Saturday, February 2, 2013

Childfree: I'm Not Selfish, I Just Don't Want Kids.

Recently, I've read a few articles by people regretting the fact that they are childless. The common thread seems to be people who've chosen to delay marriage and child-bearing in the interest of pursuing careers, traveling, or what have you. Then they reach their mid-forties, realize the ship has sailed, and thus...regrets. And I've had conversations over the last few years that have included such things as "you're in your 30s now, you can't wait too much longer" or "how can you possibly put your career ahead of a family?"

The thing is, my husband and I aren't waiting. We've been married for a decade now, and we aren't delaying a family for the sake of living it up while we're young or devoting ourselves to our careers. We're not childless, we're childfree.

The fact is, we don't want kids. Full stop.

And we're not alone. Other articles I've read recently have discussed being childfree, but if there's one thing in those articles that makes my teeth grind, it's "I'm too selfish to have children."

Well, maybe you are, but we're not. We're not foregoing children because we want material things, or because we don't want to give up our creature comforts. It's not the sacrifices or the long hours or the fact that you have to put children ahead of yourself. It's not the prospect of balancing a career and a family.

We simply...don't want kids.

Yes, we do travel a lot, have expensive hobbies, and devote a lot of time and energy to our careers. This is not the reason we don't have children, though. Rather, it's a byproduct. It's a fact that raising children is expensive and time-consuming, and those of us without children naturally aren't going to be faced with that, but correlation does not equal causation. We didn't forego children so we could have time and stuff.

And to be clear, I don't hate kids. Yes, my husband and I will sometimes grumble about some brats, but the vast majority of the time, our irritation lies with the parents. For example, on a plane, I am infinitely patient (and quite sympathetic!) with the infant who's screaming because of ear pain, or the toddler who's exhausted on a red-eye or scared because of turbulence. I'm decidedly less patient with the eight year-old kicking my seat for three hours while his mom is wrapped up in a book (true story).  I don't bat an eye at a noisy, rowdy birthday party in a family restaurant, but I'll grind  my teeth over a couple of kids being, well, kids in a bar where there shouldn't be anyone under the age of 21.  I can deal with the kid who bumps into me and says "excuse me", but not when the parent glares at me for having the audacity to be in her kid's way.

I fully understand kids aren't going to be quiet and still all the time, and wouldn't expect them to be. The whole "children should be seen and not heard" thing is bullshit. Kids have energy. They're still learning their way around life in general. They don't yet understand appropriate behavior for all situations, and even when they do, sometimes they forget, or they're tired, or they're hungry, or whatever. I was a kid once too. I understand.

But I also understand my own limitations. I know all too well what I can cope with and what I can't.

Last year, I went to some author conventions for the first time. Like you would imagine any conference or convention would be, they were teeming with people. Some strangers, some not. And anyone who was around me at those cons last year may or may not have noticed that, on several occasions, I disappeared for a while. Sometimes I went back to my room. Sometimes I found a quiet corner in a restaurant. At least one time, I just went out to the parking lot. Why? To decompress. Catch my breath. Be alone for a few minutes or even a couple of hours. When I got home, I didn't leave the house for a day or two, and didn't want to be around anyone except my cats and my husband.

I love the conferences, don't get me wrong. I'm looking forward to attending several this year. I just know when I'm reaching sensory overload and social critical mass. When I need to step away and collect myself. As long as I make sure to give myself that downtime, I'm good to go. If I go too long without it, I get overwhelmed, and it's not good.

More than once, during those momentary recesses from socializing, I've caught myself wondering how I would handle that if I was a parent. I've seen how difficult it is for parents with similar personalities to mine, and how much they struggle to meet their children's needs when they themselves are desperate for some time to regroup. Is it selfish to acknowledge that this aspect of my personality would make me a miserable parent? No, I really don't think so. My attitude is not "kids would tire me out, so forget it," so much as "I'm not wired for constant social interaction, and I'm afraid that would be detrimental to my ability to adequately fulfill the needs of my children."

Kids have needs. They deserve parents who are equipped to fulfill those needs. I don't believe I am, so...I'm not a parent.

But all of that being said, it does still boil down to one simple thing: I simply don't want to have kids.  I'm happy with my life. My husband is my family, and of course we have our parents, siblings, cousins, etc. We're content. Neither of us feels like anything is missing.

We're certainly not incapable of love or of forming emotional attachments. Though perhaps one sign that we are not wired for parenting: neither of us gets excited over the sight of a baby, but just watch what happens if we see a kitten. "It's different when they're your own." Not necessarily, and I'm not about to gamble with a child's happiness to see if it's true. Does that mean there's something wrong with us? Maybe, maybe not. Whatever the case, my maternal instinct is calibrated for pets, so I have pets. Everybody wins.

Finally, a rather staggering number of parents have, when they've learned I'm childfree, confided in me that if they had it to do over, they would have done things differently. None of them are suggesting they don't love their kids, nor have any of them wished their kids didn't exist. Rather, when stepping back and looking at their lives objectively, they realize they would have made different choices if given the opportunity. The younger parents say they would have waited 5-10 years. The older parents say they would have had their kids 5-10 years earlier.

More than a few, though, have said they wouldn't have had kids at all. Many have said they never even thought about whether or not they wanted kids. It wasn't optional. Having children is what you do. (Anyone who's been married for more than 17 minutes can attest to this: the second the rings are on, so is the pressure.)

Are all or even most parents miserable? Absolutely not! Most parents I know are blissfully happy and wouldn't trade their families for the world, and I'm thrilled for them. The less enthusiastic testimonies simply opened my eyes to the fact that it's not always sunshine and roses.  The stark reality is that parenting is not an easy task, it's not a light commitment, and it's not for everyone.

To sum it up, a mother I know gave me this piece of hard-earned wisdom: "Unless you are absolutely over-the-moon excited about having kids...don't."  And I think that's very sound advice. Kids deserve better than to be an obligation. They deserve to exist for better reasons than "it's what you do." Or because you want someone to visit you in an old folks' home one day, or because you want to pass on your genes, or because you want to carry on your family's name.

I'm not over-the-moon excited by the idea of having kids.  Neither is my husband.  In twenty, thirty, forty years, will we regret it? Who knows?  But quite honestly, I'd rather regret that I didn't have children over regretting that I had them.

So... we're not having them. And we're happy.

It's that simple.


  1. I love this and I think it takes a really strong person to decide if kids are for them or not instead of just having them because that's the next expected step in a relationship. You're right, kids do deserve better and there are plenty of people in this world who, if they'd really thought about it, might not have had them and the kids suffer for it. Thank you :)

  2. Great post! I find it odd that there are people out there who think everyone woman needs a child. Or every married couple. It's a bit silly if you as me.

    Plus--it's your life, if you're happy why should other people care. lol

    But again, great blog post!

  3. I applaud your honesty! I have often told my relatives when asked why I don't have kids that I'm selfish. It's an easy answer that changes the subject. The real answer is more complicated & not one they want to hear! Knowing myself means that my choices are sometimes outside the norm. I know that I've made the right choice for me. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

  4. "Unless you are absolutely over-the-moon excited about having kids...don't." And I think that's very sound advice. Kids deserve better than to be an obligation. They deserve to exist for better reasons than "it's what you do." Or because you want someone to visit you in an old folks' home one day, or because you want to pass on your genes, or because you want to carry on your family's name.

    Yes, yes, yes. I always said I didn't want kids, but when I hit 29 I suddenly did. But once I had one, that was it. I had ZERO desire for more (and I really don't like babies much and the older she gets the more I love being a mom). I got the "you have to have more so they won't be lonely" "what if someone happens to her". Yeah, well, that's life. I don't get people who can't wait for grandchildren. Really? That's what you look forward to? My daughter is adamant she's never having kids (small children give her hives) and I'd be fine with that. She's only 17, she may change her mind like I did, but if she doesn't, as long as her decision is because it's her choice and not forced on her in someone, and she's happy, works for me. I don't NEED grandchildren to be a complete human being.

    But people who have kids because ... well, you're married so it's the next step right? Do you want one? I guess, I'm married and hitting 30, now or never right? Um. No. Never might be the choice for you. There's lots of things we may or may not regret as we age, you can't make decisions about something so major because someone's cousin regretted something.

  5. You put my exact feelings into words so much better than I've ever been able to (maybe that's the reason you're a professional writer, and I'm not). So many blogs these days are "mommy blogs;" it's nice to see you providing some balance to that!

  6. Thank you so much for this post. Now I don't have to explain to everybody why I will not have kids and I can just send them this link to read.
    You nailed it on so many levels, it's perfect!

  7. Great post. It's such a relief that I'm not alone in the not wanting to have children. I have known for many years that I didn't want a child and was lucky that I was single and didn't really have to explain why. I love being an aunty and I love my niece to bits. But I am also glad to spend time away.

    Eloquently put into words what I feel. I love the feeling of going home after spending a lot of family time. I enjoy the stress free living with just my cat Smudge (my baby).

  8. Thank you for a wonderful post! Having been an AF Captain, I know how hard it is to be involved with the military, female, and not want children. I almost felt shunned because of my attitude that children were not for me. Now that I'm past my childbearing years, I don't regret my choice at all.

  9. I've always known I didn't want to have kids - seriously, from when I was a teen. I never got pressured about it, though, since I was only married for a year and singleton females aren't pressured the same way married females are about that crap. Be proud that you know you don't want kids and aren't just having them thoughtlessly, like way too many people do.

    Re: conferences - I am really introverted and I get overwhelmed pretty easily at conferences (to the point that I tend not to even stay in the conference hotel). I had a favorite spot in the hallway at GRL for hanging out in, actually, and was joined there by other overwhelmed introverts on a regular basis. And I know there were LOTS of others who were doing the same thing you were!

  10. Bravo! for a wonderfully insightful post. You said everything I've always felt so eloquently. Thank you.

    When I was in my teen I knew I didn't want children of my own. My doctor told me I'd change my mind when I got older.

    I never did.

    Now that I'm beyond my childbearing years it's not an issue anymore. My SO and I are happy together with our fuzzy kids. That, to me, is my perfect little dysfunctional family. :)

  11. Awesome post. I know many people who made horrible parents yest did it repeatedly.

    I would rather see some possibly regret being child free that fuck up 1 - 6 kids lives because parenting in not for them.

    I knew exactly what I was getting into when I had kids, I knew I was crazy to want them. I don't think enough people put any real thought into it