I Don’t Want Children (and That Doesn’t Mean There’s Anything Wrong with Me)

I don’t want children.

I think I was about seventeen the first time I uttered that sentence out loud. My partner at the time and I had discussed how many children we’d have someday, and what their names would be. Because that’s what you did when you were in a loving relationship, wasn’t it? Get married, buy a house, get a dog, then have children.

But at some point I realised that parenthood didn’t fit with the vision I had for myself of my future. I wanted to write books, I wanted to travel the world, I wanted to adopt animals and make a home with my partner. But could I see myself as a mother? Every time I thought about it, it just didn’t fit.

“I don’t think I want children,” I said to my partner. He shrugged – he hadn’t really cared one way or the other and had mostly assumed we’d have kids some day because he assumed I’d want them.

Think of the (hypothetical) children!

I think the next time I said it was when I was starting to tell people I was in a polyamorous relationship with my now-ex and his wife.

“How is that going to affect your children someday?” people asked me with a sniff of disapproval.

“I don’t want children, so it’s irrelevant,” I replied.

This statement was really far too much for a lot of people to cope with. I was told I’d change my mind, that I was too young to know, that it wasn’t fair to these completely hypothetical unborn not-even-conceived children for me to choose not to have them. That I should give up the life that made me happy to have kids I didn’t want. I was even told it was unfair to the hypothetical future husband people assumed I’d end up with one day.

Being upfront about it

I’ve always been very upfront about my complete lack of maternal instincts to partners when we start getting serious. I don’t want to spend years with someone only to find that our life goals are incompatible!

I’ve also always been very clear with anyone I have sex with, when the topic of birth control comes up, that an unintended pregnancy will end in a hasty abortion (and that this is not up for debate.)

“But how do you know? Won’t you regret it?”

How do I know this is what I want? I know because every time I allow myself to imagine being a parent, I am filled with an immediate and visceral feeling of “NOPE.”

Can I absolutely guarantee I won’t regret it someday? Of course not. But I think it’s tremendously unlikely, given how much I generally love my life as it is. Despite being constantly told that I’ll end up alone, I don’t see how that is possible when I have loving partners, a supportive family, and amazing friends. And honestly, is some vague fear of being alone in the future a good reason to bring a new life into this world? I don’t think it is.

If I pushed myself to become a parent out of some misguided sense of duty or caving to pressure, I think I’d regret that.

Late last year, my nesting partner Mr CK had a vasectomy. My risk of unintended pregnancy was pretty low already (all bow before the mighty Mirena!) but that decision just removed any doubt or possibility of birth-control failure. When it was done, all I felt was this overwhelming, searing relief. No lingering “what ifs?” or sadness for what might have been. Just, thank goddess, that’s one less thing to worry about.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“I just think there’s something deeply wrong with women who don’t want children.” I can’t remember the precise context in which I heard this statement, now, but I still remember the sentiment. And it’s everywhere.

Maybe it’s not usually so explicit. But the implied-or-directly-asked question again and again and fucking again is always some variation on, “what’s wrong with you?”

Nothing is wrong with me. I’m not broken. This decision isn’t the result of some unresolved trauma. I’m not missing a piece of my heart. I’m not selfish, I’m not filled with hatred for parents or children, and I’m not incapable of love. I just… don’t want to be a mother.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, or with me.

I’m moderating comments on this one, hateful ones won’t get through. Anything you can say – that I’m a failure as a woman, that I’ll regret it, that I’ll die homeless and alone with seventeen cats – I’ve heard before and I’m done arguing with. Be nice!

3 thoughts on “I Don’t Want Children (and That Doesn’t Mean There’s Anything Wrong with Me)

  1. People assume that I am someone who will be very pro the idea that parenting is something wonderful and everyone should want it. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I think people should only become a parent if they really want to. It shouldn’t be considered the default that is part of the life experience and relationship escalator. I am a parent and I wanted that. I have poured my heart and soul into parenting and would and change my world for them. I really worry about people who have children without that desire or commitment to them. Wouldn’t it be better if not desiring to have children was the assumed default and people actively decided to change that. I know that we are still only a few generations into having enough effective control of our lives for this to happen but I think we can start to make that shift in thought.

  2. Thank you so much for writing this and for voicing the arguments I sometimes have trouble articulating. Like you, I don’t want children. I was 12 when I realised I would never be a mother. I am still grieving over the fact that I don’t want children, as weird as this may sound. I would’ve loved to love being a mother. But the thought of having children just fills me with high levels of stress. Like you, I worry sometimes that I will end up lonely when I am older. But having children would make me unhappy, and how can I make a child happy like that? I’ve been called selfish. I’ve been told “You’ll change your mind.” I’ve been told I can never be truly happy until I am a mother.

    I am grateful that my mr and I are on the same page. I don’t hate children – I have friends with kids and I love doting on them. I love leaving them with their parents when we go home. I love the quiet after an afternoon filled with chaos and activity. Does it make me a bad person? I sometimes still think so. So thank you for writing this. It helps knowing there are more people like me out there.

  3. Right on, and good for you! I didn’t think I wanted to be a mother when it got decided for me at age 22. I was married when I got pregnant (in spite of having Depo-Provera shots–grr!) I was terrified, but couldn’t face my husband or family with abortion as a suggestion. (We were Christian and intense about following the rules.)

    Fast forward through seventeen years: my now two kids are an incredible gift, but I wouldn’t force any human to parenthood if they didn’t want it.

    I wrote an anthem hoping that I can encourage others not to feel forced. One of these days, I hope to release it.

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