Does not wanting kids make me a callous and unwomanly bitch? Discuss.

November 30, -0001 by Melissa Leave a reply »

Deciding not to do something feels like a really big deal. Much bigger than deciding to do something. It comes with baggage– like you’re railing against something.

I’m talking about the decision whether or not to have kids. I thought we’d write a lot about this topic here on the blog. When we started The Long Haul Project, we wanted to delve into the topic of whether people felt marriage without kids was a valid choice. Of course, things were different back then. We’d bought a house in the suburbs and were on the trajectory to starting a family. It seemed like the next obvious step. So I was troubled that the urge to actually have kids wasn’t coming to me. At all. I was consumed with guilt and uncertainty about not doing it.

OK, so maybe including this picture is biasing the discussion.

Then we made some changes, including renting the house and moving into a totally kid-impractical loft in the city. We started traveling more. We launched a business. Rather than making a decision NOT TO HAVE KIDS, it felt more like we were drifting naturally in another direction. So it hasn’t been troubling me as much, which might be why I haven’t written about it.

Or it might be for an entirely different reason. It might be because I still feel weird and wrong and abnormal for not wanting kids. I wonder if I’m railing against something.  As long as I’m young enough for it to be a biologically plausible choice, I will fret about it. I secretly suspect the people around me, even my husband, are waiting for the day when I “get over it” and am ready to have a baby. In fact, sometimes I even believe that day will come. But it never does.

I’m afraid that I’m missing out on one of life’s great experiences. Except then I think about all the other great experiences I’m having in my life, and I don’t want to give those up. Is it really a good idea to have a baby because you’re afraid you might regret it, rather than because you actively want to have one? It sounds like a bad set-up for the toughest job in the world. But then a creeping little voice of doubt emerges: Am I just essentially selfish? Should I open myself up to something that might be much harder, but far more rewarding?

And did I write that last sentence because I’m worried about  looking like a callous and unwomanly bitch, or because I even partially believe it?

I don’t have the answers but I know I want to talk more about the topic of kids and marriage here on the blog and I’d love to start off by getting your comments, thoughts and feedback. What do you think about marriage without kids?  Have you struggled with the question of whether or not to have children?  How did you make peace with your decision? If you’re married and have kids, how do you feel about your friends who don’t have kids? Do they understand you anymore?

14 Responses

  1. avatar Celina Wyss says:

    First of all you most definitely are not selfish, callous or any of the above. I don’t feel having kids is for everyone. Just because women are able to reproduce does not necessarily mean we should just because we are equipped with the right parts. I wish I could say that being a parent is this fluffy, fun, mushy, loveable and rewarding task but some days it just isn’t. It is not something anyone should enter into lightly or just because. Some days it is awesome, don’t get me wrong. As a parent I don’t hold any judgements against people who have chosen not to have kids. When my daughter was younger and I was seeking a connection with other moms I probably felt like I had less in common with women who chose not to have children. Only because a new mother with an infant needs to keep her sanity and that is through finding other mothers to swap stories with. It was all about survival for me. Now as our daughter gets older I think as a couple that matters not at all to my husband and I. There are no judgements.

  2. Oh, Melissa, so glad you are writing about this super important topic. It goes along with the intentionality of life and not living by default. As you already know, I (and we) chose to not have children. It was the right decision for us and I have never looked back. I never felt that longing, that pang, for children and firmly believed that choosing to have kids out of fear of later regret for not having them wasn’t the best option for me. I don’t think it is a selfish decision (and perhaps I’m biased because this is the decision that I made), but a decision born of knowing oneself and not succumbing to societal pressures that may not fit who you and your partner are. In many ways, having kids can be selfish–people who have kids without thinking through the long-term nature of that decision, people who have kids to take care of them when they get old, people who have kids because that’s just what you do. And to be honest, I often feel quite judged that we chose not to have children–like I’m a horrible, uncaring, self-centered person. People assume I don’t like children, and that’s not true. I just don’t want to bring one home with me. And that’s okay and valid and important to honor. I think it would be FAR worse to have a child and regret that decision for the rest of my life. Like Liz Gilbert says, having a kid is like getting a tattoo on your face. You better be damned sure that’s what you want to do. Honor your path in this. You and only you (and Tom) know what’s best for you and your life journeys. xoxo

  3. I wouldn’t judge because it’s not my relationship. Each relationship must decide together what is right for the two of them. And I don’t envy the agony of choosing to have kids or not because I’ve been there, done that. I was in a marriage where we both planned on having kids. At some point in the marriage, my other half said she had grown selfish and didn’t want kids. To me, that was a deal breaker. I wanted to experience the complete life cycle and having kids was the next logical step. Our marriage ended in divorce. I have remarried and my lovely wife and I are expecting our first child in September. I feel good about our decision to have kids and am looking forward to all that it has to offer.

    Being a guy, I had the luxury of getting a ‘second chance’ because our biological clocks don’t tick the same way. So I’m sorry that you’re in the throes of not knowing. May you both find peace in your decision and never feel the need to look back over your shoulders once it’s made.

    Hugs to you both.

  4. avatar rebecca says:

    Oofa. Yeah, I hear ya on this one. I don’t think it’s selfish at all though. I think the more selfish thing is to have them because you MIGHT wish you did down the road, but what if you don’t? What then? I think I have always teetered between wanting and not wanting and for the most part we talk like it will happen… eventually. As long as that is not some pressing item I am ok. I also have VERY open ideas about adopting, so the bio clock rings less loudly for me because there is always that other option. It’s SUCH a HUGE thing though, and I see how it’s not all sunshine and roses all the time. I wonder too if I’m cut out for it. Can you take a baby around the world? Can I keep my sanity? Will I get to live out the rest of my dreams once I have a little soul needing me to shepherd them on theirs? These are the questions I rattle around with. But you? You’re like the sweetest soul I’ve ever met, kind and patient and generous. Not a drop of selfishness in you. Self directed and determined? You betcha. But selfishness is an ugly thing and you are way too beautiful for that. :)

  5. avatar Kelley says:

    I’ve had these same thoughts for the last 10+ years now. I always assumed that my biological clock would start ticking & I’d feel that need that other women feel. I just turned 36 & I really don’t think it’s going to come. I pretty much decided 2 years ago after spending a lovely day (& I mean that sincerely) with some friends kids that I was 99% sure I didn’t want to have my own. And I always feel the need to tell people because I don’t want to seem callous, as you say, that I love kids & I’m good with them but I just don’t feel the urge to have them. I am terrified that I’ll end up regretting this decision but I also feel it’s wrong to have a child out of fear. And the weird thing is I’m sure I would love being a mom. Luckily my boyfriend feels the same way I do. However I’ve told him he needs to wait until I’m 40 to have a vasectomy. Just in case.

  6. avatar Ella says:

    I think something that needs to be said is that the States as a whole has quite an unusual approach to marriage and children in comparison to the rest of the developed world, and amongst ambitious developing countries. Statistically women get married at only 26 in the States and compared to early 30s in the most European Countries. And the age of first birth amongst women in the US was 25 compared with 29 in most developed countries. I’m always a bit shocked at the pressure women I know in the States seem to feel to settle down by getting a degree or two, getting married, getting a mortgage and popping out a sprog as soon as possible. I think in Northern Europe the societal pressure to have kids and to have early is isn’t really there as much.

    My boyfriend and I are in our mid-twenties and are planning to enjoy our twenties to the max, and maybe have kids at around 30 (if we decide to have them). I do get broody, sometimes but I also love being young and free and just enjoying time with each other.

    There are loads of couples who are child-free by choice and who live very happy lives. A strong fulfilling marriage is a wonderful thing and the arrival of children has the potential to change the dynamics of the relationship completely so it’s important to be as sure as you can before ttc.

    The two of you look young enough, and there really is no rush to have kids or to make this decision any time soon. xx

  7. You ask some good — and weighty — questions here, Melissa. I REALLY understand your POV. As someone for whom motherhood was never a given, I really understand your conflicted feelings. I felt that way for a long time, and was able to make equal cases on both sides of the argument. I DEFINITELY think that marriage without children is a legitimate choice.

    Having just recently had a kid, I’m with Celina: I’ve gravitated towards other mothers out of desperation. And unfortunately, we were ditched by nearly all of our friends without kids (even though we hire a babysitter every weekend to get out, I think there is an assumption that we have no life anymore and are no longer available to do anything), so that’s pretty much what I’m left with.

    I think you’re REALLY wise to hold off if you have any doubt that your decision. No judgments here!

  8. Short answer: nope!

    It’s annoying that women are sometimes still seen as naturally maternal baby-making machines. Like it goes against the natural order of things for a woman to NOT want kiddos, rather than a perfectly logical and entirely personal choice. I guess it stems from the assumption that women are supposed to automatically be nurturing, so the desire to not have kids somehow “illuminates” that said woman lacks such a nurturing capacity (which, of course, makes her supposedly less “womanly”). Which is a load of crap, of course, but still seems to influence our society’s general opinion about women who are childfree by choice.

    Kali and I are both on the “eh, whatever” train of future reproduction. If the day ever comes that we get hit with OMG!BABIEZ! fever, then we’ll get on that; otherwise, we’ll just use our extra time and money to travel the world. 😉

  9. avatar Melissa says:

    I cannot thank all of you enough for your thoughtful perspectives on this topic. It’s good to know that people who do want families still struggle with lots of issues around the choice. And it’s especially good to know that there are other women who feel the same way that I do.

    I feel like I’m stuck in a funny place with this decision and need to find a way to be at peace with it. Talking about it and hearing about other people’s experiences is a big part of that. So thanks, and I hope to talk with all of you more about the topic…

  10. avatar Kaitlin Maud says:

    Are you feeling like not choosing is a choice? I’m not sure if it is or isn’t, but I think it’s interesting.

    IMO, the mature decision is to wait until you know for sure… that’s what I’ve also chosen to do as well. My husband and I keep the dialogue about it open and it was a major topic especially around the time we got married. It’s important to communicate your needs and desires from the beginning.

    Who knows what the future may bring for you M, but I know you have a lot of supportive women in your life who will love you either way!

    Lastly, I think something that’s of equal importance is that those of us without children support those who do choose to have them. As Elizabeth mentioned, I think it can be really hard for young mothers and families when their closest friends don’t have or want children. I would never want to lose your close friendship, Melissa, if I chose to pop one out. It’s definitely difficult, but can be a huge point of strength in a friendship. I’ve worked to carry on a strong relationship with my business partner since he’s had a kid – and though I’ve had to go the extra mile to work around his parenting schedule, I think our friendship has strengthened.

  11. avatar Melissa says:

    I think you raise a really good point, Kaitlin. It can be tough to keep up relationships when one side has kids and one doesn’t. I feel I’ve drifted from some of the friends in my life who have had babies… not sure how much of that is circumstance/coincidence or how much is due to the fact that our lifestyles diverged so much. And I do find I get freaked out when people I know suddenly become really obsessed with their kids, it can be hard to relate to if you’re not in the same boat and I’m probably guilty of not trying harder to put myself in their shoes.

    I think for it to work it takes compromise on both sides and a mix of doing some new, kid-related things but also nurturing other non-kid elements of the relationship.

    I promise if you have a Maud baby, I will still be your friend, still come to visit but in no way commit to changing diapers.

  12. avatar Allison P says:

    I meant to comment on this when you first posted it, but I was too busy feeling like shit and laying in bed nine months pregnant (har har har.)

    I know we had a discussion about this almost a year ago, and even now that we are about to add a “+1” to our family, I am completely supportive of your (and anyone else’s) decision to not have children. Be it for whatever reason, it takes a lot of courage to stand firm on any life-altering decision and people should respect it. The. End.

    Being that I am the first of my friends on the East Coast to have a child, I’ve thought a lot – I mean A LOT – about the potential of losing friendships due to this little thing that’s going to be around me for the next 18-20 years paired with the fact that I won’t be working in the city after maternity leave. I already feel like some of my friendships have lost their strength, but on the other hand I was very surprised at how many have strengthened over these past nine months and it’s meant the world to me.

    And I understand that just because I made the choice to have children does not mean I get a stack of “Crappy Friend Passes” to hand out once she’s born and expect all of my friends to pull the extra weight in our friendship from here on out. That’s not fair to any of them. I’m already looking at the calendar and seeing if she will be old enough to take a bottle by the time Ghostland Observatory comes to Boston (yes, she will be!)

    I know that nights out with my friends need to be planned more in advance now, but as long as they are okay with that, I don’t see many problems. I am totally looking forward to a night or two a month of NOT talking about baby poop, slobber, barf, or boogers and eating my food when it is still hot without a sippy cup in sight!

  13. avatar Fawn says:

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post. Throughout the entire thing I wanted to say, “Ditto here…ditto here…ditto here…” The longer we have gone without having children, the more we become perfectly comfortable with it and there is this sort of guilt that comes from it. Feeling as though we’re being selfish and unnatural. We love our marriage and each other more than I could have ever imagined and we both know this first 8 years sans kids probably has something to do with that.


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