The quest to Cat Lady-dom
March 17, 2013 5:50 PM   Subscribe

I don't think I want kids and that scares me.

I am a 25 year old single female who works part time, is in grad school fulltime, and pretty much is enjoying life at this point. I know I have a good decade or so before I really have to make this decision, but now more than ever I really feel like I don't want kids. And this scares me.

Probably because I feel like if I wanted kids, my life could follow some sort of 'plan,' the kind of plan many people intend to pursue, the kind that is socially acceptable and encouraged. I know it's 2013 and there are plenty of people who don't want or can't have children, but I still fear that I will miss out by not doing so. I live in a part of the US where a strong emphasis is placed on marriage and family (which I don't mind, really) and that most men I come in contact with want to have kids. What if I can't find anyone who also doesn't want kids? The thing is, I haven't ruled out the possibility that I will change my mind in the future but I'm not counting on it. So kids for me are a no, but I can't say say they will always be a no.

I guess I'm wondering what life is like if you choose to not have kids. Do you feel like you missed out? I'm worried that eventually all my friends will be busy parenting and I'll be by myself, sitting alone on Christmas Eve and missing out on some essential experience. Of course those are not justifiable reasons to have kids, but I sort of have the feeling that people jump into procreation with a "well, why not?" attitude and everyone seems to exalt parenting.

I'm worried that my decision makes me some sort of cold, selfish freak who will inevitably end up alone. Anecdata, plz.
posted by thank you silence to Society & Culture (54 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
My uncle doesn't have kids, at least not biologically, but he's got my brother and me. This works really well for him because he could choose what he wanted to do and it was really helpful for my parents; he taught me to drive a car, he took my brother and me to minor league baseball games, he gave us awesome presents, he took care of us when our parents had to go out of town, stuff like that. He is absolutely not alone on Christmas because he's with us.

Even if you don't have biological nieces and nephews, you can have your friends' kids. We have a roommate who may or may not ever want to have his own kids; either way, he is is basically family and has a standing invitation to every Thanksgiving and Christmas and birthday and whatever until we are all dead.

Not wanting kids isn't going to cut off your access to family, it just means you choose what your personal definition of family is in a way that works for you.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 5:55 PM on March 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

No one who doesn't want kids should ever have them. Ever.

But you may change your mind. If you don't, that's cool. Lots of people make that choice nowadays.

(I do caution listening to young people about this though. Ask people in their 70s if they regret not having kids, or regret having them. That's where it starts to hit people in my experience.)

But no child was ever grateful for being born to an unwilling and resentful parent.

You're not abnormal nor selfish, it's good to think about this. It proves you're an intelligent and thought filled person.

But as I said, plenty of us felt that way when younger, and changed our minds. And now lots of people don't change their minds. Vive le difference.
posted by taff at 6:01 PM on March 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Probably because I feel like if I wanted kids, my life could follow some sort of 'plan,' the kind of plan many people intend to pursue, the kind that is socially acceptable and encouraged

Wanting kids is no guarantee that you will get to have them, and among people for whom not having them makes you unacceptable, whether or not you want them does not enter into it. In fact, there's far more acceptance for "I don't have kids because I don't want them" than "I want kids but I don't/can't have them." If that makes you feel any better.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 6:02 PM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm childless and couldn't be happier about it. We get to enjoy our friends children and our niece and nephews. I never feel like I am missing out, more often I think "thank god that isn't me". I reflect at least weekly how happy I am that I'm childless. We joined a childless-and-happy-about-it Meet Up group and have met some really fun people. We find our lives over flowing with cool things to do and the freedom and money to do them.

I know what you mean though. It's a hard decision to make and the pressure to have kids from every one around you is unbelievable. I knew in high school I didn't want kids but for two decades all I heard was "You will change your mind" or "It's different when they are your own".

Like you I wondered if maybe I met the right person I would change my mind, but 4 years ago (at 35 years old) I made my final decision and had a tubal occlusion. Best thing I ever did because a) I don't worry about getting pregnant now b) it stops people in their tracks when they try to convince me that having children is the right thing for me.

Lastly, not having children does not make me less of a woman.
posted by sadtomato at 6:02 PM on March 17, 2013 [24 favorites]

Well I don't have kids and I am unmarried and old. But I don't feel alone. The focus of one's life is just different not better or worse than people with children and spouses.

I wanted children but started to late and could not get pregnant. After crying for two years I got on with my life. I am a wonderful Aunt. I love my nieces and nephews and now their children as well. And they love me. At times I do feel that I missed out on giving birth and that incredible love that most women feel for their children after giving birth but I have missed out on other things in life as well. So what.

Life really is what one makes it. I am okay with not having children and for the most part with being single.

You are still young and really don't have to face this decision for a good 10 years (hopefully). You might change you mind multiple times between now and then.
posted by cairnoflore at 6:04 PM on March 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

I never wanted kids, ever. In fact, the whole concept of "wanting a blood family" is a bit bewildering to me. As a friend of mine put it, "blood is thicker than water just means it's harder to get the stains out!" I'm perfectly happy being childfree, sibling-free, and niece-and-nephew-free to boot. Kids are great when they belong to other people and I can "rent" them, so to speak, for an afternoon and then give them back to their parents. I get to be the fun honorary Auntie Rosie and they get the homework and bedtime struggles.

One thing that makes a huge difference, IMO, is that I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. If you want to be single and/or childfree past the "normal" life-cycle time for this, it's best to live on one of the coasts or in a progressive college town. I have no trouble meeting other childfree people around here. If I lived in a more conventional part of the country I might feel more isolated and regretful. The Bay Area is expensive, but it's a great place to be childfree.

Taff is right on the money in saying that no child deserves to be born to a parent who doesn't want them. You can choose whether to have a child, but a child doesn't choose his or her parents. You do have years to decide whether or not to have children, but don't have kids unless you really want to. There are no "lemon laws" for kids, and no take-backsies either. Once you have that kid, you HAVE that kid.

And whether or not you change your mind when you get older - who's to say? - it's pretty rude and condescending, IMO, for people to laugh at you and, so to speak, pat you on the head and say "Oh, you'll change your mind, honey!" Feel free to change the subject or say "None of your business."
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:10 PM on March 17, 2013 [9 favorites]

I guess I'm wondering what life is like if you choose to not have kids. Do you feel like you missed out? I'm worried that eventually all my friends will be busy parenting and I'll be by myself, sitting alone on Christmas Eve and missing out on some essential experience

This is a thought I have occasionally, but it's fleeting. I, too, live in a place where most people have nuclear families and where women my age are parents or sometimes even grandparents. Here was my arc....

- In my 20s I was too busy doing stuff and I thought I didn't want kids but wasn't sure, decided to put off the decision. Was dating a guy who also didn't want kids. Lived across the country from my family.
- In my 30s I was more settled down with a guy who went to a professional school and I was doing some cool thing with my career and traveling a lot. Moved closer to my family. Had a health scare where it was made clear that having kids might be difficult. I realized that information didn't really bother me, at all. In fact it made my decision simpler because I didn't have to explain it to people. "Not having kids, Can't. So how has your day been...?"
- In my late 30s I split up with that guy and spent a few years being single having some concerns that my lack of kid-wanting was a problem but still didn't get the bug (I never really had that biological clock thing that people talk about where you have baby hunger. I don't deny that it's there, but overcoming it was not part of my process). Met some people who I really liked but who definitely wanted children and that was a bit of a bummer but I also didn't really want to reconsider.
- Met a guy who was a half-time parent of a 12 year old, who I am still with today. We have an LDR so while I interact with and truly enjoy his son, the kid has a mom and I am not her. The neighborhood I live in had about 50 kids within a 20 square block radius and I know a lot of them and many of them know and enjoy me. I get a lot of kid time if I want it and people like that there's someone around to babysit (or also someone to have adult time with if the kids are out somewhere else)
- I'm happy with my life. It's possible I would have also been happy if I had children but I didn't, so that train of thought pretty much ends there. My friends with kids are happy with their kids. It's great to be with people who are happy with their choices. And I don't care too much what people think about me, especially the not-having-kids part. People occasionally tell me that I'd be a great mom and I just try to take it as a compliment and not a weird social pressure thing. Anyone who gets weird about it either gets my probably-can't-have-kids medical history or a serious "let's talk about my drunk and crazy family" heart-to-heart, and I can be fake-righteous about my ecological footprint because hey, it's just me.

Both of the guys I dated previously are now happily married with kids and I'm happy for them. Especially happy because (even though I'm sort of like "Hey you said you didn't want kids when you were with me!") they are in relationships that they like but that also weren't ones I'd want to be in, if that makes sense?

Not having a plan can be a pain in the ass. I was very very lucky that my parents were both understanding of my choices so I felt very little family pressure. I have a good friend group with a lot of people some with kids and some without and that's comfy for all of us. I think much more than being in a kid-or-no-kid community is being in a place where people's differences are understood and supported. Living in a rural small town is, for me, the perfect way for me to do my thing and not have a bunch of people up in my business because they're all with the plan and I'm not. I wish you the best with whatever you decide. There are lots of great ways to be human and you should find the one that works for you.
posted by jessamyn at 6:11 PM on March 17, 2013 [26 favorites]

My wife and I have one kid and for us it was the right choice and we have no regrets. I love being a dad.

I also believe most people should not have children. You certainly shouldn't have them if you don't absolutely want them.

I know a ton of people, both single and partnered, who do not have kids. Almost all of them lead rich, fulfilling lives.

Kids are one way towards an interesting life. They are not the only way. Go your own path and don't feel pressured by anyone else's expectations.
posted by bondcliff at 6:14 PM on March 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

It is plenty acceptable to not have children, or to not have a plan. You're just in the wrong mindset right now. It's okay to never have a plan, and to drift, or to dally.

I, personally, would be a great mom, I think, but my partner doesn't want kids, we like having the extra money (kids are EXPENSIVE) and we do tons of great things that parents don't get to do.

I don't think it's about a plan. It's about accepting what makes you happy.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:15 PM on March 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

Nope... This is totally normal. The great thing about this blog is that it always garners plenty of "me too" type comments...

Cup of Jo:
Would you ever decide not to have kids?
How do you know if you want kids?
...and Some People Can't Have Kids

I do notice that you mention "plans" (predictable and white-picket fency I take it?), the culture of your current locale, and fear of missing out. I think it would be worthwhile to think very carefully as to whether you're adverse to kids themselves & the experience of parenting OR if it's to the suburban white picket fence thing. Taking a vacation to NYC or San Fran and watching all the "alternative" parents and families may take the edge off if it's the latter. Moving to a more liberal place will almost certainly expose you to more men you are less interested in children, and more men who are open to not doing the picket-fence thing, and more people who are happily single and/or childless. I'm from California, and I don't think I dated ANY guys who "wanted kids" LOL.

Also, you don't have to have plural. I want the experience of having parented, but there are other things we want to do too. I don't want to miss out on the experience, but I'm not moving to the suburbs either. We are planning on having ONE kid. And that's okay too.

My aunt doesn't have kids - none of my three aunts have kids, actually. Two have complicating health issues (serious mental health issues that prevent healthy relationships); I don't believe that kids were ever a realistic option for either.

My other aunt is awesome; she has a day job, liked being single/never met the right guy, and spends ALL her free time as a concert cellist. She's in her 60's and has no regrets. She had cats, and that was plenty of obligated care-taking for her.

This is what helped me decide that I DO want A kid: I have no cello equivelent. There is nothing I'm that passionate about. I'm not "career" driven. I've done a lot of things I've wanted to do (travel, art school, etc.)... We have cats, and it was actually a good litmus test: kids are a million times harder and more wonderful than a pet, which makes us go "yay let's have one!" rather than the reverse. (We are definitely "crazy cat people"...)

Personally, I don't feel I'd be missing out on anything by not having a kid... except the kid. Limiting it to ONE makes it a lot more possible to any other things I want to do too. I think the key is making sure it's a conscious decision... if you don't have kids because you want to _X_, then make sure you're doing _X_.

Also, you're only 25. Be gentle with yourself... you may change your mind - or not - and that's okay.
posted by jrobin276 at 6:27 PM on March 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

I feel like this all I say on ask, but therapy really helped me with this. I wasn't at all conflicted about not wanting kids: I love having the money, time, and energy I'd spend on kids. But therapy did help me see that it's ok to have a little ambivalent there, to sometimes look at one of my beloved nephews and wish I had kids of my own. That doesn't mean I should change my mind, it just means that it's ok to be a little ambivalent.
posted by ldthomps at 6:29 PM on March 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

I really think that most of your concerns can be addressed by developing relationships. I mean I know people who have kids, but have shitty relationships with those kids, and they are more miserable on Christmas Eve than anyone. So kids or no kids, focus on developing strong ties within some group.
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:38 PM on March 17, 2013 [11 favorites]

"I'm worried that eventually all my friends will be busy parenting and I'll be by myself, sitting alone on Christmas Eve and missing out on some essential experience. "

Haha, I am soooooo protective of my friends without kids because now that I'm in the kid-having phase, I have to hold on to those childless friends with a stranglehold because a) I can go talk about not-poop with them and b) they can do things at the last minute which people who have kids NEVER CAN. Also children have a radar where they can TELL who is a mom/dad and who isn't, and they KNOW early on that the ones who aren't parents are cool in the not-a-parent sort of way and do fun, not-typical-parent sort of things with them. Family friends who aren't parents join my family frequently on holiday, like my parents' friends (and my non-child-having-relatives) did when I was growing up. I live in an extremely family-oriented community but we know so many couples (and singles) who don't have children (mostly by choice but some by chance), and it doesn't cut them out of the community life at all -- as long as they don't mind being at events where other people have kids.

(One of my non-parent friends took a day off to go to the dentist and she came to the zoo with us afterwards and my kids tugged her from exhibit to exhibit shouting the names of the animals and gave her their fishie crackers. Because they can tell she has no mom-vibe and that makes her cooooooooooool.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:38 PM on March 17, 2013 [15 favorites]

Early 40's and no kids for us, by choice, and it worked out well. Sure from time there is the "what if..." conversation, but you know? Even though I like kids, and actually interact well with them, I'm glad not to have them. For all number of reasons.
The biggest annoyance is getting the inevitable, "so, do you and your wife have any kids?" (with the assumption that we do) and the moment of silence that follows when I say nope. I imagine the social stigma is worse if you are female, but it is also getting better.

Have kids, or don't. There are pros and cons to either situation. But however it ends up, you'll be just fine.

No kid pros: (lots) more money, more flexibility in all aspects of your life, more free time, it is a lot easier to extricate yourself from undesirable employment situations.
(my best friend has 2 kids and he and his wife make about 2x as much money as we do, yet we have a near comparable quality of life because of the income suck the kids are)

No kids cons: no kids, some social stigma, possible you might feel like you "missed out", possible family pressure.
posted by edgeways at 6:42 PM on March 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

My partner and I spent our theoretical children's college fund to live on a remote Pacific island for a year. Worth it!

We have a dog instead of kids and have no regrets. My biological clock just flashes 12:00.12:00, 12:00 like your grandparents' VCR. My siblings have plenty of kids. I'm just having plenty of fun.
posted by kamikazegopher at 6:50 PM on March 17, 2013 [17 favorites]

When I was in my 20s, I was married and neither I nor my wife wanted kids. We got divorced (for unrelated reasons) and years later, we've both remarried. She was right about not wanting kids. She came to have a "family" of dogs. After a few years with my second wife, we decided to have a child and it's been bliss.

I guess what I'm saying is: go with your gut. If your gut is wrong, you'll figure it out.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:57 PM on March 17, 2013

I never wanted kids but I am very aware at 43 of some regret along the lines of - missing out on a life-changing experience, helping a tiny person navigate the world and all that could teach me, the mother-to-child bond, and growing old without the comfort of children. But I still wouldn't go back and do things differently.

And I know there are plenty of kids in the community who might benefit from my engagement if I chose to look for them (community centers, teaching kids to read, big sister organization), and I may well look into that in the next few years. And though I am not comparing that to having children of my own, I do think it would be an enriching experience.

In any case, I think it's fair to say you have plenty of time to change your mind! You needn't worry about it too much at this point. It's so hard to say how one's life may go. Having a child might affect your health negatively. You may have a child with special needs. You may end up a single parent, for one of many reasons. I guess what I'm saying is, it's nice to plan but it's really hard to know where you might be in five years, let alone twenty.

If you were 35 I suspect the advice might be different, because you'd be that much closer to losing the option due to age. But that's ten years away. Ten years is a really long time! (Also, dogs rule.)
posted by Glinn at 7:04 PM on March 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm 48 and so glad I don't have kids. I generally prefer kids to adults, all in all, but parenting was not for me.

My husband is among relatively few people I dated who didn't want kids in the same way I didn't want kids (someone who liked kids just fine and enjoyed their company, but who didn't want to parent), but we found each other nonetheless.

I am very invested in being an aunt and godmother, so maybe I'm gaming the system a bit with that---my adorable refrigerator drawing to diaper change ratio is extraordinarily good.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:27 PM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

You may like this subreddit of child-free folks. Lots of discussions about the benefits and annoyances of living the child-free lifestyle.

I'm only 28, so take my thoughts here with a grain of salt. But: The problem with kids is that they consume all of your time and attention. Once you become a parent it gets a lot harder to be anything else. And that's fine, if you're willing to make that sacrifice. But for me, it feels like there are a lot more interesting paths that I could follow.
posted by JDHarper at 7:33 PM on March 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

I do have kids, but I wasn't terribly excited by the idea until I actually had the first one. if I hadn't been able to get pregnant, wouldn't have bothered me a whit. At 25 I had no plan, other than what to do on Saturday night. I met my husband, and we got together, never discussed kids, tried for a baby or any of those things people supposedly do. I'm crazy about my children, but only because of who they are. Plans are over-rated.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:36 PM on March 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm 26 and neither my boyfriend nor I want kids. We both love kids - I have two nieces and a nephew that I adore and boyfriend is a godfather to more than one little one. We love playing with them and fawning over them and holding babies and such. I'm even considering changing careers to be an early childhood teacher. But I don't need my own kid. I don't want to deal with the expense, and the strain on my relationship, and the constraints on my freedom. Other people are okay with that, and I'm totally cool with that. Just not for me.

What was scary about deciding to be childfree to me was knowing that I would have to defend it, and knowing that it was against the prevailing norm. In your mid-twenties, it seems like everyone you know is getting married and having kids, and not wanting to do what everyone else is doing can be really overwhelming. While my friends are very supportive (and many want to be childfree themselves), my parents and older relatives have a really tough time understanding why on God's green earth I would not want children. Every time someone says to me, "But you love kids! You're so good with kids!," I just smile and reiterate that I do, but that doesn't mean I want any living in my house.
posted by anotheraccount at 7:47 PM on March 17, 2013

I am mid 30s, have no kids, no intention of having any and no regrets. Yet. Maybe I'll change my mind but I don't think so. My husband feels the same way. I actually know a lot more men than women who either don't want kids or are ambivalent enough about it that they would agree to have none, so the odds are in your favour. Can you move to a different part of the country if you need to find a more diverse dating pool?

The one time I experienced anything like a biological clock was when I was on some medication that massively increased my estrogen levels. I thought that was really interesting because it was still very clearly hormonal rather than logical. I felt this desire to cuddle babies and I was very attuned to noticing babies and I found them way cuter than usual. And I found myself thinking abstractly or daydreaming about having a baby, but when I examined the idea more closely was not really willing to give it serious consideration. My conclusion was that if, for me, that is as bad as biological reproductive urges will ever be, then I am unlikely to change my mind or regret my choices.

Finally I do know at least two women who have told me they regret their choice to have children and believe they would have been happier without. So it does happen. That being the case, if there is a chance you might regret either decision, and you feel you could swing either way, the logical choice is first to hold off as long as compatible with fertility, since you can change your mind before having kids but not after! then it is worth bearing in mind that a regret about having had kids hurts you, the child(ten) and maybe a partner, but a regret about being childless hurts only yourself. That being the case I believe the default should be not to have kids unless you are really really sure.
posted by lollusc at 8:19 PM on March 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

No kids, and I don't want them. I am also just about out of the woods in terms of being too old to have them. I was married for quite some time and my ex also did not want them. I have 6 siblings; I don't have any nieces or nephews. That is the data point that usually stops the conversation when anyone starts the "but didn't you ever secretly waaaaaant to? Maybe you'll change your miiiiind."
This is all to say that you are perfectly normal, but it would also be perfectly normal to reconsider at some point. Or not. Whatever you like.
posted by oflinkey at 8:20 PM on March 17, 2013

You know what? You don't have to have the answer to this right now. In your shoes I wouldn't want kids either, for now. Life has stages and that doesn't end just because you are an adult. I think the fact you are asking yourself these questions now tells me you are a person who might change your mind later-I understand there are people also your age who feel strongly and THAT IS THAT but I don't know that you are in that category. Give it a year or two and then give it another think.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:21 PM on March 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

38, married. No kids and no regrets. I never wanted to be a mom - didn't even play with dolls. I think my nurturing impulse somehow got calibrated to baby animals. It was never a difficult decision. I really value the ability and freedom to get caught up in projects and not have to look after little people. I never wanted to live any other way.
posted by Lou Stuells at 8:23 PM on March 17, 2013

Here's what I think you should do: set the matter totally aside for now and re-visit the subject later when you are out of school and have a steady boyfriend you are thinking of marrying. It doesn't seem that it's something you need to be thinking about at this moment.
posted by Dansaman at 8:46 PM on March 17, 2013

Late 30s, single, no kids. Never really wanted kids in my 20s, then decided for sure at 30 (mostly due to medical reasons, but also due to lifestyle), and I'm pretty happy with how my life has turned out. I can and have traveled to exciting and interesting places at the drop of a hat. I can and have followed my career to exciting and interesting places without having to make the conservative choices I would have had to make to support a child. I have two excellent nieces. I have friends who have kids and friends who don't have kids, by choice or by fate. They are all awesome, collectively.

That said, I have some female colleagues who to my shock/horror/amusement have indicated that they find me lacking as a woman because I have not chosen the motherhood route as they have. They say things like, "You just don't understand the depth of human love until you become a mom!" Or, "Being a mom taught me patience!" As if there is no other way to understand and demonstrate love, patience, wisdom. Their opinion of my deficiency extends to my ability to do my job, make decisions, and lead a team. Were I a man, it wouldn't even be a topic. I am beginning to realize just how vicious some women can be to other women.

Do what you like. Give yourself time. But knock off the cat lady jokes and give the childless by choice some credit -- our lives are so much fuller and richer than a punchline.
posted by mochapickle at 8:57 PM on March 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

60 and never wanted kids. Never felt like I was missing anything. I play with my friends kids and am happy to hand them back to their parents when playtime is over.

One relationship ended when he was insistent on kids. (side story: he abandoned the woman who did have his kid leaving her to raise their child alone. Lucky escape for me.)

Don't let anyone: parents, friends with kids, men, etc. pressure into something that you don't want to do. No kid needs a halfhearted parent either.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 9:15 PM on March 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Late 30s, single, no kids and very happy with that. I sometimes feel a bit thingy on Christmas and other family holidays, but that has more to do with the fact that all my family live on the other side of the world and I don't get to see them. It has nothing to do with my own lack of children. I have a niece and nephews (biological) and nieces (through friendship) and that works out great for me. I've also done various things that keep me in touch with kidlets, from reading kids' books to volunteering at a farm for urban city kids to see what animals and farms and things are all about. There's plenty of ways to have kids in your life without having them as your very own, from whom there is no escape.

Interestingly, when I do hang out with kids I have a good time and then go back to my one cat, child-free household and congratulate myself on the wisdom of my choice. It helps enormously that I never felt that biological urge.

Occasionally I worry about what will happen to me as I get older and possibly (someday) unable to look after myself. But I would hate it if I had a child who then felt obligated to sacrifice their own life to look after me when I couldn't, more than I would hate being looked after by people who at least got a wage to do so. And there's no guarantee your hypothetical progeny will do that anyway!

And also, everything mochapickle said.
posted by Athanassiel at 9:17 PM on March 17, 2013


OK, at 25 I was you. Except that at that point I'd been you for about 7 years. ;) Neeeeever wanted kids, still don't. At times, I have that Christmas Eve pang you talk about, but the truth is, what I want is someone to love, at all, and I don't have that. When I start to long for a family I often eventually realize that I'm just longing for a partner. And, as I get into my 30s, it's harder and harder to find one, and nearly impossible to find one who doesn't want kids.

So, I'm starting to think that maybe I'm just going to have to compromise on this part of things, unless I truly do want to be alone for the vast majority of my life. I do not relish either prospect.

So my advice is: find your childfree life partner, look for him like it's your job. I gave mine up because I was too dumb and screwed up to know better, and some lucky child-free girl got him and she does not spend her Christmas Eves sad and alone.
posted by like_a_friend at 10:06 PM on March 17, 2013

Don't equate a childless future with cat lady-dom. It's freedom to do what you want, when you want. Including moving to a more cosmopolitan place.
posted by infinite joy at 10:34 PM on March 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm 52. Here's what I've done so far instead of having kids:

- Immersed myself in music, dance, and photography
- Restored an old house for a nice profit
- Moved from the city to the country and did the back-to-the-land thing
- Designed and helped build my own passive solar house
- Started my own business -- I could take the financial risk because I didn't have dependents
- Traveled, traveled, traveled
- Moved to another country to live in another language
- Enjoyed serial monogamy with several intelligent, interesting men, almost none of whom wanted kids
- Built a community of open-minded, active friends

I don't feel like I've missed out at all and have had zero regrets. Follow your interests, seek out friends who don't lecture you about kids, and see how you feel in another 5-10 years.
posted by ceiba at 10:42 PM on March 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

I'm 45 and happily married to a man who turned out not to want kids either (it happens!). I think he might have been happier with them, but he's happy with me without them, and that's what matters. We go to shows and festivals and travel and moved the last time on a dime because we wanted to go: all things we would have a hard time doing with kids.

I don't hate kids, but I'm happier handing them back to their folks when they are little. I'd like to be closer to my nieces and nephews than I am, actually, and that's something I mean to work on as they get to college/young adulthood.

Some regrets about choosing not to have kids are natural. I had one good cry. It was sad, but it was sad that I couldn't be an astronaut or a ballerina or president either. Life is full of paths you didn't take, and the path of kids/no kids is no different.

One thing I can say about single or childfree adulthood is that you have to be really serious about preparing for old age. I have an elderly relative in this position and she's failed to plan far enough ahead. Now we have to make decisions she may not like because she didn't make them.
posted by immlass at 10:55 PM on March 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is something I struggle with for different reasons. I am gay and wouldn't be able to naturally have children and I just have never really wanted children anyway. I'm not great with kids and the responsibility of it scares me. When you add in the fact that I can't make a child with whoever I end up with, I have pretty firmly decided I will pass. For me, having a wife and some dogs would be enough.

The only thing that scares me is getting older without children to take care of me. I look at my mom, in her late 50s, she's divorced and if I didn't set up her iPod for her, or set up her wifi or teach her how to use her cell phone, who would? She doesn't make a ton of money and I happily order stuff she needs and have it shipped to the house. When I'm there, I buy her groceries. I try to take care of her like she did when I was young. Who will do that for me? Who will take care of me? It makes me really sad and scared just thinking about it. It seems unlikely I will be close enough with my siblings' kids that they would actually feel a responsibility to take care of me -- they live in different cities, for one.

I have read about this a bit, and apparently several studies show parents tend to be unhappier than those without kids. But at least some studies show that when the kids and parents get older, parents are happier than non-parents. But also, old people are just happier in general, according to different studies, so who knows what to make of it all.

One aunt/uncle of mine do not have kids. She couldn't have any and they decided against adoption. They celebrate holidays with nephews, nieces, brothers, sisters, or more casual holidays with friends who also don't have kids or aren't with their kids. For a long time, they seemed like the happiest of all my aunt/uncles. They traveled a lot and had a lot more income to themselves and had successful careers. Now, sometimes I wonder if they need to stay together because each other is all they have. I've noticed my other aunt/uncle seem happier and like they have a stronger relationship ever since my cousins (their kids) left the house. It's hard to tell. I know some of my mom's friends have kids who are nightmares and are a constant burden. Others are blessings.

I think instead of worrying about what it will be like when I am old and senile, or trying to guess an unknown possibility, I should just do what makes me happiest while I can appreciate it. For me, that means not having children, but maybe (hopefully) being a cool aunt.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:38 PM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I will almost certainly never have kids, and I have no regrets about never having kids. Some of us just aren't the parental type, and that's fine. It's great, actually. If there were more of us, the world wouldn't be so dreadfully overpopulated. If you're not going to have kids it opens your life up wonderfully, you can travel and focus on your career and stay out dancing until 3 AM and all of that stuff. You are only responsible for yourself.

But: you need to plan for a future without children. You need to put real effort into making lasting friendships, stay close to your relatives, forge connections that will keep you from turning into a lonely old weirdo. Make a good family for yourself, without a baby in it. I wish I'd done a lot more of that stuff, and sometimes I worry it's too late for me now.

Even though I never wanted to have kids, those parental/breeding instincts still manifested within me in some weird ways. I developed some rather exotic pregnancy-related fetishes, for instance. And when we got a cat a few years ago, I found myself bonding with the fuzzy little bastard in this deep, aching, absolutely primal way, I amazed myself with how much I loved this cat. Like, if anybody tried to hurt my cat, I would murder them. With my teeth.

So, even if you never end up wanting kids, it's not impossible that those instincts will affect your life somehow. Like, maybe you'll get crazy-obsessed with gardening, or you'll start collecting dolls or something. (Or maybe, like me, you'll spoil your cat rotten and turn into a cross-eyed dork whenever you have to have a conversation with a pregnant lady.) My point is, prepare yourself to get a little creepy. Having kids is nuts, but not having kids is kind of nuts too, in its own way.

And it is possible that someday you'll regret not having kids. My girlfriend has expressed some regret about it in recent years, even though she's really not much more parental than I am. I don't think she really ever wanted kids, deep down. But as it becomes more unlikely that she'll ever have kids, she does mourn the loss of that possibility.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:16 AM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm 25, and in your exact position. The only difference is I'm leaning toward 'probably', but happy to not have to think about it for a good long while. The only reason it plays on my mind at all is (the economy being what it is) I haven't had a chance to start saving in earnest yet, and I'll be in school until at least 27. Whenever I make the decision - if I decide to go for it - I will be much poorer than my parents were when they had me, and I worry about not being able to give a child the safety net that I have.

Last week, for the first time in my life, I had a couple of childless friends (who have been married to each other for over a decade and going strong) explain that they just don't want kids. I have no prejudices against those who opt not to have them, but I realised that I would never ask anyone why they don't have kids in case they can't have them.

That's just something to mull on: it may feel as though you're a social pariah because you are childless, when in reality folks are just scared to bring it up. Chances are, if you politely say that you are childless by choice, your friends would be a-OK with that (the ones worth keeping, anyway).
posted by dumdidumdum at 4:17 AM on March 18, 2013

I am 40 and have no kids. I went back and forth about it in my 30s and finally decided that if I didn't 100% want them, I shouldn't have them.

The conditions of my former LTR prohibited the thought of reproduction in any case; if I'd subsequently met someone amazing who *really* wanted children, then perhaps I would have reconsidered, but I'm quite happy with things as they stand.

Things I have that I probably couldn't have if kids were involved:

An opera company which I started

A house with a large front room that I rent out as rehearsal space. Instead of kids underfoot, I have actors and musicians.

The freedom to pursue singing and teaching as my life's work

Time to put in the practice and memorisation hours that singing requires; freedom to travel for auditions, rehearsal and work; freedom to schedule teaching hours around those

Privacy - the big one. Children mean no privacy for at least 18 years. The constant abrasion would make me a very bad parent indeed.

It's also completely OK not to have a Plan. Almost better than a Plan is a certain receptivity to what goes on around you, and an eye for opportunities that will fit your skills, even if those opportunities aren't what you expected. My brother found a job he loved as a result of a conversation in the back seat of a car-- he went in meaning to stay for one year and stayed for 5. If you pursue this sort of life strategy, the ability to focus and follow through on those opportunities is absolutely crucial, so maybe devote your Plan-making energy to that.

All of which is to say: Don't be scared. Endless possibilities are scary by their very endlessness - but also exhilarating. You will find your path. Start walking.
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:31 AM on March 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'm in the somewhat boring stretch now while I'm waiting for all my friends' kids to grow up so I can see all my friends again. We childless are hanging tight together while they all run themselves ragged with appointments for their children and constant illness and worry and exhaustion. I, however, am having a blast with my disposable income and, yes, cats. I also can't wait till all these kids are teenagers, when I can have fun and be cool uncle and tell them the truth about their parents' trashy younger lives.

This is not a thing you need to worry about particularly. Life has a habit of being surprising. If I'd road-mapped my life out at 25, I would have short-changed myself significantly.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:39 AM on March 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Hi! I can speak to this. When I was in my twenties, I thought I might have children, but I always envisioned that with a partner. (I knew enough to know that being a single-mother was not something I ever wanetd to be.) When the guy didn't show up, I found myself getting more and more comfortable with being childless.

I did finally get married at the age of 39 (I'm 50 now) and at that point, I was well-past wanting to start a family.

As I get older, I grow more and more thankful that I didn't have kids. Not because kids suck, they don't, but because I'm so happy being childless.

I am a Godmother, and everyone's Auntie. I get to hold babies, babysit and give my Godson the stink-eye, and then, when I'm tired of it, I go home and play with my cats.

I am thrilled that I don't have to choose between a comfortable retirement or a college education. I'm thrilled that I'm not getting calls in the middle of the night asking for rides home from a bar. When I'm in a restaurant and the toddler at the next table starts throwing a fit, I'm glad it's not my hassle to deal with.

Here's my recommendation, roll with it. Date whomever, but before you get serious, be sure that the other person knows that you're not all that interested in being a mother. You'll be surprised but there are dudes out there who don't want to be fathers.

Hang in there. I've been married for nearly 11 years and I couldn't be happier!

Also, we're going on vacation to Disney World at the end of the week with my friend's 12 year-old daughter. So...yeah...I'm not really childless, am I?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:43 AM on March 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Just another anecdatum: have a child, love her and look forward to seeing her grow up. But also greatly miss my pre-child state, not only from the no-ties have-fun point of view, but also because many causes to which I used to devote energy -- local politics, most obviously, but also small-press poetry, keeping a local bridge club alive, etc. -- just aren't in the picture any more, and I can't imagine that I'll find a well of time and energy any time before... retirement! That seems a real shame to me, as I continue to think that those things are important, but just appear not to be a person who can keep up with all those things and parenting too.

So, from that perspective, spend the time thinking about things you are committed to and think are important, and really putting in some foot-time to advance them. Because that's a thing that your friends with kids can barely do anymore, and the world still needs many such folks.
posted by acm at 6:56 AM on March 18, 2013

I wound up never having kids, about which I have mildly mixed feelings but no strong regrets; however, as a result of my second marriage, I have acquired two grandsons, each of whom I held in my arms the day they were born and both of whom are a constant and unforeseen source of joy in my life. So even if you don't have kids, you might wind up having the experience of playing horsey with them, reading to them, and generally watching them grow up. Remember, life is completely unpredictable and there's no use trying to control it in advance.
posted by languagehat at 7:37 AM on March 18, 2013

I'm about to turn 37. I have always said that I don't foresee myself wanting kids -- with the understanding, of course, that I could change my mind -- and I am finally reaching an age where I am starting to think about permanent sterilization options for myself.

I have a super awesome life, and that's part of why I'm increasingly confident that my desire not to have children is here to stay: so many things I love about my life are about the very things that not having kids allows. I have more money to spend on optional expenditures, including fun and charity. I have more time and flexibility. I don't have to help a tiny, adorable tyrant learn how to be a good person in the world. I get to put myself first in most of my important decisions. It's super super super awesome.

I have an unconventional relationship structure, and it works for me. One of my colleagues, who is 40 and child-free, has a very conventional relationship and no plans to have kids. So that's really up to you.

Not wanting kids will narrow the field of people you can/want to date, but that's okay; not everyone wants to have kids.

I have tons of friends with kids, and I'm pretty deeply involved in their and their kids' lives, and that's the perfect balance for me. Being a child-free friend of parents means that sometimes you have to do a little more of the relationship maintenance, especially when the kids are young. Some of your friendships won't bounce back from that, but a lot of them can and will.

If you wind up cold and alone, it's not necessarily because you don't have kids. And having kids doesn't guarantee a lack of that!

In sum: so far, no kids, super awesome life in all the important ways.
posted by spindrifter at 7:42 AM on March 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

I just turned 30. At 25 I did not want kids. At 27 I thought there was about a 25% chance I would ever want them. At 29 it was more like a 40% chance. Now I am starting to lean toward having them. I have been in the same relationship for ten years, so that helps. I still know that I am not ready yet, maybe in three or four years. Your mind may change, and that is absolutely okay. Even if you make a plan it will probably shift as you age :)
posted by mai at 7:45 AM on March 18, 2013

I'm 33 and have never for a second wanted children. I almost never get hassled about it by anyone, but I'm also not remotely into kids so I don't think I give off any kind of a mothering vibe. Like, so not into kids that I've made it this far without ever having to hold a baby! I'm fortunate to be with a 40-year-old man who also has never wanted kids. We take vacations, visit friends & relatives in far-off places, spend entire weekends reading on the couch, and move to new places when we get sick of where we're living. In my experience, most guys are kind of meh about wanting kids, and generally only get into it if their wives/girlfriends really want children, but I also live in an area with a lot of young single people who have moved far away from where they grew up so that probably is a factor. Moving to a larger city might do you good when you finish grad school. I've also read good things about a new book called I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales From a Happy Life Without Kids.
posted by jabes at 8:09 AM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

You are way too young to be worrying about this.

While there are many examples of women who don't want children and are happy (see above!) we are also creatures of our hormones, and how you feel one minute isn't how you're going to feel the next. You might continue to not want kids. You might also change your mind.

My experience -- as a male observer, and based on my own relationships with women -- is that somewhere around age 30, a switch flips inside many women. I know women who went from being militantly and intentionally childless at 25 to popping out children biennially by 35. I liken it to the raging hormones that men have between 16 and 25. I felt like a walking erection back then. Female hormones can rage too, at different times and in different ways that are probably a consequence of human evolutionary history and sexual differentiation.

Beyond that -- and I feel I should be an advocate here for children, since a world without any children at all truly is a world without a future -- having children isn't any worse or better a proposition than not having children. Raising kids is challenging and sometimes difficult; it can also be an adventure and tremendous fun. Just the same as being childless is sometimes good, sometimes not. That's life.

So it's too early to be "making up your mind about this." This can be hard to believe if you're on the not-wanting side of the divide, but that's what makes being a human being messy. We barely know what we want now, let alone in five years. So stop worrying about this and keep doing what you're doing. Your body is going to do what it does, and maybe it won't care.

Either way, you'll have to cross that bridge when you come to it.
posted by rhombus at 8:13 AM on March 18, 2013

thank you silence: "I'm worried that my decision makes me some sort of cold, selfish freak who will inevitably end up alone"

Not having kids is not selfish. Or no more selfish than having kids, anyhow. And it doesn't make you cold.

It's true that some guys are not going to be interested in being with you because they do want kids. It's also true that some guys will be more interested in being with you for exactly the same reason. You should be clear about your intentions with guys that you start to get serious with, and expect the same from them.

I suppose when I was a teenager, I imagined I would have kids someday, just because that seemed like the default (after all, I grew up in a family with kids). But when I was in my first LTR, in my early 20s, I realized that I did not want to have kids, and I have never regretted that decision. My life has not proceeded according to any particular plan, but it's a good life.
posted by adamrice at 8:46 AM on March 18, 2013

I'm 41. No regrets - I've not only never really wanted children, but both my husband and I really hated being children, it's just not something we felt like we had the tools or inclination to get somebody through.

We have friends who also don't have kids (some who won't, some who are starting to have babies now), and friends in varying stages of child-rearing. We're not extremely social, but we have plenty of things to do when we want to.

Things we are doing right now that are like 25% stressful instead of 95% stressful if we had children: living on one income as my husband has been out of work for a couple of years and is trying to transition into a new career. Foreclosure. Savings gone. Honestly, if we had kids, one or both of us would have been hospitalized by this point. But just the two of us? We're kinda like 'whatever, we'll survive' most days.

Things we probably could not be doing right now if we had kids: living on one income, husband transitioning from technical to creative career, putting out podcasts every week (him) and writing a novel (me). Living in California instead of Texas. Having three idiot dogs (I kind of have regrets about this; we only meant to have two). Not living near our families. Able to move again on short notice, not needing to worry about schools.

It is a little selfish, but then having children is a little selfish too. I've never had anybody ever demand I justify my position, but I can tell you that there are people who assume that we are weird or immature or unfinished because we have not been through the experience. There's nothing I can do about those people except get on with my adult life.

I understand that feeling you describe, of "what the hell am I supposed to do without this (allegedly) prepackaged blueprint," but there are thousands of options available to you - many of which are available to people with children too, so it's not as if you have to live this highly segregated life.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:45 AM on March 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Late 30s, married, no kids, no regrets. We are happy to be the cool aunt and uncle! Having kids is the societal norm and generally speaking we're wired for it biologically, but it's not for everyone.

Thankfully I've never had the "not having kids is selfish" thing thrown in my face, but it strikes me as either religious ("Be fruitful and multiply" and all that) or badly disguised jealousy ("It's selfish because look how much time and energy I spend raising my kids while you get to keep doing pre-kid stuff!")
posted by usonian at 11:00 AM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just turned 30, so I still have a ways to go, but I have never and probably will never want to have children. I hate absolutes, but let's say I'm pretty darn sure. I don't actually enjoy them, and I am not as close to my "mommy" or married friends as I was before they had children, but I am not lonely. I still don't really have a "plan" but I lucked out that I'm with someone who is happy with helping me muddle along.

There will be guys out there who don't want to have kids, or who are unsure/leaning towards no. This is one of the things that I think online-dating is so much better at, at least if folks are honest.
posted by sm1tten at 5:00 PM on March 18, 2013

Forgot to add: I did get some really mean, hurtful reactions from some people over my choice to be child-free, but as it turned out, those people were the kind who shouldn't be in my life anyway... and now, they aren't.
posted by sm1tten at 5:02 PM on March 18, 2013

I have never wanted kids, and I'm over 40. I have never regretted not having them. Here's a list of positive things that have resulted from my decision:

-Retaining my youth
-Picking up and having adventures whenever I want
-Taking jobs I enjoyed rather than was obligated to keep
-Dating interesting partners without worrying if they were good parenting material
-Staying up late whenever I want
-Getting enough sleep when I need it
-Living where I choose to
-Having much more free time
-Having a lot of love to give my two nephews and time to help my sister and her husband
-Not worrying myself sick over a child (which I probably would, if I had one)

Enjoy your life. You may change your mind, but I never did. I knew from the time I was 8 that I didn't want to have kids.
posted by xenophile at 8:29 PM on March 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm not a kid person. My male partner is. I'm not sure how that will end up -- I might be persuaded -- but I've never felt that burning desire to have kids.

I wanted to pop in here to say that if you don't have kids, you don't have to then really enjoy your nieces and nephews or friends kids or whatever. You can just live an entirely child-free life as well.
posted by 3491again at 10:11 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Popping in to add a couple more comments specific to the fact that you are a woman:

- Women are expected to love children, and even in this day and age, a childfree woman can be looked upon with suspicion as being "cold," "selfish," "unnatural," "unfeminine," take your pick. And if you are childfree, you are still expected to love the hell out of your nieces and nephews and something is wrong with you if you don't. It's perfectly OK if you aren't a doting aunt (as 3491Again says). You don't have to like kids, and you don't have to shower attention on child substitutes. I myself can play the doting honorary aunt for just about one morning or afternoon at a time, a few times a year. I don't babysit except in emergencies. I'm not a nurturing person. And if that makes me selfish and unnatural then so be it. I'm better off not inflicting that on a kid, right?

- If you do eventually decide to have a child, and plan to raise that child with a man, guess who will be doing most of the child rearing? YOU will! Guess who will be doing 100% of the pregnancy, birthing and nursing (unless you adopt)? YOU will! Fathers are getting better about participating in parenting but the workload is still far from equal, and this is something you absolutely, positively MUST think about. And of course, pregnancy, childbirth and nursing are all things that your body and yours alone will go through. I think that whether or not to have children is a much more fraught decision for a woman because of this, and women need to really think things through carefully because the majority of child care still falls upon them. It is your body, your time and energy, and your career that will be taking the hit, and you have to decide whether it is worth it. My decision was NO WAY IN HELL. YMMV.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:23 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

My experience -- as a male observer, and based on my own relationships with women -- is that somewhere around age 30, a switch flips inside many women.

There might be a cultural difference between the UK and US, but I find over here it isn't seen as remarkable if a married couple, for example, choose not to have children. It wasn't until I got into using the internet that I knew the 'childfree' movement was a thing.

I knew from a very early age that I didn't want kids, something I kind of 'knew' deep down in probably much the same way people know whether they are gay or straight. I don't really get the fuss about babies (though small children are fun) I don't think I need to reproduce, it just isn't something on my list of things I want to do. Having a baby is really hard even for people who are broody - I don't think I could cope with a screaming, dependent infant for very long at all. I was made to feel weird a little when I was younger and I didn't make a fuss over babies or children that were around, but as an adult I don't feel that I need to justify my decision. Perhaps that's a reflection of the people I know and make contact with - in my home town it is enormously common to get pregnant/engaged before 20 - but I have never understood why it is considered 'selfish' to have a child one does not want. I'm 31 in a couple of weeks.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was 25 and I was really glad that kids wasn't something I wanted, as the risks involved with medication and pregnancy and puepuertal psychosis are too high for both me and any child I'd need to look after. When my feelings on the subject have been tested, it remains something I can't ignore. I know people who are unable to have much-wanted children for medical reasons, and I feel lucky that I don't need to grieve for the narrowing of my options. (I can't drink grapefruit juice either.)

I also live in a very expensive city where the chances of us being able to buy a flat or house is unlikely, and this would also be a factor - I know a couple who have just bought their first flat and told me that if they decided to marry or have children, they would never have been able to buy a home. (If I did want to have children, I'd rather do it in a home where I could feel more secure or decorate their bedrooms, or let them have pets - in the UK, renting means no pets, no painting, no putting shelves up, and in London some agencies will not let to families with young children.) Maternity cover here is much better than it is in the States - I think it's something like six months on full pay - but the cost of raising a child is huge, and if you are the primary carer - rightly or wrongly it is usually the mum who takes the bulk of responsibility - you can expect to have to cut back on your hours at work or find that your job is less compatible with having a baby/child, which makes a big financial impact.
posted by mippy at 5:27 AM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

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