Life

Life, Child Free

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Today I wanted to respond to a reader question, since it’s one that I’ve received in various forms over the years.  I’ve put it off since I really don’t think I have the authority to talk about this topic more than anyone else, especially since I did choose to have kids…but I think everyone always wants to hear from the other side. I’d love, love to hear your comments on this topic and I’m sure the originally reader, “Y”, would as well!

Hi Katherine,

I hoped you could write a post about your view on not having kids, and people who choose a child free life. Do you think they are wrong, or selfish? And after having them, do you think your life only has meaning now that you have kids? I know you have another one coming (congratulations!!!!)….to be frank, you are one of the few bloggers with children I still bother to follow. I know I don’t want them myself, me and my partner are happy and have full lives together. I hope you do not find this post offensive…I am simply curious to hear the opinion on this topic of someone I respect, who happens to have kids.

Kangaroo Island, from my pre-child life

I really struggled to answer this question, partially because there’s already so much material out there – on both sides. What’s funny though is I feel like lately, complete strangers have been asking me this. I don’t know if it’s because I look like the surliest mother at the playground…but it’s given me some time to think. So, here goes!

I had my first baby about two years ago…and since then, I made the conscious choice to have another. I used to be the sort of person who was adamant they would have no children…then it became one…and now, very soon, it will be two.

So given all that, the likely conclusion would be that I think that having children is the right way to go, and that to go without is to regret the decision later, when it’s too late, right?

…..ABSOLUTELY NOT!

I’m going to be very honest here (and hopefully one day my children won’t be printing out this post to show their therapists), but I really admire those who make the decision to be child free, and stick to it in the face of enormous societal and familial pressure. I love my kid (s), and often times my life can feel very fulfilling, but did it feel fulfilling before? Yes. Does having children open up a new “dimension” of happiness/fulfillment? Yes.

But did having children, also take away from some of those dimensions that made me happy before?

…in my case at least, absolutely again, yes.

I haven’t traveled internationally in two years, I quit a job where I was proud of the work I did, and my body is definitely not the same. And yeah, for me it was worth it, to have kids…but it’s the sort of thing I have to repeat to myself some nights, through gritted teeth. And it’s everyone’s responsibility, in my opinion, to figure out what that balance is – if you think that having children will make you happier than the sadness of giving up some other areas of your life. For me, as a whole, it’s been worth it.

Of course, you actually have to have kids to understand the full equation, which I know isn’t the sort of thing you can just “try out”, so…

If you feel happy, fulfilled, and know you don’t want children?

Then I really don’t know why you’d mess up a good thing. I have quite a few friends who have chosen to remain child free, and they have wonderful, full lives – and I don’t mean in a “oh, well they can go day drinking on the weekend and that’s super cool” sort of way, though of course that’s fun too. I mean that they have real, full lives, and derive as much satisfaction from their careers, passions, interests, and work that others do from having children.

I don’t think you need to have children to understand the “meaning of life,” or to feel “fulfilled”, or any of that. Actually I know you don’t, because I can think of plenty of parents who still struggle to find meaning, and fulfillment. And if there’s one thing that having children has taught me, is that they don’t necessarily do what you want…they do their own thing. They’re individuals. So you can’t pin your happiness or self worth on them. Because one day they will go their own way, find their own freedom (which is a good thing) and what you’re left with, on your own? You should still be happy with.

As for whether choosing to be child free means that you are selfish, or wrong? Anyone who thinks this is an idiot. I can say that some of the most selfish people I’ve met are parents, and unfortunately in many cases, having kids hasn’t improved their personality. If anything, it can make it worse, since now they have a baby! So everything’s for the baby! Out of the way! Because there’s a baby! And did they mention that having kids is really hard? Because it is. Super hard! Harder than whatever it is that you’re doing (rocket science, brain surgery)! So get out of the way, because they have a baby!

I mean…do you really want to listen to people who think like this? I’m pretty sure they were annoying before they had kids, and you wouldn’t listen to their advice…so I wouldn’t listen to them now. PS: these are also the sort of people who let their child run roughshod over yours in the sandbox.

So now you have my thoughts on the child free life…in this long, rambling post. Please comment with your thoughts…I think this is best as a discussion. And thank you Y, for the question!

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51 Comments

  • Reply
    Gigi
    July 10, 2017 at 8:16 am

    Hi Katherine,

    This is just a nicely written post. It is an intelligent, well reasoned, thoughtful response. I really enjoyed reading it.

    Thank you,
    Gigi

  • Reply
    Anonymous
    July 10, 2017 at 9:24 am

    Hi Katherine,

    First time commenting. As a mother of two and working mom, I cannot agree more (especially the last part about the selfish people) LOL! Congrats on the upcoming new family member.

    Helen

    • Reply
      Katherine
      July 11, 2017 at 5:00 pm

      My hats off to you as I know it isn’t easy to be a working mama of two. Thank you!

  • Reply
    Alisa Gabriel
    July 10, 2017 at 10:01 am

    Hi Katherine,
    I think your response is spot on but I’d like to add my 2 cents as someone whose kids are now 26 and 31: I worked full time while they were growing up and although it was often a challenge, I can absolutely say that you can have a demanding career (mine was in advertising and I traveled a lot) as long as you have a good support system — which could mean day care, a spouse with more flexible hours, or other types of help. Also that it DOES get easier as they become more independent.

    I had a full life before having kids, I had a full life during, and I have a full life now that they’re on their own so truly the best option is the one that meets each person’s needs. However, I have to say that having children brings a level of maturity and depth of experience that you simply don’t get any other way. (And this is from someone who was neutral/indifferent at best about having kids.) That doesn’t mean that not having them is selfish — one could probably argue that HAVING kids in today’s world is selfish — and nobody gets to vote on your own life choices.

    There’s no “right” answer. Kids are expensive, demanding, and don’t necessarily turn out the way you imagine. But there is a profound connection and growth that comes out of that relationship and there really isn’t an equivalent substitute. Life will undoubtedly be easier without them. But probably richer — though not financially! — with them.

    • Reply
      Katherine
      July 11, 2017 at 5:01 pm

      Fabulous point – my own mother worked full time and that was always the path I thought I would follow. I admire women like you so much. And thank you for reassuring that it does get easier…:)

      • Reply
        Alisa Gabriel
        July 12, 2017 at 7:58 am

        It really does!! Though you never stop worrying. You know the cliché: little kids, little problems; big kids, big problem 🙂

  • Reply
    Diane
    July 10, 2017 at 10:02 am

    I think you’ve said it all….and in a balanced, accurate way.

  • Reply
    Susie Tunes
    July 10, 2017 at 11:21 am

    Hi Katherine,

    Excellent post – live and let live.

    Xx

  • Reply
    Karrie
    July 10, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    Very well written. Thank you for this post!

  • Reply
    Nvie
    July 10, 2017 at 5:20 pm

    Well thought answer, Katherine.

    Kids….it’s an up and down life. There’s funny moments with them at different stages of their lives and there are times they drive you nuts. Adults apply too, not only kids!

    Life would be richer with them, agree with many not financially but there are other things we miss too as parents.

    Living in a western country without live-in helper is challenging but living with one, in most parts of Asia, has its own challenges.

    You can’t have your cake and eat it too when it comes to the question of to have or not to have kids. Some say it is possible but to me it’s always at the expense of someone or something else.

    • Reply
      Katherine
      July 11, 2017 at 5:02 pm

      Thank you NVIE. It sounds like you are in Asia then? I’d love to hear more about your experiences.

      • Reply
        NVIE
        July 12, 2017 at 1:47 am

        Glad to share Katherine, if you have time to read. As a full time working mom, I depend a lot on my live-in Filipino helper. She is with me for 8 years and counting. My two boys 8 and 3 treats her better than me, I don’t blame them as she’s the person who cooks and care for them, great them after school. They give her goodnight kisses. Am I jealous? No, I am grateful that she cares for my boys and family like her own. Without her, I won’t be able to work and have my time off. She travels wherever we go with the boys.

        We are all humans, she has family matters, financial issues etc., my husband and I help as much as we can. She gets interest-free loans. There’s no such thing as privacy at home, that’s down the drain the moment kids come into the picture, so having a live-in helper doesn’t bother us. We get our space and she gets hers. It’s a matter of adjusting and living with a live-in helper. We treat her like an employer and employee when it comes to her requests but like family most times but don’t go overboard.

        Without her, I can’t have a career, earning a decent paycheck and proud to be financially independent. Will kids love me less? Nah, they know who to go to for the right things. Do I miss the after school stories? No, I spend my evenings, after dinner, with them, washing them up, not missing any bedtime story session.

        I believe in balancing, challenging but not impossible. It is still very important to be part of kids’ lives when they are growing up. I do not miss any event in school. Most of all, I am happy not having to deal with the housekeeping, cooking and LAUNDRY!

        • Reply
          Katherine
          July 16, 2017 at 7:59 pm

          Thank you so much for sharing! Your helper sounds like an angel and a wonderful member of the family. You guys are all lucky to have each other 🙂

  • Reply
    MM
    July 10, 2017 at 7:19 pm

    Great thoughts in this blog post!

    I am *mystified* that people actually think your life can’t be fulfilled or have meaning without having children. How can people be so limited and narrow?! There are approximately 1 million things that need fixing in our world and that can save the lives of THOUSANDS of children – surely sending some life energy in those directions is at least as fulfilling and meaningful as raising 1 human! Go work to reduce domestic violence or sexual assault. Help end genocides and wars. Help save our environment so that children can actually live in the future. Go save a dog or cat that’s about to be euthanized at a shelter tomorrow – it’ll give you just as much love as some kids will and it’s also a life worth saving. Work to end preventable diseases around the world. Help to eradicate poverty and to bring clean drinking water to humans already on the planet. Help species not go extinct. There are more fulfilling and meaningful things to do on this planet than I have room to write here. Having a child need not be one of them if you don’t want children. (And by the way, have you seen some of the horrible humans among us? Having a child isn’t guaranteed to be fulfilling or meaningful in a good way.)

    I am similarly mystified that people think it’s selfish not to have kids. Think about it… the only reason people have kids is because they want to have kids (excluding unintended pregnancies where abortion isn’t an option). Having children is selfish. People do it for themselves. Yes, BEING a parent takes lots of selflessness and meeting the needs of your children is the opposite of selfishness. But actually deciding to have kids is pure selfishness. No one needs my children. The world will be just fine without my progeny. In fact, the world can barely handle the number of people it currently has – the last thing it needs is more yuppie kids from me. Some people even choose not to have kids out of selfless and wise decision making – for example, if they know they wouldn’t make a good parent.

    • Reply
      Katherine
      July 11, 2017 at 5:03 pm

      Completely agree with everything you said (and had to laugh about the yuppie kids line!).

      • Reply
        Vivian
        July 13, 2017 at 1:20 am

        I always wanted to say that to my friends and family and haven’t got the gut to say it!! Thank you MM!!!!!

  • Reply
    honhon
    July 10, 2017 at 7:55 pm

    hi, i might be one of those few who are in the group of post children. i have 3 grown up children.
    all i can say here is that, life goes on and i am enormously gracious that i am part of the next life. beyond my own 70 years :))

    • Reply
      Katherine
      July 11, 2017 at 5:04 pm

      I cannot believe you are 70! Congratulations on your three children, and thanks for sharing your wisdom 🙂

  • Reply
    Anonymous
    July 10, 2017 at 9:27 pm

    What a tough question to tackle. Thank you for tackling it, it is an honest look at a complex question. I am one of those child-free people, and I think I have always known that I didn’t want to have children. I remember a few years though where I thought it was a great idea, and so glad that desire passed. I was going through some internal crisis where I was seeking fulfillment and thought having a child would be it.

    Someone asked me recently if I have kids and I said No, and he responded with why? and I said, because I wanted other things more. I am a mother of many, they are just not blood-related per say 🙂 and seriously, all these labels are better left for fashion, the world can always use a little less judgement about right or wrong.

    • Reply
      Katherine
      July 11, 2017 at 5:04 pm

      PERFECT response about wanting other things more, and I also love the line about the “mother of many”.

  • Reply
    Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life
    July 10, 2017 at 9:27 pm

    At least half my friends don’t have children because they don’t want to or can’t have them and they live enormously fulfilling, creative, productive, and worthwhile lives. It’s absurd to say people can only have meaning by having children.

    I adore my own child but having had a child doesn’t make me any better a person than anyone else. I still have to actively choose to be a good person who contributes to society, parenthood doesn’t grant me access to some higher realm of personhood. To that point, I think we all know of parents who don’t love anyone more than themselves, where the kids are just an excuse for their choices.

    • Reply
      Katherine
      July 11, 2017 at 5:05 pm

      “I still have to actively choose to be a good person who contributes to society, parenthood doesn’t grant me access to some higher realm of personhood.”

      Love this!

  • Reply
    Ammu
    July 11, 2017 at 9:56 am

    Great post — very sensitively put and so nuanced. This is such a personal question that I am constantly amazed that people can judge another person for whether they chose to have or not have children. I appreciate your honesty.

    • Reply
      Katherine
      July 11, 2017 at 5:06 pm

      Completely! And nice to hear from you, Ammu! 🙂

  • Reply
    P
    July 11, 2017 at 11:59 am

    This is so well-put and thoughtful, no one is even trolling you! (Unheard of in the age of internet commenting 😜)

    We are all different people and therefore want different things from life. I am constantly surprised by the defensive reactions I get from mothers when I say I don’t want children. My decision is not an indictment of your choices just as yours isn’t an indictment of mine (or maybe it is, I don’t know. Or care! Lol). To each their own, live and let live, etc.

    Thanks for putting this out there, I’ll be passing it along to my girlfriends who are struggling to hear their own voices amidst the loud chorus of opinions out there!

    • Reply
      Katherine
      July 11, 2017 at 5:06 pm

      LOL. There is still time for trolling…I never let myself think I’m safe 🙂

  • Reply
    Jaime Stephens
    July 11, 2017 at 4:43 pm

    Katherine, I agree with everything everyone has said. It’s so nice to see such a thoughtful, civil, and respectful discussion. I have never wanted children, with the exception of about 15 minutes when I first married my second husband. Fortunately (for us!), that passed. We are now incredible parents to numerous furry children and wouldn’t have it any other way. I also have a wonderful niece, Slade, Whitney’s daughter, so I can have the best of both worlds. Thanks again for a wonderful post.

    • Reply
      Katherine
      July 11, 2017 at 5:07 pm

      Thanks so much Jaime. I laughed when I read about that first 15 minutes. You and Slade both sound fortunate to have each other in your lives.

      • Reply
        Jaime Stephens
        July 11, 2017 at 5:15 pm

        Thank you. We both miss her so much. So hard.

  • Reply
    honhon
    July 11, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    oh no! I’m 50 today, expecting to live at least for 20 more years!!

    • Reply
      Katherine
      July 11, 2017 at 6:28 pm

      Ohhh!!! This makes more sense ! But you know, I think you are going to go quite a bit past 70 🙂

      • Reply
        Katherine
        July 11, 2017 at 8:27 pm

        Also, does that mean it’s your bday? HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

  • Reply
    Mingy
    July 11, 2017 at 6:41 pm

    Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you. From a woman who has been adamant that I would remain child free since I was a child, to now 31 and still sure I’ve made the right decisions, thank you. It is not often that a parent tells someone like me that I’m not a selfish demon and ruining my own life (as well as my family member’s lives.)

    So, again, thank you. This post was a breath of fresh air.

  • Reply
    Brook
    July 12, 2017 at 4:41 pm

    What a wonderful post and discussion. Such well thought out and balanced comments to an equally nuanced post. Thank you Katherine and commenters. You all are why I love to stop by here.

  • Reply
    Jane
    July 12, 2017 at 6:27 pm

    Throughout my 20’s and 30’s, I was steadfast adamant in my anti-stance on marriage and kids. Before we fell in love my husband too has held similar views. Neither one of us ever expected nor wanted to have children. In fact we had two wonderful years as a child-free couple traveling, dining, entertaining, socializing, etc. We were perfectly content and fulfilled in our lives. But our own parents were aging and we started thinking what a wonderful joyous addition a baby would be to us and our entire extended family (our baby is the only grandchild on both sides). Then suddenly we became two of the biggest walking hypocrites in our circle of friends.

    To answer your reader’s question: No, it is not selfish to want a child-free lifestyle. One can have an incredibly fulfilling life without raising children. We did. We never felt like something was missing. We were fulfilled professionally, socially, and emotionally before baby came along. But as you put it, there is a new “dimension” of happiness/fulfillment having children brings. We are in awe of the little distilled version of us. Having a baby added a new dimension of life for us. But that doesn’t mean there was ever a gaping hole that needed to be filled. Rather, it feels like our awesome life got even better by the addition. Had we not have a baby, we would still have been in a loving and fulfilling marriage with lots of epic travels and Michelin dining. But with a baby, those plans are temporarily swapped by smaller moments of baby’s gleeful squeal from the sight of mommy returning home from work, the serenity of holding a sleeping baby, and the enchantment of watching her observe the world with such wonder. As she grows older, we hope to bring her with us on epic journeys to taste all the flavors of the world.

    • Reply
      Katherine
      July 16, 2017 at 8:00 pm

      Thank you Jane, for sharing! I understand that sensation of feeling like a hypocrite…so many things you say “you’d never do when you have children” go out the window.

  • Reply
    Mercy
    July 14, 2017 at 12:22 am

    Such a sensitive subject and I enjoy reading your thoughts and the comments. I have 3 boys myself, a teen, a tween and a toddler, life is so busy at home indeed and to top it all I also have a full-time 9-5 job in IT. I love my boys and I won’t trade the world for them but I also respect those who decide to be child-free. It’s not selfish at all especially if it’s a mutual decision to both partners.

    http://www.busyandfab.com

  • Reply
    Carol
    July 14, 2017 at 7:45 am

    Such a great post! Every one thinks about this topic some point in his/her life. I think actually women (prob men too) kind of know if they want to have kids or to remain child-free. Both are happy sensible decisions. What not to do is to have kids because you are presseured to do it or because feel like you are missing out something that’s important. Remaining child free is absolutely not selfish especially in this already overpopulated world. In fact you might be doing a favor to the earth in turns of reducing pollution and food consumption etc according to studies….of course this is not the main consideration of this matter. You want to be a mom/parent because you have this love you want to give and you know you will do your best to make this new life happy. Really you owe nobody but yourself and your baby (babies)! If you don’t think you will be happy or can do your best for your baby, then just don’t do it.

    • Reply
      Katherine
      July 16, 2017 at 8:00 pm

      Thank you Carol, agree 100%

  • Reply
    Michelle
    July 14, 2017 at 11:48 am

    Whether to have kids or not is a personal decision and I don’t think you will be less fulfilled one way or the other.
    It may not be a great analogy, it is like breastfeeding, everyone has something to say but it is still a personal choice.
    We should not forget about people who really want to have kids but just cannot bear them. I am not saying there aren’t other ways such as adoption or surrogacy etc.,

    We weren’t ready for kids when we got married. In fact, we weren’t ready for a long time (7 years)! One day we decided we were ready and it’s time. If it happens it happens, if not, it’s not meant to be. I love my girls to the moon and back but I also miss my life pre-kids 🙂 Yet I know, our time with them is actually very short, someone said it perfectly “… the days are long but the years are short” because eventually they will not need us as much, they will have their own social lives, they will want to hang out with their friends, they will meet their SO and have their own lives and families … Sure we will still be a part of the lives, but no longer as significant as their growing up years.

    • Reply
      Katherine
      July 16, 2017 at 8:01 pm

      Completely agree….you seem to have the best relationship with your little strawberries!

  • Reply
    Helen
    July 15, 2017 at 7:57 pm

    Dear Katherine, Y (who was brave enough to ask), and all those who have commented,

    Thank you for your sincere and non-judgmental thoughts. I’ve struggled with the decision to/not to have kids as well. My husband and I live a wonderfully spontaneous life, breaking into spg platinum without even being consultants. On the other hand, all, not just most, of my 30-something besties are sleep-deprived, distracted, and financially pinched, with no option of putting a Nordstrom’s return label on their screaming toddler. Add to the data points my own experience with miscarriage, surgical complications, and a failed embryo banking cycle, and I feel practically ready not to just run but sprint for the hills.

    I’d like to think that having kids can be one of the greatest pain in the asses but also one of the greatest joys. My husband hands-down fits that description. The dishes and laundry seem never ending, but getting to share his creativity, resilience, and affection make me feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

    So far it seems like kids will just have to be a leap of faith for the Miranda in me. To quote Carrie: “So I’m sorry, Harvard, but I’m afraid you’re gonna have to base this decision on your emotions.”

    • Reply
      Katherine
      July 16, 2017 at 8:02 pm

      Hi Helen, thanks so much for your comment and sharing your own experiences. It sounds like you have a wonderful, fulfilling family. I’m so sorry to hear about your complications and miscarriage.

  • Reply
    Sara
    July 16, 2017 at 10:54 am

    Katherine, thank you for this post. It resonated with me so much. I also read every single comment and felt so encouraged by all of them. Perhaps it is easier to reach out to a “stranger” about sensitive topics like this than to ask and morally offend friends and family (like I have done before). Thanks again.

    • Reply
      Katherine
      July 16, 2017 at 8:03 pm

      Thank you Sara, and I completely understand your comments about it being easier to reach out to a “stranger”.

  • Reply
    Jules
    July 17, 2017 at 3:54 am

    Loved this post so much! Thank you ❤️

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