Do We All Want to Have Kids?
Ever been asked if you want kids?
You probably have at some point. I’ve been asked too many times to count.
Have you ever been asked if you want to be childfree?
Why not? Let’s dig a little deeper.
When I was in my early twenties, figuring out my life, I was asked the ‘Will-you-have-kids’ question a lot. I already knew the answer, but lacking confidence and fearing offending anyone, I would politely respond with “I don’t think so”. In turn, the asker would resort to pushing me, saying things like “You’ll reach an age where you want to have a kid,” or “After you’ve had all your fun, you’ll need meaning in life and want a family”.
I never believed these statements would apply to myself, but I did believe they applied to others. Now, I’m not confident that the people that say things like this even believe them.
In my early thirties currently, I still get asked the ‘Will-you-have-kids’ question. I now have the confidence to state my answer, without fear of offending anyone: “No, we don’t want kids. My wife and I are completely happy together childfree.”
Last week I said these exact words to a 39-year old female coworker who asked me if I wanted kids. She was silent for several long seconds before saying, “Good for you guys. My kids are a**holes.”
I thought she was sarcastic. She wasn’t. She continued on, saying that her three teenagers are asking her for money daily, won’t tell her what friends they hang out with, and drive her crazy. She says she’s on her second failed marriage, in part because of the amount of time she has to put into her children, has financial difficulties because of them, and hasn’t had a vacation in over 12 years. She later told me she had always wanted to live on a beach (she has lived in the Midwest her entire life) but that dream evaporated when she got pregnant.
Jessica (not her real name) was not the first one to open up like this to me. I’ve heard similar stories from parents, largely women, dozens of times over the years. Baby regret is a real thing, and, in my experience, seems to be far more common among those that have children while young (say, under 25 years old).
But why do so few admit it? And why try to push us Childfree individuals or couples to copy their aspirations?
The answer, in my opinion, is fairly straightforward: we fear misjudgment by our peers.
Humans are social, and much of what each individual does, and our resulting happiness, is deeply connected to our peers and what they think of us. To varying degrees, we all want at least some acceptance from each other, especially those that we respect or spend a lot of time with.
Hence, it’s easy and socially strategic to publicize yourself as someone that cares about and loves children, raising your own to be strong and smart and ready to contribute to the betterment of society. Couldn’t most of us consider this noble?
Outwardly, yes. Being an excellent parent is noble. Inwardly, however, as my coworker revealed to me, some or possibly many parents do not relish their role. They are stressed, see little benefit, and may feel like they made the wrong decision.
I believe that we overestimate how many of us truly wanted and still want to be raising children. There are many great parents who sincerely take pride in their role. But, though not obvious on the surface, there are many that don’t. They just aren’t as forthcoming.
We humans respect each other for aspiring to be an excellent parent, and pushing or teaching others to also be excellent parents. It’s therefore easy to aim for social acceptance by displaying this aspiration. Our default nature is to respect being a parent, and thus it’s easiest to gain respect by projecting yourself as a good parent that loves parenting.
By showing we love parenting, we are asking for social acceptance. Even if we don’t love parenting.
As for me? I respect someone who can identify and verbalize their true feelings about a decision, even if those feelings are frustration, stress orregret. I can’t respect someone who says the opposite of what they believe inside, especially when they push me — someone with enough years and experiences to have full confidence in my decision — to follow their path.
Not everyone wants children, and not everyone wanted children. Let’s stop pretending, and acknowledge what’s true. That’s what I, in my early twenties, needed to hear.