Thinking Aloud: Having Children

A certain online magazine is accepting submissions from its readers about the reasons they are childless/childfree. Reading through the first published submission (and the comments) was an exercise in eye rolling.

Do people really care if other people don’t have children? Or, for that matter, why we do have children? Or because the majority position is to have children (is it, still? I don’t have numbers here), there is so much askance directed toward the childfree/childless?

I have to think long and hard about why I have children, but that’s not because I regret having them. I love my kids more than my own life. I’m just trying to remember what lead me and Dan to having them.

Throughout most of my 20s, I was pretty much staunchly against the idea of being pregnant. I never felt strongly about having children until I was pregnant with Gabriel.

The biggest thing that changed was my marriage to Dan. Going in, I knew I was choosing to love and marry a man who had as a goal of his life to become a father. He didn’t hem and haw about it. I mean, I don’t remember him declaring, “I want children”, but through dating him and beyond, I pretty much knew his position on the subject: Very pro-kids.

I think if I didn’t want to have children, I would have either not married at all, or not married Dan. And it wasn’t that I was ambivalent about being a mother or having children. I was, frankly, heading into marriage, more than open to the idea.

Both sides of the childfree/parenting debate sling the word “selfish” at each other. It doesn’t strike me as more selfish to not want to have children than it does to have them. Making a choice about one’s life is inherently selfish, isn’t it?

I guess the argument could be made that once people have children, they should be less selfish. The children, especially when they are infants and young children, do need to come first. As a small illustration of this, there are evenings I don’t eat until after 8 p.m. because I’m feeding and otherwise tending to the kids. Makes me cranky, though, not really feel self-less.

But choosing not to have children doesn’t automatically mean that you are incapable of being selfless.

I don’t know. I just don’t understand why this is such a hot topic. Now that I have children, I know why I have children. They are the embodiment of joy and love. Yeah, kids have some messy downsides, and I don’t have teens yet. But what they have given to me is so very delightful. Like anything else, parenting has pros and cons.

I honestly don’t think there’s anything wrong in deciding not to become a parent, though. I wish the conversation was less fraught with judgement and defensiveness. Ultimately, why do we care about other people’s choices again?

If you have kids, why do you have kids? If not, why not? And either way, do you feel judged or criticized for your choices? What do you do in those situations?

24 thoughts on “Thinking Aloud: Having Children

  1. I have 2 wonderful daughters, one has a disability and one does not. I didn’t exactly plan when to have kids but always wanted to be a father. I know several people who do not have kids, I have never thought anything different about them or judged them. It just didn’t seem relevant. I know a few of them can not have kids and would be great parents.
    Everyone has their own life to live and to judge things like this is well, just petty. It seems a lot in our society is petty though no a days, it’s sad really.
    Besides my kids which are not teens yet, I have raised my Goddaughter who is now 21. She had some problems and raising a teen with problems let a lone a teen is very stressful. I pray a lot for guidance and thank God that I have a great partner, my wonderful wife.

  2. I don’t care what choice anybody makes. I care if someone judges MY choice. I don’t enjoy getting side-eye from people just because my children *exist* in a public space. People who use the term ‘breeders’ in a pejorative way irk the crap out of me. They don’t know my kids or my parenting style or what I’m going to do if my kid acts up. I don’t enjoy being told that if I choose to work, the fact that I have children is my problem and my issue to deal with – if I my co-workers end up picking up slack because of my family life, I’m the devil.

    Basically, if you want me to accept YOUR (the general you) childfree choice, don’t disrespect MY choice to have children. Don’t act as though we live in a world in which children don’t exist. The plain fact is that we do and that if you go out into public you will be exposed to them. Accept that, in order to form a fully functioning adult who knows how to act in public, children must be taken out of their homes and taught what to do (and not do). Their mere existence is not worthy of anyone’s scorn.

    THAT is the attitude I have a problem with. Otherwise? Have kids, don’t have kids – do what floats your boat. If you don’t want kids, the very last thing you should be doing is going ahead and having ANY because they are a load of work the likes of which you have never before seen. You have to want it. So yeah, I’m fine with people not wanting to have kids. Just don’t turn your scorn on me.

    • All good points, and I agree 100%. I had an online discussion with a childfree person wherein I thought we were agreeing that the idea of “selfishness” should be taken out of the argument. And then she typed, “Not having children may or may not be selfish, but having children automatically makes you selfish.” I was like ::headdesk:: So much for that mature, reasoned conversation!

      • Having children automagically makes you selfish? How does that compute? Those children will be running the nursing home when we all get old. Would you prefer that no one had children and there was no one to care run the place? I don’t get it.

    • You go on how its YOUR choice and CF people shouldn’t disrespect it, yet you also acknowledge that YOUR choice makes other people have to work harder. “if I my co-workers end up picking up slack because of my family life, I’m the devil. ” How about if YOU choose to have kids, YOU don’t add work to other people because of YOUR choice. Do YOUR OWN JOB. That’s what you get paid for.
      Most CF people don’t care about kids. But when they have to do extra on their job because someone else is slacking, that’s an issue. And you obviously know that you impose on others because you made the statement.

      “if I my co-workers end up picking up slack because of my family life, I’m the devil. “

      • Up until now, Karen, this was a reasonable debate. If you know Cari at all, which I do, you would know that she is a SAHM. I believe her point was that the attitude of child-free people in the workplace is poor. Childfree employees may think that parents in the workplace are “the devil” because they “slack off” because they have child-related stuff to take care of. In my experience, parents often worker harder because they do not appreciate being viewed as “slackers” who dump their work on others.

        Congratulations on getting this one wrong. Thank you for visiting.

      • Yup, I meant pretty much exactly what RPM said. And your attitude is exactly the on that irks me most because it’s the type of attitude that automatically assumes that a parent – particularly a MOTHER – is going to be a less productive employee based solely on the fact that she happens to have children.

  3. I guess I don’t see it as two sides (with kids and without kids) of some kind of battle (like the SAHM/working “mommy wars” the media loves to talk about). I see it as people making different decisions for their lives (or, decisions being made for them sometimes) and hey, not everyone ends up doing the same thing. How…controversial!

    I think I’m envious of people who don’t want children. I would love to feel that way. But I guess I’ve just always thought of myself as someone who would have kids, and my husband has, too. But it’s been such a painful journey at times (and the parenting hasn’t even begun) that I really am often jealous of people who are child-free and totally happy with that choice.

    • Oh, sweetie, I hear you. I used “childfree” writing about this because I think being childless implies something not in one’s control. I’m not a super nosy person (or “nebby” as we say here), so when I find out or notice someone doesn’t have kids, I tend not to ask. Who knows if they choose it, or whether it is something that has been so painful that they don’t want to talk about it? I know both types of couples, and I wouldn’t judge either one.

      And, right: people do different things with their lives. Some of us are writers, photographers, web coders, some of us are doctors and pharmacists. Would you judge someone for their career choice? It’s just silly.

  4. I think that this is a “hot topic” right now as a result of that Time magazine stuff and overinflated mommy blog arguments.

    I know people who have chosen not to have children and been vilified and I know people who have chosen to have 5 or 6 children and been vilified. It’s amazing to me that people get angry about other people’s life choices, especially those choices that don’t hurt anyone or affect them directly.

    I have always known I wanted children, but my husband wasn’t always sure. I went through a female related health crisis in 2006 and was told that having children may not be a possibility. I was devastated. It was then my husband said he was fine either way with it and as long as we were together, we’d be happy. Fortunately we were able to have a baby in 2011 and while it hasn’t all been sunshine and roses, having her has brought an entirely new level of love and joy to our lives and made my husband decide that he definitely wants more (God willing).

  5. I am so sick of people caring about who has kids and why, who breastfeeds (and the latest – whether breastfeeding in uniform is disrespectful – REALLY??), who home schools, who co-sleeps, whatever. The media sure does love to fuel these ridiculous fires, don’t they?

    • I know, I feel the same way. I just was trying to figure out why I did have my children, and I think it boils down to who I married (and that I got married in the first place). Those were linked for me. I know not everyone who has kids gets married, and not everyone who gets married has kids. But they were definitely related for me and Dan.

  6. Dawn, you know my stance. I’m so over all of this nonsense. I’m tired of being told that I’m less of a mom for only ‘working’ one 12 hour shift a week (aside from my various classes I teach at the gym) and so I have all this ‘free time’ to raise my kids. A friend on facebook recently posted a someecard that said, in a nutshell, that she’s a better mom because she works 40 hours a week and still raises her kids.

    Um, last time I checked, sweetheart, you’re outside drinking beer and yelling at your kids not to go into the street, and could basically give a f***. And then your kid is hitting my kid, and your kid has no idea what the word “No” means.

    Working 40 hours a week and having kids can make you a good mom, as can being a SAHM. It depends on the MOM. Not the situation. Just be a good parent.

    Now, regarding having kids or not having kids is totally a lifestyle choice. UNLESS they have fertility issues and aren’t waving their personal life all around. Why does it have to be anyone’s business? I’m just tired of this hatred against lifestyle choices, whether it be religion, sexual orientation or children. Give it up already, people!

  7. OK, I’ll be the first childless person to respond.

    Sometimes it’s not really a choice not to have kids; it just (doesn’t) happen. I always thought that one day I’d be a dad, but I just never found the right candidate for the role of mom.

    When I got married, she already had 2 kids and her tubes tied. At that point, I pretty much put the idea of having a kid out of my mind. And now, all these years after that, (and no longer being married) it’s really too late to start now. I just don’t have the energy for it any more. So I just be the best Uncle I can be, and play with other people’s kids.

    As for what other people tell you about your child-having choices, I can’t imagine giving any weight to what anyone else has to say. If they don’t like your choices, screw’em. People are entirely too far up in each other’s business. You gotta live the life that’s best for you.

    • That’s the other part of the mystery for me, too, bluz, this idea that we have to go around justifying our lifestyles, the decisions we’ve made for ourselves and our families, and how we participate in society. Or that we waste energy judging others for their choices. If we focused on more important issues — making sure people have healthy food, a solid education, and access to jobs, focusing on improving the economy to benefit everyone — there would be a lot less of this nonsensical individual castigation going on. We need to move the conversation away from the inflammatory, and back to the practical, IMO.

    • Well said. I was a proud uncle before a father and I stand in as a father for my niece. Like you said, sometimes it is not a choice at all.

  8. I AM judged by having only one kid. Not that that was what you asked, but since you were speaking of judging…

    Some people seem to be born to be parents. I am not one of those people. I always thought I would “just know” when the time was right, but it seemed that any time I thought I might be ready, the thought never lasted more than a month or two, so I kept putting it off. Eventually, when I was 30 1/2, I decided we should “see what happens” because I was not getting any younger. After a couple of months of throwing caution to the wind (though I was being way more cautious than I was willing to admit at the time), I decided I was just not ready. God and/or my body had some other idea, however, and nine months later, I became a parent. After I got over the initial shock of staring at two lines, I never looked back and I thank God so often that He could see what I could not.

    Way more info than you wanted and more than I should share, but better here than my own blog, I say! 🙂

    • Yeah, that is the other thing that I don’t get. IF you have children, why would I care whether or not you have one or 6? I’m kind of glad we participate in a Catholic church and school community, because people don’t blink an eye at “larger” (i.e. more than two) families.

  9. Before I ever had kids, I had a very close friend use the word ‘selfish’ to describe the fact that Dan and I were waiting until we did a few things we really wanted to do before we started thinking seriously about starting a family. We wanted to take a big trip somewhere (never had a real, fancy honeymoon) and Dan wanted to finish grad school. And for that, I was told I was being selfish. It hurt SO MUCH. And it was of course RIDICULOUS because how is wanting to make sure we are ready and excited and prepared for our future children BEING SELFISH?? gah. I still think about it now, especially being on the ‘other side’ as a mother of two and just… man. What a thing to say to someone. (And of course at the time I had NO COMEBACK because I suck and can never think in the moment and I was just stunned, really.)

    I know several people who are childfree by choice and they have different reasons and I respect that COMPLETELY. I can’t relate, because I’ve always pictured myself with kids, but I respect it. And honestly I think it’s SO MUCH BETTER to NOT have kids if you really don’t think you want them than to do it because you feel like it’s something you SHOULD do. Because that’s not gonna end well for ANYBODY.

    • That sounds pretty crappy, to be told that, especially as you were probably on record as wanting to have kids eventually. That kind of attitude feeds into the whole contraception debate, too, like family planning is some massive “selfish” undertaking instead of doing something best for the health of the mother, and sanity of both parents! 😉

      And that’s why this idea of “selfishness” should just be taken out of the debate. Not wanting to have children, planning when to have children, and/or having children — none of the choices are without some consequences for “self”. So I just think that should go away. The rest of the conversation could be had without the tones of judgement an defensiveness.

  10. I am married and childfree. I once had a co worker about my age who seemed to take personal offense about my choice not to have kids. She would bring it up at work and make disparaging assumptions about my attitude, political opinions, and lifestyle. It was irritating! About half of the employees at that company had kids and I had no beef with any of them except her. I didn’t even care that she had a son; I just didn’t appreciate my choices being questioned and mocked along with offensive (and false) assumptions made about how I live my life in other areas.

    I believe that that is the crux of the whole issue. Most parents I’ve interacted with have no problem with my choosing to be childfree, nor do I take issue with their choice to have kids. But every once in a while, there will be that one person who seems to think that my choice somehow invalidates hers and will make it her personal mission to either change my mind or put me down in some way. Not cool at all. Incidentally, my husband works with a lot of dads and every so often, will get a similar response from one of them.

    We don’t come down on anyone who has kids, so why should they come down on us? Selfishness has nothing to do with it.

    • See, if i had overheard that coworker, I would’ve told her to mind her own business. I’m so sorry you had to endure that. It’s so RUDE. That’s what kills me the most. What ever happened to “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all?” It’s changed to, “If someone has a different opinion than you, or a different lifestyle, you can criticize them all you want and call them names.” Talk about the decline of western civilization!

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