Next month I will be 30 years old and I'm still unsure if I want to have children. I know that it's a decision I should make sooner rather than later. Despite many celebrities over 40 having children it's still uncommon and quite difficult for most women of that age to have children without undergoing extensive fertility treatments. I know that if I want to have the best chance of getting pregnant naturally then I should start trying to conceive prior to my 35th year.
My problem is, I'm not sure if I want any. Growing up I don't recall playing with dolls as much as I do pretending I was a teacher and making my little brother do homework (your welcome for the head start Josh.)
As with most big decision in my life I rely on overdosing on data to try and make the most informed decision I can. I know for many women there wasn't even a decision to be made, they just knew they wanted children. I am not one of those women. I love my single life. I love having money to do the things I want whenever I want to. It's entirely selfish and I'm okay with that. However, I also think of all the incredible experiences and emotions having children would bring. I wonder if I'll reach an age where I look back and really regret not having a family. Or, will I have a kid and suddenly struggle with feelings of being trapped, never again being just 'Erica' but 'Mom'?
Some things research has found:
- Having kids is detrimental to parents happiness levels when they are under the age of 5, or teenagers.
- From the textbook I use in class: Women who are childless but passionate about their careers are just as happy as those women with children
- One study found that children act as a sort of long-term happiness investment. Young parents are less happy then young adults without kids, middle aged parents are just as happy as middle aged couples without kids, and older parents are happier than older adults without kids.
- We haven't even touched on how children affect marital satisfaction. 40% of married couples report a significant decrease in marital satisfaction after the birth of a child. Their happiness levels tend to increase a bit once the kids are 7-12, then drop again when they are teenagers. After the kids leave the house some research finds happiness goes up again, and other studies find it never reaches pre-baby heights.
In my Social Psych class in graduate school I remember a very heated discussion on the topic. One of the articles we read basically said 'having kids makes you happy' is a myth perpetuated by our culture to ensure the survival of our species. They argued that parents subconsciously try to persuade non-parents to have kids. They will talk more about the perks/benefits of having kids (and downplaying how genuinely shitty it can be at times) because they secretly envy their lifestyle and want them to be as unhappy as they are. Kind of like when you taste something horrible your instinct is to make someone else taste it.
Another interesting hypothesis is that having kids is making more people unhappy today because parenting has changed so much. In the grand scope of evolution it's been a woman's job to take care of her family. Now, that's changed and many women have to juggle work, kids, school, etc. and that's what's causing parents (particularly mothers) to be unhappy - not the kids. Our ancestral mothers cooked, cleaned, took care of the young children and taught her daughters how to become future mothers. They didn't stress over gymnastics classes, making sure homework was done, balancing the budget, keeping up with chores and looming deadlines at work.
After talking about this on my run yesterday with my running partner (and Mom of 3!) I basically concluded my decision comes down to this: which one would I regret more. At present I have an equal, moderate, desire for both options:
(1) Having an awesome child-free life
(2) Becoming the worlds greatest soccer Mom
Which would I be more upset not having? I suspect my decision may be made when John Stamos finally recognizes we are made for each other and begs me to be the bearer of his children.
If your interested in reading more on this topic All Joy and No Fun is an incredible look at why parents hate parenting.
What made you decide to have, or not have, kids?
Do you regret that decision?