Do I want to have children when I’m older? I waver from “No” to “Maybe.” I have yet to meet anyone on my college campus — or anyone close to my age — who shares my ambivalence toward having children when older. You’re not going to have kids? comes the gasp of a response, like I’m somehow letting down my race by pondering the possibility of opting out of the procreation process.
My theory is that many young folks can’t imagine married life with no children. By imagine I mean a vivid image in one’s head about how a no-child situation would actually look. Most of the adults you get to know as a kid are the adult friends of your parents. Because parents tend to hang out with other parents, your first-hand knowledge of adults consists almost entirely of other parents. In other words, kids and teens usually have minimal exposure to families without children.
In my own experiences in the business world, I have befriended several adult couples without children and seen close-up how happy they are. I have a clear image in my head of how this could work out; it feels like a real option.
Moreover, I have befriended couples who have kids and I’ve seen their careers or lives suffer. As youth we tend to hold romantic notions of parenting — taking junior to his first baseball game! buying her her first dress! — but children require enormous sacrifice, sacrifice not often paraded by parents and therefore invisible to many. When was the last time your dad told you about his hobbies left unpursued, travel guidebooks unopened, and everything else that went on pause after your birth? Never. Every parent says “It’s worth it.” Thanks to the ginormous investment of time and energy it takes to rear kids, our brains wouldn’t let us think any other way. And what kind of parent would want to guilt trip his son or daughter?
Even if, as a kid, you’re aware of the sacrifice in the abstract, it’s much different to ponder it from afar at age 19 than to actually face the brutal reality at age 29 when you’re thinking of having kids and yet just a couple years away from the promotion you’ve spent the last eight years striving for.
Finally, I have the good fortune of being free from any kind of religious or parental or societal influence pushing me toward procreation. I’m growing up in the 2000′s, not 1950′s where staying childless was considered “deviant or abnormal” according to the Chron article linked to below.
I don’t mean to imply that I’m more “enlightened” than my age-similar peers. Most people have children. I’m in the minority now, and if nothing changes (though I may very well change), I will be in the minority later. I’m just speculating as to why I have yet to find another person in college who shares my view.
Related Link: Here’s a Salon article on studies that show couples who choose not to have children are happier than those who do. Here’s a SF Chronicle article on groups such as “No Kidding!” which help childless-by-choice couples connect.