Monday, 9 April 2007

On not having children

When I meet someone new, sooner or later they ask me if I have children, and I say no. If they're bold, they might also ask me if I ever wanted children, and I say no again.

I'm always relieved how tolerant people are about my complete lack of desire to reproduce, given their own enthusiasm for children and their evident joy in having them. I always expect to get a little spiel about how wonderful and life-enhancing they are, and what I'm missing by not having any, but not so. Maybe it's because I'm old enough to be beyond it, or old enough to have come to a mature decision, or old enough to have deep regrets they might trigger off.

But the point is that I've never found the idea of having children at all appealing (and fortunately neither has Jenny). I'm sure it's very fulfilling watching your very own offspring gradually developing from drooling, perplexed babies to mature, intelligent adults (hopefully), but I've always felt that my existing life is complete enough as it is and doesn't need children to enrich it. I certainly never fancied children for what I see as entirely selfish reasons like wanting someone to look after you in your dotage (and suppose your child dies before you anyway?).

Looking at other people's babies, I've never had that heart-wrenching pang you're meant to get, and that deep longing for one of your own. To me it was just a baby doing what babies usually do - looking ecstatic or wrecking something. Perhaps I'm just too selfish and too fastidious to put up with all the mess and disorder of little people doing their own thing, getting under my feet, and generally disrupting my own plans and pleasures.

I also wonder whether my parenting abilities would have been up to the job, particularly when I'm in a cafe or a shop and see children behaving like wild animals and their flustered, wrung-out parents not only failing miserably to control them but apparently unconcerned by their behaviour. I was always somewhat daunted by the responsibility that parenting involved, the need to ensure every single day that your child was progressing steadily towards sensible adulthood and not drifting into some dysfunctional cul de sac of drug addiction or gang warfare. Would I end up one of those bitterly disappointed and guilt-ridden souls, wondering where I had gone wrong and disowning my own progeny? And it happens more often than we care to admit....


  1. Hi Nick:
    Just tumbled on your blog and enjoyed it. I'm originally from Ireland myself but living in Canada now. We did a wonderful tour of the North a few years back (last time before that was in the late sixties).

    Re kids, as per the Ann Landers survey taken in 1980 I believe, 80% of people polled who had adult children responded with a resounding "NO" when asked if they would do it again. I'm with the 80%.


  2. Thanks for that very interesting pointer to Ann Landers, which I've followed up in my next blog! Have been to Toronto myself, as my partner Jenny has two cousins living there. Glad you enjoyed your trip to Northern Ireland - you must have noticed how rapidly it's changing now with the accelerating peace process. Hope you come back again.

  3. Alexei Sayle - also childless - says the only difference is that in old age he'll be swindled by Filipino maids rather than by his own offspring.

  4. Very good! Another quote, from Clarence Darrow, the American civil libertarian: "The first half of our lives is ruined by our parents, and the second half by our children."

  5. Mr. M and I also chose not to have kids and the explanations were always a pain in the ass. I think I got more grief about it than he did. Men are not expected to desire children in the same way that traditional gender norms regard all women as future moms.
    There are plenty of studies which show that couples without kids argue less and are happier in their relationships. I'll testify to that.

  6. Ann Landers debunked:

  7. Thanks for that update, Emilia. See my reply on On Not Having Children (2)

  8. Hi, it's Emilia again. (This is a repeat.) I must say however that even if the number of parents who truly regret having children are a minority, in my view it is better to regret never having children (which I don't believe most voluntarily childless people do; for example, one sample of 25 "childless by choice" women found only one said she would have kids if she had to live her life over) than regret having a child that is already born. Moral of the story: whenever we make a decision, we may regret it later on. But I think in terms of having or not having children, most people - whether they are childless by choice or have ten kids - know what they are doing.

  9. Hi again, it's Emilia. Just one other thing: polls can be misinterpreted the other way around as well. For example, New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks reported that 70% of women in their 40s without kids "regretted" their childless status. However, the original Gallup poll did not use the word "regret." As well, no mention was made of how many of the 70% truly made a conscious decision to forgo procreation or how many intended to have kids at some time but put it off until it was too late. Or how many were infertile, for that matter. I suspect if the poll were limited to women who had made a definite choice not have to children, the 70% figure would be much lower. Moral of this story: be cautious about polls!