What to consider when considering children?
February 11, 2014 6:46 AM   Subscribe

I'm 38, female, single and childless in the United States. I never thought this would happen to me but, suddenly, the idea of never having children is causing me intense grief. I can't discuss it without weeping. I'm trying to walk through all of the pros and cons of freezing eggs and waiting for a partner, adopting, or just making a decision that children are not in the cards for me, accepting the grief and moving on. I always thought that when I got into a serious LTR then I would decide whether or not to have children with my partner, but so far that LTR has not happened. If this is going to happen, I need a plan for doing it on my own. My parents are conservative and would probably prefer that I marry and have children the old-fashioned way, but I fully expect that they would support me and adore any child of mine regardless.

What did you consider before making a decision on having children? What do you wish you had considered? No one ever admits to regretting having children, but is that just because it would be socially unacceptable to say so? Does the grief over not having children fade after some time?

I would especially like to hear from people who have adopted, frozen eggs, used a sperm donor, or used other "alternative" methods to have children. Your insights are very much appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (32 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I have had some friends who admitted wishing they didn't have children, especially in the early years when it was so tough.

I had a friend who did not have kids and did find the grief faded over time especially since she was living a happy, self-directed life. I think her partner had a child from his 1st marriage too, but I don't think she was terribly involved there. (Don't discount the possibility of marrying a divorcé with kids.)

I have met other people who seemed tense and bitter about not having found someone in time to have kids. Their disappointment and anger was palpable.

This is Lori Gottlieb's Atlantic article about becoming a single mother by choice. She is what she is, love her or hate her, but there is some good information there about what she went through and what organizations exist to help out.

I think it all depends on how fulfilled you are from the inside and how much you tell yourself (subconsciously) that having children will make you happy, that you are only worthwhile if you've executed the life script (marriage, kids, career). If you are feeling empty, kids won't solve that; if you are feeling happy then kids can be a welcome addition, like a branch sprung from a healthy tree.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:04 AM on February 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

Here is the view from the other side. When I was younger, I thought I might have kids. I didn't hate them, and I just assumed that I would when I got married. I, like you, didn't meet and marry my husband until I was in my late thirties. At that point, I liked my life so much, as it was, without kids, that I was ready to let it go at that point.

I didn't have any emotional issues about it, I just decided that at that point in my life, that I wasn't going to be a Mom.

Here are some issues about becoming a parent that you may not have considered.

1. What if your child isn't perfectly healthy? Do you have the resources to deal with a sick child, a handicapped child or a child with any sort of special needs? With a two-parent family, special needs kids can be a handful, as a single parent, it will dominate your life.

2. Do you have the money to do this without stress? Diapers and formula and day care are expensive. Really expensive. Money can buy a single parent out of the physical drudgery of housework and food preparation. If you're hanging on by a thread NOW financially, having a child on your own will put the nail in your coffin. No matter how much you love your child, having to decide between fresh veggies and formula is NO joke.

3. Do you have the stamina to do this? I'm not kidding. If you come home in the evening and collapse on the sofa, anticipating a dinner of cereal and an evening of watching television, then try picking up a second-job, because parenting is just that. With a child, you'll have to prepare dinner, wash clothes, bathe and read to your kid, fight with him over bedtime, and find some time for yourself. In a two-parent family, you can split the load, one parent can do dinner and clean up, while the other can deal with the kiddo's needs. Even then, the house is a mess, you may go to work in a bikini bottom because no one washed underwear, and you'll pack a lunch of expired yogurt and a soft apple, because kids really take it out of you.

Before seeking out the science of becoming a single-parent, start doing some babysitting. Hang out with kids of various ages. Offer to watch an infant overnight so new parents can get some sleep. You may find that while you LOVE kids, actually parenting doesn't hold the allure you think it does.

There is the romance of children and there is the reality. The days are long and childhood is too short.

I have three Godchildren, I love seeing them, and I love seeing them go home with their parents.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:04 AM on February 11, 2014 [23 favorites]

Here's what they don't tell you (much) - taking care of children is bone-achingly tiring and soul crushingly draining. When I was 36, our first came with disabilities and that was rough. Our second at 40, typical but much more tiring. I learned a trick to help Mrs. Plinth - when the she was exhausted and the kids wanted to climb in her lap and bounce, I would lie down on the floor and pretend to sleep. They went for me every single time.

There are joys, for sure. Between age 2 and age 5 or so, I was careful to transcribe some of the things he said. For example:

Quoth Stuart: "Bad guys are disgusting - there's poop in their pants!"
Quoth Stuart: "what if a boy and a dog and a cat went into hummus?" It would be messy. "what about a hummus planet?" It would be delicious."yeah, you could eat the floor, but it would break into pieces. What if there was a napkin planet?"
Quoth Stuart: "clowns can juggle coats and hats and shoes. And people's skeletons."
Quoth Stuart: "Pinocchio starts with a 'p'-the letter p, not the pee that comes out of your penis."

It's magical to watch a bright little mind start to put together things about the world.

But then the worrying. The worrying seems to go on without end. My little guy has had some problems and they have cost so much in time, effort, worry, money.

I've lost count of the number of times I've had to take my daughter to the emergency room with croup. She'd get it about twice a year and usually it was just a matter of wrapping her up in a blanket and taking her out into cold air to get her airway to relax. The time that she started getting cyanosis from lack of oxygen is the only time I've called 911 and requested the hospital to have a respiratory team waiting at the door while I broke the speed limit because I figured I could save at least two minutes of brain damage that way (and trust me, my daughter doesn't need any more brain damage).

It can be rough.
posted by plinth at 7:11 AM on February 11, 2014 [8 favorites]

Oh, sweetie. We have regrets no matter what we do, simply because we have the ability to SEE millions of exciting paths but the ability to TAKE only a few of them.

I will tell you this: if you have loving, supportive family, you can absolutely, 100% raise kids on your own. I was a single mom for few years (before forming a blended family); while it's hard, it's also easier in some ways (you are the sole decision-maker, there's no compromising with/resenting someone else, etc). I cannot overstate the importance of family support, however.

I'll tell you this, too: you totally do NOT need kids to be happy and fulfilled, or to have a rich, full, exciting life. Kids are not magical, they're just an experience, a HUGE one. Kids are not like climbing Everest. They are like living with a remote Amazonian tribe for decades. You will make sacrifices, but you will also get to see clouds of luminous insects and snakes as big as fire hoses and ritual dances by firelight. Maybe you'll have that experience. Maybe not. But it's not the ONLY huge experience in town (I say this as someone who does have a kid whom I love very much).

If you ever need to talk, Memail me, okay?
posted by julthumbscrew at 7:21 AM on February 11, 2014 [37 favorites]

People absolutely do regret having children, and many admit it, but not in places or situations where their children are likely to overhear them - I know several people who have confided that they regret having kid(s) for a variety of reasons. There can be a great deal of cognitive dissonance involved in being a parent.

Going through the adoption process, I feel, would be beneficial to all would-be parents. We had to be very open about our finances, our relationships (to each other, but also to extended family), to look closely at our support network, to examine our thoughts on issues like mental health and birth defects and disabilities and assorted illnesses.. and to look at all the practical things like finding childcare (and affording it), making sure we had space for the child(ren) that was appropriate and suitable, etc.

Even still, with all of that done ahead of time, I don't think we were fully prepared for things. I'm not sure anyone is, ever. Adoption brings its own set of challenges to parenting - whether you're adopting an infant or an older child - but there are no guarantees when it comes to children, regardless.

I have a friends who assumed their parents would provide childcare - but whose parents were happy to be retiring and travelling instead. Friends who discovered that they could not work full time anymore because their child had issues that didn't allow for a parent to be gone 10 hours per day - but who needed the salary from that job to stay afloat. Even the school hours are not lined up with the hours most people work!

There are SO many different ways of parenting that it's hard to say "well, make sure you get used to doing X or never doing Y again!" but children do take up an enormous amount of energy, time, money, and mental space. Having kids shifts every part of your life in some way - some of it more tolerable than others. In a lot of ways, it's a full-time job on top of whatever you're already doing. Just getting out of the house in the morning, for many years, took longer than I could have anticipated. There's a lot of drudgery involved - the tedium of cleaning up your own mess is amplified by cleaning up someone else's crud. The emotional feeling of, "oh god, am I doing this right? is my kid going to need therapy forever?" can beat you down, too.

I'm in a two-parent family and my husband is really, really involved in the work that's required to raise the kids. From cooking to cleaning to driving to attending the meetings at school, he's there for all of it. And, even still, there are times when I am SO overwhelmed that I'm not quite sure how I'll survive to the next day.
posted by VioletU at 7:26 AM on February 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

I had to have a hysterectomy two years ago. I am the oldest of four children and spent a good deal of my childhood parenting so the desire to be a mother was just not there for me ... that is until I knew I couldn't have any. Then I was a weeping mess for about three or four months. I knew for about a year that the surgery was a good possibility and I did consider briefly having a child without a partner but honestly, it is HUGELY, HUGELY expensive to do this. Housing, childcare, health insurance ... It's a lot. I make a very good living but even with my salary, I knew that it would be a struggle. I just decided that it was a selfish idea to bring a child into the world and then make him or her struggle.

I did (and continue to do) the following things to help me work through the grief of being childless.

-- Got more involved in my nieces and nephews lives. We Skype, talk about books they've read and sometimes write letters.

-- I started reading at the Salvation Army Family Shelter for an hour, once a week. The shelter is for families in transition from homelessness. Each week, the kids come into a reading room and we chat and read for an hour. The kids are a joy and are SO geeked to have someone pay attention to them and only them for an hour.

-- Ultimately, I ended up in a relationship with a man who has a teenage daughter. Once I saw what those sweet little children grow into, the desire to be a parent left me pretty quickly. I try to enjoy her but it's tough.

So, there's that. I wish you the best.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 7:34 AM on February 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Parenting is damn tough, and I say that as a mother whose situation is less challenging than most: one child, perfectly healthy and happy, great husband who does more than his share, two loving and helpful grandma's, stable financial situation, and so on. I could not fathom taking it on as a single parent, personally.

There are numerous studies (google "parenting + happiness") that show that having children makes people, on average, less happy but more fulfilled. This rings true to me: I believe the choice is between happiness and fulfillment. Children give your life meaning as they take away its enjoyment.
posted by rada at 7:37 AM on February 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

Children give your life meaning as they take away its enjoyment.

I've chosen not to have children and instead I have a cat. She brings me contentment, enjoyment and definitely gives my life meaning.

I hope I'm not being too blase about your situation, but have you considered getting a pet? A pet can bring intense joy into your life and can somewhat fill the gap you might feel right now.
posted by JenThePro at 7:43 AM on February 11, 2014 [10 favorites]

I want to offer something. It's not exactly what you asked for, but it jumped inside me when I read this.

I've always been unsure but leaning towards yes when it came to the question of kids. After a long period of bleh and a pretty hard life, I met the love of my life a few years ago, which has been a transformative, healing experience. Early on she was up-front that she didn't ever see herself having kids. I was up-front that I kinda thought I might want them, but this didn't feel set in stone, and that I would sit with it, and my gut said to keep going. So I have. I am so, so happy with her. The night we got engaged I felt so alive and happy and free. But soon after I was surprised to get these sudden emotional WHOOSH feelings where I felt intensely sad at the thought of never having kids. Maybe kind of like what you've been feeling.

In the unenviable position of having to choose between the love of my life and this confusing batch of intense feelings telling me that this is what I want (but only lately, only sometimes), I have gone inwards and poked around, with the help of my therapist, and I have talked about this with my partner in some intense conversations.

I have come to realize that through all the years of sadness and aloneness I suffered through, I had created a fantasy of a happy place, involving a happy family, where there was no pain, with loving, nurturing parents and happy kids. It was both dream and escape. It was what I longed for the most and was a powerful driver in my relationship patterns. I have also learned that this is very tightly connected with my own childhood experience with parents who loved me but had a hard time showing it, who encouraged the repression of feelings. At one point during one of these intense conversations, I attempted to say "I deserve to be a father". But what came out of my mouth was "I deserve to HAVE a father". I also learned that my parents went through some kind of a similar process, and the deliberate denial of emotions that was normal in our house was part of their attempt to create a 'happy place' of their own, leaving their own intense severe pain behind, protecting me and my siblings from pain, but in the end just transferring it and propagating the pattern. Anyway, that's my shit. Your shit may vary.

There are lots of pieces to this. There is a piece of me that genuinely wants kids and would love the chance to be a father, and is sad that this may not be in the cards. There is also very very young piece that is wounded and screaming in pain and is afraid he is not being seen so he is yanking on the emotional strings. The former is capable of thinking about things like maybe fostering kids (which my partner is potentially open to), being close to nieces and nephews etc, and finding ways to meet this need. The latter can only feel his own pain and wants desperately to find a way to fill the hole, and would go so far as to push my partner away to look for someone who is a closer fit to the imagined ideal (nurturing mother).

There is still a possibility that I may decide that having my own biological children is something I need to experience, though this feels unlikely in the light of day. But I think there is some very important work to be done, which I've started and which might be helpful to you, to figure out what your emotional 'holes' are, and whether your inner wounded young self has the idea that children would fill this hole, and whether that might be getting entangled with your adult decisions about what's best for you today. Something about the way you described this experience -- something you never expected to happen, but has hit you suddenly and intensely -- resonated with me, and makes me think you might have something similar going on inside. It was connected with the prospect of the closing of a door in your case and in mine. The intensity and suddenness of the emotions is (for me) characteristic of the old wounded part inside.
posted by anybodys at 8:04 AM on February 11, 2014 [15 favorites]

I would like to add another consideration to Ruthless Bunny's post.

4. How do you feel about starting over at 60? Children leave. First they leave emotionally, and then they leave physically. As a parent, most of your non-working time will be centered around your child's activities (doubly so for a single parent) and your emotional life will revolve around your child, much more than any other relationship you've experienced. When it ends, you may find yourself in an emotional/social vacuum that's harder to deal with than your current feelings.
posted by rada at 8:06 AM on February 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

I don't know whether it's right or wrong for you to have a child alone, adopt a child as a single parent, or wait until you're older to have a child. These are things I considered and rejected for a number of reasons which can all be reduced to "A child is not the purpose of a happy life and strong relationship; a child is a symptom of a happy life and a strong relationship." Children--particularly young children--are exhausting and it's not a task I would willingly take on alone or at my mid-40's age.

You may see it differently and choose to have a child alone or you may, regretfully, come to that same conclusion and let go of the hope of having your own family. If the latter is true and you find that you won't be happy intentionally becoming a single parent, know that it gets better. The grief of not becoming a parent can be intense, but it's like any other grief and it passes. This thread had some good discussion of getting past the moment of realizing you will never ever be a parent.

Sure, yes, you can be happy, fulfilled and lead a good life as a good, loving person without ever being a parent. You know that; you just don't know how. Nobody does--we all make it up as we go along. We find the strength to love ourselves without seeing ourselves reflected in a child somehow. We find ways to nurture the future without nurturing an individual child. We find ways to buffer ourselves against age and obsolescence without children and grandchildren.

If you ever want to talk about it, you can also memail me.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:09 AM on February 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

The decision to have or not have kids is not a decision in which logic helps a lot; the desire and the grief you are feeling is real and it really hurts. I felt it when I just had to settle for one instead of the two I had always wanted. Even though our reasons for doing so were really really good reasons, I was a mess for a while. Because the heart wants what it wants. And wanting to have kids is a normal, healthy, completely understandable thing, as is feeling grief if that doesn't work out.

But if you decide the risks are too great to go it alone, or you try and it doesn't work out, remember that the grief doesn't stay with you forever, and if you seek them out, other things will fill that space that you were holding for that child. Not in a glib ,"Who needs kids? I love to go out and drink!" kind of way, but in a "Well shit, the kid thing didn't work out, but I have found all these other ways to nurture and love other people and improve the world, and my life has plenty of meaning and joy in it," way.
posted by emjaybee at 8:19 AM on February 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

My youngest child is the same age as you, 38. I have never ever regretted having them even though I had them when I was way too young to make serious informed decisions.

One of my best friends got pregnant by accident at 35, birth control fail. It was a casual fling with a foreign visiting scholar. She considered having the baby, discussed it with the man. She didn't need financial help, is a college professor. She had the baby, he's now 14. Her parents adored him from the start, in spite of their very conservative views. He was their only grandchild and gave them great pleasure- both grandparents died in the last 3 years. My friend always had friends who want to help out, she's made sure to live in good school districts and safe neighborhoods. He's a wonderful kid and his mom has never regretted having him.
posted by mareli at 8:27 AM on February 11, 2014

You might find the forums here very useful when wading through the possibilities. Lots of women who are struggling with the same decisions and choosing various paths. Good luck to you.
posted by valeries at 8:29 AM on February 11, 2014

My sister raised her son on her own and he's the most wonderful teenager I know, period - pleasant as can be, doesn't let anything bother him, high achiever, happy, fun-loving, multi-talented. She had some support from our parents, so ideally you would have some support too since that can make a big difference.

I don't think a decision about having a kid should be an over analyzed one. If you do that, it will be hard to convince yourself to have a kid (the money, the lack of sleep, etc.). Instead I would go with your heart - if you like kids and want to have a kid, just do it. It won't be easy, but absolutely nothing will bring you more joy in life. You will not be able to imagine not having that kid. And when you are older and look back at your life, you will feel your greatest contribution, your greatest creation, your greatest legacy, and your closest thing to immortality is your kid.
posted by Dansaman at 9:02 AM on February 11, 2014

... Or not. I'm not close with my parents. They wanted immortality and I am NOT that. So it could go either way and it's a huge gamble.
posted by 3491again at 9:56 AM on February 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

Whenever this sort of question comes up, the only bit of advice I find I can give is this:

When considering whether to have children, understand that there's a very real possibility that everything you love about your life right now will change radically, and perhaps end.

Having children changes everything about your life, sometimes subtly, sometimes radically.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:10 AM on February 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

And I want to add something to Rada's post.

How do you feel about the possibility of not starting over at 60? Not being able to start over at 60?

Right now a child is a beautiful, perfect, special thing that you think can only enhance your life. And maybe that's what your child would be. But there's also the possibility that your child will grow up to be a jerk that you're tied to by complex bonds of helpless love and unbearable guilt (whether it's your fault or not), who will always take and never give anything back.

I'm sorry to be a downer, but when considering children, so many people only consider two possibilities: 1) their child will be basically healthy and wonderful, or 2) their child will be sick, or will be mentally or physically disabled...and yet still wonderful. I think you should ask yourself how you'll handle it if your child is not wonderful.

In my parents' case, two of their kids became addicts, petty criminals, and basic all around jerks, and are still wholly supported by my 82-year-old father on a retirement income that was meant to cover only himself and his wife - not three grown men. These are the same people, the same parents, who had me - a kid who doesn't drink, doesn't break the law (the occasional tv download aside), and has a supportive social circle and a career that pays the bills.

My parents are loving, decent people who didn't radically change personalities or parenting styles in the interval between my brothers' childhoods and mine. They just rolled the dice, like every parent does, and two out of three times it didn't work out well for them.

I'm 42, and I have always had moments when I thought about how nice it would be to have a child - to be a mother. To have someone to talk to about the things I've learned growing up and to watch as they learned the same things, or different things. But those moments have never been enough to outweigh my understanding that a person's own basic decency does not ensure that their child will be decent, any more than a person's intelligence will ensure that their child is intelligent. Nurture does not always trump nature. Making a child is making a whole, complex, brand new person who's just as likely to be a deadbeat or a jerk or a loser as they are to be funny, charming, loving and good.

I'm not saying having kids isn't work the risk. I'm not saying having kids isn't worth the risk. For some people it is, and for some people it turns out great. But before you can decide to take the risk, you need to be aware of it, and be honest with yourself about whether you're up for it if things don't come out the way you hope. Me, personally - I'm not up for it. Like all the other questions Ruthless Bunny and Rada asked, you need to ask yourself how prepared you are to tie yourself permanently to someone you may not like -- and be honest about the answer.
posted by kythuen at 10:16 AM on February 11, 2014 [16 favorites]

I could not appreciate kythuen's post above more. Some years ago, my middle-aged brother decided that he hated my mother - over things that were largely petty or untrue - and this has absolutely crushed her. He essentially divorced her, refusing all contact, for many years. He has recently come around, half-heartedly, but it's too late, my mother's heart has been irrevocably broken. Add my vote to "be honest with yourself about whether you're up for it if things don't come out the way you hope".
posted by rada at 11:21 AM on February 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

My wife and I adopted our children after trying to have ours biologically. My girls are now 17 and 15 years old. I was 47 when we first adopted our 10 month old.

As many have said, being a parent is hard work. It also makes you different from your friends who don't have children (we used to chide our friends for inviting us over for a dinner party at 9 pm).

All that being said, I wouldn't change it for the world. I am so happy to have been a parent. In part, it gives me a chance to evolve from the family I grew up with. Do I make mistakes. Plenty. But I am aware of them and I work not to pass down the crapola that was passed down to me. That is gratifying.

When I first saw my oldest daughter in a strange town in southern China, for the first time in my life I thought there just might be a God. I'm not religious at all but the thought that something would connect me to this little girl so far away was mindblowing.

When I first told my father that we were adopting he was concerned, especially because we were doing an international adoption. My response was this: no matter how you have a child, there are no guarantees. Health, temperament. learning disabilities can happen no matter what. So, it's a crapshoot. That being said, if you do decide to adopt making educated choices (domestic/international, infant/older child, a reputable adoption agency) is the key. And those choices will be yours.

Nothing of importance in our lives comes without risk.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 11:25 AM on February 11, 2014

I think people have covered everything I would say to you other than one thing. The love I have for my daughter is, at times, overwhelming. I love her so much that I struggle with anxiety over her current and future well-being to a degree I've never felt about anything before. I had her and suddenly everywhere I looked online or in a newspaper was about some child being abducted or raped or murdered. That could happen to anyone's child. When you have a child your heart ceases to exist in your own body anymore. It's out there with your child where a myriad of terrible things can happen. It's terrifying.

But even with the fear I will likely have to some extent for the rest of my life I wouldn't change a thing. She's the best part of my life and at times the worst (2 1/2 year olds can be brutal) and so worth it all.
posted by teamnap at 12:06 PM on February 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Having a child on my own is by far the best decision I've made in my life. Yes, it's hard at times, but not as hard as I feared and in some ways more straightforward than parenting with a partner. I'd be happy to chat more about this with you if you'd like.
posted by judith at 12:09 PM on February 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Therapy was a huge help to me in the opposite situation - I was quite sure I didn't want children, but ended up needing to acknowledge and process the grief over that. For more time than I expected, and that gave me tools for when it resurfaced later. Talk therapy can help you deal with the emotions of whatever you decide to do.
posted by ldthomps at 1:25 PM on February 11, 2014

The "your life will never be the same" warnings often have a negative, foreboding tone. When you hear that, which you no doubt will because so many people say it, try to think of it in the positive sense that your life will likely be much better. The thing somebody said to me before my wife gave birth that I liked best (and was the most accurate) was "You are in for a big treat". That just about says it all.
posted by Dansaman at 2:43 PM on February 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I had my daughter last year and used a sperm donor. Like judith, I think she is the best decision I've ever made and has changed my life in ways I expected and did not expect. I love my pets with all my heart but they did not fill the gap in any way.

I second joining SMC if you want to talk to others as your work through your decision. Based on what the ladies on the forum have gone through, at 38 freezing your eggs is likely not the most cost effective idea -- the better choice would be to freeze embryos (which would mean picking out a donor). There are many women who get pregnant using their own eggs in their late 30s-early 40s but it usually involves IVF and looking for that one good egg. Some, after a number of failures, move on to donor eggs or donor embryos. Depending on your health insurance, trying to conceive can be a very pricey undertaking. And adoption can be just as or even more expensive. But all of us at SMC think it's worth it.
posted by bluesapphires at 4:05 PM on February 11, 2014

"No one ever admits to regretting having children, but is that just because it would be socially unacceptable to say so?"

I don't personally regret having my son, but I can absolutely imagine there are parents who do. One thing that's become immensely clear since I became a parent is that it is not a decision people should enter into lightly. Having a kid made me even more of an advocate for people choosing to be child-free, because there is a wonderful, satifying, and frankly easier life to be had without children, without the obligations of being a parent.

I am 100% content with my choice, but I would have been 100% content to have not had a child, as well, despite my immeasurable love for my son. And part of the reason I know that is because I've seen the depth of commitment and effort it takes. Whatever your idealized image of having a child is in your mind, there are depths of parenthood that are gross, unglamorous, exhausting, stressful and frustrating that you're not picturing. So no matter what you choose, don't idealize it, and certainly don't grieve over an idealized image.
posted by anildash at 5:22 PM on February 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Having kids is, for pretty much everyone I know, extremely exhausting and extremely joyful. It's both. The only way to decide it is to think about the end of your life -- would you regret not getting that chance to be a parent, or not? It'll still be your best guess, but there's not much we can say to advise you, as it's so subjective: people who are happy to be childless see the upside of that, and people who really love being parents see the joy. Good luck.
posted by ravioli at 6:46 PM on February 11, 2014

I have the most wonderful and fufilling life without kids. My sister has the most wonderful and fufilling life with kids. Both types of life are completely possible. Whatever you do, make sure you don't base your decision on something you fear. Instead take a chance on something you love. Choose to have a wonderful life.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 7:14 PM on February 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

My wife was a year younger than you when we had our first (why did we wait so long????). We like our kids. It's not easy, though, but, then again, nothing worthwhile in life is either easy, or perfect.

Anyway, viewed from the sidelines (me being a man married to a woman who wanted to have children) the drive to have children is like biological need. It's overwhelming. It's deeply emotional. I don't know how you would use that information, but I think it's important to at least recognize it for what it is. It's not logical. It can't be argued with.

Anyway, even though logic doesn't fit into the discussion very easily, the only thing I would say is that having kids past the age of, say, 35, has financial ramifications (kids are expensive, so you won't be able to retire as early as you would like, or in the comfort and style that you would like).

Also, 40-something bodies are not designed for life with toddlers. It's tiring, especially at bedtime.

But kids are awesome.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:23 PM on February 11, 2014

There is a lot of social pressure to marry and have kids. I realize this question is just about the kid part, but for me, the two were very much bound up together emotionally in terms of how I processed the decision. My upbringing was conservative. It didn't occur to me growing up that I wouldn't marry-and-have-kids, because the way my family talked about it was in terms of when, not if.

I considered:
that I would disappoint my parents
that I was going to be permanently at the kids' table myself in terms of how some people see me (singlism)
that my siblings and cousins have reproduced prolifically, so I don't feel like my lineage is dying out

There was some grief for me when I realized that out of all the millions of directions my life might yet go in, it's not going to go in the direction of marry-and-have-kids, at least not as in never-married childless me hitches up with never-married childless dude and we make bio kids together. But I think that grief was mostly about getting older, almost midlife crisis type of thinking, where I realized that instead of being a youngster who can do anything she puts her mind to, I was now old enough that one former possibility is now no longer a possibility. I'm not grieving it at all now. When I get caught up in past-tense what-ifs, I'm much more likely to wish I had picked a different undergrad major or taken a different entry-level job way back when, than to think wow, I wish I had had a kid 13 years ago so I could enjoy having a 13 year old right now. No offense to my alternate-universe 13-year-old who I'm sure is awesome.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 9:48 PM on February 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm days away from turning 38, and I'm currently trying (and failing) to have a child by myself using donor sperm/IVF. I decided on this versus the alternatives (adoption, egg freezing, etc.) because adoption options for single women are severely limited, and freezing my really old, low-quality eggs seemed pointless. There's no guarantee that the eggs you freeze will be viable, and there's no guarantee that the viable ones will survive the thaw. Plus, egg freezing is basically a bet that you will meet a great guy in your 40s-- and that you will still be able to *carry* a pregnancy at that age. This was not a bet I wanted to take. I am, however, hoping to freeze embryos, since they freeze better than eggs.

Someone above mentioned that the fact that their siblings have reproduced was something that they considered in thinking about this. I've considered that, too-- from the perspective of someone who is an only child with very little family. That's honestly a big part of why I'm doing this-- if I had a huge family and tons of siblings/nieces/nephews, maybe I wouldn't feel such a need to have my own family.

Finally, I think your conservative parents can/ will get over this. I come from a conservative culture too, and my mom thought I was crazy at first, but now she's driving me to all my IVF appointments. Agree with suggestions above to join SMC for support from others going through this.
posted by rhymeswithcheery at 5:03 AM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I will be honest: I am a good parent and love my kids, but I regret having them. I would have been happier without them for a number of reasons, the biggest being that I am an introvert and their constant need for interaction grates on my soul.

Another thing to consider… you don’t know what sort of child you are going to end up with. Both of mine had developmental issues such that they did not sleep through the night until after they were five, and my oldest has Asperger’s. (And I had a stillbirth between my two living children… you can’t imagine the grief.)

Our society does not naturally provide a lot of opportunities for childless adults to have close relationships with children, but you can make them happen, with friends’ kids if you don’t have nieces or nephews. I know several people who have attached themselves to others’ families such that they get the benefits of kid-time but can still have their own lives, and it’s great for the kids and parents too to have another caring adult in their lives. You won’t have the same relationship as their parents do, but you will grow to love each other in a beautiful way. Mentoring or participating in a Big Sisters program is another option if you don’t feel comfortable with that.

Kids aren’t puppies, so it feels weird to suggest this, but foster parenting is also an option. I’ve known a number of foster parents, one set of which was planning to adopt until they had the experience of fostering and realized it wasn’t for them!
posted by metasarah at 6:43 AM on February 12, 2014 [6 favorites]

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