No Children: The Moment I Realized I May Never Have Kids
I change my mind about things pretty frequently. One day I’m excited about being location independent, the next I’m thinking how great it would be to settle down in Portland for good. Over the holidays, I went down to the dog shelter and almost adopted a dog. I’m glad I didn’t — I can barely keep track of my own comings and goings, never mind another living being.
Recently, it’s beginning to dawn on me that, as inevitable as it once seemed, I may never get married or have kids. And I’m actually kind of relieved.
Growing up, I expected to partake in the cycle of marriage and parenthood. Most of the adults around me — my relatives, my grade school teachers — had. All of the sitcoms we watched revolved around nuclear families. Opting out of having kids of my own didn’t seem like an option.
It wasn’t that my parents put any pressure on me to provide them with grandkids — though I suspected that, with only one other sibling, the burden might eventually fall on me. Besides, how could I not? How could I not do the one thing that every single one of my ancestors throughout history had done, and pass on my genes?
Still, it seemed theoretical, something far enough in the future that I could revisit the idea in my late 20s or early 30s.
I’m 28 now, and I don’t feel any more ready for it.
Partly, that’s economical: I spent most of my early 20s scrambling to get by as a freelancer, and I’m only now finding myself on stable ground. Having kids anytime soon would be irresponsible.
And within my peer group — or at least within the circle of friends I went to college with — none are married or considering children. I don’t have any romantic partners ready to go in on a family 50/50.
As Molly Osgood puts it in a recent article on intentional communities: “the choice to rear children has become something akin to a luxury good.” For my generation, the math just doesn’t add up.
It’s not that I wouldn’t like to be a father; it’s just that, whenever I pictured the scenario, it went a little bit differently.
I thought that by the time I turned 30, I’d be earning enough money as a writer to support a family. I thought I’d have already traveled Europe, and had lots of great sex, and that I would be ready to get married and settle down. I thought I’d be living a life of abundance, with a community of friends to turn to split housing costs and help out with child care.
But I don’t want to half-ass fatherhood. I don’t want to raise kids on a freelancer’s income, or to cut corners on healthy food and doctor’s visits. I don’t want them to miss out on road-trips and summer camp and a good education.
My vision of what fatherhood could be like just doesn’t match up to what it would be like. And I think it’s time to lay the idea to rest.
At first, my change of heart caught me by surprise; it was the first time I’d ever reached that conclusion. Couldn’t I just push it off for another decade? Wait until I’m 40, or even 50? Why give up on the idea altogether?
I guess there’s a chance that the right opportunity could come along, but I don’t want to hold out hope for it. I’ll need time to recalibrate my plans — to reconsider what to devote my life to if not to raising a family.
There’s something scary to me about not having kids. I’m worried — genuinely worried — about what will become of me when I’m older. My extended family isn’t exactly close-knit; my college friends may pair off eventually. Do I want to grow old in an intentional community full of non-blood relatives?
What about partners? Do I pursue a life-long romantic relationship, or maintain my polyamorous trajectory? What if they have kids? Can I find the same kind of fulfillment as a surrogate father or uncle within my community?
But as I write this, I’m also feeling a kind of new-found freedom: I don’t sense the ghosts of future offspring looking over my back, wondering what they’ll think of my choices in life. I can stop hoarding all those old papers and college reports that I’ve long since lost interest in, but had been keeping around “for posterity.”
I can set time aside to write the books I’ve always wanted — books that could do some good for people on their own path of self-discovery. And I don’t have to worry about striking it rich — just rich enough to get by, to continue exploring new ideas and new communities well into my adulthood.
It’s hard to put aside old expectations about how our lives will or should look; for a long time, going childless seemed as unlikely to me as celibacy. But the more that I think about it, the more sense it makes.
The prospect of teaching a son or daughter how to live their life — of homework, and report cards, and grade school bureaucracy — sounds exhausting.
Going childless — or childfree, as some advocates put it — may actually enable me to contribute to society in a more impactful, more effective way, by freeing me from some of the constraints that a family would place on me.
I’ll be able to pursue my work with less anxiety, less hesitation, less inhibitions. I can take more risks, because I don’t have to worry about people depending on me — or at least, those that do will be willingly part of the journey.
Sure, I’ll be sad that I’ll never get to be a stay-at-home dad — but I’d rather make a conscious choice about the issue, rather than let it be decided for me.
I can keep hitting the snooze button on my biological clock — or, I can turn off the alarm altogether.