When folks decide to remain childless, it seems they’re open to criticism from everyone from internet trolls to the Pope himself. In a recently published Huffington Post article, Jessica Burnell wrote about her choice to never have kids. Her declaration was met by a range of responses, some of the nastier ones accusing her of selfishness and “failing at life.” Happily, there were many who supported her choice as well.
But what if you’re in a serious relationship — perhaps thinking about marriage — and your partner is no-room-for-negotiation sure that s/he never wants children. Perhaps you’ve been on the procreation fence yourself. Or maybe you’ve always assumed you’d have kids but now this wonderful person — whom you’d really, really like to spend your life with — is making you think twice.
1. Look back, look ahead.
Have you ever felt the strong desire not to have kids? Or, if your dream was to have a brood, how would it feel to abandon it now? Are you comfortable making this choice or is it fraught with anxiety and confusion? Try not to be in the moment with this. Think beyond the wedding and honeymoon. When your friends are growing their families, how will you feel? Happy for them, but happier you made this choice? Envious of those pregnant bellies? Relieved you dodged the bullet of raising a family?
2. All about you.
Your partner has a thousand good reasons s/he doesn’t want children. And you may understand them all. But, in every single case, sacrificing your own happiness to keep your partner happy is a recipe for future marital discord. Choosing not to have children must come from your heartfelt desire not to have them. Be clear about your reasons for making this choice and be able to enumerate them. And beware if your list of reasons is merely a hollow echo of your partner’s.
3. No going back.
If you’re still contemplating having a family, you’re still young enough to have that luxury. But that luxury comes with an expiration date, especially for women. And remember, folks who don’t want kids don’t want kids. They rarely wake up 10 years down the road, smack their foreheads, and say, “You know what? This has all been a huge mistake!” So don’t bank on this happening. If you’re going into marriage thinking you’re going to change your partner’s mind (Just wait until s/he sees how cute our friends’ babies are!), you need a cold bowl of reality soup.
4. An alternative scenario.
If this relationship didn’t work out and your next partner really wanted kids, how would you react? With reluctance or relief?
If you’re seeking advice on this from everyone you know, know that the act of relentless questioning is giving you a signal. Why? Because you’re conflicted. And you’re looking for the magic words that will make this right for you. Your partner isn’t asking the woman next to him on the subway whether he should have kids. He doesn’t need to. He’s resolute in his decision. And so should you be. Yes, ask questions, but ask them of yourself.
6. Why bother?
If you’ve always unquestionably assumed you’d have a family, now’s the time to ask yourself why. Did your parents push you in that direction? Was choosing childlessness frowned upon? Are there religious factors involved? If your conclusion is that having kids was simply expected of you — and not something you ever particularly wanted — there’s an answer here that might surprise you.
7. Guess what, Mom?
So, you think you’re on board with the no kid thing. And you’re ready to make your decision known. How does it feel (or might it feel) to tell friends and family? Are you excited about the pact you’re entering into? Or does telling loved ones leave you choking back indecision and tears?
8. My two cents.
Author Anne Lamott writes of the parent-child relationship, “I bristle at the whispered lie that you can know this level of love and self-sacrifice only if you are a parent.” But I don’t bristle at that because…isn’t it said parents whispering this as their truth? I’m a mother. And, yes, I believe that love for a child is dramatically different from any other one will experience. But that is not (and never will be) a reason to have one.
The best decisions couples make are the ones that end in compromise. This, unfortunately, can’t be one of them. You can’t have half a baby. If you’re ready to join your partner in a life of childlessness, make sure you can repeat Jessica Burnell’s words with her same conviction: “I like the life I have and the childless life I envision for myself in the future.” If you can, you’ve made a choice you can happily live with.