Thank God for this post. Having just spent the weekend with family – and this was the first time some of them met my fiancee – this really hits home.
    I’m 34 and he’s 44. We don’t plan to have children. I was a nanny in my 20’s and that was plenty for me, thanks. I love my friends kids, and I am a great “aunt”. But, I see our future and it is filled with art and travel and our pets. And not babies.
    One of my great aunts (who means well, most of the time), pulled me aside and whispered, “Isn’t he a little old for you, dear? He’s going to be in his 60’s when your kids are in high school!”.
    I just said, “Thanks Aunt Helen. That isn’t something we’re worried about.”

    I wish I could cut and paste Gilbert’s text into an email to all the women in my family.
    It’s such a complicated issue for me – that I can’t possibly do justice to in a few succint sentences – but I’m glad to know I’m not alone in this.

  • Cassie

    On the very last, tiny part of your post….Ayelet Waldman’s book, “Bad Mother,” has an entire chapter about loving her husband more than her kids. The entire book is a revelation on redefining motherhood and creating a relationship of equality, but I particularly related to that chapter.

    • meg

      Yes. I loved that book, of course, and it’s on the APW book list. But, throwing out there, she wrote the book after she wrote an essay for the New York Times about loving her husband more than her kids* and she was ripped apart in the national media to the point that she was asked to go on Oprah to defend herself. Oprah totally had her back, but a women tried to throw herself across the studio at Ayelet, screaming that she was going to kill her.

      So. You know. The book came out of this place that saying that your kids are not your everything is so WRONG in our culture that you will get death threats. Crazy.

      *The essay was a little overly provocative, I think, and made a stronger case than I would have, but still.

  • I just wanted to empathize with those who become infuriated at the implied “your marriage is not a family, you need kids for it to be a family” thing that keeps popping up. At work, I work the 1-10pm shift, and the manager in the department that overlaps with the one I manage works 9-6; so we overlap, but I’m there much later. He has kids; I have my husband.

    Getting home at 10:30pm is really, really hard for my husband and I because my husband works 9-5. We barely see each other during the week — eating a very late dinner together is when we do all of our talking for the day, pretty much. Weekends are our blissful refuge to make up lost time during the week. I guard my time with my husband carefully.

    A month or so ago, the manager who works early got into a snitty argument with me, and somehow it came up that he wants to be home for an evening and a weekend where one of us would have to work and we were trying to work it out, and he said he didn’t want to work either, and said (and I quote) “Because *I* have a FAAAAMILY” — to which I coldly said, “So you’re saying I don’t?” His reply: “Well, I have kids, you don’t. I’ve got a family at home.”

    I was LIVID. I basically ended the conversation because he was getting in my face about it and making me SUPER uncomfortable, but I ended up talking to my Big Head Manager Person to explain just how hurt I was that essentially, I was being told that my marriage — my family — didn’t count, that time I want to spend at home is meaningless and doesn’t hold any value.

    It’s hurtful to elevate people’s relationship status to “valid” only when there’s a miniature person added to their EXISTING family. I *totally* understand that people who have kids do need to be home — I don’t begrudge that at all. I get that. But it’s the implication that my relationship can go on the back-burner for theirs to move on up that’s infuriating. All family types are needed in society, Auntie and Uncle brigades, Mom and Dad brigades, god-parent brigades…

    • (hit submit before I was done!)…childfree brigades, no-kids-now-but-maybe-later brigades, we-aren’t-sure-either-way brigades, I-don’t-care-for-babies-but-I-love-tweens brigades, childless-wishing-we-had-kids brigades……there are so many brigades that form a functioning society, and they’re all VALID CHOICES/CIRCUMSTANCES. A family is a family no matter how small.

    • K

      I was considering this whole word “family” because it always felt strange to consider just myself and my partner as a family. It didn’t feel right, yet I don’t feel as though we’re incomplete without kids. I think that it comes down to the definition, which specifies one or more adults and their child/ren. So for some people it might be like using the word “few” when talking about just two items rather than the word “couple”.

      BUT I really don’t like it when people use their parental status as reason to get better hours or whatever over people without kids or even who are single! We all value different things and not one is more important than the other.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      I can understand this, a lot of people have indicated that my marriage isn’t a real marriage because my husband and I aren’t living together full time. We both have jobs we love that are 4 hours apart so my husband has an apartment near his and comes home on the weekends. So we’re not “really” married. And with our whole childless status we’re not a family either.

      I’m not sure what we are. All I know is that married people who live together are “more married” than us. Their marriages are “better”, even if one of them is miserable because they are stuck in a crap job they hate. Our whole ‘we love each other enough to want the other one to pursue their career, wherever that may take them’ is a lesser love than people who have dinner together every night. Sigh.

      • Meredith

        You are totes magotes married!! My parents have been living like that for 5 years. Doesn’t make them ‘less married’ or ‘more married’. They just happen to have a bit of a unique life situation compared to others.

      • Alyssa

        That’s crap. By that logic, most military personnel aren’t married.

        People are dumb sometimes.

        • abby_wan_kenobi

          Yeah, I’m not sure how being mutually supportive of each other’s careers makes our marriage not count. And military couples and spouses in doctors without borders, and incarcerated spouses and probably even spouses where one member is in assisted living – not real marriages either.

  • Amy

    “I’m really uncomfortable with the cultural assumption that we automatically love our kids more than our partner. If having kids meant that I’d love someone more than my husband, and he’d love someone more than me, I’m pretty sure I’d be out. But I think we love our children totally differently (and hopefully not more) than our partners or ourselves.”

    Yes! This! My fiancé and I recently attended an Engaged Enrichment Conference as part of our marriage preparations, and one of the women who presented talked about something so powerful to me. She has 7 children and has been married for over 20 years. She and her husband talked about the fact that aside from their own selves, each other were the most important people in their lives, even above their children, and how vital that was to their strong marriage. This is something that is SO important to my partner and I. I don’t know how to write this very eloquently and this is very specific to my partner and I, so please bear with me: we have the view, as part of our faith as a couple, that we are trying to get each other to heaven. This is our “job,” so to speak…to help each other be the best person, partner, parent we can be. To lift each other up when needed (and bring each other back down to earth if needed also). To ground each other. Support each other. Love each other. This line of thinking has been a vital thread in keeping us grounded during the whole crazy wedding planning process.

    I have no doubt that I will love my children with all my soul and being, but I WILL strive to make sure that it will be a different love from the love I have for my husband. I read a lot of new mommy blogs and sometimes, based on the posts I have read about not taking time for themselves or their partners, I just want to yell at some of them, “You still have a husband you know!”

    • meg

      And a self. You still have a self. Elizabeth Gilbert has another beautiful passage about how we need to have a conversation about how we can support the idea of family without requiring that women strip bare the walls of their own souls to do it.

      I think we have lost sight of/ maybe never really understood (donno) that when a woman sublimates her whole self to motherhood, gives up on her partner, on self care, on ambition, on dreams, on small things that make her happy… EVERYONE looses. The woman loses herself, the spouse loses their partner, the kids lose a role model of how to be a happy adult with interests and passions and dreams. No one wins.

      And I’m not saying in code that you should work full time and not stay home with your kids. Every time I say this, someone reads that in, which I think is BEYOND insulting, since that assumes stay at home parents can’t have ambition and passions and things that they love. So, it’s not code for that at all. It’s just, you owe your family yourself, and that sometimes means putting your needs first. And that’s a good thing.

      • Amy

        Agreed. I could write a bazillion more words about maintaining a sense of self, both outside of motherhood and indeed, outside of marriage. It’s SO important and so vital to me that I find myself often wondering about women who are more co-dependent on their partners than I am with mine. I hope I never lose sight of enriching myself as a person.

      • Class of 1980

        My mother worked full-time until her second was born. Then she stayed home until I was in high school and went back to work full-time. She was an artist and those years when she stayed home was one of her most prolific times. Our house was covered in her paintings and we often accompanied her when she exhibited in art shows.

        My grandmother never worked outside the home. But she was a passionate gardener, even cross-pollinating to create her own hybrids. Her yard was a child’s fantasy playground.

        Luckily, with examples like this, I’ve never associated staying home with losing oneself. It would be a CRIME for a mother to not keep up with her interests. As children, we benefited from seeing what they created. I was always so proud of both of them.

        • Liz

          mmhmm. and this, i’m finding, is my very issue. because, it turns out, the things my mom enjoys doing are very culturally-acceptable “mom things.” she loves cooking. she actually ENJOYS cleaning. she sews things. you know the drill.

          so, with motherhood on the horizon, i’m left wondering, “will i be able to still be liz, and be a great mom anyway? even if i stay home?” or will i need to suddenly be ALL ABOUT the cooking/cleaning/kids thing.

          only in the past few days have i found out that my mom always enjoyed those hous-y things. she was being true to herself. and i see that reflected in the way she lives now, with no kids in the house. quite the realization.

          • Class of 1980

            Liz, what I really hate, is when a woman loves cooking, some people assume it’s because she’s “traditional”. But if a man loves cooking, it’s because he’s liberated.

            How about the person cooks because they love to?

            Funny thing, I know more couples my age where the husband does MOST of the cooking. My generation went to work and a lot of women discovered they didn’t feel like cooking. Conversely, a lot of men discovered they loved it. The couples I know divide their work according to who likes the chore and/or who has time for it.

            I say people should do the things they love regardless of where it falls on the “tradition” spectrum. Otherwise, you are going to have a very long and arduous life.

      • Annika

        I love “A gift from the sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh for this reason. She talks about the need to have solitude for your self, then solitude for your marriage before you can be a whole, happy and effective mother/artist/friend/everything else. I really recommend it, she has such beautiful short reflections.

        (PS ooooh! My first commment, so exciting! I love this blog, I’ve been reading it a few years, thanks Meg!)

    • for most of the years of my parent marriage (it was wonderful marriage for about 25 years), it was obvious that they loved each other “more” than they loved me. differently than they loved me.

      and you know what? i wouldn’t have it any other way. none.

  • I really love this post. Thank you!

    When I first announced my engagement to my office (most family and friends actually haven’t bothered me at all) the first questions/comments I received weren’t congratulatory. They were:

    1. Oh no, you’re not pregnant are you!?

    2. Oh Boy, this means more babies & more maternity leave.

    3. When are you having babies?!

    I can not even tell you how infuriating these questions were, I would choke & smile & bite my lip. They really made me feel awful. Like, as has been said many times before here, being married meant I was going to be a mom.

    The weird part, is that I 100% want a child. My Fiancee has two boys, and we’ve talked about having one of our own. So, I honestly cannot imagine what those questions feel like to someone who is undecided or knows that they don’t want kids.

    I don’t mind if people as “are you going to have kids?”, but when the assumption is made that I AM or WILL have kids, I get really angry. We are NOT getting married because we want babies, we are getting married because we love each other and I want to be his wife, and he wants to be my husband. End of story. Kids are a completely different chapter.

  • ashley

    I have several comments here that will be random and awkward, but this is a topic that has been on my mind for years and now that I have a safe space to discuss among non judgmental people, I must take advantage.

    First of all, never wanted kids, never will have them. The decision was made through many tears (of the kids and my own) during my high school years of babysitting. The decision was finalized over the years with my now husband (of 10 days – yay!) when I realized that I wanted to do nothing but hang out with him every day, traveling the world, drinking delicious wine, and enjoying a general selfish merriment. I am selfish. I want my life to be how I want it, not how a 3 year old wants it. Also, I feel that I just love him too much to share with a baby. We’re pretty busy people, so in our down time, I want his all of his attention, time and love.

    I’m in a weird stage in life where almost all of my friends back home in Tennessee and Georgia are married with small babies, and absolutely none of my friends in my current home of Chicago are either. I don’t see, discuss, or interact with babies here ever. This is a good thing. I don’t particularly know what to do around them. What do you say other than “she’s so small!,” or “he’s got your eyes!” I’m better with children. My niece and nephew at 4 and 6 are the perfect ages to run circles, ride bikes, play pretend games, and make art projects with. I love hanging out with them and I love giving them back to my sister-in-law to take home for the boring stuff, like baths and homework. I have a problem when my friends have one by one called with the good news of being pregnant. Of course I’m ecstatic for them, but a little piece of me is sad. I feel like I’ve lost another friend to the slow march towards adulthood and responsibility. Things rightfully change in a way I’m not prepared for. Conversations, availability, and Facebook updates all center around babies most of the time. It seems to get better after their second child, when everything is a little more chaotic and relaxed all at the same time. I generally love the phone call announcing the second child.

    Finally, I want grown children, like adult children. I don’t want to birth or raise anything, but the adult part of my life has been the most fun with my family. I had a perfect, storybook childhood but adulthood has far surpassed it. I have the most fun and belly laughing family one could hope for and love taking family vacations with all of the adult siblings, new spouses and much more relaxed parents. I want this for myself and suspect I will be clinging to my sisters’ families for this reason.

    Also, I’ve learned the way that works for me when those “oh you’ll change your mind” or “you have to change your mind to be happy in life!” comments come. Tired of listing reasons that validate my decision, I just state my position, “I don’t want any children because I don’t want any children” and just stare. Whatever comments, arguments, or declarations they make, I just stare at them and smile. They run out of things to say and usually self reflect on how invasive and rude they’re being. My mother always says, it takes two to fight, so if you don’t want to fight, don’t engage. So I don’t.

    • I already exactly’d you! I just want to comment on the word “selfish”. Because it works both ways.

      I’m completely selfish also, but for very opposite reasons. I’m selfish because I want a child, even though my Fiancee has two little boys already, I still want one of my own. I know there are plenty of kids who need to be adopted, and there are a lot of over populated areas… uh… like the world! But I STILL want one of my own!!

      So, I don’t want to say that selfish is the wrong word, but I think whatever your choice, for whatever reason should not be considered selfish, in this case.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      Hee, we have opposite lives. I grew up in Chicago and recently moved from Alabama to Virginia. In the south people are shocked that at 25 I’m recently married and have no kids, whereas my friends back in Chicago can’t believe I’ve already tied the knot.

      And the expectations on both sides are annoying.

    • ka

      Yes, exactly, sign me up for the grown children! I don’t have any siblings, so I’m not quite sure where I’ll be able to borrow any if I don’t have my own, but we shall see…

    • @Ashley: Yes! I get this! I am from the south and lived in Chicago for the last seven years before this past year. I can TOTALLY relate to the idea of living between two completely divergent cultural mindsets with friends from both places having drastically different perspectives. Also, now I live in Québec where people don’t really get married these days, so now I have some people making comments showing their beliefs about how it is weird to be married at all! :) Ah….oh well. I have been learning this past year how you can’t please everyone and am trying to learn to ignore the voices that need to be ignored and make life choices that are right for me and us.

      • abby_wan_kenobi

        Now this is getting creepy – I’ve lived in Chicago, the south (SC, AL, VA) and spent one summer living in central Quebec. And people were confused by my relationship choices every different place.

  • Sara_B

    Offbeat Mama had a related post a while ago and the girl writing it mentioned the Savvy Auntie website: http://www.savvyauntie.com/. It is designed for the “Auntie” brigade, whether you are a blood-relative auntie or not!

  • Class of 1980

    On the whole issue of loving your spouse or loving your children more, I don’t know that it matters how you define it for yourself as long as you’re giving all your relationships what they deserve and not neglecting anyone.

    That said, I’m just going to throw out a thought … I used to think that the spousal relationship should come first. But then the thought occurred to me that you might get a divorce, but you won’t ever divorce your children.

    There are so many divorced couples who rarely or never even speak to each other anymore, but they both still have a relationship with their children.

    I’m not saying that it’s wrong to put your spouse first because it is the foundation of the family. And yes, if your marriage is good, it will outlast the children leaving. But I will say that since you had to choose your spouse, you can reverse that choice. You can’t reverse having your children.

    I suppose some of this crosses my mind because it’s more likely than unlikely that if I remarry, I will remarry someone who has a grown child. If so, then this will be a person who lost his marriage, but didn’t ever lose his child.

    It’s possible that I’m rambling here and not making any point at all. ;)

    • I think you definitely make an interesting point. It’s a sticky issue…

      my mom invested everything in us, her 6 children. To the point that I came to feel sorry for my father (who eventually also prioritized us vs. marriage, but more reluctantly, I think). Their marriage was usually friendly (and she truly appreciated what a great father he was), but the foundation was a child-rearing partnership, not two romantic partners. They drifted apart irreparably once my youngest brother was no longer little. They had nothing in common anymore but us.

      Then my dad passed away suddenly at 47. My mother is still grieving in some way, but I think she would have been *devastated*, seriously broken, if she’d invested more in their relationship. And for her sake and ours, I am glad she had already learned to live quite well on her own.

      all that to say… there is no easy answer. :-P

      • Class of 1980

        You know what my parents did? They invested more in religion than in their children.

        They got divorced because my dad is crazy. But the ramifications of the benign neglect of their children never end. It’s like a bell that never stops ringing and all of us have had difficulties because of it.

        I’m sure there has got to be a happy medium.

      • Amy

        I agree, it’s definitely a sticky thing, and everyone has been offering really valid and interesting points. I love APW for the fact that we can have such intelligent conversation with each other!

        So, my thoughts are this: this is exactly why I want to make sure to strive to love my partner separately from my children. I believe in continuing to be your own person while still nurturing your relationship with your partner and all the facets that entails–romantic, religious, and otherwise. I don’t ever want just a child-rearing partnership–I already know that that’s not enough for me, as a wife. My parents are madly in love with each other to this day, 30+ years after they were married. When we were kids we would do the “ewww, gross!” comments that kids do when they see their parents being lovey-dovey, but I learned from that. And I always want to feel madly in love with my husband. Sure, there will be tough times–hell, tough years!–but this is a priority for me. I always want to be my own person and I think there is a healthy way to bridge that gap between wife, mother, and self. I believe that my own interests, dreams, and ambitions–and those of my husband and my children, separately–can all be nurtured in their own ways. Will it be easy? No. Will there be sacrifices by some parties sometimes? Yes. But in staying true to my own self, I feel that in turn I can give the most back in my relationships with my husband and children.

        Really, really great thoughts, everyone.

    • Jennifer

      This sort of gets at something I’ve been kind of thinking about and trying to figure out how to articulate since last week’s post. My fiance and I were discussing divorce (not about a potential divorce for us, it spun off from work-related discussions, he’s an attorney) and when we got to my sister’s divorce, he (like so many others) said “At least they didn’t have children — you marry the wrong person, you can divorce and make it almost like it never happened, but you have a kid with the wrong person, you’re stuck dealing with them forever.” Again, an attorney talking – this was in regards to logistics and legal rights re: custody and such; not saying that emotionally my sister was back as if the marriage had never happened, but she has had no contact with her ex whatsoever for over a decade, and the same would likely not be true if he was also the father of her child(ren). Even divorced parents of grown children often end up having to indirectly accommodate each other or negotiate when it comes to things like holiday celebrations, weddings, etc.

      I don’t like thinking of it that way (especially since kids may well not be in the cards for our marriage!), but I think that extra level of “stuckness” may be part of what people think of when they talk in such a way as to make it sound like marriages aren’t “real” until there’s a kid on the way, or that parents are more married than non-parents.

      • lou

        and this is the bit where the love for spouse and love for child gets tricky. because not all parents stay together.

        i remember when my father re-married a woman who already had 2 children and then had 2 babies with her in quick succession, i asked him (in my insecure child, wanting to be reassured way) if he still loved me the most. i will never forget his answer, which was that he loved her the most and then all of the kids the same. obviously this was crushing seeing as he was my father and he had only been with her for a year or so. i can totally see that this is a failing on his part to reassure a confused child, but it does throw up some issues about who comes first when the parents break up and re-partner.

        i would just like to say though, with the above in mind, that if i ever have children with my fiance they will be loved like nothing else… but he will always be my priority. i think it’s all just in the way this is communicated to your children. they need to feel loved – but not put on a pedestal above your marriage.

        • Amy

          “i think it’s all just in the way this is communicated to your children. they need to feel loved – but not put on a pedestal above your marriage.”

          Agree. Completely.

  • i think that this speaks to a larger, more “macro” life issue. there is this idea that people have – I’m certainly guilty of it – that if you make choices that are different than mine, that invalidates mine or dismisses mine or says my choices are wrong, wrong, wrong, and bad, bad, bad. it’s like we all are trying to assert that our decisions are THE truth, THE best way, THE right path. instead (as I’m beginning to learn and man, it is hard) to look at my decisions as MY truth, MY best way, MY right path. Just because you chose something else doesn’t invalidate my choices or take away from my experience and my choices don’t take away from your right answer.

    but thinking this way required boo-koo self-confidence and inner peace and a willingness to let others (and yourself) be their true person. hard stuff indeed. but when I’m able to do this, able to let go in this way… man, am I happier.

  • Courtney

    A minor point but I prefer “childfree” to “childless”. Somehow the “-less” suffix makes me think of a deficiency or a lacking of an “ordinary” thing. Maybe it’s just me?

    • meg

      They are used to mean different things. I’m childless. We’re planning to have kids, love kids, want kids, don’t have them now. If you’re not planning to have kids, and that is your life choice, the term used is most often childfree.

      • meg

        Oh, and I think I used the word childless in the post because I was, in that passage, to some degree addressing marraiges where you don’t have kids at the moment, and also marraiges where you don’t plan on having kids at all.

        And for those of us who do think we might have kids some day Childfree is a word that doesn’t feel like it applies at all. So, I chose childless since it’s a little bit wider net.

  • peanut

    Anyone else think they could be equally happy with and without kids? As in, at one point we’re going to stop not trying to get pregnant, but if it doesn’t happen we won’t do all the fertility treatment/adoption stuff. It’s different than indecision or apathy; it’s more like we would like to live both lives, but since that’s not possible we will just let nature take it’s course. It’s an interesting position on the issue, especially for a type-A control freak woman such as myself that has to hyper-manage everything else in her life, but we’re both at peace with it.

    • Liz

      yeah, i was sorta there. i wanted kids, but realized we probably wouldn’t be able to have them. so we had a general timeframe of when i’d kick the pill out of the picture and we’d see what happens… without getting frustrated if nothing did.

    • Jessie

      Exactly how I’m dealing with my infertility. Because if I have my husband (even though I want a baby), I have what I need.

    • Jennifer

      Well, sort of. I had always wanted kids, but didn’t develop any relationships in my 20s or early 30s that would have been worthy of developing into married relationships, and wasn’t about to marry someone I couldn’t develop that sort of relationship with *just* to have kids. So by the time time I started dated my now-fiance, I’d already hit the Advanced Maternal Age marker and gone through a lot of angst over what sort of life I wanted to make given that my original plans/assumptions of having a husband and children seemed increasingly unlikely, at least in their original form. So I was already in the “kids would be nice, but may not be likely” frame. We won’t be actively preventing conception, and having watched friends go through grueling fertility treatment and adoption processes, aren’t entirely sure we’re in for that.

      • ElfPuddle

        I’m right there with you, Jennifer. I’m a bit more desperate than you (I think) to have them, but getting engaged at 37 does but a second thought to the “babybaby” question.
        (Especially since we don’t have a wedding date yet, and it’s been over a year.)

    • Yes, Peanut! I feel the same way. I love little babies, most are complete cutie pies, and I like the idea of my bf as a father because he’s so cute with the bubies. But I’m still not sure that I’d be heartbroken if we didn’t have one. I know this seems weird to some people, but the way I look at it is that our life is wonderful now with our family of two and if I were to get pregnant, I know we’d be up to the challenge and shower that baby with all the love and wisdom we could.

      Is it weird to say I could go either way on this? I guess we’ll see what happens…

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      Some friends of mine did this, they were both in their early 40’s and entering into a second marriage. Neither of them had kids, but they thought they might want some and if they were going to, they’d better start trying. They ended up being 3 months pregnant on their honeymoon, which was wonderful. They told me though that if their plan was to continue not preventing pregnancy and if they never got pregnant they’d be fine with it.

      I thought it was a good for them. They were open to kids, but they didn’t want to put all kinds of pressure on themselves since it was sort of an outside chance at their age. They weren’t so invested that they wanted to do fertility treatments or adoption, they just wanted to have the opportunity.

    • Carbon Girl

      I know this sounds awful, but I like the idea of leaving it up to chance like that. Sometimes, I think a surprise baby or infertility would be easiest. The decision would be made for us and we would not have to keep discussing which path to take. As you can probably tell, I am ambivalent about the whole kid thing.

  • Maureen

    AAAHHH!!!! Love all this interesting discussion. Well done team practical!

  • KristieB

    I want to read all of the comments and I want to be able to respond better.

    But, for now – thank you for opening this can of worms and letting women talk about it. I had no idea how relevant this discussion would be in my life post-marriage. Insane.

    As for regrets – we ALWAYS have choices. Especially in this modern world. Especially in North America. Especially as women. We sometimes forget this. We only regret the things we have or have not done when we forget that we have choices and make decisions based on someone else. If we stay true to ourselves (no matter how bat-sh!t crazy we may be) and make choices based on that – we’ll be fine.

  • Can we come up with a word other than “childless”? It makes it sound like something is lacking, which is certainly not helping anyone. Kind of like how i tell people i’m “keeping my name” rather than “not taking his name”. I’m not missing out on anything– I’m just staying the way I am in that regard.

    • Jessie

      Hmm… good question. And, “childfree” might make it sound like the children are a bad thing. I think the problem with finding a good alternate word is that society expects children so the lack of them is still viewed as negative and therefore, hard to frame in a positive light.

      • Jennifer

        I’m not fond of childfree, either, as it seems only appropriate when that’s a chosen status rather than the result of circumstances, and yet whether it’s a choice or not is … not really any of anyone’s business. Personally, I don’t feel like “wireless” implies that I’m missing out on anything by not having wires, and in fact many would say being wireless is a good and freeing improvement over wired. But I can see why “childless” doesn’t feel as neutral. “Non-parent” may be slightly better but still doesn’t seem right.

        • Non-parent has more connotations than childless! It would be like calling women “non-men” (oh, wait…)

          I think the idea is to stop identifying by what we are not, and focus on what we have. & there’s so many nuances to this topic – hard to come up with one term!

    • meg

      Yup, as I said above, I used childless because it’s a bit of a wider net – it includes people that didn’t have kids by choice, people who wanted kids but didn’t have them, and people who don’t have kids at the moment. Childfree is a great term, but it has a very limited definition – childfree by choice. People who have chosen not to have kids now or ever… and in parts of the post I was talking about something a little broader than that.

  • Michelle

    Thanks for such a great, civil discussion. It seems there are more childfree people out there than society lets on to.

    I get the questions and pressure most from my parents, who think parenting is the one true purpose of life and marriage. It’s complicated, because they’re Catholic and have 10 kids, and want lots of grandkids (they already have 5, and will have plenty without me contributing). They say, pretty much every time I talk to them, “You and your husband will make such cute babies.” Even though I’ve made it very clear that’s not in our plans. They just honestly can’t fathom why someone might not want the joy of children.

    Right now we don’t foresee having kids, but since it could happen someday (and
    like someone commented last week, I don’t want to eat crow), I usually respond to the baby question with a mixed, “We probably won’t have any, but maybe one.”

    The question of why we don’t want kids is much harder to answer. Do they really want me to go into overpopulation and climate change and overconsumption and my ambivalence toward children and my personality flaws that would make me a bad mother and my desire to live simply? So I usually say that I’m going to have plenty of nieces and nephews.

    And this is already long, but one more thing. My best friend spent 4 years trying to have a baby and went through a ton of infertility treatments and is finally pregnant and due in November (yay!). So when people ask me that rude question of when I’m going to have a baby, I think of her and how painful it was every time someone around her got pregnant. And how she really wanted that chocolate cake, enough to claw her way through the fridge.

    • Kibbins

      It’s quite possible that saying this makes me a horrible person, but does anyone else ever feel like answering “when are you having babies” with, “well, we’ve been trying, but haven’t had any luck for a few years,” (if it’s not true for you, and if the person asking is, like, a not-close aunt — not your best friend or mom who would know better), just to make people realize what a terribly intrusive and assumptive question that is??! And maybe stop them before they ask the next person, who actually *does* have fertility issues? ugh.

  • Great post.

    I want children. I am a single lesbian woman. So it gets complicated and expensive. But I will stand up in support of folks who don’t want kids any day.

    An ancillary point to this discussion is the idea that single people are without a family. We are unmarried and, therefore, unloved, all alone out there without kin or kith.

    Not at all saying YOU are saying this, but the idea of “starting a family” irks me.

    I started a family when I came out and left home and built my chosen family of people who supported me, loved me, taught me, cared about me. We didn’t have a wedding ceremony. Our vows were built over years of taking one another to the hospital, to the abortion clinic, to the courthouse, to dinner, to the beach. We are a family. And we are not married (well, some of us are), we are not bound by legality or blood, but love, friendship, support. Which is really what makes any family a family and not just a list of genetic details in a family tree.

    • Yes yes yes yes yes.

      When I send emails to my group of friends, I write “Hello, family.” when we go camping, we’re “the camping family”, on Wednesday nights when we have pizza night, it’s “family dinner.” & I now that I am engaged (to a man), we call our serious talks “family meeting time.”

      Chosen families for the win!

      • Michelle

        When I lived in a community of full-time volunteers, we wrote in our mission statement (after only knowing each other for a week!): We are an intentional family.

        And we came up with a unique last name.

    • Fab

      Thanks so much for the reminder, Ms. Loaf.

    • ka

      Yessssss! Thank you for saying this. As someone who does not have any living blood relatives, and is trying to plan a wedding, I find myself getting very sensitive to the generic “your family and friends” that gets thrown around. Sure, “technically” I will only have friends present, but yes, they are my family, and most of them have been for as long or longer than my blood family was alive to know me! Sure, I don’t get into all that with strangers, but it runs through my head as one of those things that people assume, even kind, well-intentioned people.

      Wikipedia defines family as, “In human context, a family (from Latin: familiare) is a group of people affiliated by consanguinity, affinity, or co-residence.” I like whoever wrote that in, they get it. :)

  • Entangled

    I’ve never wanted children. I remember being a little kid and knowing I didn’t want them, being a teenager and thinking having kids seemed like a terrible idea. I’m in my late twenties now and not for a day has my attitude changed. Sometimes it’s cool certainly and sometimes it’s nausea and cold sweat at the very idea. But what it comes down to is being able to see downside after downside to the decision without really grasping an upside other than “won’t regret not having kids later.” Which as others have mentioned is a pretty lousy reason to have kids, especially if you know you don’t want them.

    I am actually really good at handling comments from other people. I have a general inappropriate question means inappropriate answer policy, so people who ask get to hear about how I love kids – I just had one for lunch. It’s my fiance’s thoughts that give me a little more pause. When we met, he was as strongly anti-procreation as I was, but since we’ve settled down some, that’s seemed to change. We’ve talked about it a fair amount, because I’m a little terrified that he’s giving up something he really wants, but there’s no way I could be a parent without a partner who is 100% committed to doing most of the hard work. I just have no interest in kids – I find them tedious and boring and frustrating and while I look forward to being an aunt, child-rearing is just not for me.

    But how can I evaluate his own feelings on this? He grew up with a working mother and stay at home Dad, so it’s not that he doesn’t have a model there. But he loves to work and is getting a PhD, so being the stay at home partner I need is out of the question. We’ve talked about why he’s gone from “dead-set childfree” to more ambivalent, and I get the sense that it’s for selfish reasons. He’s admitted he doesn’t want to help raise them – he just wants to teach them to play frisbee and read the books he likes. When I mentioned that if they came out of my body, they would have my last name, he seemed let down, almost as if half of his reasoning to have children was to raise little miniature versions of himself. I *think* he’s on the same page as me – that these reasons coupled with total lack of desire to actually care for kids are not really going to do it. But sometimes I feel guilty.

    Is it possible that, now 28, I’ll change my mind? I guess, but I’m so terrified of actually having a kid. Not because I’m terrified of the work, but because I know it’s not for me and I’d regret it. I mean, our nurturing level is of the “can’t even keep a plant alive” quality. I am certain to the point where I am seriously considering sterilization surgery after I hit 30. But… what if his desire to have kids becomes less selfish and more real??

    • Class of 1980

      Speaking of sterilization, I had my tube tied when I was 35.

      This involved a doctor explaining that I had to think of it as permanent and asking me a series of probing questions. One of the questions was, “What if you get a divorce and remarry and your new husband wants children?”

      No matter what question he asked, I kept saying I didn’t want them under any of the circumstances he raised. Then he looked at me and said “Okay, I’ll do it.”

      It had never occurred to me the doctor would get to “decide” if he was going to do the tubal ligation or not.

      • Sara_B

        I have a friend whose doctor TOLD her that if she gets pregnant, her body will not be able to sustain a baby and she will have to abort or risk dying. She’s 39 and come to grips that she may never have children. If she does, she’ll choose to adopt rather than put her life or a child’s life at risk. When she asked to get her tubes tied, the same doctor refuses, arguing that she MIGHT want children someday and basically refuses to do so. I’m amazed that the dr. will openly contradict herself when she’s told my friend that there is no way she’d have a biological child anyway.

        • Class of 1980

          That’s proof that crazy people (the doctor) come in every walk of life. So the doctor is perfectly willing to put her in absolute need of an abortion should her birth control fail.

          If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that I can’t expect logic from people in general. So whenever I do find it, it makes me giddy.

          You friends needs to find another doctor. ;)

        • Entangled

          That’s just galling.

          I’ve had two friends who had sterilizations (both married and sure they wanted no children) and they both had the same experience. Doctors who would not do it, no matter what before they turned 30, and very little resistance once they were 30+. Which is part of why I’m holding it out as a decision age.

          I also have a family history which has pushed every doctor I’ve had to recommend I get my ovaries removed completely (their words, not mine) after having children. Which puts another wrench in the machine, because that’s a much more involved procedure with even bigger medical implications.

      • I find it frustrating and backwards that doctors are allowed to make decisions like this for us. If I want a sterilization at any legal adult age, I should be able to find one. Of course, asking questions to make sure we’ve considered all the ramifications are smart. But it should be illegal for them to decide not to do it because they think I might change my mind. Talk about stripping a woman of her autonomy.

    • Arachna

      I think all reasons for having children are selfish. Or at least I’ve never heard one that wasn’t.

      But yeah people or couples were at least one of the people aren’t very very willing to do the hard work should not have kids. I want kids but if my husband was not on board with being a potential primary caregiver life would be a lot more complicated because I’m pretty sure I don’t want it to be me. I want a role closer to that of a “very involved father” in our society. I often feel like that makes me a bad person – but if men get to have this I don’t see why I shouldn’t and I want it.

      • Entangled

        “I want a role closer to that of a “very involved father” in our society. I often feel like that makes me a bad person – but if men get to have this I don’t see why I shouldn’t and I want it.”

        If that makes you a bad person, what am I? I want the role of stereotypical 1950’s father who comes home, pats the kids on the head, and gets a whiskey. Maybe takes them to a baseball game once in awhile. It seems, from our numerous discussions that this is what my fiance would want as well and we both would much rather be no parent at all than an involved one. That might make us pretty lousy parents, but I don’t think it makes us bad people.

        There’s actually a couple of women on his side of the family who are childfree but very, very involved with their family nonetheless. It’s really heartening to see them and realize that we can love our families and make family a priority in our life without having our own children. They’re often better able to be there in hard times because they don’t have the responsibilities that kids bring.

        • Arachna

          Hear hear!

          The ‘bad person’ vibe for me comes from wanting/planning for kids and still having this attitude. But I’m okay being selfish. The idea of missing baby’s first steps… just does not devastate me or upset me in the least. But I’ve no doubt I’ll love them like crazy.

        • Englyn

          Me, too. If I ever have children, can I be a father please? Someone else can bear them and feed them and entertain them all day, and I’ll be a good breadwinner, and come home and help with dinner and play with them for an hour and bath them and put them to bed and then relax for the evening. And go fishing on the weekend without them.

          • Jess

            I am so happy and surprised to see these posts from women wishing that they could play the traditional, non-primary-caregiver “father” role to kids. Where someone else takes care of the minutiae of childcare and child responsibility for you, the way that my mother did for my father when I was a kid. I have thought this for awhile and have never discussed it with another woman who felt the same way.

            My fiancé and I have decided to not have kids. I feel like I could be a parent in another universe in which I would not be expected to be the primary caregiver, and wouldn’t have the biological burdens of motherhood (pregnancy, breastfeeding). My fiancé is also not so hot on having kids and is not willing to be the primary caregiver, so no kids it is.

          • meg

            Funny, Elizabeth Gilbert discusses THIS too.

            It’s really important to me that we’re both equal partners in parenting. As I mentioned at some point, obviously early on I’ll be more physically involved, but there is plenty of time for that to equal out. That said, there are lots and lots of couples that do choose to have a primary care giver, and nursing aside, there is no reason why a husband can’t be the primary care giver. You just need to talk and talk and talk about it.

      • Jess

        In response to Meg’s comment under this thread–Of course both parents can be equal participants in parenting, the physical parts aside! And that is great. I’ve seen plenty of examples of parents who share the caregiving, and even work with quite a few women whose husbands are the primary caregivers and stay at home with their kids. But there are societal expectations that it will not work this way. The majority of time women are the primary caregivers, or at least the go-to parent who gets called when their kid is sick and needs to be picked up from daycare. I’m sure there is tremendous pressure on women who are not the primary caregivers of their children to do more for their kids, when non-primary-caregiver fathers do not face the same pressure.

        I also want to add that I think that families where the child responsibilities are shared equally between parents are awesome—but that is not for me, either. If I were a parent, I would want to have the far lesser share of the responsibility for the kids. That is something that seems taboo for a woman to say, but not really for a man.

    • MinnaBrynn

      “I remember being a little kid and knowing I didn’t want them, being a teenager and thinking having kids seemed like a terrible idea. I’m in my late twenties now and not for a day has my attitude changed. Sometimes it’s cool certainly and sometimes it’s nausea and cold sweat at the very idea.”

      I spent most of my childhood/teenage years hating the thought of having kids, I wasted a lot of time hoping and praying that I wouldn’t be able to have kids. I like to think I’ve grown up a little since then, but most days my reaction to the thought of having kids is absolutely instant nausea. Despite this instant reaction I have now, I still have this vision of a “someday” kid. A part of me likes the idea of “someday” sharing our life with a kid. I am really looking forward to being able to borrow friends’ kids, maybe that’ll help me think about it with less violent reactions to the thought. I guess what I’m getting at is that I’m just glad to hear someone else sometimes has that kind of a reaction to the thought of having kids.

  • Great, great post and discussion, everyone. It’s interesting because all the way up to getting married, I thought that this debate would be a non-issue for me. Jason and I both agreed that we wanted kids… eventually. Like 6 or more years down the line, once I’m out of grad school. We wanted to lay a foundation as a J-and-S-as-couple before we became J-and-S-as-parents and I’m lucky enough to be entering academia at an age where that kind of thinking/timelining is possible.

    But you know, since getting married (and it hasn’t even been a month), I’ve been feeling veeeeery ambivalent about the idea of kids. Part of it is that our schedules suddenly picked up and it feels like we barely have enough time with each other, much less the idea of throwing children into the mix. Part of it is that nothing feels like it’s missing from our vibrant relationship right now. NOT that “something is missing” is the only or even a legitimate reason for having children… it’s just that it’s become harder to picture how having kids could make us happier than we are now.

    I’m open to changing my mind (again and again); I’m sure when more of our friends start having kids I’ll revisit this subject. But right now I’m in the “not now, maybe not ever, but we’ll see” camp. (It strikes me that this comment maybe belongs more with last week’s post. Oops.)

  • faith

    Love this post. And since I didn’t read all the comments yet, someone may have already said this, but I love “auntie brigade”!

  • Michele

    My friends love to point out that I DID “want” kids when I was younger. And not only did I “want” kids, but I “wanted” FOUR of them. This is all true, I DID say that I wanted four kids ALL THE TIME.

    But that was when I was 16, when I was still under the impression that EVERYONE had kids, and the only question that needed to be answered was HOW MANY? So I said four, and justified it thusly: only children are always selfish assholes (untrue), I came from a family with 2 children and it sucked, so having two children myself would suck (also untrue), and three children would suck because the middle child would be a Jan Brady style basket case (still untrue).

    Then I realized my assumption that most scenarios involving children would “suck” was a pretty good indicator that maybe I just plain didn’t want them.

    So now, when people point out that once upon a time I “wanted” children, I point out that once upon a time, I also wanted to marry CC Deville and have a unicorn.

    • Dawn

      Ha! I love that — the idea that if your choices about kids are all rooted in how much they suck and how to work around that, probably not a great idea to have any.

  • Just a quick thought.

    As little girls we would sing, on the playgrounds, the following:
    First comes love;
    Then comes marriage;
    Then comes (so and so) with the baby carriage.

    Is it possible to disassociate the word marriage with baby carriage? I think so. And, everyone on here, with your amazing posts, is proving that it can be done. Well done.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      OMG We need new songs for kids.

      Also, remind me never to teach anyone’s kids this crap, ever.

      • First comes love,
        then cohabitation,
        then an MBA and a kickass PlayStation.

        Better? :)

        • abby_wan_kenobi

          Awesome!! I’d way rather have the kids in my life chanting about higher education and mutual interests :) That’s a plan for life if I ever heard one.

  • The whole “starting a family” phrase having to mean that a couple has children makes me so agitated. I know several people have already voiced their frustration, but I wanted to add my voice to the mix. (I actually told a friend this just yesterday.) When you get married, you have a family: you + your spouse. (Not to mention your family of origin and your partner’s, which you inherit.) And there are so many definitions of family anyway (which Ms Loaf just reminded me of); why does it only have to equal parents + child(ren)? I think that an acceptance of a wider definition of “family” could go a long way in making it less shocking that people decide to not have kids.

    I don’t mean to sound like I’m ranting; I just got all riled up about this. And I’m one of those who *does* want children. Maybe not right this minute, but one day we want some. Until then, I’m perfectly happy being part of the Auntie Brigade (love that concept!); especially as someone who had (and has) some fabulous aunts.

    • Marina

      I would be interested in finding a word that means “you are legally tied to this person, like it or not, for 18 years, and after that you still have to make a lot of effort if you don’t want to be legally tied to them”. I guess more of a legal definition of family than a social definition.

    • K

      I agree and I think the reason the word “family” connotes adult(s) + child(ren) might be how the word “few” means three and “couple” means two. Dictionary definitions all state that it’s some combination of adult(s) + child(ren). Of course this can also mean extended relations, like the family of origin. I think this is why I feel odd calling my fiance and myself a “family.” I wouldn’t say we’re a “few” people either.

      But I agree with you… There’s a lot more behind the word “family” than just the dictionary definition and that is what we’re talking about. The idea that one can’t be complete without a child. I’d like to be able to state that, as a couple, we’re a complete unit and aren’t waiting for something to make us so.

  • Dawn

    I so appreciate seeing so many other women who have have chosen not to have children or are ambivalent about the idea. I just wish that this was discussed more widely in the rest of the world where clearly the norm is still ‘get married and immediately start having children.’ Which is great if that’s what you want but a really frustrating construct to deal with if you don’t.

    Growing up I just always assumed I would have kids because that’s what you do. My college boyfriend and talked about what our kids would be like and it wasn’t until after college when I was single that it first occurred to me that I did not actually have to have children. And not only that, but I was allowed not to. It’s so strange looking back because I consider myself to be a very independently minded person but not having kids had never even occurred to me until a friend mentioned that she and her husband weren’t planning to have any and I actually thought “wait a minute! You can do that?”

    In the time since then I’ve taken the stance that I wasn’t ever going to push for kids but if I fell in love with someone who really did want them, I could compromise. When I signed up for an online dating service a couple of years ago, I marked “maybe” under “wants to have kids” mainly because I worried I’d reduce my options too much if I said “no.” Then I met my boyfriend. Who absolutely does not want children. Who doesn’t have a clue what to do with them. Who thinks my new nephew is weird looking (he’s not — he’s absolutely adorable — how dare my boyfriend not see how cute he is! And yet I find it amusing that he sheepishly admitted that while my nephew was fascinating much like watching a kitten would be, really he’s kind of weird looking.) And I was relieved. I wasn’t going to have to ‘compromise’ and have kids that I didn’t really, really, really want. And somehow that really has allowed me to be honest with myself. I think before, I was hesitant to list all the reasons I didn’t want kids just in case I did end up having some and had to eat my words.

    But now I watch commercials and think, huh, I don’t need a huge life insurance policy to take care of the kids I won’t have. I think about how much of a responsibility my cats are and how sometimes I hate having to plan trips around their needs and obviously planning around a child is that much more difficult and I would probably resent that. I think about how I’m so super introverted that I need large amounts of time away from even my boyfriend who is even more quiet and introverted than me to decompress and how a child wouldn’t understand that mommy needs so much time alone (I’m not talking about normal amounts of ‘mommy time’ which everyone would need — I mean I need hours and hours of alone time). I think about how much I love my new nephew but how I couldn’t handle the responsibility of another life for 18 years (or more). And I think about how much I love my boyfriend and how (somewhat irrationally) I worry about something happening to him. If I had children I would be a nervous wreck all the time. Because I’m a worrier. And since meeting him I have a much better understanding of my mom’s anxieties about her kids’ safety and health while we were going up (and even today). And I don’t think I could handle that.

    And maybe that last reason is a selfish reason for not having kids (I just can’t handle the stress) but I also know my own strengths and weaknesses and I don’t think they would be conducive to raising a child. And that’s fine. I just wish there were more conversations about this so that people who don’t want children don’t have to feel like they need to justify their choice. People who want children aren’t constantly asked to justify or defend why they want children (which was my response the one time someone asked me why I didn’t want them and interestingly, they had no clue why they wanted children). I think that the norm will probably always be to have children, particularly if you’re married, but it’s nice to see the other options being discussed here.

    • Class of 1980

      Yes, I relate. I NEED tons of alone time to decompress. I even have a hard time relaxing after coming home from a party. Being around lots of people and activity is something I can only take in small doses.

      Then there’s anxiety. Years ago, I read a blog where people were talking about their parental anxieties. One woman said when her children were small, she’d think about the knives in the drawer, and then become so scared – as if the knives were going to jump out of the drawer and go down the hall and stab her children.

      I keep moving knives off the kitchen island because one of my cats jumps up on it. I instantly notice dangerous objects around the house and get mad if other people carelessly leave them around.

      As I said in my first post, I am a helicopter pet owner and would probably be a helicopter parent. ;)

  • I love that APW is tackling such gritty issues. I think my comment on last week’s kid related post summed it up for me, but yes, I have to say — I despise the “You have to or you’ll regret it”. Despise it so much my fists clench up and I could swing…

    Speaking of which, we were away this weekend at our best man and his wife’s home, visiting friends and thoroughly enjoying ourselves with a big group of people at a bbq (the booze was flowing) when another older couple some how brought up our impending nuptials, quickly followed by the “Oooh then you can have kids” comment. Typically I’ve learned to just bite my tongue half the time because really, it’s no one’s business and why do I need to tell two people I just met that we’re really not sure what we want?! Instead, because of aforementioned booze, we both kind of snickered and said “um yeah, we’ll see”. After we were prodded to explain a bit more, we quickly got a “Oh no. You have to have at least one. To not, would just be a dumbass move”.

    I kid you not. “dumbass”. I went through a range of emotions in 30 seconds flat. But the bottom line, as mentioned here, is how can someone dare to tell someone that their marriage, their “Family” isn’t legit without kids?? Do people really honestly not realize how hurtful, ignorant and idiotic this is? What about the many people who (for whatever reason) are unable to have kids? How do you think it makes them feel every time you rush to say “Oh! When are you having kids?” As if children are the only reason for your life and your marriage and you have no right to any of it if you don’t procreate!

    So yes, we’re still torn and go back and forth between no and yes on a regular basis, but for our OWN reasons. I refuse to be bullied into it or made to feel worse (or better) depending on what we decide to do.

    • K

      How many people would tell someone they made a “dumbass move” for having a kid?

      • Can I say there’s been times where I’ve thought it? In the vein of “What?! No condom?! You have no idea of the STD panel or pregnancy risk on this one night stand…that was a dumbass move!”

        Needless to say, I do not even think of this when seeing the child resulting from this, but still.

        I know, horrible.

      • Carbon Girl

        oh, I have wanted to say that several times . . .

    • Jennifer

      “‘You have to have at least one.'”

      Something similar was said to my husband by a work colleague. I think the exact words were, “But you need to have one to try it out.”

      Excuse me? I missed the part about there being return policies on children. And in this case, the difference between 0 and 1 is an enormity, not just one digit.

      My husband and I have a suspected genetic chance for a pretty serious disease should we have kids, but we haven’t bothered to get testing because we prefer to be an aunt and uncle to all of our friends’ kids. I must say that dropping the genetic disease thing usually shuts up the rude and nosy people who inquire about our family planning, although it really is only one small part of our reasoning. It’s sad that people can accept the disease reasoning gracefully but all of our other well-reasoned thoughts and equally valid thoughts are questioned.

  • Marina

    Thank you for fixing my spelling. :)

  • Marisa-Andrea

    My head, too, explodes whenever me and Chris are asked that question. We ARE a family. It irks me that some of our friends and family do not view our marriage as valid or legitimate because we do not have children. Interestingly, though, our marriage WOULD be legit if we couldn’t have children; not so if we choose not to.

    What I also find interesting is that concomitant with the “your marriage is not legitimate if you don’t have children” trend is also the idea that WHEN (not if) you have children, they must be your entire world. It seems inevitable that many people who view married couples choosing not to have children as selfish also promote the concept of helicopter and super parents. Because afterall, selfish parents are bad and no one wants to be labeled or feel like a bad parent.

    It’s all nonsense.

  • Caitlin

    There are so many wonderful comments on here I am not able to read them all right now, but just a little happy aside, which is probably totally out of context from the thread, but it refers to being a family just as a couple: We came home from our honeymoon Monday night (thanks Meg for reminding me months ago how important one would be!) and upon entering customs at JFK were told to fill out a customs declaration sheet…one per family. We each filled one out but when we approached the desk the man asked, are you married? We said yes, just last week, and he said, “well, you only need one per family then” and he threw the second one out. So there we have it. The United States customs department deems a couple a family! And you know, they work for the government and wear uniforms and stuff, I take their word for it :)

    • All the comments on this post and THIS one made me teary.

    • meg

      Last year coming back from our honeymoon we filled out two, since we have different last names and we got up there and they said, “Newlyweds, huh?” and tossed one. This year, coming back from Italy, we only filled out one. Sometimes being a family takes a little practice.

      Congratulations lady. Wedding graduate time :)

    • Liz

      that happened to us, too! and the guy was super fun about it. im sure it made me glow.

      • ddayporter

        what is it about customs people?? the same exact thing happened to us, and the guy was awesome and made us feel ridiculously warm-n-fuzzy.

    • Aw, this totally made me tear up.

  • Class of 1980

    I remember having this conversation with my ex husband. Although we didn’t want children, he said we were not a family because we didn’t have them. He said we were a couple.

    I said we were too a family! We agreed to disagree.

  • emmyjane

    The pervasive idea that marriage is only for making babies is part of what frustrates me about the anti-gay marriage debate. The logic goes that if you can’t biologically have children then you have no business being married. It makes me crazy on behalf of my gay friends, my friends who don’t want children, and my parents who both remarried amazing people and formed wonderful partnerships after their child-wanting years were done. Those marriages are no less filled with love and commitment and no less inspirational to this hetero baby-wanter than a marriage that on paper looks more like my own.

    Thanks for this post and all this great discussion.

    • Class of 1980

      And they don’t realize they’re really saying we might as well just shack up forever since we have no reason to get married. ;)

      The sooner you don’t expect logic from people, the happier you will be. LOL

  • Lor

    Now I know I’m a little late to the convo, and maybe someone else has already mentioned it. But for me having children is not just MY choice but my partner’s as well. He would prefer to not have kids, me, I’m 50/50. I know I don’t want them now, but I’m not saying never either. He says if it happens, it happens and if it did happen, I’d prefer we were older. Which I’m fine with, my parents had me at 38, I’m fine with being an “older” mother. But I’m still not 100% positive I want them. But I kind of wonder if that depended on who I married. For me, there is not one soul mate out there, I believe in different parts of the world there are people out there for you…and I wonder if I married someone else, and that someone else felt strongy about having children, would it sway my 50/50 position on kids. I’d say so. Right now the idea of kids kind of terrifies both of us, but if I were marrying someone who couldn’t wait to have a child and be a father, and raise a child, it might not scare me as much if someone were there to be the “stronger” one.
    Not sure if any of that made sense, but there it is!! :) off to drink a glass of wine!

    • Jennifer

      You made sense, coming from someone who was 50/50 myself, 50% definitely no kids and 50% maybe. I’ve made peace with the 50% maybe because of my husband’s strong feelings against having children, but it took time and lots of discussions.

    • K

      Yes, total sense. I feel the same way. At this point I just don’t feel strongly enough to have a kid that I’d initiate it and I don’t know that I ever will.

  • Ok…I was going to try and read all the brilliant things you ladies have to say, but when I read this post this morning, there were 34 comments. And we can all see where that went. So, I skipped around, caught a gem here and there (witty responses to the dreaded baby question? yes, please!). So, I’ll just jump in.

    I don’t want kids. I never have. At family gatherings, when all the women are in one room oohing and ahhing over the newest addition, I’m in the kitchen, or on the porch, or gone to town to run errands…basically anywhere but in that room. I’m just awkward around infants and kids.
    I’m also an only child. And my mother has also told me, repeatedly, that she would like five grand children, as if she can order them in the same way you order French toast or a new comforter. Like, “I raised you to adulthood, now pay up!”

    And the offhanded comments!

    “You should hurry up and get married, so you can get you some of these…” (meaning kids. We were 21 and 20 years old at the time.)

    (FMIL talking about her retirement next year, her youngest daughter graduating college in four years, and her son (my fiance) finishing grad school about the same time.) “I mean, we can’t sell the house then. That’s usually when grandchildren start to arrive.

    • Um…ok, so I totally wasn’t done typing that.

      Anyhow, the notion that grandchildren are something we owe the people who raised us is so warped. So is the idea that you, and your marriage, or even your pre-marriage partnership with someone is incomplete, half-full, and less important until you have kids.

      And as someone who is 100% sure she doesn’t want to be pregnant, and 10% curious about adopting an “older” child, I also have half a mind to adopt a child of a different race, and present them with “their grandchild”. Our Southern-bred, lily white families would be so appalled, they would speak of grandchildren again.

    • Liz

      what i LOVE (sarcastic) about the, “you should hurry up so you can make some babies!” comments is that these are the SAME people who find out you’re pregnant, and use every screaming-baby-opportunity to wink, “ready for this? you’re signing up for a lifetime of it!” type stuff.


      • It’s so true – they’re also the people that try and commiserate about how they as women are always stuck with ALL the housework (uh, sorry lady, my guy does at least half of everything) and make all those blanket “all men are _____ (insert horrible stereotype of Cro-Magnon dude here)” statements…

        What is it with people who hate on everything, and then expect you to join in their hate-fest? I only go to love-fests, jeez.

        • …and then they send you e-mail forwards with blinking .gifs in them.

        • ddayporter

          yeah. yeah. in my office they actually have a term for that, they call it “the hates.” and they EMBRACE it. they love feeding off each others hateful feelings towards their husbands/babies/life in general. not that I think any one of them actually hates their husband or their babies, they just love being Negative about everything and i just can’t get behind that!

  • Not 10 minutes after our wedding ceremony ended, as we walked into our reception, someone asked my husband and I when we would be having children. I think that was my only stressful/ b*tchy moment the whole day. I can’t even remember who the person was but I am pretty sure I said something along the lines of “You. Shut up. Now.”

    I was someone who never wanted to have children, and had been saying so since I was 13. At that age, if I ever said “I’m never having kids” to an adult woman I was met with the answer “You’ll change your mind.” Which made me angry and only want to avoid having children even more (partly out of spite and to prove them wrong, I have to admit). When my husband and I met in college we were just friends for a long time. He would talk about a mythical point in the future when he would be a father and how he would raise his kids. This was all just in passing and part of other normal conversation. At some point I realized I was jealous of the hypothetical mother of these hypothetical children and that if he was ever a father to any children, I wanted to fill in the place of the hypothetical mother. Realizing I could change my mind about having children for him made me realize I loved him and that he was the one I wanted to be with.

    But that is far from the only part of our relationship. I don’t ooh and aah over him and say “I want to have your babies.” We have a lot of other things in common, and he is my best friend in every other aspect of life. I am (we both are) still extremely hesitant about having kids. We want to do a lot of things in life that, to be blunt, babies/ kids would ruin. When people ask if/ when I want to have kids, my answer is “In ten years.” I’ve said “ten years” every year for the last four years.

    I guess my point is, I see both sides. I wouldn’t have realized I wanted to marry my husband if I had not realized I could change my mind about children for him. But I hate the constant questions about when I’ll start popping out babies. I’m happy to play auntie to our nephew and let him be the only grandchild for many years to come.

    • Marisa-Andrea

      Lol, I was also asked after the ceremony by several people when we were going to have children. It was strange.

    • “I don’t ooh and aah over him and say “I want to have your babies.””

      I can soooo relate to this! Growing up, my mom asked me relentlessly whether I wanted to have kids, or, more presumptuously, how many kids I wanted. My answer was always the same. I’ve really never wanted kids. But she always insisted, “When you fall in love, that will change. You’ll want to raise a family with the one you love.”

      Um….nope. It’s been four years, and my desire to have kids is still negligible, despite the fact that my love for him has grown exponentially. And, as everyone has already said, together, we are already a family. No extra members are required.

  • Heather

    I’m kind of torn.

    I don’t mind kids. By kids, I mean someone who I could help with homework, or kick a soccer ball around with.

    But babies, not so interested. To me, they mostly scream and poop and throw up, with naps in between. I have tons of younger cousins, and while I love them when they start to become actual people and get hobbies and stuff, I really don’t care about babies.

    Plus I’m terrified of childbirth, and if I’m working with pathogens (my primary career interest) I won’t be able to stay in my lab during pregnancy.

    However, my fiance wants them, and badly. And he wants biological ones. So adoption is not an option in his eyes.

    It’s frustrating.

    • angela

      Hmmm….I wonder if it’s okay to have babies and not be over the moon for them…sort of deal with it to get to the part you’re really excited about? I feel like there’s this story (that many moms have to go along with) that having babies is SO amazing and they LOVE parenting little ones. But recently, some of my friends have started coming clean about how they didn’t really enjoy those first few years, but LOVE being parents to their four, five, six year olds and are PSYCHED for the future.

      So maybe there are solutions to get you through the baby years…daycare or hiring a nanny…that you haven’t considered?

      • My mom admits that while she had a great time raising me and my brother as babies/kids, she likes us SO MUCH MORE now, as thoughtful, responsible adults. As, “You know, real people.”

        And if we have kids (which is unlikely, but I’m reserving the right to change my mind), I imagine I’d feel similarly.

      • meg

        I have friends with kids who didn’t like the baby stage. Everyone has different stages they love. I am very hormonal about wee babies, so I’m fine there. I love 18 months. I love four years. I’m not a huge fan of 8-12ish. I love teens. Basically I adore any phase where they still let me pick them up, and I love teenagers because I think they are super interesting.

        But as someone mentioned, when it’s your kids, its not abstract. Kids are just young people, and you love them for the person they are. So even if nine years old (or baby) isn’t your thing, you’re going to love them, since you love who they are, not their age. Also? Even in phases you love, they are going to drive you f*cking nuts. It’s their job.

        Which is not to say you have to have kids, it’s just to say that it’s totally normal to not like babies.

        • Carbon Girl

          I love how different everyone is! 8-12 are my fave ages. I love teens too probably because I can relate to them. I think I still act like a teen sometimes (my first impulse is often to rebel.)

    • I was totally there. Well, not torn really. But about the kids v. babies. I liked a child old enough to be able to carry on a conversation with me. Babies.. eh. They were small, cute in a puppy way, but really not even as engaging as a puppy. I had the ‘when I have one, I’ll just get through that stage’ reaction.

      Then my married friends G&J got pregnant. Then my best friend T got pregnant. Then my friend from high school H. And my friend L’s sister. And my cousin and his wife. And my friend J&D’s son had a baby (they’re older). And it goes on… (currently G&J’s baby was just born. The rest are still pregnant).

      Suddenly, I like babies. A lot. They’re awesome. And I’m like whoa, where did this come from?

      I still think I like kids better. But I’m surprised that now I like babies too.

      (This doesn’t mean you have to have kids or something, lol, just telling you that it can change.)

      Also, my younger sister never wants to give birth. She wants to adopt older kids from foster care, after she gets her PhD. And her fiance wants a biological baby. Bad.

      So, before they got engaged they discussed and agreed. They’d adopt most of their children, but they’d pursue a surrogate mother, so she wouldn’t have to go through pregnancy (she has hormonally linked issues, including migraines that have lasted 60+ days!), but he could get his biological kid. They agreed on that. [PS. I read this and realized it sounds like they’re going to have tons of kids. I think it’ll be more like three. She really wants to adopt a sibling group, since they have less chance of being adopted, but probably she’ll just adopt like two or maybe three, then the baby.]

      I’m not saying that will work for you, just saying maybe think outside the box? If you want them. No pressure. :)

  • nic

    We are (mostly secretly) 2+ months pregnant right now. So here’s a bit of a different perspective. I went back and forth: want kids/don’t want kids/someday/now. And then I realized I don’t want OTHER people’s kids. But I want OUR kids. Kids that are part me and part my husband. And I think we’ll do a pretty good job creating humans that lead positive lives. I hope! We are a family, the 2 of us- a great team. And I love our family so much, that I’m ready to share it with someone else. Someone that is a little bit of each of us. Someone who we’ll raise as a team, another thing we do together.

    I’m not saying everyone will feel that – and I definitely understand not wanting kids- I understand and respect that decision. I just wanted to point out that to me there was a difference- kids as a general idea (generally a sticky, ill-behaved, exhausting idea), and kids that are OURS (a much more appealing idea, although I know they will be sticky and ill behaved and exhausting as well!)

  • nic

    We are (mostly secretly) 2+ months pregnant right now. So here’s a bit of a different perspective. I went back and forth: want kids/don’t want kids/someday/now. And then I realized I don’t want OTHER people’s kids. But I want OUR kids. Kids that are part me and part my husband. And I think we’ll do a pretty good job creating humans that lead positive lives. I hope! We are a family, the 2 of us- a great team. And I love our family so much, that I’m ready to share it with someone else. Someone that is a little bit of each of us. Someone who we’ll raise as a team, another thing we do together.

    I’m not saying everyone will feel that – and I definitely understand not wanting kids- I understand and respect that decision. I just wanted to point out that to me there was a difference- kids as a general idea (generally a sticky, ill-behaved, exhausting idea), and kids that are OURS (a much more appealing idea, although I know they will sometimes be sticky and ill behaved and exhausting as well!)

    • Alyssa


    • Liz


      if i can have a little one with my husband’s bright blue eyes and sense of humor and my freckles and dimples and mischief, i’ll be crazy in love.

      kids in general? meh.


      • TOTALLY. I want kids with my partner (one day). I truly love most of the kids I know, but towards “kids in general” I’m pretty ambivalent. I’ve never understood how some women (mostly, I’ve never met a man that’s said this but I’m sure they exist) can claim to “loooooove all children.” Really? Because children are PEOPLE, not puppies, and I’m pretty sure you don’t love all people (I definitely love all puppies, though).

        I’ve had girlfriends express surprise when I say that I want kids because of this. They think that me not falling to pieces over every single child in existence means that I don’t want my own, which just strikes me as hilarious.

        • meg

          I love 90% of babies and wee ones. Could care less about puppies though.

          • ddayporter

            now That I can’t relate to. ;)

    • ddayporter

      yeah. up until a few years ago I was definitely anti-other peoples kids but looking forward to having my own. now I’m for some reason seriously warming up to other peoples kids. I really like kids now! odd. but I definitely get the difference between “kids” and “OUR kids.”

  • agb

    Now, I haven’t had the opportunity yet to read through the comments, so I apologize if I’m beating a dead horse. However, I think the underlying question of the Well Meaning but Infuriating Family Member/Friend/Stranger is “When are you going to follow the same path I did and thereby validate my choices and my existence?” It’s been my experience that those family members, friends, and strangers are themselves the women who married young and almost immediately chose to forgo a career in order to pop out a few kids. I think it speaks to a level of insecurity in her own decisions (I won’t say regret, but perhaps a “what if” mentality). Maybe that’s some kind of newly-married smugness and honeymooner haze talking, but that’s generally what I’m hearing in the question.

    On another note, Marina’s comment was SO RIGHT. I feel the same way about my friends who will lead very different lives than me and I love that they will be my kids’ “Auntie Brigade.” Kids learn the most through example, so I’m so grateful for the examples my friends create for them.

  • Michele

    I’ll admit it: I’m somewhat fearful of the ‘alone in old age’ aspect of not having kids. Not that having kids is any guarantee against it, or that NOT having kids necessarily connotes that I will be, but it’s something that I think about on occasion. Ultimately, I think this line of thinking is less about having kids and more about my fear that my husband is going to die long before me. He’s five years older to begin with, and historically, men in his family tend to die in their early 60s while women in my family tend to live until their mid-90s.

    Obviously, shit happens and either of us could go anytime, but the bottom line is that it REALLY FREAKS ME OUT.

    Then again, my grandmother is 73, has been widowed for nearly 20 years, has 3 kids, 5 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren, and she’s the loneliest person I know.

    • Jennifer

      Just as I choose to make my friends my family now, I am hoping that model will still work when I’m old. I’ve seen a good example of it recently. Joy, my 81-year-old relative, visits her friend Caroline in the nursing home every week. Caroline is a widow and never had children. Joy does more for Caroline than some adult children of nursing-home-bound elderly. I’m holding on to that image of friendship for my old age!

    • Emily

      I think it’s important to remember, whether you have kids or not, that it’s still up to you to figure out how to fill your life. Whether your husband is still alive or you have kids or grandkids, it’s within your power to live your life in a way that makes you feel good. The happiest people I know in the 60+ category are people who pursue passions and continue to make friends and have a willingness to try new things and engage with the world. And that’s true whether they are married or single or parents or not parents or widowed. It’s even true for people who have major health issues.

    • Liz

      we’re always investing in people. whether kids, or someone else. you may not have young whipper-snappers to visit you and mow your lawn, but there will be a wealth of other folks in whom you’ve invested. i’m sure of it.

  • k

    This is such a wonderfully amazing post!

    I have been married for less than three weeks to the perfect guy (for me : ). I’m 33, he just turned 40. He has two children, two boys, from a previous marriage. This is my first (and hopefully last) marriage and I never had and still have no intention of having children. The fact that he doesn’t want any more and I don’t want any children at all is one of the many reasons why we are so perfect for each other.

    The issue of us having kids has been brought up by various family members from both sides during the four years that we’ve been together. Naturally, I get the “you still have time to change your mind” response to my “I don’t want any kids” announcement. But what does the trick is when I tell them that my husband made the choice to not bring any more children into this world while he was still married to his ex-wife and decided to have a vasectomy. I really wish I didn’t have to divulge such personal information but that seems to be the only way to change the subject. Of course this is not enough for my mother who constantly reminds me that I’m not “normal” and that I will “regret it” and that maybe he really isn’t the “right” guy for me. It has been so frustrating to have to deal with these issues, I am so glad that there are other strong, intelligent women who don’t feel any less so just because they choose to not have children.

    And I admit, I have had that selfish thought that if we, by some miracle, had a baby, my husband would have to focus more of his attention on our baby instead of just his kids. I know it’s horrible of me, but I do sometimes resent the fact that I’m not the most important person in his life the way he is in mine, that I have to share the spotlight with his kids. I’m being brutally honest. It’s not that I don’t like his kids but I do view them a bit like the way I viewed my younger brothers when they were that age. They can be annoying, and whinny, and demanding, and just…kids. These feelings are more evidence why I probably should not have children. And speaking of a spouse’s children, I found it interesting that some people thought of my husband and I and his children as a new family unit. I don’t really see it that way. They’re not my kids and I don’t really have a say in their lives; they have a full-time mother who does. I don’t really view myself as their step-mother either, I would prefer to be their friend. This is a subject for a whole different post on a whole different blog I haven’t yet found but here it is…

    • I don’t know what it’s like to be a step-mother, but I do know what it’s like to be a step-kid. And I know it’s totally crazy to think that you guys are this family unit, but you might just be surprised. I was totally annoyed that I had to share my dad with some woman he married. Man, that SUCKED. And it didn’t matter that she was a nice person.

      But it’s funny the way things go… no she was never my full time mom – I had a full time mom – but over time we did become a family unit – my dad, my step-mom, me and my brother. That’s one of my family units. My other was with my mom, brother, and former step-dad. And now I’m getting married, that will be my main family unit. So, no… you’re not the “mom,” but “step-mom” can be a pretty great thing; it just takes time to figure out where everyone fits together.

      I’m sure my step-mom was totally annoyed by us when they first got married, but we were equally annoyed by her. But time – hopefully, usually – brings people together.

      Blending families is definitely a topic I would love to see covered here.

      • k

        Thank you! I appreciate your response. His kids are still too young to express their feelings on the matter and I have no experience with blending families (my parents have been together for over 35 years) so your perspective on this is very insightful.

    • Class of 1980

      But if your husband put his children more on the back burner, would you really feel better? Personally, I could not marry a man with children who wasn’t devoted to them. If I began to think he wasn’t much of a father, it would affect how I felt about him.

      • k

        You’re right – if my husband didn’t love and take care of his children, I don’t think I could be with him. I respect his devotion to his children but that spoiled, selfish part of me resents the fact that I have to share him. It’s a hard thing for me to get used to but I made the choice to marry a father and have to learn to deal with it.
        I would like to know how other women in my situation have dealt with these issues. A “blending families” post would be most helpful.

        • Class of 1980

          One beautiful solution would be to share the lives of the children with him. Do activities together. It would cement the bond all the way around. :)

        • Marina

          offbeatmama.com has a couple great posts about blending families.

        • BesideThePoint

          You might consider reading “Stepmonster” by Wednesday Martin. My fiance has a child from a prior marriage; this is my first marriage (I don’t have kids), and I found the book very supportive.

          I find it soooo difficult to admit negative feelings about my step-parenting experience—and particularly about my stepson. It makes me feel guilty and ill-equipped, and frankly, un-maternal. It’s a huge adjustment for all of us, from enforcing new boundaries for the ex-wife to establishing authority within our household to figuring out my role in all this. I totally hear you about thinking, ‘well, I chose this, so it’s on me to deal with it’, but the fact is we’re human and it’s sometimes hard. I have to remind myself I’m not disrespecting my partner or his child by admitting my frustrations. I have to remember my needs and emotions matter significantly in making this work. My fiancé is a terrific in his role as dad, but being in the role of my husband is crucial too. He works every bit as hard at being a good partner to me as he does at being a good dad—and that makes all the difference.

          So back to the original post topic…we haven’t decided whether to try for kids of our own. But I have a couple thoughts about being asked about it: 1) I worry that if I express my ambivalence about reproducing it will be perceived as an inability (or unwillingness) to love children, and by extension, my stepson; and 2) I’m bothered by the implied (from some people) idea that bearing my own children will earn me equal footing with the other “real” parents in our situation. Because the thing is, while my stepson will always have 2 parents (of which I am not one), our household has 2 adults (of which I AM one), and that can be a tricky grey area.

          Does any of this ring familiar with you? I’m downright starving for new-stepmom input as well!

    • tirzahrene

      I’ve got my own long-ass comment to make later down the line here, but I just want to say – as a stepmom myself, if you find that blog, please share!

      Also from my own experience – the first year was the hardest. After about three years we had forged a decent family unit. Hang in there. You’ll feel all sorts of things that make you feel like a horrible human and a worse parent. Just ride them out; you’re normal, not evil, and they’ll pass someday.

  • We can learn/apply something from all the Prop 8 business here — one of the main arguments the conservative pro-Prop 8 side has put forth is that the purpose of marriage is procreation. As a society who allows elderly and infertile people to marry despite their obvious inability to have children, we know somewhere deep down that while marriage and children often go together, they are not, in fact, the same thing. So let’s stop treating them like they are!

    The passage quoted above reminds me of a chapter in a book I read an anthropology class in college. It was about Altruism which basically made the case for the “gay uncle” in the family. There is a biological advantage to having a childless relative in that such a person (or animal) looks out for members of his/her family, because he shares genes with them. If something happens to mom or dad, Uncle ‘Mo is around to look out for the little tykes, thus ensuring that the family genes stay in the population. This book was making the case for why homosexuality exists – but I see no reason why that gene sequence couldn’t end up in people who lack the gay gene.

    And the truth is, we need these “villagers” to help raise our children now more than ever. With the majority of women having careers other than homemaking and few people living in close proximity to their families, we don’t have the same amount of support to take care of the many needs children (and their parents) have. Aunties (and Uncles) are desperately NEEDED to take the place of these things we’ve eliminated for everyone’s health and sanity!

    I also want to point out the double-standard: how many men get pestered about when they’re going to hurry up and start having the babies already? And isn’t most of this constant pressure coming from other *women*? Uh huh. Exactly why this post belongs on APW, very similar to the pressure women put on women to have perfect [bodies for their perfect] weddings.

    • Emily

      Yay for science! I know it’s only a theory, but I’ve always been fond of the Gay Uncle theory, if only because it forces us to recognize that human interaction has always been more complicated than the nuclear family, and it’s irresponsible for us to assert that heterosexual marriage with children is the way it’s “supposed” to be.

      But I do want to add that many men actually do get pressure and questions about getting married and “starting a family.” Men are less likely to pressure one another on the subject than women are (though even that does happen), but men definitely feel the societal pressure to conform with social expectations. I was worried my boyfriend’s very Catholic and traditional mom would freak out when we decided to move in together, but instead she was relieved. It meant he was taking steps in the direction of marriage. He definitely gets more pressure on these subjects from his family than I do from mine.

      If there is a difference, I think it’s that women start getting pressure about marriage and children when we are very young. We are forced to start thinking about what it means to be a wife and a mother from childhood. We play with dolls and are encouraged to babysit and people generally expect us to focus more on family and nurturing. Men don’t get this pressure. So it can sometimes hit them hard when they reach a point in their lives when people suddenly expect them to get married and have kids. Women feel anxious and frustrated at having motherhood forced on us our whole lives, and men feel terrified and unprepared for having fatherhood suddenly crop up as an expectation. [Generalizing, obviously — this is far from everyone’s experience]

      This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, as my boyfriend and I negotiate the parenthood issue. Sometimes I have to remind myself that when I was 18 or 19, learning that I’m really not a kid person and that I bristle under expectations that I act maternal and nurturing, my boyfriend probably hadn’t though much about the subject at all. I can’t assume he’s going to be looking at the issue in the same way, so I’m having to get better at explaining my feelings and where they come from and relate them in a way he understands. Even for someone as verbal as I am, it’s really difficult.

  • Meg

    Oh, gosh. There is so much to say on this topic.

    I may be physically able to have children, but it poses some significant health risks to me. As a result, I have wanted to have my tubes tied, move to a developing country, adopt a child, and be a single working mom since high school. However, women have always told me that I was too young to make that kind of decision and that things would change when I fell in love.

    I fell in love. My fiance is a traditional man and wants us to have children of our own. I wouldn’t mind being pregnant once, but I still am very leery of putting my future health at risk. As of right now, I do not plan on having bio-kids. My fiance, though, is afraid that he won’t be able to love an adopted child as much as a bio-kid.

    I also feel very strongly that there are too many children in the world in need of loving homes (and public adoptions are free in Canada! Yet another plus). I also want to have a career and make a difference in the world. I think my fiance would be a better stay-at-home parent than I, but he feels that it’s his job to bring home the bacon.

    He and I have a lot of stuff still to talk about, and we won’t have time to discuss it until after the wedding. I hope we won’t regret waiting to discuss something this important in more depth…

    • Talk about it now. Or at least sooner rather than later. Please?

    • Yes, please talk about that stuff now. These are non-trivial issues.

    • This is just like my sister and her fiance. Except they talked about it.

      Well, it’s not that he wasn’t sure he couldn’t love adopted kids, that’s a difference. But he felt he NEEDED a biokid. So they talked and decided to pursue a surrogate, sometime in the future, so she won’t have to go through pregnancy, for health reasons. In addition they plan on adopting from fostercare.

      When they decided this, he told her, ‘This is the last thing I felt like we needed to discuss before…’

      He proposed two months later.

      I’m not saying you guys will do what they decided, or that you should. But you really need to discuss this kind of issues before marriage. I hope it works out and that your wedding and marriage are wonderful.

  • I did my best to avoid this post all day yesterday, but after Meg’s tweets and emails from friends about it, I had to read. So I was really pumped about baby. Like, really pumped. But then I went on my honeymoon and was able to relax and enjoy my husband and the thought hit me- this time with him is a good enough reason to wait. Well, now I must say that reading some of the comments and thinking about what having a baby means for myself makes the idea of not having children more possible- especially reading about the ways women give back in other nurturing ways. I cry at the thought of this because I terminated a pregnancy and sometimes I feel like I owe it to the baby I lost and to my faith (in God, karma, etc.) to have children. In a sick way, I feel like having a child will allow me to forgive myself.

  • Rachel

    As a researcher who studies plans for parenthood (or childfreedom), I’d like to mention that there is social science research that addresses a lot of the assumptions mentioned in the comments.

    For example, there was an article in the well-respected journal Demography called “The Evolution of Fertility Expectations Over the Life Course” that looked for patterns in changes in expectations of parenthood in a national sample of women. Roughly 67% of women in the sample expected early in adulthood to have about 2 kids and mostly met that expectation. About 12% expected more than 2 kids, and ended up having even more kids than they expected over time. About 16% expected to have about 2 kids and then ended up having 0.5 on average; you can think of them as the involuntarily childless or fewer children than than they expected group. Finally, about 4% of women expected fewer children than average in early adulthood, and ended up expecting no children by their early 30s. Many of these women probably fall into the voluntarily childfree category. So, not a lot of support for large proportions of the female population changing their minds about not wanting kids, although I’m sure it happens in many individual cases.

    There is also research supporting the ideas that voluntarily childless adults do face social stigma, lesbian and gay people face very different pressures when it comes to parenthood or no parenthood, and there are differences in plans for parenthood that are consistent by age, education, race/ethnicity, religiosity, political identification, and sexual orientation. For example, older, more educated, Euro-American, less religious, more liberal, and gay or lesbian people are less likely to report wanting to have kids. Shocker, right?

    • Class of 1980

      Darn. Why is one of the best comments at the bottom of the page? ;)

  • you really have some points there, but i still think wife and mother can go hand in hand…

    • Liz


      but don’t have to.

  • Okay, so I’ll admit to not reading 100% of this thread, I got about half way through and realised no one, it seems, feels the same way I do. Now I’m wondering if I’m some kind of freak.=/

    I don’t want children. I have NEVER wanted children. Since I was about 13yrs old I have declared loudly and often that I will never have children to all my family and anyone else who would listen, really. I didn’t like children even when I was a child, for the most part anyway – this may be due in part to be an only child and spending most of my time with adults. I still don’t like children, in general. I don’t hate them as my future in laws seem to think, but I just don’t like them on the whole. They are loud, have way too much energy for me to handle, and they screech! OMG, it hurts my ears! But this isn’t to say I dislike all children! Or that I’m bad with them.

    Why does everyone assume just because I don’t want children, and generally don’t like them that I’m going to be some kind of monster to them!?

    I’m going to be married in about a month, my man has two nephews that both live in other provinces (I’m Canadian). I’ve only really got to spend time with one of them, and you know what? He’s freaking adorable! He’s good-natured, fun-loving, and sweet as can be. We get along great! I’d be terrified to baby-sit — it’s never gone well for me in the past, and I don’t know what to do with a kid! I’m terrified I’d screw up! But going to the zoo with him and his mom? Or spending the day at the park with them? I’m all for it.

    I just.. I don’t want kids. I don’t want to be part of the Auntie Brigade. I don’t want to devote myself to children in some way. Kids are just not my thing. Why is it, that childless or not the only way I can be seen to be making my life meaningful is by helping children?

    I want to make it clear, I don’t think ill of women who want/have children. If your children make you happy, I think that’s *Wonderful*! If they enrich your lives, great! But I don’t see why I should be valued less as a person, and looked at with disgust and confusion when I say I have no intention of having children of my own.

    • Liz

      i didn’t get that vibe at all.

      MANY of the comments are about investing in people of all types- not just children/babies/teens.

    • meg

      I was SUPER SUPER clear in the post that you don’t have to have anything to do with kids, or be involved with kids to still be a vital and childfree member of society:

      “This is not to say that you need to make up for not having kids by being Mother Teresa. Not at ALL. You don’t have to make up for not having kids, period. But it is true that we all have limited resources in this world. We have limited time, money, and energy. When we have children, a lot of those resources get focused (rightfully) in one area – on a few lives. When we don’t have children (permanently or temporarily) we can use those resources on other projects. We can spread our focus.”

    • Kibbins

      Melissa, you’re not some sort of freak. Just one of the four-percenters (an above comment — the approx. percentage of women with no children by choice). And maybe a smaller percentage of the “four-percenters” because some of those are probably more of the “auntie brigade” variety. Anyway, it takes all kinds. I do fine as an aunt, but if I had to spend more than a few hours with those children or entertain them independently, I’d be done for. I completely hear where you’re coming from. You may be in the extreme minority, but you’re not alone… even though we may feel like complete outcasts the majority of the time. Like a lot of the sentiment above — each person has a pretty darn good idea of what’s right for them, and that’s what you need to do!

  • I’m kind of late in the game here, but I REALLY appreciate this post. I’m getting married in October and feel really good about our decision NOT to have children for quite a while. We already have a family of four (us and two dogs) and that’s perfect for now. Some of my friends are mothers, and when I’m around them and their babies (which is a lot) I never feel left out or incomplete. I actually feel better about my decision.

    It may help that my parents were married for 6 years before children and my cool cousins wait more than ten years (they were 20 and 21 when they got married-makes sense) so she could follow her career and it paid off.

    Thanks for writing this though, makes me happy that I am not alone!

  • There are so many wonderful comments already that I feel I have little to add, except that I wanted to personally say “thank you” and send you big virtual high fives. I needed this post and I needed all the women who are commenting on it to know that You’re Out There.

    Thank you thank you thank you.

  • Gwynnie

    If I spent the time “Exactly!”-ing all the comments from this, I’d be late for my wedding in two years. So thankful to see this topic come up!

    That said, after telling my family and my fiancee’s family that we’re getting married, the greatest amount of relief I felt was when Eric’s mom told me that she would never bother me about not having kids. I hadn’t even thought about how grateful I would feel hearing that, because to me, having children was always a decision concerning me and Eric. But just like weddings/marriage, our lives are entwined with those of our families, and it’s nice to know that at least one person will be able to support me on this one.

    And on the selfish thing, what could be more selfish than having children due to spousal/peer/family pressure? I know I was always curious about why my parents chose to have kids, and to have to answer that question honestly or with an awkward, “Well, your father’s family really wanted grandkids…” would be horrific, to the kid, and to me.

    That said, I can’t wait to spoil my friends’ future kids rotten! Throwing kid birthday parties I can totally do, and I can’t wait to be an auntie =]

  • suzanna

    We could keep in mind, too, that when most people seem nosy about your life, or when they seem shocked that you don’t want kids, it’s because having kids was one of the most joyful things they ever did. Just saying, it’s not all anti-choice lockstep breederism.

    • Marina

      I think this is very true… but at the same time, you don’t get the same kind of shocked/horrified/”you’ll seeeeee…” thing about, say, not traveling or having a fulfilling career or making art or any of the other things that are someone’s most joyful thing they ever did. I think a lot of people’s point is that having kids is treated differently than other joyful parts of life.

    • Alyssa

      I think it’s been mentioned several times and people have commented on this and recognized that as most of the reason people ask. It’s certainly the reason I ask, when appropriate, because I think kids are giant balls of gross, messy awesome.
      But most of what is being discussed isn’t people ask if you’re going to have kids, or even ask why when you say you’re not.
      It’s when they continue the conversation, calling into question your entire decision.
      Even when it’s the bestest thing that ever happened to them, that’s effing rude.

    • meg

      Careful. Your comment seems a *lettle* close to an attack on the super respectful women on this thread. No one was complaining about “anti-choice lock-step breederism.” In fact, you’re the only person who has used the term breeder.

  • Lani

    Personally, I commend couples who are honest with themselves when they say they’re not willing to become parents because they’re not willing to take on the responsibility. It certainly is better than a lot of people who do have children but never really recognize or take on the responsibility at all. I don’t think couples should feel forced into becoming parents because society deems it as the next step. I have a friend who after 6 years of marriage hasn’t had any children yet and feels she and her husband never will. I support her decision. It’s just her reasons that have me a bit uncomfortable.

    First, she says that having children would be the knife in her marriage. That kids would spell doom and misery. That she feels sorry for couples with children because they look so unhappy with their little “rugrats.” As a woman who wants children, I know that children are not to blame for a failed marriage. They can neither save or kill a marriage. A marriage will always be between two people and the decisions they make to nurture the relationship between each other, regardless of how many children they have.

    Second, my friend fears she will never be the perfect mother. That she’ll make mistakes and her kid will hate her forever. Who said parents never made mistakes? Who said you had to be perfect? Just like there are no perfect marriages, there are no parent-child relationships. It’s recognizing that you’re human and you and your child are growing together…I think that’s the beautiful part of parenthood, that you’re also learning and becoming an enriched person in leaps and bounds.

    I feel uncomfortable with people who view children as “rugrats,” like little pets to raise without thoughts or minds of their own. Often times, people — even parents– don’t see the relationship aspect of having children. Sure, there are diapers and bottles, and the “annoying” part that even I cringe about, but that’s just a small portion of the parent-child relationship. My niece is three years old and I’m still amazed at what I learn from her each day.

    Of course, I believe there are valid reasons why couples would choose not to have children. I just don’t think a woman needs to degrade another woman’s choices just to redeem or justify her own. Meg, you seem to have defended childless-couples-by-choice very well without going that route. Also, don’t put down children either. Have we become so cynical and jaded that we forget that we were once children ourselves?

    • meg

      Not a single woman on this enormous thread has degraded other women’s choices, or children. And we have allll kinds of opinions here.

    • Class of 1980

      I think a most of us LOVE children, even though we don’t want to have them ourselves.

      There will always be people like your friend who use unfortunate terms to describe children, as though they are not human. But I think they’re in the minority.

  • I think a part of me has always known I didn’t want kids. I babysat in high school and HAAAAATED it. Like, really really despised it. The one babysitting job I remember actually enjoying involved a 12 and a 10 year old. We watched movies, ate popcorn, and played video games. It was awesome. But when I babysat age 7 and under? I wanted to poke my eyes out. No, I don’t want to watch cartoons with you. No, I don’t want to play some stupid board game or recite the stupid rhymes I learned when I was a kid. NO NO NO! Oh, wow, I hated it so much.

    It wasn’t until I was in college that I heard the term “childfree” – people who proclaimed (with varying levels of obnoxious) that they did not want children and would never have them. I felt such a peace and relief that such a class of people actually existed. You mean, it’s OKAY to not want children? Sign me up for membership!

    When I was with my ex, I was pretty up front about not wanting kids, and I remember at some point in our relationship (we were living together, we were serious), him saying to someone, “Oh, I’ll at least have one!” My head shot up like a rocket. Oh … really? Later on, I remember conversations with him telling me that not only did he want me to have kids for him (which, maybe, I would be willing to do, under the right circumstances, maybe), but he also wanted me to be the primary caretaker, and give up my career to stay home with them, because “kids should be at home with their mothers.” (NOT the right circumstances.) His mother felt VERY strongly about “women who INSIST on working,” so I was really feeling like, if I did have children, that I would have no support from these people.

    I remember telling him if he thought stay-at-home parenting was so important, then HE should stay home. “Well that makes no sense, because I make more money!” he replied. “Yes,” I said, “But you’re the one that has an issue with daycare, not me.” He changed the subject.

    Obviously, there’s a reason he’s an ex (and that’s not the only one).

    One of my coworkers recently found out she’s pregnant with her second child (and she’s ECSTATIC, so I’m happy for her), and she said something to me about stretching stomachs (I can’t remember the context), and then she stopped herself. “Wait … do you even want kids?”

    “I have a dog. And a cat.” I smiled.

    “That’s awesome,” she replied.

    • Eliza

      What a great co-worker! I’m pencilling that question and response into my brain for future use :)

  • the teej.

    My fiance and I are still pretty unsure about having children, but are really open to the idea of adopting or being foster parents to at-risk teenagers. This has won us some pretty surprising reactions from people who ask us the “when?” question. A co-worker told me she couldn’t believe how “unbelievably selfish and immature” we were. His father cried tears of joy that we would “adopt grandchildren just for him.” My mother just shrugged and said, “Whatever.” Which is ironically how we feel about getting pregnant. So for now, it’s just us, two cats and a dog. No ambivalence about them. They can stay. :)

    • Class of 1980

      Adopting a child is unbelievably selfish and immature? Wow, you learn something new every day! ;)

    • meg

      Whoa. It’s not just that saying that makes you an ass-hat, but also that it makes you look like a moron. Adopting an at risk teenager is selfish. Yes. Of course. OBVIOUSLY. WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?

      People sometimes, I swear.

      • Class of 1980

        “Ass Hat” is one of my most favorite words in the world. It’s nicely sums up moronic behavior and ties it neatly in a bow. I love it so much I capitalize it. ;)

  • Heather

    Anybody have issues with the other way? Parents/friends telling them never to have kids (or a husband for that matter) – and rather to make yourself a career… when you know that you will want both for yourself some day? And how to politely say that without the assumptions that you will give up said career or that your life will then be a waste of all of “their effort?”

    • Marina

      Oh yes. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, right? Someone’s going to hate your choices for whatever reasons.

      I’m a big fan of not engaging, and changing the subject. :)

    • My FMIL’s stance on our future childbearing boils down to “not too many” and “not too soon.” When she heard that I throw around numbers like 8 (which is my go-to “big family” size as in, if nothing else gets in the way and we have no reason to stop, why NOT have 8 kids? We could have such a great fun big family!) she was horrified, and when she heard me say that we’d talked about starting to try to have kids a couple years after we get married (is that so weird?) she told us not to rush, kids are fine but “not too soon.” I guess I’m used to having people think I’m crazy for wanting a big family – I get that, because I may well be crazy, or at least naive – but I’m not used to being told that having kids in our late 20s, after 2-3 years of marriage and 5+ years together would be “too soon,” and I was at a loss for a response.

  • Christina

    I seriously just pulled out my computer because I had to write this comment really quick –

    We had our wedding this weekend and i was asked quite a few times about when we’d be popping the little ones out – and I felt so prepared and confident in my plans having read these posts about wife/mother. I am so grateful for this site.

    • meg

      AHHH! Congrats. Are you going to write about it???? Email me when you get back from blissed out land. But go, bliss out. (and thank you).


  • Lani

    Never said anyone here degraded a woman’s choice to have children or said anything bad about children. Never said anyone here on this blog did. I was admiring the respect of opinions here. That’s why I enjoy reading this blog, because I enjoy seeing some levelheaded viewpoints of all angles. I’m in my early 30s and don’t plan having children anytime soon (although my husband and I hope to someday), and I too get annoyed about the constant questions on when I plan on reproducing and the whole “your biological clock is ticking” bit. But it is true, just as couples are sick of insensitive people bugging them of when they’re going to have children or viewing them as “selfish” because they don’t, there are some women who don’t want children and they defend their choices with insensitive comments about parenthood and children. Just because people who choose to not have children are in the minority, does not mean they’re all immune to resorting to insensitivity themselves. I’m not saying it’s the majority of women, neither am I accusing anyone here on this thread of doing so, but it is a common viewpoint. What I wanted to say was that I feel uncomfortable with the common view in society that having children likely spells out doom for the marriage. That once you have kids, the romance, the fire is gone. The life you dream about, the adventure is gone. Some have alluded to that fear in this thread. You see and hear it everywhere. When I was younger, when I thought of having kids, I thought of Al Bundy in Married with Children…not exactly a glamorous life to look forward to. I went to see Revolutionary Road with my sister, and afterwards my sister says, “See, that’s why I NEVER want to have children!” Even some couples who have kids always warn me that things will change for the worse when I have kids. Another friend who’s still on the fence about children says that parents urge you to have kids while at the same time warning you about the “boring” life you’ll have do so because “misery loves company.” It’s enough for me to want to hyperventilate at the thought of having children. When I was younger, I used to look down on women who didn’t have an ambitious career and didn’t travel the world and “have fun,” but instead chose to focus on their families. I thought their lives were never really complete because they were “just moms.” They were just mediocre or average because they did what society expected them to do. Now, I think I was really foolish and insensitive to have thought that about mothers.

    As people here have thoughtfully pointed out, children should not be seen as some abstract “things.” That when we expand our families from just you and your partner, you’re embarking on a new relationship as a parent. Relating to, communicating with and raising a child is perhaps the most difficult project anyone can embark on in life. I, for one, am completely against the idea that once you are a parent, your life becomes completely devoted to your child in the sense that all of your career and personal goals go down the drain. But then I think of one of my former professors, who has traveled the world and achieved so much in her professional career. She says that the biggest most exciting adventure she’s had was raising her daughter. Even though she’s traveled to all corners of the globe, and has studied and written so many academic articles and texts, the biggest lesson she’s learned was as a parent. It’s funny because when she tells her female colleagues (many of whom never married or had children) that, they don’t believe her. To me, that’s unfortunate.

    I understand and respect why people would not have children. I see the beauty of that decision as well, and you can still be a compassionate, nurturing human being who contributes greatly to society without being a parent. There are experiences you can have that you may never have if your time is being divided between a family and your ambitions. Meg, and many of the responses here on this blog have recognized and have defended this huge potential so well. At the same time, I think we (whether you plan on having children or not) should recognize the beauty of having children as well…ok, you might think society already does because it’s what they urge us to do all the time. But I don’t think many people do see the true beauty of having children, or they wouldn’t warn you about your life being so miserable and boring once you do so. The great thing about having children is not because it’s what society tells you have to do, but because you recognize the huge potential to learn so much about yourself, to become an enriched person as you grow along with your child from diapers to adulthood and your limitless capacity to love… Ok, I’ll get off of my longwinded message now. If I offend anyone here, I don’t mean to do so. We’re all women with a diverse opinions and experiences and we all rock!

  • Fenn

    Srsly, it’s why I’m a nanny. I don’t want marriage or kids…I don’t even date. I’m totally happily single and loving it. I have no desire to change this, no matter how many times I’m made out to be some sort of freak who is incapable of catching a man or woman. But especially when someone looks at me as if I just confessed that I thought Hitler was the best world leader ever because I don’t want kids…GAH! I will nanny all day long and be the best diaper changer, baby feeder, park goer, whatever out there. But I don’t want kids. There’s nothing wrong with that. (Especially since I’m totally a cat lady.)

  • Samantha

    Gosh I love you guys.

    I’m getting married in two weeks. I’m 27, he’s 29, and neither of us want to have children. Ever. We’ve been together four + years, and have talked about major things like this from day one (I had made that mistake in earlier relationships, putting it off.) Earlier this year he had a vasectomy. (Yes— we are serious.)

    Only AFTER the super easy, outpatient ‘procedure’ did we decide to inform our parents. Mine were totally cool with our grown up decision, as they have been with all our other grown up decisions. Plus they knew that I had never wanted children. His… were not so cool with it. They were “disappointed”, as if we were letting them down. (They have no other children living in the state in which to give them grandchildren.)

    My boss at work told me that it makes him sad to think of me not having children. I’m 27, and my boss is 68, so I do think he inadvertently looks at me as a child sometimes, because I am the age of his children. I informed him that it makes me sad to think of having children. He said he hopes I change my mind. Ugh.

    When people say these things, as I know they will at our wedding… I still have not come up with an appropriate response. My FH says we should tell them that we are unable, because technically NOW, we are unable. But I don’t want pity, or suggestions of adoption, etc. because we don’t want children, and saying we cannot seems like a lie.

    Anyway, thank you all so much for wonderful posts like this, that allow me freedom to breathe easy, knowing we are not crazy, and the creativity of suggested responses to child-pushers. =)

  • I have three kids, and always knew I would be a mother. I don’t love kids though. I love my *own* kids but even with them I have never been the play-on-the-floor, dress-up-barbies, excited-to-go-to-the-park kind of person. I’m good at managing them, taking care of their needs and creating structure, and of course, giving crazy amounts of love and understanding.
    But, my children are not the only fulfilling part of my life. I love my job, I loved going to school for almost 7 years, I love being social and staying out late and not having to think about caring for someone else, and in fact I get overwhelmed and stressed out and wish I had more time to myself or for my husband and I to just hear our thoughts and have a little fun!
    I think its good that people recognize the different lifestyles of having vs. not having. And choosing not to have kids takes a whole lot of self-awareness and honesty and self-reflection. I used to think it was selfish, but why? How could it be selfish? Cause I’m jealous at times? :) j/k. maybe.
    I have learned much about love, life, and meaning-full ness through my children, I’m also looking forward to having three adults in my life when I am older, who I can watch grow into their own, have relationships, and maybe even children of there own (not pushing them into that of course, never!) My parents never pushed us in regards to marriage or children. Just education and I thank them for that. We grew up knowing that our self-worth isn’t based on who wants to commit to us or how many babies we have. Regardless, my two sisters and I are hopeless romantics and thrive on having a big family.
    I have more and more friends who are dedicated to remaining child-free, while the other half have just starting having kids.
    I think a better question to “when are you having kids” would be “do you want to have children?” Its a fair curiosity.
    I get asked if we’re ever going to get a dog cause we have a big yard and the kids want one and ………uggggg. I don’t want a dog. I don’t want another creature underfoot who’s poop I have to clean up and hair I have to vacuum, and walk around and train to pee outside.
    Its probably the same feeling people who don’t want kids have :)

  • tirzahrene

    Beautiful post.

    Shall I write a book or what?

    I’m currently separated from my husband after almost nine years of marriage due to a whole slew of issues we built up over the years. We’re working things out but don’t know what to do with the elephant in the room:

    I want kids of my own.
    He doesn’t want any more kids.

    He has five from his first marriage. Most of them live with their mom most of the time, 15 minutes away. She’s never accepted my presence and it was immediately established that I’m NOT THEIR MOM. So I can love them, care for them, pay for them, etc., etc., in any area she doesn’t control, but I’ve always felt like I have to jump back any time I might be encroaching on her territory.

    I became a stepmom to five at 19 and it wasn’t pretty. I didn’t act like the evil stepmother, but I sure felt like her a lot. All the negative thoughts and feelings plus the fact that my husband is twelve years older than I am and was a much more experienced parent left me thinking for several years that I’d be an awful mother: I have no patience, I resent the expense of kids, I’d never get to do anything adult and fun, etc.

    When my oldest stepson moved in with us at his mom’s insistence (too much for her to deal with), something shifted in me. All of a sudden he became *mine*. You need clothes? Let’s go buy them. How’s your homework? What do you need? How can I take care of you? And that generous attitude spread to his siblings, too. It was like it unlocked all of the things that I would do as a parent. His mom didn’t want him there; he was MY kid.

    I want a good marriage and a family. I want kids of my own. For years I was so terrified at the thought of losing my husband over this that I convinced myself I was fine to just be a stepmom, and he got a vasectomy a few years ago. Last winter I finally got up the courage to look at what I want and right there in my face was the fact that I want to be a mom. I want to have a family. It’s not baby fever as much as it is a craving for permanent family members.

    In thinking on how to write this out I realized that I went from being terrified at the thought of losing my husband to where I am now: Terrified at the thought of giving up having kids of my own. Something isn’t right with this picture.

    I want to keep exploring this. I think I would be a really good mother and I think I would enjoy parenting and I think the world would benefit from having my kids in it (who, me, big ego?), but what happens when your partner feels just as strongly about NOT having more kids? How do you negotiate a situation that looks black and white? Failing that, how do you justify destroying one family to go try to maybe find and build another? Because my stepkids may not be my kids – if you ask their mom, they certainly aren’t; I don’t know what they would say themselves; I’m too afraid to ask – but they sure as hell are my family.

  • JESS

    This is an incredibly thoughtful post. APW is truely a cut above most wedding websites: less fluff, more real discussion. Glad I found this place!

    In regards to children, I am 27 and newly married this year, and already have several family members (and lots of male coworkers…for whatever reason) asking when I’ll start poppin ’em out. My problem is I am now getting worried that the genuine NEED or WANT to have them just isn’t there. I also figured when I approached 30 I would sort of naturally start wanting them. This is not happening. I’m worried because I know my husband would like 1 or 2, and would be an excellent dad.

    As more of our friends have them the more annoyed I become with them. I’ve never liked kids that much. I babysat in high school for money, (and my little sister for free) and I tolerate my friend’s kids, but I’ve never sought them out otherwise. I was a waitress in college, which led me to dislike most parents and young children because of the havic they caused on a regular basis. I started thinking that maybe this is the kind of asshole you turn into when you have kids.

    I saw the movie Idiocracy last year with my now husband (late to the party I know) and it gave me at least one good reason to have kids. In the beginning of the movie it outlines how the human population essentially devolved into stupid people who only knew how to act on the most basic of urges (sex, bathroom, violence) and who had the intellectual maturity of 10 year olds. Basically you meet 2 couples. Couple A is upper-middle class and married. The husband and wife are both college educated professionals who are waiting and planning for children when they think the time is right with their careers and whatnot. In their late 30’s the husband is killed in some kind of accident and the wife thinks maybe she’ll have a child with his frozen sperm.

    Couple B is (I’m not trying to insult anyone here) portrayed as low-income, (maybe) high school educated, white trash. This couple makes tons of babies regardless of whether they can provide for them, birth control is non-existant. This couple’s children then go on to act the same way as their parents, banging their way through life and having kids left and right. Soon couple B’s family tree grows to an enormous size, while couple A’s tree ended with the (widowed) wife. This explains how the world came to be populated (and run) by idiots, because the smart people didn’t have tons of kids, and the ‘stupid’ people did so they become the majority. This is not to say that I think only stupid people have lots of kids, if you see the movie you will understand!

    Yadda, yadda, my point is that now my main reason to wanting to have kids (sometime in the future) is to raise 1 or 2 smart people. My husband and I are on the same page in the thinking that, for whatever reason, people really are getting dumber. I mean, I see and hear some really stupid sh*t every single day, and I wonder how these people manage to survive, and inevitably most of them are carting around little thems who will probably carry on that polished turd of a legacy. So there you go, my one good reason to procreate is selfish, cold-hearted, and downright bitchy, sort of the same things women who choose NOT to procreate are called. Funny huh? No go watch Idiocracy and tell me I’m wrong.

  • liz

    so. i am finding this blog and this post WAY late but thank god for it! i have known since i started dating that i did not want children (i am 29 and engaged now). my last bf did not want kids either so it was pretty ideal. however, my fiance is not sure??? so its been challenging to say the least when we discuss it. i dont want to force him not to miss out on something. yet i dont want to be forced either! we love each other so we are trying to not let it be an issue. i wont say never but i am 99.9% sure that i will be completely fine with just being an aunt. i love my twin 5 month old nieces more than anything in this planet (they have several auntie shirts) and they fill my world/heart/soul. we have been engaged for almost a year and about once a month someone asks us how many children were having/when were having them/what will happen when were parents/etc. its so unnervy. i get creeped out. i sweat. i stammer. because his family is all about babies! there is 2 other grandchildren. (side note-when we decided no kids @ wedding, that was pretty scary!), so i cant bring myself to tell his family! its freaking dumb but i saw the instant judgement when we said adults only reception. i hate that! i wanna stand up for myself. i just always use the phrase….. oh, my nieces are my babies…. thank you again for this post and for everyones comments. they make me feel less alone! i read the part in “eat pray love” where elizabeth is on the bathroom floor wanting a divorce and no kids and i wept! she gets u! i need to read “committed” next i see! xoxoxoxo

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  • Shannon

    Yeeeeeeeeessss!!!! I have been thinking about all of these issues so much lately, and I can’t even really express how much this post and all the comments mean to me… Deciding not to have kids has been an ongoing and very thoughtful decision for me, and yet I have never once wavered from the decision to not have them. As I’ve moved through various phases of adulthood, my feelings on the matter have changed and evolved, and several times each year I find myself revisiting my decision, asking myself if it still feels true and right for me. Since I’ve been with my partner/fiance, my feelings about not having kids have changed considerably. I can envision having kids with him, and I think it would be a beautiful experience. And yet, I still don’t want it… People tell me sometimes that I will change my mind, but at age 34 that argument is really starting to wear thin on me. Really? I’m going to change my mind after almost 15 years of thinking deeply about this, and still coming to the same decision? Changing our minds is always possible, and I don’t rule it out, but I have THOUGHT about this decision, and I don’t think there’s going to be any changing of mind…

    Lately all of my thoughts about this have been bent towards the notion that Mother is the most valued role a woman can play within our society/culture. This is true even in progressive circles of our society. It makes me sad to know that I will always be less valuable to my larger society because of my decision to not be a mother. Of course, I will be valuable to the many individuals in my life who actually do respect my decision to not have children, but in the larger society I will be at worst disrespected and frowned upon, and at best simply overlooked.

    I love my 2 person 2 cat family… It feels so damn right. Thank you so much for this post, and thanks too for all the comments. Because of all of you, I am starting off my day today with a very full heart, and a new appreciation for my own decision.

  • Jill

    It is better to regret not having children than to regret having them. It is that simple for me.

  • natalie

    I don’t ever remember wanting kids..even as a little kid..The picture of my “life” never involved kids….And I’m talking from age 6 onward.
    I tell people it’s like this..I was on the assembly line being made, and, when it came to the section where they put the “want/ like babies” chip in, the assembeler had to sneeze, and turned away for a moment, and, when turned back, I had slipped on down the line and the assmebler shrugged and said, “oops..oh well….missed that one”….
    I get all wrapped up in caring for my critters and hubby…he’s my 2nd one, the first one bailed after 12 years together and 7 years married…I told him when we were dating i didn’t want kids, and he said OK…
    After several years of marriage, he started making snide remarks, and I reminded him of what I’d said…HE said “I thought you’d change your mind…My sister said she didn’t want kids, and look, now she has three and loves them”…
    I told him that I had said I didn’t WANT any kids, not that I wasn’t SURE I didn’t want any…there’s a huge difference…
    The guy I’m maaried to now, for some years…he came from a large family, was the oldest, had enough of diaper-duty growing up…and, if he “needs” kid contact, there are several nephews and one niece he can call..All of them are in their teens now…

    • natalie

      Forgot to put in that getting wrapped up in caring for critters and hubby…I’d be a walking basket case if I’d had kids, what with the way I worry over *them*….

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