my children shall have no names
April 21, 2008 9:08 AM   Subscribe

How do I deal with wanting (but not planning to have) children?

I'm female and in my mid-thirties. I am not going to have children - I'm not in a relationship, not looking, introverted and needing lots of solitude, suffer from depression so don't think it would be a good idea to bring a child up on my own*. I have, however, what feels like an "ache" to have a child. I see a lot of children as I look after relatives' children a couple of days a week. I also work in services for children though in a support role, not directly with children. How can I get over what feels like a kind of mourning for the life I won't have? Truly, I am pretty content with the life I have, and know what I would lose if I had a child, and know that I wouldn't cope with it and it would be bad for the child. I would like to be less obsessed with the children issue - I've made a decision that I'm sure is right so how can I get my feelings in line with my plans?

* I do know that other people in these circumstances have children and do fine - this is a decision about my ability to cope, not anyone else's.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
You say that you're suffering from depression - are you seeing a therapist? This seems like something that should be discussed with him or her.
posted by jquinby at 9:20 AM on April 21, 2008

Could you get involved with foster care? Taking on kids short-term might give you your fix without a lifetime commitment. And should you meet that child who changes your life and you decide this is something you can handle, you could look into adopting.

Otherwise, look into something a little less involved like volunteering for Big Brothers Big Sisters or a similar organization.
posted by LolaGeek at 9:21 AM on April 21, 2008

Nobody's Mother is a recent book of essays by women who, for a variety of reasons, have chosen not to have children. i haven't read it yet, but maybe it could help you gather some perspective from others on the same path. an edition featuring men is apparently in progress.

here's an excerpt by Lorna Crozier, who i know and have a very deep respect for.

for my part, i'll delighted if i never have a child, but my girlfriend is less sure. she'd like to adopt, but who knows?
posted by klanawa at 9:25 AM on April 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

By going through the mourning, I think. I had a period of this in my early 30's when I decided not to get married or have children and sidestepping it was prolonging it. I dove into those five stages and began to actively explore what a life without a spouse or kids would look like for me. I experimented with what that childless life might look like and the advantages of that. I took crazy, indulgent trips overseas and to spas. I structured my weekends around music and art. Etc.

(Of course, then I ended up married at 35 and with a kid at 39. But that was certainly not planned or expected. And I had to mourn the loss of my pre-marriage/kid life just like I had mourned in my early 30's. Letting go of things is never easy, but always interesting.)
posted by jeanmari at 9:28 AM on April 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

I am also mid-thirties, although in a happy relationship. However, my partner is 15 years older than me, and while we haven't ruled out kids absolutely, the prospect just isn't looking good. Neither of us feels financially prepared, he's dealing with elder care issues, and we both enjoy the freedom associated with no kids. But I always supposed I would have kids one day. I went through the "ache" when I was much younger, so I am not dealing with that visceral sort of feeling. But I have been trying to come to terms with the fact that having a child just isn't likely to happen for me.

Two things have helped. First, deciding if I was more interested in "having" a child (i.e. biologically) or being a parent. I decided it was the latter. And that leaves lots of doors (adoption, foster parenting) open should my life or my mind change about raising kids in the future. Second, it's a fucking scary world to bring kid into. I know that every generation has said this, and yet we keep reproducing, but really, the dire global warming and environmental crisis situation really makes me thankful that I don't have kids who will have to suffer through this mess. Because it ain't looking good with regards to turning this ship around.
posted by kimdog at 9:32 AM on April 21, 2008

Spend a lot of time hanging out with other people who don't have kids. My wife and I don't have kids and we're perfectly content (on that score anyway). We do find that people with kids and people without kids tend to be two pretty radically different populations. It's not something that's generally thought about, since most people either have kids / are going to have kids / did have kids / or didn't have kids involuntarily. To be a voluntarily childless person makes you, in many ways, a very misunderstood minority (and this is even more true in other parts of the world than North America and Europe - in some places they just think you're crazy).

Personally, I have to fight to not get cynical about parents' obsessions over their little darlings... oops, better fight harder. You'll probably get a lot of advice here to spend time with kids through other means, but I would offer the opposite advice. Although there's certainly nothing wrong with hanging around with kids, I think you will feel more accepting of yourself if you have a solid peer group / support network of childless (preferably voluntarily childless) people.

Congratulations on your decision - personally I think it's the right one, for all kinds of reasons that go beyond the personal. Good luck!
posted by arcadia at 9:39 AM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was also going to suggest something like foster care, but if your emotional state is how you say, it probably wouldn't be best to take on kids who may have serious problems of their own. Something like Big Brothers Big Sisters could be good because you do get to mentor and guide a child, and care for them, but you aren't actually their sole caregiver or full-time parent.
Unless, that is, being around kids makes it worse. You mentioned that you already spend a decent amount of time with kids.
posted by fructose at 9:43 AM on April 21, 2008

I asked this question a while ago "What do you do with your life if you never get married or have kids?" and a lot of people in that thread talked about being childless and how they deal with that and find ways to still have children in their lives.
posted by PinkButterfly at 10:12 AM on April 21, 2008

The foster care angle that a few other posters have suggested sounds like a good one. Also, my sister worked for an agency that took care of homeless and abandoned children, and one became like a daughter to her, so maybe something like that would be a possibility for you as well given your job.

But you also mentioned that you look after some relatives children a couple of days a week. Thats already a pretty big commitment and attachment right there. Is it possible you could take one of those relationships "to the next level"? Really involve yourself with one of those children as your own? I don't mean by displacing their parent or anything, but when I was still living with my parents, my sister would often bring her newborn son over for my mom to watch, and so I often wound up taking care of the little guy, feeding him, taking him to the park, etc... and I still feel a close attachment to him. In some ways I almost feel guilty that I don't spend as much time with him now that I do have a child of my own.

If you're close with your relatives whose children you care for, maybe you could explain your feelings to them and ask them if you could be your favorite niece or nephew "very special Aunt". I know if one of my childless sister in laws told me what you've said I'd be very glad to see that sort of relationship. I *want* my kids to be close to their family, because I love my kids and I love my family. Maybe you can take on one of these kids as "your own" in a sense.
posted by Reverend John at 10:19 AM on April 21, 2008

It's a loss. It's the loss of "what might have been." You have to mourn it like any other loss. And FWIW, the hormonal aspect of the mid-30s batshit insane baby drive does eventually quiet itself, which helps take the edge off.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:23 AM on April 21, 2008

I think an underlying / subconscious interest in having children is in escaping death, honestly, so in not having children there is a sense in which you have to face your own mortality more directly. This is not the simplest thing to get over. For most people, if not extending the family, then either a belief system / ritual system (find jesus, do yoga, join the army) or a meaningful project / creative enterprise (paint, build furniture, write a book, patent a technology) is helpful.

I dunno if that is true for you, but for me it all gets framed in the larger context of my purpose in life etc. Having a kid is a really obvious and immediate "purpose" - it sort allows for an answer to that question if you want it to, in a way that very little else does so neatly (maybe falling in love with the right person does that too -). So not having a kid just makes the question of "why am I here" become more pressing. (Obviously the kid is not a rational answer to the question, but that's hardly the point...)
posted by mdn at 10:31 AM on April 21, 2008 [4 favorites]

I'll add my voice to the lines of foster care might not be for you. At least in Canada, the process for fostering and adopting involves the same education and background checks. They dig into why you want to adopt/foster what your thoughts are regarding bio kids of your own, your family history, your previous psychological states, and your current psychological state.

Regarding the feelings of loss that other's have mentioned, before fostering/adopting, you have to convince your social worker that you are through that/making good process.

However, if you're not in a sparsely populated rural area, I know that you can find people who are looking for free/cheap baby sitters; even if it's only for the weekends. Whether it's a single parent, or a couple, they'd love some alone or date time, even on weekends when you'll likely be free. You'd keep seeing the same kids, so you could develop a relationship with them. Let them know that you're doing it to spend time with kids, and assuming that you pass the "won't steal my kids and move to the other coast"-test, you'll have plenty of kid time. Consider nearby relatives (even if distant) first, if you want help acing the test.

Any chance you live near KW Ontario, and want to spend time with three boys? ;)
posted by nobeagle at 10:33 AM on April 21, 2008

A data point, which may or may not be helpful or useful: I only wanted children during times in my life when I was struggling with depression. When I succeeded in overcoming that particular struggle, the desire to have children melted away.
posted by caitlinb at 10:35 AM on April 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Do you have a niece/nephew/child of a good friend who you could take under your wing a bit? I know many people who don't have children themselves, but are very involved in a child's life and serve in some capacity as a second parent/favorite aunt kind of a thing. Or maybe even try big brothers/sisters. It might make you feel a lot better to know you've had an important impact in a child's life and have a lifelong friendship with a child into their adulthood. You'd get the chance to see them grow up, without having to take on all the stress of actually being a parent.
posted by whoaali at 11:44 AM on April 21, 2008

For what it's worth, as a childless woman with many friends who never had kids and who tend to be a tad older than I am, my friends are fairly unanimous that the baby clock just turns off at a certain point. So you probably won't always feel that biological pull. (I never had it at all, myself.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 2:03 PM on April 24, 2008

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