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

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?

Comments on How I keep cool when I’m unsure about wanting kids

  1. 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.

  2. 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?

  3. 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. :/

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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?

  8. 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!

  9. 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…

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

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