A topic that comes up regularly with my clients in their twenties and thirties is examining parenthood. I sense that people are being incredibly mindful about whether or not to bring children into the world. This has been especially evident during COVID, combined with a terrifying political climate, and extreme environmental devastation due to global warming. I have written about this topic previously. In case you haven’t read these, you can start with my own story of choosing to be child-free:
I also reviewed an excellent book on the topic which many people find incredibly helpful in making such a big decision:
If you want to learn why many millennials are choosing to forgo parenting, read this fascinating article:
Amy Blackstone, a sociology professor at the University of Maine and author of the book, Childfree by Choice: The Movement Redefining Family and Creating a New Age of Independence, shares her findings after interviewing 70 child-free men and women and surveying more than 700 about their experiences.
Here is an excerpt from that article on her research findings:
1. Many of the top reasons for skipping parenthood are especially true for millennials
The cost of living and having a baby are a particularly difficult issue for millennials who are facing all kinds of college debt. Certainly, having a child has an impact on the environment and that’s a reason that millennials have shared for their choice. Other top reasons include the desire for autonomy, spontaneity, freedom and the ability to travel.
2. Many child-free people want to focus on the relationships they already have
Quote from a 44-year-old married woman: “I worry that if I had a child I’d become a terrible partner because I’d be so focused on being a good parent.”
This doesn’t mean child-free people necessarily have perfect relationships or better relationships than parents. But some feel that they would be giving something up in terms of their ability to feel close with their partner and nurture that relationship.
3. It’s not a ‘selfish’ choice
We can choose to abandon the “selfish” label and decide it’s OK for people to make a life choice that is best for them, whether that be parenthood or non-parenthood. Maybe neither choice is selfish.
There’s an impression that child-free people don’t give back, or aren’t giving to their communities or making a difference in the world. Frankly, nothing could be further from the truth. We know from research that the child-free are involved in their communities — they’re about as likely as parents to volunteer.
4. Many child-free people do like kids
A quarter of the child-free people interviewed actually chose careers that require them to be involved and make a difference in children’s lives. Many of them are teachers, social workers, pediatricians. There are all kinds of ways the child-free are engaged in kids’ lives and made a choice to do that.
5. Child-free people don’t have regret down the road
Not one person in this research mentioned feeling regret about their choice. We should accept when people tell us they don’t want to have children. Parenthood is a role that is best fulfilled when it’s one that’s chosen. It takes a lot to be a good parent so if somebody doesn’t feel that pull, that’s perfectly OK.
6. Child-free people are fulfilled and happy
When people say the child-free are missing out on something, that’s absolutely true. But it’s equally possible that parents are missing out on some aspects of the lives that child-free people enjoy.
7. ‘Who will care for you in old age?’ and ‘Won’t you be lonely?’ are questions for everyone
These are questions that we all should be thinking about as we age, whether we have children or not.
In terms of the child-free, many have been creating a nest egg to help them be able to provide for themselves in their old age. And we’re seeing more and more examples of “The Golden Girls”-style living where older adults are sharing households with each other.
It’s a mistake to assume having children means one will have a person to care for them in their old age. Research shows that not every adult child cares for their aging parents.
8. A child-free household is a family
Child-free families fulfill the same functions that families with children do. They create households as a safe space that provides an emotional connection and an opportunity to recharge. They engage in “social reproduction,” which involves anything that people do to help rear the next generation. For the child-free, that means being mentors and friends to children.
1. Begin with deciding to take a designated break (one to three months) from any discussion about the topic with your partner. If you’re single, stop ruminating about it or talking about it with others. During this time, decide not to know what you want or what you’re going to do. No more thinking one way or the other.
2. Accept that indecision is more complex than what’s on the surface and not because something is wrong with you.
3. Stop trying to figure this out by making a pros and cons list. It will keep you stuck. If you’re doing it for the third or umpteenth time and you’re not getting anywhere, then doing it one more time is not the solution.
4. Make a list of three decisions that you’ve made because you knew in your gut it was the right decision for you. Write a few sentences on each one describing the sensation of how good it felt to have made them. This is the sensation you deserve to experience when you’re deciding “yes” to parenthood or “yes” to a child-free life.
5. Create separation between desire and decision by putting the decision to the sidelines until clarity of your desire is known. To do this, make a list of all your fears related to this decision. Then list all the specifics, or externals, in your life that you can’t stop thinking about (age, health, career, relationship status, etc.) Then put these two lists in an envelope and put that envelope out of sight. Do not look at it or entertain anything in it until you have clarity of your desire, and you know why you want what you want. The why is important, not because you owe anyone an explanation but because you need to know what is driving your desire from the inside out so that you can be honest with yourself.
6. Do some old-fashioned stream-of-consciousness writing with these prompts.
- “I’ve always thought that by now my life would look like …” Then read what you just wrote and write about how it feels to read it.
- What verbal and nonverbal messages did you receive from your parents, community, religion, and society about you becoming a parent?
- Make the decision of yes to having/raising a baby and live with that decision for five days. During that time, write daily about how you feel about the decision you are pretending to have made. Don’t bargain with the decision. The more you can buy into having made the decision, the more information you’ll receive about yourself.
- Make the decision to live a child-free life for five days. During that time, write daily about how you feel about the decision you are pretending to have made. Don’t bargain with the decision. The more you can trick your mind into the decision being made, the more information you’ll receive about yourself.
- What would it take or what would have to happen in order for you to say “yes” to parenthood and feel good about it?
- What would it take or what would have to happen in order for you to say “yes” to a child-free life and feel good about it?
This time of exploration, without the pressure of having to make a decision, will help you discover your honest desire. Once you know what drives it from the inside out, you’re freed up to make a conscious decision about what you’re going to do. To entertain a decision prematurely (without complete clarity of desire) will only make your decision-making process more complicated than it needs to be and delay the peace and calm you so deserve.
It’s also important to remember that at the end of the day, even when you’re making conscious decisions, you still have to accept the universal truth that you cannot control the outcome of how your life will be, with or without children. Trying to do so by playing out every scenario will only cause you to suffer because it’s fundamentally unachievable.
What is 100 percent within your control is to trust that you’ll be okay, no matter the outcome, and you’ll get help if you need to.
You can only know how you want your life to unfold and do everything you can to have it unfold that way. However, if your imagined life does not come true, that doesn’t mean the story ends there and now you have to suffer.
Parenthood is neither a destiny nor a debate. There is no single right choice. Only you can know what’s right for you: You are the helmsperson of your life.