I could have been a decent, if reluctant, father, just like my own father was. I’ve made a different choice.
I’m a man who’s childfree by choice. I have made a conscious decision not to have children. It would be most accurate to say I avoided making a decision about it for a long, long time, and then came to accept what I had deep down already decided, which is to live a childfree life. (I use the word “childfree” to refer to people who don’t have children and don’t want them, as opposed to “childless,” which means you don’t have them but still want them.)
Contrary to the stereotypes, and sometimes not so contrary to the stereotypes, people choose to be childfree for all sorts of reasons. I don’t see my decision as a statement to other people about their lives. For me it was an individual choice about creating the kind of life I want for myself. It is a recognition of who I am, what I want, and what I am capable of, as well as what would be best for society on the whole. It is one of the most important decisions anyone can make, so it should be done thoughtfully and with a deep sense of responsibility.
I never had a desire to have children. I never daydreamed about having children around the house. When I was younger and I imagined my future life, I did not envision being a father. If anything, the idea seemed quite depressing and completely foreign to me. I didn’t think I should become a parent if it was not something I deeply wanted. Becoming a dad seems to me the absolute worst thing to do without putting any thought into it. It would be irresponsible to have a kid with the hope that suddenly I would just love being a dad. That’s like rolling the dice with someone else’s life. There are plenty of people who become parents without ever liking children, not even their own after they are born. I remain unconvinced by the idea that “it’s different when it’s your own,” because clearly that is far from universal.
I need more peace and quiet than the average person. I need quite a bit of alone time in order to feel sane, in order to be able to function at all, really. I have a very low tolerance for noise, irrational behavior, people demanding lots of attention, people without good personal boundaries, people who demand things from you without any gratitude in return, and people who act immature. I can’t stand the feeling of being hijacked by other people’s schedules, waiting for other people, or feeling like I can’t leave the house. Because of all these things, it seemed really clear that having a kid would be a really bad idea for someone like me. Children are people, and they rarely behave like the people I want to spend time with.
There are clearly people who never should have been parents. I decided that I was one of those people. I thought about what life would be like with kids, and I decided I preferred the life I would have without them. We hear all sorts of people complain about their lives and we think, “well, you should have thought about that before you _____.” That won’t happen to me. I won’t have children without thinking of the consequences for myself. I did the thinking that I know that I should have done and came to the conclusion that is most appropriate for me.
I think I could have been a decent father, at least not a disastrous one. I didn’t choose to be childfree because I thought I would be a horrible dad. For me, the question is what it would have taken out of me to be a good father, and what it would be like for that kid to grow up with a reluctant father. There’s an excellent chance that I would be one of those fathers who never really wanted to be a father but became one, anyway. I can’t imagine being able to keep that secret from my children. I couldn’t guarantee that my heart would be in it, so it seemed especially cruel to put me and my children through that. They would have no choice about being born, and I chose to have them when I didn’t want them, so I decided to ruin at least two lives at once? What a stupid course of action.
My own upbringing is probably a factor, but not in the way you might think. I had a more or less good childhood, not overly happy nor miserable. One of the least dysfunctional families I know, really. My parents loved us, took care of us, and did their jobs well. Their kids grew up to be independent, educated, well-adjusted, contributing members of society. But, looking back on it, I don’t think they became parents because they wanted to be, and I don’t think they especially enjoyed it. They did it because it was just what you did. To do otherwise would have been too weird for that generation, especially for my parents, who had very traditional outlooks. In my memory, there are clues that being parents actually made them quite miserable at times.
I’ve heard all the arguments pro and con. I’ve made the lists, read the books, meditated on my inner life, written journal entries, talked with people whose opinions I value, done some research, and observed people with and without kids. Considering the fact that I’m 42 and have never wanted children, I’d say there’s an excellent chance I will never change my mind. This is the standard defensive disclaimer, not because I am insecure about my choice, but because there are so many people out there who cannot conceive of making such a choice. Telling people you are childfree by choice requires me to anticipate some very common responses—I’ll change my mind, I’ll be lonely when I’m older, I’ll never know true love, I’m bitter, immature, selfish, etc. If you are thinking those things about me, all I ask is that you consider the possibility that you could be wrong, wherever that thought may lead.
After all, I assume I could be wrong. I recognize that I will miss out on some things by not having children, and I accept that I will probably miss out on some wonderful things that I can’t even imagine. There are brief, fleeting moments when I wonder what could have been, and those moments almost feel like regret. Almost, but not quite. For me, it’s a question of what I would gain compared to what I would lose, and what the likelihoods are compared to the risks. I accept that I have made a choice, and no one else is responsible for the outcome. I’m engaged in a grand experiment, because everyone is. Having children is a huge experiment, and so is not having children. So far the experiment has been a rousing success, and I’m confident I’ve made the right choice for myself.
Read more on choosing to be childfree: The New Normal
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