This is a modern dilemma we didn’t used to have. It seems the decision to have children was more straightforward when we didn’t have birth control and needed help on the farm. Now, however, we are faced with choosing our partners for love rather than a strong back, and we choose to invest in children rather than make them as resources to help us. People are truly struggling with trying to foresee the consequences of bringing another human into the planet or keeping their resources to themselves. Are people selfish if the don’t procreate? If they do? What is the right thing to do for the world? For your individual life? I would like to say the quiz I took earlier would solve that definitely. (1)
Unfortunately, I was told that I don’t have a nurturing bone in my body and I should NEVER have kids even though I have always wanted kids and I love being mom to five. What I can do is show you what I have found from science, experts, non-experts who want to share their experience and my own life about what you should do with your respective eggs or sperm. It may not bring Magic 8 Ball certainty, but I hope it will help.
There is no doubt that the question of having children has a profound effect on your life. (2) Nothing can monopolize two decades better than the pressure of trying to make sure the human you are sending into the world is a good one. As I was trying my best to find authoritative sources to solve this problem I found more or less the echo of my own voice. There is a smattering of science that is attempting to be relevant to this issue, but for the most part there are two camps.
There are, on one side, those who have chosen not to have children. Many of the articles available are from this camp. These are the people doing true soul searching to make sure they shouldn’t be craving the patter of little feet more. The other side is largely the machinery of tradition. There aren’t many articles out there telling people to go have children. I believe this is because no one really has to be told. Having kids is a “next thing” entered on a long list of “next things” that most humans know to blindly follow.
More now than ever, having children is starting to be considered an option you don’t actually have to accept. (3) The people really grappling with this choice seem to being weighing options from a few categories. The first of which is emotional.
Can you hear clocks ticking? Have you had great affection for your cat? These may seem unrelated, but they both figure into the nurturing indicator for parenthood. Looking through articles written by those trying to place themselves in the landscape of parenthood, a number of them are tuning into their instincts. They are looking at those around them and asking themselves if they are wrong for not feeling the pull of parenthood. Some people have glanced through the homo-sapien to-do list and just skipped past the part where they were supposed to have children. They pursued love and education and travel and careers and were just so content in these pursuits that their thirties or even their forties have snuck up on them. (4) Then the clocks come marching in, especially for women.
Soul searching often begins with questioning instincts. These people have heard their friends describe a deep yearning for a child. What would that feel like? Is it a strong, unmistakable idea that won’t leave you alone? Is it a faint hint of guilt? Do you just know? Is the biological urge to have children even a real thing? (5) At times, for some people this is the beginning and the end of the question of having children. Do you feel you just must have children? Then you do. If you feel like you absolutely just can’t, then problem solved. Don’t.
Some people talk about the ability to nurture others, or be selfless as an indicator of parenthood potential. Are you able to put off your own desires for the sake of someone else’s. Do you consider yourself a pet parent? Do you volunteer with a population you care very deeply about? This could mean you have scratched your nurturing itch and children are not necessary. Or could this mean you have the necessary skill set to raise children and you should be putting it to better use? (6) One would hate to find out they did have this craving but didn’t act on it until it was too late. So many people today find themselves thinking they “could” parent. (7) Having a child would be fine. Not having one would also be acceptable. What do you do? Maybe it is time to consider other factors
The Big Picture
A couple of the sources I came across considered parenthood in light of the effect of more people on our planet. This could be a nice, objective measure for people who aren’t clearly driven by their instincts. One way to look at this indicator is the obvious one. How much will one or two more people on our planet stress our resources? Electricity consumption Some statistics indicate that having one less child is one of the best things you can do for the planet. (8)
Or better yet, we could allow the human race to go extinct by not replacing ourselves with children. (9)
There is a movement of people worldwide who are choosing not to have children and crediting the state of our planet as one of their primary motivators. (10) The people making these choices often comfort those who have chosen to have kids by telling them it is fine to have kids, it is just the right choice for them to refrain. Often in these instances of people giving up parenthood for the planet, there seems to be almost a relieved embrace of a final nail in the coffin they have already prepared for their parental aspirations. People choosing the planet over parenthood often have already chosen many other things over parenthood as well. Now, they can tell society that they are not just remaining childless because they are pursuing selfish endeavors. They are actually thinking of the planet first and they guilt they may have felt over not having children gets turned on those who have chosen to deplete Earth’s resources by having children. AHA!
I suppose it could be argued that having a child who is taught to do an amazing job caring for the planet could at some point offset the imposition of his existence, but based on the resources humans consume it may be hard to make that case. (11)
For many people problems like climate change are just too big to consider in the same breath as what they want their family to look like. They can’t imagine their decision to have a child or not could be very important to the planet. It is hard to know if your specific decision to have a child, or even to adopt rather than birth a child yourself will register in the grand scheme of things. Then consider how societal expectations may effect your choice.
There is a certain amount of momentum that propels the newly married to slide a crib into their spare bedroom. Of course there is also the shrill cry of their parents to see babies they can spoil. On the other side is peer pressure from their cohorts slathering social media with DSLR photos of their artistically posed sleeping newborns. Parenthood doesn’t really need to be preached. If your maternal instinct doesn’t kick in, it will become apparent at some point being childless is the exception.
As with any exception to human norms, explanations are in order. If you haven’t guessed by glancing at the public school system, conformity is valued, if not demanded. This may be one reason why many articles regarding the question of parenthood are from people without kids searching for a bulletproof reason to back up their inclination. Maybe there is another way to look at this introspection. One study says that people who choose not to have kids tend to put real effort into researching their decision, while most people who have children, don’t really put much thought into it. (12) Could it be that we could learn from those not having kids at least as far as truly considering the implications of our decision. For those who just want to go with the flow, reading the accounts of some who are wrestling with the question of having kids could be a turn-off. Why not just fulfill expectations? Maybe because the outcome isn’t always as simple as greeting your bundle of joy.(11)
Interestingly, in the end it isn’t the planet or society or even the screeching would-be grandparents that seem to come up most when people are trying to decide whether to have children. It is regret. Will I regret stalling my career, or postponing
my awesome Icelandic adventure? Will I regret not having the experience of welcoming my new one into the world or into my home and shaping them as they grow? One suggestion is to imagine how your future self will perceive the choices you make now. (13) When you see yourself at 60 or 80 what regrets do you imagine will be at the forefront then?
The steamroller of societal pressure has all but assured that certain regrets become buried. In recent years, however a new batch of regrets has surfaced. The regrets of those who have had children. There are over 14,000 followers of the Facebook page named “I Regret Having Children” People often say that they don’t regret the existence of their children specifically. It is just the affect on their lives that they wish they could change. (14)
Many of these women were among those herded along the human timeline toward parenthood without considering their choices. Some of them made what seemed like good choices at the time, but then their life with a partner didn’t last. Besides expecting the appearance of children, society also tends to have an expectation for their care. Sometimes these expectations are more than a parent can bear. Gone are the days when kids were kids. Now kids are a reflection of parental success. (15) The pressure to scoot kids to activities and spend quality time with them, and influence their actions can be overwhelming. The same forces that sped these women headlong into having their kids are now holding them responsible to a ridiculous amount for their actions. One of the biggest feelings women site when they do mention the regret they feel is suffocation. (16) Women, especially, feel the burden of taking on the majority of child rearing jobs in the home as well as the call to sacrifice their career and personal activities.
You’re right. I was never going to leave you with a fortune cookie yes or no. I am going to call upon you to pause for a
moment before the next wave of other’s expectations slams into your back. You don’t have to be the exception to re-examine the story you are being told. Having kids is not a fairy tale, and life without is not all adventure. Parenthood is not all about sacrifices. There are no rules barring kids from joining you on your jaunt to Iceland, or saying you can’t have an amazing night on the town after they are born or adopted. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Parenting will be hard, but also amazing, but so can your career.
I am also going to call you to be at peace with the life you are giving up no matter what you choose. As this poetic response said so well. (17) Consider the choice as thoroughly as you can and be honest with yourself. Yes, the choice will affect grandparents, friends, bosses, even the earth, but they will not be living the life you give yourself.
- Harness, Jill. “Take This Super Quick Quiz To Find Out If You Should Have Kids.” The Quiz, 23 Feb. 2018, www.thequiz.com/is-it-time-to-have-kids-quiz/.
- “Should I Have Kids.” The Longest Shortest TIme, 19 Aug. 2015., longestshortesttime.com/episode-64-should-i-have-kids/
- Gillett, Rachel. “7 reasons people shouldn’t have children, according to science.” Business Insider, 27 Nov. 2017, www.businessinsider.com/why-people-should-not-have-children-2017-11.
- “Why You Should Have Never Had Kids (If You Want To Be Happy, That Is).” Positive Psychology Program, 22 Aug. 2017, positivepsychologyprogram.com/parenthood-paradox/.
- Carroll, Laura. “The ‘Biological Urge’: What’s the Truth?” Huffington Post, 10 Oct. 2012, www.huffingtonpost.com/laura-carroll/childfree_b_1752906.html .
- Walker, Ellen. “A Woman’s Biological Need to Nurture—And How To Satisfy It When You’re Not a Mom.” Psychology Today, 7 Mar. 2011, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/complete-without-kids/201103/woman-s-biological-need-nurture-and-how-satisfy-it-when-you-re-not.
- Abbey, Melody A. “Things to Consider If You’re Ambivalent About Having Kids [Part II].” from city to suburbia, 11 Mar. 2018, fromcitytosuburbia.com/home/2017/12/9/5-things-to-consider-if-youre-ambivalent-about-having-kids-yp9jl .
Wynes, Seth, and Kimberly A. Nicholas. “The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions.” iop science, 12 July 2017, iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aa7541.
“The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement.” vhemt.org, www.vhemt.org/.
Fleming, Amy. “Would you give up having children to save the planet? Meet the couples who have.” Guardian, 20 June 2018, www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jun/20/give-up-having-children-couples-save-planet-climate-crisis.
Burton, Neel. “Should We have Children?” Psychology Today, 23 July 2017, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hide-and-seek/201707/should-we-have-children.
Filipovic, Jill. “Being Unsure About Kids Is Normal, Not Selfish.” Cosmopolitan, 2 May 2017, www.cosmopolitan.com/career/a9586508/jill-filipovic-h-spot-children-motherhood-ambivalent/ .
Khazan, Olga. “How People Decide Whether to Have Children.” Atlantic, 22 May 2017, www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/05/how-people-decide-whether-to-have-children/527520/ .
Mackenzie, Jean. “The mothers who regret having children.” BBC News, 3 Apr. 2018, www.bbc.com/news/education-43555736.
Drexler, Peggy. “Is a Child’s Behavior Always a Reflection of His Parents?” Psychology Today, 18 Sept. 2012, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/our-gender-ourselves/201209/is-child-s-behavior-always-reflection-his-parents.
Kingston, Anne. “‘I regret having children’.” Macleans, www.macleans.ca/regretful-mothers/.