On Having Children: Yay Or Nay?
Ailsa investigates different people’s reasons for wanting sprogs or not.
I don’t want kids. I can’t remember a time when I ever have and I’ve always been confident in my choice.
I don’t want kids.
I can’t remember a time when I ever have and I’ve always been confident in my choice. Despite my surety, the topic is something I’ve thought about repeatedly over the years. This is predominantly because having children is still the norm and so, as with any choice that goes against the norm, you have to justify it on a fairly regular basis. I believe the fact that people read me as female also contributes to the questioning and doubting of my chosen childless life.
Recently I was chatting to a –straight, male– friend and he threw a mention of his future children into the conversation so casually that I was taken aback. For me, the topic of potential children has never been a casual thing. When asked, as I have been so often, I can reel off a list of at least nine solid reasons I don’t want children. And here was this friend, assuming he would have them. When I asked him why and when and various other details (along with reassurances that he didn’t need to answer if he didn’t want to) he said he’d never really thought about it much. He just wanted to have kids to have a ‘mini me’ and to be able to raise someone as he wanted.
It got me thinking about how our experiences of being interrogated on our choices about children are, not only gendered, but also informed by what that choice is. I was also interested to hear more people’s opinions and reasons for and against children so I reached out. Here are some of the most thought provoking responses I received from people. They are all in their early twenties and all names have been changed.
First off, I read the easiest responses –those that affirmed and validated my decision to not have kids. (I was easing myself in, okay?)
Meg made the point of environmental impact:
‘I think that there’re too many people on the planet, and a child raised in contemporary Western Europe will have a huge impact on the planet relative to other children. This argument seems to persuade mostly people who have educational privilege to know and care about the environment, and economic privilege (where they have access to contraception in order to make that choice). However I reject with contempt the eugenecist argument that it is bad for the world for rich, educated (read: white, Western) people to not have children when “You could raise intelligent children who contribute to society and make the world a better place”.’ – Meg
And then there were the women and genderfluid folks who just straight up don’t have that love of children that a lot of people project onto them:
I have never looked at a baby and felt anything but indifference.
‘The main reason that I don’t want children is because I just don’t. I have never looked at a baby and felt anything but indifference. I don’t have a maternal instinct. I actively squirm when presented with a baby to hold.’ – Sam
‘Only close friends now will respect and leave the fact that I actively take a dislike to children as something which is part of me. As a young woman I still lack any maternal instincts or feelings towards the idea, and this is something I was told would have changed by now. To sit and actively think about the process of pregnancy, childbirth, and raising a young baby makes me feel uncomfortable.’ – Maggie
Another point brought up was the abilities around and responsibility of looking after a whole other human.
‘I don’t see myself having enough disposable income to maintain the quality of life I want and have children who are clothed and fed. I’m also too anxious about filling out my own forms and administrative things and bills to be able to care for more people than just myself. Basically I find life overwhelming even though I have only myself to care for at the moment.’ –Meg
I don’t see myself having enough disposable income to maintain the quality of life I want and have children who are clothed and fed.
‘I have a lot of other things that I want to achieve in my life and I don’t believe that having a child would fit into any of my plans. It wouldn’t be fair to have a child if I wasn’t able to meet its physical and emotional needs. I suppose part of me is afraid of the prospect of having a little human entirely dependent on me and I am not entirely sure whether I’d be up to parenting a human larva.’ –Sam
And in response to an all too common reaction to people, young women in particular, saying that they don’t want kids:
‘The oft-repeated statement that women who say they don’t want children will change their mind depresses me. What does that say about my agency? If it is all hormones and nature, surely I’m better qualified to make that decision now and be sterilized than when instincts kick in? And if it’s from a desire to fit in, please a partner or general social pressure from family and so on, isn’t that also awful for my agency and damning for the child who is wanted out of negative feelings rather than positive ones? I really don’t believe that me getting sterilised now, even if I were likely to change my mind later, would be denying myself agency.’ – Meg
‘I’m sick of people telling me it’s something I’ll ‘grow into’ –as if I don’t have the ability to make my own decision and when I make a decision they don’t understand there must be a reason behind it, or they can only accept it if they see it temporary and as ‘something which will change’. People need to ditch the dated ideology that if you’re a woman you’re an instinctive mother and destined to child-bear. No. My womb is mine and not for anyone else to dictate it.’ – Maggie
There was definitely a trend in far more justifications for people not wanting kids than wanting them. (Though this was an incredibly small sample size. No scientific claims to be taken from this please.) Some of the guys’ reasons for having kids were:
‘I think I’ve always wanted to be a father – I love the idea of being a father-figure and passing on learning to the next generation, as well as showing my own passions to my kids. ‘The family unit’ has always been a very positive force in my life.’ –James
‘Because it will be a part of me and someone I love in the next generation.’ –Mark
And women’s reasons:
‘I think part of it is that I have a very strong relationship with my father, who embodies everything I believe a good parent should be. So for me, the idea of being that person for somebody else is really special. On the flip side, I have a negative relationship with my mother, and a part of me wants to prove that I can do better than her. I think it’s empowering to be able to teach a fresh new person what’s right and wrong, to show them how to be liberal and accepting, and shape the world they see in the most positive way possible.’ – Clare
I would love to raise a child: to give birth to something so precious and see what they inherit from me and from their father.
‘I think when I was younger I wanted children for the “wrong reasons”, in that I was more likely to have them because I felt like if I hadn’t I would regret it by the time I was 50. But in the last few years that has eroded and been replaced by a desire to nurture, and an enthusiasm to see someone develop like that. I think it’s also quite important for me in terms of the family life I had growing up, in which both my parents were absent, and so I think there has always been a bit of a desire to have an opportunity for a do over.’ – Jane
‘I would love to raise a child: to give birth to something so precious and see what they inherit from me and from their father.’ – Julie
It’s a nice notion thinking about achieving that level one day. To feel balanced enough to, to be well taken care of enough to take care of someone else.
A male friend who wants kids but through adoption had more reasons for wanting to do so:
‘Thinking about the comfort level I’d have to be at in order to have a child –both internally with myself, and externally with all of my projects, desires, and extraneous wants– it sounds almost utopian thinking about where I’d have to be for myself in order to do it. I’d have to feel very comfortable. It’s a nice notion thinking about achieving that level one day. To feel balanced enough to, to be well taken care of enough to take care of someone else. The other side of it is being able to impart something to a child that I think I lacked in my childhood. I grew up in an unstable environment, and I think I have some kind of yearning to live a stress-free childhood vicariously through my child.’ –Henry
One friend who is unsure whether they want kids also had various reasons:
‘I’m worried I’ll only want kids for selfish reasons: as a kind of project to make someone in my image or an idealised image of myself. Also worried I’ll never be in a good position to raise a child well. Worried that it’s cruel to even bring a child into this world. Feel like I should adopt, because maybe wanting to have your own kid is just an instance of not-invented-here syndrome and there are lots of children in need out there– but then doubt I could deal with the hoops of actually adopting.’ – Alex
I’m worried I’ll only want kids for selfish reasons: as a kind of project to make someone in my image or an idealised image of myself.
There was also talk from female friends in feminist circles around the reactions to them as self identifying feminists wanting children:
‘Quite a lot of my friends are very open about not wanting kids, and so I do feel like I have to justify the fact that I do to them a bit. And I think sometimes on the left I feel a bit looked down on for being I guess quite “traditional” in this sense.’ –Jane
‘I’m a feminist woman and I want to be a parent more than I want a successful career or romantic relationship. I often have to remind myself that this isn’t a contradiction. ’ –Hannah
I’m a feminist woman and I want to be a parent more than I want a successful career or romantic relationship. I often have to remind myself that this isn’t a contradiction.
It was fascinating reading through people’s thoughts around what is a huge topic. Though I still haven’t changed my mind, doing so has confirmed my belief that –though I don’t want kids of my own– I am very happy to be a satellite parent/cool art aunty to my wonderful friends’ children if or when they have them. However much I’ve had this conversation with friends, colleagues and peers, it’s always a privilege to hear about folks’ reasons and feelings on what is an immensely personal topic. How do you feel about having kids? Do you think your gender has affected those feelings? Has reading people’s opinions in this article changed any of that?
I’ll leave you with a final thought which challenges our ideas around what a family has to be.
‘I want kids but I am tired of the assumption that I’m dying to find a male partner to sweep me off my feet and impregnate me. Why should hetero-romantic attraction still be a pre-requisite for making a good parenting team?’ – Hannah