Navigating the pressure of having kids

Some people know from an early age whether they do or do not want to have children, but for some, that decision can be more complex. We asked Dr. Karen Lawson, assistant professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine, how one can navigate making this choice and handle situations when people question it.

Question: How do you figure out if you want children? What things should you consider?

A couple sitting on a bad. They're looking away from each other while holding hands.Answer: This truly is an important decision because having children is a commitment for the rest of your life. One thing to consider is whether you are capable in terms of giving children the love, support and dedication that they need and deserve; whether financially you can afford all basic needs and many other expenses that come with children; and whether you genuinely want children. You need to be very sure you are not having them only because your partner wants to or because you feel a familial obligation to have children. You need to truly want children and make that commitment for the rest of your life because a child deserves that. You are still their parent long after they reach adulthood. It is not a decision we make for just 18 years.

Reasons people decide against having children are many. For example, some people do not feel capable emotionally; a person doesn’t believe they are a good role model; or one did not have a good childhood due to abuse, alcoholism or other major problems that were present, and therefore may feel poorly equipped to provide a good home life. Effect on lifestyle, desire for travel or having a career that involves travel, or simply not liking children or feeling the need to have children are other reasons. Not finding a suitable partner or worrying about having a child alone are also reasons people may have. Some people may worry about a problematic heritable disease in their family and thus don’t want to have children of their own. And finally, sadly, some people believe that raising children in the world as we see it is not safe.

Q: If you decide you don’t want kids, how do you navigate societal/cultural expectations?

A: After making the decision that you don’t want children, whatever the reasons, you need to be comfortable and self-confident about it. Yes, you will likely get questions, and some people within certain cultures won’t be pleased with your decision. However, again, it is a very personal decision, and, in my opinion, children shouldn’t be brought into the world to please others or to comply with family expectations. So, one must navigate this by being comfortable with their choice, being happy with their choice, expecting there will be questions, and having an honest response if and when people do ask.

Q: What are some ways someone can respond/react if people question your decision?

A: A person can decide on a certain reply and provide that whenever they get questioned. Some examples of a reasonable and truthful answer could be, “I am happy with my decision,” “I have nieces and nephews whom I adore,” or “My partner and I have simply decided it wasn’t for us.” And leave it at that. You don’t owe people an in-depth or more personal answer.

Q: Why do you think it can be “taboo” if women/couples choose not to have kids? 

A: Having children has deep historical roots. Some of the main reasons are perpetuating the family’s existence, having children to help with labor and fulfilling expectations to have a large family, which is important in some religions. The birth of a baby has traditionally been celebrated as an extremely happy and important event, and in patriarchal societies especially, it has been seen as a huge and honorable accomplishment on the part of the father. Thus, when someone chooses not to have children, it can be seen as an oddity or going against centuries of tradition. As we have moved into more modern times, however, I believe there is less of an expectation that a woman or a couple must have children. Perhaps it is somewhat less of a “taboo” issue currently, although this will vary according to different cultures and religions.

Q: What would you like people to take away from this post?

A: The main thing I would like for people to take away is that the decision to have children is deeply personal. It is a decision that a person should be comfortable with and should feel ready for. Children are a lifelong commitment and do not go away when they turn 18. Bringing a new, vulnerable, and at least in the beginning, helpless human being into the world needs the commitment that you will try to make their life as safe and healthy as possible. While not everyone can raise children in perfect conditions, being supported by a partner, family and other available resources can be extremely helpful along that journey.

On the other hand, not everyone will want to have children, and that is OK, too. They will have their reasons, and those should be respected.

By Anna Kiappes

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