Last (wo)man standing
March 16, 2010 9:01 PM   Subscribe

I'm 34, female, and I don't expect to have children. How do I cope with being in the minority?

Most of life I've leaned towards not having kids, this was fine and unperturbing until recently when I attended a party at which most of the women present were expectant or trying, or already a mother. Then my best friend announced she was pregnant. I knew it was on the cards but it was still a bit of a shock, and despite making all the right noises (I am genuinely thrilled for her) I had to take myself away later for a bit of a cry and some serious soul-searching.

I'm shocked at how much I'm suddenly questioning myself, despite having engineered my life and relationships around the decision not to have children (my SO doesn't want them either). Best friend has been ambivalent on the kids issue for the twenty years we've known one-another, but her long-term partner always wanted them and she was now in a place career-wise where she felt she could have a baby without feeling like she was losing out. I'm shocked by how jealous I am that she has this option. That she has had a challenging career and then gets to embark on a whole other challenge too (with near-universal approval). I feel terrible about that jealousy.

I'm also aware that this probably has to do with just plain feeling left out. I know I'm moving into the minority and its pretty cold out here. I do feel a bit betrayed that she chose motherhood - and that makes me feel like a hateful, bitter person. I want to celebrate her choice and be a cool Aunt, I do want to be supportive, but I also want to feel that my choices are just as valid. All I've seen so far is people paying lip service to those who are childless-by-choice whilst projecting the belief that you're immature and half-formed if you have chosen not to have kids. I'm worried that my friends who are becoming parents will soon start to feel this way about me, and that scares me.

Can anyone lend perspective? Are there any child-free mefites who've seen friends through child-bearing years and remained close or should I start preparing for the shunning now? Any advice welcome!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (57 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
There's lots of us. We're fine. (And we can care about children.) Live your life.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:17 PM on March 16, 2010 [17 favorites]

All I've seen so far is people paying lip service to those who are childless-by-choice whilst projecting the belief that you're immature and half-formed if you have chosen not to have kids.

I just wanted to say that I have children. And I have never ever ever felt this way toward someone who does not have children. I'm sorry that there are people out there that may give you grief, but there are also people out there that really don't care if you have kids or not.
posted by Sassyfras at 9:20 PM on March 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Two of my best friends are mothers--have been since I met them. And they've never shunned me or made me feel like my childless status was a problem (in fact, they were happy to have an occasional babysitter, and I was glad to help!). A baby will not change your best friend into a jerk. Promise.

However, I do wonder if maybe it's possible you've started to change your mind. Hear me out! I think it's really easy--and important, even, what with the pressures on women to reproduce in our society--to convince yourself that you need to have a hard-line attitude towards reproduction. Lord knows I did for years (though I'm in my mid twenties now, younger than you--but still, all that interacting with the women in the previous paragraph was done at a time when I genuinely thought I'd never want biological children). But recently, I had my own doubts for the first time. And at first, it was terrifying. I felt like a hypocrite and a liar and, maybe, a sell-out to my feminist ideals. And then I told myself to slow down--that whether or not she reproduces is a highly personalized choice each woman makes, and that part of making that choice is also having the ability to change one's mind. And that's okay too. So I let myself consider it, for the first time in years, without judging myself too harshly for whatever my feelings or instincts were. And I realized I don't feel so negatively about the prospect anymore. I don't know what I'll do ultimately--though I do know that whatever choices I'll make will be fine--but giving myself permission to change my attitudes if I wanted felt incredibly liberating.

I'm shocked by how jealous I am that she has this option.

What I'm saying is that you might have this option, too. I'd just sit on my feelings about this for a few days, and do my best not to feel guilty or judge myself for what those feelings are. You have many options in life, and even if you don't go the baby route, I think it's important to not feel obligated to close doors on yourself.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:25 PM on March 16, 2010 [8 favorites]

Hah! Ten years down the track your child-hooked friends will be envying your free and easy lifestyle and think themselves lucky to have such a friend who can bring them news and even tid-bits from the child-free wonderland.

If they shun you, that is their problem. Your choices are extremely valid. If for no other reason than you have made them.

I have a bunch of friends with kids, and a bunch without. Frequently the latter (but not in hearing range of the former, don't want to make them jealous) clap our hands in joy about being child-free. We still feel like kids ourselves and it's great!

I mean I like children. But I couldn't eat a whole one.
posted by doost at 9:26 PM on March 16, 2010 [21 favorites]

Direct your energies elsewhere. For some childlessness is a choice. For others it's a fact of life.

If it's not a choice now then embrace it like a choice. It doesn't mean actively shunning friends with kids, but just as they will tend to gravitate more to people in common with them, so will you naturally. It's not a comment on you or them as a person. It's just one of those things, like becoming more involved with people who live near you and less involved with old friends on the other side of the country.

If you see childlessness as more free time, more disposable income and less responsibilities it will help you focus on what you've gained, not what you've lost.

[I'm not doing down anyone who has kids, BTW. I'm merely saying that if childnessless is the lot you end up with, then make the best of it]

However, from what you write it seems like you're actually questioning your choice. If that because you're going to end up in a minority - an entirely understandable emotion - then it's fixable by mixing more with others who don't have kids.

But if it's something deeper then you are entitled to change your mind, and lots of people do. Your SO needs to know pretty sharpish what you're thinking though. Close married friends of mine vowed they wanted to be childless and changed their minds at 34. 34 is lateish to be starting a family but certainly not uncommon. In IVF terms, being a healthy 34 year old is considered to be quite an attractive starting point compared to the many women who are undergoing procedures in their late 30s and early 40s.

And if anyone is tactless enough to convey to you that they think childlessness is some character flaw then that's fixable. You can explain your views or choose to spend more time with people who aren't going to judge you.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:27 PM on March 16, 2010 [6 favorites]

If someone thinks "you're immature and half-formed" for not having kids, you're better off finding new friends. Living in a big city helps!
posted by aquafortis at 9:30 PM on March 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

Join your local No Kidding chapter.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:30 PM on March 16, 2010

All I've seen so far is people paying lip service to those who are childless-by-choice whilst projecting the belief that you're immature and half-formed if you have chosen not to have kids.

I have seen this. I'm a parent and I think it's really weird. Frankly, I think most of it is just pathetic posturing. If you enter an honest conversation with a parent, most will tell you how frightening, stressful and crazy the whole experience is. Look behind the curtain.
posted by milarepa at 9:33 PM on March 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

I am your age, no kids, not planning on any. One of my best friends (friends since 8th grade!) has 3 boys, all under 8 years old. She says she lives vicariously through me. I travel (scuba trip yearly to the Caribbean!), I eat at really nice restaurants, do basically what I want. When she calls and asks what I am doing, I like to tell her that I'm taking a nap (yes, I take 30 minute power naps). She hasn't had a nap or a restful night since she was pregnant with the first one. She loves her kids, but says that if she didn't work full-time she would go insane. I can tell when she is at home because there is incessant yelling in the background. Etc, etc, etc.

This basically applies to my other friends with kids, too. None of them make me feel inferior or left out. I enjoy buying annoying or otherwise destructive toys for the kiddos. I also love that I can spend time with them, and then leave them with Mommy. I have several childless-by-choice friends. Like others have said, we love the freedom.

And I know that, if for some strange reason I changed my mind, I can adopt a kid who needs a home. Don't see that happening right now, but I think it's a bad idea to say 'never'.

If your friends shun you for your choice, you might want to find different friends.
posted by bolognius maximus at 9:38 PM on March 16, 2010 [6 favorites]

I'm in the SF Bay Area, and I'd say among those I know, it's pretty much half and half. Just a "you're not alone" data point. And I know this isn't the most practical suggestion, but if you are in fact alone, perhaps you should eventually move somewhere where you won't be.
posted by salvia at 9:43 PM on March 16, 2010

Right up front: I am NOT child-free, I wanted my kids (that I now am shepherding as teens) so bad I could taste it, and then well into my thirties, but:
I have a few life-long buddies who are my age (near 50) and child-less. None are sorry or sorrowing about it (as I think I might have been in the same circumstances). Most felt as you do/have done, with no wishes for kids and (maybe) a bit of a twinge when the times were passing for the choice to be final. I have been a little surprised that these friends seem to have so few regrets, but I think that is all about ME, not them. Plus: everything that is an advantage to a kid-less life (at this point) has accumulated into choices and freedoms I haven't had and likely won't because of the costliness of reproduction. The body, the money, the time, the worry, the everything!
So, looking at some of my friends (who did not desert me during those old days of diapers and still have not now), I would say that you should trust your instincts. A person that WANTS a child will sometimes be appalled at the overall cost to themselves in every way. To be free of all that makes you the perfect aunt!!
And don't desert your friends!!
Best of luck (and tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day in the US, so I mean it even more)!
posted by bebrave! at 9:45 PM on March 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Speaking as a guy who has no interest in ever having kids.... could it be you're feeling left out because you're not surrounded by enough people like you?
posted by 2oh1 at 9:47 PM on March 16, 2010 [5 favorites]

Most of life I've leaned towards not having kids, this was fine and unperturbing until recently when I attended a party at which most of the women present were expectant or trying, or already a mother. . .

I'm 34, female, and I don't expect to have children. How do I cope with being in the minority?

Which minority? The minority of persons who expect that they won't have children or the minority of people who don't have children ever."

You've confused the two minorities. Right now you only belong to one of those two minorities. No matter which way you've leaned, things change. So meditate on the question of whether you want children or not.

And if the answer is yes, find a way to have children.

Oh and about those negative feelings regarding friends having what you might want, remember you are a human being and the secret to life is learning how to experience those bad feelings everyone has without venting them onto others. You're doing just fine, no better than the rest of us confused humans. No need to cut anyone off.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:58 PM on March 16, 2010

I'm 42 and happily childfree. I have many friends who have kids, but my closest friends are from the singles and the other childfree folks in my circle.

It's normal to experience some sense of jealousy or loss in being childfree. You are closing down certain options that people/society expect you to take. But having children forecloses on other options, even if they are less expected and supported by society, so people don't think about what they're losing when they have kids. Choosing not to have kids is like realizing you won't be a lawyer or a ballerina or an astronaut, and experiencing some regrets and wishes for moral support doesn't mean you really want to have kids.

(And if you are rethinking it, which some people do, that's OK too. It's your life. Make yourself and your SO happy.)
posted by immlass at 10:01 PM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll be blunt here: fuck society and everyone else's expectations of you.

This is your choice, and your choice alone - if you don't want kids, then you don't want kids. Your true friends won't ever make you feel bad about your choices, and if you have any so-called "friends" that try to leave you out or subtly put you down because you're childfree, then you should reconsider your relationship with them. True friends wouldn't even think of pulling any of that nonsense.

You know what a lot of people with kids are terrified to admit? That given the choice for a life re-do of sorts, a substantial number of them wouldn't have children again. There's a tremendous amount of societal pressure on parents to appear happy and fulfilled, when this is often the farthest thing from reality. Kids cost thousands of dollars, countless hours of sleep, and at a bare minimum 18 years of your life - in addition to restricting your freedom and crowding your schedule. From about 12 to 17 or so in the kid's life, there's a good chance you'll be avoided, if not despised, as a parent. Yeah, two-year olds look cute - when they're not shrieking like banshees and making your life a living hell.

If I sound negative about kids, it's because I believe the incessant, gung-ho parenting messages our society sends out can be harmful - parenting is not for everyone. As a childfree person you should stand up for yourself and be proud of your choice - don't let anyone push you around.

I can't imagine how rude and awful some of the questions you're getting as a 34-year old woman are - I'm a young man and people even ask me, "When are you going to have kids?"

My response of late has been, "When are you going to stop being an asshole?" Life is too short to deal with assholes, so go out, have fun, and know that there are a lot of people out there who have chosen the same way you have.
posted by Despondent_Monkey at 10:34 PM on March 16, 2010 [11 favorites]

I must agree that anyone giving you shit about your life because you don't have children should be on the "Ok, it was nice knowing you." list.

I was staunchly anti-children (until my 40s) and my spouse warmed up to the idea and we discussed it and I said "Well, I need to some time to think about it." By which I mean, well... five years. Decided for it and I love my kid, but it's A LOT of work on a 24/7 basis and I sure as hell am no inclined to encourage anyone else to do it. People that ARE inclined to encourage others to do it must have other issues besides "I enjoy parenting so much I think everyone should do it!" And anyone who DOES believe that they think everyone should do it probably also inclined toward joining other cults as well.

I gotta say, fuck 'em. Move on. Travel the world in carefree style. Be creative with your life in the ways that fulfill YOU not in the ways that other people believe your life should be fulfilled.
posted by smallerdemon at 11:00 PM on March 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Mr. F and I aren't having kids; he's fixed and I'm merely totally unwilling. (There's an element of unreservedly supporting my husband's reproductive choices, too; there is no way in hell I would ask for reversal or start making kid noises now, after he's committed to a vasectomy. That's just... morally wrong, to ask someone to undo their choice.)

I'm also 34, and there's been something like ten kids in my immediate coworker/ friend peer group in the last three years. There's been two this week so far, one more probably due before week's end, and eight more coming in the upcoming months.

Obviously, my coworkers with kids can't get away with shunning me; they bring their kids to work and I make approving noises, we socialize like anyone else would at work. Some of them assure me that they changed their minds when they had kids and that I would too, to which I just reply that medical science has ensured that I won't have to do that. (It's politer than "No, if I were suddenly to get pregnant, there'd be an abortion and a malpractice suit.")

Of our friends whom we see regularly and feel close to, one couple is very welcoming to us and always makes us feel like they want us involved with their daughter's life-- which is great, because we like kids even if we don't plan on having any. The other couple was very close to Mr. F earlier in life, and the shunning has been epic. Very publically not invited to parties specifically because we don't have kids, tons of broken social engagements, general weirdness. It is heavily vexing and wears on Mr. F terribly, as the husband in this couple was his best friend for years and it's painful to suddenly be excluded because the guy either can't, won't, or doesn't want to understand that we would gladly hang out, kids or not kids.

Some people balance their lives better than others, I guess. Other friends have reported instances of "parents who cannot hang out with childfree folks ever at all" and instances of friends who really want everyone involved with their kids, too, so it's not isolated.

And, at the same age as you, on the same page with the no kids, I can't really tell you if it gets any less painful. I think it's in the air this week, though, because I've had the same "OMG I'm NEVER going to be a REAL GROWNUP" irrational paranoia all week as the Birth Parade continues over here.

MeMail me if you want to make shared faces and annoyed/ upset noises. I am right where you're sitting.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:10 PM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh my, I can totally understand where you are coming from. I've never wanted kids from the time I can remember. (Even as a kidlet, I vastly preferred dinosaurs to dolls.) Now that I'm "over 40", I don't get the everlasting "Why don't you want kids?" "You'll change your mind someday," or (so help me God) "You're smart and pretty, you need to contribute to the gene pool."

Not everyone wants kids, not everyone can or should have them. Once you have them, you HAVE them, you can't stuff them back into your womb or separate the sperm from the egg. (Sure, you can give them up for adoption, but how often do middle-class, college-educated, married people do that? The stigma would be just unbelievable.) And you don't stop being a parent once they grow up, either. Ann Landers, I believe, once asked parents if they had a do-over, would they still have kids? She got a lot of noes. A LOT. Granted, the unhappy parents were more likely to write her and vent, I'm sure, but there you are. "You'll change your mind once you hold that baby in your arms" doesn't hold for a lot of people. Suffice it to say, it didn't for my mom. I'll leave it at that.

What has helped for me in the real world: One, I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where there are a lot of childfree people and, while there is pressure, the pressure is not nearly as hard as it might be in more traditional areas.

Two, I have the support of my dearest girlfriends, who are as childfree as I, and so I have a support system and the company of like-minded people. I strongly, STRONGLY suggest that you seek out the company of other childfrees. Oh, the joy of knowing that your "soul sisters" will understand just where you are coming from and won't try to shove the joy of reproduction down your throat. (Also, and I know I'm in the minority in this, my parents are GLAD to not have grandchildren. Mom doesn't like children, period. I won't get into that.)

Three, be sure you have hobbies, interests, and a full life. That way you won't want to have a kid just to have "something to do" or a purpose or whatever.

Four, women are guiltmeisters. "Phhbbtt" to that! Don't be afraid to be a little bit selfish. Develop a thick skin. I can't recommend enough an audio CD presentation by Pema Chodron, called "Don't Bite the Hook." (Indeed, I'm a huge fan of Chodron in general.) She offers great insight into not getting sucked into others' negativity or guilt trips. Detach, detach, detach!

Can you tell this is a bee in my bonnet - just a small one? MeMail me if you want to talk further. I'm childfree, and as happy as a clam, and grateful not to be bothered with kids.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:34 PM on March 16, 2010 [5 favorites]

To begin, you have to accept that you will ALWAYS have these thoughts cross your mind. Acknowledge it and let it go when it happens. It will likely happen less and less with time. But here are my coping suggestions:

First, you can always adopt and you can always use that as an answer -- "I'll probably adopt eventually" -- whether you mean it or not. That can help deflect.

Second, you can and will find yourself able to better contribute to the lives of the kids who are in your life via friends and relatives. This contribution is invaluable and something you probably wouldn't do as much if you had kids of your own.

Third, your friends with kids WILL envy you whether they say it or not. It won't be all the time, but they will have moments where your life seems much more attractive to theirs -- probably just as often as you might have thoughts of "what if I had kids right now..."

Fourth, feel free to post pictures of your travels, experiences, and other things you do to your Facebook page just as often as your friends post pictures of their kids. This will remind you that you are doing things with your life and remind your friends of what they're missing. :)

Lastly, think of all the money you're saving.
posted by thorny at 11:36 PM on March 16, 2010

Rosie M. Banks: "You're smart and pretty, you need to contribute to the gene pool."

[Derail] Awesome. This reads like a gentrified version of the "how do you like your eggs" chat up line. I'm amazed that anyone would ever say this except when blind drunk and propping up a hotel bar 250 miles from home.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:42 PM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Third, your friends with kids WILL envy you whether they say it or not. It won't be all the time, but they will have moments where your life seems much more attractive to theirs -- probably just as often as you might have thoughts of "what if I had kids right now..."

Oh yes, this, so true. By having kids, my wife and I have some amazing experiences, but there are other amazing experiences that simply aren't on the table for us. I know lots of fantastic, together people who are childless and happy that way.

Mind you, if you're childless and not happy that way, that's something to soul-search about -- but if this is what you prefer, then there's nothing that needs to be done other than enjoy your life.
posted by davejay at 12:18 AM on March 17, 2010

I got a vasectomy at age 32, after having spent 20 years noticing the world getting crowded at a ridiculously accelerating rate; I didn't rule out raising kids, but I wanted to make damn sure I didn't make any people. And for about a year either side of that decision, I found myself occasionally totally overwhelmed with grief - it seemed to me totally unfair that I had chanced to be born right when the human algal bloom had reached about 50% pond coverage, and I had quite a few episodes of weeping in rage and despair.

The simple fact is that, like any other animal, we are hard-wired to want to reproduce. Unlike any other animal, we have the ability to make a reasoned decision about whether or not to do something about that.

If you've come to a reasoned position in support of non-reproduction, and you've shaped your life on that basis and are convinced that reproducing would bend that shape in unacceptable directions: that's a perfectly reasonable position, and anybody who tries to argue with it using any method but respectful reasoning should be politely ignored. And that goes for your own biological clock, too. If you're committed to non-reproduction, you will probably need to plan to work around some fairly heavy-duty emotional manipulation from your own hormones as well as your instinctive reactions to the choices of your friends.

As it happens, ms. flabdablet and I have ended up fostering. It seems to me that making a stable, safe and happy space for an existing kid in need of same is actually a more positive thing to do than setting oneself up to do the same for hypothetical future offspring. If you ever find yourself with a spare 20 years that you haven't worked out how to fill, and you feel like jumping head-first into parenthood but are still opposed to reproducing and/or have aged a little too much to make that a safe choice: go hook up with your local foster care agency and see who needs you. No matter where you live, there will be more kids near you in need of a stable home than carers willing to give them one.

But whatever you do, don't let other people guilt you into making a life choice that you know isn't right for you. You are the only person who is actually entitled to dictate how you should live. Nobody else has that right.
posted by flabdablet at 12:38 AM on March 17, 2010 [9 favorites]

I have one child and I'm pregnant with what I hope will be my second. (Bad track record with miscarriage.) Having children is like any other massive, noteworthy pursuit, like climbing a mountain or becoming a concert pianist or opening a restaurant. It's totally worth the effort if the outcome is something you're passionate about, and really waaaaaaaaay too much work to put into something you're not excited about. Now, nobody goes out and gets drunk and accidentally becomes a concert pianist, but I still think the metaphor is sound.

There are a lot of childless/free folks out there; current estimates are that 20% of women over 40 have no children. That's a larger minority than the African American population in the United States. And that choice is absolutely 100% completely valid, and I am thrilled beyond measure that it's starting to be generally accepted as such. So the next time someone asks "Why don't you have children?" you can tell them "Same reason I'm not an astronaut; too much work for something I'm not interested in."
posted by KathrynT at 1:19 AM on March 17, 2010 [18 favorites]

All I've seen so far is people paying lip service to those who are childless-by-choice whilst projecting the belief that you're immature and half-formed if you have chosen not to have kids.

Speaking as a parent, you're fine and I respect those who have chosen to remain childless UNLESS they want to start going on about how to raise kids.

It's your life, your choice and you're the only one that really has to be happy with it!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:15 AM on March 17, 2010

Hah! Ten years down the track your child-hooked friends will be envying your free and easy lifestyle and think themselves lucky to have such a friend who can bring them news and even tid-bits from the child-free wonderland.

This, this, a thousand times this.

I was 38 when my son was born. I can't stand the "Mommy-talk" that you're almost forced into when you're with other moms. I was at a birthday party for one of my son's friends a few weeks ago, and some of the moms started talking about how hard it must be to have a preschooler "while in your 40s" and I just wanted to punch one of them.

I depend on my friends without kids to help me remember that I'm the same interesting person I was before my son was born, and to help me -- well, frankly, to help me stay connected with the outside world.
posted by anastasiav at 5:03 AM on March 17, 2010

I'm in my mid thirties and have never wanted children (like the above poster, only instead of dinosaurs I tended to play either school or orphanage with my dolls). My husband agrees with me. We have a support network of friends who are in the same boat as we are (and love to get together often and do things like vacations together that would be completely inappropriate for someone to bring kids on), but then have a lot of friends with kids.

I like kids. But I like them more when they leave. (semi joking) We're great at being an aunt and uncle, even to those we're not biologically tied to. Not having kids means we've got disposable income with which to spoil the kids we know, and that means that they love us - we're never the bad guy who tells them to do their homework.

Recently someone I've been good friends with for years announced their pregnancy. While part of me is thrilled for them and how their life is going to change, part of me struggled for awhile with the thought that they had changed their mind (they had long discussed not having kids). But I realized I was being selfish - my concerns were about how their choice would impact me, not really thinking that it's obviously going to impact them a hell of a lot more. Yes, I've gone through a brief grief process about losing a childfree friend, but now I'm totally on board that soon there's going to be another little girl in the world for me to be an awesome "auntie" to.

I go out on a monthly basis with some girl friends from college. All but 2 of us have kids, and recently one of the parents told me "I can't even comprehend your life." We have a lot of luxury that parents don't have - their monthly "girls night out" is really just another Friday night for me, dinner and a movie isn't a big deal for me when I can pretty much do that at the drop of a hat. It doesn't mean that we're not still great friends, and I'm genuinely interested in how their kids are doing, offer to babysit, go to birthday parties, all of it. But at the end of the night, it's the choice I've made and I'm solid in that decision. I don't think it would be good for me to bring a child into the world that I don't really want, just to conform to some society ideals, when I can go another route and be a healthy supportive nurturing presence in the lives of a boodle of other kids in the world.
posted by librarianamy at 5:12 AM on March 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

Hah! Ten years down the track your child-hooked friends will be envying your free and easy lifestyle

Ten? How about 2?
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:15 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Two of my closest friends don't have kids, whereas I surprised myself by having three and getting all wrapped up in raising them. One of them is 100% clear that he is happy in the role of "beloved uncle" and doesn't at all remotely want to raise kids; the other one has pangs from time to time, although she has a career she loves and many friends and interests and all that.

There's no shunning, but if your friends are worth being friends with it's possible to talk about these things. My one friend and I have talked a number of times about the different choices we've made, and, yes, for both of us there's a bit of, "I'm really happy in my life and with my choices, but right there in front of me is the Road Not Taken and sometimes I envy you a little." When she posts on Facebook about all the social stuff she's doing so easily--"just decided to go to a movie tonight for the heck of it"--I sigh.

We also actively work to balance time with and without kids. My friend has a beautiful house but is very welcoming of kids, and my kids and I usually visit for an overnight every summer (she lives a few hours away). We also try to make sure we get some non-kid time for catching up.

As for anyone who isn't close to you who "projects" any attitude, when I start getting tense about nebulous people who might be thinking things about me, I try to hear Elizabeth Bennett in my head telling Lady Katherine, "I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me."
posted by not that girl at 5:34 AM on March 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Hah! Ten years down the track your child-hooked friends will be envying your free and easy lifestyle and think themselves lucky to have such a friend who can bring them news and even tid-bits from the child-free wonderland.

There are pluses and minuses to having children as well as not having them. An individual should do whatever makes them happy, but having to justify your choice by thinking others will be jealous of you is fairly lame and not true happiness, IMO.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:39 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm 36, female, and have never wanted kids. I never babysat, I never got excited when someone I knew had a baby--I just was never into it.

It shocked me recently when I got jealous after a bunch of co-workers had babies in a very short time frame. I've thought a lot about why that might be, especially about whether it means deep down I really do want kids. Did my biological clock suddenly kick in? I've decided that I was jealous of the excitement, but not the actual children. It's funny that KathrynT compares it to mountain climbing because I thought the same thing. If someone I know climbed Mt. Everest, I'd probably be insanely jealous because it seems so exciting, but when I really think about whether I would want to climb Mt. Everest? Oh, hell no, I've read Into Thin Air--sounds miserable. Same thing with kids for me. Babies are cute and their parents seem super excited about them, but it's not like you get to hand them back when they stop being cute. You're stuck with them. For 18 years.

If your social circle is 100% babies, then you need to try to expand your circle. There are other childless people out there, and you should be able to find some near you. It does suck sometimes being in this particular minority, because having children is something that so many people just unthinkingly do and expect others to do--it's the norm. But, if you don't want kids, it's better to be in this minority than to have kids.

And, if you've changed your mind, that's allowed.
posted by Mavri at 6:07 AM on March 17, 2010 [9 favorites]

Bravo Despondent Monkey!
posted by the foreground at 7:07 AM on March 17, 2010

A bit of a different perspective:

My mom has an awesome group of girlfriends - they all went to high school together (some met in elementary school), they meet up for everyone's birthdays and more often if they can manage it, I know all their kids, our families have been on holidays together and so on so forth. They're like family; I call them all aunts.

There are about, what, half a dozen or so of them and all are married with children - save one. That one has a vivacious personality, a wicked fascinating career that gets her posted all around the globe (and fascinating stories from each place), a series of long-term boyfriends who she always seems to have eating out of her hand, had a funkycool dress style ... I always thought she was the most interesting of the lot, even if she did seem a little scary when I was younger because she was always so gung-ho about everything.

Anyway, not having kids didn't stop her from spending time with her child-rearing friends or joining in kids' birthday parties and whatnot. I think she might even have invited herself along a couple of times - insisted on joining in - when the group thought she might not want to go to the nth two-year-old birthday bash out of boredom. She was always there; I don't think I even figured out she didn't have kids until I was about eight.

What I'm trying to say, in a sort of meandering way, is: you cope by being the awesome cool pseudo aunt to your friends' kids, and don't let your friends tell you no. The kids'll appreciate it. :)
posted by Xany at 7:28 AM on March 17, 2010

My wife and I don't have kids and aren't going to. A lot of our friends have been having kids (including some who we thought never would), so we've been going through something similar to what the OP is.

We don't envy them the childrearing, but we do mourn the loss of time together with our friends. That's the thing about being a parent: your life becomes so oriented around your kids (rightly so) that you just don't have as much time for your old friends. As your kids mature and start having playmates and schoolmates, you necessarily wind up socializing more with other parents. There's just less time left over to hang out with your single friends (or for that matter, parents with kids in a different cohort). In that sense, those of us without kids are "left out." And every time another friend announces that they're expecting, we congratulate them, but on the inside we can't help but think "dammit, that's another friend we won't get to hang out with for 18 years."

None of our parenting friends have made us feel the least bit bad about not joining them on the baby train (that kind of reaction, when it came at all, came from people we don't know as well). To their considerable credit, some of those friends have stayed really engaged with their old circle of friends, and there are enough parties in our circles of friends that we get to see friends with and without kids pretty regularly—although more and more of those parties are earlier in the day.
posted by adamrice at 7:36 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I went through that. I'm in my mid forties now, comfortably at that age where I don't have to deal with that most important issue.
I had never ever wanted to have kids, but in my mid/late thirties, I questioned it. Everyone around me was having kids, and I was at the it's now or never point. I think it's a very natural thing to stress about, and I don't think questioning yourself is unhealthy. I think it's better to have some strong introspection now so that in the future you will be able to look back knowing that whatever you decide to do it was well considered.

I ultimately decided against it, partially because my partner at the time didn't want any more (he had one from a previous marriage). For me, it could have possibly gone the other way if his input was for kids instead of not.

Long story short, I'm very glad that I stuck with what I had been feeling my entire life. It is a very tough decision to make when it seems like absolutely everything around you is kid-centric, and it still does get annoying sometimes dealing with the questions and attitudes, but luckily, I don't encounter them nearly so often these days.

The other thing is, I don't think the self questioning ever goes away 100%. On rare occasions I still ask myself if I made the right choice by not having a kid. These thoughts are rare and fleeting, and I think completely normal. I always come to the same conclusion when I think about it for even a second. I haven't yet felt bad about my decision, and I know I did what was right for me.
posted by newpotato at 7:43 AM on March 17, 2010

Also realize that you're getting the filtered view from your friends with kids - you know your own inner thoughts, but you only hear their public statements. Which are, of course, vetted for public consumption. There's tremendous societal pressure to be (or at least seem) rapturously happy with parenthood, and any admission to the contrary can result in some powerful guilting. Even being the butt of schadenfreud hurts, so nobody likes to admit that their kids aren't perfect little bundles of joy, especially to friends who don't have kids themselves.

I think there's also a psychological factor at work here (can't think of its name): people want to convince themselves that any decision which required sacrifice was the right decision. Otherwise, how foolish/gullible/shambolic they must be! So they trot out the conventional "my kids are my greatest joy" lines partly to convince themselves. Of course there are times when it's perfectly true, but in reality the kids are also their greatest source of stress, and they need to hear themselves talk about the good times just to reinforce the rightness of their choice.

FWIW, I'm 49, married for 17 years, no kids, and no regrets on that score. Your biological clock is pretty much the same hormone dump that made you crazy as a teenager, but now you're old and wise enough to choose not to listen. You can think with your head instead of your gonads, and if the head says "no babies", listen to it. Equally, if the head says "babies", that's valid too (gotta put in a vote for adopting or fostering, but it's your choice all the way around). Good luck!
posted by Quietgal at 7:52 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

"All I've seen so far is people paying lip service to those who are childless-by-choice whilst projecting the belief that you're immature and half-formed if you have chosen not to have kids."

The only time I've heard that said is when the person in question ACTUALLY IS IMMATURE. I have two childless-by-choice uncles, one of whom was a frat-boy man-child until he was in his 50s. (He was super-fun, but being around a full-grown man-child IS a little wearing ... even when I was 14.) Yes, having kids probably would have turned him into a grown up earlier than 50. Kids frequently do that. But it's not like his man-child-ness was HURTING anyone -- he chose a life where the impact of his choices on others' lives was minimal, and he had fun. Had he had kids and kept being a man-child? That would have been a catastrophe. Anyway, that's a little beside the point -- my other uncle, who behaved like a grown-up (a fun grown-up, but a grown-up), nobody every suggested he was immature for not having kids. Because he wasn't immature!

Making any life choice cuts off other life choices -- going to college vs. traveling the world with the circus, getting married vs. staying single, moving across the country vs. staying near family, having kids vs. remaining childless. Some of those choices are reversible, some aren't, but it is PERFECTLY NORMAL to question your choice and feel some angst about it.

I cherish my childless friends, because they're my FRIENDS, and I support their choices. I occasionally think, "Craaaaap, I'm talking about my kid too much, aren't I?" and suspect I have become boring, but then I remember they put up with me talking about my shoes and my wedding and my hatred of law school, so probably they'll forgive me my excess enthusiasm for the topic. (Side note: A friend of mine told me in her native Dutch there's a saying, "What fills the heart spills out the mouth," and I thought this was one of the NICEST little sayings I'd ever heard and it's made me much more tolerant of others' oversharing their enthusiasms because it's so much easier for me to remember now that talking too much about something is an expression of joy.)

The ONLY situation I've run into is that it's a little awkward to be around people (acquaintances, mostly) who don't like children or are terminally uncomfortable around them. (Not, like, "Wow, I do not know how to react to a 2-year-old having a tantrum," but like, "Hello, little girl, how is your mommy?" to a 14-year-old because they view children as completely alien.) If kids make them that uncomfortable, it cuts down on our ability to socialize (I'd say I probably have my kid with me around 1/3 to 1/2 of my social time) and it's a little strange to have someone like you but dislike your kid ... in the same way it's strange to have someone like you but dislike your spouse or whatever. Those relationships don't tend to last for me since Mr. McGee and I are a package deal ... and now I guess Mini McGee and I are too. (Not that all our friends have to be "couple friends" or "family friends" but that if someone DISLIKES my family, that's not a relationship I'm interested in continuing.)

I would say if at any point it becomes an issue, you should let your child-having friends know you're happy to be included in birthday parties and whatnot ... they may not invite you because they're hesitant to trespass on your good nature or make you feel obligated to go to "kiddie" events that you may find dull, but I absolutely promise you they'll be grateful for an extra pair of hands and eyes. (And I found, before I had kids, since I didn't do kiddie things very often, I actually enjoyed going to my friends' kids' parties and outings, since it wasn't like I personally went to the playground very often!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:07 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Perhaps you just need to feel more engaged and challenged and excited by something in your life. If this is the case, get busy with something new. Plan a trip, begin a Master's program, start a new business venture, learn to do something you've always wanted to.
posted by orange swan at 8:21 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I made the decision at 21 to not have kids. I had my tubes tied and I've never regretted it. That said, I do sometimes feel that by not having kids some people judge me as an incomplete woman and that they feel I'm broken in some way.

It used to get to me, but now, at 35 it doesn't bother me so much. I have some close friends with babies and I'm a godmother to two of them. I get my kid time in and I go home to my quiet house and my peaceful life. And every single one of my friends that has kids agrees that I have no business being a mom. It's not that I'm cruel or unfeeling, I just don't have the patience and the willingness to give up all that I am to be a parent.

To the insensitive assholes that continue to tell me I'll change my mind or ask when I'm gonna settle down and have babies, I respond with my tried and true answer. "Well, I thought about it, but the doctor says I'd have to lay off the smack to have babies..."

You have a world of possibility in front of you and having children is not the only thing you can do with your life, there's no reason whatsoever to regret it. Enjoy yourself and don't sweat being "left out".
posted by teleri025 at 8:28 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Quietgal said almost exactly what I was going to say, and I have three kids. I think the concept she’s trying to recall may be cognitive dissonance. Because of that, I can’t ever be sure how much of my joy from parenthood results from genuine happiness from actual experiences, mere human instinct, or cognitive dissonance meant to convince myself that raising my kids is worth putting off my dream vacation to Rome and Venice with my wife until after I retire.

But there’s more -- the very ideal of parenthood means you cannot express regret at being a parent. At least not to your kids, who define you as a parent. “I wish you were never born,” is probably one of the most monstrous things a parent can say to his child. So I don’t allow myself to consciously regret becoming a parent, even when parenthood has me most stressed out, because I don’t want to start down the road to becoming a monster.

But other than cognitive dissonance, there’s nothing stopping you from second-guessing your choice to be childless. My childless friend’s $60,000 BMW, purchased with the disposable income I lack, will not weep if he says to it, “I wish you were never purchased.”

Also, I know I can never rid myself of my children, so I stop wondering whether I ought to. The fact that childlessness can be ended by becoming a mother (with a partner, as a single parent, or as an adoptive parent) means the choice of becoming a parent may be present in your life for a long time. That may be another source of your anxiety. Unless you come to the unequivocal decision never to become a parent and convince yourself that all lures to parenthood will be futile (which several earlier posters have done), your anxiety about childlessness may continue in a way that my anxiety about parenthood ceased the moment I first held my son.

None of this is to say that becoming a parent is more or less fulfilling than being childless (though I have my opinion about that). Happiness can be found with or without children, and misery can make its way into a home of any size -- parents all too often do say to their kids, "I wish you were never born." Others have offered suggestions on how to find joy and fulfillment in life without children, and I respect the choices of the posters who have unequivocally decided to remain childless. I just wanted to expand on Quietgal’s point and point out that childlessness, unlike parenthood, allows you both to second-guess your state, even if you never do.
posted by hhc5 at 8:47 AM on March 17, 2010 [11 favorites]

My childless friend’s $60,000 BMW, purchased with the disposable income I lack, will not weep if he says to it, “I wish you were never purchased.”

Exactly what hhc5 said. You can gamble with living situations (if you hate living in Omaha or Edinburgh or wherever, you can always move away) or inanimate objects (sell your car if you hate it!) or even relationships (because an adult, though he/she might be hurt and angry, at least has the cognitive ability to process rejection) but YOU CAN'T GAMBLE WITH A KID. If you have kids and it turns out you hate, hate, hate being a parent, it's really going to hurt the kids. And you will feel guilty as hell.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:21 AM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Don't worry - once you hit 40 no one will ask you that question any more!!

(They might still look at you with great pity in their eyes, at least until you stab them the eye socket with your middle finger.)

You can't win so don't try. Changing the subject works great. If you say things like "I don't have enough money" you'll be told that there's never enough money. If you say "I'm selfish" you will get a tract about how selfish that person was until the birth of the child turned them into Mother Theresa. If you say you travel or you're on a career path ... etc.

I wholeheartedly do not want children and on the other side of my 40's I'm obviously not going to have them. That doesn't mean that every once in a while I don't wonder how the daughter or son I never had would have turned out. You wouldn't be human if you didn't wonder. But don't confuse wondering and thinking for needing to have the child.
posted by micawber at 9:35 AM on March 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Thanks for asking such an interesting question, I am really enjoying this thread. I am still in my late-twenties, so I make no bones about the fact that I may change my mind entirely about the kids thing in the next ten years. Everything I have to say is shades of what's already been said, on preview. Still! Here's what I think:

- Deal with the jealousy element. Is it because you're losing a friend to a baby, or because your friend has a supportive family unit that you lack? If that's where the feeling is coming from, then work on your interpersonal relationships, especially in supporting your friend through the often difficult transition into motherhood.

- Deal with the loneliness element. Do you want a little snuggle with a baby? It's extra easy to do that if your friends have kids, so total bonus there! Otherwise try getting a pet, volunteering to work with kids or being a mentor. Heck, get a houseplant. Just because we don't procreate doesn't mean you don't have a drive to nurture. Engage that nurturing side of yourself and see where it takes you. Become a part of a community or group and make sure you aren't spending too much time alone.

- Find/reinvigorate your passion. Are you career focused to the point you're letting the other parts of your life slip? Do you have any hobbies you've dropped or would like to take up? Take a piano lesson, a session with a vocal coach, a knitting or sewing class, an improv class, a clown workshop, a glassblowing glass, a dance class, a cooking class. Travel. Learn a language and get out there with a social group where you can practice it in conversation. If you find something that makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning then you won't be thinking about babies you don't have.
posted by SassHat at 10:54 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm 38 and never wanted kids. All my life people told me "That will change when you get older!" Well it never changed, and I guess eventually I got older because they've stopped saying it!

It's like motorcycles. I myself have never wanted a motorcycle. But I can see why other people might. I don't think it's WRONG to want to ride a motorcycle. In the case of children, obviously someone should be having them, or humanity would grind to a halt.

I'm concerned (on your behalf) about your tears. Was it just an overwhelming emotional moment? Are you having second thoughts or regrets? I think that's what you want to explore. Any time we have a physical reaction, that indicates something deep going on there.

But rest assured, there are plenty of people, both here and in Real Life, who are with you regardless of what you choose! Shmoopy.
posted by ErikaB at 11:00 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

You may find the 2006 Census Data interesting. You are not even close to the Last Woman Standing. In your current age range 25% of women have never had a child. By age 44 that drops to 20%.

That's a pretty big minority.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:03 AM on March 17, 2010

Oh, I meant to give my old response to people who thought I was waiting too long to have children (my husband and I waited quite a while). When someone asked if I was ever going to have kids, I'd say, "Oh, I prefer library children."

"Library children?"

"The ones I borrow, enjoy, and then return to their parents when I'm done!"

This usually made people laugh and diverted the topic to something else, and sent the signal that I wasn't anti-kid, I just wasn't in the mood for having one. I kind-of prefer not to have a Big Confrontation over something that's often pretty innocuous (curiosity, inappropriate or otherwise) when I can just deflect it and move on. Plus every parent in America has once or twice (or 10,000 times) wished for a little time off parenting and so parents always understand the draw of a library child you borrow from someone else but get to give back when the diaper needs changing or the teenagers needs de-sullen-ifying.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:51 AM on March 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm getting two different things from this question... you're framing it as "how will I deal with other people judging me for not having kids," but what it sounds like is, "I'm jealous because I actually want kids, what do I do?"

I'm saying this as someone who has never wanted kids: if you want kids, have them. If you don't, don't. But don't pick one or the other based on what you think other people want your life to be like. Yes, people will judge you if you don't have kids, but some will judge you if you do, too; in your own post you're feeling uncharitable to your friend. You recognize that feeling is unfair, so maybe that will help you realize that any judgments others foist upon you are unfair as well. People will judge you for any action you take in life, so you may as well take the actions that make you happiest.
posted by Nattie at 12:41 PM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

All I've seen so far is people paying lip service to those who are childless-by-choice whilst projecting the belief that you're immature and half-formed if you have chosen not to have kids.

Yeah, but you have to understand that people do this precisely because they need to have their own choices reinforced. People have all kinds of beliefs about what makes an adult (marriage, home ownership, child, two dogs, whatever) and they actively need other people to keep reinforcing those beliefs largely because they aren't themselves sure about the choices they've made.

In other words, never underestimate the herd mentality.

I don't want kids. I don't want to be in a relationship. I don't want to own a home. Yet, I run my own business. I'm (almost 38) and I pity the person who would dare try and suggest that I'm anything resembling a half-formed adult.

Follow your bliss. It's not always easy but you know what you want. Don't let anyone try to shame, cajole, or humiliate you out of that.
posted by gsh at 12:41 PM on March 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

oh god do NOT get me started on "I have a mortgage! That means I'm an adult!" along with the kids thing.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:24 PM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Library children?"
"The ones I borrow, enjoy, and then return to their parents when I'm done!"

That's great, I'll have to remember it. My personal quip in this sort of situation is "I love being an uncle. I also love working part-time."

Kids are awesome, but they're not for everyone. I would never even dream of casting doubt upon someone's decision to have children, and it annoys me to no end when I hear of people doing the same to those who have chosen not to. My wife tells me that she has met a number of women over the years who self-identify as "pro-choice" but look down on women who make the choice to not have children, which...hoo boy. *shakes head*
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:43 PM on March 17, 2010

You might find this article from CNN interesting: Aunt misbehavin' is part of the job.

From it: As a maiden aunt to eight nieces and seven nephews, ranging in age from 2 to 22, I am not to be pitied. I am to be worshiped.
posted by librarianamy at 2:17 PM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Are you in the UK? Because I've noticed that that people here tend to do things, including moving through life stages, in groups, and are less accustomed to accommodating unconventional life choices than some other places I've lived. (Even being a Ms. singles me out for a fair amount of comment here... when people aren't autocorrecting me to Mrs. or Miss.)

It can be pretty unnerving, if you're not in step with your demographic, to watch what feels like everyone you know buy houses/get married/have babies while you're doing something different. Like you're being left out! and left behind! I'm not even from here and the pressure gets to me sometimes.

But you have every right to stand back and ask what you really want out of life, and to pursue it with dignity and pride.
posted by stuck on an island at 3:02 PM on March 17, 2010

Well, of course you feel left out when your coworkers, who you are surrounded by 40 hours per week, are all breeding. (Ditto family holidays.) That's just kind of inevitable, unfortunately. And then when your friends do it? SHIT.

(Yeah, there all the time, man.)

Really, the best you can do is to find non-childed people to hang out with when you are feeling all alone. As for the shunning, that depends on how well your friends care to make an effort to be friends with someone that they can't talk about mommy stuff with. Some people won't try, some will, either way you will probably have to lessen your friendship expectations for awhile. And some people will disappear until their child goes into kindergarten and then return.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:59 PM on March 17, 2010

All I've seen so far is people paying lip service to those who are childless-by-choice whilst projecting the belief that you're immature and half-formed if you have chosen not to have kids. I'm worried that my friends who are becoming parents will soon start to feel this way about me, and that scares me.

If your friends with kids do become that way, then you need to find new friends. I'm a father of three with many childless friends. Choosing to have kids or to not have kids are equally valid choices.

Having kids doesn't make me more responsible or mature or anything else. It just makes me a dad. There are plenty of irresponsible and immature dads.

If you don't want kids, the best thing you can do for yourself, your SO and the unborn kids you aren't having is not to have them. Put yourself in the kid's position. Would you want to be born to parents who don't want you? Or even to parents who aren't sure if they want you? Many kids are. These are the kids that are beaten, abandoned, abused, etc.

So I would suggest that the selfless act in your shoes is to not have kids. OTOH, it would be extremely selfish to have the kids if you are just doing it to fit in.
posted by cjets at 5:06 PM on March 17, 2010

I am 31 and from a culture where it is not generally acceptable for a woman to state that she does not want to have kids. I was pretty sure at 18 that I did not want kids but never expressed this openly to my friend circle. As of today, my best friend will give birth any day. When she told me she was pregnant I had similar feelings. Also, I have been shunned in the past by people who are now in my list of "It was nice knowing you". I personally don't take offense at what people say to me because I feel that such people lack manners and respect for opinions differing from their own.

I believe you have the right to your own choices and to fill your life with various other activities and people that has nothing to do with kids. It is also possible to be part of a group that welcomes you with open arms to play the role of the aunt in their child's life.

And like few other posters I recommend spending time and expanding your friend circle to include more people who are also child-free by choice.

On the other hand, you also have option of changing your mind, which you also have the right to do, just keep in mind being a parent is a full time job for at the minimum of 18 years. Also there is no return policy on kids.

Thank you! not that girl for this lovely line.
Elizabeth Bennett in my head telling Lady Katherine, "I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me."
posted by VickyR at 5:25 PM on March 17, 2010

I'm 34 too and recently had a good boohoo about my choice not to have children. I did a lot of soul searching and nine months later I'm still not up the duff. Not to get too self indulgent but I was grieving a little for the children I won't have, even if by choice. Didn't make me change my mind. It's totally normal don't worry about it.

If it's any consolation the first of your friends to have kids may feel lonely because you're not doing the same thing. A new mother friend likened it to being in a class at school that you're finding really hard and none of your friends are in it. Whichever side of the fence you're on you still have the capacity to be a little shallow and it's alright.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 2:23 AM on March 18, 2010

From the original poster:
Hi all. I'm overwhelmed by the responses, it was good to hear so many positive comments. Thank you so much for sharing.

Rosie M Banks and fairytale of los angeles (and all the others who expressed similar feelings): I really needed to hear that. I'm in a bit of a baby ghetto at the moment and am struggling to hold on to my sense of identity. I think the shock comes from mourning the loss of shared experience, of being unable to embrace something so universal, but it does me good to hear there are more people who feel this way, we're creating a new set of experiences to share and pass on.

Flabdablet - I've been thinking about fostering for a while. I know I don't want to create a child, not in this society, at this rate of growth, but I do want to nurture. In a different age I'd have gone the whole nine yards, but given a choice that people before me fought so hard for - I'm falling heavily on the side of no. You've helped articulate a lot of my thoughts re: parenting over breeding (sorry, clumsy term but I can't think of an alternative right now) and I probably need to to assess my current relationship in light of these feelings - which is a bit scary in itself.

hhc5: genuius response, and really helpful in framing my thoughts re: decision anxiety. I think the tears come from a bit of an existentialist crisis - I am very tired and anxious about the future at the moment. I've spent the last few years coping with a series of difficult events involving very painful choices and I suppose I see some sort of joyful surrender for those choosing to spawn. I know it's a hard slog and my hat is off to all those who take that path willingly, in full knowledge (well, as full as that knowledge can be before the event) but I can't help wishing there was some recognised social value in pioneering the mapless path! Ah well, I guess all child-less/free people have to let that one go at some point. And parents can often feel hemmed by expectation so it probably balances out.

sasshat: You're right. I want to climb other mountains and make a different contribution - but I don't want to be an island. I agree that I need to find more child-free friends, and start engaging with the projects I've had on the back-burner so I'll get on that pronto.

Mostly though it's good to hear other people talking about how they deal with the ambivalence. I had a another cry, maybe relief. I feel fortified. And newly excited by the prospect of life without a script! Also, importantly, more able to support my pregnant friends. Thank you all so very much.
posted by mathowie at 1:03 PM on March 18, 2010

Having read your response, I've just gone back and re-read what hhc5 wrote, and I'd like to add a bit more on fostering in the light of that.

Fostering is real parenting. It's every bit as challenging and demanding as any other kind of parenting, and it needs to be approached with the same kind of full-hearted, open-ended commitment. The fact that you may end up parting ways with your foster children before they've reached adulthood, for any number of horribly distressing reasons, doesn't change that.

It's quite true that if a foster placement isn't working out - that is, if it isn't actually meeting the needs of the child - it is procedurally easier, and involves far less social stigma, for a foster parent to pull the plug on it than it would be for a natural parent in similar circumstances. But this fact should, in my opinion, never be factored in during the process of deciding whether or not to take on fostering. Procedurally and socially easier for the carer does not equate to emotionally easier for the child.

Fostering is real parenting, not Parenting Lite, and too many children get bounced from foster home to foster home and end up with fractured childhoods as a result of people not understanding this before they take it on.

If you're fostering and you find yourself having bad trouble with some aspect of your relationship with your child, it's really tempting to think that this must be because the child is not actually the fruit of your own loins, or was damaged goods before it turned up in your house, or that there is something else wrong with it that's nothing to do with you. That temptation must be resisted.

The simple fact is that parenting is the single most demanding task a human being can take on, and that if you find yourself sailing through it without some pretty severe difficulty for at least some of the time then you're extraordinarily, atypically lucky.

The flip side of that is that unless you're extraordinarily, atypically unlucky, the reward you get out ends up fully commensurate with the effort you put in.

There are, of course, downsides to fostering that don't apply to natural parenting. I won't dwell on those here, but I do want to point out that the converse is also true; on balance, it's a wash. I truly don't believe it's possible to make a convincing case that fostering is, all things considered, inherently or necessarily harder than natural parenting.

But it sure as hell isn't any easier either, and when you're contemplating it you need to do so with as complete an absence of romanticism as you can muster. If you do end up taking the plunge, do it with a hard head, a warm heart, and eyes wide open.
posted by flabdablet at 5:36 PM on March 18, 2010

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