If you’re on TikTok, you’ve likely stumbled onto ‘Childfree By ChoiceTok,’ a growing online movement dedicated to intentionally not having children. It’s an increasingly popular sentiment, especially in developed nations. In the US, a 2021 Pew Research Center study showed that approximately 44% of non-parents between the ages of 18 to 49 don’t believe they’ll have children, up from 37% in 2018.
Among the reasons for it, many people in the movement name financial, environmental, and societal concerns as the deciding factors in their choice. In an interview with BBC, Margaret O’Connor, host of the ‘Are Kids For Me?’ podcast, says issues such as insecure living arrangements, “working in the gig economy, and limited access to healthcare” are top of mind for millennials weighing their futures (and whether kids fit into them).
It’s not just TikTokers who are outspoken about being childfree, though: prominent celebrities like Tracee Ellis Ross, Jennifer Aniston, Oprah Winfrey, and Chelsea Handler are known for taking pride in their choice to not have children. In a 2016 Huffington Post op-ed, Jennifer Aniston shared: “We are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child. We don’t need to be married or mothers to be complete. We get to determine our own ‘happily ever after’ for ourselves.”
For me, it wasn’t “if” I wanted kids, it was “when.” My focus was on building a career life in Washington, DC. When I was finally at a point where we felt comfortable with the idea, I was 35 and we faced a very tough road getting pregnant. There were many days I waffled between wanting kids and giving up.
If you’re on the fence about having children, here’s what I’d recommend thinking through, and speaking to your partner (if you have one) about:
1. There are no ‘musts.’
You’ve likely been told the same story from your family, friends, or culture for as long as you can remember. Go to school, get the job, meet your person, make the family. You may have even heard that you don’t know what love is until you meet your child. Forget all of it. There are truths in every story, and both sides of these arguments are right in some way. I’d encourage you to settle into the grey area between the stories we tell – it’s okay to make your own ‘musts’ out of life, and ignore what others define as success, happiness, or unconditional love. Wherever you end up, is where you’re meant to be.
2. There may be days you have regrets either way.
Whether you have kids or don’t, there will be days that tug on your heart strings. Days you’re sitting with your toddler after the 8th time watching Encanto that week, days you’re tapped out from being tugged on and cutting sandwiches into fun shapes at a precise angle (under pressure!). There may also be days, if you decide against having kids, that you dream of what life would’ve been, and feel like you’re missing out on something. These are life’s great mysteries, parallel choices we can never see the other side of the grass for. If you’re comfortable knowing you may never really know, the answer will reveal itself to you.
3) No matter what you decide, you may lose friends.
As life shifts, the friends who have kids first often feel lost to what we call the ‘kid void.’ Life becomes so full of joy, and then school events, obligations, and just trying to make it through each day without a tantrum or running out of groceries. Whether or not you have kids, your friendships will shift around these changing lifestyles. As your friends choose to procreate, or you do and they don’t, it’s inevitable, and you do find time to catch up with loved ones every once in a blue moon. Just be prepared that friendships shift either way, and you’ll have the right mindset for your own “village” going forward.
4) You can’t do it all.
No matter what anyone tells you, there’s no way to do everything at once. “Life doesn’t have to stop when you have a kid,” they say. It’s well-meaning, and even true to a degree. But sacrifices are inherent in having little ones to care for. You won’t be able to have life as you know it now, and children won’t just be an add-on you strap to your back and carry with you on all your adventures. They are people, no matter how small, who need some element of undivided love and care around the clock. As you consider whether to take that leap, know that they’ll fit into your world to some degree, but much of your time will be spent trying to fit yours into theirs. You can’t do it all – and that’s okay for me, and a lot of people. Decide what’s right for you.
As social norms continue to shift around procreation and what’s expected of us (especially women), my overall advice is to remain true to you. From the time we’re first walking, there are milestones and checklists being thrust upon us – “be married by this age! Get promoted by this stage!” Remember to take life at your own pace, because you’re in the driver’s seat. And the journey is so much sweeter when it feels like your story was written by YOU.