Guidance for Women Who Don’t Want Kids

You’re a woman and you don’t want kids.  Does this mean you’re some flawed freak?  Certainly not.  There is no law that says all women must want kids.  In fact, there are many very sound reasons to not want kids. In this post, I’ll discuss some of the more common ones and perhaps some of these reasons will help you make sense out of what you’re feeling. Realize that beating yourself up over not wanting kids is like shaming yourself for liking chocolate—it’s pointless and self-destructive.  Rather than criticize yourself for something that’s wired in, view your preferences as the educational things that they are.  Your preferences change a lot as you go through life, and your current preferences help you understand who you are, how you think, and what your priorities are.  The better you understand yourself, the easier maturing becomes. 

Priorities

Let’s start with the basics.  Suppose I said to you, “Hey, how about you learn to become a concert cellist?  It will take you many years of obsessive study, you’ll have to practice every day, and you’ll pretty much have no life beyond your instrument.  What do you say?” 

Here you might say, “Um, no thanks.  I can think of much better ways to spend my life than struggling with an instrument.” 

What are you really saying here?  You’re saying that you have other priorities in life.  It’s not that you can’t learn to play the cello, it’s that you don’t want to.  You simply don’t find the rewards worth the work.  Maybe you don’t even like how the cello sounds.  Maybe you don’t want to play an instrument that requires you to sit down so much.  Whatever the reason, you’re just not into it.

Humans are amazing creatures and God has loaded us all up with far more potential than we could ever use in one short little life.  Maybe people in your life have labeled you as dumb, slow or stupid.  Don’t let those labels fool you—you’ve got plenty of skills and intelligence.  There are a billion things you could do and a zillion things that you could learn.  But there’s only so much time in a day, so how do you as a human manage your vast potential?  You prioritize.  In life you are constantly evaluating options, weighing cost against rewards, and budgeting your resources accordingly.  By now this process has become so automatic that most of the time you probably don’t even realize you’re doing it. 

All humans are selfish to the bone.  This isn’t a terrible thing; it’s the way we were created. Everything we do, we do for self-serving reasons.  We’re very rewards focused, and we don’t like feeling ripped off.  When items are overpriced in a store, we feel ripped off.  But we also feel this way when we invest a bunch of emotional resources into a relationship only to receive no affection in return.  We feel ripped off when we spend a bunch of time and energy doing a task only to have our work be discounted or unappreciated.  We humans are very limited creatures, and deep down we know it, so we guard our resources and try to invest them wisely.  We consider wise investments to be ones in which the rewards end up being equal to or more than the amount we invested.  Do kids qualify as this kind of investment?  If you don’t want them, then obviously they don’t.  Clearly in your mind right now, you’ve assessed the whole kid package and calculated it to be a losing deal with far too much work and very little return.  Well, if this is how you see things, then how is it wrong of you to not want kids?  Aren’t you just drawing a reasonable conclusion based on your own assessment of the situation? 

Women who don’t want kids have rational reasons for not wanting them, and that needs to be recognized.  But while we’re appreciating rationality, we also need to recognize that our assessment of any situation is only as good as the assumptions we make and the things we choose to emphasize.  Then we need to realize that there are many factors which can cause us to overemphasize the negative.  When we do this, we end up cheating ourselves out of some really great things in life, because we’re not willing to invest.  So now let’s talk about common ways that assessing kids gets skewed.

Emphasizing the Negative

Kids are a boatload of work.  If you’ve got a bunch of girlfriends who coo over every baby that comes into view and just can’t wait to get pregnant, then you’re probably hanging out with women who are overemphasizing the positives.  Whenever we skew our assessment too much in one direction or another, we end up making poor choices.  Today many women are foolishly viewing kids as mere toys and status symbols.  They want to get pregnant because they love the attention it gets them.  But once the child is actually born, they try to get out of the work of parenting as much as possible.  Here’s where we see all of these kids getting shuffled off to daycare or dumped on the grandparents, while the parents go running around acting like they’re still single.  Now certainly there is a time and place for daycare, and if you’re a working mother with no options, don’t get yourself worked into a defensive lather.  But let’s also be honest: the world today celebrates immaturity, and parenting well requires some degree of maturity.

In America, schools used to be orderly and functional.  Now many of them have turned into madhouses.  We used to spank our kids and know the difference between spanking and beating.  Now we act like any form of useful discipline is abuse and when our kids scream, we hand them toys.  What’s going wrong here?  We’ve got whole generations of parents who aren’t parenting.  Kids have become like the latest technology: we want to be able to say we have them, but we only want to use them when we’re in the mood, and when we do interact with them, we want to find the interaction entertaining.  We like being there for the first steps and the aha moments, but we check out when it’s time to lay down the law and hold boundaries.  Well, kids don’t stop being high-maintenance just because we don’t want to spend effort on them.  Kids are very needy, complex little creatures, and when we don’t give them enough of our time, attention, and guidance, they grow up into discontented monsters who plague our lives with constant misery.  Today many sober minded women look around at all the screaming brats and say, “No thanks.  I’ll pass on having that in my life.”  Are these women wrong to be repulsed by the sight of kids climbing all over their parents in restaurants, screaming in stores, and running amuck in public?  No, because such behavior is repulsive.  It’s disorderly, disruptive, and downright annoying.  There’s nothing pleasant about being around some untamed brat.  Human nature in the raw can be quite an ugly thing so not liking brats hardly makes you a flawed person.  But things get out of balance when you view all kids as brats–even the ones who haven’t been born yet.

Kids are born screaming for services and instinctively wanting the entire world to revolve around them. It takes many years of patient training to help them mature into a different mindset. When parents actually have the internal resources they need to raise their kids well (which is not always the case), and when kids choose to respond well to those efforts (which is also not always the case), then the resulting well-mannered individuals are quite pleasant to be around.  As miniature humans who start off knowing nothing and needing help with everything, kids are a ton of work.  But the payoffs can be fabulous, because kids are humans, and humans are the most fascinating element in this world.  The car you spend hundreds of hours working on will never talk back to you, but your child can astound you with his profoundly simple yet insightful views of the world. 

Kids are not just work, and they’re not just pleasure.  They’re an intense mix of both.  When you see them as a fun project, you’re foolishly discounting how much work they are and setting yourself up for major disillusionment.  But when you write them all off as pains, you’re being terribly unfair and discounting how much they can enrich your life.  When you find yourself hating the idea of kids, you’re overemphasizing the negative.  You’re so focused on the bad, that you’re not acknowledging how much good there is to be had.  It would be wise to acquire a more balanced view of kids before you decide to write motherhood off forever.

Discounting the Importance of Possession

Another classic trap that women fall into is in minimizing the impact of possession.  To get an idea of how this works, imagine seeing a stranger smash another stranger’s cell phone.  Now picture someone coming over and smashing your cell phone.  The vast difference in your emotional reactions to these events stems from the fact that you are far more emotionally invested in the phone that you consider to be your own property.  Possession greatly intensifies emotional bonds.  When you drive by some smashed car on the highway, you think, “Bummer for that guy.”  But when it’s your own car that gets rammed into, you are far more upset.

Many women who don’t want kids are looking around at a bunch of kids who are not their own, feeling a total lack of emotional investment, and then concluding that they’d feel the same flatness towards their own child.  But this is not how it works.  As soon as you mentally associate a child as being your own, your feelings towards that child will greatly intensify.  This principle is often well-displayed in those gut-wrenching movies in which some set of adoptive parents gets their child ripped away from them by the court.  All of the tears and heartache that result demonstrate how a child doesn’t need to be born from your own body for you to become very emotionally bonded to him.  There are many ways that a child can become labeled as your own in your mind, and once that happens, your emotional attachment to that child will far exceed the interest you feel towards other people’s kids.  This means that when you note your lack of enthusiasm for other children and assume that you are experiencing how you’d feel about your own child, you’re making a faulty assumption.  Possession is such a powerful concept for humans that even parents who try to avoid having any emotional engagement with their kids end up far more impacted by news about their own kids than they do about other people’s kids.

Discounting Power

When you’re dealing with another person’s child, you have little to no power.  If some brat is screaming on the public bus, you have to just sit there and endure it.  You can’t take disciplinary action because your culture probably condemns such behavior.  If you’re trying to talk to your friend while her daughter is throwing a hissy fit, you have to sit there with your ears ringing and put up with being interrupted every two seconds.  No human enjoys feeling powerless in a situation that is making them miserable.  Women who have been forced to clock a lot of time around brats can easily think, “If this is what being a mother is like, you can have it!”  And yet the problem with this thinking is that these women are discounting the power they would have over their own children.

When a child is your own, you have far more options at your disposal. For starters, God wires your child to feel dependent on and bonded to you right from the start.  He fixes it so that your opinion automatically carries enormous weight in that young little mind, and this puts you in a very powerful position.  With your own kid, you don’t have to just stand there enduring their rude behavior.  You can discipline bratty behavior and reward good behavior, which in many cases will cause the good to flourish. You can teach manners. You can be present for the sweet moments instead of just being around for the tantrums.

Often in public, we see children who are tired, bored, and frustrated acting, well, tired, bored, and frustrated.  Those same children have other moments when they are very sweet, but because you aren’t around to witness those moments, you come away with a skewed view of what children are like.  Think about how your main interaction with other people’s kids is out in public, and usually in places that kids find the most miserable to endure.  Grocery stores where they have to walk around and wait for what feels like an eternity while their parents are focused on other things.  Shopping malls that are large and exhausting.  Restaurants in which they are bored and restless while adults yammer on and on about things that kids don’t care about.  Adult gatherings where they have no one to play with, no space to run around in, and everyone’s ignoring them.  When we take mental snapshots of how kids behave when they are feeling the most taxed and then say that that’s what kids are like all of the time, we’re hardly being fair.  Adults can be just as cranky as kids, but it’s far easier for them to hide their frustration because they have far more control over their circumstances.

When a child is your own, you have options.  You control the resources, and you gain intimate knowledge of your child that gives you a different perspective.  When you’re stuck in a lobby listening to some other mother’s baby crying, you’re annoyed and you can easily see the child in a very negative light.  But when it’s your own baby and you understand that she’s got some painful earache, you have a far more sympathetic view of the situation and you are far more patient with her.  When you speak to some wild child in public and the boy blows you off, it’s easy to think of him as a rude little twerp.  But when you see your own child looking up at you with those trusting eyes, hanging on your every word, you’ll find a whole different set of emotions welling up within you.  When it’s your own child, you have the power, and in their minds, your power is infinite.  They look to you for guidance, they depend on you to protect them, and they view you as all-knowing.  When you smash that spider on the wall, or replace that fallen ice cream, you’re a hero.  When you understand the way that puzzle works, you’re a genius.  When you hold them through the loud storm or comfort them after a bad dream, you’re their savior.  It’s a totally different dynamic when it’s your own kid.

Fear of Failing

The fear of failing is another common reason that women shy away from parenthood. Some women have no confidence in their ability to be good mothers, thus they don’t want to get started on a project in which they feel destined to fail. Some grew up with abusive parents and they are afraid that they will pass on what was done to them because it’s all they know.  The problem here lies in self-assessment.  You have more options than you think you do.  You have more resources than you realize.  There is no law that says you must repeat the past.  Plenty of women are pattern breakers, greatly deviating from the styles of parenting that were modeled to them.  Other women have to learn to stand up to some manipulative authority figures in their own lives and stop letting negative influences control the way that they parent.  The point is that we’re always wrong to assume the worst about ourselves.  The future can play out a thousand different ways, and none of us are God, so when we start with the doomsday prophecies about how we’re guaranteed to fail at anything we try, we’re just spinning out useless theories.  You don’t know what kind of mother you’ll be until you are one, and even if you start off badly, you can course correct.  Before you write yourself off as a failure, you need to remember that you are not the only one in the equation.  There’s also God, and under His influence, there’s no limit to how much you can mature.

Fear of Cost

Kids are expensive, and many women shy away from the idea of having kids because they’re worried about how those kids would be materially provided for. While it’s true that it’s not a wise idea to intentionally bring kids into an already shaky financial situation, it’s also unwise to use money as your only excuse for not having them.

The baby aisles in retail stores aren’t giving you a reasonable picture of how much kids cost. Certainly retailers would love for you to follow their lead in what kinds of resources to buy your child, but in real life, toddlers are just as happy pushing around empty food boxes and shaking bottles filled with colored water as they are stacking a bunch of expensive, name brand blocks. A baby couldn’t care less what color his shirt is as long as it’s comfortable, and most kids would appreciate not having to wear uncomfortable headbands, hair clips, hard shoes, complicated outfits, and other paraphernalia that adults shove on them in order to make them look “cute”. When you remember that your kid is a human being and not a Christmas tree, you can make your child and your budget happier by cutting out the expensive baubles. When you observe the basic skills an expensive toy is trying to teach your child (textures, colors, shapes), you’ll realize how easy it is to duplicate those lessons using common household items. Yes, kids are expensive, but you don’t have to pay the whole bill upfront. There are endless ways to do things more economically that actually help your child’s development by encouraging imagination and providing a better quality of care.

Wrong Reasons to Have Kids

So far I’ve been covering common reasons that women are too hasty to rule kids out. But there are other common reasons that women decide to go for it that are very unwise, so let’s now talk about some of them.

Keeping Your Partner Interested

Your current partner is starting to act restless in the relationship, so you figure throwing kids into the mix will lock him in solid and get him to fully commit to you. If you use this strategy, it’s far more likely that you’ll drastically increase your man’s desire to leave, not stay. If you also act devious by being deceptive about birth control so that you can trick him into getting you pregnant, you run the risk of doing permanent damage to the relationship. Lies have a way of being found out, no matter how well you think you’ve covered your tracks. Intimate relationships are built on trust, and if you prove yourself to be untrustworthy on an issue as big as kids, you will likely do irreparable damage.

The impact kids have on a relationship early on tends to be far more negative than positive. In real life, bringing a child into the home doesn’t result in a long series of shared smiles and adorable moments like the movies depict. A vulnerable infant with constant needs and a habit of screaming at ungodly hours puts a major strain on everyone. The daily rhythm you’ve fallen into with your partner is massively disrupted and everyone is sent scrambling to figure out how they’re going to adjust to this new situation.

When people are short on sleep, they get hypersensitive. When people have unresolved issues with their own upbringing, being thrust into the god-like role that parenting is can trigger all kinds of fears and insecurities. Some adults panic and emotionally distance themselves from their kids, afraid to bond and afraid of making a wrong move. Often there is a lot of fighting over how the immense work of taking care of the child should be divided between the two partners. Suddenly everyone’s roles are put under scrutiny, with the breadwinner often feeling like his or her role is being devalued as “not enough” while the primary child carer feels that the overwhelming difficulty of his or her new role is being trivialized. It takes perseverance and communication to push through these early storms. If you’re already on shaky ground with your partner before kids come into the mix, it’s very easy for such a stressful factor to take down the relationship.

If you and your partner are nervous about how well you’d adjust to a baby, consider getting a high maintenance pet first, such as a puppy. Dogs are much easier to deal with than kids, but they still require a lot of work and attention. Taking good care of a dog means walking him regularly and for more than two minutes at a time. Toys and food are needed, there are ongoing disciplinary challenges, and of course constant grooming and cleaning chores. Can you and your partner pull together well enough to produce a well-trained, calm, healthy animal? Most household pets do not receive proper care, with their needs going unmet while the humans either ignore them or try to force the animal into an inappropriate role. A dog is not a child or a toy; it’s an animal with specific, valid needs. If you and your partner can’t manage to take proper care of a single dog, it’s unlikely you’re ready to handle a child.

The Biological Clock

The fertility of women shuts down in mid life, and as “the change” approaches, it’s natural to start feeling the pressure mount. And yet is it really wise to have a child just so you can check that off of your life’s “to do” list? No, it’s not.

If you’re currently vacillating about this decision, it’s likely that you aren’t in a relationship with a partner who is chomping to start a family. Many women who start panicking that their window of opportunity is closing are still single and unattached, and therefore totally unprepared to provide a child with the parenting structure he will need. It’s really not fair to a kid to raise them in a single parent home just because you were in a rush to make sure you didn’t miss out on something. Kids do much better in two parent homes, and they also do best with a mother and father instead of with two same gender parents. There are deep core needs that all humans have which include the need for positive male and female guidance and affection. It is wrong to intentionally set a kid up in a home with major elements missing just because you were in a hurry to do something with your last eggs. Being forced into single parenting is a reality that many of us must contend with, but such a situation shouldn’t be voluntarily forced on a child simply because of biological clock pressure.

It’s helpful to remember that there are many ways to become a parent. Just because you don’t personally get pregnant while you are still able to do so doesn’t mean that later on you won’t end up adopting or gaining stepchildren. If your main reason for considering kids is just due to that infamous biological clock, you shouldn’t do it. Give it some time, and those feelings will subside.

So many women rush into bad relationships in response to an internal feeling of “it’s now or never.” The natural shifting of hormones plus cultural stereotypes cause these moments of false pressure to happen. Typically for women, the late teens and early twenties trigger an urgent need to get married and start a family while the late twenties and early thirties bring on a temporary panic over parenthood. These flare ups are temporary, and the feelings of urgency they stir up really aren’t as accurate as they seem. There are major advantages to marrying late in life, long after those few years when your gut was screaming “it’s now or never.” There are many advantages to stepping into the parenting scene later in life. And of course there are big advantages to never parenting at all.

A Friend to the End

A child is a human who, like you, has the option to choose who they want to relate to. A child isn’t a retirement fund that you can count on to be there for you in your sunset years. You shouldn’t have a child just so you can have someone to guilt into caring for you if you become ill or lonely in your last days. If that is your primary reason for becoming a parent, your child will soon pick up on your underlying motivation for having them, and they will likely flee from you at their first opportunity.

There are no guarantees that your kid will turn out to be your friend. Many parent-child relationships are extremely hostile. Others are emotionally distant. There are no guarantees about who your child will be, how they will perceive you, and how they will choose to relate to you when they are adults. You simply can’t control these factors. Your child will have many experiences in life which have nothing to do with you, and those experiences will greatly influence how your child views relationships, themselves, and the world. Just as you can water and fertilize a flower but you have no ability to reach into its being and force its cells to behave in certain ways, you can invest resources in your child, but you can’t control how they will respond to those resources.

Having a kid because you want a friend is a bad idea, and only sets you up to do a bad job at parenting. The mentality you need to parent well is very different from the mentality you need for a healthy peer friendship.

Deciding today that your sunset years are going to be lonely and depressing is just you making a bunch of grim prophecies about yourself that have no foundation in truth. You really have no idea what your life will be like when you are older. You don’t even know that you’ll make it to old age.

A common principle in friendships is that two people in the same life stage have a lot more identity with each other, and are thus able to form more satisfying friendships. Your child will never be in the same life stage as you. You will always be far ahead of them, and that fact alone puts limits on the kind of friendship you can hope to have with them. Instead of planning to depend on your child as your main source of emotional support before they are even born, plan to keep seeking out peer friends in each season of your life. By looking to other adults for your friendships, you’ll do a better job of letting your kid be a kid, and not pressuring them to fill a role that isn’t appropriate for them.

Life Without Kids

To thrive as a human being, you need to make maturity your primary goal. One of the most notable effects maturing has on us is a growing desire to live for more than just ourselves. To help others. To have a positive impact on the world. To do something outward focused. Because kids demand your attention, they can potentially help you mature. But they can also cause you to regress. Your own internal priorities are going to be the biggest factor in how your kids impact you. They can’t make you mature. They aren’t guaranteed to have some fabulous impact on you, either. Kids are an unknown. They enter your life, they start interacting with you, and you constantly decide how you are going to respond to them. If you make wise decisions, you will mature even if your kid turns out to be a monster. If you make unwise decisions, you will regress even if your kid turns out to be an angel. But the same rules apply for all of your life experiences, so the theory that you can’t fully develop unless you have kids is total hooey.

You don’t need to become a parent to grow up, mature, and become a well-rounded human being who is a blessing to others. Because kids are so demanding, not having them will free up a lot of time and resources that you can invest in other activities. The key here is to set your sights on the right goal: personal maturity. Once you have the right goal, you need to realize that there are many ways to achieve that goal. How you get there isn’t the important bit. It’s getting there that matters, and you really don’t need kids to make that happen.

Dating When You Don’t Want Kids

A strong aversion to having kids creates definite complications for your love life, because marriage leads to sex, and sex can very easily lead to kids.  Many men want to become fathers, and as long as you know you don’t want to be a mother, you shouldn’t be dating men who want kids.  Because the desire to procreate is often quite strong within us, being mismatched in this area with your romantic partner can lead to great bitterness down the line.  Because the desire to procreate is so common, it’s tricky business finding a man who truly doesn’t want kids.  Often people who claim not to want kids at first change their minds a ways down the line which can result in quite a mess.  At the very least, you definitely want to steer clear of men who know they want to be fathers, and you also want to be forthcoming about your aversion to having kids in any dating relationship.  This is a major topic, and you’ll only set everyone up for misery by stalling about discussing it.  “Wants kids” is a terrible match for “Doesn’t want kids” and the sooner people declare themselves, the sooner you can separate and avoid getting emotionally invested in a situation that is only going to end in a mess.

Following God’s Lead

God is the One who pushes us to mature in life and He already has a wonderful maturation program all worked out for you which may or may not include kids.  Ask God to make you all that He wants you to be and He will mature you at His own pace.  There are some cases in which God simply doesn’t want women getting tied down with marriage and kids because He has other priorities He wants them focused on.  Because God loves variation, we can’t say that motherhood is a litmus test of maturity because it’s definitely not.  Plenty of women desperately want to be mothers only to have God block them at every turn.  Other women are terrible mothers, and many wonder what God was thinking to give them kids who they would treat so badly.  Happily it’s not your job to figure out what God’s purposes are for other people.  You just need to focus on your own life path and not close your mind to any experiences which God feels would benefit you. 

This post was written in response to a request.

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