Firmly on the Fence
Dear Annie: My husband and I have been married for five years. We are in our early 30s and child-free. We talked about having children before we got married. At the time, we were both very much on the fence. We promised to keep checking in with each other and having honest conversations about kids. We've done that pretty regularly, and five years later we're still here, both sitting firmly on the fence.
We see the pros and cons. We love each other very much and love the idea of raising a family together. I think we would be good parents, and we both see parenting as an important and meaningful part of life. We have good jobs, own a nice home and have very loving and supportive family and friends. Imagining my husband as a father and my parents as grandparents fills me with joy.
But we look at the life we have now and can't help but worry about what we could lose. We've heard stories from other couples who grew apart after having kids, unable to make time for each other or only seeing each other as co-parents rather than spouses. We think about the state of the world and wonder if bringing a child into it is the right thing to do. And, honestly, we like having the free time and disposable income to travel, spoil our nieces and nephews, and enjoy our hobbies.
We don't think either decision is good or bad, selfless or selfish. We just don't know which one is right for us. How does anyone ever decide? Do you have to wait for the "biological imperative" to kick in? Because right now, neither of us are feeling it. Even though we're not fussed about biological kids vs. adoption, we do feel a bit of a time crunch to decide. I think as we get older the idea of completely changing our lives will become more and more difficult. Is there something we're missing? -- Anon
Dear Anon: You're not alone. Compared with previous generations, millennials are waiting until later in life to have children and more likely to be ambivalent about the idea of having children at all. There are books to guide people through this decision-making process, such as "Motherhood -- Is It For Me?" (which can be equally useful to would-be fathers), and there are counselors who specialize in this. You and your husband might consider enlisting the help of such resources.
But what came to mind when reading your letter was a survey that I conducted a few years ago, in which I asked readers, "If you had to do it all over again, would you have children?" I heard from thousands of parents and non-parents. The major takeaway: Virtually all were happy with their choices. Plenty of parents readily acknowledged the challenges and personal concessions that come with parenthood, but they consistently reported that the joy outweighs the hardship. The less than 1% of parents who said they wouldn't have kids if given a do-over cited addiction (either their own or their child's) as the reason. No one said it was because they wished they could have traveled more, had more free time, etc.
And on the flip side, I heard from hundreds of child-free people about the full lives they have led; many of them had traveled the world with their partners and enjoyed freedoms that they likely wouldn't have been able to with children. I only heard from one person who felt she'd missed out by not having kids.
So take comfort knowing that whether or not you have children, you probably won't have regrets.
"Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie" is out now! Annie Lane's debut book -- featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette -- is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to firstname.lastname@example.org.