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.

Sam M: "Although being a stepmum wasn't really on my radar, it has been brilliant and such an education"

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I grew up in a Mormon family in Australia in the 70s and 80s. So having kids (lots of them and starting young), was a big feature. On my 16th birthday my mum sat me down and said "it was time I thought about getting married and having children." Every part of me recoiled in horror at the thought of it. But it was a useful conversation, because it crystallised what I'd kind of known already for years - having kids was not for me. 

I was all but openly ostracised by the church members for my non-conformance, which helped bring about a merciful end to religion being a part of my life.

When my boyfriend proposed at the age of 23, I was very honest and gave him multiple opportunities to back out. But he insisted it was fine. Fast forward ten years and it wasn't really fine for him any more, and he is now a happily married father with someone else. I'm glad he got that chance, I would hate to have taken it away from him.

My career has always been in leadership roles, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to use my nurturing, caring and developing skills on many generations of 'children' who have gone on to become amazing, successful humans in their own right.

I have also found a wonderful man who has 3 kids from his first marriage. Although being a stepmum wasn't really on my radar, it has been brilliant and such an education. 

Now at 45, I love all the children in my family and friendship group, and I am super proud of all my 'work babies.' I wouldn't change a thing.

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

Betty: "We all know that the Mom does the drudgery. If I could have been a Dad I might reconsider."

I grew up in an Ohio town where the norm is to marry your high school boyfriend and have kids by the time you're old enough to drink. I no longer live there. I'm a Christian, and so many in the church perceived the "be fruitful and multiply" to be a generalized command, rather than an optional blessing.

I never wanted kids. I felt called to write, to work in music and nonprofit. I am introverted, with adult ADD. If I took on the assumed calling to be a Mom, it would certainly jeopardize my confirmed calling, which is to be a writer. Because quite frankly we all know that the Mom does the drudgery. If I could have been a dad I might reconsider.

There's a Bible passage where Jesus is teaching a crowd, and a woman in the back interrupts him saying "Blessed is your Mom!" Jesus replied, "even more blessed are those who hear God's word and do it." Being a Mom is not the most important job in the world. The most important job is the one you were created for and give yourself wholeheartedly to. Am I selfish? No. I lack peers, friends, the ability to have a lasting conversation with anyone my age (38) because we share little common ground. Not creating new people has left me with few people to talk to.

I made my choice to be sterilized so that I could stay up odd hours, dive in to a songwriting binge in hopes that maybe one day someone who I'll never meet hears the song, and it's raw honestly, and feels like they aren't alone. And that stranger who I nurture from afar will not take care of me when I become elderly. –Betty

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

Deborah: "My first and enduring role models for the child-free life were...nuns"

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There's an irony in hearing Pope Francis pontificate about the absolute necessity of having children. I say that because my first and enduring role models for the child-free life were...nuns. I was lucky to be taught by the Sisters of Notre Dame until age 18. They were the most impressive scholars, finest teachers, and–dare I say–some of the happiest women I have met in life. 

True, there was another set of reasons for my decision. My grandmother had 12 kids and died at 46. She never had a moment to herself. My parents loved and enjoyed us, but working full time as janitors, living in a tiny apartment, made parenting appear overwhelming.

But huge numbers of women with overwhelmed, depressed–even abusive parents–choose to have children. That's why I say that what made up my mind was not saying "no" to motherhood, but being able to say "yes" to a life devoted to intellect, art, sisterhoodspirituality and community service. 

The nuns didn't recruit me; maybe they sensed I was boy-crazy. But their example held strong until I learned the word "Bohemian", thanks to another single woman–our music teacher. I learned one could accentuate one's free spirit, flaunt convention, flounce one's skirts, have adventures, and create a kind of non-family out of kindred spirits met along the way.

I've treated patients–including the very poor and homeless–for 40 years now, and have written 3 books translated into 6 languages, have acted in a community theater, traveled, and had more fun than I sometimes care to admit.

SO! un-holy fathers of Fox News, let's remember that even Charles Darwin acknowledged that the maternal instinct–strong as it is in nature–is NOT the strongest instinct of all. (The migratory is stronger, for example). 

Without "selfish" women like Susan B. Anthony, Joan of Arc, Simone de Beauvoir, Virginia Woolf, Amelia Earhart, Emily Dickinson, Judge Sotomayor, and all the saints and nuns, we would be spiritually malnourished as women. 

If I could start over, I would choose this life again. –Dr Deborah Anna Luepnitz

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

The Selfish World Traveler: "A common refrain in my Jewishly observant high school was not whether one would have kids, but rather *how many* kids you wanted."

Growing up in a family of five children, I always assumed that one day I would have kids. 

A common refrain in my Jewishly observant high school class (all girls) was not whether one would be married and have kids, but rather *how many* kids you wanted. I always settled on four kids (because five was clearly too many) never pausing to consider whether I really wanted kids or not. 

My high school classmates and friends started getting married and reproducing soon after high school. I, being a good friend, was always privy to the inner workings of giving birth and taking care of infants. Changing diapers? Check. Hearing horror stories about birth? Check. Observing how unfair it seemed that men went off to work and had life outside the family home, while women were at home with piles of laundry and screaming kids? Shockingly still in the 21st century? Check, check, and check. 

Then there was my own family background. My parents were stuck in an unhappy marriage (still are), and us kids bore the brunt of it. So there was yelling and screaming, abusive punishments, instances of running away from home, and many, many unpleasant memories. 

Family and children was never something I associated with happiness. 

Many years later, I got married to a wonderful man, and friends and complete strangers immediately started asking when we would be having kids. I hated getting that question. It immediately got my hackles up, every single time, and a whole bunch of people were told to back off, not yet and it's none of their business. I knew I definitely did not want kids immediately, yet still assumed I would, eventually. Just not yet. 

A couple of years later, when I was about to turn 30, I was *sure* that my biological clock would start ticking and I would start wanting kids. The same happened when I turned 34 (the age my mom was when she got pregnant with me) and 35 (the last chance before I started to get geriatric, in child-bearing terms).

My biological clock remained as silent as the tomb, and that's been the case until this day.

I don't know if it's my unhappy childhood and family life (my therapist certainly thinks it is), or if it's being aware of how difficult parents have it, or the fact that both I and my spouse value our freedom and our selfish, peaceful life. We travel the world, enjoy each others' company, have hours of quiet time alone in the evenings, and we have a cat. I often joke that it's much easier to leave a cat at home and take off, whereas leaving a child alone is frowned upon. 

I'm now 37, and still as convinced as ever that I don't now or ever will want kids. My selfish lifestyle is pretty good. –The Selfish World Traveler

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

JJ: "I think my mother was not so much pissed off I wasn't giving her grandchildren, but that I refused to have the burdens and lifestyle she had."

I'm 61, live in the Poconos, PA, divorced, retired Purchasing Agent for big international electronics companies. I live with four dogs on a mountainside filled with books and art supplies which gives me lot's of time to meditate and reflect on things. This project got me thinking about things I haven't thought about in years. 

I think my mother (and many other mothers) are not so much pissed off that we who remain childless by choice are not "giving them grandchildren," but that we refuse to have the burdens and lifestyle that they had. They want to see us suffer just as they suffered so they will feel vindicated in their bitching about how hard it was to raise us. My mother used to wish twins on my sister and I as a form of punishment for "what we did to her." Misery loves company.

My mother actually told me when I was a teen that she never wanted children, that she only had them because "her husband and parents expected it of her." I don't have to tell you that what a bitter, selfish, crappy, self-involved mother she was, do I? Funny thing is my sister had two kids, and neither my sister, husband, kids, or the way they way they raised the kids were ever good enough for my mother and father anyway!

My mother felt she never had a choice or a voice in the matter. I think that it wasn't until the 60's and the pill, that women even considered that they could postpone or not have kids. I don't think it crossed my parents minds not to have kids, or that having kids they obviously didn't want would screw up the kids. 

I was so afraid I would be like them and hurt my children the way they hurt me I had decided not to have kids by the time I was sixteen. Not because I was selfish, but because I was afraid I'd do to a child what was done to me and my sister. Selfish was later, in my twenties and thirties when I decided that having a job and a place to live were more important than having kids I couldn't support, physically or emotionally.

The thing I find really strange is that by law, you have to take classes and pass a written and practical test to drive a car, and if you fail you can't drive...but millions of clueless people have babies every year with no idea how to raise healthy, happy children. You have to be 21 to drink because you aren't adult enough to have a beer, but it's ok to have a baby you didn't want or plan on? 

I will have crosses burning on the lawn in no time, but I blame religious zealotry and hatred for a lot of the reproductive malice and injustice of the world, not just in America. Your religion WANTS you to have babies, whether or not you can afford them, are capable of loving, raising, feeding, housing or clothing them. We need to have more of our faith/nationality!! We need to hold the hoards of non-believers at bay by increasing our numbers!

Italy and Russia are bribing citizens now to have babies. Portugal penalizes people who have no children with higher taxes. I read an article that said, "virtually every industrialized country has financial incentives to encourage procreation—tax deductions, family support programs, bonuses for children, etc. And yet fertility rates have been declining in virtually every industrialized country." That scares the pants off religious and political leaders. When women, especially in third world countries, start saying no to kids, they start saying I want to go to school, I want a job, I want choices, I am not a piece of property. That really puts a wrench in the works. 

So you see, we who are childless by choice are a small number of independent thinkers that threaten civilization to the core. If our "mental illness," our "selfish behaviors, our saying NO spreads, it could topple the world. –JJ

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