Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Authority on Regret - Revisited

One of the neat features of SiteMeter is that it tells me how people find my blog. Sometimes, people find my blog through other blogs who link to this one (thank you!). In other cases, people do internet searches for particular terms and end up here.

Here is an interesting tidbit for you. The most common type of internet search that directs people to my blog is along these lines:

"Will I regret not having kids?"
"Do childfree people have regrets?"

I find this interesting for a number of reasons. First, fear of regret is something that appears to be a serious concern for a whole lot of people, particularly those who are considering making the decision not to have children. This has always been interesting to me and in fact, I wrote about it once before.

Where does this fear of regret come from and more importantly, why isn't there an equally powerful fear of regret concerning having children? After all, if a person choses not to have children and changes her mind later, she can always adopt. The reverse, however, is not true. One cannot have a child and then change their mind. Given the permanency of having children, not to mention the lifetime of sacrifice, burden and obligation that comes with it, it is my argument that that type of regret should be the type to elicit fear and send people racing to the internet to research whether they will regret their decision later.

Where does the fear of regret concerning childfreedom come from? It stems from one thing - being constantly inundated from every angle with this message - and believing it:

"If you don't have children, you will regret it later."

And again, as I stated in my previous post on this subject, my question to you is this: who are the people conveying this message and what first-hand knowledge and experience do they have of regrets incurred from not having children? Can a childed person speak authoritatively on the subject of childfree regret? If your answer is no, my second question is this: is it adviseable to believe messages that come from inexperienced and ill-informed people?

To those reading this blog who are plaqued with concerns over possible long-term childfree regret: if you truly want to know whether the childfree life is one of regret, question a childfree person directly and see what he or she has to say. There are many of us out here and some of us are old enough to evaluate the regret issue with authority.

As for me, I am in my 40s and not only do I not regret my choice, I grow more grateful for it and certain of it with each passing year, and my gratefulness only intensifies when I compare my life to those around me with children. To that end, the next time you hear parents bitching and moaning about their children and about how hard parenting is, how much they have given up, how they have no life anymore, etc., really listen to them. Observe them objectively and ask yourself if they seem happier than you and if the life they lead is one that a person would regret if they did without it. Don't let the fictional "parenthood is all puppies and rainbows" message fool you into falling into step with the vast, mindless flock of sheep.

Only when we evaluate parenthood critically and for what it truly is, instead of through the unrealistic, rose-colored pronatalist lens our culture foists upon us, can we make well-informed decisions that will result in the life that is best for us - a satisfying and fulfilling life that is void of worries of regret.

In closing, when a parent tells you with authority that a life without children is one of regret, just remember this simple and very wise slogan:

(And remember who the real authorities are)


Sara said...

This is a great question to bring up, because it goes to the heart, I think, of why so many people do end up having children who really shouldn't.

I think most people tend to assume that the "majority" decision must of course be the "right" one, the logical one, and the lifestyle choice of the minority - the childfree - must then naturally fall under suspicion.

Miss Mo said...

Beyond parents, the media programs women to believe that NOT having a kid is inherently something that, if you don't regret it will regret it later. Just you wait.

Any TV show that features a single woman past the age of 30 eventually creates a storyline of her desperate desire to have a kid.

A glutton for punishment, I often watch "The Bachelor"...and so often these women are frantically desperate to marry The Bachelor and have kids with him. But they talk about it as a goal, not a genuine and well thought-out life choice.

These are women who are perfect in the eyes of society: thin, blandly pretty, squealing and willing to humiliate themselves to land a man. So to them, being a mother may be one more perfect quality to attain.

For them, it's a failure not to be a Mom, just as it would be a failure for them to be fat, have bushy eyebrows, or not know how to do their hair fifteen different ways. It's that trivial.

fbritt said...

love this post!! thanks so much for articulating how i feel so well ;) i have always been so frustrated by the fact that people don't think harder about the possibility that they might regret HAVING children. the worst thing that could happen if you regret not having kids . . . is that you are sad that didn't have kids!! the worst thing that could happen if you HAVE kids and THEN regret it??? well, ask all the kids in the foster care system or the kids who are neglected by parents who don't have the time, skills or desire to parent. i have worked with teens for about 10 years, many of whom could probably make a great case for the importance of making sure you don't have a child before thinking about whether you might regret it . . . grrrrrrrr.

Childfreeeee said...

Hi Sara,

I had the same thought - I wonder how many people have kids simply because they fear they will regret it if they do not. Scary.

I think you are right too that people assume that whatever the majority is doing must be the right choice. I have never followed that mindset. In fact, I am suspicious of anything that is too common or accepted.

Miss Mo -

So true about the media. Rarely if ever do they portray childfree/childless people who are happy and fulfilled in their lifestyle. Always not having children is portrayed as a problem needing to be corrected. Another reason these messages are pounded into our head. There are no other prominent voices.

fbritt - you nailed it. Having regrets of having children is far more serious than having regrets of not having children. And again, there's always adoption if a person changes their mind.

eyp said...

I remember during a community health class I took in nursing school, the teacher was drawing a graph of the evolution of a marriage. It starts off well, then dips dramatically during the childrearing years, and finally, goes back up during the empty nest years. This was to illustrate how men's and women's lives develop and change during a life cycle, and they all seemed to revolve around childrearing. I finally raised my hand to ask, "Well, what if a woman does NOT have kids?" I remember the teacher not only looking confused but also fumbling over his reply, which was something like, "Well, that would follow a different graph."
It's like a childfree lifestyle doesn't even ENTER a lot of people's minds as a totally valid choice. It is so aggravating, and I love the refuge of this website. You express thoughts that, if I were to mention them to other people including girlfriends, would elicit crazy looks.

Childfreeeee said...

Hi eyp,

Yes that whole lifespan of a married couple revolving around childbearing takes the cake. It's like we childfree people don't exist. And what about childless people? I am sure it is equally offensive to them that their marriages are not even recognized.

I am glad you find this blog a validating refuge. It serves the same purpose for me. If I walked around spouting off the stuff I vent about in here, I am sure I would get a lot of dirty looks too!

Me said...

While I agree with 99% of this post, I have to say that the "if a person choses not to have children and changes her mind later, she can always adopt" phrase is not totally accurate. The misnomer of adoption is that there is some surplus of babies somewhere and anyone who wants one can just go pick one up. In reality, there are fairly strict requirements for adoption. You have to have a certain income level, a certain family history, be below a certain age, etc. It also costs a TREMENDOUS (usually >$20K) amount of money.

Stacey said...

The book Childfree And Loving It by Nicki Defago has many accounts of women who regretted having children.

This is a great blog!

sharah said...

I'll throw this idea out there - I'm infertile. I don't want to adopt. So my choices are childless or going through invasive treatment, neither one of which is very appealing. So I'm trying now to figure out which one will cause me less heartache later on (this is all based on the assumption that treatment will work, which could be completely false). I'm not contesting anything you said, but it's a slightly different headspace for someone who wanted children and are worried about passing up the only chance they might have.

Childfreeeee said...

Hi Me,

I am not an expert on adoption, but what about adopting foster children? Everyone wants to adopt a baby but there are many homeless children who can be fostered and then adopted for what I assume is much less expensive than adopting an infant from an agency.

Regarding the requirements for adoption (income, etc), this may sound harsh but the requirements like income, etc. sound very sensible to me. I think too many people have children who cannot afford to support them properly. If a person cannot meet the basic requirements to adopt, maybe they should think more carefully as to whether they are in a suitable situation for having children.

Sharah, I sypathize with your plight, but my post isn't really referring to people who WANT kids but can't. It's referring to people who DON'T want kids (or are pretty sure they don't want them), but are fearful if they don't have them they will regret it later because the "you will regret it" message is pounded into their heads. Sadly, this fear of regret actually spurs people who have no desire to have children into having them with a travesty to everyone involved, especially the children who end up with parents who resent their existence.

eyemandy said...

It's sad how little adoption enters people's minds when thinking of children - having them or not having them; waiting or not waiting.

It's true that the adoption process isn't easy, but what part of raising a child is? If you can't pass screening tests for someone to give you a child, chances are you should not have a child.

I'm staunchly child-free, but I know I may change my mind when I'm older. I'm 29. I'm considering around 45 to be "older" enough to know if I'm ever going to want to be a mother. I'll adopt at 45 if I change my mind.

It is never too late to be a mother; some people confuse birthing a child with being a mother.

Temujin said...

I just found the blog recently and I'm slowly making my way back through the posts.

Predicting whether you will feel regret or not is really tricky. I just finished reading the book _Stumbling on Happiness_, all about the way that the human mind tries to work out what makes us happy. There's a lot of research that shows that people are UNBELIEVABLY BAD at predicting how they will feel at some future point, even if they really sit down and think about it.

I'm 40, never had kids and never really wanted to. I suppose that could change, but something tells me if I haven't felt it by now I probably never will. If I can't be sure myself, then it's REALLY a stretch for someone who has kids to predict how a childfree person would feel without them.

Unknown said...

this post is a breath of fresh air.