How I keep cool when I'm unsure about wanting kids

March 17 2015 | Guest post by AJisaokay
Photo by: icathing – CC BY 2.0
Photo by: icathingCC BY 2.0

Since getting married (oh, who am I kidding, since before getting married), people have started asking me how many kids I want. I answer truthfully, somewhere between zero to two. You see, my husband and I do not know if we want to have kids.

It seems like, among my friends, everyone is pretty confident that they either do or do not want children. I have waffled on the subject my entire life. I have landed on being honest with myself… I really don’t know.

It’s not as if the decision needs to be made today, but it can be a bit disconcerting to be so ambivalent about something so major, especially when it seems like everyone else has the answer.

On the one hand, I love my friend’s kids. When I see my husband interact with children, it’s adorable and makes me happy. We are both awesome people. I think we would be awesome parents. There is a strong part of me that wants to meet that awesome kid we’d raise together.

On the other hand, raising a child is a terrifying thought. The thought of dealing with a crying or sick child; the thought of the sleep-deprivation; the thought of having to make the right decisions for a tiny person who is totally reliant on me and my husband… How can I just say "Yes, these are all things I can handle"? I know the baby phase passes, but every phase brings new challenges. And I’m fairly certain there will be some that we can’t quite handle. Even if I manage to do things mostly right by my kid, there are no guarantees.

I want to meet the awesome kid we could have, but I also want to travel. I want to buy adorable baby clothes, but I also want to have the ability to selfishly spend my money on me. I want to cuddle a kid to sleep, but I want to sleep in.

My husband has told me he doesn’t think we can make the wrong decision. At first I thought, how can there not be a wrong decision? It’s a huge decision! There must be a right answer and a wrong answer for us. It’s almost scary to think that there isn’t a right and wrong here for us. The more I think about it, the more I think he’s right.

I think we can choose either path and still live lives full of joy and happiness, and of course sadness, and maybe a twinge of regret for the path we didn’t choose. If I look back years from now over my life and feel a smidge of regret one way or the other, that won’t mean we chose wrong. I will just be wondering about what might have been.

We've shared plenty of child-free perspectives from folks who KNOW they don't want to have kids, but what about those of us who just aren't sure?

  1. I'm so grateful to have read this! My husband and I are in the same boat. It's not a popular thought, but a reality we are being faced with as we age. Thanks for writing this post!

    • Ditto.

      And it is a little weird feeling like every one else *knows.* I wonder how many of us there are out there who are just honestly unsure….

      • Yes! That's the most frustrating part is the not knowing. Back when I wrote this for Offbeat Families (man, I should really transfer that post to Home…) I said:

        "But, I'll tell you something that I've just recently admitted to myself — I sometimes wish that I wanted to have kids. Things would actually be easier on us, in some ways, to just know what we wanted. We could plan our future accordingly — make plans, save up money, get some of that ol' health insurance stuff, etc."

        For a while when people would ask me about if we were having kids (before I decided 100% NOFUCKINGWAY) I would just say, "at this point, all we know is that we don't know."

      • In the comments here and what people are saying on my fb, I think there are a lot more maybes then it seems. I think it's just easier to pretend like you know. I know I often just go along with it when people who aren't close friends or family act like there are children in my future. It's much easier then explaining "well maybe, I'm not sure yet" and then hearing the tirade of "oh you have to have kids! you'd be a great mom!"

      • It's got a double meaning because 1. that cat is kind of looking at that baby the way I look at kids like "This thing makes intrigued and yet nervous. I am unsure how I feel about this" and 2. If I ever do have a kid, I am fairly certain I will take that picture of my cats checking out the baby a hundred times.

    • It really is a perfect photo for the post!

      Does what your eye is drawn to first in the photo say something about the person viewing the photo? I totally paid more attention to the cat than the baby and find the cat much more interesting. I currently have two cats and no kids and my husband and I are not sure if kids our in our future or not.

      • I didn't even realize there was a cat in this picture at first, for what that says about me. I am so glad my husband and sister take better care of our cats than I do ever since my baby son was born.

      • I'm gonna say it's natural for the eye to be drawn to the cat because it's the obvious contrast. The baby is all tucked away in its blankets, and TBH, I didn't notice it at first glance. But I also have a cat, and am waffling on the kid thing. So there's that, too.

  2. Thank you for writing this! I'm turning 32 at the end of the month, and although my whole life I've said I want kids, now I'm not so sure. It was fine when it was a hypothetical, "Oh sure! One day I'll have kids." but now that time is coming to make that decision, I'm freezing up. I feel like my art career is barely off the ground, and while it's a nice thought that I could paint while they nap I know it's not realistic. I like sleeping in, going out to eat, having a clean house, staying out late if I feel like it, and being able to make spontaneous plans. Do I want them just because it's always been what's expected of me, or do I want them just for me? What would a life without kids look like? Would I finally backpack through Europe? Which choice would I regret more? Ugh! It's weird having been baby crazy for so long now to have doubts.

    • " having a clean house"

      I like having a MESSY house and not having to worry about a kid getting into something s/he should not.

      • Oh god yes. I can't even cat proof my house, how could I ever baby proof it? (although cat proofing might be harder).

        • Yeah, I"ve always wanted a cat, but then I remember I like to leave clothes out on the floor. I mean, eventually they get picked up, but probably not before a cat would make a mess of them. I think that would be easier with a kid though lol.

          • As a cat person I will say that I sometimes leave clothes on the floor and the only mess they would possibly make on them would be a bit of hair.

      • I always have a messy house (like, "why are there three days worth of dishes in the sink and junk all over the floor that hasn't been vacuumed in a month?"), and I also have a 15-month-old. As long as we haven't left anything dangerous within reach, it's all good. So it IS possible to still maintain one's messy lifestyle whilst raising children 😉

    • This is just how I feel – I always thought I'd probably have kids but turning 31 this year and getting married in a few months has made it an actual, real possibility and now I'm seriously considering whether I want children at all. Considering we ruled out getting a dog for now because it just wouldn't fit in with our lifestyles, it seems insane to go ahead and have children when the lifestyle change would be much more than having to feed and walk a dog every day! I like children, but do I want them? I need to think about it lots more. It's VERY scary.

      • That's exactly how I feel. I thought a lot about this and I haven't gotten any close to a decision! I got married in Dec last year and I'm turning 31 next october. People have started asking about kids (as they usually do) and I'm really not sure of what I want. I've always thought of myself as being a mom someday, but now that it's all very "close", I'm not sure how the kid would fit in our life at all. My husband is also in this I want kids/No I don't want kids dilemma as well, and we seem to be alternating. People all around me are so sure they want to have kids. I'm glad to find people here that are in the same dilemma as we are.

        • I feel exactly the same! We got married last October and although the questioning already started before even that, it's gotten worse now and we're not even close to any decision. I'm so freaking happy to read all you stories and see that we are a) not alone and b) not as abnormal as it sometimes feels…

    • I feel the same, I've always wanted babies, I've always had babies around me, my sisters and cousin all have babies and I'm apparently next in line. People have always asked when we're going to start a family, our answer has always been after the wedding, we're getting married this year and the questioning is getting incessant, however, my partner and I are having doubts of even having a baby, as we've got older it seems we're enjoying life a bit more and don't want to miss out on that, as selfish as it may sound. Though it seems we have only a few years left to decide, we're not sure if we would have kids for the right reasons, do we want them or do we want our parents to have grandchildren? Do we want them just to conform with our upbringing? I feel either way we will miss out on something and it's a hard decision to make. I look at my nieces and nephews and think I definitely want my own children, but then I think of what my life could be, and the horrors of this world too and think I don't want to bring someone else into it.

      • The wanting my parents to have grandchildren is a HUGE part of what weighs on my thoughts about this. I'm an only child, and my parents would be like the best grandparents ever. I really want them to be able to be grandparents because I know it would mean so much to them. However, I can't decide to have kids just for that reason… that's not the right reason to make that choice.

      • The part of me on the fence about kids is being swayed because I know that I DO want grandkids for ME in a few decades. And while I can't force my future kids to have kids of their own, they are a vital part of that equation.

        • I also catch myself thinking things like "how cool will it be giving this ring to my kid in the future?" after receiving some of my great-grandmother's jewelry. This "leaving someone something", giving the parents(or in my case in-laws) grandchildren is weirdly embedded in my thinking, although when I think about it a little longer those are not good reasons to bring kids into this crazy world…

    • This is a lot of what my husband and I dealt with when we talked about the kid issue. I was just getting my business of the ground, we were older, clock was ticking etc. One piece of advice I read was 'at any given time during the day, and multiple times during the day, ask yourself 'how would my life be different right now if I had a kid'? ' This can be more of a practical reality check rather than asking it as the big picture question. It was really helpful for me to figure out we wanted the 'idea' of kids more than the reality. Like someone said, the cuddles, the first Christmas, but not the midnight feedings or I Hate You teenager.

  3. This is one of those moments I like to call serendipity. My partner and I met 10 years ago when we both in our twenties. In that time I've gone from "Kids? Hell no!" to wanting to have kids, fairly recently actually. I've literally just returned from the doctors where I had my contraceptive implant removed. We're going to give it a couple of months then start the baby making process!

    I still get doubts, like the OP. My career is just taking off, as is my partner's. We still want to visit our friends scattered across the world in Taiwan, Australia and Japan. I still dream of making writing my primary career. Having a baby doesn't mean the end to all those things. Just means we have another person along for the ride 🙂

  4. Thank you so much! I have often felt I am the only one in the "don't know" boat. I always thought at some point it would become clear, but here I am in my mid 30s, and it is still not clear. For a long time I felt that unless I really, passionately felt that I wanted a child, I had no business having one. Now I really don't think this is really a valid way to think about it. But, it's hard to know how to proceed. Reading this makes me feel so much less alone 🙂

  5. I think we can choose either path and still live lives full of joy and happiness, and of course sadness, and maybe a twinge of regret for the path we didn’t chose. If I look back years from now over my life and feel a smidge of regret one way or the other, that won’t mean we chose wrong. I will just be wondering about what might have been.
    This paragraph is everything.
    I feel like there's a very strong pressure for people who do and don't have children to insist that they feel no regret, ever. It's entirely possible to feel blessed and grateful while experiencing some regret or twinge of desire to know what the other path may have looked like. It's okay to acknowledge that life's challenges make you wish for a greener pasture.
    Likewise, I feel like the assumption that everyone just has an answer is totally unfair, as if the choice should just be magically clear to everyone. Life is a tough, challenging thing that changes all the time. Being unsure and waffling doesn't mean you're doing life wrong–it means you're examining your situation and adjusting based on the information you've got.

  6. Yes yes yes. Thanks so much for sharing. I'm in a similar boat–except my husband IS interested in having kids, so it's something we need to work on and it's an ongoing process.

    There was a great piece in Dear Sugar ("The Ghost Ship that Didn't Carry Us", written by Cheryl Strayed) about this that I really enjoyed and re-read every so often to help me continue to consider this.

    http://therumpus.net/2011/04/dear-sugar-the-rumpus-advice-column-71-the-ghost-ship-that-didnt-carry-us/

  7. I completely relate to this. Not married but I have no idea if I want kids. Boyfriend feels the same. Literally no clue…just keep saying: I don't need to decide yet. And at 29 I don't…but I'm very aware of the fact that that state of being will not go on forever…..confusing times.

    • I found it somewhat nerve wracking to get married without husband and I being on the same page about kids (well, I guess we are on the same page of not knowing what page we are on!) But even if we were both 100% certain we did or didn't, there is no guarantee one of us wouldn't change our minds at some point.

    • People laugh when I say I don't want to be "too old" when I have kids since I am only 28 (well, will be in 2 months) But when I turn 30, that means I would be around 52 when my kids graduate college. Maybe 60 when they get married/move out! Then what if I am infertile? And I tried later in my life, and therefore might not conceive until I am 40! Am I over thinking it? Probably.

      • My mom had me at 39 and my grandmother had my mom at 40 and her last child at 47, and my perspective as their child and grandchild is that it's awesome for the kid in most ways. My parents were settled and affluent, and way more relaxed and laid back than my friends' younger parents. We joked that they were "too tired", but I think really they just had experienced more of life and knew most things weren't emergencies. Also, my parents were coming of age in the era of the hippies, so some of their parenting style might have been generational. Given my unusual (but becoming less so) perspective on the "normal" age of parents, I'm freaked out by 50-year-old grandmothers. 🙂

        • Maybe part of my freak out is spawned unintentionally from my young mother and grandmother. They were both 20 when they had their first child, which would of been too young for me. But it is funny since my grandma and grandpa had their 55th wedding anniversary and everyone that I told would be surprised about how long that was, then I have to chime in and say that they got married when they when they were in high school so they aren't THAT old.

        • this is one of those things that my fiance and i differ on. his entire family is super young – he even knew his GREAT grandmother until he was in his 20s. all four of my GRANDparents were dead before i was 20 (and they lived to be a fairly "normal" old age). He thinks he wants kids – i have no fucking clue but i'm pretty sure I don't. It's panic inducing as I approach 34. but seeing this gives me a little more hope that i have some time to figure things out.

          • Yeah, my husband is 8 years older than me, but his parents are about 5-10 years younger than my parents. It's no big deal for our relationship – they weren't exactly the model of ready parents (he was an Oops baby), but it does make it hard for my MIL to wait for grandbabies. My mom of course sees no rush given how old she was when she procreated. I'm 26 and in no hurry. I don't think MIL ever expected her son would still not have children at 34. 😉 I'm able to use my chronic health problems as the excuse with her, but that's only a smallish part of why I'm not ready.

            On the subject of great grandparents, I knew one of mine; she died when I was 5. She was my dad's grandmother, and was only about six years older than my mom's dad. I guess my folks must have dealt with some generational differences with their parents too.

          • You definitely have time and besides that: rushing into a decision like that can't be good either. There was an episode of Adam ruins everything on pregnancy and more and there was a very interesting piece about "having time" which made me relax about that decision for us:
            https://youtu.be/g9ryP0UyO5U

      • This is totally a feeling I have. I am 28 currently so should have remaining years on my fertility, but I do sometimes feel the proverbial clock. If I don't decide to have kids for a few years, will I be an old mom? & if my kids have kids, will I be able to enjoy the grandma years? It's so cart before the horse (as I mentioned in another comment about the thoughts spiral) but I can't help but think about THE ENTIRE FUTURE when it comes to thinking about kids. It's very hard not to overthink on the subject of kids.

        • Yes, and despite all of the freaking out, it isn't like I have that many friends or coworkers who are popping out babies. I live in a very liberal area of the east coast, and it seems that most kids my age aren't having kids, even when married. I can only think of a handful of friend and people I went to school with who have kids, most were accidents. I think this new economic climate has totally changed everyones point of view and their financial situations.

      • My dad turned 50 on my first day of high school (he was 36 when I was born, 63 now). In contrast, my BFF's mom just turned 50 this year. My dad was plenty able to keep up with me when I was a kid, but now he's starting to suffer from some pretty serious health issues- he's had 2 heart attacks and is now fighting lung cancer, largely because he's been really rough on his body his whole life. I'm about to turn 28, and I'm freaking out a bit because I feel way to young to have to deal with the possibility of losing my dad. His chemo's going well, so we're super hopeful he'll pull through this fine, but this shit really makes you think.

        tl;dr: I'm also almost 28 and will be married next year, and my 63 yo dad's health issues are making me seriously consider my own habits/health and whether to have kids within the next few years.

  8. Yes!! Yes. 100% this. I used to be completely certain I wanted kids. Like, a LOT of kids. I always and forever have told people I wanted a big family and to stay at home with them. As the time gets closer, though, to when it would actually be a "good time" to have kids (between 2 and 5 years from now), the more anxious and unsure I become. My fiance and I were talking about this the other night – that much responsibility and lack of flexibility is terrifying. And in all honesty I don't even like having to take care of our dogs (his dogs? It's not clear) – I can't tell if that's a sign I'll be an awful parent or if it's just a sign I don't like dogs (I love my cats…most of the time).

    The only thing I think we have going for us is that we're afraid of opposite phases. I'm comfortable with the infancy/baby stages and think I could handle the dependency and cuddling even if it meant a few diapers. Toddlerhood though? Childhood? Teenage-years? Those scare me to death. My fiance is the opposite. He has what appears to be a mortal fear of babies, but is more comfortable with the 6 & up stages.

    I just don't know how to reconcile what I want. Travel? Kids? Both? Freedom to hop on a plane? Disney as an adult for the rest of my life? Climates? Homeschooling? The list goes on and on…

    • I just wanted to say that travel gets trickier with kids because there's more planning involved, but they're not mutually exclusive. Sure I went to Disneyland a lot as a kid (we lived in California), but I also went to Africa when I was 12 and my Aunt and Uncle just took their 3 kids to Europe. I know one little girl with more stamps on her passport than mine! It's something I keep trying to remind myself as well.

    • your fiance and I are alike! I'm just not a baby person, and being around them makes me super nervous. People get put off when I refuse to hold one, but i just don't want to! Scary!
      But ages 5 & up? I LOVE THEM! They are so fun! Every time I'm around kids that age, I think I want kids but then I remember they would have to be babies first and I get all unsure again. It's hard to figure out if I want kids, or if I just want to be around kids?

  9. Thank you for this post! It sums up perfectly how I'm feeling at the moment, except I'm still going AHHHHH – WHAT IF WE MAKE THE WRONG DECISION?!!
    It's good to know there are others in the same boat, it does usually feel like those who want children just KNOW & never have any doubts, which is completely unrealistic but very believable when you're wavering around like a drunken cockerel on the fence.

    • i'm with you on this one. I don't know which i'm more afraid of – having them and realizing that i didn't want them or not having them and realizing i wanted one.

      kids aren't a goal i have for myself. but maybe they'd be an adventure I wouldn't mind having? i'm about to be 33 and i don't effing know.

  10. All of this. So many people have said it much more eloquently than I can, but at 32, I worry that I SHOULD know, and the more I think about it, the less clear I become! It's so good that so many other people are feeling the same way.

    Case in point, I can barely function right now due to lack of coffee, even though I got to bed early and had a full night's sleep. How on earth would I function with a CHILD?!?!

    • I'm about to be 33. i don't know either. I've never given kids much thought and now those thoughts terrify me. Sure, i'm an "adult" by all accounts, but i can barely remember to feed myself daily let alone being responsible for another human. wtf!

  11. Great story! I think it's an individual decision for each person, and it's important to really think about it and to choose. As a person who chose to have children (now 17 and 20) I do want to say this: don't be terrified of the teen years. They can be awesome, seriously. I have people tell me all the time what great teenagers I have. We all still love going on family trips together, hiking and traveling all over, and my teens/YAs are both fun, capable, respectful, & responsible. Love your kids, read to them, spend time with them, turn off the boob tube, and the teen years can be very rewarding. Fear not! Besides, as parents you grow up along with your kids.

    • I want kids for the teen and adult years moreso than the tiny cute years. I'm not ready and can't picture being ready for the tiny dependent being, but I'd always regret not having the parent-child relationship I have with my own parents once I'm their age. I want children. I want grandchildren. I want them to be good people and love me… I just don't want to have to raise them myself. 😉 A bit of a problem, eh?

    • it's hard to think about what i'm going to want in the future – my fiance's family is big and i have no idea how it feels to have a large family that gets together and plays cards, eats, jokes, etc. But is that something i'm going to want when i'm 60? in which case, i should consider having kids! how the hell am i supposed to anticipate what i'm going to want in 30 years!?

  12. I was very much in the no camp until I met the man I fell in love with (and in the most cliche ways can't be with). Suddenly I wanted HIS baby but I can't have that so now I'm in the maybes. The irony being not long after moving from no to maybe I've been diagnosed with two infertility causing conditions.

    So there's every chance the decisions out of my hands and that's sort of comforting (don't get me wrong still going through all of the infertility emotions)

  13. Thank you for the validation that ambivalence about kids is a real thing!! I never identify with the rabidly childfree posts because I DO love kids and DO feel like we would be pretty great parents. But we also like our freedom, we worry about passing on iffy genetics, I fret about potential problems of me being 35, I have trouble picturing kids for US. It's really comforting to know I'm not alone!

  14. Mom of an almost 2 year old here. I was always unsure about kids due to very far from ideal childhood myself. We just decided to forgo birth control and see what happened, voila! Having a kid is wonderful, but so, so hard. So many little freedoms gone, but so much love that I could have never imagined. Anyway, we are in the uncertain about a 2nd child stage. I really don't want to go through the whole baby phase again and not sure we have mental or financial bandwidth either, but want a sibling for my son (having my brother was a huge support in my childhood). So, I guess even once you decide to go for 1, there are still more decisons to be made. Oh, life.

    • Very true! Sometimes I get into this spiral of "Do I want a kid? If I have a kid, will I want another? How far apart in age should they be? I'd want them to be close in age, but then I'd have 2 babies at once" and on and on and on until I have to shake myself and say "HEY. So much cart before the horse going on here right now." lol

  15. I've always gone back and forth too. When I was younger I was certain I didn't want kids. When I felt like I was getting the hang of adulting I decided I definitely wanted them, just sometime in the future. Two years after my husband and I got married we decided we'd stop trying to avoid pregnancy. A year later we decided we'd actively try to get pregnant. Fast forward four more years through exams, tests, surgery, more tests and now we're looking at whether we're ready to try in vitro. Every time I wasn't pregnant and every time we had to try something new I feel like it took away a little bit of my certainty. For us it will take a lot of conscious work if we ever want to be parents and I feel like with every new hurdle you can't help but think "How much do we really want this?" After awhile it totally starts to mess with your head, you feel like the only way to justify your insane effort is because you want it so bad.

    • I can relate to this Alix! I am 33 and married for 3 years. To begin with we weren't preventing pregnancy but at some point over the 3 years it changed to actively trying. I definitely didn't want kids when I was younger, but this changed to 'would be nice someday' and then to 'if it happens, it happens'. The whole TTC thing has really made me question again if I really do want kids. I think I would be fine if it happened naturally, but I don't think I want them bad enough to go through IVF. I feel different about TTC each month, sometimes I feel down finding out I am not pregnant, other months I am relieved, so I don't know!

  16. I can identify with this. I went from definitely no to insure when it became clear that the man who would become my husband was a keeper. The unsure lasted a good 5 years. I found that unsure slowly became definitely yes over time and the process was often quite confusing. I began to find that I would want children for the 2-3 days of my cycle that I was most fertile and then I would go back to ambivalence. I then began to get upset during the days that I did want children as I knew that the feeling wasn't going to last. That phase was the hardest and lasted about a year. Then I slowly began to notice that the period that I did want children had lengthened from a couple of days to a whole week and then longer and finally I realised that I just wanted children all the time. I'm now 42 weeks pregnant (is it ever going to end?!?) and I can't wait to meet our child.

  17. I'm still unsure if I want children and I'm 35 weeks pregnant. Don't get me wrong, I do want the specific child I'm carrying, I think that for me it's the abstract of children that's the problem. I never liked children, even when I was one myself. The fact that I am pregnant now was both planned and not planned if that makes any sense. Me and my husband discussed me taking out my IUD because it gave me stomach cramps and just see what would happen. Two months later I was pregnant. I realize that we left a lot to chance and have not made a conscious decision to actually have kids, but I hope it works for us. I'm kind of still in some sort of denial because having kids is so far from ME as I can get. I just hope that when the baby comes it will feel like it's supposed to be here, that it's a natural part of our family.
    I also think that our decision (or lack thereof) has something to do with pressure from mi MIL. My husband is an only child and she's been on us for years about when we're going to have kids, we've been together for 13 years (married 3) this summer. I know this is not something that should affect our decision but the constant questioning finally made me wonder if we would miss something if we didn't even try. I realize that I'm probably rambling but I haven't really discussed this with anyone but my husband and this post just spoke to me.

  18. I've always thought it's better to not have kids and regret it, then to have kids and regret it. Even past fertility, adoption and fostering are an option, so you can always change your situation if you didn't have kids. But I think having kids and regretting it, is a bit more disasterous for everyone.

    • That true, but you almost never hear about anyone who has a kid and really ends up wishing they didn't. Sure you hear a lot about parenthood being bittersweet, but rarely do you hear someone who has a kid say they would make a different decision if they had to do it again. Now, I don't know if that is simply because it's not socially acceptable to say.

      • My grandmother confided to me that she and my grandfather didn't want to have kids, but because they had no means of birth control, they had 4. I think she and my grandfather loved their children and grandchildren, but they would have been happier overall without having had kids. They had a fun life just the two of them. My grandmother had a career until kids (a rare thing at the time; she was a chemist), and had to start a new career ~thirty years later. My grandfather was a pretty terrible father by all accounts, thanks to unmanaged bipolar disorder, alcoholism, and other contributing factors. Having kids and not wanting them probably made his mental illness and addiction worse. If they had been a young couple today, my grandparents would have chosen to not have kids. I guess the difference for their circumstances is more that they didn't make a "decision" to have kids (beyond the decision to not have very risky and illegal abortions, or the decision to have sex), so it was never a matter of regretting their decision. They regretted their circumstances.

      • I have an in-law who freely admits with a few glasses of wine that her life would be better if she hadn't had a child. Now, she doesn't just have "a child", she has her very specific and very beloved daughter, who she absolutely would not give up or wish away. But objectively? She would be better off if that hadn't happened.

        And that's why you don't see people saying "If I had it to do over, I wouldn't" because that means wishing out of existence the very specific little human beings that they love so much. But had those children simply never existed in the first place, to be known and loved … maybe that would have been better for the parents.

      • i always just assume parents don't say they don't want their kids because a) hormones that happen to help keep the species alive and b) because it's socially not okay to admit that out loud.

        though, i wish more people would say that if they felt it. i'm terrified of it.

        32/no kids/don't know if i want them

  19. My husband and I were both ambivalent about having kids. More firmly planted in not having kids, and then a whoops drunken night full of grief after his grandpa died, our son was conceived. Yay?

    Now, 3 years later, with a lovely little person running around our house, I've finally settled into mothering identity. But the question of having MORE kids was where I felt this crazy back and forth extreme flip flopping. Before we were just mildly ambivalent but overall didn't have much angst. To have ANOTHER kid? That was polar opposite, from NEVER NO WAY NO HOW to the baby-crack feelings. Whew.

    And then my friend sent me this: http://therumpus.net/2011/04/dear-sugar-the-rumpus-advice-column-71-the-ghost-ship-that-didnt-carry-us/

    I know it's been around forever, but that column made me cry, because for the first time I was given voice to that ghost ship idea. I was able to articulate how the first 3 years of my son's life I had been grieving that ship that sailed with my perfectly rested childfree self. And then I also cried because I knew that I wanted to be on the ship with my son and another babe on my hip. And it didn't bring total clarity (and biology and time could play a role), but I definitely felt something settle inside me.

  20. Like a lot of commenters who identified their age, I'm in my early 30s (yay?). For most of my life, I was totally sure that I didn't want kids. But now all my old friends are having kids, and many of my colleagues have kids. So I've started to be unsure, and if I want biological children, I don't have forever to decide. I really like the idea of helping a new person discover the world. I confess a selfish desire for a little version of me (which of course isn't a realistic desire).

    I'm thinking of the things that I'm sure about. For example, I'm sure I don't want to own a house ever. But if, later on in life, I decided that I did want to own a house, there'd be a way to work with that, probably more so than there would be if I decided later that I wanted to have a child. So, I don't agonize over whether or not I want to own a home – I just know I have no interest in it. So I wonder if part of my sense of uncertainty comes more from my sense of approaching an age after which having a biological child wouldn't be a good idea. If that weren't going to happen, maybe I'd just keep on happily being sure I didn't want a child, just as I'm happily sure I don't want to own a house.

  21. I am loving this post! I didn't want to have kids, or rather didn't care about having kids in high school or the beginning of college. My feeling was neutral. I was focusing on MY future. Then I met my husband, and I started to think about marriage and babies for the FIRST TIME EVER. (not the dream wedding type of girl) So for awhile I thought of course, babies! I assumed it would be in my future. Fast forward after the wedding, apartment rentals, buying cars, and looking at a house, I am thinking if I really want to "spend the money" on a little kid. Part of me wants to keep my money and travel, buy clothes that I like, invest in an attractive house, etc. I don't want to have kids too late (or rather mid 30s is my drop off point as I don't want the added stress on my body) but I have feelings that my husband doesn't take me seriously. I am at a point where I just want to KNOW what will happen. If kids are a definite or not.

  22. Oh, did I ever need to see this post! I just turned 35 a few days ago and a couple months before my birthday it hit me that it is very likely that I won't have children. I'm single currently and the meet someone + dating + marriage/serious relationship + babies thing suddenly seems like a longshot. Originally, I wanted kids really badly but I never wanted to be older than my own mother when I had them (33). Then I was certain that I did not want children at all…no, thank you! Now I feel solidly unsure whether I want them or not and I also feel certain that I don't want to have babies in my 40s. Part of me feels like if I could simply make a decision one way or the other, I'd feel a lot better but, instead, I feel like I'm both mourning my baby-making years AND in limbo waiting to see if it might happen after all. Ugh!! I hate the back and forth!

  23. I've been with my now-husband since we were in high school, and we've always kind of thought "of course we'll have kids…sometime in the future." After ten plus years, surely we'd know when sometime in the future arrived, right? I'd been thinking and talking more about what we'd do when we had kids (sometime in the future, of course), when one day, my husband mentioned the baby's room being a consideration when discussing work to our home. BAM, instantly I was super sure I needed a baby RIGHT NOW, and felt that intensely for eight months, while I tried to convince my cautious husband that it wasn't just a phase and now was the right time.

    Well, that feeling lasted pretty much exactly to the point where I fell pregnant (at 26), then I became super unsure. I wasn't the sort of person who felt a magical connection to my foetus, and I doubted a lot that we were doing the right thing at the right time, but it was too late to turn back. I kept thinking "I will feel a connection when I see it on the ultrasound" (nope), "I will feel a connection when I hear the heartbeat," (nope), "I will feel a connection when I feel it start to move" (nope). My husband was excited, but I was still saying "I'm not even sure I want a baby" even at 36+ weeks!

    When my son was born, I didn't fall in love with him right away. He was pretty cute, and I liked him, but how could I fall for someone I didn't really know? Well, he's six months old now, and I couldn't imagine not having him.

    There will always be doubt for a lot of people, because it's one of the biggest, longest-term decisions you can make in life, and your feelings can change about it all the time. Maybe, when he's older and more challenging to deal with, I will regret my choice again.

  24. I'm 30, and have yet to get a taste of baby fever. My father-in-law recently asked my husband if we were planning on kids and the answer was "We're ok if it happens, and we're ok if it doesn't." Part of me wants that "life-changing, best thing you'll ever do" experience but the other part of me thinks that sleep, and more financial freedom/flexibility sound just fine.

    • agreed. if i had a gun to my head and had to choose, i'd choose more sleep and money to travel any day.

  25. I've always known I didn't want them – earliest memory of this decision is when I was 4 years old and learned I didn't HAVE to be a mommy, just because I was a girl. I thought "BINGO! I've got this life figured out then!" Of course I didn't and still don't – not at all.

    Recently married though, with tons of [gentle] pressure from both families, I am reconsidering for the first time ever, at almost 34 years old. Having a baby terrifies me. I don't even *like* babies until they are old enough to start saying things and making eye contact. The screaming/crying alone makes me think I'd need to be institutionalized (no really – I would certainly need ear plugs and headphones to deal). I don't think I could stand the pregnancy and first few months without a massive meltdown.

    But more than anything, my husband expects me to pull my weight financially – he can't pay for both (all?) of us to survive. And we will never be able to buy a home (a dream that largely brought us together) if we have to pay for a kid every step of the way.

    So I ask you, paycheck-to paycheckers….those who have always been "in the red" financially – who can barely make their car payments, and stretch groceries for miles, as I do *without* kids…how do you figure all the baby expenses into everything? How expensive are they really??

    My husband and I actually have above-average-paying, steady jobs and health care, but I feel like I'm eternally slumming it and money evades me. Life is just so expensive at every turn. I can't wrap my head around the added expenses. I also cannot imagine getting up any earlier than I do to get ready for work and take the mini to childcare etc. AND my work offers in-house childcare. It's just not clicking for me.

    I fear I'd make the call because I'm under the clock, and then be more miserable than ever. Depression and anxiety are a big issue for me too. I would kill to have less responsibility (financially, in particular), but if life were easier, I'd probably go ahead and make a baby and then wing it with the other challenges. Right now that seems insane. I don't know. For the first time ever, I just don't know. I think money is the biggest issue for me on this. I can't even save up the safety net needed to responsibly care for a dog.

    • Maybe give fostering a dog a try first while you hash out your feelings on this? While a lot of rescue organizations will cover the associated costs, it would still at least give you a little taste of rearranging your schedule and priorities for a dependent, noisy, sometimes adorable creature.

  26. My FH and I are also on the fence about this, so I appreciate the post, the comments, and that Dear Sugar post linked by Julia in an earlier comment. But as I was thinking on all this, I just realized (with some panic) that if we don't reproduce, it'll be the end of both our family lines- I'm an only child, and FH's sister-in-law is sterile. Hello extra pressure, how d'ya do? >_<

    • same here. fiance has a sister (my age) with kids 7 & 6 and cousins with kids, but i'm an only child from a only child of an only child of an only child. subtle pressure that my dad would be a fantastic grandfather but why should i put my life on the line just to please some sort of out-of-my-control scenario where i'm the hinge on carrying forth the genes?

  27. Just saw this post now… and I'm SO GLAD I'm not alone! I am almost 33 and my husband and I have no idea whether or not we should have children. Lately I oscillate so much it's ridiculous (as in, over the course of one day I will go from fervently against children to fervently for them, sometimes more than once). It occupies a lot of my braintime and I feel like there is always this ambient level of stress about needing to figure it out. :/

  28. I could have written this post! (In fact, I genuinely thought about writing a post on this subject a few months back and then got distracted by life.)

    I'm 31, recently engaged, and neither of us really know. I've never had any strong feelings on the subject. And that's even though I generally enjoy babies, and I love my eight nieces and nephews to BITS. Still nothing. Added to that, I've been dealing with unexplained fatigue for several years, so that I can barely feed myself after a few days of bad sleep. Caring for an infant seems impossible. Which makes me sad, but I don't know if it's sad because I want to have the option, or sad because I want to have the thing itself. Oh, life.

  29. This is exactly me! I just turned 30…and yeah, honestly don't know if I want kids. My husband definitely does "someday"….but I feel like I could honestly be entirely happen just being a mom to our furries and an awesome aunt to others' small humans.

    As someone posted above, I kind of want to WANT to have kids. It would be easier to just want them, rather than this ambivalence. It would certainly make every other person in my life happier if I just straight up wanted kids.

    • totally agreed. plus this societal bullshit of "you're a women, of course you want / should have kids" – eff off!

  30. I defended my right to not think about kids until I was ready, and eventually realized that needing to wait might be normal. For me, that time was when I'd achieved some stability. It was not while handling the financial stress of a wedding, or while still struggling to find a home and get a head start on student loans.

    I waited until I had access to good medical care and a little time off. I waited until I had a home with a spare room, and a few friends I'd trust to keep coming when we needed help. Then a few people I knew conceived, and I got envious and started doing the math. It didn't quite add up, but it looked close enough to manage with occasional help, and that's been about accurate.

    In several cases, I've seen people make a mistake of pressing hard on this topic with people who felt like there were big unsolved questions in their lives. It often backfired. I suspect that it's more effective to help break down the obstacles that would make having a kid hard, then bring up the idea.

    Now, I really try not to bring it up. If I think someone would enjoy parenthood, look for ways to help them break down student loans and house hunting instead, and start letting them try out their aunt and uncle skills on an easy kid. If they are getting curious whether it's right for them, they'll probably start asking questions on their own.

    On that infertility question – Now, there's probably too much discussion of the issue. When I was in my 20s, there was essentially no discussion of it, and that could have robbed me of important choices altogether. OTOH, almost everyone I know who felt pressured to start trying patiently were surprised by their hasty success. I know a couple who were both over 40 and started trying as soon as they got engaged. The baby in the wedding pictures was very cute. There were couples who did have trouble, but they had known underlying medical issues.

  31. I defended my right to not think about kids until I was ready, and eventually realized that needing to wait might be normal. For me, that time was when I'd achieved some stability. It was not while handling the financial stress of a wedding, or while still struggling to find a home and get a head start on student loans.

    I waited until I had access to good medical care and a little time off. I waited until I had a home with a spare room, and a few friends I'd trust to keep coming when we needed help. Then a few people I knew conceived, and I got envious and started doing the math. It didn't quite add up, but it looked close enough to manage with occasional help, and that's been about accurate.

    In several cases, I've seen people make a mistake of pressing hard on this topic with people who felt like there were big unsolved questions in their lives. It often backfired. I suspect that it's more effective to help break down the obstacles that would make having a kid hard, then bring up the idea.

    Now, I really try not to bring it up. If I think someone would enjoy parenthood, look for ways to help them break down student loans and house hunting instead, and start letting them try out their aunt and uncle skills on an easy kid. If they are getting curious whether it's right for them, they'll probably start asking questions on their own.

    On that infertility question – Now, there's probably too much discussion of the issue. When I was in my 20s, there was essentially no discussion of it, and that could have robbed me of important choices altogether. OTOH, almost everyone I know who felt pressured to start trying were surprised by their hasty success. I know a couple who were both over 40 and started trying as soon as they got engaged. The baby was very cute in the wedding pictures.

    Some people do have a good reason to worry about fertility. However, when people in good health with good family histories of fertility who have a decade before menopause start obsessing over it, I admit I'm a bit confused. Is it so necessary to start worrying so young?

  32. it would be so much easier to "just know" about babies – a concept that I thought was SUCH BS until i met my fiance and totally understood. I've never wanted them. Never gave them much thought. Sure, they're cute when they're sleeping or smiling, but i have no drive whatsoever to have one myself. Fiance thinks he wants them.

    but maybe i do "just know" that i DON'T want them – and won't let myself come to grips with it because it might mean losing my fiance. PLUS who the hell's to say i won't realize in 3 years that i do want them! (I never wanted to get married either, and here i am!)

    FFS!

  33. As with most people posting here, I feel like I could have written this article, as I got married at 30, and had no clue if I wanted kids, and I'm still not totally decided now at 32. Luckily my husband is a sweet easygoing guy who says he would be happy with not having kids or adopting or having them naturally; I didn't have to make that decision right away. And our immediate families would never be so silly as to ask about kids, so it tends to be the random "friends of the family" or more distant relatives who have asked (and hounded us) about kids since before the wedding. Most of the time I wish I had an answer; any answer to give them because some people get MEAN when you say you haven't decided. I don't know if they think I'm just keeping it from them and I really have decided (and obviously, they have a right to know!). I think one thing that makes it really hard for me to make a decision is because I have known all of my life that it is quite possible that I might not be able to conceive naturally because many of my close female relatives have hereditary fertility issues; one of which I know for a fact I have. Because of this, I have never wanted to absolutely decide to have natural children, because if I made the decision, and then can't, and if I can't afford to adopt, I think I would just be crushed. So when these people literally yell at me for not making a baby decision before I got married, sometimes I mention the probable fertility issues, and that generally makes those people angrier, telling me that I have to try having one to know, and why would I assume, blah blah (trust me, I have thought of these things). Then it occurs to me; why the fuck am I even talking to people about this idiotic issue that is only the business of myself and my husband? For a while now, if people ask me about kids, I just say something ridiculous like "I don't know, I guess it's a mystery?" And walk away refusing to talk with them anymore like a crazy person, but its better than being screamed at in public by people who don't even know me that well.

    Well, my husband and I had been doing relatively well financially (passable- meaning we could comfortably pay the bills in a two bedroom apt, and my husband almost paid off his student loans), and we started talking about thinking of trying, but I thought of everything you mentioned in the article (but I want to travel, and sleep in, and so many kids annoy me; is it worth it? Would I hate it? I have also never liked the idea of pregnancy; it freaks me out). Then I was laid off from my job, hired a few months later, and then quickly laid off again a few months later, and now money has gotten very tight. We still talk about trying when I am once again employed, but I am more hesitant, because what if one of us gets laid off again? What if we both do? If we almost can't pay the rent after one of us being laid off for a few months, how would we pay for a kid? It's all so scary. But I know people who had kids at 18, 19, or 21 and they did fine. My husband's brother had two kids, both while he and his wife were in grad school in a one bedroom apartment. How do people do this? I probably sound so selfish, but being alone in my old age does scare me. I know many other childless people that will do wonderfully. However, the women in my family have extraordinary genes; my grandmother just died at 106, and many of the women in my family lived past 100. If my grandmother had had no children, she literally would have had no one very close to her for at least 30 years, and she had two husbands and 12 brothers and sisters (she was the 2nd oldest, believe it or not). Obviously I would never have a child just for this reason, and I think my husband and I would have great kids, and I'm sure I would love them, but this has to be the hardest decision I have ever made. I always thought I would just KNOW, as I did with career (no small thing, as it was a turning twisting path) and marriage (this I absolutely knew); I sometimes wish some fairy would just sprinkle some fairy dust on me so I could do one thing or the other without regret, as there are no take-backsies with children…

  34. Wanna know a secret? I have two kids and I was never 100% sure either. I always thought something was wrong with me, but I think there are a lot more of us out there than we realize. Not every mom spent her childhood dreaming of having kids. One day I got pregnant (after I went on a trip and forgot to take my pill for two days) after 5 years of marriage and that was that. I honestly felt relieved, like the decision had been made for me, and I didnt have to deal with the weight of "choosing". We loved our little guy while also missing our freewheeling lifestyle. We had another when he was 6 because we both had finally decided we wanted him to have a sibling. Parenting is challenging and tiring. We love our kids dearly and don't regret either of them. We are glad to have them. Could we have enjoyed a child free life also? Sure, probably. So I don't think there always is one right answer. Sometimes life happens and you adapt, and that can be just a wonderful as something you had "planned". I think making a big decision is scary, and it's ok to not know one way or the other. To a certain degree whatever is meant to be will be, and that can be a beautiful thing, kids or not.

  35. It's really helpful to read through this post, and through all of these incredible comments. I waver between emphatically not wanting kids, and thinking "Well, maybe." I really don't want to stay at home for several years, and it would cost more than I make in a year to pay for child care. A great deal of time and effort went into my education, I have a job in my field I enjoy, and I know I would be resentful if I lost that to stay home with hypothetical offspring. My husband is an engineer, I will never make more money than he will, so while he would be willing to stay home, it wouldn't make sense. At some point I said "If we had a partner who wanted to stay home, I'd be happy to have kids." A dangerous dare to tempt fate with when one is polyamorous. And along came our lovely partner, who loves kids, wants them, and would be genuinely overjoyed to be the primary at-home caretaker.

    I have been dealing with a lot of frustration around the fact that I had already made a decision, and now circumstances are causing me to re-evaluate. I have been reading parenting and pregnancy posts with reluctant fascination. At some point I made a pro-con list that did not turn out the way I expected at all. The pros side was five times longer than the cons, even though I allowed myself to put "toddlers suck" three times. I have a particular horror of stickiness, irrationality, and small, mobile creatures under my supervision with the will and ability to apparate into dangerous situations. Like into the path of oncoming traffic. I also know that it is a critical developmental period. I fear the mental exhaustion and tedium of the toddler years. Babies and sleep deprivation, I can accept. They don't run. Teenagers? Cool. Any age over 4 or so? Great. I also know that no child is a toddler forever.

    Having two partners would provide more mental and emotional space for everyone's well being. There are many aspects of parenting that appeal to me. I would like to meet the kids we would all have- they would have so much love, support, and energy with three dedicated parents. It would be emotionally, temporally, and financially advantageous. My love of autonomy runs deep, however. The loss of freedom would be profound. I would never have a kid for someone else, but I wonder how much my shifting priorities is just an adaptive "if you can't beat em, join em" response to feeling emotionally outvoted in the relationship. Neither my husband or my partner has ever pressured me, nor will they. No one wants to go into parenting with an unwilling party. I have the veto. But using it seems silly when all absurd conditions I set forth keep being met. We have some years to decide, to grow together, but being the only one who is perpetually unsure feels lonely and selfish.

  36. This topic is not discussed enough! I wholeheartedly appreciate you writing about this. As someone who has been there for ever and now is working with women in this situation, I welcome articles like yours. It's not an easy place.

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.