Should You Have Kids? - Christine Kane

My friend Naomi, a successful consultant in the Bay Area, told me that an invitation arrived in her office mailbox one day. It was for her 20th high school reunion.

She opened it.  She looked at it. And she looked around her office and said to no one, “Oh my God! I forgot to have kids!”

I think of Naomi when I get emails requesting that I write an article about choosing to have children or not.

Now, I’m not sure if the people writing these emails are looking for advice, or if they want me to convince them make one choice or the other – but I do know it’s a delicate topic.  So, this week, I’ll look at it from different angles.

Here’s something to remember.

When it comes to making life decisions, there’s no amount of “convincing” that will work.  Decisions are deeper than “reasons.”  Reasons are mental activity. Decisions are of the soul and the will.

Besides, I only know what it’s like to not have children.  I’m sure I’d write a different article if I ever chose to reproduce or adopt.  All choices come fully equipped with highs and lows, gifts and sacrifices, fears and fallacies.  There’s no right answer here.

The pressure to have kids is definitely present in any woman’s life.  Actually, I’m not sure if “pressure” is the right word.  Perhaps “assumption” is a more accurate word.  “You’re a woman. You will want children.”

In my experience, there are a few universal beliefs about having children that often accompany this assumption:

– Kids make you less selfish

– Kids teach you how to love unconditionally

– Kids keep you young

– Kids show you your life purpose

– Kids will make you less lonely when you get old

– Kids will take care of you when you’re feeble-minded

(I happen to believe you could insert many words into those statements. Try “Art,” for instance. Or “Dogs.”)

Now, some of these are lovely, true, and powerful reasons.

But some of them come from a place of fear.  And I happen to believe that fear is a lousy motivator.

For instance, an older woman once told me that having kids would prevent me from getting old all alone.  A moment of panic set in.  “Quick!” shouted the committee in my head. “Get pregnant!  You don’t ever want to be alone!”

But here’s the thing.

When you make choices out of fear, then you set your life up to be about avoiding pain, not about moving towards love.

As some success coaches ask: “Are you playing to win?  Or are you playing to not lose?”   (“Do you want to have children? Or are you afraid not to?”)

When it comes down to it, the deepest reason to have kids seems to be:

“Because I truly want them.”

It’s a deeper longing.  A knowing that parenthood is the right thing. It goes beyond “reasons.”

Now, this isn’t to say that there aren’t some unbalanced emotional longings behind those longings.  Like, how cool Angelina Jolie looks in all her pregnant photos and wanting to be that cool.  Or how boring our marriage has become so let’s have a kid.  Or that it’s just the next thing you’re supposed to do because you can’t think of anything else.

So, then, as with any decision, I would begin here:

“What is the motivation behind the choice?”  “What’s the longing behind the longing?”

You might find a mix of really deep reasons and really dumb reasons. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have kids if you find some fearful or petty stuff among your answers. But the awareness of that stuff might go a long way to making you a happier parent, and making it a deeper choice.

  • Farnoosh

    Another fantastic follow-up to the last post – Gosh I LOVE your writing voice and your writing style and I am so so happy to have found you, Christine – and as for the topic, who says kids will take care of you? I know many parents who spend holidays alone and how many parents spend their lives in nursing homes alone? Far too many. There is no guarantee what your child will want to do and who they will become and I like more certainty than not, if I can help it! You did not mention how limited the choices become – how every decision now has to weigh in the interest of a child – and how excitement will vanish momentarily as necessity and exhaustion and boredom takes over in the raising of a baby – and how our bodies as women change and never to be the same again – and how expensive children are and …. Well, anyway. For me, I simply wish I could just write it off and be done with it but a part of me has doubts and most of it is from the pressures I get from others. Thankfully, my husband doesn’t care to have children one way or another….! Thank you again. Off to your next post!

  • Wendy Maynard

    I am an entrepreneur and was single until 38.

    Then life changed. I got married to a man with the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever met. And we decided to have a child. Our motivators? We realized that we could be wonderful parents together and that a child would enhance our lives together.

    Now I am a 40-year old mother to an 11-week old son. He is absolutely beautiful. I am completely in awe of motherhood, as well as being utterly bewildered by who I am in the midst of it. Motherhood weaves itself through everything else that I do. As an entrepreneur who has always valued productivity as a measure of success, I am learning to surrender to “being” instead of always “doing.”

  • chrissie diangelus

    And sometimes, God just makes up His mind for you. We weren’t trying nor were we preventing it, but certainly thinking kids were a few more years away when poof, little lines appeared on a pregnancy test (and several more test later to convince myself), I was pregnant last fall. Now we have Mitchell who I tell every night – you are the best gift ever.

    There are a few things on your list that have inadvertently happened as a result, but for once, I am so happy it just happened and I didn’t plan…or think about reasons…I didn’t ponder a decision. Yes, we were open to the idea of kids, so after the shock wore off, we were pretty excitement that it wasn’t about us but rather, our faith in a higher being that guided us.

  • Christina C.

    Kathy, I agreed with you totally about the babysitting thing. I never did dream big about getting married and having children. Babysitting was purely financial and chosen carefully if funds were low.

    A few years later I found myself pregnant and getting married…and in my 9th month crying to my OB/GYN that I didn’t want to go through with it. He laughed and told me that women had been having children for years prior to my current predicament and that I’d survive. He was right…

    26 years later I found that I was able to not only keep my children alive and healthy, but I actually enjoyed being a Mom. I don’t have kids anymore but adults who are proving to be mirrors of my hopes and expectations of what I wanted to instill in them.

    I keep telling them that the world is their oyster, that I love them and that I am proud of them. Am I waiting for grandchildren…of course I am…but unfortunately neither of my children are focused in that direction…and that is OK…because it is their choice to make.

  • Deb

    I question the assumption that having children means one will not be alone when old. Children can choose to move away from the parents (both physically and emotionally). Children can pass before their parents. Children are born with the responsibility of caring for their parents. Yet it’s one of the common lines used when discussing having or not having children. That you will not be alone when you old.

    I do not have children. If I am alone when old, or if I’m not, it will be my responsibility NOT anyone else’s.

  • Kate

    elizabeth gilbert (in eat,pray, love) says something like : having a child is sort of like getting a tatoo on your face – you need to be absolutely certain before you commit.

    that said, i had a child, quite by accident and then by choice (in my reaction and attitude about being pregnant and going forward with it). and, i have come to LOVE the tatoo on my face and wonder how i ever faced a day or lived without it.

  • Randy

    I’ve thought about commenting on your blog about this subject for a couple of years. And now, of course, it’s 11pm and I’m tired and I can’t come up with anything more eloquent than this: as part of the intro to Right Outta Nowhere at a concert in Chapel Hill (Jan/Feb 2005), you talked a little about the philosophy behind “leap and the net will appear”. My wife and I had just started seriously considering having a child and those words came at just the right time to aid my introspective searching. I ended up committing, somewhat hesitantly, to the same direction in which my wife was already leaning. The result was the arrival of the most wonderful little guy in the entire world. Thank you for sharing your amazing songwriting talents with all of us and for some extremely well-timed words that helped me discover the absolute greatest joy in the entire world.

  • AlisonG

    Lisa, I really resonated with what you wrote.

    I had a deep fear of getting pregnant that came out of my teenage years (seeing my mother have two kids and become chronically ill and depressed) and the fear lasted well into my marriage. I was very afraid of losing myself and my art and my mental and physical health if I became a parent. I seriously intended to be “child-free”, but then my husband challenged me by getting baby lust. I felt that, out of respect for his longing, I needed to confront my fears about having kids and come to a more authentic decision. It took quite a few years for me to get there. I never felt a full-on yes, more like a shaky but resolved “yes for this little step.” Kind of like talking myself across a rickety bridge. But underneath that I knew that parenting could be a good thing if I did the work to take care of myself. We chose adoption to build our family, and now we have a delightful two-year-old and another waiting for us in China. My shaky “yes” has bloomed into a quiet “of course, this is exactly right.”

  • Joy

    Wow! What a huge topic. I feel as though I’m afraid to have kids, I don’t want another human to rough through a childhood, even remotely close to mine.
    My well-meaning in-laws insist that I will change my mind and suddenly decide to have a whole passel of children. Simply to satiate them, the thought has crossed my mind to procreate, and that lead to an extremely heart wrenching miscarriage. Now, lots of confusion remains. My head says “If it’s not an absolute yes, then it’s an obvious no.” However my heart then says, “Boy, that was crazy painful, maybe we were looking forward to that cute little onsie and all night rocking sessions.”

  • Jannie Funster

    Obviously it’s a highly personal decision.

    My much long-for sweet one finally came after 3 miscarriages and a string of female operations.

    Advice…”Kids don’t make your life any easier, just better.”

  • Lisa

    In Helen Hunt’s recent movie, “And Then She Found Me,” Helen’s charachter
    says something like, “I know I want to have a baby like you know you need to
    pee.” Earthy language, but I understand exactly what she means. My own experience
    of longing for a child was a physical longing which started in my womb, rose up through my heart, and extended through my arms to wrap around the baby that was never there.
    I waited for the man and the relationship that never came along. One man was a good lover for me but I knew I didn’t want to have his child so I was very careful–to the point of never having intercourse–not to get pregnant with him. A couple of other relationships around when I was 40 never progressed to the point of partnership or babies. Ironically one man who I really loved was insistent about the foolishness of getting pregnant “too soon,” but was willing to be careless about birth control, whereas I was the one careful about it–because I wanted to make a baby on purpose with a man I loved. And because the idea of being a single mom was scary. So here I am at 47 and I’m over the fierceness of grieving for never having a family, but it’s still a dull ache. So my fear was perhaps on the other side of the equation. Other women I know wanted a baby and weren’t as picky about the dad or the partnership and now they have families, often with men who aren’t the dad of their kids. And I’m still single. So I guess fear comes in lots of different flavors.

  • Suzanne

    While I have always been one of those people who always just knew I wanted children I don’t believe that children are the only path to personal fulfillment or the only way to truly experience love. I love what a previous poster said about “giving birth” to a lot of different things in life and I believe that this is true. I have three year old twins and though my husband and I would love more that does not seem to be in the cards. Although I believe that the universe will deliver me whatever I need I must admit there is some sadness involved in the realization that I’ll probably never give birth to another child. I do examine quite often my motivation for wanting another as I think there are plenty of other ways to fulfill our maternal sides. Long story short I think that giving birth to a child is a beautiful thing, but we all have to find our own path to happiness and not everyone’s path involves parenthood.

  • Christine Kane

    sue – that’s wild. I remember one of my best friends had a child and couldn’t have another. she was very unhappy about this. and i asked her if she was happy with one child. and she said yes, but that if it (her daughter) died, it’d be good to have another one. you reminded me of that whole philosophy!

  • Sue

    This is so fun to read! I always knew I realy wanted children, what I didn’t expect was how many people then bothered me about how MANY I’d have. Whew, everyone had an opinion! Someone even told me I should have more than 2 in case something happened to one of them! Yikes, should I have an extra husband too, just in case?
    Then there was the, “You ARE breastfeeding right?! You ARE going to stop working right?!” sort of people, and the march goes on…
    Love the openness here to honor whatever is right for each person and knowing the depth behind the ‘reason’. Great post!

  • Thien-Kim

    Thanks so much for this article. We have an almost 3 year old, and of course everyone assumes we’re going to have a 2nd child. We’re not sure yet. but I agree above that you could sub Art in all of those reasons and it would still work.

    Thanks for reminding me that fear should never be the main reason a decision is made.

  • Christine Kane

    wow! Really amazing comments everyone! I just arrived at my hotel room in Austin – and I’ve loved reading these. there are so many perspectives. It’s amazing how everyone seems conscious and aware that their choice was/is perfect for them! More tomorrow!

  • Annie Binns

    Such a thoughtful post, Christine! Like many of the commenters before me, I too never felt the burning desire to have children.

    However, becoming an aunt (2) and a stepmother (1) have both been the most wonderful events of my life. If a mother’s love is any more than mine for these children, I can not begin to imagine it. I am happy beyond belief with the children in my life; and this includes those moments when they return to their mothers’ houses and I can breath a sigh of relief!

  • Diane

    There are few things that I know for sure. I knew from the time I was a little girl that I wanted a child and wanted to be a mother. I loved being pregnant and I’ve loved all the stages of my son’s life. I often tell people you don’t know what love is until you have a child…it is just different.

    My friends that look the youngest don’t have children! I think if someone isn’t sure then they shouldn’t have children. Like Oprah says, “Doubt means don’t”

    My son’s dad had two children by a previous marriage. We had dated a few months when I asked him if he wanted more children. He said “NO” and I said okay we need to break up. He said, “Whoa…maybe I’ll change my mind.” Long story short he knew I wouldn’t marry him if he didn’t want children…he eventually convinced me that he did want another child. We had a beautful smart happy boy.
    However, he had been there done that and did not enjoy fatherhood. He was very jealous of the time a baby needs. My point is if you don’t really really really want a baby then you do need to listen very carefully to the committee in your head!

  • Jen

    When I was young I assumed I would be married with two kids, a dog and a cat.

    Now, I’m almost 40, been married 15 years to the love of my life and have no desire for children.

    I keep thinking I’m supposed to wake up one morning and know it’s time.

    I’m still waiting for that to happen.

    Thanks for writing this and letting me know that I’m not the only one out there who doesn’t want kids.

  • Mark

    Really great post Christine.

    I’m not a dad, but as a creative person, I feel like I give birth to things all the time…so until I meet “the one” I really don’t feel an overwhelming desire to take on the stresses and sacrifices that come with having kids, beautiful as they can be.

    I also notice that many parents (and moms) tend to complain a lot. Worry a lot. Stress a lot. They express gratitude for the precious minutes of alone time. Then there’s the staggering amount of kids born with autism, etc. None of this sounds like fun to me. It sounds like a lifetime of emotional and financial stress. Is it worth the trade-off of freedom to come and go as you please and enjoy a more easygoing life?

    So I guess the question is: Is a person’s life less “real” for not having kids? If one chooses against having kids, is one missing out on a deeply necessary life experience? Or is one simply being smart?

  • Irene

    This was a question of mine for a while. I love children and I thought since I did like the rest of my family I should have them. Different cross-road made me decide otherwise. I have nephews and nieces great-nephews and great-nieces that I cherish every day. Unconditional love comes different direction and they do not have to be your own kids. I know I am hear for different adventures and I enjoy them every moment. We can learn, develop, grow and cherish the same thoughts with or without children.
    I take pleasure in their laughter, games and curiosity from my nephews and nieces and their kids. They are great gifts and I would not trade this adventure for anything. Beside to me they are all my kids.

  • Carissa

    I really appreciate your thoughts on this. I am coming to terms with the fact that I really don’t want to have children. And I am working through all of the layers of that decision.

    One of the great invitations of my life right now is finding a way to honor the generative quality of my life without the physical manifestation of children. This feels like new territory. Our culture doesn’t quite know what to do with women who choose not to have children.

    I love the words of the irreverent Anne Lamott on the subject:

    “Let me say that not one part of me thinks you need to have children to be complete, to know parts of yourself that cannot be known any other way. People with children like to think this, although if you are not a parent, they hide it – their belief that having a child legitimizes them somehow, validates their psychic parking tickets. They tell pregnant women and couples and one another that those who have chosen not to breed can never know what real love is, what selflessness really means. They like to say that having a child taught them authenticity.

    This is a total crock. Many of the most shut-down, narcisstic, selfish people on earth have children. Many of the most evolved, the richest in spirt, the most giving, do not. The exact same chances for awakening, for personal restoration and connection exist for breeders and nonbreeders alike….”

  • Kathy

    I am not one of those women who always dreamed of having children. I was the oldest of four girls and even as a young person chose my babysitting gigs carefully. If I didn’t need the money, I wouldn’t have even done that. It’s not that I don’t like children, it’s the conflict part I fear with my “amiable” leadership style. And we had lots of conflict growing up. My mom and dad differed greatly on how to raise kids – my dad with an iron hand, expectations beyond anything we could deliver – my mom with a Masters in Education and a kindergarten teacher with a much more nurturing approach. Two of my sisters have wonderful children, the third sister would have if she could have but had childhood cancer and long term side effects that prevented that. But they are all the kind of women who always dreamed of having kids.

    I married my husband when I was 44 – just two years ago – and he has a 30 year old son. I am thrilled being an aunt and I will be pysched to be a grandmother. But I truly have no regrets not having kids of my own. I occasionally get a pang of guilt from not meeting expections of others but I quickly douse those because I know it’s not about what anyone else thinks….it’s about what I think … and feel. Might I be missing out on some of those unexpected benefits and learnings so eloquently stated by your mom readers? Maybe. But I’m getting my own learnings through my experiences that I might never have had if I chose to have children. I’ve travelled far and wide and have a tremendously rewarding career, am independent, self sufficient, and have finally made room for the love of my life. There’s no right or wrong answer here for anyone. I believe the universe delivered exactly what it was supposed to, what I “intended” consciously or subconsciously. Maybe that’s true for all of us.

    • Kenneth

      Im 43 and my wife will be 45 in august. we have been married 18 yrs and i wanted atleast one kid of my own, but we never had any. dont want to start having them at this age, back in my 20,s i wanted them. having a baby is a beautiful thing and i wish it would have happened to us. im happy with where i live, i love my wife, i have a good job. have a CDL. have a 4 yr old that is like a grandkid to us. our neices little girl. i have to have family. .guess i just have to live with it. just wonder if there anybody else in my position

  • Jeanie

    As a mid-thirtysomething newly married woman, I am often asked “when are you having kids?” I (childishly) take delight in saying “I can’t have children”… which makes the person asking feel and look decidedly uncomfortable and embarrassed. And they should be. What a rude thing to ask someone. Of course, their assumption that I’m cut up about not having kids is just plain silly. I’ve never wanted my own kids. I have a wonderful little stepson whom I adore, and my husband and I are quite happy with our situation. I believe it is more important to ask yourself what you can do for the child you’ll bear, rather than what having a child will do for you. I know that beyond my physical limitations, I’m not emotionally/mentally equipped to raise a child. In my opinion, too many people have kids because that’s what is expected of them. Think it through. And think it through again. If it still feels right, go for it. If not, wait. And wait some more. Maybe you’ll change your mind, maybe you won’t. And that’s ok too.

  • Mindful Mimi

    When I was 32 and single I ended up making peace with the fact that I’d never have kids. I still had hopes for the man of my dreams. But the kids things was done made peace with. I always wanted kids, but preferably with a loving husband and solid relationship. Since at 32 I had neither, since it takes a while to get to know someone really well enough to even consider any big project like kids and since I did not want to be ancient when having babies I had settled with the idea that I’d be happy without them.
    I am not almost 39 and mother of two. With a loving husband, a house (no dog) and all that goes with it. I think I had the husband for all the universal belief reasons that you named above 🙂 Wrong, I had nothing to do with it. He was the one who figured I needed ‘saving’ 🙂

    So my kids were born just out of love, of creating something together, of wanting them so truly, badly.
    And the result amazes me every day. I mean look at them:

  • Claire

    Hi. Love the topic as it’s one often brushed aside. I’ve got some thoughts around doing things out of fear, that you brought up at the end but for me there’s more there. Sometimes we do big things out of fear, big things that become our lives. And one of those things may be having children, or getting married or moving, etc. Probably mostly a mix of fear and other, more positive reasons. But still, we do have to live with those choices, and it’s good to gain a positive perspective. Sometimes I wonder if I married the right person; I knew this at the time and it’s something that probably makes our relationship better when I accept that “right” doesn’t have to mean “perfecteverything.” And I only have one, very very wanted child, and wonder if I committed myself to wanting more children and I couldn’t what would that mean – so I had some fearful reasons for having one, and some fearful reasons for not having more. But I have the one, and he’s wonderful, and he’s easy to be positive about. So, I suppose all I am saying is (and I think you’d and a lot of this blog’s readers would agree) that the conscious, positive reflection on our lives can be more helfpul than old decisions.

  • brandi

    My husband’s aunt turned to me at our rehearsal dinner and asked me if we were going to start trying to conceive on the honeymoon. I was tempted to ask her if she wanted to come along and watch. 😉

    living in a southern state-with ‘traditional’ values, I often get this question. It’s not ‘are you going to have kids’, it’s ‘when are you going to have kids’.

    the truth is, my husband and I don’t want kids right now and we reserve the right to change our mind if the time comes. And we’ll do it together and for US, not just to bring another life into the world because society assumes it.

    thank you for this post-I have so loved the positive impact this little spot on the internet has had in my life!

  • Tracy

    Hi Christine,
    Sorry for the disjointed messages. Apparently, it’s too early for me to operated my computer. I am giving up now!


  • Tracy

    Hi Christine,
    This subject is one that I had to visit a few times: having decided I wasn’t interested in children, I became unexpectedly getting pregnant in my mid 20’s and choosing to get married. The decision was definitely one of those choices that came from that deeper place. It sure didn’t make any finanancial or relationship sense. My soul, however, was speaking very clearly. I have thanked God for that decision every day in the 21 years since. I used parenthood as a crossroads and mustered the courage to do many things I was too scared to before. My daughter has contributed to me in ways I never expected, because I was willing to let her change me.
    my mid thirties after remarrying a man who had never had children of his own. It’s amazing how my perspective changed in ten years. My husband and I decided that we had a different focus in life than raising children at this point in our lives. We are quite hapy to wait for grandchildren.

  • Tracy

    Hi Christine,

  • Susanne

    And then it’s also a good thing to remember that having children or not isn’t always our choice to make. There are quite a few people out there who want them, and can’t, and then there are others who got them without really wanting.

    In my case I was fortunate because I did want to have children eventually, so while it was just a bit earlier than I would have wanted, getting pregnant was okay with me.

    And then there’s that “inexplicable in-your-gut longing” Pippa talked about which I wouldn’t have thought possible for me until I experienced it. (That was after I already had a child. And no, there won’t be a second one. I’m not slave to my hormones. Well, not much, anyway.)

  • Pippa

    Ah, the longing behind the longing! There you hit the real question, the core beneath so much of what we desire.

    And I absolutely agree, Christine, that there is a difference between “reasons” and that deep-down inexplicable in-your-gut longing.

    When I wanted a kid, I also examined the “reasons” but I could not come up with a single one, except I WANT TO. That applies to so much of life.

    Beautiful pic, btw!

    Love & light

  • Linda

    I had two children and adopted one hardly without a thought. I was born in the age where children were a given, I think. I don’t think I was the best mother-I found it very hard going-but now I have grandchildren and I find the whole experience delightful. Maybe because the whole responsibility of raising them isn’t mine. It’s a mystery.

  • Tim

    Christine, you have a committee in your head? I never heard of that before! I just assumed that everyone as a single voice in their head. Now I am all curious! Why is their a committee? Is there a chairperson? Do the committee members have specific roles? Do they have differing views? Is it like parliament?

    Maybe a whole article there 🙂


  • Teartaye

    she looked around her office and said to no one, “Oh my God! I forgot to have kids!”

    That’s hilarious!

    Personally, I never really wanted children until I met my current boyfriend. The thought of a little combination of us running around does make me swoon.

    I’m still debating it though. There are days I want a kid and days I don’t.

    I figure I’m only 23: I have another 15 years or so until I get to that point. I lean towards no, though. It’s just not a definite no any longer. (Don’t worry; I won’t have a child unless it becomes an absolute yes ;))

    • Samantha

      “The thought of a little combination of us running around does make me swoon.”

      See, now this is the last reason I would have a kid, but I think it’s a reason many people do. People shouldn’t call it “having children,” they should call it “having eventual adults.” I think many women are a little too baby crazy. I am a woman and I’ve never been like that. It’s definitely an ego thing. I mean, look at Mother Teresa. She didn’t have kids and no one would ever say she was selfish!

  • Cate

    Wow, Christine, who took that beautiful photo? Kudos to whoever she (you?) or he is. Lovely.

    I also appreciated the reflection on decision-making, of course.

  • Wendy

    As a single mother of two, I am not sure I believe all of those assumptions! For example, when I fall to bed exhausted after a long day with two wild kids, I do not feel like they are keeping me young. My thoughts are more along the lines of, ‘I used to have more energy!’

    I just wanted to point out that before I had children, I could not comprehend why some women would not want to have children. It seemed unfathomable to me. Now that I have had mine, I can completely understand that point of view. Not that I have ever wished I didn’t have mine, I love them and am grateful for them even on the worst days. Its just that the reasons for not having them make so much more sense and I would never try to talk anyone out of that choice.

    Just my two cents. 🙂