Image by Liberty Antonia Sadler for Metro
Word on the street is that women of child-bearing age are opting out of having children more than any generation before them. (See this, this, this, this, and this if you don’t believe me.) I reached out to five women, most of whom are nearing the end of their child-bearing years and who range from pretty sure to absolutely certain they don’t want kids, about their choice to remain childfree – whether they always knew they didn’t want kids, whether they feel any negative repercussion about their choice, what they love most about not having kids (spoiler alert: traveling unencumbered is a pretty universal love), and what advice they might have for anyone trying to decide whether or not they want to have children, especially if they are leaning toward the “no thanks” side of the equation.
Having Kids Never Felt Right
“I always liked kids, but having my own never felt right. My now-husband was always “ambivalent/no” and when we both turned 40, we had many, MANY discussions around “are we sure we don’t want to do this?” and “it’s now or never.” But all of those discussions seemed like us trying to convince ourselves we should, which felt purely intellectual as opposed to instinctual. Ultimately, when the world is such a fucked up place, it felt good to choose the option of not adding to our own stress. And then my sister-in-law distilled it so perfectly. They have two kids and are the greatest parents, but one afternoon over tea she said to me in that weary yet full-of-love way only a true mother can: “Being a parent is the greatest thing. But you have to really WANT it.” And I knew in that moment that I didn’t really want it. The idea was lovely, but the reality was not for me.
The greatest benefits are obvious: free time to pursue my own interests, disposable income, ability to travel in the off-season (and avoid Disney vacations for life!), energy to go all in when we are with the nieces and nephews and then we get to hand them back and sleep free and easy, and we will RETIRE EARLY!
I haven’t experienced any downsides. Our life doesn’t feel empty and I sure as hell don’t feel like I am missing out on anything.” — Katherine, 44, married 8 years
Not Absolutely Sure
“I’m squarely in the “likely decided” category. Growing up, it felt like a no-brainer to have kids, but that’s not the case anymore. I’m a queer woman and engaged to a transgender man, so there wouldn’t be a pregnancy conceived without intervention and that gives me a sense of autonomy over my body and control over whether I have [an unplanned pregnancy].
I think that once I came out [as queer], I wasn’t afraid to step off the path most traveled, and I opened myself up to re-examining other traditional pillars of adult life. Do I want to have kids because I genuinely want to have kids? Or does it just seem like What’s Done? Where do I want to rank my career among my priorities? How do I want to spend the time I have in this life, especially when I don’t know how much time that is? I’ve read several books on the topic that have been helpful in clarifying my thoughts, most recently Motherhood by Sheila Heti. Another one, which focuses on the idea of outside pressure on such an important decision, is Selfish, Shallow & Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids.
Ultimately my decision has come down to: It seems like a bad idea to enter into parenthood unless I’m absolutely sure I want it. And I’m not.” — Reilly, 28, in a long-term partnership
A Full Life Without Kids
“Growing up and well into my 20s, I imagined my life with kids. I wanted one or two, but no more than two. Boy or girl? Didn’t matter. I had names for my unborn child(ren). I wanted to game the system and procreate with a blue-eyed man. We’d have family dinners and Saturdays filled with parks and books. I know I would have been a good, or at least an ok, mom. I’m a nurturer by nature.
Sometime in my early 30s, that vision changed from definitely wanting kids to not so sure. Maybe if I met and married someone who really wanted them? But even then, I was leaning toward no. I didn’t want to put my body through what it takes to be a mom, and I so greatly valued sleep. Also, where I grew up, marriage and kids were something you did, but I finally realized I had other options.
At 35, I met my husband. He didn’t want children. Decision made. We will and do travel. We spoil my nieces and nephews. We visit friends and go to shows and did I mention travel? Our life is full. I did feel some pressure from my mom. She thinks we’ll regret not having children. I don’t think we will. We both like the freedom to do what we want. — Katie, 39, Married
Never Played With Dolls
“I feel like I was born this way, not so much that it was a choice – although I am so grateful to live under circumstances in which I could make the physical choice not to have children. I was never interested in baby dolls and would get upset to receive them as gifts. I babysat, but I did it to earn money, not because I was interested in children.
I think kids are cute, but I feel no pull whatsoever to even spend time with them (unless as a favor to someone), let alone raise them. There is literally nothing appealing about it in any way. I kept thinking maybe that would somehow change, but it never did, and now I’m in a happy, strong second marriage with a guy who feels the same way.
There are no negative repercussions for me to not having kids. I enjoy all the “me-time” and couple-time I have – many hours a week. I struggle a bit with “what’s my purpose in life,” but I think everyone does, kids or no. I don’t feel like there’s some hole where something’s missing. I’m not worried about who’s going to take care of me when I’m older – that’s what retirement savings and nurses are for. I don’t feel selfish or “less than” or stigmatized, or discriminated against. The most that will happen is a new nail tech will ask if I have kids and act surprised when I say no. No one in my family or friend group gives me any pressure or judgment about it, though a few co-workers did try to sell me on kids after I got married again. But who cares what they think?
The advice I give to others is: Unless you really feel you *want* kids, do not get pregnant. Use a reliable form of birth control, always, and do NOT take chances. Only have kids because you really want them and you have the mental, emotional, and material resources to give them what they need in life. Don’t risk an unplanned pregnancy because you want to leave the door open, thinking that you may regret not having kids and may have a big gaping hole in your life. You most likely won’t. Focus on yourself, and on your relationship if you have one. Kids are not for everyone, and there are so many other ways to contribute to the world than by raising children.” — Kate, 43, married.
“I will be 40 years old next month and am happily child-free by choice. I remember that when I was a child in kindergarten, my friends wanted to play “house” with baby dolls. I was more interested in drawing and coloring- I preferred stuffed animals over dolls.
I divorced in 2017. When I started dating again, it was important to me to date someone who either had grown children or didn’t want children. For over a year I’ve been happily dating a man who does not have or want children either. I always tell him that since we didn’t get to meet until halfway through our lives, at least we get to date and travel relatively unencumbered. I do not regret not having a child and I am happy to live in a society where I am able to freely make this choice. If I ever regret my decision, I know there are many ways I can fill that gap, including by fostering children.
If a woman is leaning towards not having children, I would stress not to let her family, partner, or societal norms force her into something she doesn’t want to do. Many successful women are child-free by choice and have contributed greatly to the welfare of kids—from Ellen DeGeneres to Oprah Winfrey to Mother Theresa! Follow your heart and do what is right for you.” — Samantha, 39, divorced and dating
I’m looking for more women to join the DW Women Discuss panel. If you would like to contribute to future Women Discuss posts, please shoot me an email at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com with “Women Discuss” in the subject line. If you want to share your age, marital status, where you live, and whether you have kids, that would also be great. And if you’d just like to share ideas for topics you want to read more about, feel free to pass those along, too. Thank you!!