I'm a regular subscriber to NY Magazine and the latest issue had an article that literally stopped me in my tracks: "Why Parents Hate Parenting". The upshot of the article is that based on a lot of research, having children doesn't make you happier. Married couples find that they become more unhappy after having children, with this finding exacerbated the later in life that the children are born. So then why are so many people still having kids? Because people who don't have children report having more regret and are less fulfilled than people who have children.
I'm almost 30. That's not too old to have kids, by any means, but it is old enough that thinking about whether to have kids or not is something that is on my radar. I have a coworker who is in his mid-50s, with a wife in her early 30's, and they just had their first child earlier last year. For about 8 months he came in looking like death warmed over every day, completely sleep deprived, and all of a sudden this year he's trying to convince me every other day of how wonderful having children is, he can't wait to have another one. "Amy, you've got to get yourself one of these." I've been asked what I would name my children, and when I say I have never thought about it or picked a name, I get complete disbelief.
The truth is, I've never been excited about having children. I had two younger brothers born much later than me, so I was changing diapers in 7th grade and the default, free babysitter all through high school. I've never found stranger's children to be cute, and I've never, ever gone gooey-eyed over a baby. It's just not in me. My ex was very into children, and loved spending time with them. It was always a little awkward between the two of us when the topic came up. I've always openly admitted that I don't like other people's children, but I felt that it would be different if I had one of my own.
Over the past year, however, I've become a little bit more firm in the thought that I really don't want to have children. Ideally you should have children by the time you are 35, biologically speaking. And who wants to be trying to retire when they are having to worry about paying for a college tuition? But the closer that I get to that age, the less and less I want to sacrifice any part of the next 5 years to having a child. I have only recently found a job that I like, and a part time job that I like even more, and to get pregnant now when I have so much left that I want to achieve would be putting a big fat pause on my future plans and forget all the traveling I still want to do. In other words, instead of thinking about the long-term feelings of fulfillment that a child could give me, I prefer to prioritize the short-term fulfillment of my 30's. Besides the fact that I find the responsibility of a child completely horrifying. Honestly, I'd rather have a puppy, but I don't even know if I could handle that. The only issue with my plans is the what-if: What if I get to be 40, and regret not having a family? I guess I could always adopt but at this point in time, that doesn't seem like an attractive... "substitute"... to having children of my own.
An interesting idea that the article touches on is that not so long ago, people were having children straight out of college. Life wasn't so much about finding yourself, or following your career, there was a much more regimented expectation of the timeline that you were supposed to follow. Now that we have so many more choices in our lives, having a baby often means loss of freedom to people and it's that loss that is so paralyzing.