Growing up, you may have been exposed to lifestyle choices and expectations that were quite traditional. Most often, the trajectory may have looked something like this: go to school, then college, then get a job, and start a family once you find the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. This was an expectation that probably informed everything you were taught. And there is nothing wrong with traditional stories and values.
But what if you find yourself having a different life story? What if your path is evolving outside of these traditions?
Maybe you always felt ambivalent about having a child, open to it but not determined to make it happen. Maybe unexpected life events, such as moving around, a loss, or a health condition, changed the course of your life. Maybe you never imagined yourself having a child or always assumed that one day you would want one, and now it looks like “one day” is never going to come. Maybe you met someone special at a later point in your life, and having children doesn’t make much sense.
There is a multitude of reasons why you might be thinking that you don’t want to have kids. Unfortunately, there is also no end to the pressure to be a parent.
From loved ones to acquaintances to online rhetoric, we are still speaking about people who decide to be childfree as if they are deficient in some way. This shaming is especially vicious when directed at women; if you identify as a woman and/or live in a female-sexed body, you are probably more than a little bit familiar with this issue. This commentary can make it difficult to determine what you really want without guilt or judgment. Ultimately, you have every right to explore your options and make a decision that makes the most sense for you.
To determine whether or not you want a child, the first thing to do is to take any sort of idea of morality, functionality, or self-worth out of it. This can be very difficult to do. In most cultures, there is an expectation to start a family, or at the very least want one. And there is a backlash anytime you deviate or challenge a cultural norm. While this can be part of the process, it doesn’t mean you need to internalize the judgment or negative opinions of others. Maybe some of those judgments may say, “It is selfish not to want to have kids,” or, “You know it is about time you have kids.” To these things, I would say: that any decision you make because you want to do something is a selfish choice, and everyone’s timeline and goals are different.
This journey of deciding never to have a child begins with knowing there is nothing wrong with you if you aren’t a parent. Unfortunately, the way we hear childfree people (and women especially) spoken about is mainly negative. The idea that these people lack a natural instinct or don’t know how to be generous with their love and their time is sorely outdated. Deciding to have a child is a big decision! If you look at the way it will impact your life and decide that that lifestyle is not suitable for you, that doesn’t mean you’re defective in some way. It means that you are self-aware and don’t want to commit to something so big and important if you’re not all that interested in doing it. Hey, millions of Americans have flocked to the theater to see “Hamilton,” but not as many of us would want to do the work to learn the show and perform it eight times per week. Not all things, even if we appreciate or might enjoy them, are undertakings suited for all people. Not all things that are worth doing need to be done by us. There are things that some people live for – they see the time commitment, the physical and emotional effort, and the struggles as worth the reward. There is nothing wrong with you if the thing that drives you isn’t raising children.
You don’t need to “make up for it” with other things, either. If your choice not to have children is based on a desire to take your time, to be gentle with yourself, and to have lots of space to relax and plan and reflect, then that is just as valid as any other choice you could make. It is your life. No one else can live it for you, so no one else should be calling the shots or making you feel guilty.
As with any decision, it is okay and, at times, helpful to look at the pros and cons of the situation. If you haven’t already, consider the advantages and disadvantages of having a child.
The goal is not to hype up the advantages so you can convince yourself to have a child or to scare yourself out of it. The goal is to be honest and reflective. We do a lot of this kind of work at our therapy practice in Woodland Hills. Making decisions that honor your needs is a vital part of protecting your mental health.
As you go through the exercise and see the benefits of having a child vs. the benefits of not having a child, the end goal is to make decisions that align with your values and are not based on fear. We are not just talking about the fear of disappointing others, such as your mom or your partner who thought you would want to have a child. Hopefully, the conversation you have about this subject with your partner is one of mutual respect and honesty. There is also the fear, “What if I don’t have anyone to take care of me when I get older?” This is a question a lot of childfree people are asked. I know your logical mind knows that this is not a reason to have a child, but your fears will be strong. Think about bringing a person into this world for the sole purpose of being your caretaker – does that sit right with you? If not, then you can let go of that “concern” that people have for you. On the other hand, if you’re afraid you won’t be a “good parent,” you shouldn’t let that stop you from exploring where that fear comes from and if you are too hard on yourself.
I also want you to know that making the pros and cons list is not for other people, meaning you do not have to share it with other people so they “understand” your decision. You do not owe an explanation. No is a complete sentence; nobody has any right to demand your thought process about your personal choices. Yes, some people may want to know your thought process because they are interested in how you think and what matters to you. And some people may also be considering a childfree lifestyle and want someone to connect with. Determine for yourself who you are comfortable talking to; you deserve support in your decisions.
Once you decide not to have a child, you may face ongoing judgment and pressure from people around you, whether they are close to you or people you meet in passing. Specifically, there could be the pressure to have a career that “justifies” not having a child. Sadly, there is this false belief that if you don’t start a family, you are more available to work long hours, overtime, and holidays. But you didn’t necessarily make the decision to be childfree because you felt that you had a lot to give to your career, and that’s okay! It is so important to be aware of this pressure so you can manage it best. You do not have to “make up” for not having a child. Do not allow this worry to scare you into making any lifestyle choice that doesn’t work for you.
You might feel that you have love and time to give and guidance to share; what will you do with all that without children? There is no rule that says that you can’t find ways to nurture and give of yourself if you’re not a mother. A lot of childfree people are aunts and uncles, teachers, caregivers, volunteers, and so on. You are allowed to enjoy children without having them. (You are also allowed to not enjoy children! Children have poor impulse control; they tend to be noisy and messy, and easily excitable. That can be an overwhelming environment for people who have sensory sensitivities or preferences about stable and predictable routines.)
A great way to embrace your compulsion to nurture is to help out with friends and other loved ones’ children. This does not mean you are obligated to sacrifice your time and health to assist others in their life choices. Being involved can look like trips to the museum or the park, an afternoon doing arts and crafts at your sister’s house, babysitting on an evening where the parents really need a dinner date, and so on. It can look like sharing special interests with a kiddo that a parent doesn’t relate to, such as liking horses or enjoying drawing. You might get a special joy from teaching a little one something you enjoy, like the language you speak.
There are many community organizations that need help. You can nurture the planet through environmental causes and your community through public gardens, housing initiatives, animal rescue organizations, and more. You can volunteer with youth or with the elderly. Being childfree doesn’t mean that you are love-free or carefree. In fact, a lot of your decision may be made based on the fact that you want to give more of yourself to more things than you would be able to if you were raising children.
Depending on how you were raised, you may prioritize mothering yourself. You may not have been parented in a way that made you feel secure and are now doing the work to unpack that with the guidance of a therapist. You might have grown up supporting others to your detriment, which is why you are finished being a caretaker. There is much to be said about self-care and our determination to uphold our self-worth by respecting our wants and needs. Healing your relationship with yourself may be the most maternal thing you can do.
You will probably always be met with people who don’t understand your decision to be childfree. There is something alarming about coercing someone into doing
something that is such a big responsibility. There are plenty of people who didn’t plan to be parents and ended up being great at it; there is no reason that a surprise can’t end up becoming someone’s purpose. But we know enough now, as a society, about how difficult it is to be a parent.
Like any time-consuming endeavor, it is fair for you to decide that you just don’t want it enough to put in the work. Things that require the kind of investment that parenting does deserve to be decided upon without other peoples’ viewpoints taking over. We don’t force people to be surgeons or astronauts; the training takes a long time, the hours are long, and the stakes are high. We don’t tell people that if being a surgeon doesn’t appeal to them, they “should” do it anyway. Give yourself permission to think of a bunch of other things you don’t want to do with your time and say no to all of them; make parenthood just another thing on your list of no-thank-yous. If someone tries to tell you that you should be a parent, ask them if they would try to convince you to take on a career on Broadway or doing cardiovascular surgery if it didn’t really appeal to you. If they try to tell you that a biological urge is different, explain to them that you don’t have to give in to all your urges and impulses. Or, if you prefer, you can simply tell them that your reproductive choices are nobody’s business but your own. You don’t owe anyone an explanation, but you are certainly within your rights to have boundaries about this topic of conversation. Hopefully, you have a way to connect with other childfree people, even if you don’t know anyone in person who feels the same way you do. There are a lot of spaces online for childfree people to connect and support one another through invasive pressure from families and celebrate one another’s childfree happiness. Pursuing the life that works best for you deserves all the support and praise in the world.
Here at Embracing You Therapy, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions. We invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, embracing imperfections to create a gentler place for calm in your life.
Let’s learn what drives your unique perspective on anxiety and stress. Then, let’s find the tools-your unique tools that help you respond to life in a healthy, calm way. Contact us today for your complimentary 20-minute phone consultation with our Client Care Coordinators.
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