I never wanted kids.
Growing up, people said I would grow out of it or I’d change my mind but deep down this was something I always knew about myself. Motherhood was not something I needed to feel fulfilled.
But as I get older and the end of my child-bearing years approaches, I find myself pondering this life choice and the kind of life I’ve led, and continue to lead, as a result.
While I don’t think I would make different choices if I had to do it again, there are some things I feel I can share with others who may also be questioning whether parenthood is for them.
It’s a lonely path. Frankly, not wanting children will put you in the minority in your social circle. Your friends, siblings, cousins and acquaintances will marry or have long-term relationships and most of them will have, or be in some stage of trying to have, children. It will start to feel increasingly isolating as they enter a realm in which you have no experience and to which you cannot relate. They will have a life experience that you don’t and won’t share.
It affects your romantic life. As a single person in my late 30s, the question of children is one of the most important issues that arises when considering dating someone. Dating someone who wants children is a no go, which significantly decreases the pool of available partners. Dating someone who has children forces you to consider whether your desire for a child-free life applies to all children or just to children born of your own body.
People will say not nice things about you. I remember overhearing a guy talking about a female friend of his who didn’t have children, although she was in a committed relationship. “She’s too concerned about keeping her body,” he said scornfully, implying that she was selfish, shallow and vain for not having kids. People will say that you’re selfish, that you’re going against nature and that you will regret it. But here’s one thing I’ve learned: people will talk no matter what so don’t let that be a factor in your decision-making.
The decisions you make when you’re younger matter. As a teen or even into your 20s, the fact that women have limited childbearing years is an abstract concept. Time seems endless and bridges can be crossed when you come to them. But sometimes it’s better to decide if you even want to cross the bridge to begin with. Which brings me to …
People who want children won’t change their minds so don’t fall in love with them and definitely don’t marry them. They may say they’re OK with not having children, or perhaps they may appear to waver or be uncertain about parenthood. But, in the same way that you know that you don’t want kids, they absolutely know that they do. It’s a fundamental difference in what someone needs for their lives to feel complete and that rarely changes. To save heartache down the road, have that honest conversation early in any potentially serious relationship and be brave enough to recognize when love isn’t enough to build a life together.
You’ll feel pressure to conform. From parents, grandparents, siblings, co-workers, people on the street … people will want to know why you don’t have children (particularly as you get older) and, even though it’s none of their business, they may make you feel less than for not having any. That may not be their intention and it may be as much about your own internal conflict as it is about their words and actions, but by choosing not to have children, you will be in the minority. This puts you in opposition to what much of society considers “normal.”
You’ll second-guess your decision. You’ll wonder if you’ve made the right choices. You’ll try to envision what a life in retirement without grandchildren will look like. You might cry as your peers move into a stage of life that you’ll never join.
You’ll love the children who are in your life fiercely. I have four nieces whom I adore. I love being an aunt. I love being a person who may positively influence their lives (without bearing the primary responsibility of guiding them to adulthood).
Being a parent isn’t for everyone but it doesn’t mean that the question of parenthood won’t impact your life. It will, in ways that you don’t expect, and it’s a decision that requires careful thought and honesty.
In today’s society, we have more freedom to make choices that reflect our true selves and enable us to live authentic lives. We don’t have to conform to society’s expectations and we can put aside any pressure we may feel to fit a specific mould. For some people, that means building families that don’t look like those we are used to seeing. For others, it means focusing on careers over family. For still others, it means following the example set by their parents and grandparents before them.
What’s important is staying true to yourself in whichever path you follow.