The Surprising Mental Phases Of Deciding You Aren’t Having Kids

July 18, 2019  |  
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My partner and I decided that we won’t be having children. We finally decided it—I mean really decided it. We’d danced around the topic for years. Having met when I was in my mid twenties and he was in his late twenties, there was a good chunk of time when we didn’t feel any pressure to make a final call on this matter. I guess that is one of the benefits of meeting your partner young. You don’t make a major decision like procreating because of some loudly ticking biological clock. I had several years with my partner before we really needed to look this issue in the face: will we have kids? When we met, if we touched on the subject (which was almost never), we’d say, “Sure, maybe! I might have kids.” A few years later, the words changed to, “Probably not” and “I don’t see that happening.” And now, well into our thirties, it’s become, “We are not having children.” However, I didn’t realize how many interesting mental phases would be on the other side of that decision. I haven’t changed my mind, but anyone who is grappling with the decision should just be prepared for these phases, so you know they’re normal.

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FREEEEEDOMMMM!!!

Naturally, at first, I felt like a weight had been lifted. I felt as if the world had just opened up. We can travel any time we want (funds allowing), without finding childcare or child-friendly accommodations. We can move wherever we want. We can work long hours on passion projects. Nobody will dictate our decisions but ourselves.

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Relief

There was also a sense of relief around the fact that the decision had been made. While I was younger, I resented the fact that it even was a decision to be made. The little rebel feminist in me hated that I live in a society where there is this big “Question mark” floating over a woman’s head until she’s decided—yes or no—on kids. Everyone sees that question mark. Everyone is wondering. But, now that it’s been decided, it’s a relief. I can’t change the fact that the decision to have kids (or not) is such a thing for women, but I can take relief in the fact that it’s done for me.

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I’m rich

I also felt financially wealthy. I didn’t realize that, before, on some small level, I had this whisper in my head. It said, “Hey. You should be saving money in case you have a kid.” But now that I know I’m not, it’s gone. I don’t have a tiny panic, every time I book an expensive hotel, that some child needed that money for karate lessons.

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So, the bloodline might end with me

This was an interesting mental development: the understanding that the bloodline might end with me. That’s a lot of pressure. I have one sibling, and she is undecided on kids. I secretly hope she just has them, so our generation doesn’t have to feel bad about ending our family’s bloodline. I wish my decision not to have kids didn’t affect so many other people. I didn’t mean to put an end to our bloodline. But, there is a nagging guilt that comes with that possibility.

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And my partner’s bloodline could end with him

I also look at my partner sometimes and think, “Though I do not want children, it’s a shame there won’t be more of him. He’s so good. There should be more people like him. And I’m kind of the only person in a position to do anything about that.” It’s just a thought that inevitably passes through your mind when you think your partner is awesome.

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Critically assessing my other goals

Then there was this realization: my other aspirations better make me really happy because they’re all I have now. Whereas at first, I had a sense of freedom because I knew I could go after my goals full throttle, with no kids stopping me, then there become this pressure on those goals. Really: nothing else will fill the void but my personal aspirations now. And that’s when I became aware of the void. It’s always there, threatening us. As humans, we do things like love, prosper, and make kids as a way of, honestly, distracting ourselves from mortality. I just deprived myself of one more distraction by deciding not to have kids.

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Pressure to make the most of it

I also feel more pressure now to be successful. I can’t blame motherhood for holding me back. I’ve given myself the time and freedom to go after my dreams so…I’d better damn well go after them. Yikes.

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A sudden understanding of the mind of parents

After these last few phases, I had this crazy moment: it was the first time I got a glimpse into the mind of people who do have kids. I had my, “Ah. This is why people have kids” breakthrough. They have them for lots of reasons, but these frightening recent mental phases could be some of them, and it was the first time I tapped into any of the motivations to have kids.

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But, that’s no reason to change my mind

All of this being said, it’s no reason to change my mind. I shouldn’t have kids as an excuse to avoid my goals and run from my fear of career failure. I shouldn’t have kids to honor my dead relatives, who thought they could rely on me to pass on the bloodline. When I say these things out loud, it’s so obvious to me that those are not good reasons to do something as major as having children.

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Maybe I should adopt five dogs

So I came more fully to terms with the anxieties that can come with deciding not to have kids, but then this other little feeling came up. I started thinking about adopting lots of dogs. Or perhaps buying a ranch and starting a dog rescue. I had this urge to care for something.

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Or volunteer more

I started looking into more volunteer work. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that! But it was interesting how strongly the urge came over me, seemingly out of nowhere.

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Oh. I do want to nurture someone

Then it hit me: I do have maternal instincts. Even if I don’t want to have and raise children, the desire to nurture someone is still in me. That’s why I started thinking about adopting all of these dogs or doing volunteer work. I have love and generosity to give and need to direct it somewhere.

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Again—that’s not a good reason to have kids

The need to nurture is still not a good reason to have kids. I want to give, but I don’t want to give my whole life over to motherhood. I can find ways to be nurturing within my current life. And I have. I’ve started being more of a helper to the people who already are in my life, making sure to extend a hand when I can and take more of an active role in improving the lives of my friends and family.

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It’s a guilty secret

I did realize that I now have to disappoint all of the people who really wanted me to have kids—and there are quite a few. There are some older family members who genuinely looked forward to my children as a high point in their lives, when they would otherwise perhaps be down and depressed. My parents, for example, really want me to have kids for their own reasons—and I can’t blame them. They won’t like this news.

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This is actually a big deal, in its own ways

As you can see, deciding not to have kids is a thing. I thought it would be a lack of a thing. I thought I’d just be relieving myself of confusing decisions and overwhelming emotions, but not so. It is a big decision, whatever you decide. And it affects your psyche.

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