You can't predict the future, but will I regret NOT having kids?
November 25, 2016 8:59 AM   Subscribe

I'm 99% sure I don't want children. I'm not maternal, I've never had any desire to go down that route. The more I think about what it means to have kids the less I'm interested in it... for a number of reasons. I just turned 35 so I'm really at that awfully clichéd "Now or Never" stage in my life and it's made me start thinking about the future and whether or not I'll regret NOT doing it.

There are several reasons why I've just started thinking again about whether it will be something I regret. Such as:

* I had a wonderful relationship with my Maternal Granny. I feel sad that my Mum won't have a chance to experience this with my kid.
* Sometimes I fantasize what it would be like to have grown up kids and be sitting around the kitchen table talking about their day and their lives and their goals. I know this is a fantasy though and the reality is probably not like that at all - plus I'm fast forwarding 20 years so who knows what life will look like then.
* when I'm older, will I regret not having kids around me to help take care of me if I needed it? (I know there is no guarantee of this even if you DO have kids! But it's still on my mind!)

The reasons I don't want kids are far reaching and unlikely to change. I worry about having a child with a disability, I worry about the world that exists today and what it will look like for our future generations, I worry about the additional financial responsibilities that come with having a kid. I worry about the additional stress.

I do not worry about being a good mum. I know I would do OK in that department, but I'm not very maternal with other people's children.

My husband and I are on the same page. We have 2 cats that we love dearly and we have children around us. Lots of my friends are starting to marry and think about kids, and I know it sounds silly but I do worry that being the only childless person in the group will mean that I get "pushed out".

There are so many reasons why I don't want kids, but now I have this nagging sense of "will I regret NOT doing it", but I know that's absolutely NO reason to do it!! it's the worst reason to do it I can think of.

Do you have any advice for me? Are you child-free and Loving it or were you like me and now regret your choice not to procreate? Am I deluding myself into believing it's something I don't want, or am I trying to convince myself to do it because I have quite literally run out of time?
posted by JenThePro to Human Relations (57 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
Just the older day, a 50-something woman said to me "I never regretted not having kids, I always knew, and I was right," so there are definitely people for whom it's crystal clear. Then there was a friend of mine who was on the fence, who was 85% sure that not having kids was best, but still had a few dreams (like your sitting-around-the-table one) that she had to mourn as part of getting to 100% and feeling comfortable with her decision. Maybe you could view decision-making as a process where you explore these few reasons you might want kids as part of letting go of the idea (or I suppose, suddenly realizing you were wrong).
posted by salvia at 9:05 AM on November 25, 2016

I was you, same age, same stage of life, same feelings. We wound up having a child -- it was the right thing for us, but we are definitely "one and done." We still go out and have fun with our friends, both the single ones and the married-with-kids ones, but our social group has always had a big mix of people, and the single ones still hang out with the married-with-kids ones.

For us, the sense of potential regret and the dreams of family started outweighing the childfree stuff (even though we'd been together for 10 years and had always been on the childfree track up until that point).

Don't let yourself feel pressured by biology. I know plenty of women who had their first child in their late 30s, and several who had their first child in their early 40s, and everything is fine. Also, there is always fostering and adoption as possibilities if things don't work out for you biologically.
posted by erst at 9:08 AM on November 25, 2016 [6 favorites]

45, never wanted kids, don't have any. Instead I have a few younger artists who look up to me for advice and call me "dragon mom". I've pretty much entirely lost contact with past friends who had kids, in part because their lives are very different from mine now, in part because I moved across the country and am terrible at keeping in touch.
posted by egypturnash at 9:11 AM on November 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

we're both 49. we have never had kids, through mutual agreement. i don't think either of us have had serious regrets (and it's something i am very aware might be more important to my partner, so have discussed it with her several times). the only thing that is a worry, and i guess this sounds very selfish, is what will happen when we grow older? with no-one to care for us, we need to be more careful about the future. but, on the other hand, my parents had children and now one of those (me) lives the other side of the world, so...

even now, the lives of friends our own age seem to be dominated by children (and when they're not, some couples don't seem to handle the change well). looking at them, we seem lucky in comparison.

on the other hand, my partner does enjoy being an aunt (the cool aunt :) to her brother's kids, and she has quite strong relationships with her grad students (she's a prof). you could argue that's "compensation", but i tend to think (and hope) it's simply the right balance for us.

not saying this is right for everyone, obviously. just giving an example of a couple that never really felt the need and are happy with their lot.

ps on being "pushed out" - to some extent yes it happens, but then we've tended to drift towards a younger generation (the grad students), but then they included us when they had kids, so it's difficult to be sure what's happening...

pps we have a pretty solid relationship. not a perfect one (at all). it's cost us a lot. but it's something we're proud of and work at. in some sense i think that has helped avoid any regret.
posted by andrewcooke at 9:18 AM on November 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

You sound like me. I just never had that maternal instinct kick in. I do have the "mama bear" feelings for my college students I advise, but I just never had a desire to raise children. I relate better to teenagers anyways. I'm 41 now, but around your age I was divorced and single and began to wonder what my elderly years would look like with no kids to take care of me. That still wasn't enough motivation to change my thinking though. Besides, my sister has two boys so I'm grooming one of them to take care of their crazy aunt when she gets old!

Seriously though...if you know, you know. My boyfriend and I have two cats and we're just fine with how things are.
posted by MultiFaceted at 9:22 AM on November 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I will say on point 3 that I worry more about being a burden to my child in my old age. If that's your concern, sock away the cost that would go to daycare now and then use it to move to a lovely retirement/assisted living community when you hit 70 or so.
posted by Kriesa at 9:23 AM on November 25, 2016 [13 favorites]

I was sure, from the first time I babysat for a *baby*, that I didn't want my own children. The only time I ever feel even the slightest twinge of regret is when I am incapable of empathizing with parents of children who are melting down in public, but the feeling passes extraordinarily quickly and the entire incident ends up reminding me why I didn't want kids in the first place. My niece and nephew have been the beneficiaries of any maternal feelings, and I am still considered "the cool aunt".

The reasons you listed for why you might regret remaining childless are "reasons" - that is, well thought-out arguments - but I would suggest that the choice about having (or not having) children is not a rational one. It's based on feelings, yearnings, urges, and so forth, but not on reasons. So I think if you look at your thoughts for and against through the lens of whether they reflect reason or passion, you'll be able to determine what you want to do.

And FWIW, I commend you for revisiting the issue before having children becomes much riskier for you, age-wise. Better to decide and be sure once and for all than to be plagued with regrets down the road.
posted by DrGail at 9:27 AM on November 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

My story is similar to ersts, above. We have one kid and while I am a huge fretter of the financials that seem to come along with being a parent, I do kind of feel like I have the best of both worlds. One and done for us. We have just started kindergarten and thankfully got into a good public school so we are now allocating those daycare dollars to retirement. We get to experience the huge rewards of being parents (it's an amazing journey, uncomparable to anything else) but we are also able to not lose ourselves entirely. You can actually retain your personality, focus and goals after becoming a parent but they just have to bend and fold and contain this new being in your life. For us, it did come down to: Will we regret it if we don't? And we decided we would.
posted by amanda at 9:35 AM on November 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

The reasons I don't want kids are far reaching and unlikely to change. I worry about having a child with a disability, I worry about the world that exists today and what it will look like for our future generations, I worry about the additional financial responsibilities that come with having a kid. I worry about the additional stress.
These are fairly abstract reasons to not procreate and people who want kids know all of this but choose to do it anyway for other reasons. If you don't have those other reasons then it completely makes sense to continue on the way you have been. It's good to think about this stuff carefully. But I don't think people sit down and weight the pros and cons of procreation like you would when trying to decide whether to buy a condo.
posted by deathpanels at 9:37 AM on November 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

I don't know if you're interested in responses from men, but: I'm (very nearly) 34, my wife is 32, and we plan not to have children. So far we have no regrets, and I don't think that will change, given the wide range of reasons we have for not procreating.

In case you're interested in what research has to say about this issue: depending on the study and its format (e.g. anonymous responses vs in-person), somewhere between 2% and 25% of childless women regret not having children. 75%-98% having no regrets is pretty good odds, but ultimately you have to judge your own situation.

If you are interested in a more philosophical take, I recommend Debating Procreation, a pretty even-handed debate between two ethicists.
posted by jedicus at 9:37 AM on November 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

I don't know if you're interested in responses from men

posted by JenThePro at 9:45 AM on November 25, 2016

I'm a couple years older than you and I have made the decision to say no. I wanted to add that it's okay if you do feel ambivalent about it. It's huge.

I always assumed, when I was young, that a husband and children were part of the natural order of things, and that they would come to me in good time. For a variety of reasons, they never did. As miserable as I was at one time or another about this, I don't actually regret any of the decisions that led me to being unmarried at this age. And I knew I would never make a good single parent. I might yet make a good stepmother -- I'm fond of children, I like to spend time with them -- but I don't wait for such a thing to happen.

As to the world the child will inherit, I refer you to the front page of Metafilter, and leave it to your judgment.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:48 AM on November 25, 2016 [14 favorites]

Mid-fifties, no kids, no regrets. The money we saved on daycare and college tuition will pay for our own care when we're old. Looking at how drained and joyless my mom always seemed made me realize I didn't want to deal with all the stress of parenting - it didn't seem like the occasional happiness really balanced it out. As for the future that your kid would have to deal with, see Countess Elena's comment. Good luck!
posted by Quietgal at 9:53 AM on November 25, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm 50. Never had kids. Really never wanted kids. I'm perfectly happy as are those around me.

I've crossed paths with many who also clearly never wanted kids but still had them. Always seems like a bummer for them, and their kids.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:54 AM on November 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

The women I know who seem to regret not having kids were the ones who simply couldn't find a decent husband and were practically or religiously averse to becoming single mothers. I don't know of any married childless women who seem to regret not having kids.

Staying childless among a social set that is mainly having kids will change things somewhat. Some of your friends (and it won't necessarily be the ones you expect) just won't have the time or emotional context to relate much to you anymore, others the divergence of interests will be come too extreme to sustain the relationship. But for most it'll be fine.
posted by MattD at 9:58 AM on November 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm your age, and have decided "no." To be honest, I've been vocally child-free since I was 15, but this is the year I actually scheduled the ol' tubal ligation and will put the for-real kibosh on biological children. I share your economic and global concerns about bringing a child into this world; in a more granular sense, I grew up in a family that was often very poor and always, at least, struggling mightily. Today, any stability I enjoy (which isn't much) is due to my lack of children. To have them would be, I fear, to subject them to my own childhood all over again, and would absolutely break my heart.

I'm not immune to worries about what future holidays will look like (they're already getting kind of grim and drunk...) or about my pretty much inevitable poor and lonely old age.

What I've done with those fantasies is mostly to recognize them exactly as such: fantasies. Why do I think that if I had a child, things with him or her would not be much as they are between myself and my mother--conflicted, difficult, with a lot of love but also a tremendous lot of fear for her future? Why would a child of mine be more likely to have the money to support me in my old age than I am to have the money to support my mother? (Spoiler alert: I don't.)

It's kind of like the expansion pack for the "would you still want a child if you were a single mother" idea. Because shit will go sideways; it will go so epically sideways in fashions you cannot imagine. And if I don't want to be a parent under the worst possible circumstances, then I feel I really shouldn't try it.

As with everything in life, it's easy to imagine that whatever path you didn't take contained the quick fixes to all of the emptiness that is the human condition. But it's the human condition; you will feel empty and regretful sometimes no matter what, just for different reasons depending on what you choose. But with kids, you're dragging another human being into that equation--to me, it seems like in that case it's most ethical to err on the side of caution.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:03 AM on November 25, 2016 [16 favorites]

guy here.

had my kids in my late twenties. was thoroughly happy and done making more.

two decades later a coworker shows me pictures of their little kid and bam, baby fever.

(kid's now six months old and a delight)
posted by zippy at 10:04 AM on November 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

what i'm saying is, yes there's a chance you may change your mind.
posted by zippy at 10:06 AM on November 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm 51 and have several kids; one of my best friends is the same age and didn't have kids. We both experience a bit of "road not taken" with regard to each other's lives. She sees the enjoyments and satisfactions of having kids (though I also share the frustrations!), and I watch her and her wife have the freedom and resources to eat out more often than we do, to travel more than we do, to have the energy to spend an afternoon trying a new recipe just for the heck of it. It's not regret, exactly, for either of us. It's just a bit of wistfulness as we recognize that when you make a choice, you both gain and lose something.

I have another good friend about ten years younger. He and his boyfriend really love and are sincerely attached to my kids. They are especially connected with my 12-year-old son. But he says hearing my stories about childrearing just completely reinforces his satisfaction with their decision not to have children. He respects me and my choices, and he admires what I do, but he is very clear that the life I live is not for him.

There is nothing about having kids that makes life magically fulfilling. And it's very hard. I chose to have each one of my kids, and even so there have been times when I've thought, "If this is how hard it is when you wanted them and have never regretted it and love being a parent, how much harder if you didn't choose it? Or if you feel you've made a mistake? Or if your regrets aren't just a bit of occasional wistfulness but a real sorrow about what you've given up?"

I can't know for sure what your experience will be, but I do know that if you find yourself feeling regret, there are a lot of positives about not having kids that you can look to for consolation. You can mull over your regrets while lounging on the beach at the adults-only resort on the Mediterranean, for instance. Or while gazing with satisfaction at your retirement accounts. Or while enjoying the peace and quiet of your home which is not strewn with toys and puzzle pieces and deadly Lego bricks left on the floor.
posted by Orlop at 10:08 AM on November 25, 2016 [9 favorites]

I have read studies that say the happiest people are the ones who figured out what they wanted it, and did it. That is, the people who wanted children and had them = happy. The ones who didn't want children and didn't have them = happy. The people who didn't want children but had them anyway = not so happy. The people who wanted children but couldn't have them = not as happy. Be honest about what you want, then do it. And don't discount how much pressure there is (even if unspoken) to have a child, especially at your age, when all your friends are doing it. You can't act as though there's a mystery person inside you that you don't know who wants to have children, if only you can find her. You have to go with the person you actually know. The self you are closest to.

I'm writing as a 39-year-old woman without kids, in a long-term relationship, with pets, who never really wanted children, but spent the last few years agonizing about it, so as to be sure I was making the right choice. I'm not 100% sure I am making the right choice in not having kids, but as close as I think I'm going to get. (I'm not 100% sure about anything.)

For what it's worth, my desire to have kids lessens as I move away from my mid-thirties. I can imagine being 50, without children, and relieved.

Also, you don't have to have some other BIG PLAN for what you're going to do instead of kids. No one knows what life will bring.

Also, even if you decide against having kids, and experience some regret, sometimes, is that so bad? We can't live every life. Sometimes I regret not living in Paris, but it's a regret I can live with. In terms of kids, my bigger worry was that I would regret HAVING them... I can't think of a worse fate for a child than to have a parent, or parents, who feel that way.

Also, my partner didn't really want children, which made it more natural for us to go that way.
posted by Clotilde at 10:10 AM on November 25, 2016 [42 favorites]

I'm a 34 year old woman and am pretty much where you are. My partner and I have decided we don't want kids. I feel very strongly that I wouldn't particularly enjoy being a mother, and I like my life the way it is and don't want it to change. My husband has said his only worry is that we'll get older and regret not having a kid, but I'd much rather regret not having one than regret having one.
posted by skycrashesdown at 10:16 AM on November 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

You might indeed have regrets, but that's not the worst thing in the world. And hoping to avoid regrets is certainly not a good reason to have kids - - after all, you might have kids and *also* have regrets!

Having regrets can be painful, but it can also teach you something. In your own life, look to see if you have regrets, and see if they've taught you anything. Personally, regrets have taught me to jump at opportunities, to be kinder to people, and to trust myself. I owe a great deal to my regrets!

Make the decision that seems best to you and your partner for reasons that seem sound to you. Maybe even write those reasons down in the form of a letter to your future self, so that if you *do*end up struggling with regrets, you'll be able to look at the letter and remember this time, and remember that you gave the subject a lot of thought and made the decision you did for reasons that were important.
posted by jasper411 at 10:35 AM on November 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm 36 and have a toddler; before that I was on the fence for years. I believe I made the right decision for me, but I think I would have been happy without kids, too.

I think when you're presented with a choice between keeping things as they are and making a huge expensive time-consuming irreversible change, and you're not particularly enthusiastic about the change, don't do it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:36 AM on November 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

I have no idea if you will regret not having kids. However, I wanted to point out that you could get many of the benefits you fear missing out on and avoid many things that you fear by adopting an older child.

Just throwing it out there as an option for you to tbink about, not opening one way or the other on whether you should.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:38 AM on November 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

A lot of people are saying "you just know" and that was true for me. Was not going to have a kid and then one day that wasn't true any more. Have you considered the possibility of adoption or foster care? You could be part of a child's life in that way at almost any age.
posted by kerf at 10:41 AM on November 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am 47, never wanted kids. I didn't really get to be an aunt either, as the only sibling with a child absorbed mainly into his wife's family because our family does not stay in touch. So in the last year or so I have been feeling mild but nagging regrets about missing out on many things including being a mom, being an aunt, having a close family, having family around when I'm older. Yikes. I have increasingly been feeling like I need to connect to the community in some way and this disastrous election may be just the added impetus required!

But getting back to your question, even though I have regrets, I still don't think I would have made a different choice. I am in a long term relationship of about 9 years and we could have done it. But no, I am satisfied with my choice while also being acutely aware of this enormous part of the human condition for which I will always be an outsider.
posted by Glinn at 10:43 AM on November 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I find it helpful to remember that it's the same kind of misogyny promoting the idea that childless women inevitably lead regretful/something-missing lives that also promotes the idea that lifelong single women and women who get abortions have to feel the same long-term regret. It's a narrative with a political agenda and I don't have to give it space in my brain on its own terms.

That doesn't speak to your specific worries about future regrets (and I'm less qualified to weigh in there as my own no-children-not-now-not-ever has always been strong & certain enough that I can't imagine having serious regrets myself), but they may not be inevitable - there's a ton of stuff you can do to build a life that fills the same vessel that having a kid would, including close relationships with family children and volunteering with kids.

I find it helpful to remember that there are societal forces that want me to think that it's safer to have kids so I don't regret not having kids, and also that this narrative is driven by an ideology (that all women should have children and it is supremely preferable for them to do so regardless of desire or aptitude) which is not necessarily in my best interests; it's also something I can choose how much I buy into.
posted by terretu at 10:45 AM on November 25, 2016 [26 favorites]

Some thoughts in no particular order: Most people engage in post-hoc rationalization, justifying their choices to themselves after the fact, and it's difficult to come to any kind of emotional conclusion on counterfactuals. So I think in the end, you'll probably reconcile yourself to whatever you do, like most people do. If there's regret, you might have felt regretful no matter what you chose (though this isn't sure either). (That is probably unhelpful, I'm sorry, but I think it's more or less true.)

I can't find the link to the study I'm thinking of, but it said parents reported being feeling less happy (day to day) and more stressed and overwhelmed than non-parents, but felt more rewarded. So there's that. I know you can expect sacrificing sleep and time for a handful of years, certainly.

I haven't had kids; the idea hadn't occurred to me at all until a couple of years ago, because I just never attached this idea of motherhood to my goals, or my sense of myself as a person. Just never felt the baby fever.

That's changed, as my friends and sibs started having kids (all very late, btw! 37 and up!), and I'm seeing how amazing kids are . (I also know actually dealing with them is very tiring.) I've also watched (close up) a relative grow from a sensitive, often cranky kid into an amazing adult who I think is a net benefit to friends and community - just a really cool person - and I know what a joy and privilege raising him has been for his mom.

The act of loving, period, is never a mistake, in itself, in my opinion.

There are selfish reasons to have kids that I'd get behind. Like: they may offer a chance to see the world through fresh eyes, vicariously; their very existence is a grounding for hope, and a reason to fight the bad things instead of succumbing to despair (if it's creeping around) and cynicism, and their presence may compensate for the loss of parents and friends that is certainly coming. I'm not saying they're a substitute for therapy if that's needed. Just that I think they are a real and lasting rationale for many other important actions in life, as well as inherently valuable in themselves. (No matter how they turn out.)

It's also fine to not have kids, and I'd be all right with that too - very possible to live well and probably with less stress; connecting with others as the years go by will take some effort, but that's worthwhile; there are definitely ethical arguments that can be made for not having them.

(Although... most people who do have them unthinkingly are not getting into ethical debates about it. I do think it'd be a nicer world if more people who do and would, did have kids. But this is speculative.)

Lastly, sorry to be a bit intense about this, but I would *not* have kids with the idea that they might take care of me later. The diseases that go with old age (while not guaranteed for you or anyone, and fingers crossed) are often well beyond what any untrained + highly emotionally invested person should have to deal with day to day, in my opinion. 2nd anticipating those needs with savings and a plan, if at all possible!
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:51 AM on November 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm 35 (just about) and have long known I didn't want kids. I swear, I'm missing that part of my brain that apparently most women have where the idea of being ill for nine months while you grow a thing inside you, with the final act being it tearing itself out of my vagina sounds like a good idea. Pregnancy and labour legit sound like the worst possible idea ever, and then it is all followed by years of poor sleep and marital stress. What a bloody terrible idea! At least for me. I'm so positive that I never ever want to do that my husband got a vasectomy a while ago. I haven't stopped mentally high fiving him for it ever since. Are my parents disappointed? Yep. And I get lots of "You're so loving though! You'd be so great at raising a baby!", but seriously.... it isn't for me. Some of us just KNOW it isn't for us, you know? It is so easy to be filled with doubt (despite how internally sure you are) because everyone else seems to think it is a great idea, and we are always being told how we'll regret it or change our mind or whatever. But seriously, bearing children isn't for everyone and I think the world needs to accept that as true and okay.

So, there's that.

HOWEVER I do have a step son. As much as I have always known I NEVER EVER in a million years wanted to grow a thing in my uterus, I have also always known I wanted to play a part in raising a child, one way or another. (I'm complicated.) My step son is a fregging gift from the stepchild gods and I love him more than breathing. And I didn't have to grow him or force him out of my vagina, AND I came in to his life after he was done the pukey/barfy/pooy diaper stage, so high fives all around. Weirdly, my super awesome relationship with my stepson has caused even MORE "You should have babies!" comments but whatever. And even if I didn't have this super cool step son, there are lots of other ways to play a part in a child's life that is valuable and important and satisfying.

1. Adoption. Not as easy as it should be, and more expensive than it should be, but always an option if you ever decide you made a mistake
2. Fostering a child.
3. Being a kick ass auntie (regardless if you are technically their aunt or not). My best friend is my kid's aunt even though she technically isn't. She has no kids of her own and is like me in that she has zero intention of ever having bio kids. She loves and treats him as family, and they have a great relationship. I am an "aunt" to the kids of our friends and they call me as such. Equally awesome.
4. Volunteering with programs that work with kids. Some very valuable relationships can develop that way.

So there are ways to address it if you ever DO regret it. But the fact is that you may regret not having biokids, but you may also regret having biokids if you did as well. Personally I think this is one of those rare cases that the regretting you didn't do it is the more survivable/tolerable regret compared to the regret of having a kid. And there are a lot of people who regret having kids. They never phrase it that way, but they do, and man, that is a bell you cannot unring so they just... do their best.

Having kids is not a 100% positive or 100% negative thing for anyone, and choosing not to have kids is also not a 100% positive or 100% negative thing. There is no perfect choice. Either way there is benefits and downsides. I'm sure if I had gotten pregnant and given birth I would find some positive elements in the whole experience. And I'm sure that for people who wanted kids they would find pleasurable parts to not having kids. Only you know how the pros and cons for both option balance out.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:57 AM on November 25, 2016 [22 favorites]

42, male, no kids. Always expected that I would have them, but it just never happened, and then I got used to the idea that it wasn't going to happen. And I'm fine with that, which is not to say that I don't question the paths I took.

I think it is very important that we have something that we are living for or contributing to that is greater and outside of ourselves, otherwise, what are you doing with your life? But -- it is not at all necessary that kids are that thing.

You're 99% sure you don't want kids. That's pretty sure. Will there be doubts? Will you be missing out on something? Sure, but the reverse is true, too. Having kids will preclude you from doing something else, having other experiences.

And yes, not having kids means that you will get pushed out of some circles of friends. I know. Eventually, they come back, though.

Go with your gut. Your gut knows you. Your gut is always right. Will there be doubts? Yes, there will. But that's with anything. And one day you'll hit the point of realizing 'this is what my life is', and then those doubts go away. Trust your instincts, and talk it over with your hubby.
posted by Capt. Renault at 10:58 AM on November 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

Kids are the best and the worst, truly. It's so hard and so rewarding, in very concrete ways.

What Capt. Renault said above is certainly true, "I think it is very important that we have something that we are living for or contributing to that is greater and outside of ourselves, otherwise, what are you doing with your life? But -- it is not at all necessary that kids are that thing."

I have a 17 month old. It's friggin hard work. It's just plain grueling labor, a lot of days, though the intimacy and bond for me makes it worth it. I have a ton of help- very supportive partner and family, mostly, and that to me was the deal breaker. without it, I would hate this gig.

I don't really love parenting/mommying a ton, but I love love love HER (my child) and I knew I wanted to have this experience, no matter what from a young age. It's not my ultimate/final dream to be a mother - I have daily ambivalence about it- but I knew from the get-go that I wanted the profound, human experience of being a mom. But I think if I was somebody just a little different, or had had different life experience that "profound, human experience" could have been something else/non kid related. Also, there are all types of moms, I've noticed, and parenting styles. You can be sort of non-mommy type mom, and still do it.

One plug for not doing it though is that pregnancy, post-partum, and becoming a new mom is pretty arduous and really disruptive. Breastfeeding and stuff is really hard. Hormones and weight gain and pain and feeling like your body is being taken over, is hard. Getting pregnant can be hard. It's harder on women, in particular, obviously. Not saying it is for everyone, but it is for a lot of us.

Yeah, I think you can also still take some time if you need to, a year or two or more before shutting the door completely. See what you feel when you see babies/young children/families around. How you feel spending time with them. If you keep feeling like, meh, or NOOO! Then yeah, maybe that's your answer. If you start feeling more of that twinge and longing, you can also see what that is trying to tell you. I think wanting to have to have kids can lead you into a more clear, deeper purpose, whether you do it or not. Good luck!
posted by Rocket26 at 11:24 AM on November 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm in my 40s, child free, married, no regrets. Puppet McSockerson pretty much summed up my feelings on pregnancy, which is a big giant NOPE for me. I do have 6-year-old nephew, and have friends with kids of varying ages. I enjoy being an aunt, and spending (limited) time with my friends' kids, but it only reinforces for me that I have zero interest in being an actual parent. I agree with other posters though that this isn't really something you can rationally decide. I know that this is how I feel; regardless of the benefits that may accrue to other people from having kids, it is not the right path for me. I would suggest not trying to think your way through this, just feel.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 11:28 AM on November 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

See what you feel when you see babies/young children/families around. How you feel spending time with them. If you keep feeling like, meh, or NOOO!

I don't think this is a very good measure... And I think this is sort of the issue that a lot of people have. The common understanding or belief is that people who don't want bio-kids must not like kids, but it isn't the case for a lot of us. I love kids and babies. I'm naturally very nurturing and caring. I like playing with kids, worked as a camp counsellor for 3 years and loved it. I'm definitely "OMG Adorable baby! OMG Its holding my finger with its tiny hand!". And, like I said, I love my step son more than breathing. I'm definitely not "Meh", let alone "NOOO!".

But I'm also definitely "I'm so glad someone else had to push this out of their vagina!".

You know, there are lots of people who really love wearing wool sweaters but have absolutely zero interest in learning how to knit one themselves. This is sorta the same thing.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:31 AM on November 25, 2016 [8 favorites]

I can't find the article but for Oprah's O Magazine Elizabeth Gilbert said something that really helped me (paraphrasing): We're not here on this earth to have every human experience there is to have. I will never have a brother, for example. I may never have children, or know what it's like to not have children. And that's okay.
posted by belau at 12:19 PM on November 25, 2016 [18 favorites]

I'm 44. Every once in a while I wonder what life would be like if we'd had kids, but I also do the same thing about studying harder in school/gone to grad school, or if I'd aggressively pursued a couple of interesting career opportunities that presented themselves, or if I'd left the place where I grew up sooner. It's not regret so much as curiosity; I'm just getting old enough to reflect on all the other timelines that have collapsed.

Nobody gets out of this life without regrets. Parenting is potentially high-reward but also terribly high-risk, which means on average parents will have more to regret (not necessarily regret having children, but regret things they did or didn't do, decisions made without all possible information, and bear the scars of someone else's suffering for which they may or may not be responsible). That doesn't necessarily mean their lives are destroyed or that they can't be happy - same as not having children doesn't mean that for me either - but parents rarely get to clock out early knowing they did a perfect job, you know?

At the end, it is whatever you make of it. That's the part that's more or less in your control.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:27 PM on November 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm a 38 year old guy with two young kids who I think are pretty much the best thing in the world. I love them and my life is so much richer because of them.

But I wanted kids. I've known for a while that kids were definitely something I wanted in my life. And, despite all the things I love about having kids, there are definite downsides: significant financial cost, loss of some freedom, anxiety about their wellbeing, etc.

I was going to point out the thing that was said upthread about the happiest people being those who figured out what they wanted and then did that. I wanted kids and I have them and I'm happy. From what you've said here, I suspect that not having kids will make you happy.
posted by Betelgeuse at 12:38 PM on November 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm 44, married, no kids, two dogs, and at this point immensely relieved we were unable to have children. Having children was totally the plan, and I spent a great deal of my 30s processing infertility. Aging out of the childbearing cohort has made a huge difference. I basically wake up every single day and thank the universe that I am not having to parent during a very challenging period, and immensely grateful for the economic breathing room that not having a child has bought me right now and will buy me in the future. (Our household income is fairly marginal so your mileage may vary on that one.)

I do still deal with existential angst, primarily the realisation that when my husband and I are gone, we're really gone; despite a local family and many rewarding relationships with short people, realistically we will not be remembered after that generation. Figuring out who to leave my shit to has also been a process; I am literally the last of my line and it is complicated to disperse an entire family history.

Regardless of what decision you make or how you get there, I would suggest putting aside an attachment to having "no regrets." Whatever path you choose, there will likely be regret. We are only beginning to study and talk about it now, but plenty of parents regret having kids. Having children is not any kind of guarantee that you can skip out on regret. That too is part and parcel of aging, I've learned.

Something I don't hear a lot of non-parents say is that the experience of not being a parent has, for me, been so interesting. I am enjoying the opportunity to look at the arc of my life without the perpetual forward motion raising growing children provides to so many of my friends, and being self-aware about that. Not so much is written about the life journeys of non-parents, so this has been pretty engaging to figure out.

TLDR: As I passed over my window of opportunity, I looked around and decided this was unexpected but great.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:41 PM on November 25, 2016 [17 favorites]

I always believed I would have children. Now, with that door quickly and firmly closing, I'm starting therapy to process my sadness. Finding a way to contribute to the greater good does help.

Your situation is not my situation, but I wanted to echo some of answers above in that no one gets out of this life sans regret. If present-you decides against it and future-you is unhappy, there will be professionals to help you comes to terms with your choice. You'll also have a thriving community of laypeople, who made the same decision and are having full, contented lives, for role models.
posted by furtive_jackanapes at 2:10 PM on November 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

49, divorced, no kids. The last time I remember wanting a child was in my early 20s.

The intermittent maternal feelings I experience have been funneled toward mentoring young women in my workplace, sharing both hard and soft skills that middle-aged women taught me a generation ago.
posted by catlet at 2:15 PM on November 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm a firm believer in the "kids should be wanted" concept - mostly because I've met my share of kids who weren't and man, that sucks. Like, really, really sucks.

Look back at your reasoning above - what do you see?
posted by Toddles at 2:38 PM on November 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm 40 and just never had the opportunity to have kids. But I also never had the intense drive that some people have towards parenthood. There have been moments when I've been sad not to have that experience, but I've come to think that occasional momentary sadness is not necessarily an indicator that I made the wrong choice.

I think if you really wanted to have kids, that deep deep gotta do it feeling, you'd know. I can't say you will have absolutely zero regrets, but I doubt it will cause you intense grief.

There are enough people on the planet. Of all the things I could contribute to the world, I don't know that more people is one of those things. This isn't to disparage anyone who does have kids, it's just a gentle reminder I make to myself in my head at times.
posted by bunderful at 3:48 PM on November 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Just want to say thanks for writing this question bc I am struggling with pretty much EXACTLY the same issue right now.
posted by bookworm4125 at 3:49 PM on November 25, 2016 [7 favorites]

Hi! I'm 48, mostly female, happily partnered. We're childfree. No regrets here.
You've stated a lot of reasons not to want children, and while they're pretty good ones, I think that no one needs reasons not to become a parent. All you need is to not feel a desire to try and have children.
This is how it's worked for me, at least: I've never felt a desire, need or even a want to have children. I've never felt curious about what it would be like (well, not never... but never for more than, say, ten seconds.)
So I never had any. And by now, it's pretty clear that this is how it's going to stay, and I feel fine about that. So I guess I'm in the category 'childfree, and loving it'. And so's my partner. I'm so lucky to be on the same page as they are. I mean it, it's a blessing.

The thing is, we never know what things would have been like if we'd have taken the other path. And there are so many of them! Every day, we decide on things that change our lives forever. Most of the time, it doesn't feel like much of a choice, but it really is. Deciding to stay put is a choice, too.

Whatever we do, there will always be missed opportunities. Simply because there are so many options and we can't possibly explore all of them. So we're always missing out on a thousand things. But it makes no sense to dwell on that, because it takes us away from the path we did choose, and the now that we're in. And that's what we should be paying attention to.

Maybe I shouldn't drink and post. Bottom line is, I feel fine about not having children, and I will most likely not regret it later. Or at least, that's what I think.
You say you've never had any desire to go that route. That's all the reason you need. You'll be fine.

MeMail me if you want. I'll probably reply.
posted by Too-Ticky at 4:22 PM on November 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

Male, turning 40 this year, no kids by choice (sterilized). Been partnered, married, divorced; no regrets about the no-kids thing so far.

Most of the parents I know love their kids. About half also struggle with the time and energy cost of having had them, the sacrifices they've made. Several older people have expressed, off the record, a degree of regret around having had their kids. I think if you're not absolutely certain, it's better to pass.
posted by ead at 4:53 PM on November 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm 40 and my partner is 57: we've never regretted our decisions (made before we met) not to have kids. I had a tubal ligation before we met; he had a vasectomy before we met.

Both of us thought kids = a LOT of hard work, and no reward for all that hard work.

Plus, we both have things that are genetic, like asthma, psoriasis etc.

And, I look at my friends who have kids - they're exhausted, stressed, like butter scraped over too much bread. Very few of them actually seem HAPPY about having kids.

The only person I know who IS happy about having kids lives with three other adults, all of whom co-parent, plus in addition she has help from two sets of grandparents who live close by...
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 5:23 PM on November 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also: a lot of my friends (mostly born between 1970 and 1980) were born to parents who didn't especially want kids, but who felt it was the done thing to do.

Growing up with lukewarm (or even cold) parents who don't seem to really LIKE you or who treat you as a tedious/annoying chore is MISERABLE for kids, and leads to low self esteem, Anxiety, Depression.

So I would say don't have kids unless you're REALLY ENTHUSIASTIC about the idea.

And, if you don't want to raise kids but do want to have positive contact with kids, there's always being a foster parent (desperately needed!), offering childcare to your friends with kids, and Big Brothers Big Sisters programs...
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 5:52 PM on November 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm 28 and finally getting my tubes tied — I tried at 23 and 26, but my doc trotted out the usual namby line about regrets and futurecasting. Ha! I knew at 14 I never wanted kids. Haven't wavered once. I'm a careerist and one day I'll be a fantastic auntie and mentor, that's where my energies go.

My dad loves me, but he was only a good dad from 0-5 and 18+. He hated the chore of kids, the expense of kids, the unpredictability of kids. It's miserable having a parent who only wants you in theory. My mum shouldered the burden he dropped and it just about killed her. Don't do it unless you're wild for the cold hard reality. You can be a wonderful part of a child's life from afar — a saving grace really (shout out to teachers past!) Or pour your time and resources into our fragile failing systems. The future needs you, too.
posted by fritillary at 6:26 PM on November 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

See what you feel when you see babies/young children/families around. How you feel spending time with them. If you keep feeling like, meh, or NOOO!

I don't think this is a very good measure...

Agreed. I have long felt meh towards others' kids, but my own is so fascinating. Everything parents whine about, like poop-splosions and lack of sleep, has sincerely not bothered me. I mean, at times it's been physically challenging. But it's like how if you really wanted to go to Hawaii -- sure the flight was uncomfortable*, but when you step off the plane, you don't notice the leg cramps because your mind is singing "I'm in Hawaii!" (* Your metaphor mileage may vary for those with serious flight pain / fear issues, sorry, please replace with some more moderate discomfort.)

Anyway, the point I'm getting around to is that you have to find the answer inside you. That piece shapes your interpretation of the feelings and events that follow. E.g., my reaction to pregnancy nausea was "I'm nauseous because I'm going to have a baby!!" Labor was awful but also the best experience I've had in my life (especially if you include the 36 hours that followed). When I get woken up I think "oh no, I'm awake ... because of the singing of my sweet little baby, awwww." It's "I'm in Hawaii" overriding pain and annoyance over and over.

Conversely, your relief and euphoria at NOT having kids might well put all these possible "regrets" in a positive light. "Look at Bob's adult children visiting for the holidays. Thank heavens I don't have any pesky adult children descending on me to feed all holidays -- off to Hawaii!" And "look at Sal's kids, all grown up and headed off to college. Bet he's proud. Bet he's feeling broke! Poor Sal, early retirement is awesome!"

All to say, I think this is a question where trusting your gut is the way to go.
posted by slidell at 6:29 PM on November 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm 34 and my husband is 35 and we're so, so happily childfree. While watching our old friends crank out kids is fascinating, it looks really awful overall. I know it's different when it's your own and all that, but from where I'm sitting, being a parent looks terrible. My cousin has a year-old kid and I've recently moved to the same town in which my cousin and her husband and kid live. I'd long fantasized about living in the same town as this cousin, and now that I'm here the baby is a real downer for me. Now, of course I love that baby! She's precious and adorable and sweet and I want nothing bad to ever happen to her. I think that because my husband and I are so good with her, my cousin and her husband think we're going to come around and have some kids too (they used to be childfree and the baby was unplanned but is now the apple of their eyes). But every time we leave their house we let out huge sighs of relief and high five each other for not being parents. Sure sometimes that baby does something really adorable and I think "hmmm what if we made one?" But then she starts screaming or they tell us how they wake up at 5 every morning to get her to daycare which costs a fortune PLUS all that insane pregnancy/birth stuff (omg that alone is a total deal breaker) and it's just so obviously not a thing I want to do.

If you don't feel like it's totally obvious, you don't have to decide right now or even for a long time. As others have said, there are tons of ways to make a difference in kids' lives, and lots of them don't have expiration dates.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 12:20 AM on November 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

You may have regrets. I certainly did. Sometimes I still do. But my husband didn't want children, and my marriage is the most important thing in the world to me. The last thing I wanted was to bring a child into a household where she had not been wanted beforehand by one of its members. I know Dr. TM would have been an excellent father and I suspect he would have come to love a child more than anything, but I couldn't be absolutely sure, and I didn't want to take that chance with either his happiness or the child's.

If there's anything I don't regret, it's the life we have made together. We are celebrating our 25th anniversary next month.
posted by tully_monster at 8:10 AM on November 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

As far back as I can remember, I never wanted kids. I babysat a lot in my teens, I don't dislike being around children, I love my niece dearly, but I know deep in my heart that it's not the life I want for me, for a lot of the same reason you enumerate in your post. As close to 100% certainty as one can be.
Yet... It's not a decision I take lightly, and it's one I revisit often. I look at your doubts for maybe wanting children, and I recognize my own - and I say this with love and fellowship - selfish reasoning. Children to take care of you, to make your relatives happy, to provide happy memories far in the hazy future. The decision not to have children is made of big and small sacrifices, but the fact is none of your reasons for maybe wanting children have to do with the children themselves, wanting to bring another human in the world and see them flourish on their own terms.
When I recognize those thoughts in my own head, they serve to validate, rather than lead me to question, my choice. I want my life to be mine entirely and I know I would resent having to give away part of it to the growth of another. That doesn't make me a bad person; acting in spite of that awareness and imposing it on another human would.
The fear of regret is there, sure. The only antidote I found is to try to live a life truly worthy of the sacrifice. Not having children offers immense freedom, that I flex as far and as often as I can. Irresponsible spur of the moment travel! Decadent spending on my own wants and needs! Reckless changes of career, housing, life partners! Rejection of family-centric social norms! Otherwise, what's the point of denying the Dominant Biological Imperative?
posted by Freyja at 9:07 AM on November 26, 2016 [5 favorites]

My tiny bit of advice: whether or not you'll feel regret in the future, regret is ok to feel.

For many people, circumstance--not personal volition--takes the place of an intentional choice. These people don't all experience regret, but some do, certainly. And those people sit with their regret, because that is what humans do. Sitting with regret is straightforward if it is only occupying that 1% of space left over from your 99% conviction.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 10:56 AM on November 28, 2016

I had my one and only child at the age of 33. She has brought me so much joy, it is too hard to describe in words. And just for the record, I am not "maternal" by nature - I never particularly liked other people's kids.

However.... while I was happily child-free in my 20s, shortly after turning 30 I just knew I HAD to have a child. It was this deep need - although I had been married for years without wanting kids, all of a sudden it just felt like I wouldn't be able to have a happy life without at least one.

All this to say, if you are 35 and still pretty sure you don't want kids, I think you need to listen to your feelings. If you really wanted kids, you would know it deep in your bones.

No matter what choices you make in life, there will always be moments of "what if?" wondering.... for example, since I DO have a child, I sometimes wonder what it would feel like to have the extra cash and freedom to travel somewhere spontaneously. That's not regret though - just a wandering mind. It sounds to me like you have a fantastic life that you really love. If you don't feel an absolute NEED to have kids, it's probably better not to.
posted by barnoley at 11:21 AM on November 28, 2016

(Also, I'm extraordinarily lucky that my child has no serious health problems and is an intelligent, funny, kind, lovable kid. You never know what you're going to get.)
posted by barnoley at 11:25 AM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm 64, and I can never remember WANTING to have kids. I had a spell in my mid-20s where I thought I might be an ok parent, but it wasn't something I WANTED. I hate being around babies. Toddlers suck all the air out of the room.

Then I accidentally got pregnant in my late 30s. I couldn't get an abortion fast enough. Never regretted that decision, though I do idly wonder occasionally what life would have been like if I'd gone down that other leg of the Trousers of Time. But it certainly doesn't haunt me.

I know now that I would have been a TERRIBLE mother. I'm way too much like my own mom. I'm barely a good dog owner, and dogs are MUCH more forgiving than children.
posted by Archer25 at 6:35 AM on November 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm late to the conversation. I'm nearly 50, no kids, no regrets. The only reason I ever considered having kids was because everyone kept telling me, "Some day your biological clock will kick in and you will crave a baby, and boy will you be sorry if its to late!" I worried that they were right and someday some mysterious "mommy gene" would suddenly wake up and demand that it be given spawn to cuddle. Happily, that never happened.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 2:11 PM on December 1, 2016

Also late to the conversation, but hey.

My husband and I met at 25; got married at 28. We both assumed we'd have kids because... that's what you do, right? A few years after we got married we wound up having a conversation about "so, uh, this whole kids thing..." and realized that actually, neither of us had any kind of active desire for kids. Thinking about having a child felt like having to do the biggest, nastiest term paper that you never wanted to do... just to get to the starting line. And I recognized that there were things my husband did that I could deal with if it was just us, but which would be a major problem if we were trying to raise a small human (and I'm sure he would say the same about me). It was such a relief to realize that we were both on the same page.

I'm now 46 and have had zero regrets about this, and instead feel grateful on a fairly regular basis for having recognized the truth about what we want and what we're capable of. When I see a cute baby, my heart goes all soft and melting, while my uterus remains cool and unmoved. As I say jokingly (only it's not a joke), "I would run into traffic without a second thought to save your toddler if they'd stumbled off the sidewalk. Just don't ask me to take them home with me afterwards."
posted by Lexica at 8:44 PM on December 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

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