My wife and I were married at 23 years old - 12 years ago - and like most newly married couples we just assumed we’d have children one day. At the time we were married we gave ourselves 5 years to enjoy each other’s company and get ourselves established professionally and financially. Like most young couples we found those first few years difficult, as well. We had to adjust to married life and learn how to be good mates for each other. We each had to learn the other’s boundaries and breaking points as well as learn the type of trust that dating only partially provides. I don’t think having a child in these first five years would have been wise – it would have added loads of stress to those early years that many marriages don’t survive and more importantly the child would have suffered as a result. I recommend that any young couple getting married give themselves ample time to settle into the marriage before they decide to have children.
However, after 5 years I felt like we were just starting to get the hang of things. We had dealt with the biggest issues and I recognized we were going to be married for a long time. But we still weren’t ready for a family. We gave ourselves 5 more years. I had periods were I was sure that I did want kids (I actually enjoy children – as long as I can give them back) and periods when I wasn’t. I am more impetuous than my wife and I’d occasionally say, “Let’s just do it!” But it started to dawn on me that maybe she would never be ready. I’d prod her with statements like, “It gets harder to conceive as you get into your 30s...” At the end of another 5 years we had a discussion in which she stated that she just didn’t have the desire to have children. I think if either of us had been adamant about having them we could have convinced the other to acquiesce and we would be parents today. But we remained open-minded and thoughtful about the choice - yes we always saw it as a viable choice. But in the end there was just never a compelling argument for either of us. I immediately felt a sense of relief. We had a decision that we could make short- and long-term plans around. I began to feel like I will, in general, be comfortable financially for my entire adulthood. We’ll likely always have two incomes but never any child related expenses. We may even be able to retire early. I’d never be jealous of my own kids for my wife’s attention and affection. I’ll be able to enjoy the things in my life and not be consumed by the events in my children’s lives. We won’t have to sacrifice our sex life. We’ll have the freedom to travel whenever we’d like and to destinations that inspire us and not a 7 year-old. These were the things that preyed on my mind when contemplating parenthood and they were the weights that were lifted after our firm decision.
Up until the point when we solidified our decision we fielded only occasional questions from our families. Plenty of people wait longer than generations past to marry or have kids so I don’t think anyone thought much about it. After disclosing our decision to our families we were faced with their disappointment. We both come from good homes and supportive parents but it’s obvious that they would like grand-children (my brother, while not married, is also childfree). More important to me was this feeling that I was in unique territory. I knew that procreating is a choice but I had never heard or read anything about other people who had made this lifestyle choice and now I was very interested to hear what other childfree persons’ perspectives were. Do any regret their decision? Did they feel lonely later in life? How did they deal with the loss of friends as they have children and become inaccessible? How do they find like-minded people? How do they deal with the inevitable questions from those without the same perspectives? That’s how I fell into your blog and I feel very glad that I did. It really helped to center me and realize that it’s really not a risky choice. The risky choice is having kids.
I can safely say that a man suffers less judgment from society on this issue. For example, most of my male colleagues and friends have children (in fact all of the married ones and some of the unmarried ones) but they rarely discuss them at length. They may come up in passing but family seems more a matter of intimate detail and frankly I think most men realize that other guys don’t really care what your kid’s GPA is or if it has a propensity toward mechanics. Moreover, many men don’t really care what others think of ourselves so passing judgment is of no consequence - I certainly know I could care less what any individual beyond my family thinks of my choice to not have kids. I try to pass my ambivalence for societal judgment to my wife but she’s more affected by criticism – especially from other women, most notably her mother. On the other hand, no man has ever been critical of my choice nor have I ever sensed any judgment from a male. Several have even expressed envy and one has even confessed a growing resentment for his wife over his feeling that she bullied him into parenthood before he was ready.
In the end, we just realized that we didn’t want children. No noble motives… just the sense to take time to make a well-considered choice, the realization about what was right for us and the courage to disregard societal pressures.