If not kids then what
February 16, 2011 5:34 PM   Subscribe

If you know you aren't going to have kids, what would you do to make your life awesome in other ways? Looking back, what would you recommend someone do in your 20s, 30s, and 40s, to happy later on in life (50s, 60s, and 70s) without having a family?

People keep telling me that when I'm older I may regret not having children. I'm not really sure I want to have them, ever, but I wonder if I'll really wish I'd done something huge and rewarding like having children when I'm older.

I'd like to hear from people who did not have children, and what they did when they were younger to have less regrets in life. Do you have a big project you devote yourself to? A relationship? A cause?

I'm looking specifically for big things (travel, work, projects, etc.), more than "smell the roses" type stuff, which I assume you can do either way.
Also, not specifically how to have kids in your life without creating them (i.e., adoption, fostering) -- but more, what other huge thing do you do (if anything) with the time you would have spent on kids?

Feel free to expand on the question with life philosophies, etc. about how to make your life awesome if reproduction is not a part of it (by choice).
posted by 3491again to Human Relations (55 answers total) 173 users marked this as a favorite
Travel, travel, travel.

Also: volunteer.
posted by two lights above the sea at 5:46 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Save all your money and spend it on stuff you want.
posted by anniecat at 6:02 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Having kids is fabulous, it really is, I LOVE my kids. But their effects on your life are largely unpredictable. You can't plan for life after kids the way you can live life before kids. You might have kids with special needs, or lose your partner along the way, or have other financial/resource constraints that you didn't plan for. Even without drama, you can be sure that having kids will change your priorities such that perfectly valid/fun things you're interested in now are no longer interesting later. That's ok, it just means you won't want to do later what you want to do now, so now's the time to do it. If you do have a chance to travel later in life, you might want to go to warm resorty places, or go on whale-watching cruises. Nothing wrong with that, but maybe now "travel" makes you think of backpacking and bungee jumping and peak-climbing and deep-sea-whatevering.

Again, I assure you that I love my kids. But they cost a shitload of time and money to raise, and we're not doing a whole lot of traveling. If I had some cool travel stories to tell them, they might feel more than an academic connection to the rest of the world.

We do host a lot of couchsurfers though, and they always have interesting stories to share.

So yeah, travel.
posted by headnsouth at 6:07 PM on February 16, 2011

I'm pretty far along that path, and relative to my peers, not having kids made my sub-optimally long stay in grad school a lot less stressful and a lot more affordable. So without necessarily recommending it, I can say you have the freedom to explore more skills and ideas in more depth, and I look back on that very happily, even if it didn't all pan out.

I've been able to spend a lot of time with and/or on my wife: supporting her own educational endeavors both financially and as a colleague; going places with her; figuring out the hard parts of our relationship; etc. Not that children can't be part of a picture like that, but we've had the luxury of focusing on each other completely, and I'd choose that again too.

I wish I had collected less stuff so that I could have moved around as easily as someone without kids should have been able to. And I wish I had known basic details about mortgages and retirement planning much, much sooner, so that I might not have squandered the financial benefits of being child-free so quickly.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 6:09 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Other than not breeding... nothing special? I can go to a coffee shop and have child-bearing people drool over my "freedom".

Every choice you make in life is give and take. You can't have everything and doing anything requires sacrifice. I'm sure having a child is one of the most amazing things that could happen in one's life. To each his own. For me? Still planning to ride my bike across Africa. Don't want to do so, while there's a Fatherless kid.
posted by alex_skazat at 6:10 PM on February 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

Put a lot of interest into your career. You won't have to juggle family obligations, you won't have to "hold back" because of kid stuff. (If I had the brains for it, I would have gone into the sciences, because I won't have a family to make it difficult to be in the sciences.) Have a risky, unsettled career. Do something interesting and/or wacky.

Figure out your life purpose and go chase it. Find an awesome thing that you'd like to do and do it.

Have as many dang hobbies as you want and go where you like and live wherever you want.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:10 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Make it your avocation to indulge your curiosity, broadly and deeply, every day. Learn interesting stuff. When you encounter something that interests you, you have the luxury of studying it in a concentrated way. You can read for hours at a time, every day; you can take (or audit) a college course in some wacky subject just to stretch your brain; you can take a 2-week immersion course on your vacation. Try various artsy things to see if they're fun. Feed your brain.

There is an infinite range of cool things to learn about in the world. I've devoted a lot of time to this sort of thing; my friends who are parents envy this at least a little, and I've never regretted my choice not to have kids.

Rather than devoting all that time (and energy!) to one big, ongoing project, I'd say follow your nose; be open to opportunities and pursue whatever interests you at a particular phase in your life.

And yeah, have less stuff, so you can move around more easily if that appeals to you. I do regret having acquired so much Stuff.

Friendships, of course.
posted by Corvid at 6:21 PM on February 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

Build your dream home.

Nthing travel.

Follow the job that you want, no matter where it takes you.
posted by Leezie at 6:22 PM on February 16, 2011

I'm a mom with three kids, and I'd say, based on what I see my child-free friends doing, your life is likely to automatically be more awesome in some ways, unless you're a dull person with no interests or passions. My child-free friends get to indulge hobbies (seeing movies, gardening, crafts), volunteer (reading books on tape for the blind, working on political campaigns), travel, keep up with fashion, decorate their homes, spend a whole afternoon cooking or baking something interesting and new just for the heck of it. They can go to a movie at the last minute if they have a sudden urge to do so. Having kids forces you into an "OR" kind of life: I can have a garden OR keep up with my quilting OR learn to bake and decorate a perfect cake; my child-free friends seem to me to be enjoying AND lives: they can do the volunteering AND keep up with more than one hobby AND take the trip they want to take AND buy a $200 hand-made sweater for everyday wear. But I think that child-free life doesn't necessarily feel fabulous because until you have kids you just don't know what a luxury the small things are. If that makes sense.

That said, if you're looking for a big thing, I'd agree: travel. Traveling with kids is great (I'm doing it right now; I'm writing this from a hotel room home where four children are sleeping in the beds behind me) but it's a very different thing than traveling child-free. I miss the ease and self-indulgence and good restaurants that came with child-free travel, and the ability to roam farther afield without breaking the bank.
posted by not that girl at 6:36 PM on February 16, 2011 [22 favorites]

Travel, definitely. I just turned 40, and I've never really been 'driven' to get married and have children. I'm one of those who doesn't believe that marriage is for everyone. Does that make me unfulfilled? Not at all. Being a former military brat, I've always had a keen interest in traveling to different places and seeing new things.

Now that I'm financially stable and able to do what I really WANT to do, I make a point of taking a trip every year to a new destination - somewhere I've never been before. Last year, I spent a week in Manchester, England - touring the city, visiting Glasgow by train (something I've never done before), and seeing a live stage performance of Hamlet. This year, I'm planning a week-long trip to Berlin - I'm in the process now of deciding what I want to see and do while I'm there. I'm seriously considering moving outside the US when I retire, and I look at trips like this as a good way to see just where I might want to end up 10 or 20 years from now.

Some people look at being single as something to be avoided - I say it's something to be cherished. I have a freedom to explore my world that I wouldn't necessarily have if I were married with children, and I want to make the most of it while I can, for as long as I can.
posted by Telpethoron at 6:37 PM on February 16, 2011 [8 favorites]

Build relationships. If you're not planning on investing emotional energy in kids, put it elsewhere: a deep friendship, a good relationship with a close sibling or parent, or a romantic partnership. Many couples I know that don't have kids and are in their 50s-70s seem to have exceptionally mature, loving, complex relationships with lots of freedom and, at the same time, tenderness towards each other. They seem extremely "tuned into" each other. I've also observed this in adult children who didn't have kids, but developed a very loving relationship towards their (elderly) parent - again, with a lot of freedom, but also deepness and openness I rarely see in other constellations.

Deeply connecting to people close to you, and really working on these relationships and improving them over decades, is something that apparently often gets lost along the way if you have kids, because they take so much emotional energy from you.
posted by The Toad at 6:37 PM on February 16, 2011 [18 favorites]

Yeah, what everyone else said, plus if you get to the point where you want kid contact, there are plenty of opportunities for it. Parents are ecstatic if you, say, take their kids to the amusement park for the day, or off to the fair. If you live near me, my wife runs a program to do crafts with disadvantaged kids. There's a mentoring program for kids at risk. Heck, even foster parenting.

But, yeah, I'm in my 40s and haven't missed 'em. And if I had a nickel for every time I heard "wouldn't give 'em up for the world, but if I had it to do again...", I'd be rich.
posted by straw at 6:48 PM on February 16, 2011

Travel, definitely. Also:

Learn a musical instrument
Learn a foreign language
Create a "bucket list" of books to read, movies to watch, plays to go see, etc.
Switch career paths when you want
If you want mobility, keep your material possessions to a minimum
Learn how to cook elaborate dishes
Live it up in Sin City for a weekend (if that's your kind of thing to begin with)
posted by Anima Mundi at 6:50 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Most important: build a family. You need not have children to do this.
Keep close with your parents, siblings, neices/nephews, cousins. Build a supportive community of friends. Appreciate other people. Be appreciated by them.
I see too many people who are coming to the their retirement, or coming to the end of their lives, with no one to visit with, no one to spend a holiday with, no one to drive them to appointments or emergency rooms when they need help. No one to share a happy story with, or to take a pot of soup to.

One of the most glorious benefits of having children is having a relationship with them as adults, and having them in your life til the end of your life. Make sure to build that in for yourself.
posted by SLC Mom at 6:59 PM on February 16, 2011 [17 favorites]

I don't do that much that my childed cohorts don't, but I do get to have more spontaneous fun and "me" time (like the gym), which I savor. And I can volunteer for really cool gigs, like four day stints on an island with the coast guard auxiliary.
posted by ldthomps at 7:05 PM on February 16, 2011

Ann Landers asked her readers to respond to this question: If you had it to do over again, would you have children? She specified that the question did not have anything to do with the people loving their children, and/or was it or is it a great experience, but rather this: If you had it to do over again, would you have children?

Obviously not a scientific survey, as the respondents were a) Ann Landers readers b) Ann Landers readers willing to respond to this question c) um, I dunno but for sure it's not double-blind etc and etc. Regardless all this, the answers were pretty damned interesting.

As follows. Overwhelmingly "Nope, would not have children again." As they just don't have the many freedoms they witness other people having, financial and many other ways also; if I recall correctly, many of them spoke of travel, and, not only that, but travel in better style than they were able to travel when they were able to do so.

And that was my first thought upon seeing your question. Travel. Myself, art in general and painting in particular really blows my skirt up, I just dig the shit out of art museums and I love to go to different cities and see what's hanging on the walls. That's usually the focus of my time in whatever city but I don't limit it to that for sure, I try to get a sense of whatever city it is, how does it feel on a summer evening maybe, are the wait staff friendly to just an everyday guy who's staggered into their restaurant; in short, what is the city like, to me, how does it feel, to me?

Last summer, in Chicago, a city I know pretty dang well, I went to The Art Institute four times in a ten day stay but also just bopped around the city, drinking it up, sitting in various parks and libraries reading and/or sketching, spent time showing family members and old friends the Chicago I so love, friends/family who don't know the city as well as I do and/or just know it differently.

I went to Paris for five days, ended up staying eighteen days, didn't want to leave even then, claw marks on the floor in the airport terminal, my moans almost certainly still resounding within the walls there. Regardless I didn't stay as long as I'd have wanted, I stayed longer than I'd *ever* been able were I married and kids, unless I had significant wealth, which I damn sure don't.

So easy to love the bay area and in recent years I've spent considerably more time there when I do visit, as I've found a really jamming hostel right down on the bay, costs almost nothing, the bus line runs just right over that rise and I'm anywhere in the entire area but often I just hang fairly close-by, also I've rented a bike but took it on the bus, rode that bike completely through Golden Gate park, one end to the other, and stopped at upwards of four thousand places in the park, too. And then there's Berkeley, a short BART ride away, a town I love and you will too, should you have the time to go there and nose around some, find your way. One visit there was an entire show devoted to Hans Hoffman -- I was jumping up and down, I could scarce believe my luck, I love Hoffman so. much. If I'd had kids I'd not even know who Hoffman is, much less stumbled into that big show at the school there, where he taught for the longest time.

I'm from blue-collar stock, what (little) education I've got I cobbled together, no way would I have had the chance to do that if I'd have been staggering along under orthodontist bills and new shoes and the latest styles that the kids would absolutely have had to have worn. No way I'd ever have painted. No way I'd ever have written. No way I'd ever have traveled as I have. No way I'd ever have found the way I've found, and, in fact, no way would I want to be the parent I'd absolutely have been, insulated from the larger world, nailed into the box laid out for me by my fate. Or, wait, I guess I'm sortof nailed into *this* box of my life by my fate, but ... Hmmmmm...

Anyways, travel. Find your art heart and feed it. Get involved in other peoples lives -- I mentor a few younger guys, I love them best I can, give them what I can, try to help them as I can. I have to tell you that I'd be honored beyond all were I lucky enough to have had any of these young men as sons -- I really do love them -- but I get to be with them in some ways, in the ways that I can, and I call it good. Plus I've never had to pay for an orthodontist for them......
posted by dancestoblue at 7:05 PM on February 16, 2011 [27 favorites]

Dogs. Way better than kids (IMO).
posted by AlliKat75 at 7:07 PM on February 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

You can live abroad. I lived in Tokyo for 2 years. Met lots of people who would work in Tokyo for 6 months and save up enough to travel for six months, repeat as often as you chose. Incidentally, it was DOGS rather than kids that eventually grounded me back in the US!
Surveys show that kids or no kids does not seem to have any particular bearing on how happy people report their lives to be. I am in my 50's now and I think it has been a fair trade off all told. Just don't waste energy regretting your decision after you make it!
posted by grizzled at 7:14 PM on February 16, 2011

You can live in interesting places. A foreign country, a remote mountain cabin, a tiny apartment in a bustling city centre...
posted by kickingtheground at 7:18 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

My advice to my past self would be do what you feel and don't be a coward.

I wish my future self would get off his ass and tell ME that, lazy prick.
posted by ian1977 at 7:27 PM on February 16, 2011 [7 favorites]

We travel, and plan to continue traveling at least once every year or two. Also, we cultivate friendships with singles and couples of all ages, so there's the possibility that there'll be someone who can drive us to doctor's appointments and make sure we haven't fallen in the bathtub 35 years from now, when we're 80.
posted by matildaben at 7:28 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Live music! This is a big thing for me, even bigger than travel. We moved to Austin so we could do SXSW and ACL and have easy access to stadium shows in Houston and Dallas. If we had more energy we'd be out several times a week. Plus we can travel further on short notice when the shows we want to see don't come to us. When we lived in NJ, we literally couldn't keep up with all the shows we wanted to see. We can barely do it here.

Also, seconding the bucket list. I wish I'd had one when I lived in NJ; I would have gotten more stuff I wanted to do done than I did.
posted by immlass at 7:33 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

I came to say what the Toad said: Build lifetime relationships. And echo what SLC Mom said. Build relationships with people younger than you are. You will one day be old and it's not just holidays and visits in your retirement; as you get old, you may simply need help living your life.

Our neighbor is in his mid-60's. He's healthy; he has lots of friends, but he is single. He has difficulty walking and he doesn't drive. It's hard for him to walk to the grocery store or run some of his other errands, particularly in the winter. However, he has long been deeply engaged in the neighborhood where we live--book groups, the neighborhood theatre group, his neighbors. So he has help when he needs it, although his family (a sister and some nephews) live far away.

My neighbor and I have chatted about it. He has people who call regularly--to make sure he hasn't "fallen and can't get up"; he has people who will say "Hey, Bob, I'm stopping at [store], do you need anything." Sure, lots of people who have children who don't do this for them, who don't live near enough to do this for them, but if you are on your own when you are old (a situation certainly not unique to nonparents), you may need the sort of help that's hard to find. Relationships you build early in your life--with nieces and nephews, with local community groups, with friends--can help you carry through infirmity and need as you get older. That's priceless.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:50 PM on February 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

Just want to point out that childraising-assuming we are talking one or two children (or three if you have them bumper to bumper like I did) doesn't take up your entire life. My kids are grown and I have time to do things again.

That having been said, I'd think a life without children might be well spent in dedication to a worthy cause of some sort. That's a huge chunk of time and energy freed up, for sure. You might want something substantial to show for it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:51 PM on February 16, 2011

I'm 45, no kids and no regrets, and I don't have much to add to what's already been said, but to agree:

• Travel! We've been all around Europe and look forward to trips there about every other year. Seeing the world is our favorite thing in life, and I'm so glad we can afford it, and don't have to keep track of children.

• Stuff: if you want it, you can afford it, but yes, there are benefits to being able to pick up and leave any time. I think the stuff issue is rather separate from the kids issue. I know people with kinds and not a lot of stuff, and people who have no children and practically hoard. Me, I like a few nice things.

• Learn. I got a certificate in scientific illustration in the evenings after work a few years back, and it changed my life. I began to expand my drawing and painting skills and before long I was selling art at little shows here and there. I've tried all sorts of other hobbies too, blissfully enjoying my free time and my identity as a creative person, not primarily as a mom.

• Take risks. I just quit my very stable, boring job of ten years to move to a whole new career. I don't have to save anyone's college money, except maybe my own, so I felt freer to make a jump that both scares and excites me. If I fail, I'll be fine. If I succeed...yay! I've also done wacky stuff like bungie jumping, and will be taking a fighter pilot class this summer. I want to, I can; why not?

• Enjoy friends' kids, and kids in your family. And then be glad when they start crying that you aren't the one who has to deal with it.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 7:59 PM on February 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

We travel, sleep a ton, enjoy each other, exercise, live by our own hours and our own rules.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:07 PM on February 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

Is it really necessary to have something to replace kids? I'm probably unqualified to answer – I'm a mid-thirties member of a deliberately childless hetero couple, but I'm not far enough advanced in life to have any regrets. But I'm not sure our lives are radically different to our offspring-encumbered contemporaries.

Yes, we travel a bit when we can afford it (we spent a month abroad last year, but that was the first serious holiday we'd had in forever). We go out to dinner and movies, but not nearly every week. We have hobbies and pets and are involved in various volunteer activities. We've both studied to pretty advanced levels (two PhDs between us). But these are all things that people with kids do too – especially people whose kids are no longer young children.

One of the things we're working toward is getting the mortgage paid off so we don't have to work as much as we currently do. That, admittedly, is probably a lot harder to do with kids. But even without kids, plenty of things crop up that still put a squeeze on the finances. At least we can get away with a pretty small house, and have no real need to upsize.

I should add, on preview, that not having kids doesn't mean not having commitments. Sure, it'd be possible to drop everything and live overseas for years, or stop working and do hobbies full time, but we still have animals that require care and a mortgage that requires paying and friends and family we have connections to. There are lots of things you can do when you're single and childless that, whilst possible, are still challenging when you're older, and "settled" (for what of a better word) and childless.

I don't have any expectation that when I grow older I'll regret not having kids (and I can't actually recall anyone ever asserting that I would). Having kids or not having them is a lifestyle choice, ultimately (for some of us, anyway). I don't feel that my choice has created a hole in my life that requires filling – but who knows how I'll feel on my deathbed.
posted by damonism at 8:08 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Things I'm glad I did:

- lots of travel to developing nations (1-3 months at a time, every year. Save the safer, easier & more expensive travel for when you're older & wealthier)
- got a couple of bachelors degrees and a masters, all in different fields
- bought a house (or at least got started) - so nice to shape your own space (gardening, renovations)
- took up martial arts (a long path to set out on, but so worthwhile)
- kept fit, through cycle commuting & gym

What I'd tell my 20yo self:

- no, it's not too late to take up guitar, you idiot! You'll look back in 15 years time & think "shit, I could've been Hendrix by now!"

What I regret most, now that I have a kid:

- I'll probably never be able to do the romantic luxury getaways (palaces in India, dhows along the Red Sea, private suites on the Trans-Siberian) that I'd been setting aside "for later" until another 18 years have passed & I probably won't be much in the mood for romance by then.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:08 PM on February 16, 2011 [6 favorites]

One of the advantages I haven't already seen described by other folks: raising kids is expensive! And if you don't have that expense hanging over you, that frees you to work less and live more.

That said, what to do with that free time is territory well-covered above. Take classes in subjects that fascinate you. Learn to play an instrument. Make more/better friends. And yeah, travel!
posted by browse at 8:21 PM on February 16, 2011

Sock away money! You save a lot by not having kids. Live below your means while young, bank the difference, and you can retire wicked early and travel/study even more.
posted by Miko at 8:23 PM on February 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

Travel, travel, travel!
Adopt a wonderful pet.
Write that novel you've always wanted to write.
posted by SisterHavana at 8:45 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Volunteer, yes! I was a Big Sister and I keep in touch with my Little Sister. Mentoring was one of the biggest and best things I did with my life. I can't recommend it enough. When I'm done my BFA I want to work with Big Brothers and Big Sisters immigrant girls program. I love children, but I know they are not for me and we're not planning on them. But that doesn't mean that I (or you) can't make a difference in a young person's life :-) Or an old's person's life. Or anybody's life :-)

People keep telling me that when I'm older I may regret not having children. I'm not really sure I want to have them, ever, but I wonder if I'll really wish I'd done something huge and rewarding like having children when I'm older.

We face this pressure constantly, but we're not regretting it so far and I doubt we ever will. I just never saw motherhood in my life plan. I would never begrudge anyone their choice to have children of course. It's not my business or choice, but don't have a child for the wrong reasons or for the wrong people. Whatever you do, best of luck :-)
posted by Calzephyr at 9:06 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Both my SO and I are devoted NON BREEDERS. 1) the world already has too many people. 2) we chose careers and belive we don't need to pass on our genes for our lives to be meaningful... we want to have idea babies instead of flesh babies... 3) we both have genetic issues that could be passed on and make kids with ill health.

Sure, lots of people will say "Oh, you'll want kids someday" and unless they are your mother or grandma, (who really are supposed to say silly things like that) they can go take a long walk to Antarctica because it is NONE OF THEIR GOD DAMN BUSINESS.

We never regret it (even though we're still very young, in my family at least all my cousins even the ones 4-5 years younger than me are married with kids so I'm old to be childless by my family's standards). We both have active careers in odd but altruistic public service fields. We both have and want to continue our educations, we both have multiple degrees, and pursue education in many forms, rather relentlessly. We read a lot, sometimes great classics, sometimes unmitigated trash. We have time to devote to our careers, our causes, our friends, our hobbies and each other. And motorcycles. Oh wow do we both like motorcycles. not to say we do everything together. We do spend a lot of time apart pursuing our own individual hobbies too. He runs and swims. I draw and sew. Because we don't have to mantain a family unit, we can take time off from each other just as easily as we can spend days engrossed in each other's company.
posted by RampantFerret at 10:08 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

I reached 39 without kids or regrets, then out of the blue got a 12yo niece to take care of, long story. If I'd had any real choice before hand I would have said no, but I didn't. Now after 4 years I'm really happy it happened. We were very lucky, she's a great kid, gifted academic, no trouble and there is enough extended family support that we can still travel like we had before, plus I get to show off places like London to her when she does travel with us.

So my point is actually never say never. I'm very thankful she came into our lives and I never would have predicted that before hand. Also as a gay couple we're pretty conscious of the need to be good (rich and indulgent a plus) uncles because we really don't want to be old and alone. Thankfully between us we have numerous nieces and nephews. So definitely make time to build relationships with younger folks.
posted by Long Way To Go at 11:00 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

My plan:

Throw myself as fully as I choose into art and study.

Stay up as late as I damn well want. Spend the whole day reading when I choose, spend the whole night working when I choose.

Work longer hours for the cause I have found that is important to me than people with children have time for.

Have *lots of* pets. Have time to take excellent care of them all.

Go out dancing on the weekends when I feel like it without scheduling babysitters. Go to museums when I want to do that instead. Or, if I feel like it, spend the whole weekend snuggling with my husband watching movies.

All of this is nice, but I think the ones which will make me feel that I have Done Something Great are the time I have to focus on art, and the time I have to focus on my Cause (which is reptile rescue). But I love the small freedoms too.

Forgive me if I sound a little overly gleeful and celebratory-- I finally, after many years of talking to doctors about the procedure and being refused, got my tubes tied just yesterday, and I am absolutely joyous about it. (If a bit crampy and still on vicodin.) But I have never had any question about whether I wanted to have children, so for me this is just matching my body to the way my mind has always been. I like other people's kids, mind. I've just always known I didn't want any of my own. I have no desire to offend those who do have, or want, children with my bubbliness. I'm just happy I finally got to make the right choice for me!

Another thing to consider is being the Crazy Aunt to one's friends' or siblings' children. Remember that supportive and cool adults who aren't the parents can also have a huge influence on a developing mind. And by not having to spend all your money on necessities such as food and doctor's appointments for your own little ones, you can have the cash to spoil the kids in your life with extra-cool gifts! I plan to buy artistic and educational toys for my brother's alleged future children, myself.
posted by Because at 11:32 PM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

focus on getting really good at your career, so that you make good money, and can work less hours. live cheaply, save up, travel, retire dearly.

live spontaneously! sleep in until 2pm if you feel like it!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:00 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've paid off my house and now I intend to save up until I can retire early. By "retire", I mean work sporadically at this and that, off and on, work for myself, start a "lifestyle" business, anything except working 40 hours a week for someone else.

Once I have "retired" I intend to throw myself into learning about everything. I'll play the piano a lot, I'll "apprentice" myself to anyone who's happy to teach something interesting. I'll join all kinds of clubs, and go on organised walks around my area, read more books and newspapers, travel more. I'll work part time at a really interesting job that pays poorly.
posted by emilyw at 1:22 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ensure your intellectual curiosity is not horizontal. or don't stay within your comfort zone.

let me explain: My life-long friend decided not to have kids very early on. We've know each other since we started Kindergarten and still have a very solid friendship despite some real challenges some of which had to do with us having kids and them not.

What I notice is that my kids introduce me to things and I adapt them for my own use far more than she does. She feels very threatened by anything other than e-mailing, when we are now Skyping, Flickring and Tweeting to maintain contacts all over the world. I've managed to adapt Twitter for work and gained kudos as a result. I've changed the way my remote working team works as a result of things my kids introduced me to. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I wouldn't have found solutions but I might have chosen different and more expensive options.
Being familiar with changing tastes in music, current issues facing teens, etc., has been an eye-opener for me but she's quite dismissive of all these things. When I hear her responses sometimes to certain things I think "my God, she sounds old!" it's almost a "get off my lawn" type response.

So don't just pursue things you currently enjoy; develop new interests all the time and have relationships across all age groups is what I would recommend.

We've travelled a lot with our kids and will travel just as much as the fly the coop so that's never been an issue but I do take the point about travelling in better style because the expense can be very stressful, although mainly in relation to their education.
posted by Wilder at 2:13 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Travel, enjoy fine food and drink, write, play an instrument, indulge your hobbies to the max, and generally enjoy the far greater amounts of time and money you will have throughout your entire life.
posted by Decani at 3:47 AM on February 17, 2011

My husband and I thought about this a number of years ago and our conclusion was to arrange our life (both in a conscious and not so conscious manner) so we are able to take advantage of serendipity. This means a few things:
-remaining flexible about priorities
-having a few BIG goals and grabbing opportunities to work toward them
-supporting the other if a great opportunity comes along

Our BIG goals include travel, as highlighted above, but also living abroad, expanding our education and staying in shape. When interesting things come our way that work toward these, we do our best to evaluate and take advantage.
posted by chiefthe at 4:42 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

One problem is that before reaching the (largely) sunny uplands that is life without children is is often necessary to spend many traumatic years of travelling through the hard country of "potential parenthood". If you have kids and subsequently decide that this was not the right decision for you then - tough basically; the decision is not reversible and you must live with it. However if you don't have children you have to endure the near-lifelong theoretical possibility that you could do so - if you only met the perfect partner, discovered the perfect fertility treatment or adopted a doe-eyed child from [insert country of choice]. Once upon a time then age would rule a couple with a woman older than about her mid 30s out of the equation in the eyes of society. Not now.

So what I would wish upon younger people who are looking at parenthood a long-shot option is the wisdom, strong personal preference (shared in a couple) or good fortune to not spend a decade or so of their lives in limbo.

Also: (as part of a hetro 40-something couple) - we have found that we often have more in common with gay, recently retired and much younger people than we do with parents of our own age. In particular it can work better to live in a place where there are lots of people in this category.
posted by rongorongo at 5:13 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can I just add that having kids and doing many of the things mentioned above aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. We have two kids; got them to – and saved enough to get them through – college. We're from humble blue collar beginnings, yet we've travelled in Europe, kayaked over waterfalls, laid on Caribbean beaches, hiked rainforests, snowshoed in mountains, dined in big cities, skied a lot, learned multiple instruments, learned to draw, volunteered, started second careers and developed a circle of friends populated by people with older children, younger children and no children. Somehow it's always positioned as a fork in the road with only one of two paths you can take. You can go right down the middle, too.
posted by lpsguy at 6:55 AM on February 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

I've enjoyed reading all the responses here to the OP's question. It's nice to see a calm discussion of what is sometimes a delicate topic (namely, the decision to have or not have kids), and I think that there are lots of good ideas in the comments.

Let me just add to lpsguy's statement that having kids and doing many of the things mentioned above aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. I know that this wasn't your original question, but my comments (and those of lpsguy above) are directed at the readers who might be asking themselves (as I was, 10 years ago) if I could both have kids and do some of the things I wanted to do with my life. Forgive me for the slight derail, but this is the kind of discussion I would have enjoyed reading when I was childless and still thinking about these topics.

Do you like travel? Travelling with kids can be an amazing experience. First of all, nothing brings you in close contact with foreigners more than having your kids playing with their kids at the playground. And kids (especially the young ones) have no language barrier, so it's an instant party! Next thing you know, you're practicing your French with the nice mom who's about your age and who invites you over to her apartment for lunch with the kids.

Second of all, nothing turns the old into the new like seeing things through a child's eyes. Big trees! Dinosaur bones! Cool bridges! Ferry boat rides! All these things are absolutely amazing and we tend to forget about it as we grow older, but you know, bridges really are neat to look at, and I could spend hours at the tar pits anyways, so having a five-year-old who wants to check out the saber-tooth cats and the wooly mammoths is just the excuse I need to hang out there for the afternoon.

Do you like to sit on the beach with a book and a six-pack? So do I, and with an extra towel and a $2 shovel/pail/play set, my kids will sit at the water's edge for hours, building elaborate castles and walls and tunnels and traps and such, and I get through about five magazines and a paperback book. Then we enjoy sandwiches under a shade tree, we drink too much root beer, and we have a splash fight before going back to the magazines and sand castles.

Do you like to fly a kite, go to the zoo, hunt for bugs, shoot off model rockets, or see the circus, but feel kind of silly doing that as a grown-up? Kids are an instant excuse to do so.

Finally, for the het guys out there, if you're at the park with the children on some sunny afternoon, you get major praise from every woman within 500 yards. I never get tired of having some cute little thing gushing over what a great father I am and how lucky my wife is, even though I'm just sitting on a bench reading the paper keeping half an eye on the kids. Yeah, it's totally unfair (and it pisses off my wife to no end), but that's life. I get home sometimes with two or three phone numbers in my pocket (for playdates, of course... what were you thinking?), and it's a nice ego-boost.

Seriously, though, kids are also a great way to meet people, and we've formed some wonderful friendships with other parents that we never would have met otherwise.

All I'm saying is, there's usually a way to incorporate kids into the kind of life and lifestyle that you want to have, so you shouldn't think of this as being an either/or situation. Now, if your desired lifestyle is going to world-class restaurants or reporting from war zones, then yeah, you better make sure you've got good child care lined up. But if your desired lifestyle is sunny days at the park, quiet nights at home with popcorn and old musicals on the DVD player, playing songs on the guitar, camping out on the beach, looking at the stars through a telescope, or exploring a stream and forest, then kids can only make those things better.
posted by math at 8:26 AM on February 17, 2011 [11 favorites]

I think most of these responses are more suited to the question of "what to do if you think you ARE going to have kids in your late 30s..." ie they are things that you Parents regret having not done enough of before you got knocked up.

If you never have kids it doesn't matter too much what you do with travelling / adventuring when you are young - you can do that in your 40s when everyone else is at home looking after their kids.

I'm approaching late 30s, and it feels like everyone i know is having /had kids right now. - I miss having my friends around to go to the pub. I don' t know what you can do about that when you are younger. Maybe try and find more people with the same outlook and bond together as a substitute 'family' that you may need to lean on more and more as you get along in years.
posted by mary8nne at 8:45 AM on February 17, 2011

Best answer: I'd kinda echo what math says. Live without kids like you'd live with them, and live with them like you'd live without them. Kids are a constraint, but constraints center you. I'd want a way to be similarly grounded without kids, whether by taking on some monumental lifelong project or cultivating a truly fabulous circle of friends or something along those lines.

Two reasons.

First, it provides a narrative arc to your life. Maybe I'm projecting a bit, but I get the feeling from older childless friends that their lives are a bit less defined epochs, for better or worse. Personally, I like it. Even after just a few years of parenthood, time is measured way more on their timeline than on my own. Sweet jesus, nothing makes you feel your life marching along towards death so acutely. Not a day goes by when I don't think "ooooooh, shit, I better enjoy this because it's not going to last."

Second, you want some long term big thing to be proud of. God willing, when I'm on my death bed I'll be able to look at my kids and feel like I did ok in life and am leaving behind something to be proud of. I may not feel that way about my job or my hobbies, but I'll feel that way about them.

Figure out what you'll feel the same way about and throw yourself into it.
posted by pjaust at 12:20 PM on February 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: So, I'm getting distressingly close to both 50 years of age and 25 years of marriage so I suppose I qualify to discuss at least the first half of your age range. In comparison to my child-rearing siblings and friends, I'd say that the primary difference in our lives has been freedom to follow our passions without having to make difficult decisions about how those interests might affect our children. Travel is certainly one of those areas where we have been fortunate enough to have an extremely wide variety of experience that we will always treasure, but in a more systematic way I'd say that we have been able to throw ourselves headlong into whatever interested us. This has ranged from successful, risk-filled careers to becoming a world-class poker player to learning to fly to all manner of satisfying volunteer work. It also has allowed us to be available to take our siblings' children for a week while they get to take their dream vacation or to spend time helping our aged relatives when they need it or even just being able to drop everything and drive to my sister's house when she needs a hand.

If I could go back and offer my 20-something self advice, I'd tell myself to say "yes" to more things. Take that crazy 3 month trip and find a new job when you get home, try starting your own business instead of following the "safe" path, follow that crazy impulse to learn to kayak or play that instrument or join that organization. As I look back, I don't regret a single chance that I took, even the ones that didn't work out that well. The only things I have wistful feelings about are the ones I passed on.

But I don't think being childless is a magic happiness sauce, no more than having them is. The primary difference is that all things being equal you have more money and more time. Use them wisely. You could squander that advantage watching crap TV or you could do twice as much as me with a third of the free time and a house full of kids.

Rereading your question before I hit "Post" it seems to me that implied in your question was "do you regret your decision?" For us, the answer is an unequivocal no. Maybe I'm headed for pain and misery when I'm old and childless, but I don't think so. The time I've spent in retirement communities suggest to me that having children is no assurance of avoiding that fate.
posted by Lame_username at 12:22 PM on February 17, 2011 [6 favorites]

Nicely said, pjaust and Lame_username. Great advice from both sides of the issue.

This is why I continue to return to ask.metafilter.
posted by math at 2:28 PM on February 17, 2011

If you know you aren't going to have kids, what would you do to make your life awesome in other ways?

Having kids wouldn't make my life awesome at all, much as I love kids in general and the specific kids in my life (my godchildren, my nephew, my friends' kids, the kids in my neighborhood).

One of the reasons I chose not to have kids was to have more time for writing and reading. One of the reasons my husband chose not to have kids was to have time to be both a research scientist and a singer/songwriter. Also, yeah, travel and time with friends and family and hobbies and all the other stuff.

But you know what? Even if we did nothing but work and watch TV, we still wouldn't want kids, because neither of us is inspired to parent. Even though we both enjoy the children in our lives a lot.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:24 PM on February 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

One more thing: I absolutely don't feel like anything is missing in my life because I don't have kids. I find it hard to even imagine having that feeling. I guess this means I made the right choice, then! (I'm 46, the Largely Mythological Husband is 48.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:28 PM on February 17, 2011

Argh "having kids"-- how many people think about having adults?

The pressure to physically*create*one's*own*mini-mes-- it's pretty strong for many people I know (I know mostly straight couples and queer women). Of the friends I have *over 30*, almost all have at least one kid. It's sad that many of us feel the need to apologize or cushion childfreeness as a decision. It's not like we said we wanted to drink the blood and swallow the souls of the innocent! (Save that for another post).

It's hard to explain to my nieces the perks of being a hold-out on the breeding game when nearly every woman they know *over 16* is a mother. This is all to say, I feel you, 3491again.

I am pretty sure I want to continue to be childfree in my own domicile, but I am nth-ing the responses of alternative emotional investments. I advocate for a reevaluation of the importance of individual adult lives without parenthood being a fiery hoop to jump. If you like, advocate for more adults involved per child! How amazing would it be if children were less often unhappy accidents, trophies, or emotional bandaids, as I have seen them be in some people's lives, and more often supported, happy accidents, planned treasured little people, and to paraphrase Joanna Russ emotional integers instead of fractions.

I advocate for being another version for kids in the world, and for parents and lovers and singletons to be valued too. Nope, they are not always as kawaii as baby mammals. My home community has a long history of informal adoption and kinship outside of bloodlines, complete with aunties, uncles, friend-of-the-family, sister-from-another-mother, play-cousins, etc. Because of this, I would not rule out fostering for some time period later in life, but I am aware of the potential for my energy lagging eventually.
posted by MidSouthern Mouth at 9:15 PM on February 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Make your life worth living for..which means that find a passion of yours-something you always wanted to do, or maybe never thought would be your passion. discover new things
posted by pakora1 at 4:58 PM on February 19, 2011

Have you seen the film "UP"? It has a great answer to this question.

Also it will make you cry.
posted by teraspawn at 5:42 AM on February 20, 2011

I think this is the movie teraspawn was referring to (IMDB / Rotten Tomatoes)
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:18 AM on February 20, 2011

but I wonder if I'll really wish I'd done something huge and rewarding like having children when I'm older.

I think that's the flaw in your question. You're assuming that having children is huge and rewarding. I'm sure for many, of course, it is. But it's not guaranteed. It could also be a pain and heart breaking.

My gf and I are leaning towards not having children. I think many people have children so that they do have something 'huge' that they've done with their lives, so that they fit in, just to make sure they don't regret not having children, to have someone that can give them unconditional love, to have someone that has chances they never had, to have someone take care of them and to visit them in old age.

I find every one of these reasons selfish. Ironically, those not choosing to have children are often called selfish. Couldn't be further from the truth. I realize that my life will change, and I will give up a ton of freedom if I have children. Making sure I'm ready for that, or realizing I'm not, doesn't make me selfish.

Traveling, giving back to the community, becoming involved in important issues, can all be bigger in scale than raising a child or two. If you'd like to help a child by donating to their future, or helping put them through college, it wouldn't be difficult to find a family member that would welcome the help.

But also, and this is beyond your question, I'm not a fan of the idea that those without children must do X to give their lives purpose. If someone wants a life of travel, and reading, and writing, and learning to cook, more power to them. Life is short; live as you wish.
posted by justgary at 6:02 PM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

But also, and this is beyond your question, I'm not a fan of the idea that those without children must do X to give their lives purpose. If someone wants a life of travel, and reading, and writing, and learning to cook, more power to them. Life is short; live as you wish.

Repeated for truth.
posted by agregoli at 9:03 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

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