Op Ed

Actually, You Might Not Regret Not Having Kids

I got married at the age of 23, and I didn’t want to have children. So many people told me, “You’ll regret it.” The phrase took on a ridiculous, ominous tone in my head, like the voice of the ghost in the Christmas Carol movies who says, “Scroooge.” Yooooou’ll regret iiiiiit.

The people who warned me were parents themselves, so they didn’t speak from personal experience. The truth is, a person might regret anything she does or doesn’t do, but it’s usually considered rude to point that out. No one said to me, for instance, “Oh, you’re getting married? Could be a big mistake!” Many people feel not only free but obligated to argue with a decision not to have children, however. I think it might be much worse to regret having kids than to regret not having them, but what do I know?

I don’t want to offend anyone who wants to be a parent and can’t be, and I’m not denigrating other people’s choices. Personally, though, I really appreciate my child-free life.

When Mr. Donovan and I come home at the end of a workday, we can do whatever we want. Work on a novel, or a quilt? Play a videogame, or screw around online? Have wine and popcorn for dinner? Sure. Both of us prefer to have a lot of quiet, interrupted time. Then again, if we want to go out and see a movie or something, we don’t have to plan it in advance.

My friends feel like Mr. Donovan and I have a fantastic relationship. Most of the credit goes to him being so wonderful, but I also think it’s easier for us to be close and romantic because we don’t have arguments over child-rearing. The key to our marriage is that we rarely try to tell each other what to do, because we both hate being told what to do. I think it would be harder for us to have that kind of relationship while trying to parent together.

I don’t feel the passage of time as strongly as friends my age who are parents. When their kids start high school or college, that can make them feel old, but I don’t have that point of reference. Even in my mid-40s, it’s hard for me to feel old, because I have basically the same lifestyle I did in my early 20s. “My kids keep me young,” one dad told me. “Without them, I wouldn’t ever hear any new music.” I’m always getting into new bands. Maybe without kids and more free time, you have more opportunity to learn about things firsthand.

This is trivial, but to be completely honest, I like it that a pregnancy hasn’t taken a toll on my body. It’s funny: society pressures us constantly to look good, but if we have any negative thoughts about what having a baby does to us physically, suddenly we’re too superficial. The imperative to reproduce outweighs even the imperative to be attractive.

I’m not sure Mr. Donovan and I would be up for some of the issues my friends with children deal with, such as behavior problems and academic problems. I don’t know how they do it. I can’t even get our dog to stop pooping indoors on occasion. Parents worry about what their teenagers will be doing in a few years. I make exciting plans for what I want to be doing in a few years.

I’ve been told that not having children is selfish. While I hope most parents experience some personal gratification, I think the people who say this are probably right, at least about me. At any rate, when someone says you’re selfish, smiling and agreeing pretty much shuts it down.

We do have a lot of nieces and nephews, although none close by, and we love them. They’re cute when they’re little, and even more enjoyable as they get older and develop interests and opinions. I like being an aunt–all fun and no work. It’s like being a grandma who doesn’t always remember to watch her language.

My mom tells me I’ll be alone when I’m old. I’m pretty sure children wouldn’t provide me with a rock-solid guarantee there, and I’ll be damned if I arrange the whole course of my life according to fear of how it will end. Honestly, I’m a recluse by nature anyway. By the time I’m 90 or so, I may very much want to be alone, thank you.

I know I’m missing out on parts of life by not being a mom, and that’s okay with me. Every decision we make limits us in some ways and frees us in others. We’re all different, and what works for me wouldn’t work for everyone. I just wanted to write this for people who think they don’t want to have children. Others may say, “You’ll regret it,” but I want to tell you it might be a brilliant choice.

By Bryn Donovan

Romance writer, poet, quilter, and dog cuddler.

36 replies on “Actually, You Might Not Regret Not Having Kids”

When I was young — and I mean really young, like 10!!! — I knew in my heart that I didn’t want to be a parent.  It was an easy decision and I don’t recall ever really questioning that bit of internal knowledge about myself.  Now almost 50 years later, I have never regretted that choice. It has affected my relationships, as so many of you are experiencing, but life goes on and hearts heal.  So many women in the world don’t have the luxury of choosing a life that is best for their own hearts. How lucky to have the options that we have.

Thanks Silverwane.  I do need some hugs now (more than ever).  This is the bravest thing I have ever had to do — but I just can’t go along with what everyone is doing when it comes to something as important as bringing another life into the world.  As other posters have said, I would rather regret not having children than regret having a child because if I were to regret not having a child I would only be hurting myself — not an innocent and helpless child.

Thank you so much for your honesty Moretta, to the blogger and to everyone who posted comments.  I am so glad I found this blog.  I am in my late thirties, married and struggling with the decision to have children or not.  I have been on the fence about it my whole life, but given my age time is of essence.  So I had a frank conversation with myself and recently decided that it was not for me.  My husband wants children told me he wanted to divorce me yesterday.  As painful as the news was for me, I am just not the type of person who would have a child just to keep a man.  That would be so selfish, I wouldn’t know how to rationalize it to myself.  All my friends either have children or or trying to have children.  I don’t know anyone who has opted out.  It is such a lonely path — but one I know is the right one for me.


So many hugs to you if you want them. You are absolutely not alone. I myself worry about this sort of thing sometimes. I’m pretty certain that I will never ever want kids. My long-time boyfriend, on the other hand, always saw himself as being a father one day. There’s a lot of things he wanted out of life that he’s decided he’s willing to give up in order to be with me, including his desire be a parent, but one of my fears is that someday he’ll decide he needs to have kids. I can only imagine that would end up being the end of our relationship.

Such huge kudos to you for following what you felt was true to yourself. Seriously, that takes some goddamn strength. I’m sure, if you find yourself wanting another relationship, you will find someone someday who feels the same.

Terrific post.  I have an Auntie who does not have children of her own, and the love and attention she has given me has enriched my life hugely.  We are so close and my sisters and I consult her constantly, even though we are now in our forties.  Never underestimate the power of Aunthood!

This was a really interesting read. The idea of “you’ll regret it” is something find quite interesting, especially in the way it’s applied to having children. The “you’ll regret it” line seems to be brought out whenever the idea of having a child doesn’t fit into accepted parameters (i.e. older parents, young parents, those who choose not to be parent). I find it strange, too, that there is an inability of sorts to accept someone else’s choice. As a whole though, I find the concept of “regret” a little strange. But anyway, I’m rambling, in short: this was a great read.

How is not having a kid selfish? It’s more ecologically, economically, and even personally selfish to HAVE children. For the most part, children don’t get made by someone thinking of the children, they get made by someone thinking of what they want. That  want being either sex or a family. I wish people didn’t attach some sort of morality to procreation. Managing to put a sperm and egg together is a fairly neutral action.

Having been vocally childfree since, well, forever, I’m always told I’ll regret my decision. And yet, no one tells a woman who decides to have children that it’s a permanent decision and she’ll regret it. Frankly, I’d rather regret not doing something than regret doing it and having a whole other person have to suffer the effects. There’s a lot about parenting I couldn’t handle or wouldn’t like, and frankly, I’m under no obligation to give it a try on the off chance that I won’t hate it.

Everyone’s choices are valid. Even the ones you disagree with.

I love this article. I just went to my five year college reunion and spent a while chatting with a friend who got married around the same time me. I’m fairly “Meh” about the whole idea of having kids, while she’s going to have a flock of them when she and her partner can afford it. Which is not actually that interesting a story, but for the fact that it was one of those shockingly rare moments where two people are making kid-having without getting judgey or defensive at each other.

Haha, the “You aren’t a real adult until you have kids” might be true, in a way, but is that really a bad thing?

“Children are a woman’s greatest achievement” – ugh. Maybe, but not necessarily. That makes me think of when I had a book release party. I told my mom I felt a little guilty that some of my in-laws were traveling cross-country to attend, and she said, “Hey. You go to baptisms, recitals, confirmations, and graduations for other people’s kids. This is your baby.” I realized she had come to really understand me, and it meant the world to me.

I’ve never understood the “selfish” argument. If you’re having kids because you want to, isn’t that also selfish? Either way making the decision that you feel will make you happiest, so why call one more selfish than another?

I once tried to argue that with someone who called me selfish and they were horrified, but it’s true.

I think the most selfish thing about having children is that you could have adopted, but no – you just HAD to use your own genetic material, because no one could possibly make a better kid than you two!

Granted, I only pull this argument out as a last resource.

Or the adoption groups out there are unwilling to consider your needs in child selection and are only willing to let you adopt children who wouldn’t mesh well with your family.*

*What happened to my parents when they tried to adopt a kid after I was born. They were told that they were too old to adopt an infant, but they could adopt a mentally disabled boy who was older than I was. They didn’t think it would be fair to me to suddenly have a sibling who was older than me, and they both worked full time and were ill equipped to raise a special needs child.

I find it amazingly frustrating that there are absolutely no limitations to having a kid yourself no matter who your are, your ethics or your lifestyle. But if you want to adopt there are infinite hoops and qualifying rounds you must go through to just get approval and then you wait for someone to match you with a child! It’s a good thing there are standards and that people need approval to adopt because there are is so much a person may not be ready for (language, culture, living space, costs, etc.) but I find the process a little off balance when considering there are absolutely no standards at all dictating who can give birth. (Just to cover my ground here, I’m not saying we should have approval to give birth, just that it should be a little easier for parents who want to adopt.)

This is why I only pull the argument out as a last resource – because it’s clearly flawed. There are always so many different versions on “how to become a parent” story. I’ve only ever retorted along these lines to parents who had made it VERY clear that they would never adopt if they could have their own baby.

I made that decision a year ago and have never looked back.

I don’t understand why so many people feel the need to judge people who choose not to have kids.  People have their own reasons for deciding not to.  That is not being selfish; it is being responsible and honest with yourself and knowing what you do and don’t want and can and can’t handle.

It seems like in the past few years, more people understand that one can love her children dearly and still be frustrated with parenthood, and I think that’s a really good thing. People shouldn’t have to hide their feelings or the truth about their lives.

I’m with Susan. I love my kids like crazy, but I think that parenthood has destroyed my relationship with my husband. This morning I told my mom that if I had known that parenting would be like this, I wouldn’t have done it. I have visibly aged five years in the past year, too, and both of my knees have given out. In other words, today is a really bad day, and there are many of them. I’ll have better days, but these days exist, too, and in equal or greater number than the good ones right now.I think most parents know that, too. That is why when I hear that people are pressuring others to have children, I want to hit them over the head with a mallet like a Whack-A-Mole.

I’m 27 and haven’t been pressured yet but I know it’s coming (all of my sibling and cousins have kids). My big struggle is when should we do it? I want a couple of kids but I want a career too and I want to go to grad school and I want to travel more. How do I get it all and get to have kids? And what about a house and a car and the costs of just having one? Thinking about the costs of a kid makes my eyes cross! I’ve accepted that we might never have kids which makes me a little sad but also gives me a bit of relief.

It’s funny: society pressures us constantly to look good, but if we have any negative thoughts about what having a baby does to us physically, suddenly we’re too superficial.

Yes, but remember:  After you have that baby, you have six weeks to get back to pre-baby weight, a la Beyonce.  Or else you’re just LAZY.

(Side note:  While I don’t have baby fever, I am baby appreciative.  As in, I want one in the next few years, but am not feeling an immediate biological imperative.  I do have a friend, though, that never wants to have kids.  She is excited to be an unofficial “auntie” to my future children, and teach them things I don’t want them to know.  Which will remain a “secret” just between them.  I’m excited about it, too.)

I’m a textbook case of indecision in this matter. Although I don’t think I’d be a bad parent, and rationally and emotionally I can see some upsides to having children – quite a few of my friends have created lovely, bright, funny little people without it ruining their own lives at all -  I’ve never experienced that baby fever people talk about. And I’ve never been anywhere near financially comfortable enough to entertain such plans anyway, so it’s not on my mind a lot. My parents, however, are desperate for grandchildren and I just heard my SIL’s first round of IVF failed. She’s only 2 years older than me, and my brother and she were told they have a 50/50 chance. They’re all set, they want kids, and it’s not looking good. And here I am, supposedly still fertile and not doing anything about it. (I’ve never had so much as a pregnancy scare.)

I wish there was a way of rationalizing this for someone who always knew they wanted kids (as in, my parents), but I don’t know why I feel the way I do. Perhaps I was born this way (never cared about playing with dolls, didn’t like younger kids as a kid, etc.). Or who knows, maybe I’m not with the right person. All I know is, I tend to operate on instinct, and instinct has yet to tell me “let’s get some babies”. And I don’t think I really have any options that look good. Not procreating and dealing with bitter, grandkidless parents guilting me over it for the rest of their lives, or worse, ending up regretting it myself? Procreating and ending up regretting it? Because, mental and physical well-being: almost guaranteed damage, relationship: likely damage, finances: guaranteed damage, and all that’s still assuming the hypothetical baby is perfect in all senses…

I like the idea of adopting far more than the idea of being pregnant (my genes are okay, but I’m feeling indifferent about passing them on), but obviously the being broke part makes this problematic.

Ariel at the Offbeat Empire wrote a great post a few years ago about the “You’ll see!” response; your first paragraph totally reminded me of it (in a good way!):

 I’ve never heard more sing-songy You’ll seeeeee!s than I have when talking to people about becoming a mother. I’ve witnessed the other end of the spectrum too — people chided when they opt NOT to have children, told “Oh, you’ll change your mind about having kids. You’ll seeeee…”

Certainly I’ve seen it in other parts of my life — my career, my home, my education, etc etc etc. You’ll seeeeeee, people have always told me. And maybe because I’m a brat and want to prove them wrong, or maybe just because I live my life differently, or maybe just because I’ve been blessed and lucky … I’ve found myself NOT seeing.

I’m also baffled by childfree people being told they’re ‘selfish’. No-one is obliged to reproduce, and surely having children is a lot more selfish – in an existential sense – than not having them. I’m grateful that I have childfree relatives who are awesome and I’ve never heard one word from any of my family about how they missed out by not having kids. The parent relatives are just happy to have extra adults around:)

The whole “have kids and don’t be selfish” thing makes me laugh, because you could easily respond that procreating your OWN new child is selfish when there are so many children without parents out there who never get adopted EVER!

I don’t see selfishness as being a thing that really factors into your decision to have kids. Sure, I like having money and freetime, so those are “selfish” reasons for my desire to be childless, but I also don’t want to have kids for the sake of the very kids I would be reproducing. [Potential TW for mention of child abuse] I don’t trust myself to avoid the abuse cycle I grew up with, even though the BF would want to be the primary caregiver. It’s much more a sure thing to avoid it if I don’t have kids to begin with! [End TW]

Additionally, since you have to be able to take care of yourself in order to look after others, I’m not confident that I would be able to be able to properly self-care if I had kids. So, in reality, any “selfish” reason I would want to have for not having kids could also be construed as not being selfish!

 you could easily respond that procreating your OWN new child is selfish when there are so many children without parents out there who never get adopted

Right! And that’s something that’s often told to people using fertility treatment to have kids: that they’re selfish, and that they should “just adopt” – as if “just _____” applies to any aspect of deciding to be a parent, or not. The “selfish” accusation doesn’t make sense, however someone decides to have their family, with children or not.

As a mom of a four year old, I can say unequivocally that you are 100% on the money.

If you are unsure about having kids, don’t.  We gave up a LOT for out son.  More than we realized when we decided to have a child.  I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t resent him from time to time.  Yes, I get so much from him, I love him so dearly, I would take a bullet for him, he makes me laugh, he has an amazing imagination and the sweetest disposition of any kid on the planet.  BUT, if I knew then what I know now, I dunno, maybe I wouldn’t be a mommy.

We’re getting a lot of pressure to have a second.  No effing way.

Eck. No one ever believes me when I say that based on my experiences watching others’ children that I do not want any of my own. I find them exhausting, and I do not want to do the care thing all day.

“But it’s different when they are yourrrrs…”

“Yes, I can’t pass them back off to their guardians and say I’m done if they are mine.”

Really. I do not want the responsibility. I can barely manage my boyfriend’s dogs because I find them so needy. If I can’t do dogs, I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t try kids.

 The truth is, a person might regret anything she does or doesn’t do, but it’s usually considered rude to point that out.

Amen. Having children is just such a big happening in anyone’s life and I don’t understand why people can be so light-hearted about it, throwing all the clichés around until you place a Come In board in your womb? I don’t know yet if I want children and yet I have a small fear about feeling too old and regretting not having children ‘younger’ the “You Will Regret It”s definitely gets to me.

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