Laura: “We began praying about what the Lord wanted us to do in terms of expanding our family. Our conclusion: we would remain childless”

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Throughout the history of our society, we are taught that we are to grow up, get married and have children. This has been the definition of family. But what if this cookie cutter definition doesn't fit everybody? Before we married, my now husband and I talked extensively about children. If we'd have any, how many, ect... We came to the conclusion that we'd adopt but never had a definite timeline or deadline. 

When we became engaged, my engagement ring was too big for my hand, so a spacer was put on it.  Life happened and we were never able to get it properly sized. We had plans to pass it down to our oldest child if they so chose to marry one day.  Every time I looked at it I pictured our future child, down on one knee, with this ring, shining from a velvety box.

After several years of marriage, the topic of children kept creeping into our lives. Older siblings and close friends began having children, and we started discussions about expanding our family. We both love children. I actually work in childcare, and I loved the idea of providing a stable home for a child that needed one. One issue we talked about at length was how my anxiety and our collective low energy levels would affect us as parents. 

Throughout those years, a funny thing happened. Those close to us with children began telling us how difficult it was, physically and mentally, and we began to see that first hand. Christmas with kids is a fun, albeit tiresome, experience even if you aren't a parent. We also began praying about what the Lord wanted us to do in terms of expanding our family. Which leads us to Christmas 2014.

With three kids in the house, all under six, Christmas at my parent's house was filled with lots of noise and movements only equal to that of the Energizer Bunny. On steroids. After three days of dizzying activity, my husband and I had a long discussion, a time of prayer, and reached a conclusion. We would remain childless.

We drove back from my parents in a daze. It's a bit disorienting when you think your life is moving in one direction, then the Lord comes in and says, "Nope. I want you to go here". Even though we knew we were making the right decision, in a way it sucked. Big time. But you move forward, taking one day at a time. You mourn the life you thought you'd have. And you think of what your life will become.

A few months have passed since our lives path changed. On Sunday we went to the jewelry store and picked up my engagement ring. Freshly sized to fit perfectly. I wear it now with my wedding band. Now when I look at my sparkly ring, I am reminded of our commitment to those children already in our lives. To influence them to grow into awesome adults and responsible citizens. And pump them full of sugar when they visit and give them back to their parents. ;-)

Here is what I've learned in this experience that I want others to know: NEVER feel like you are less of a person because you choose a path that includes marriage but not children. This does NOT make you less of a person if parenting is not in the cards. If you feel overwhelmed and feel parenting might not be for you, that's OK! –Laura

This story originally ran on the Be Anxious About Nothing blog. More blog entries on childlessness are here.

Do you have a story about navigating the choice not to have children? Share it here.

Renee: “I wonder if my mother-in-law secretly wonders what's wrong with me”

I'm 39, and I'm still resolutely staying with my IUD, and do not want a baby.

I'm married, and my mother-in-law is Cuban. My husband is the only bio-child of the family, so there used to be some pressure in the past to have kids. My mother-in-law would say, "When you have kids..." when I was engaged to David 5 years ago. I had to tell her several times over the years that I was pretty sure I didn't want kids, and her son was fine with that.

I wonder sometimes if she (and my other relatives) secretly wonder what's wrong with me, but they are polite enough the drop the topic now, and apply the pressure for more babies to my sister-in-law. 

I like my life; I like freedom, having the money to travel, and having time to read, play piano, and go for runs and take care of myself. I like being an aunt, but feel no desire to have my own child. I'm much more at peace with this, which is a hard-earned victory after roughly 7 years of feeling embarrassed and defensive about my vision for my life. –Renee

Do you have a story about navigating the choice not to have children? Share it here.

Robin: "The female doctor tried to refer me to a psychiatrist when I asked to get my tubes tied"

At 30, I went to get my tubes tied before I lost my health insurance. No doctor would discuss the procedure with me while I was still in my 20's even though I always knew I wanted to be child-free and had already had three abortions (using birth control all three times).

The female doctor tried to refer me to a psychiatrist - I refused. I told her she could talk to my family, my shrink, my pediatrician, but that I was not delaying this procedure to get vetted by a stranger. It was really weird to have to argue and advocate for myself. I've never regretted it for a minute.

Two years ago I started dating a man with a daughter who was 10 at the time. I love her a lot and she is really fun, and I'm much more like an aunt than a mom, which is perfect. We have a great relationship. I'm more grateful than ever that I chose to not have my own kids (biological or adopted) –Robin

Do you have a story about navigating the choice not to have children? Share it here.

Mary: "I chose not to be a parent because I don't want to scar a child. I struggle with my scars today as a 30-year-old woman"

I can remember vividly what it was like to be a child. Discovering my weaknesses, figuring out what I was good at doing. Mostly what it was like to grow up in a volatile environment. My mom was bipolar and my dad was mostly at work. It felt like he preferred to be at work. When he was home he drank a lot.

I can remember not wanting to be "the mom" when we played house. I wanted to be a sister or daughter. My model of a woman was my mother and as far as I was concerned I didn't want to be a woman. I wanted to stay a girl. I didn't want a husband because I didn't want a man to yell at me and call me names all the time. Being an adult seemed like the most awful thing in the world.

I take offense when people say that having children is knowing love. I already know love and empathy, more than I can handle. I look at my nieces and nephews and can understand their disappointments and their sadness. I don't understand when my sisters do the same things to their kids that my parents did to us. Things that hurt and scarred us.

I chose not to be a parent because I don't want to scar a child. I want to mentor and build up children. I feel like parents overlook and brush off their children's needs and fears. I struggle with my scars today as a 30 year old woman. I can't fathom a scared child somewhere feeling worthless and unloved. –Mary

Do you have a story about navigating the choice not to have children? Share it here.

Gwen: "I mistakenly got pregnant, and just KNEW I was not made to be a mommy, so I opted for an open adoption with two wonderful moms"

For years and years, when I mentioned that I have no desire for children, and that babies and I have a mutual distaste for each other in the form of screaming, friends, strangers, family, coworkers, and even bosses would tell me about how "that will change when you have one of your own." I mistakenly got pregnant, and just KNEW I was not made to be a mommy, so I opted for an open adoption with two wonderful moms. They were even present for the birth, and as soon as the girl was born, she went cooing to both of them, instant bonding. Then the doctors decided to bring her to me to see how things would go.... both of us started to scream. They immediately took her back to the adopted moms. So, no, it wasn't any different when it was "my own"!

As an addendum, we are all still in touch, and treat each other like adopted extended family. I send her birthday and holiday gifts, and they do come to visit (and invite me to visit them). I was even in touch with them earlier today! As she has been growing up past baby-hood, we have bonded as a sort of Aunt/Niece relationship, and are both very comfortable like that. And she is very happy with her wonderful mothers. I am grateful every day to have found them. –Gwen

Do you have a story about navigating the choice not to have children? Share it here.

Jo: "My grandmother's misery have been a strong warning of the risks of having children because society wants you to."

My grandmother did not want children at all. She was a brilliant administrator, fundraiser, and business woman who did amazing things for the hospital she worked at, and was a wonderful mentor to many of the women there. But because of the times, she was also forced to have children, and they suffered for it. My mother and her brother had very unhappy childhoods, and it was always clear that their mother would rather do anything else but be their parent. 

My mother was a wonderful mother, but she wanted children so badly she would have to excuse herself to weep uncontrollably in the bathrooms at work when a coworker announced a pregnancy and she still had none. She used to ogle the babies in strollers at the zoo, and ignore the animals. 

I have never particularly been interested in having children. My mother's desires to be a mother have been a strong guiding light in how to identify and pursue a passion. My grandmother's misery and the damage she inflicted on her children have been a strong warning of the risks of having children because society wants you to. 

There are plenty of people in the world. I am happy mentoring the next generations, teaching, and being the safe auntie my friends' kids can come to with questions too embarrassing to ask mom. –Jo

Do you have a story about navigating the choice not to have children? Share it here.

 

AAH: "The stigma attached to mental illness is as misunderstood as the choice to remain childfree."

 My story has a few different components. 

The first part starts with the fact that I didnʻt like kids even when I was a kid. I never understood why they were so mean to each other, hated school, or misbehaved at home. Instead of playing with dolls and planning my future wedding, I spent my time learning literally every single breed of dog and memorizing the entire endangered species list. I have always had more compassion and empathy for animals than for babies or children. This is often a source of tension at times when I choose to play with my friend's dog rather than hold their infant. 

The second part of my story is that my aunt is also child-free, and happens to be my role model. Growing up, I was so envious of all the trips she took, and she seemed so happy, so I always figured it was okay if I didnʻt want children either. She is now retired, has no regrets, and is living the most incredibly fulfilling life. We are very similar physically and in many other ways, which makes me wonder if the childfree choice has a genetic component. 

Another part of my story is that my husband can't have kids because of an illness when he was younger. That was actually one of the reasons I started dating him! We are perfectly happy with our life, and have nearly twenty nieces and nephews to hang out with when we get the rare urge to spend time with children. One of the misconceptions surrounding the childfree choice is that we dislike children. That is not the case at all, as there is a big difference between *liking* children and *wanting* them. 

The last part of my story is more difficult to discuss, as the stigma attached to mental illness is as misunderstood as the choice to remain childfree. I have struggled with anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder since I was young, and this is the primary reason I remain childfree. I am forty years old and am just now coming to grips with this "disease" and how it has affected every aspect of my life, both positively and negatively. I never know how I am going to feel when I wake up, and I often have weeks at a time where it takes every ounce of energy I have to get out of bed in the morning. I cannot imagine having to care for a child during the really bad days. Sometimes I feel like the *least* selfish thing I have done with my life is *not* have a child so they won't have to deal with the mood swings, substance abuse, need for medication and therapy, and all the other baggage that goes along with mental illness. 

Most of my friends are parents now, and can literally not post, think, or talk about anything outside of their family unit, how this is all they ever wanted out of life. I cannot relate at all, and am not very empathetic when they complain about how tired they are. It is lonely and frustrating sometimes, as I am forty years old and my lifestyle hasn't changed much since my twenties, so I have very little in common with people my age. 

I am continually perplexed when people call us selfish for not wanting children, and tired of those sad looks I get that imply I am missing out on something. Yes, I get plenty of uninterrupted sleep at night and can take vacations without much notice or planning...but that just makes me a better employee, wife, neighbor, and friend, with more time and energy to volunteer and make a difference on a larger community and global scale. I always felt destined for something greater than having kids. I recently completed my Master's Degree in Nursing Education, and I travel at any opportunity, which continually fuels my passion for cultural diversity and global health and makes me feel like a more tolerant, well-rounded individual. I don't feel like I am missing out on anything. –AAH

Do you have a story about navigating the choice not to have children? Share it here.

Verna: "Growing up it always looked like fun to be our father - and not fun to be our mother"

Growing up it always looked like fun to be our father - and not fun to be our mother. My relationship with my mother was difficult from the beginning. She was a rage-a-holic and I was her main focus . My point of sanity was in not having children. I never wanted to replicate in any way, shape or form the dynamics my mother and I shared. My mother was a doctor and very much of and in the world. I got married quite young - age 22 - and it was my mother who encouraged me not to marry so young, and not to have children unless it was something I felt I deeply needed and wanted to do.

It was not. 

When I married I now realize that neither one of us talked about having or not having children. It was not a discussion. Then eventually it became clear that we were not moving in that direction. Brad was a sculptor and there was never enough time for his work.

My life was predicated on being childless – the work I did, the career I had – none of that would have been possible with children.

I am an Aunt and it is a role that is extremely important to me.

For my nieces and nephews, they and their parents are the inner circle. They may feel like my inner circle however I am not in theirs. – Verna

Do you have a story about navigating the choice not to have children? Share it here.