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Making the decision to NOT become a parent

When I was young, I just assumed that I would grow up, meet someone special, fall in love, get married, and have children – in that order. Truthfully, though, I never actually gave much thought as to my desire or ability to carry out any of these roles – my expectations were based solely on the premise that that’s what people do.

Throughout my twenties I watched the majority of my friends carry out in their own lives what I had always expected would be my path: one by one they met and fell in love with that special someone, got married, and started a family. I was introduced to their partners, stood up for them at their weddings, visited them in the hospital after they’d given birth, and sat with their kids so they could have a night out as a couple. I particularly adored my best friend’s three children, and delighted in watching them grow throughout the years into little people with their own unique personalities.

As time passed, however, a nagging thought kept poking away at my preconceived expectations, irritating me like sand in an oyster shell.

I don’t WANT to be a parent.

The thought took me by surprise and prompted me to investigate, for the first time, who I was and what I really wanted when it came to the big life choices I’d always presumed were set in stone. As I considered and pondered and questioned, the understanding that I neither wanted to be nor was suited for the role of Mom became crystal clear in my mind, and the decision to not become a parent was made.

When I met and fell in love with my now-husband – me in my early 30s and he in his early 40s – and discovered that for his own reasons he had arrived at the same conclusions for himself, I felt affirmed in my own choice and strengthened as a couple. And though for many years before we met I’d wondered if I’d ever fall in love, I am grateful now that time gave me the freedom to consider my options and make a thoughtful choice, rather than drift into a lifestyle of my own preconceived expectations “because everyone else was doing it.”

Sometimes I struggle with how to label our status as a couple with regard to the fact that we have chosen to not become parents. To say that we are childless, while technically accurate, somehow implies that we are victims of something beyond our control – that we are not parents because we are unable to become parents, rather than that we have actively chosen not to become parents. I’ve never been overly comfortable using the terms “childfree” or “childless by choice” to describe us, either, as I feel they suggest a militance or pride that neither of us embrace. There is neither shame nor pride in our decision – it simply is.

I’ve been asked if I regret our decision to not become parents. That’s a complicated question. While I absolutely do not regret our decision – for us, both individually and as a couple, it was the right and appropriate one – I sometimes wonder what our lives would have been like had that not been the best choice for us… had we not been people who needed to make that decision. And I feel a certain level of guilt and sadness that I haven’t enabled my parents to step into the role of grandparents, an undertaking for which I am sure they would have been well-suited and delighted to fulfill.

I don’t spend much time on those thoughts, though. I can’t. My husband and I are who we are – I’m thankful for the love we share, committed to growing and living a beautiful life together, and grateful that we’re each self-aware enough to have made the thoughtful decision, first separately and then together, to not become parents.

Laurel Storey, CZT – Certified Zentangle Teacher. Writer, reader, tangler, iPhoneographer, cat herder, learner of French and Italian, crocheter, needle felter, on-and-off politics junkie, 80s music trivia freak, ongoing work in progress.

{ 38 comments… add one }
  • Susan
    Twitter:
    April 1, 2012

    Everyone needs to make this choice, and while I desperately wanted to have children, the choice was already made for me when I was younger. I didn’t know it at the time. I tried for years to have a child with my husband but it never happened. When I found out the truth, I felt cheated that I was not able to make this decision for myself. To make up for this, I have many friends whose children I love as much as I would have my own.

    Today, I think of all the children I have known over the years as my own. And now I am working on a new project, hopefully it will come to fruition and that will involve a future child.

    I do understand how you feel, and I applaud you for making your decision that goes against what others would call “the norm”.
    Susan recently posted… TWW’s Book Review: Moonlight on the Nantahala by Michael RiversMy Profile

  • ElaineLK April 1, 2012

    Dawn, I hear you. I had a lot of the same thoughts growing up as you did. But like you I didn’t meet my “one and only” until later in life–ever later than you, as I was 39. In all that time being single, I never felt deprived by not having a child, and I came to realize (although this seems like a terrible thing to say) that I really don’t like children that much. I love my nieces and nephews, but they’re someone else’s responsibility, not mine. When I met my husband, he did want children, and I was willing to try for his sake. It didn’t happen, and I think it was probably a good thing that it didn’t. We’re both happy now with our life together. What I resent is the expectation that we should have, should have had, children and, for me, the belief that because I’m a woman I should automatically have maternal feelings, be nurturing, and love kids. I’m bored at baby showers but have to pretend I’m having a good time, and forget kid’s parties. Don’t ask me if I want to hold your baby. That’s just not me. And you’re right, it is a thoughtful decision, and I think it’s wrong when people have children for the wrong reasons: because it’s expected, because their parents put pressure on them, because they want someone to take care of them in their old age. You’re very lucky that you and your husband found each other and enjoy your un-child-ed life together!
    ElaineLK recently posted… April 1–AMy Profile

  • Christine April 1, 2012

    At almost 46, I still get ‘you might change your mind’ comments, and although the alteration from the ‘will’ of my 20s and 30s to the ‘might’ of my mid-forties is amusing, the notion that at 45 I might be unsure of what I want from life is ridiculous. But my childless state allowed me to have a conversation with my niece and nephew that ended with my nephew (6) saying: “I don’t know how just deciding stops the babies from coming out.” Priceless.

  • sandra tyler April 1, 2012

    I see you’ve been featured on BlogHer in the past — hope you posted this one there. I bet it would get featured.
    sandra tyler recently posted… A is for ArsenalMy Profile

    • Laurel Regan
      Twitter:
      April 1, 2012

      Thank you, Sandra! I always cross-post my blog to BlogHer, and have been very pleased indeed when they’ve featured some of my work in the past. I’m not sure how they decide which posts to showcase, but I am always grateful for the opportunity!
      Laurel Regan recently posted… Making the decision to NOT become a parentMy Profile

  • Peter April 1, 2012

    Thank you Dawn for writing this very thoughtful post.
    My reasons for deciding not to be a father are due to the fact that it has taken me a long time to grow up myself. I know that some say having a child will grow one up quickly, but that seems like a bit of a short-change situation for the kid. It was late in life that I even began to come to grips with my own nature/nurture shortcomings and by then I realized I would be an old man like my dad was when I was born, unable to give my all to this miraculous being that I had helped to conceive.
    I come from a background that was rather tumultuous and had in it several genetic traits that haunted my youth. I did not want to pass these on to a child of mine nor have my spouse deal with the results of my genes. The urge at times was there to procreate, but I found that it was actually more loving to resist those feelings.
    I’m glad I did, and I’m glad I married a woman who is like minded.

    • Laurel Regan
      Twitter:
      April 2, 2012

      “The urge at times was there to procreate, but I found that it was actually more loving to resist those feelings.”

      Very well said – so often people assume that the choice to not become a parent is based on purely selfish reasons, when really in some cases it would be more selfish to HAVE children!
      Laurel Regan recently posted… Making the decision to NOT become a parentMy Profile

    • siouxZQ May 27, 2012

      If this is the Peter I know:
      I have seen your face light up and love shine in your eyes when you talk about your cat. I have heard the adoration in your words when you speak about your wife. Sadly, I have also heard unease when talking about family and childhood.
      It gives me such joy to know that your life is so filled with love and happiness.

  • Jenn April 1, 2012

    One of my best friends married young–to her true love–they are still married today and they also chose not to have children. In many ways, I understand and respect that choice. Had they chosen to become parents, I have no doubt they would have been EXCELLENT parents–but that was their choice and I think they are happier for it. So I can totally understand your decision, individually and as a couple not to have children.

    For me– personally– I always knew I wanted to be a mother. There are many times after the fact, that I have second guessed that decision–wondering if I would ever be a good enough Mom. No complaints from the kids, mind you– but sometimes I feel I fall short. However– that doesn’t mean I don’t totally love being a Mom or that I don’t totally love my children–because I do. I just maybe feel like that I could be better in this way or that way–but I’ve been warned to stop comparing myself to the June Cleaver’s of the world–and just enjoy. I’m working on it!!

    Cheers, Jenn.
    Jenn recently posted… AdventureMy Profile

    • Laurel Regan
      Twitter:
      April 2, 2012

      No matter what situation you’re in, comparisons can be deadly! There will always be someone who (in our minds) is doing it better, or more, or smarter – we need to concentrate on living our own lives to the very best of our ability and quit comparing ourselves to others! A topic for another post, I think!
      Laurel Regan recently posted… Making the decision to NOT become a parentMy Profile

  • Elizabeth
    Twitter:
    April 1, 2012

    You are so right about Childfree and Childless terms putting some sort of Statement into it. I think choosing to do what was best for you and your relationship is the right thing to do. To have a child without thought or because you “should” can be damaging. Kudos to you for thinking it through!
    Elizabeth recently posted… A is for….My Profile

  • Joanne April 1, 2012

    As mentioned by Susan, people can choose not to become parents, at least until the right takes away all access to contraceptives, but you can’t always choose to become parents. You can hope to. You can try to. And hopefully you’ll get lucky trying. Sometimes I think that people assume that the opposite of choosing not to have kids is choosing to have them but it’s not – it’s only choosing to begin the process.
    Joanne recently posted… What a Fool BelievesMy Profile

  • a.eye April 2, 2012

    This was well written. So many people choose to not become parents for various reasons. It is not necessarily selfish. And, I agree that “childless” is not a good term for it.
    a.eye recently posted… A is for AnnoyancesMy Profile

  • Rick April 2, 2012

    I do find it bit strange that couples who have have no children are set aside, like there is a “problem”. However, as you note, ; love, marriage, kids, is “what everyone does”. But, they don’t. For many reasons couples — or just adults, don’t have kids, some can’t, some are waiting for “the right person” some, have just not thought about or wanted children. To me it is a decision for the person or couple.
    Too many people think babies are miracle workers. They fulfill a life, or make a marriage better. Many don’t understand they can be the exact opposite. I enjoy being a parent, wanted to be a parent, married a woman who is SO much better at it than me. We have 3 – they married, my eldest is now divorced, wisely he and his ex wanted to see if marriage worked before having kids. The other two have families (We have 6 grand-kids!). We have talked about their decisions and both my daughter and my son choose what they wanted. If they had chosen NOT to have children, I confess I would have been a bit disappointed, yet my eldest son did do the wise thing in his case by not rushing into having kids. The disappointment would be MY own and selfish. The pride in a decision made IS my mind knowing he was/is right.
    I will close with one comment. You know me I do love to needle. I know a few couples who have made the choice and are childless. Please, try to understand that raising kids is time consuming, expensive and in most periods of growth, stressful. So no eye-rolling because we can’t go away for the weekend, because we have three band practices to drive to-from for and a Volleyball tourney Saturday night through Sunday. We can’t go away to Europe, or pay our house mortgage off in 1/2 the time because we raised 3 kids. Finally, we want to just stay at home tonight and be with each other. These were our decisions and we’d like your support too.

    • Laurel Regan
      Twitter:
      April 2, 2012

      Thanks so much for your perspective, Rick – I really appreciate it! I definitely think there is a need for people on both “sides” of the issue (not really the best way to put it, but I’ll go with that for now) to develop a better sense of understanding as to where they’re each coming from, so as to be able to offer each other support no matter what personal choices and decisions were made.

      Interesting point about money re. Europe, mortgage, etc. Something to bear in mind, though – sometimes the decision to not become a parent may well have something to do with the knowledge that, based on both their current financial situation and their future prospects, one may not actually have the means to support children (let alone live a life of ease and financial security), and therefore it would be irresponsible to bring them into the world. Food for thought…
      Laurel Regan recently posted… Making the decision to NOT become a parentMy Profile

  • Sadie April 2, 2012

    To have or not have children is such a personal choice to make: and one with such a weighty social burden attached to it. It’s just “not normal” to choose not to have kids. My husband and I have one, and he is a tiny terror. He is so wonderful at times, and terrible at others. Even at his best, he saps me of all my energy. I can’t take time to do anything good for myself anymore, and it’s very hard. At the same time, I have never loved anyone as deeply as I love my son!
    We are at a point now where people have begun asking, “So, when will you have another?” Even our nephew, who is six, has joined in the appeals. “Aunt Sadie, when will you have more babies? Everyone with a pretty ring like yours has lots of babies!”
    Sometimes, I want to have another desperately. Other times, I feel like I never want to go through this again, and I want this era of our life to come to a close. I can totally understand why some people choose to be childless!

    • Laurel Regan
      Twitter:
      April 2, 2012

      Thanks so much for your perspective, Sadie – so glad you stopped by! Isn’t it odd how people feel the need to pressure others about their personal decisions – it must be difficult, in some ways, to listen to your own heart when there’s so many other voices clamoring to be heard. Because it really is a very, very personal choice – no one else can or should tell you what to do. All the very best to you. 🙂
      Laurel Regan recently posted… Making the decision to NOT become a parentMy Profile

  • Emily April 2, 2012

    If you have no children you get the stink eye. If you have one, people think you should have more. If you have several, people think you’re nuts. They’re never happy. <3 Enjoyed your post, thanks for sharing!
    Emily recently posted… The Secret to SuccessMy Profile

  • Classic NYer April 2, 2012

    Not that it would have affected my decision, but I feel more justified now.

    I swear, sometimes I feel like mommy bloggers dominate the internet, and that the default state for a female blogger is “mommy,” “nana,” or “not there yet.”
    Classic NYer recently posted… Music Monday: Portrait of TracyMy Profile

  • Masked Mom April 4, 2012

    What a thoughtful post about such a complicated and personal topic. I do find it interesting that all of the terminology frames the decision not to be a parent in terms of what you’re without (childless, childfree, etc). I can understand not wanting to define yourself as the “negative” or opposite of something else.
    Masked Mom recently posted… Ways I Am Not A Grown-Up, The First In A Potentially Infinite SeriesMy Profile

  • Beverly Diehl April 15, 2012

    Found my way here via The Mhalf.

    Sometimes I fear I am a secret Nazi. Because I so respect people such as yourself, who made a conscious choice NOT to reproduce.I had one child (though I always imagined having more; it never worked out, and being the single parent of ONE was quite enough, thank you!) I find that until such a time as the foster homes and orphanages of the world are empty, I *resent* the Duggars and the Octomoms and the Santorums who foist premature, would-have-naturally-died-in-other-times severely disabled children on the rest of society, as the ultimate in egotism. Yes, if everyone made choices such as yours, we’d be in trouble; we’d also be in deep trouble if everyone pumped out as many babies as they could before their bodies failed.

    To me, children are much too precious to be used as lab rats or validation as “see, we’re just like everybody else!” or as part of a massive brood because somehow you feel that YOUR genes are so invaluable. If you want kids, can support them, and are physically and mentally prepared to raise ’em, go for it. If not.. .what are you DOING?
    Beverly Diehl recently posted… A-Z: Miss Manners and My Personal Manners NinjaMy Profile

  • The M Half
    Twitter:
    April 16, 2012

    Bra-vo! I’m late to the party, but wanted to let you know I appreciate the eloquence with which you wrote this (and I’m not surprised). We were borderline harassed for several years with When are you going to have kids? You’ll change your mind. Who will take care of you when you’re older?

    Grrr, really?! I finally responded once with How often do you and your husband have sex? I was accused of getting too personal.

    There is no “best decision” for us all. Hubs and I are happy with our life as it is and appreciate love and support and other people’s kids – when we want to. One of my oldest friends from high school (married, 2 kids), has dubbed us DINKs and while she can say it with affection, I get a little perturbed at the judgment that sometimes comes from folks who say thing like, “Oh, you’re going to Europe for a month? Must be nice not to have kids.” It is, thanks. Try not to be jealous.

    And good grief, isn’t our population increasing enough by folks who *want* to have kids? It’s not like survival of the species hinges on my decision. Sheesh.

    /rant. Thanks for sharing!
    The M Half recently posted… K is for KidsMy Profile

  • siouxZQ May 27, 2012

    I have had many friends who made this choice and I respect their decision.

    For some (and I mean me) the choice was made for us.

    At 16, I found myself pregnant and days before my 17th birthday, delivered a baby girl. It was love at first sight, but in those days, no one kept their babies, and she was given up for adoption.

    I spent many years yearning for something I didn’t have – dreaming of her and waking at night, my cheeks wet with tears.

    When I married, I desperately wanted children and was so lucky to have a wonderful son. However, I never forgot my first born and finally, after 25 years, went in search of her.

    I contacted the Children’s Aid Society and filled out the forms, being assured that this process would likely take months if not years to complete. But luck was on my side, and within three weeks, I heard back that my daughter had, when she was 18, submitted her name to the CAS. And so began our correspondence … sending letters and pictures and life stories back and forth.

    Finally, the day came when I was attending a meeting in the very town in which she lived and we agreed to meet. Nervous, elated, scared out of my wits, I waited in the hotel lobby to see my daughter for the first time in 25 years. Would I even know who she was? But in walked a girl who looked so much like me, I would have picked her out of a crowd. We came face to face – staring at each other and recognizing all the similarities and differences. We could barely speak and the lobby seemed somehow too small to contain our emotions. Holding hands, we left and went to sit at an outdoor cafe, spending hours talking and comparing and getting to know each other; she took me home that day to meet her boyfriend.

    Our lives combined in those moments … there was no going back, we were committed to each other from that day forward. She has since married, had a baby girl of her own, divorced and remarried … and our friendship and love have remained constant.

    That ever-present feeling of yearning has left me and I no longer awake with sobs, my face wet with tears. My child is again mine, even though she has another mother and calls me, not mom, but by my name.

    Yes, I do respect the decision of others not to have children, but for me, they have filled my life and heart with love.

    Sorry to have poured out my heart here, Dawn … it just spewed forth once I started 🙂

    • Laurel Regan
      Twitter:
      May 27, 2012

      Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful, touching story. I am so very happy that you two were reunited – that the part of your life that was missing has been restored. Wonderful. 🙂
      Laurel Regan recently posted… 201 Things That Make Me HappyMy Profile

      • siouxZQ May 27, 2012

        Thanks Dawn 🙂

  • respire July 23, 2012

    Beautiful post, thanks. I particularly like the refusal to use the words childless or childfree which implies judgement.
     
    I’ve come slowly to the same conclusion that I do not want children. I have old friends and relatives who have children, but I had moved across the world by the time they got them. Here my friends do not have children…but a couple of days ago one of my closest friends here anounced me that she is pregnant.
    It’s been a terrible couple of days dealing with the news.
    I have checked myself again thoroughly, and I know I do not envy her, I don’t want kids. I just fear the feeling of being left behind, abandoned, the fear of losing her. That she won’t ever relate to me again in the same way, that she ‘ll lose interest in my companionship.
    I have had nightmare visions of collective meetings in the future when the other ones will have their kids too, BBQs and kids’ Bdays that will slowly become the only get together (because they won’t have time for other kinds of parties and get together…) and fear that all that will matter to them is kids’ welfare, kids stories…etc
     
    I also resent the sacralisation of children, that you should be overjoyed when a friend is pregnant, that it is “of course” the most beautiful thing  that ever happened to her… Well, I just don’t see things this way. If this is important to her, great, I’m happy for her, but not more than if she announced me she had succeeded in getting that dream job or met a wonderful man.
    I’m simply happy for her.
    I don’t see anything sacred about children, they can be really nice, cute and fun to be around, (and boring and really annoying too sometimes!), but they are not holy, and in the end what you bring to the world is just another human being, a good one maybe, a bad one sometimes, just a human being, like the ones you meet everyday on a busy street without thinking twice about them.
    Of course parents cannot see it that way!!! It’s biological and it’s the result of all that care and time…and I’m fine with it. But i do resent the censorship, the big taboo.
    My cat is special to me simply because it’s mine, I have no illusion about that!
    And I’m ok when my Mom says aloud she’s horrified I have a cat, it’s all trouble and poo and expensive care… Why not? I know he is important to me but do not bother others about why they don’t have cats and i’m not offended by people who say they don t like or don’t want cats.
    With children it’s different, I totally understand the intensity of feelings and incredible time and care you invest on children which make it a one milion times more intense experience than just having a pet. But, still, it’s not holy, not sacred and to other people’s eyes your precious kid is just another human being.
    And I don’t like to be told that only when you have children you know what true love is about (or the meaning of life!!!). Being a parent does not make you less selfish as you will forever see the child as a part of you…what you do for your kid, you do it for yourself. You do experiment incredible love…but what part of it is simply attachment?
    If becoming a parent made you a truly compassionate saint, wow, the world would be a wonderful place to live in…(and having a child would be mandatory!!!)
    Children are just another part of the whole “me myself, mine” ego.
    You’re madly in love with this child because it’s yours, that’s all.
    I’ll do my best to be the best possible friend to my pregnant friend, offer help and support, and yes, free baby-sitting, but I just hope i can keep being respected as a human being in it’s own right with or without kid, and not be treated as a selfish person or worse, immature, stuck in adulescence and “not knowing what life is really about”, someone’s whose life is suddenly no longer interesting to my parent-friends’ eyes, whose vision of the world is no longer valuable.
    Parents everywhere…please do not treat non-parents adults like half-grown-ups or non-valuable adults. Our lives are simply different, we have other objectives, other ways to relate to the world, we have our fare share of troubles and worries, just like you, we can also experience incredible waves of unselfish love as we mature (yes we do, we grow up and mature and change with time just like you…) and understand “what the world is about” just as well as you do…
    we respect you, share your joys and feel compassion for you in times of trouble, just treat us equally…
    (an no, there is no “void” to fill in our lives, nothings’s missing!!!)
     
     
     
     
     

    • DawnStorey July 23, 2012

      Thank you so much for your kind words, and for sharing your story. Much of what you say resonates with me, and I appreciate you sharing it here. Glad you stopped by, and hope to see you again! 🙂

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