Childless and happy?
May 31, 2006 1:41 PM   Subscribe

Can childless couples have fulfilling lives? How do they spend all their free time and money? Is it a lonely existence?

Yes we are childless and I am curious (concerned) what our future holds. Do childless couples tend to be more self-centered? Does being childless bring the couple closer or further apart? What happens when they grow old - are they miserable with nobody to care about them? Also is a puppy a common and effective child-substitute?

Thanks for sharing your own experiences.
posted by zaebiz to Human Relations (53 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
This thread will not go well.

Life is whatever you make it. Kids have nothing to do with it.
posted by bondcliff at 1:48 PM on May 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

I just took a nice long trip to an exotic country with my wife. Before I left, someone at work asked, "So, is this the last big trip without kids?". And I replied, "No, this is the first big trip without kids".

So to answer your question, childless couples can spend their free time and money taking vacations to places other than Orlando.
posted by Gortuk at 1:50 PM on May 31, 2006

While my parents had kids, some of their friends did not. The non-kid-having friends do a lot more travelling, and have a lot more flexible schedules. They seem to be perfectly happy.

I have no experience-based reason for saying so, but I feel compelled to opine: don't have kids for the sake of your relationship; have kids if you want to have kids. Kids are their own separate little people, not mere extensions of or therapy or glue for their parents.
posted by ibmcginty at 1:54 PM on May 31, 2006

Salon had a series called To Breed or Not To Breed that addressed some of these issues (you'll have to click through an ad to get to the free content). I found it worthwhile reading.
posted by occhiblu at 1:54 PM on May 31, 2006 [2 favorites]

This is a topic Metafilter isn't especially good at talking about, though attempts have been made.

The childless people I know have all seemed quite happy. Having children isn't required for a happy or fulfilling life. Neither is not having children.
posted by BackwardsCity at 1:57 PM on May 31, 2006

Indeed loaded. I have to wonder if you're serious.

Can childless couples have fulfilling lives?

Uh duh? Why wouldn't they be able to? Kids aren't required for fulfillment unless you think they are.

How do they spend all their free time and money?

Any way they like.

Is it a lonely existence?

Children aren't an insurance policy against lonliness.

Do childless couples tend to be more self-centered?


Does being childless bring the couple closer or further apart?

That depends on the couple. Like anything. I think it brings my husband and I closer together because we can focus on each other.

What happens when they grow old - are they miserable with nobody to care about them?

Again, children are not an insurance policy against lonliness. Lots of old people have kids who don't give a shit about them.

Also is a puppy a common and effective child-substitute?

Not if you want a child. I don't want a kid, so my animals are a bonus, not a substitute.

It actually seems like you're trying to talk yourself into not having kids instead of having it based on any actual desire.
posted by agregoli at 1:57 PM on May 31, 2006

I agree with bondcliff: life is what you make it.

Plenty of people live fulfilling lives without children. Then again, children can be a blessing.

Obviously, if you don't think you or your mate are cut out for parenting, you probably shouldn't have kids.

As to how to spend your time and money, life offers all sorts of opportunities. Travel across the world, write a book, take up archery, or simply try something you've never done before. Of course, you could still do all these things if you had kids. My parents did, anyway.
posted by tnoetz01 at 1:57 PM on May 31, 2006

Hope this is on-topic: An older gay couple I know have created their own family of close friends and also people from younger generations (and yes, also a highly anthropomorphized puppy). I can attest that this non-traditional family is very, very close, and the couple at the center are incredibly giving, warm people. Indeed, they have many of the emotional benefits of a genetic family with perceptibly fewer 'issues.' They attend weddings and graduations, celebrate accomplishments and mourn losses just as a related family would.

From your question's phrasing, it seems you won't be adopting, but you can do the next best thing and form close, important and mutually beneficial relationships with other people. Basically, I'm saying you can (and should) collect a family of your own to ensure that the problems you mention don't happen. It's too bad that there is a bizarre stigma about having close relations with people outside one's own age bracket. Mentoring and learning from others of a different age groups should be cherished. Unless you are Michael Jackson. Ew.
posted by CaptApollo at 2:00 PM on May 31, 2006 [3 favorites]

My other half and I have been together for several years, and we don't really intend to have kids. We're doing fine, enjoying our lives, family, friends, hobbies, and don't really see the need to have kids--we've got plenty to do. Which is not to say that kids aren't great for some people, or that we might not change our minds.

I guess I don't see why people need to overthink this--if you want kids, and can handle everything that comes with it, go ahead and have them. If not, not. But certainly don't have them because you fear you won't get something from them down the line. It's possible that you'll spend more energy and money and love on the kids than them on you. You want to be more interested in giving than getting if you are to be a good parent.
posted by lackutrol at 2:01 PM on May 31, 2006

The Lady Fez and I tend to put the money and effort we would have invested in children (if either of us wanted to have any) into causes we support. Effective surrogates are neices, nephews, cousins, being a Big Brother/Sister, and children of friends. I dunno if that makes us self-centered—we get a heck of a lot personal satisfaction out of these pursuits—but it meshes with our community activism vibe and gives us the freedom to live the nomadic lifestyle we both enjoy. And ferrets make better surrogate children than puppies. :)
posted by Fezboy! at 2:01 PM on May 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

I find that renting children from my siblings is much more effective for me than owning. The kids seem to enjoy it and I find nearly equal joy in picking them up and returning them.
posted by Lame_username at 2:02 PM on May 31, 2006 [2 favorites]

Sorry, better link for Salon series.
posted by occhiblu at 2:04 PM on May 31, 2006

Are childless couples self-centered? Um, sometimes. Sometimes no. I know that I'm more freaked out by self-centered couples when they do have a kid then when they don't.

People without kids tend to have more money and stuff that's unbroken compared to people in the same job categories. But I know plenty of people with kids that are better with their money because of the necessity.

In the "pull together/pull apart" and "happy/unhappy" questions, replace "kid" with "any stress." Kids add stress. They also add stimulation. Some people find that rewarding, exciting, great. Some people see it as a strain, a drain and something that drags them down.

I was told never to agree to build a house with my ex-husband unless I was really, really sure the strain wouldn't kill the marriage. I think having kids is just like that. You get to take pride in building something cool, but it's a lot of strain, cost and effort. Only you two know what's gonna work for you.
posted by Gucky at 2:05 PM on May 31, 2006

This is like asking does eating hamburgers make you happy? Everyone's going to have a different answer. Do what you and your other find yourselves wanting to do and know that the consequences of your actions vis-a-vis happiness-making are rarely predictable. Life is random!
posted by xmutex at 2:12 PM on May 31, 2006

Thanks for asking this question. I, for one, am asking the same question these days, so you won't get any nasty comments out of me. I wanted to be a mother so desperately in my college and shortly after years that I'm surprised at how much I don't want kids now. I feel my clock ticking at 29 and a half. But I've just started my dream career 6 months ago, and I don't want to give that up or take time off. Mr. Orangemiles does not want kids at all, but goes all smooshy around little kids and points them out wherever we go. (I'm not convinced he doesn't want kids in his heart of hearts.) We love our nieces and nephew, but also cherish the quiet car-ride home after being around their chaos. I wonder who will care for me when I'm old and need caring for. I wonder if I will regret it when it's too late to get pregnant. I wonder if I will regret it the second I see a positive line on the pregnancy test.

It's a tough one. Thanks for asking the question. Sorry, no answers here. Hubs and I have decided that God will change our minds and they will align if we are to have kids. (Only God could change them, says our parents.)
posted by orangemiles at 2:14 PM on May 31, 2006

In one's youth who cares? Kids are great but so are lots of other things. As one approaches their mortality does one regret not having future generations to carry on? Well, probably yes, but what is the measure of that regret? I doubt you have anyone on MeFi able or willing to answer that question.
posted by caddis at 2:14 PM on May 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

Another related AskMe thread: Why have a baby?
posted by invisible ink at 2:16 PM on May 31, 2006

My childless aunt and uncle were/are fine. They "rented" me as above and I had fun, they had fun, and we all got to back to our respective homes. Similarly, my husband and I "rent" our nephews. Interestingly they behave more like small human beings with us than they do their parents, so we all have fun.

Kids won't "make" you happy. If you're happy, you're happy. Now, if either one of you really, really wants kids, and considers that to be central his/her happiness, that's something else. Just because you can reproduce, does not mean that you should. You should have kids if you and your partner want them, and for no other reason than that.
posted by Medieval Maven at 2:18 PM on May 31, 2006

On the topic of whether a puppy can (or even should) fill the void that a child can, this thread has a lot of good responses.
posted by invisible ink at 2:19 PM on May 31, 2006

For the people who think this is a loaded question, we are unable to have kids. So whatever "horrible" things this question is supposed to imply about childless couples in your minds, I guess must apply to us as well.

In a strange kind of way, those cynical responses are sort of helpful though if you catch my drift.
posted by zaebiz at 2:23 PM on May 31, 2006

Mr. Orangemiles does not want kids at all, but goes all smooshy around little kids and points them out wherever we go.

I was Mr. Orangmiles! Finally I could deny the obvious no longer. I talked to my wife--"You know how we agreed we wouldn't have kids of our own? Well. I have been thinking some more about that, and it turns out that I do." She delivered our son a few months after her 42nd birthday. And we all live happily, everafter.
posted by LarryC at 2:24 PM on May 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

For the people who think this is a loaded question, we are unable to have kids. So whatever "horrible" things this question is supposed to imply about childless couples in your minds, I guess must apply to us as well.

Well, that's awfully snide. You don't see all the negatives you applied to the idea of being childless? I think the problem here is you are "childless" (can't have kids and want them) and many people are responding as "childfree" meaning they decided not to have kids, ever. Obviously, the means with which one comes to either one are totally different.

Childfree people like myself and my husband often bristle at the ideas you espoused because we are exposed to them so often - the notions of us being selfish, etc. It's silly to assume bad traits because someone does something differently than the norm.

In a strange kind of way, those cynical responses are sort of helpful though if you catch my drift.

Hehe, if I had a dollar for every time someone implies I am bitter or cynical for not having kids. Oh, how wrong they are. I love being without children, and I am 99.9999% sure I won't be changing my mind (I'm newly married and 26).

There's no reason to apply any negatives to not having kids if you decide not to. However, if you desperately want kids, of course you're going to look at a situation where you cannot have them as pretty awful.

Have you considered adoption?
posted by agregoli at 2:34 PM on May 31, 2006

I'm sorry to hear that you can't have children. I wish that was a choice you could make, for good or ill.

However, this question reminds me of a new-ish meme I've seen take hold in the past five years that's trying to paint singles and couples without kids as selfish. I'm a parent myself, but I tend to find this push to guilt-trip couples into parenthood dismaying and disturbing, not in the least because in some cases it seems to have roots in racism/xenophobia ("We can't let THEM outbreed us!")

I was happy before I had a child, I'm happy that I have a child now, but those two happinesses are not comparable. They are as different as they possibly can be, and both are perfectly valid.
posted by lekvar at 2:34 PM on May 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

Without being snide: it's absolutely possible for childless (or childfree, however you want to call it) couples to have fulfilling lives -- there are countless things to do besides raise children.

It's also possible to have children in your life -- and to be a significant, important presence in those children's lives -- without being parents. You can volunteer with Big Brother/Big Sister, become foster parents, coach Little League, run a Girl Scout troop, etc. Lots of kids need positive, encouraging adult role models, whether they're parents or not.
posted by scody at 2:41 PM on May 31, 2006 [2 favorites]

You should only have children if you WANT to have children. If you don't -- then do NOT let "society" or your parents or your friends or TV or anything else convince you that you "should" have children. YOUR happiness (and your spouses') are the only requirements in a marriage. If you choose to have children, do it because YOU want to.
posted by davidmsc at 2:41 PM on May 31, 2006

Not being able to have kids and choosing not to have kids are different. I think all people have the potential to be happy, whether they can or can't, choose or choose not.

But if you have a yearning deep in your heart to be a parent, obviously being childless won't exactly help you reach that goal of happiness (even though it may not stop you from reaching it either). You don't mention whether by "unable", you're also for some reason unable to adopt or foster or take advantage of other options...but if being a parent is important to you, you should try to become a parent. If it's not, well, you are unlikely to be forced into it seeing as how you're unable to have kids. So, at the risk of stating the obvious, you should do what you think is right for you.

(Not sure why being unable to have kids makes this a not-loaded question...but luckily your answers so far have been pretty reasonable...)
posted by lampoil at 2:45 PM on May 31, 2006

I was ready to write a long(er) response, but after reading CaptApollo's, there's no need - he pretty much nailed it in my book about who family is.

There is also no guarantee that if you have children, they will charish you and care for you when you're old. My uncle has been taking advantage of my elderly grandmother ever since my grandfather died. He's stolen from her, never sends Christmas or Birthday cards & is pretty much an all-around jerk to her.
posted by Alpenglow at 2:47 PM on May 31, 2006

Every time the child/no-child debate comes up, I think of the VHEMT website.
posted by bibbit at 2:54 PM on May 31, 2006

This study reported that parents are less happy.

My wife and I have no problem at all spending all our money, or all our time.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 3:08 PM on May 31, 2006

Having kids is also the single biggest contributing factor to a woman being at risk for poverty, throughout her entire life. Not everyone's got tons of extra cash lying around.

zaebiz, while it's certainly heartbreaking not to be able to have kids if that's something you wanted to do, I think most of what you mentioned (though probably not all of what you're feeling) can be solved in other ways. If you want children in your life, scody has pointed out great options. If you want to be surrounded by people who care about you, CaptApollo has shown a great example of how that can be done. If there are other areas of your life you were hoping a child would fill, I'm sure there are other options out in the world for getting most of those needs met.
posted by occhiblu at 3:16 PM on May 31, 2006

This debate is similar in some ways to being married vs. being single.

One issue common to both is a frequent confusion between being "alone" and being "lonely". For some people, the two are synonymous. For others, they are very different things and the former (to different degrees) is often greatly sought after.
posted by Sangre Azul at 3:22 PM on May 31, 2006

My longtime girlfriend and I don't have kids. We travel internationally at least twice a year, and travel to different cities once a month. I drive a German sports car, my girlfriend wears Manolo Blahniks. If I had children I would be broke, drive a Jetta and probably never see Shanghai ever again. No thanks.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 3:23 PM on May 31, 2006

I know happy childless couples and happy couples with kids, and I know unhappy couples in both camps, too. Kids will not "make" you happy, if that's where you're coming from. Please don't make that mistake, miserable people make miserable parents and the kids suffer in the end.
posted by doctor_negative at 3:25 PM on May 31, 2006

My decision to not have kids over the years has allowed me to quit a lucrative job that I despised in order to work in a low-paying field where I'm happy to go to work every day. Now, THAT'S fulfilling.
posted by vito90 at 3:25 PM on May 31, 2006

people with kids think those witholut miss something; people without think those with are burdened. There is this: more disposable income.

as for being lonely: A great French writer noted: Man is born alone. He dies alone. In between he looks for good parking places.
posted by Postroad at 3:25 PM on May 31, 2006 [2 favorites]

a new-ish meme I've seen take hold in the past five years that's trying to paint singles and couples without kids as selfish

That's not new. My mother reports feeling that way about childless couples in the 1950s or 1960s.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:30 PM on May 31, 2006

As much as I WANTED children I felt it was for selfish reasons- I wanted to not to have children to be able to give my time to kids that needed me... maybe adopt or be a really great foster home or maybe take in a few fresh air kids. I thought I could volunteer and have more time and energy for things I wanted to do and things I thought I should do.

Where am I now?? With a boyfriend with 2 year old twins -maybe too old to have them and feeling a little like if I am going have my weekends home his young kids -- well, lets just say I think maybe the baby bug has taken ahold of me.

You can have time for family and friends that with kids you would never have.

And I feel like having children can being a real divider among couples. And I think less money woes and more time to spend and focus on each other could be a real nice thing for a marriage.
posted by beccaj at 3:34 PM on May 31, 2006

I work on a labor and delivery floor, and my decisions not to have children and simultaneously to work with childbearing women are sometimes greeted with the deepest suspicion. But for me, it's the best of both worlds--I spend my days watching new lives come in to the world, and then I go home to the blissful quiet of my apartment. I wouldn't have it any other way.
posted by jesourie at 3:36 PM on May 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

For the people who think this is a loaded question, we are unable to have kids. So whatever "horrible" things this question is supposed to imply about childless couples in your minds, I guess must apply to us as well.

The way your question was phrased made it possible to interpret it as negative/argumentative. As in, what's with those childless people...aren't their lives meaningless? This may have not been your intent at all, but a lot of us read questions like this through the filter of having been involved in pretty heated debates here over the percieved self-centeredness of parents and the percieved selfishness of childfree couples. So that's a bit of wary defensiveness you're seeing in some responses.

Following up on the negativity thing, you can expect that you will be asked ad nauseum about your childlessness. Go ahead and formulate some polite demurrals now. It's not uncommon for people to consider whether or not any given couple has children to be a topic for open debate and discussion, including comments that are wildly uncharacteristically rude, thoughtless, and condescending.
posted by desuetude at 3:40 PM on May 31, 2006

"Issuing in blood and sorrow from the wombe,
Crauling in teares and mourning to the tombe."
posted by everichon at 3:41 PM on May 31, 2006

Flippant verse citation now out of my system, meh. I know lots of people in both situations who are all over the happiness/fulfillment spectrum. Mrs. Ev and myself? DINKs.
posted by everichon at 3:51 PM on May 31, 2006

Can childless couples have fulfilling lives?

Yes, especially if they take the creative energies that they would have put into children and use them in other ways that contribute to the world.

How do they spend all their free time and money?

On Money: They should set aside quite a bit for retirement, of course, and a good amount toward charitable organizations they support. After that, they can spend their money however they please.

On time: If they want children in their lives, they can certainly volunteer at schools or to work with troubled kids. They can do all the stuff that people with kids did before those kids were born and after the kids moved out. They can pursue fulfilling careers, they can develop hobbies, they can surf the internet, they can travel, they can see great art and fantastic music, they can garden, they can refurbish their homes.

Is it a lonely existence?
No. If you're in a couple, there's already one other person there. Beyond that person, foster relationships with your parents, siblings, cousins, colleagues, former classmates, other couples, people with similar interests, church group members, etc. Based on what I've heard from some stay-at-home moms, being alone with an infant all day can be a lot lonelier than having a career and an adult social life.

Do childless couples tend to be more self-centered?

Not in my experience.

Does being childless bring the couple closer or further apart?

This is very personal, and will vary depending on the couple and the relationship. I know a lot of people whose marriages fell apart after their children moved out and went to college, however, which suggests that having kids can sometimes artificially keep people together for a time.

What happens when they grow old - are they miserable with nobody to care about them?

Well, if they've spent their entire lives not building relationshps with anybody else in the world they might be lonely and miserable. But most childless people cultivate friendships and do have people who care about them when they get old.

My grandmother has a good friend from high school who never married or had children, for examlpe, and when I made a trip to Iowa with grandma a few years ago she made a big point of visiting this supposedly lonely 80-something woman. The woman lived in a senior housing community with lots of friends, had an active social life, and two young women -- the children or grandchildren of friends from her youth -- came to visit just in the few hours that we were there.

Also is a puppy a common and effective child-substitute?

I don't think you can ever really substitute for a child. If you want children in your life, your best bet is to hang out with friends who have children or volunteer in a capacity that will give you access to children. But puppies are still super cute and a lot of fun, and a nice way to get out some of your nurturing needs.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:57 PM on May 31, 2006 [2 favorites]

Zaebiz, I don't find your question loaded. It's too bad others did, because it got your answers off to a slow start.

Note: I'm not anti-kid, no matter what it sounds like...

Can childless couples have fulfilling lives?

As others have said: absolutely. Children have nothing to do with whether a life is fulfilling. To be fulfilled, set goals. Engage those around you. Form lasting and meaningful friendships. Be passionate. Live. All of these are possible without children, and, indeed, many are easier without children (at least until your friends begin to breed — then things become a little more difficult, but not because of the childless).

How do they spend all their free time and money?

However they please. They have much, much more free time and money than those with children. Among my friends, the oldest children belong to the same family. These kids are ten and thirteen. They still monopolize the lion's share of their parents' time and money, just as the six-year-olds and the eight-year-olds the three-month-olds do. Children may be rewarding. They may the best thing that ever happened to you and your spouse, but they are time sinks and they are money sinks. Childless couples find other time sinks and money sinks. My wife and I have three cats; they're almost like having three children. We also have an old house with a large yard. That's a money sink. And a time sink.

Is it a lonely existence?

Not even close. Almost the opposite. In fact, I hear from many friends who are new parents that they are lonely, feel desperate for adult contact. (This seems to go away as the children age and the parents' lives become devoted to school and to soccer and to piano lessons, etc. Then they have more contact with other adults.) I see friends all the time — both breeders and non-breeders — and never want for social contact.

Do childless couples tend to be more self-centered?

Again, I don't think that the presence or absence of children affects this either way. Personally, the childless couples I know actually seem to be less self-centered, more giving, more active in the community. When I think of the selfish couples I know, they're all breeders. However, I think this is mere chance rather than an indication of cause-and-effect.

Does being childless bring the couple closer or further apart?

I'm not sure it does either. I think that the birth experience causes couples to share an amazing bond, and I'm often jealous of that. But I also think that the process of raising children can cause a great deal of stress, and is detrimental to certain relationships. I'd guess this is a wash.

What happens when they grow old - are they miserable with nobody to care about them?

I'll admit that I've worried about this to a degree. I doubt I'll be miserable because I have an active mental life. Plus I've discovered this handy little thing called the internet. But I can see it happening. I worry sometimes about what might happen if I die before my wife does. She might be lonely.

Also is a puppy a common and effective child-substitute?

Yes, but so are cats! Every childless couple I know has at least one cat, sometimes several.

Final thoughts: don't let the presence or absence of children define who you are or what you're worth. Live life to the fullest. If you love children as I do, then make the most of contact with your friends' children. Other people's kids are great: you can interact with them, have fun, teach them to love the things you love, and then they go home at the end of the night. It's fun to watch them grow. Sometimes I feel like I have several dozen children, each of whom I see once a month. It's great.
posted by jdroth at 4:31 PM on May 31, 2006

I think it's a lot more selfish to have kids when you don't want kids.
posted by acoutu at 4:47 PM on May 31, 2006

Ok looks like I have some fairly 19th Century views of childlessness. It's probably because I come from a big family. As a child, it was always the visiting childless people that I was told I should extend a little more understanding towards and be on my best behavior for. They tended to be a little less tolerant if I recall.

Many great answers - even a few cynical ones (which help to kick me out of some irrational attitudes).
posted by zaebiz at 4:49 PM on May 31, 2006

As the female half of a childless-by-choice couple myself, I've always preferred to be called a THINKER: Two Healthy Incomes, No Kids, Early Retirement.

Seriously, I've never wanted kids of my own. Ever. I enjoy children (that belong to other people), find them endlessly fascinating little critters, take great delight in feeding them on sugary snacks and giving them noisy toys and then handing them back to their parents ... but I don't want my own.

I do wonder from time to time about the whole "but who's gonna take care of me in my dotage" thing but there's no guarantees, even if I had kids, that they'd be there to look after me when the time comes.
posted by NsJen at 5:16 PM on May 31, 2006

Of course you can be happy. With or without kids in your life, yours or somebody else's.

The phrasing of your question caught my attention. You may need to grieve for the loss of your fertility, and whatever expectations or dreams you had about your expected child/ren. You may catch a lot of flak from family and friends who expect you to have kids, assume that couples with no children are selfish, etc. You shouldn't have to explain yourself, but you'll get asked about it. I wanted more kids, and when I get asked about it, I just say "Life doesn't always turn out the way you expect."
posted by theora55 at 6:46 PM on May 31, 2006 [2 favorites]

Can childless couples have fulfilling lives?

Seems to be working so far. Call me back when we're dead.
posted by pompomtom at 8:38 PM on May 31, 2006

Do you want kids? Does your partner? These are critical questions. If you already know you can not have them I am guessing at least one or both of you want them. Do not ignore this. The desire for offspring is deep, primal and more powerful than many people imagine. I have seen many, many marriages break up over an inability to conceive or a difference in desire between the partners for children. You have a bunch of twenty somethings here saying it is no big deal. That is kind of like a nine year old telling you that he will never want to masturbate. Of course it is possible to lead a full and fulfilling life without offspring. I am sure you know more than a few people who have done this. I do. However, the emotions around this are very powerful. Don't ignore them. Talk, explore your options for fertility treatments and adoption if necessary. I wish you both the best of luck. Life is rich and wonderful, with or without kids, money, whatever. Just do not ignore your or your partner's important feelings and on this issue the feelings are VERY IMPORTANT. The issue is not whether happiness, contentment or fulfillment are possible one way or the other, the issue is how you deal with this with your partner. Communication is extremely important, yet can be difficult. If you both acknowledge that it will likely take you years, not days, weeks or even months, to come to grips with these powerful forces in your life you are many steps ahead of the average couple who confront an inability to have children. Good luck, and never forget why you fell in love in the first place.
posted by caddis at 8:49 PM on May 31, 2006

I think it's a little unfair to refer to people as a "bunch of 20-somethings" saying it's no big deal. It seems like a lot of people have said very sensible stuff. Having kids won't make you happy, but if you really do want them, not having them will make you miserable. OF COURSE a difference in opinion about having kids can break up a marriage. It's a fundamental choice about how you live your life. I'd be utterly shocked to find out otherwise. I don't think I've read anyone in this thread (anyone who's being serious) who doesn't acknowledge that having kids is a huge decision, and can be the defining characteristic of a marriage -- it just doesn't have to be. People do make different choices.

zaebiz, if you and/or your partner want/ed kids, and now you know you can't have them, then certainly take caddis's very excellent advice and seek out whatever resources you choose to seek. A friend of ours cannot have kids due to a liver condition, so she and her husband adopted, and their kid is awesome. Our nephews are the result of fertility treatments. People who really do want kids can often have them regardless of their own personal fertility issues. BUT, if neither of you is that upset about it, then that's okay, too. It doesn't make you monstrous, selfish, or anything else, other than childless, which is by all accounts a very bearable condition.

Look, I have no mothering instincts beyond my cats -- zero -- and according to my mom, neither did she. I was an accident -- I was, in fact, supposed to be impossible. My parents didn't actively want kids, thought they couldn't have any, and I happened. I turned out fine, but you know what? My mom and dad would have been fine without me, too. Their marriage is so strong, and they love each other so much -- my parents are good at this being married stuff. That's really all you need to be -- good at being married. After that, if you're dedicated to working on everything else, you will be fine. I know that sounds simplistic, and someone's probably going to tell me I'm full of it, but it's the best advice I've ever been given.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:06 AM on June 1, 2006

What happens when they grow old - are they miserable with nobody to care about them?

Most of the other questions have been answered quite well, so I'll take a shot at this one. My wife and I have discussed this and concluded that we'll hire somebody else's kids to care for any physical needs we might have if and when our health fades. As for having emotional needs met in old age, if you extend yourself and care about another person odds are pretty good you'll have somebody who cares about you. Growing old does not automatically equal being miserable.

And unfortunately, having children doesn't necessarily mean they'll take care of you in your old age. At least not in modern American culture.
posted by SteveInMaine at 5:52 AM on June 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

The responses on this thread have been interesting. At the risk of not answering your original questions, I'd like to add this:

I've seen a lot of posts more or less equating the decision to have kids with a decision to no longer travel at will, explore life's possibilities, and basically exercise free will.

As the parent of a 15-month-old who was, shall we say, an unexpected gift, I'd like to say that if having a child causes you to travel less and/or enjoy the world less, there may be issues at work other than the kid. It absolutely does not have to be a jail sentence.

We've been camping with our son several times already. We've been out snowshoeing with him. He's traveled across the country with us on planned trips, and been to Death Valley and Boise, Idaho on spontaneous roadtrips. And we're not alone: check out the (wonderful) Berkeley Parent's Network pages for lots of examples both pro and con.

Anyway, in re: our experience, all of those things required adjustment on our part. For instance, choosing to drive at night after he went to sleep so that we could make better time: when he's awake, he likes to get out of the car and run around every couple of hours for at least 30 minutes, and who can blame him? He's a little kid, he has different needs than we do. But, crucially, we did not assume that any travel option was closed to us before doing extensive research.

In other words, as parents, we make a conscious effort not to exclude possibilities simply because we now have a third traveler with us. Believe me, it's not easy: your first reaction is "there's no way we can do this, we'll have to do X, and Y, and Z, and Q, and...screw it, it's no fun anymore". If you think like that, you've already gone from considering travel fun to considering it an ordeal, and with that basic assumption, it's going to be hard to have fun.

What we discovered was that we were doing at least two things wrong when we excluded possibilities. The first was assuming we needed twelve thousand things to travel with a kid. When we sat down and really analyzed his needs, they were pretty simple: kids are adaptable, and, frankly, camping with him didn't add all that much equipment. He's a pretty mellow kid, knock on wood, and your mileage may most definitely vary, but as long as his diaper's clean, he has a sippy cup with something tasty in it, and we have Finding Nemo on DVD, he's good.

The second thing that we were doing was not recalibrating to see the world from his perspective. I'm speaking only for myself here, but I've found that it's incredibly rewarding to look at a trip to a new place from the perspective of what'd be fun for a kid, because, honestly, what's fun for him is pretty damn fun for us too. Sometimes it just plain rocks to go get all muddy and wet and dirty just to get muddy and wet and dirty. Or to spend hours playing around in the surf because you have a one-minute attention span and it's all new. To put it another way, we were looking at it as "how can we fit him into our existing plans" instead of "how can we plan to do things as a threesome".

So, anyway. Long reply to a short question. Sure, kids can be a hell of a challenge: unfortunately, if you're not sure, that's no barometer, because I'd bet half or more of us who are parents weren't sure we wanted kids right up until they handed them to us.

I used to say "don't become a parent unless you're ready for everything you want to come second". I've revised that now that I have a kid. Now, I tend to say "don't become a parent unless you're ready to be on-call for everything from "why is the sky blue" to a broken leg, whether or not you feel like it".

Only you can make the decision whether it's right for you. I'd suggest, though, that you spend at least as much time with parents who are enjoying the unexpected swim as you do with people who have water up to their eyes and feel like they're drowning.

Hope this helps, and sorry to ramble.
posted by scrump at 12:34 PM on June 1, 2006 [3 favorites]

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