Maybe a dingo can has mai babby
October 10, 2010 11:40 AM   Subscribe

I feel really guilty, because of social and family pressure, for not wanting kids. I am sure my guilt over feeling like I want kids is less painful than having a kid I don't really want. Will this feeling of "I'm not an upright citizen because I don't want babies" go away? How can I make it better? How do MeFites without kids (by choice, or not) cope with being asked about it?

This isn't about my fear of regretting not having children, it's about feeling crappy for not wanting them at all. I am going to get a tubal ligation next week. I'm in my mid 20's and my family has a horrible health history... Many young deaths and inherited disorders. I've always known I've wanted to adopt kids, if I wanted them at all. I haven't told anyone except a few close friends about the tubal because I am ashamed that I want it... Really badly. I am borderline excited about permanent birth control.

I feel most ashamed that I list medical reasons for wanting the tubal before I eek out, "I really just don't want kids." I know I don't ever have to tell people I had the procedure, much less the real reason, but I hope someday I am more comfortable with being able to say, "kids aren't in the cards."
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (51 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
"Are you planning to have kids?"
"But don't you want kids?!"
"Why don't you want kids?!"
"Not interested. So, how have you been lately?"
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 11:49 AM on October 10, 2010

I've found that the best way to deal with it is to be straightforward about your desire to not have kids.

You are a human capable of making the best choices for yourself. If you family can't or won't understand that, then they need to chill out and you need to question why you let unreasonable people influence your life and make you feel guilty about things you shouldn't.

Also, get cats and introduce them as your kids. At least that will give them something.
posted by elder18 at 11:49 AM on October 10, 2010

Why do you think you feel guilty, Anon? Do you feel that a desire for children is required to be a "good" person? Or are you afraid that OTHER people feel that way? OR, are you afraid that your choice may make it seem as though you're not cool with other peoples' choice to pop out babies?

Before you can stop feeling guilty, you need to get to the root cause. Personally? As someone with a kid? I am DELIGHTED when people are open and honest about never wanting kids. I always think, "Hey, good for them! - they know that's not the path they want to take, and they consciously take it... they're not just blindly staggering into their choices like so many others."

So congrats on the tubal, try to analyze your feelings until you are clear what is it that you're afraid of, and then confront THAT... and if it's a fear of other peoples' reactions, know that a lot of breeders wholeheartedly support your choice. :-)
posted by julthumbscrew at 11:51 AM on October 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are two different approaches to this situation. First of all, you have the right to live your life as you choose. Your life belongs to you. That is absolute.
Secondly, it is actually very responsible to choose not to have children. We live in an overpopulated world (the current global population is approaching seven billion) and so far the global population continues to increase. Every person consumes resources and adds to carbon dioxide emissions and various other forms of environmental problems. Every new baby creates new demands on overstrained resources and on an abused environment. There could not possibly be anything better for the future of our world than for large numbers of people to choose not to have children. It is an enormously virtuous choice. Be proud.
posted by grizzled at 11:53 AM on October 10, 2010 [17 favorites]

As someone who also has no plans to have children, the response I keep in my back pocket is "I've always thought of children as something you need a reason TO have, not a reason NOT to have." Granted, I've been fortunate enough to never have had to use it (I surround myself with feminist academics), so I don't know how effective it would be in practice, but I kind of like the subtly condescending way in which it turns the "people who say they don't want children just haven't thought it through well enough" paradigm on its head. And I also find it a helpful way of thinking about it for myself.
posted by pluckemin at 12:05 PM on October 10, 2010 [20 favorites]

I'm 37. I never specifically didn't want kids. In fact, I had a big hormonal baby rush when I was about 20. However, at that time, I had other priorities. And I continued to have other priorities. As I got into my 30's, have a baby became more of an intellectual quandary. I knew that if I was going to have a child, it should be higher on my TO DO list, but it just never got there. And then I met my partner who is equally ambivalent. We talked about it, but neither of us felt particularly passionate about it. We like our life, and weren't prepared to change it so radically. Then, in my late 30's I started having health issues, which have escalated into the need for a hysterectomy (just four weeks ago). Which was actually completely fine. No more periods, no more birth control, no more my uterus trying to kill me. Yay.

You don't specifically have to tell people you don't want kids. Really, it's your business. Over the years, I've just been vague with people. When I was younger, I was in college, then grad school, then trying to start a career. There was at least one relationship that was heading towards marriage and kids, but suddenly I realized he wasn't the right guy. People would ask, and I would just say, "Oh, some day".

Moving to NYC made it somewhat easier for me because I have lots of friends and peers who also don't have kids. But even among my friends and family, it has come up far less that you might think. I'm lucky that my mom had step-grandkids to dote on, and she never put pressure on me.

So feel free to just smile, nod, and change the subject. You don't have to be militantly child free. Oh, and I actually know two people who took had permanent birth control procedures in their 20's. A female friend, and my step brother.
posted by kimdog at 12:05 PM on October 10, 2010

What grizzled said.

Sounds like what you want most is reassurance: you have it from me.

I deliberately did not want kids, but through cosmic irony wound up raising (not siring!) one after all. As you mention, adoption is always an option.

But really what grizzled said: there are way too many people. Enjoy your life, do good, and don't have children if you don't want them.
posted by trip and a half at 12:14 PM on October 10, 2010

One beauty of being a human is the ability to choose our behaviors. We certainly CAN eat other animals, but we can CHOOSE not to. We can live by the law of the jungle, or we can choose not to. We don't have to be simple minded slaves to our biology. Instead of feeling guilt, you can feel powerful in your ability to choose. Anyone who encourages guilt in you, fails to encourage you. Be a warrior. Your choices are bound up in all sorts of risk, and it's important to be brave enough to welcome those risks. For every happy parent on the planet, there are many unhappy parents, who wish they could make the decision again.

Guilt and regret are probably the most worthless emotions. Do not grant other people the power to awaken either in you. Do what you must, bravely.
posted by FauxScot at 12:17 PM on October 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Heh. I'm your age and and feel the same way (except that I'd never even want to adopt). If you google "childfree", a lot of those websites will have a range of responses for the kinds of conversations you're concerned about. Brace yourself for some rage against "breeders", though.
posted by ecsh at 12:19 PM on October 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm 31. Never wanted kids and still don't. I'm really lucky that my folks (and my partner's mother) have never been the "When are you getting married/having kids wah wah wah wah?" type. I would never dream of feeling guilty about not wanting children and you shouldn't either.

L'Estrange Fruit has the right idea. My brother got married a couple of months ago and his bride was six months pregnant at the time, so I had to field this one a few times. When I got the question, I just resounded with a cheerful "Hell no! Never! Life is good the way it is! So, are you having a good time tonight?..." I made it clear that the subject was not up for discussion. Why would I give them the satisfaction of details that are none of their fucking business to begin with?
posted by futureisunwritten at 12:21 PM on October 10, 2010

As a teacher I have worked with many kids whose parents only had children because it was expected of them. I've always thought that it was a far more honourable choice to decide not to have children than to have them and be indifferent. It's a far greater tragedy for children to have parents who do not adore them or take delight in them. So IF you feel the need to explain your decision to anyone, feel free to use this argument.
posted by bardophile at 12:24 PM on October 10, 2010 [7 favorites]

"I am borderline excited about permanent birth control."

Step off the border and be thrilled about your impeding tubal ligation!

I had a mini-laparotomy done at age 27. This was in the late 1970s, and no one gave me any lip about it, least of all the medical personnel. (I knew I was in the right doctor's office when I saw copies of Ms. and Mother Jones on the waiting room coffee table!)

Shut out the voices of doubt, gloom, doom, and your family's entitlement. You run your life the way you see fit.

Good luck!
posted by BostonTerrier at 12:28 PM on October 10, 2010

I don't have anything to add re: feeling better about your choice, but heartily second pluckemin and bardophile.

As to responding, post tubal, you could go with a quick, "I am unable to have kids and I'm OK with that" followed by change of topic. Most (polite) people won't push.
posted by jaruwaan at 12:39 PM on October 10, 2010

Will this feeling of "I'm not an upright citizen because I don't want babies" go away?

Not entirely, has been my experience, but you can sort of re-center your ideas about having kids in various ways. As a 42 year old woman without kids, I get a certain amount of ... questioning about it. And when I was younger, when people felt that my possibly having kids was more of an open question, I'd get what I felt was pressure about it. How I'd be a good mom. How maybe I hadn't found the right guy. Basically implying that my choice [and I wasn't a pain about it, just mentioned it when people asked] was "irrational" and I'd reconsider.

And you know, those are the same people who told me I'd just have to learn to wake up earlier if I wanted a good job, or who said I couldn't find happiness in rural America. They have their opinions [and a predilection for sharing them] btu they don't know what's right for me. People have varying degrees to which they feel that their worldview is everyone's worldview, and people who lack flexibility in that department can be annoying to talk to sometimes. But at some level that's their problem not mine. I don't care if other people have children, I just don't want any. Frees me up for travelling, weird projects, and babysitting if it comes to that.

And if people press, really, they're the rude ones. You can't make other people act the way you want, but you can change your reactions to them. If people for some reason aren't okay with my "I just don't want kids" statement I can go a few ways

- Well I actually can't have kids *sad face* [sort of true, thanks to hormone imbalance yadda yadda, but I don't actually care]
- If you came from a family with a history of schizophrenia and alcoholism, you wouldn't either
- I can always adopt later [true, I can. I likely won't]
- Why do you care?
- Overpopulation is killing the planet, yadda yadda
- What a weird bullshit thing to say [If I'm feeling scrappy]

So really, it's your story to tell and it sounds like you personally feel okay with this, so you just have to stick to your narrative and also start feeling that people who make you feel bad about it are either misguided/cofused/well-meaning but wrong or whatever. You'll have a nice long life ahead of you that will have some of these people in it, but you can grow more comfortable with yourself and your own choices and it will be fine.
posted by jessamyn at 12:43 PM on October 10, 2010 [12 favorites]

My answer: "I don't want kids. And it would be very unfair to a child to bring him/her into a home where it's not wanted."

Neekee's suggested response is terrific.

If your guilt ever turns to annoyance or irritation, I asked this question not too long ago, and got some great answers.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 12:44 PM on October 10, 2010

I suppose my coping strategy is to realize that the "ashamed" part in the asking doesn't belong to me, it belongs to the person asking, and to make sure they own what is rightfully theirs. My method is mainly humor. Sit down and build up a nice repertoire of responses to have on hand when you get asked.

"You know, I looked into it, but it turns out that kittens litter-train much faster than babies do."

"All of these people asking about children, but none of them are volunteering for baby-sitting duty or to be a surrogate mother."

If that person has hassled me about it more than once, the humor gets a little sharper.

"It's just that ever since I was a little child I dreamed of dying alone and having my face eaten off by my dozen cats."

"You didn't just ask me about my plans for my reproductive organs, did you?" is always a winner at work.

Once I feel tired of the pestering, my response converges on the equivalent of a tight smile and "I'm not in the least bit sorry to inform you that this is absolutely none of your business. If anyone ought to be sorry, it would be you. For asking. Again. And again."

Properly done, you can mortify someone who has realized that they've stepped over the line, yet again, in regards to a personal issue and have managed to try to guilt you once more.
posted by adipocere at 12:50 PM on October 10, 2010 [13 favorites]

Tell them you can't have them biologically and the costs of IVF and/or adoption are too much and you'd have to go into debt for it. I think people understand the money issue.
posted by anniecat at 12:53 PM on October 10, 2010

Also, if you say you can't have biological children, say you'd never want to adopt kids. That should shut them up.
posted by anniecat at 12:56 PM on October 10, 2010

I usually just say "I've always known that having kids isn't for me. I never even played with baby dolls as a kid, I liked barbie dolls, they had their own apartments, and careers!"
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:00 PM on October 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

"So, when are you guys having kids?"

"Oh, we have cats." or "Oh, we have 20 actors twice a year!"

Seriously. Delivered in a perky, yet serious tone of voice that conveys your love of cats, actors, dogs, or whatever you choose to fill in the blank will mostly get people to STFU. Eventually people stop asking. We get it sometimes, but not nearly as much as we used to. However, if people keep at it, I go with an adipocere-type response as above.

In the end it's no one's business - you could just as easily say, "Oh, I don't know - when did YOU last have purposely procreative sex with your partner? So I can know when YOU will be having kids." That would be basically exactly as invasive as everyone else asking you and me and every other purposely childless person when we're having kids.

I realize people don't mean anything by it, but I really wish that it would become sort of not okay to ask people about these things. You have NO IDEA what people's lives are like. Maybe you don't feel like passing on Cystic Fibrosis or whatever, or maybe you desperately WANT to have kids but can't. No one knows, and asking "When are you having kids?" is a lot more loaded than most people want to acknowledge.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:02 PM on October 10, 2010

In my experience, other people are very invested in you wanting to have children because it validates their choices to have children. Understanding that goes a long way to cushioning the appalling and combative rudeness you will routinely need to deal with when people find out that you neither have nor want children. It seriously is them, not you.

Having had a tubal, you can say "I can't have kids" and that will be factually accurate. It will not, however, stop the people who then want to tell you how marvellous it is to "just adopt!" They will then proceed to tell you how much you'll regret it if you don't. This is, by and large, their way of reassuring themselves that their choice to have children was the right one, and that they're not missing out on the other path at the fork in the road. Again, really not about you.

There is nothing short of "I'm a registered sex offender" that will shut some people up and make them accept your choice as valid. The best thing I can suggest is not giving people your reasons, because even total strangers will argue with you about them. I find repeating "It's not a good choice for us" over and over is really the fastest way to get people to eventually give up.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:23 PM on October 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'm in the same position you are. What works for me is to kinda take the wind out of people's sails by acknowledging that yes, it IS kinda sad. I mean, if you're like me, yes, you're like 2% sad about it. No kids! That's sad! It's not sad enough to have kids, of course, but it's sad enough to share a little sad smile, segueing smoothly into the happier smile as you move to a happier topic. It works like this:

Other: "So, are you planning to have kids?" or "Why are you doing the ligation?" or whatever...
You: "You know what, I have really thought about this a lot, and I've decided that I'm not going to have kids."
Other: "What? But that's really sad!"
You: "Yeah, I know. It's a tough decision and I've felt really sad about it. But ultimately I know it's the right decision for me. Thanks for asking, I know you care about me and that you love kids yourself. Speaking of which, [segue into family talk, story about your nieces/nephews, friends' kids, whatever]..."

I find that OWNING THE SAD is much better than pretending that it isn't there. If you OWN THE SAD, then people can't really pity you, can they? You are sort of both pitying you, together, and then it's not really pity or guilt at all. Agreeing with the other person neatly sidesteps all that stuff. And the funny thing is that owning the sad isn't just for other people -- it's for yourself, too. Acknowledging that you're going to have a kid-free future means facing the 2% (or 10% or 25% or whatever it is for you) sadness and regret, and being able to talk about it with others without it being a hot-button issue for you. So this solution, if it works for you, has the added benefit of being genuine... which makes it work even better. Best of luck -- believe me, I know how it feels.
posted by woot at 1:25 PM on October 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

We're happily childfree after 17 years of marriage. The in-laws were a bit pesky about grandkids, so Hubby shut them up with a lie about a vasectomy. White lies are sometimes the path of least resistance. I'm uncomfortable with lying, but it certainly worked on his parents. My approach - which works because I don't care much if others think I'm strange - is to say truthfully that I can't stand children. This brings conversation to a dead stop Every Single Time; people never ask why, or probe any further. I guess I suddenly seem like the weirdo on the bus who talks who himself - everybody edges away to avoid catching whatever brain disease he has. Seriously, nobody ever broaches the topic again. If you can pull it off, it's pretty funny how consistent and effective this is (it probably works best if you already have a reputation for being a bit sardonic and antisocial). Of course, you shouldn't mention you're thinking about adopting if you use this line, but it's good for people you won't be seeing again.

Concerning the guilt, it will fade away by itself. You're still young and figuring out how to be an independent grownup, and setting boundaries is a big part of that. As you get more practice in asserting yourself, you'll find that nosy and controlling people don't get under your skin as much. You'll develop more confidence in your own judgement and competence, and (unjustified) nagging and guilting will just roll off your back. It takes time and a fair bit of angst and self-doubt to become a real adult (and there will always be times when you wonder if you're really doing the right thing), but it gets easier after a few years of practice.

It sounds to me like you're doing the right thing for the right reasons, and adoptive/foster parents are real mensches in my book. If it helps, you have my support and approval, so your guilt can start fading, like, right now. Good luck!
posted by Quietgal at 1:34 PM on October 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

No kids, no partner, not sad about either and unapologetic about that - fortunately people know me as unwilling to suffer any interference in my personal affairs so I rarely get asked about either choice. Anybody who does ask either gets the sort of look that shuts people up and makes them talk about the weather or else, if it is somebody I will have to talk to again, they get some kind of disinterested response and my starting to talk about the weather.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:39 PM on October 10, 2010

I tell people that I have neither the energy nor the patience to deal with children. They seem to accept this as somewhat complimentary and then drop it.
posted by dilettante at 1:40 PM on October 10, 2010

When folks ask me why I don't want a kid, I often just shrug and say "I don't know where I'd put it."

That seems to be enough for most people.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 1:48 PM on October 10, 2010 [5 favorites]

i think the guilt comes from people implying that those who elect not to have kids are more selfish than others. and i think people who want to imply that YOU are selfish, are just looking to make themselves feel superior, which is just a form of massive insecurity really - i pity people who need to question or criticise my choices.

i had a tubal a few years ago. now, if anyone is nosy enough to ask, i just say i can't. that usually shuts them up.

if i'm feeling more generous, i say:

"i always thought if you were going to bring *another human being into the world*, it should be because you just can't imagine your life complete without it.

i've never felt my life was incomplete."
posted by wayward vagabond at 1:57 PM on October 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

"Somebody has to counterbalance the people who want three. Or four."
posted by drdanger at 2:14 PM on October 10, 2010

Lots of great advice and thoughts already that I won't repeat. (For the record: I'm 41; through my 20s and 30s I abstractly thought I'd probably have kids at some point [I actually really like kids], but never cared enough to "make it happen," then between various life choices and crazy health problems it just... never happened, even though I now have a partner who'd be willing to have kids; adoption is vaguely an option but we're not that worried about it, because I'm pretty much satisfied doting on my nephews and getting to sleep as late as I want on the weekends.)

I just wanted to add some thoughts, specifically, about guilt. Guilt is overrated; it's really only appropriate when we've done something wrong to hurt someone else, and yet it gets deployed in our lives all the time when, in fact, we haven't done anything wrong at all -- we've merely just asserted our own needs outside the expectations of someone else. This is kind of a roundabout way of asking you to confront your guilt by examining who you think you are hurting by not having children.

Are you hurting society? Absolutely not. As already mentioned, it's not like there aren't presently enough children. The birth rate is not declining precipitously. Society is not made better off by people having children that they don't want and/or won't be parented well. So your choice to not contribute to increasing the population hurts no one. At the same time, if you decide to adopt, you will be actively helping society by becoming the mother of an existing child who cannot, for whatever reason, be parented by its biological mother.

Are you hurting your family and friends? No on that score, too. For example, you are not actually under the moral, financial, ethical, or filial obligation to provide your parents with grandchildren, no matter how much they might yearn to have them. If they want something they wind up not having, guess what? That's for them to deal with. Seriously. We all want things we don't get. It's the state of being human. Healthy humans find ways to deal with it. You were not brought into this world by your own parents to fulfill their needs and desires at the expense of your own.

Are you hurting the theoretical unborn children you are declining to conceive and give birth to? No -- in fact, given your medical history, you may indeed be sparing a child a life of suffering. That child may be born with a painful condition or serious illness, or may have to endure his or her mother dying an early death. (This is one of the reasons, in my late 30s, I really started to let the idea of having kids go, myself -- I have a shitty personal and family medical history, and I felt like it was potentially unfair and harmful to keep my genes in the gene pool.) Of course, these are risks that are true for anyone who has a child -- but the risk is higher for you. I strongly believe that your choice not to take that gamble, given your odds, is actually quite virtuous.

tl;dr -- you have nothing to feel guilty for. You're doing what's right for you, and you hurt no one by doing so. Honestly, I commend you.
posted by scody at 2:37 PM on October 10, 2010 [6 favorites]

"I just never felt that biological clock go off, and it seems like a bad idea to jump into parenthood and then hope I warm up to it."

Besides, as many have pointed out, there's hardly a shortage of humans.
posted by bunji at 2:39 PM on October 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

"I feel really guilty, because of social and family pressure, for not wanting kids."

I can't help you with the family pressure, but as a child-loving, child-having member of society, I hereby officially remove the social pressure and absolve you of social guilt.

Anyone who's not related to you or married to you and is pressuring you to have kids is a dick, and is deaf to the social pressure urging them not to be a dick. So I wouldn't worry too much about THEIR opinion.

I have many good friends with kids. I have many good friends without, by choice or by chance. I DON'T CARE. The only thing I care about, with respect to my friends and children, is whether they respect MY obligations to MY kid and are at least polite to my child when the occasion arises where they have to interact with him. (Some of my friends aren't big fans of kids, which I'm fine with, and I generally don't do kid-involving things with those people, but basic human politeness remains required if they do interact with my child.) Beyond that, I have awesome and fascinating friends with kids, and awesome and fascinating friends without, and I assume they all have their own reasons for arranging their lives the way they do, and that such reasons are not my business unless they decide to share.

And really, I'm waaaay more likely to be thinking, "God, that person should NOT have had kids" and "God, that person really needs to get on the stick and spawn already!"
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:43 PM on October 10, 2010

Q: do you think you will ever have kids?
Me: no.
Q: aw come on, how can you know that?
Me: vasectomy.

Conversation ends. Every time.
posted by eccnineten at 2:47 PM on October 10, 2010

Don't try to defend having children vs. not having children, because all that conversation does is leave everyone feeling judged and found wanting.

If, "My reproductive decisions are none of your business" doesn't work, frame it in terms of pregnancy. Try some variation of: "I have never had any interest in becoming pregnant. If and when I decide I'm ready to be a parent, I feel very strongly about adoption."
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:39 PM on October 10, 2010

These people don't mean to be jerks. They love their children and can't imagine life without them. Their questions and comments have everything to do with them, and almost nothing to do with you. I'm not at all sarcastic when I say, "Why do they want you to have children? And why do they think it's okay to try to talk me out of my choice?" There's an answer, and it's probably not that they think less of you.

These same friends and relatives may also specutate about other people's choices.
-Why'd Sarah marry that guy?
-How can Bud just go into retirement at such a young age?
-Jan and Marty have 4 girls; They must be trying for a boy.
-If I had Fred's money, I'd live it up a little. His lifestyle is almost the same as ours!

You can't stop them from entertaining themselves this way. I'm too old to have kids, yet people are still asking why I never did. What I usually say, if they don't quit after I say it wasn't the right choice for me, is something like: "It sounds like you love your family a lot." "It sounds like you're very happy you had children." "It's so nice for you that you enjoy your family." It gets the focus off me and onto them.

They're just making conversation, and they don't know their questions are inappropriate. Be nice to them, because pointing out someone else's rudeness is rude... and it does not good.
posted by wryly at 3:44 PM on October 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

When pushed to it and irritated with the asker, I will usually attack with an analogy:

"Why don't you want to buy a replica second world war tank?" (or something similarly bizarre.)
"You don't want one? Why not? Plenty of other people do."
"It would cost money? You have nowhere to keep it? You could move house. You could find the money if you really had to."
"How do you know you don't want one if you've never owned one? I bet you wouldn't regret it if you just went ahead and bought it."

And then I point out that the way they feel about owning a replica WWII tank (or learning to scuba dive, or taking up parachuting, or going back to university for a degree in something they have no interest in) is pretty much how I feel about having kids. But having kids costs even more money, and takes up even more of your life, AND you can't return them or sell them off if you change your mind.

My husband once asked my mother directly, "Why do you want us to have kids?" And for just about every answer she gave ("I love kids." "I want you to be happy.") pointed out why kids did not solve that problem. Eventually she was left with "I want to feel normal when my friends ask about grandchildren", which even she had to admit was not a good enough reason to reproduce. She's never hassled us about kids since.

As for the guilt, I don't know. I think the more you interrogate the source of the guilt, the better things will get. As other people have suggested, I suspect the guilty feelings are about not living up to other people's expectations, which means that they are other people's problem, not yours.
posted by lollusc at 3:52 PM on October 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

My usual answer is "What I really want to be is the super-cool aunt who takes nieces and nephews to museums."

Which is true- and best of all, a great distraction. I dunno if it eases minds because it says I want to be involved in kids' lives... but it invariably brings up stories of peoples' aunts, families, Auntie Mame from the movie. Conversation sidetracked. Pressure off me.

My closer friends know some of the other reasons. But, funny, they never ask that kind of question. :-)
posted by SaharaRose at 4:17 PM on October 10, 2010

As a woman in her late 30s, who has also never had, or wanted children, I don't think the "guilt" is going to go away by giving a glib response; you don't want to make someone else feel like you think that maybe they shouldn't have procreated.

Mind you, I don't have the same problem with the guilt as you; my family knew early on that I didn't want children & they accepted that easily enough.

As for friends and new acquaintances, for me anyway, a combination of what woot & dilettante works best.
posted by Laura in Canada at 4:35 PM on October 10, 2010

Friends, relatives and others have pestered me about this since I left home and went off to college. I've known since I was no older than 12-13 that I would not not not ever have children. Don't want them, don't like them, don't have any interest.

The rude, accusatory inquiries really used to bother me. I finally started responding politely "I don't want kids." etc.
When they'd continue I'd just respond with "find a girl you like and I'll impregnate her if you'll raise it." That was usually enough out of the social norm that it shocked them into shutting up.

That's what FINALLY worked on my mother.

Persevere - it's YOUR body and YOUR life and you alone (and your partner if you have one) will end up raising the child. None of these intermeddling busybodies will be there at 3:00 am on the 8th day you haven't slept as your little bundle of joy screams its head off.

And as for permanent birth control - I was amazed at the amount of anxiety I had about the failure of birth control. Once I got my post-vasectomy test and doc said "sterile as the moon" it was liberating far beyond anything I had expected.

Remember there's pretty good evidence that peoples' self-reports of how great child-rearing is are the result of evolutionary adaptation that makes them selectively remember the good parts and forget the bad. In the moment, much of the time, for most of them, it's crushing hard work. Unless you have a passion to do it you absolutely shouldn't. Far worse for a child to have a poor parent then simply to never exist. (Not saying you'd be a poor parent but I know I don't want to devote the time to being a good parent.)

Good luck.
posted by BrooksCooper at 4:44 PM on October 10, 2010

"Oh, I have a cat already and that's quite enough".

"I always figured I'd be happy to have kids if there are at least three parents and I'm not the one who has to get pregnant. Doesn't seem likely to happen soon".

"Well, I don't particularly want to. These days it seems like everyone else is doing it for me, I think it's fantastic".

If you notice that most of the time people talk about their kids they seem to be complaining about them, it's easier to privately feel a little smug that you get to have a lie-in at the weekends and nobody is demanding your money so they can go to the cinema while you clean up the house after them.

When people bang on about how great kids are and how much they enjoy them and how much I would certainly enjoy them too, I just tell them how pleased I am that they enjoy it and how lovely their kids must be, and then get them talking about their children. If I show even the tiniest amount of enthusiasm, I generally find they will talk about their kids all day and lose all interest in the shocking idea that I might not want any.

I suspect that many people's bad reactions stem from feeling that you are judging them for having (or wanting) kids - so if you make it clear in a roundabout fashion that you think THEIR choices are excellent, they will in turn be less judgemental about you.

So as follows:

"Don't you want children?"
"No, not really. So tell me all about little Johnny and his piano lessons! It sounds like he's doing ever so well!"
posted by emilyw at 4:52 PM on October 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's no need to feel ashamed. There's also no need to reveal or explain your decision to anyone unless you want to. A nice smile and a pleasant "We'll See" is all you need.

It's perfectly normal to feel sad. Like you said, you aren't sad that you won't bear children. Instead, you're sad because you wish you wanted what everyone else tells you to want. It seems like it'd be so much easier that way, right?

I've never wanted what everyone else told me I should want, either. I'm growing more okay with that every day. There are women whose arms ache for a child, women in agony because they haven't found the right guy, or because they are having trouble conceiving, or because they've lost a pregnancy, or because it just isn't the right time. Those women should be having children, not you (or I, for that matter). I love children, and I want the very best for children. A woman who wants to be a mother is what's best for a child. Acknowledging that you are not what's best for a child and acting upon it the way you are is courageous and admirable, not shameful or cruel.

Don't feel crappy. You are doing a good thing. Take joy in who you are, and believe in the validity of your choices. Congratulations, and happy healing.
posted by lovelylucy at 4:59 PM on October 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

The only thing I've felt guilty for is not fostering some of the many needy children out there who could use parenting. I've certainly never been ashamed of having chosen not to add any more babies to the planet.

If people ask, I just just say that I love being an aunty, and that I Really Appreciate all of the Amazing parents out there raising the next generation for me. But if people are making you feel ashamed, you should make it clear that that's not ok; this is your life to live, not theirs.
posted by ldthomps at 6:01 PM on October 10, 2010

> Secondly, it is actually very responsible to choose not to have children. We live in an overpopulated world (the current global population is approaching seven billion) and so far the global population continues to increase. Every person consumes resources and adds to carbon dioxide emissions and various other forms of environmental problems. Every new baby creates new demands on overstrained resources and on an abused environment. There could not possibly be anything better for the future of our world than for large numbers of people to choose not to have children. It is an enormously virtuous choice. Be proud.

This. This. And thrice, this.

There is no more responsible and selfless thing that a human being can do at this point in history than to choose to not have children. You should not feel guilt, you should feel pride.
posted by benzo8 at 10:00 PM on October 10, 2010

"The world is vastly overpopulated, especially with adorable children in orphanages and foster care just waiting to be adopted by loving parents. I want to be one of those parents."

As a 'preferential adopter' (ie a parent through adoption because we chose to adopt rather than get pregnant), I want to say that this comment, which I realize is glib, is also super naive. There are not actually vast numbers of mentally and physically healthy adorable children waiting for you to swoop in and save them. There are vast numbers of kids who have had terrible losses and terrible trauma, and it can be a long, exhausting process to become their parents. And, what's really sad about adoption is that it has become an industry, whereby, in many places, children are produced because wealthy western parents want to adopt them.

To the original poster: it's fine not to have or want kids, really. But this threw me off:

I've always known I've wanted to adopt kids, if I wanted them at all.

This suggests, to me, at least some ambivalence, if not about bearing children, then at least about parenting. I'm not saying don't get the tubal. But it does sound like you want to leave open the possibility of parenting. Adoption is not a sure or easy thing. So, it's possible that someday you might want to parent through adoption, but find it incredibly difficult to do so. Just know that.

Good luck dealing with your family.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:06 PM on October 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm one half of a late-30s hetero couple who have chosen not to have any children. We don't have any easily articulated reason for wanting to not have kids, but it's something we've discussed and we're both perfectly happy with our position. I don't feel that this is something we have to justify to others, and for the most part, it's rarely an issue. On the odd occasion someone does ask when we're going to have kids, I tell that that would mean we'd have to get rid of one of our two-seat convertibles, which would be unacceptable, and therefore instantly confirm any suspicions they might have that we're selfish arseholes :-)

I do, however, know a few couples who don't have kids because they can't, but would love to have them. It always gets awkward for all involved whenever someone asks them why they don't have kids. From speaking to some of these couples, it seems like they've had to deal with people wanting them to explain their situation much more so than I have. That's a pretty crappy situation to be put in.

I'm not sure why anyone else feels that it's their business why or whether you have kids. I guess in return you could ask them why they had kids – I wonder how many people have a good answer to that.

One thing that probably helps us is that a lot of people we hang around with either don't have kids, or their kids are old enough that they're not constantly at the top of their mind. It's much easier to organise a dinner party at the drop of a hat if no one has to organise babysitting!
posted by damonism at 10:24 PM on October 10, 2010

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Having children should be something you want to do badly enough to sink the enormous amount of time and resources into it that it takes to do it right. It's like climbing Mt. Everest, or becoming a classical musician or a neurosurgeon or something, except that nobody gets drunk and wakes up two weeks later to discover that surprise! now you're a concert pianist!

You have no responsibility to have children. Not any more than you have a responsibility to be a doctor or a musician. Yes, having well-raised children around is good for the culture we live in; so is having doctors and artists and engineers and athletes and whatnot. Honestly, just have the courage of your convictions, get your tubal, and be as happy about it as you wanna be.
posted by KathrynT at 11:02 PM on October 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thank you for asking this question, and everyone for the many excellent reasons and strategies given here for dealing with people asking "why don't you want to have kids".
posted by StrawberryPie at 3:01 AM on October 11, 2010

How to not feel guilty: as grizzled points out, the world doesn't actually need more babies. And there are plenty of people out there who really seriously want to have babies, not because society or their mum says they should, but because they want to. They're almost always quite good parents, too. So should there be a shortage of babies in the future, those people will be much better suited to fixing the problem than you are. You have no obligation to please your family, your church, your workplace, or the expectations of random people on the street by giving birth to a child you don't want in your life.

How to deal with people who think you should have babies: this depends on the situation.

Nosy/rude people get a glib joke answer (my personal fave, that I read here and used on my wedding day, is "As soon as they go on sale at Target"). If they persist in asking about it to the point of derailing the previous conversation, say "Oh no, isn't it *my* turn to ask about *your* reproductive system/sex life/personal fulfillment plans now? How's that going?". Then change the subject ASAP.

Parents who genuinely enjoy parenting and are concerned that you might be missing out on a fulfilling life experience can usually handle an honest answer. How much detail you give depends on how close they are to you.

People who have a bitter tone, or imply that you're selfish, or that women always want babies even if they say they don't, are often conflicted about their own decisions in life. Misery loves company. But in my experience, if you can manage to find a little compassion or sympathy for them, the conversation goes better. Not everyone has the backbone to make an unusual choice, especially if their family or church is very traditional. Others didn't realise that there was a choice until it was too late. A short but honest answer, followed by a quick change of subject, has worked for me in the past with that sort of antagonistic question.
posted by harriet vane at 5:37 AM on October 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Not everybody is called to have kids. But, IMO, everybody has a calling beyond themselves.

It's hard to have a desire not to something. Instead have a desire to something.

One of the (unfair) caricatures of people who wish to remain childless is that they are selfish, and that they just want to spend their money and time on themselves and their interests. Many of the heroically unselfish people I know are childless, but they are all passionate about some calling which to me is the moral equivalent of raising a family -- they dedicate themselves to something beyond themselves.

So in your answers to the intrusive questions, focus on what your calling is instead of what your calling is not. This is actually a recipe for general happiness as well, which is a bonus.

Now if it turns out that you don't want children because you really do want your money and time all to yourself and your interests, then I got nothin'.
posted by cross_impact at 8:51 AM on October 11, 2010 [4 favorites]

Remember there's pretty good evidence that peoples' self-reports of how great child-rearing is are the result of evolutionary adaptation that makes them selectively remember the good parts and forget the bad. In the moment, much of the time, for most of them, it's crushing hard work. Unless you have a passion to do it you absolutely shouldn't.

How true. Raising children is possibly the most demanding thing most people will ever do, but it is all too easy to extrapolate this into meaning it is the venue of service and meaning for everyone. I wouldn't change my parenthood for anything in the world (even when I crave solitude and pre-family freedom) but I respect that it isn't a calling for everyone. Keep this in mind if us breeders seem a little enthusiastic or insensitive.

Oh, and we'll try to behave and not ask intruding questions. That is indeed tacky.
posted by dgran at 12:10 PM on October 11, 2010

Unfortunately, as a woman, you are going to take an endless amount of crap for not wanting kids, told that you are an unnatural freak, treated with suspicion and discrimination, etc. I leaned towards child-free when I was younger (although I hadn't made an irrevocable decision yet) and seriously, the crap I got for it from people when it was none of their business was unbelievable. Many people feel so strongly about their opinions about women's natural role and biological imperative being childbirthing and rearing that they will be downright hateful to you for not conforming.

Unless you enjoy getting into confrontations and arguments about it on a regular basis (in which case, there are many other fine suggestions in this thread for how to proceed), I recommend against disclosing any more than you have to. Instead, if people inquire about you having kids, simply reply, "I am medically unable to have children" and if they ask any follow-up questions "I'm too uncomfortable to talk about it, sorry." Let them feel like insensitive asses for bringing it up instead of opening yourself up to harassment and belittlement over your decisions.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:36 PM on October 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Sure there are the Miss Manners brushoffs... "how KIND of you to take an interest" in a "how dare you ask me that" tone... but recently I was asked at a family reunion by a distant cousin. She said "so when are you going to get married and have kids?" I replied "When I find a man I think is good enough." That stopped her nearly immediately and she went on to talk with those around her about how hard it is to find a good man, and I walked away. Please note that I have no intention of ever getting married and am 95% sure I will never have a kid, it was just the answer that shut her up the fastest that I was interested in.
posted by IndigoRain at 9:58 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

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