No Kids? How did you fill that kid shaped hole?
August 11, 2014 3:04 PM   Subscribe

The missus and I are working through the decision to procreate or not. She's not so interested, I kinda am. I'm looking for insight and experience from people who chose not to have children, but still care about and like to spend time with kids. Details inside.

Background: early to mid thirties hetero couple. Good stable jobs. Married for 8 years. When we got married, the idea of kids seemed far away, and we both assumed we'd be into it when the time came.

That time is rapidly approaching. Lady has come to a place where while not wholly against the idea of kids, is on the no side. I find myself interested in raising a child. I wouldn't describe myself as really having that kid shaped hole in my heart that I desperately need to fill, but I am interested in, and positive towards the premise.

Sanely, we've been doing some couples therapy to help us work through this issue. It's been challenging but good for us and our relationship. Part of that process has been for us to explore what are lives would be like on either side of the choice. We don't have many older friends who made the no-kid choice, and so I come to you, dear Ask Mefi.

I've read through a couple of the related ask MeFi questions and they raised some interesting ideas. Kids provide the most common structure and narrative arc to ones life. Some who don't have kids but still wish to have that arc try to find a challenge, or life goal(s) that they work to overcome. Many also just live, indulging their desires as they see fit. The most common suggestion seems to be that travel is the thing for the kid-less. It seemed like many who chose not to have kids, have no interest in children, which is fine, of course.

But I'm mostly interested in hearing about a sort of middle ground. Which is, you like kids, you had some interest in raising one, but ultimately chose not to have any. How do you scratch that itch? Do you just ignore it? Do you volunteer? Are you the kick-ass aunt/uncle? Do you have regrets? Do you find satisfaction from the ways you moved forward without your own kids?

None of my closest friends have kids, though there are some around. I'm unlikely to ever be an uncle.

Thanks in advance for sharing.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
A friend scratched that itch by fostering four tween/teen Sudanese refugees ("Lost Boys")
posted by sentientsock at 3:24 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well, If your schedules allow for it, consider getting certified in your state to be an emergency foster care family. Or, if you're able to do a longer commitment, being a medium-term foster parent. It comes with its own challenges, and you might be dealing with some really crazy situations, but the upshot is that you're giving a kid who has zero stability, just a little bit for a spell.

A couple I know who is infertile goes this route, and while they're sad they can't have bio children of their own they love their foster kids. The foster kids they take care of will probably be placed with family members in the future. They eventually plan to go the foster-to-adopt route, but that takes a long time, and is entirely optional.

One of the upshots that they have mentioned they love about fostering, is that you can take breaks between the kids assigned to you. So you can take 6 months or a year off of parenting, do your own thing and reevaluate if you want to jump back in.
posted by furnace.heart at 3:46 PM on August 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

is Big Brothers/Big Sisters an option for you?
posted by Hoopo at 3:49 PM on August 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

There are plenty of kids out there who need more part-time adults in their lives, from friends who just need a break from their kids and are overjoyed if you take those kids and enrich their lives, to all sorts of volunteering and mentoring opportunities: Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Mentor Me, any number of other programs that can benefit from more engaged and caring adults.

I don't have any kids biologically my own, but I get Father's Day calls.

We ran a program for a while to do crafts and build things and involve in 4H various kids from low income families, eventually got burned out because their parents are just too damned much work, but, yeah: If I need a kid fix, all I have to do is put "I feel like blowing something up" or "I'll be hanging out in the workshop on Saturday" on the social medias, and kids will appear.
posted by straw at 3:54 PM on August 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

I have a dog and a girl scout troop.

Having a dog and a girl scout troop has convinced me that I don't want my own kids. I want someone (the dog) I can dote on and care for and sometimes make wear tiny sweaters. And I want to be able to make the next generation better in at least some small way, who I can teach things to and who I can learn from. I get that from my scouts.
posted by phunniemee at 3:54 PM on August 11, 2014 [26 favorites]

In many ways dogs are a lot more work and just as expensive as kids.
posted by Nevin at 4:16 PM on August 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

My wife and I fill that hole with money, early retirement, impromptu vacations and never smelling a dirty diaper in our home.

We both like children and enjoy the children of our friends but we chose to not have any of our own after watching how they take over the lives of parents. Taking a kid for a day trip or to an event or whatever is exactly the amount of child we need, and the actual parents get free babysitting: a mutual victory.

Kids provide the most common structure and narrative arc to ones life.

Yeah nah, only if you let them. My life's narrative is fine without 'em! Writing, traveling, my hobbies and passions all fill my life in a broad spectrum rather than the monochromatic childrearing experience that I see consume so many parents for 18-20 years. More power to 'em if that's what floats their boat, but it would sink mine.

As far as regrets: hell no. Every time we see a kid shrieking in the grocery store, every time we watch a family leave apologetically from a restaurant with a forty pound tantrum in tow, every time my former coworkers needed to take a personal day because the daycare wouldn't let their kid in for having a snotty nose, it's a fist bump type of moment for us.
posted by Sternmeyer at 4:33 PM on August 11, 2014 [48 favorites]

I taught high school for a couple of years. Then all my friends had kids, so I'm a Godmother, and I hang out with kids occasionally.

I also embrace all the stuff I can enjoy because I DON'T have kids. A nice retirement account, no worry about college funds, travel, sleeping in on the weekends.

You can teach a martial art, coach a sport, even if you don't know stuff, adult supervision is ALWAYS appreciated.

And Husbunny and I feel EXACTLY the same as Sternmeyer. We fist-bump every time we see an epic parenting fail. Thank goodness is ain't us.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:40 PM on August 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

I've always been net-ambivalent about kids and my husband has been net-against. One of my close friends is currently pregnant and I am super-excited at being a participating adult in FutureFriendKid's life. Like, trolling MeFi questions for ideas from now until kid is age 6 excited. I know "go make some friends with kids" is not the kind of thing you can go do instantly, but it's definitely part of my answer to your question.
posted by deludingmyself at 4:58 PM on August 11, 2014

Other peoples children, no matter how charming, would put anyone off procreating. Evolution makes your own kids irresistible.

Don't bring kids in to a home where they're not wanted. But you can't test drive the experience of parenting, even as a foster parent. (Adoption is completely different to fostering.)

When you give birth to, or adopt, kids you have ongoing input in to their interests and some degree of influence over their behaviours. Aunts/uncles, god parents and short term foster parents generally don't.
posted by taff at 5:37 PM on August 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

When I got married, I was 100% against having kids (more for zero population reasons than I-hate-kids reasons), husband was 50%. Over time, we both settled into 80-90% don't want kids. I love my nieces more than I ever thought I would love a kid and occasionally get wistful. He has learned the beauty of being able to go home when the tantrums start. Now that we're in our 40's (and post vasectomy), we get our kid fixes via our nieces, mostly. Hubs does tabletop gaming, so he has some teenager friends. I've made friends with people much younger than me who are just now having babies, so I get a kid fix that way too. I can see both sides of the coin on this, but for us, not having kids was the right choice.
posted by dogmom at 5:43 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm on the super kickass aunt/"aunt" plan (i.e. for both family and friends that are basically family). I loooooove that, but it's about as much as I can handle. I also work with teenagers, which covers a lot of the satisfying mentoring aspect.

Someday way down the road, I might foster kids.

Some of my friends have spoiled rotten pets instead of kids.
posted by ktkt at 6:13 PM on August 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you have families with kids in the neighborhood, get to know them. Have a potluck with those families, and if you like them, offer to watch the kids to give the parents a break once in a while. Have fun stuff and pets in your home that kids will be interested in, and play games with them often. Then you can be the cool grown-ups that all the kids want to visit. This can definitely fill part of the void.
posted by oxisos at 7:03 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

My wife and I fill that hole with money, early retirement, impromptu vacations and never smelling a dirty diaper in our home.

Pretty much this, plus every time a friend has a child is one more chance to have kid time (and then give them back when they get smelly, sticky, or sad).

We were pretty much neutral on the subject, in that we liked kids but weren't super compelled to have our own, and then a routine doctor visit brought out that kids weren't happening without serious, hardcore medical intervention. It was interesting to have go from a choice where we were leaning towards "no," to not-a-choice where the answer was "no" like it or not -- it's not the same thing even if the answer is the same.

I get plenty of kid time from friends' kids, and it would be easy to get more if I wanted that. Parents are desperate for free babysitting, and it's fun to be the "bad uncle" who gets them wired up on sugar and activities that seem fun-dangerous to a kid but are really super safe.

The only shitty thing is all the people who just won't stop with the "You should have kids!" Nothing you can say will stop them -- jokes about liking kids parboiled get titters and procreation advice; talking about infertility gets recommendations for procedures that worked for their sister. Other people are the part you'll have to make your own peace with most of all, in my experience.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:42 PM on August 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

I fill it with Dragon Age II. Or sometimes Skyrim, or Guild Wars.

I also fill it with reading, writing, watching movies, television, hanging out with friends, and adoring my cat.

I have friends with kids, and hanging with those kids and getting to hug them and teach them stuff sometimes is fun. Waving goodbye as they go back home is MAJOR fun, too. Especially after a long weekend.

I used to think idly that it might be nice to have a kid, but I've never really felt like I was ready for that kind of commitment to another human being. I think in some ways I get to be less "grown up" than other people my age with kids, and that makes me happy. I have a good job and good friends and a good life. I don't particularly feel like I've missed out on my life's purpose or anything, and I don't feel selfish or lacking in any way.
posted by kythuen at 7:59 PM on August 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Some of these depend on whether or not your wife wants to participate in child-rearing at all, such as foster parenting. If she's the one who's not super into that idea, I'd recommend not doing foster parenting and sticking to stuff you can do with kids alone.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:17 PM on August 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm a kickass aunt. No biological nieces or nephews; I'm an only child. I take chosen family very fucking seriously.

I have a kind smile and a wink for pretty much all the kids and teenagers I see in my day-to-day life, even the irritating ones being cranky on the subway. I am patient and sympathetic to the long-suffering daily dramas of my friends' teenage children and will listen and actually pay attention. I can afford to be very generous, because I don't have to invest emotional energy in the day-to-day care of a child of my own.

I'm 40 and my partner and I are quite settled in our minds about not wanting kids. I definitely cannot envision a change of attitude on biological children, which was never something that I felt strongly compelled toward. Adopting or fostering an older child is there as a realistic option for quite a few years, and I'm very open to that (and what it realistically entails) should our feelings shift toward wanting to raise a child. But that's kind of a contingency and I'm really not expecting to ever have children.

I am a little wistful to see how members of his family who have kids are more "part of" the family culturally. Not that anyone in the family consciously intends for us to be "second class," they would be horrified at the thought. But you're right that there is a structure and narrative to having kids, of which we're not a part, which leaves our roles a little left-of-center.

Another con: Fewer people will remember me after I die. I'm not saying that in a poor-me way or to be morbid, it's just a fact. Having children doesn't ensure that you'll be missed when you're gone, but it is a pretty decent way to insure that someone will notice that you've gone.

Another pro: Oh hell yes travel.

Including travel to visit your far-flung friends who live in towns that aren't exactly hot destinations. Who cares, there's always something interesting to do. Besides, if they have kids, they likely have a hard time travelling, but other grownups are visitors from magical lands. Ever ask a five-year-old to explain something? Everywhere is full of brilliant stuff. Ever take a teenager to their first real rock show? My heart swells at the thought.
posted by desuetude at 9:48 PM on August 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

Also, honestly, you've got a considerable amount of time to possibly make a genetically-yours baby. This doesn't help you as a couple if you're wanting/needing to reconcile yourself to yay or nay, of course. That's a separate issue.

But don't get too wrapped up in the biological clock for this year or next or the year after. Sure sure, fertility declines, pregnancies over a certain age have some risks, blah blah blah, if culturally your friends mostly have had their kids already, you'll be out of sync with them if you have a kid at 40. But on the other hand, a ton of people have their first kid at 40 or later.
posted by desuetude at 10:06 PM on August 11, 2014

Also, babysitting.
posted by kjs4 at 11:36 PM on August 11, 2014

I recommend being a CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocate. I think it's very cool, and the kids you serve really need a constant adult figure who will be in their lives. You go to court hearings and PTA meetings, for example. The kids who you help really need you.
posted by ichomp at 12:15 AM on August 12, 2014 [7 favorites]

I fill the hole by doing things I could never do if I had children. I sail offshore, across oceans and love every moment of it. I generally think, though, that it's not a hole to fill but an imperative to make my life awesome in many other ways. Thankfully, my friends have wonderful children and I can experience many of the joys of having children in my life without feeling like I've missed out.

I have a more pragmatic view than most, and knew I couldn't have children at a younger age and made peace with it early.
posted by cior at 12:52 AM on August 12, 2014

for the last few years, every lady I have been involved with sooner or later brought up that she wanted to have kids. with me. now. pronto. this in spite of me being very forthcoming about my decision not to have children. it seems to me that the ones that in spite of that do choose to get involved with me think they can change me at some point and then, gradually, the pressure builds. things go from subtle comments to outright "I'm going to leave you if you don't" threats. this causes quite the heartache when a person you really do want to make happy every day makes a request that you really don't want to fulfill. I've been at the point where I nearly talked myself into being okay with having kids because it meant so much to the person I was in love with.

but this feeling that you describe, this void created by not having kids, that's something I have never experienced. I have dreams, plans, hopes and ambitions but that's just not one of them. mine evolve around other aspects. I am not feeling that I am missing anything, I am fearing that I would not be able to live my life the way I wanted if I made such a monumental decision as having kids. I think I would be an unhappy parent and really, who would want to do that to a kid?

but here's why I am writing all this to you: you seem to be the exact opposite. you seem to feel the same way about not having kids. saddened, wondering if he's missing out on a part of life that he would like to take part in. I think you have to ask yourself how important your desire to have kids is to you. I think that in the end only you can really decide if you can live without kids happily or not.
posted by krautland at 4:52 AM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

As one half of a 40ish deliberately childless hetro couple, I'm always a bit jealous of these folk who exploit their childlessness for lives of carefree adventure and travel. We've both got full time jobs with only the standard four weeks leave a year, and a mortgage that means we can't quit them any time soon, and enough pets that going anywhere for more than a day requires several weeks notice for their care.

And talking to colleagues at work with kids, our lives don't seem that much different to theirs. We get fewer illnesses than those with young kids, and don't have to plan weekends around kids sporting events (but these days do have to plan them around dog events), but otherwise we spend most of the working week at work, and most of the weekend doing the chores we don't have time to do during the week because we're at work, with the occasional social thing thrown in for good measure.

We have a niece that we like to spoil (and another niece or nephew on the way), but they're in different states, so that's not likely to ever be a frequent occurrence. We're always happy to do things with friends who have kids, but it's not something we seek out for the kid factor.

Mostly, I don't see childlessness as a "hole" (not deliberate childlessness anyway) that needs filling. It's not an abnormal or deficient life, it's just a life. Not better or worse, just different.
posted by damonism at 5:30 AM on August 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'd say volunteer. There are tutoring programs out there for younger kids and there are programs like Big Brothers or reading programs at the local library. Or you can focus your energies and volunteer to help one of hundreds of local non-profits depending on your interests. If you have no interests then you probably should develop one.

Develop a meaningful hobby, not just to pass the time but to leave a legacy. Again, make that hobby something that interests you. But the idea is to do something that leaves a legacy which should fill that "hole" that would otherwise be occupied by children. Remember Herb and Dorothy? That is an amazing legacy.
posted by JJ86 at 5:37 AM on August 12, 2014

Presumably the OP knows how to entertain themselves--a kid shaped hole is not filled by books, movies, video games, or traveling.

I think the first priority should be to find out how much your partner wants to be in on this. Big Brothers/Big Sisters is a pretty small time commitment and doesn't involve your partner. If they want to stay out, they can. It seems to me that fostering or working with the legal system to mentor youth coming from tough spots may be something you want to ease in to, for the benefit of all parties involved.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:06 AM on August 12, 2014

I (half of a mid-life half-intentionally, half-unintentionally childless couple) agree with damonism and MisanthropicPainforest both that a "kid-shaped hole" is not filled by hobbies and traveling and that a childless life not a deficient life. I've said before, and I'll repeat, that although relationships with other people's children can fill a lovely place in your life (like phunnieme says, it lets you contribute to the shaping of the next generation) but it is nothing like parenting: the shape of a parent's life is fundamentally different from the shape of a nonparent's life.

Which gets back to the point that this is not really a hole you can fill. It's a life (yours) that you have to shape in a way that is meaningful to you. The way I (i'm the unintentionally childless half) was able to do that was to stop seeing people as either "With children" or "Without children"--which has meant moving past some friendships (either because the friend literally subsumed her entire self into her child and abandoned all other interests or because the friend treated all people with children as though they no longer had an individual self)--but which mostly has meant changing my expectations about myself and other people.

I believe that children are one symptom, one consequence of a strong relationship and a happy life, but they are not the only indication of a strong relationship and a happy life. Children are not the only measure of meaning or love. Once you internalize that, it becomes less binary: am I a parent or not? and becomes more holistic: am I satisfied with myself and the relationships I am building in the world.

The best parents I know--the ones who are happiest, who have managed to maintain full identities and relationships outside their nuclear families--are a lot like the best nonparents I know. They are people who have some introspection about themselves and some ambivalence about being parents and desire to make meaningful connections to the people they know and the community in which they live. Children are often an easy readymade way to do that, but not always and there are plenty of ways to do it without children.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:53 AM on August 12, 2014 [11 favorites]

A good friend of mine said "Make sure you have done all the things you want to do before having children. Because after that, you spend the majority of the time doing what they want/need to do." I think that was as good advice as any.

Before I had children I was a Big Brother and I really enjoyed it. Big Brother/Big Sister offered the opportunity to spend time with my Little a few hours a week. That was 15 years ago and I consider my Little as much of a brother now as I do my blood siblings. But that is a different relationship than having children. Children do not fill a hole in my life. Children are all consuming and require an assimilation into your life unlike anything else I have ever encountered.

As a parent, I am supposed to say how wonderful being a parent is all rainbows and sunshine. It's not for me. My wife wanted to have children and I was on the fence. Honestly, being a father can be challenging for me at times. I like to do what it is that I want to do. So in the abstract sense of your question, I know that I could have been happy with my life if I would have chosen not to have children. Now, in more concrete terms, I cannot imagine my life without my monsters. I wouldn't want to go back now, even if I could, even though there are days in which being a parent really, really sucks.

Society puts too much pressure on us to have children. Don't give in to societal pressure. Do what's best for you and your spouse. From what I can gather from your few paragraph description, I think your life will be pretty great no matter which path you choose.
posted by Silvertree at 8:10 AM on August 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Here's one more pitch for CASA, mentioned earlier by ichomp, since it is a really valuable alternative to serving your community, in a focused and critical way, without the potential sacrifices that come with fostering. The quality of the training to be a guardian ad litem varies with the city, but it is a real eye-opener into the juvenile court system and into the parallel universe of the families involved. (I started to sign up for fostering, but was scared off by the list of caveats, including don't keep knives easily available, and whether you have pets [i.e., potential abuse there].)
posted by mmiddle at 8:36 AM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Before I moved to the US I was a kick ass Aunt and almost didn't move because I miss my niece & nephew every day. I am now pressuring my American BIL to hurry up and get someone, anyone pregnant. Being an Aunt or Uncle is amazing, while not a parent you are pretty much the next best thing. You are part of that kids life, you are someone they look up to and trust and I couldn't love my niece and nephew more if they were my own. So if you have brothers & sisters and in law siblings doing your Uncle/Aunt duties will really help fill in that void.

Now I am in the US and my BIL is not yet supplying kids for me to take out my parenting urges on, my husband and I went the dog route, then two dogs, then 2 dogs, a guinea pig some hamsters and a fishtank route. Chickens may be the next addition to our little family. I have a bit of experience dog training, so we went the behavioral challenged rescue dog route, which I have found very satisfying, watching a shut down abused dog slowly blossom and learn to play and trust. It's very much like watching the personalities of kids develop on a smaller scale.

That and I go to the local school & volunteer to hear kids read every couple of weeks.

I am childless by choice, while biology was not kind to me, I looked at IVF and adoption and decided that I didn't want kids enough. Living a childless life is not a lesser life, it's a different one. The energy kids bring to your life is often overlooked. Finding a way that works for you to have that in your life doesn't mean you have to be a parent, it's possible to like kids and just not want to have them yourself. To find another arc for your life, maybe that arc is helping people, helping nieces or nephews, helping other children. Go advocate for kids, go work in your churches Sunday school or lead a cub scout troop. Part of the journey of having kids is getting dragged out of your comfort zone and putting their needs ahead of yours. Find someway to help kids/people/whatever that resonates with you and do that.
posted by wwax at 10:08 AM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dogs (or other pet of choice) + a good relationship with nieces/nephews/cousin's kids/good friend's kids.
Growing up, I was on the receiving end of such affection from a couple who's work had them traveling so much that they run out of time to have kids of their own. They got to mentor me, and care for me, sending me letters and cards, without dealing with my hissy fits or paying my bills growing up. Basically they had the win-win. Their nieces and nephews were also blessed.

A friend of ours was dying to have babies, but got engaged to someone older with a grown up kid. He didn't want any more. They compromised nicely bc friend has toddler-aged twin niece & nephew and has a very active roll in their lives. As in, they often spend the night at their aunt's house or spend all day Saturday with her. The parents love it bc free babysitting. And the kids just love being loved.

Another friend has fertility issues, so she works with at-risk teens.

Just saying, there are many other ways of exercising your paternal desires.

Or you could just get a nice rescue dog who needs to be walked and fed at determined intervals. Dogs, like kids, need structure. Go for a nice loyal breed/mix, and they'll worship the air you breathe and appreciate your love for it ten fold.
posted by Neekee at 9:13 PM on August 12, 2014

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