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Can You Be Happy Without Children?

time magazine women vs women

So the latest mainstream media catfight linkbait headline is courtesy of [drumroll] Time Magazine, home of “hey, the breastfeeding toddler cover did gangbusters with the mom bloggers. Let’s go for it again!”

This week it’s a cover article entitled THE CHILDFREE LIFE. When Having it All Means Not Having Children.

When it was brought to my attention, I was asked whether I’d seen “Time’s new cover about how having it all means NOT having children?” And of course, them are fightin’ words to parents who feel like they’re constantly defending every choice they make.

So I ran to the newsstand and grabbed a copy–but when I looked closely at the article, it became clear that it wasn’t about how if you want to have it all you shouldn’t have children. It was about how some people are very happy not having children.

Which makes perfect sense.

(I just saved you a 20 minute read and $4.95. You’re welcome.)

The truth is, not everyone wants to be a parent. Not everyone would be a good parent. Not every parent who is a parent should be a parent, if we’re going to be honest about it. And then there are some people who might have wanted to be parents but things just didn’t pan out that way, so, like all self-actualized, healthy people, they try make the most of the cards they’ve been dealt.

The article does a really excellent job spelling out the potential societal and economic effects of a declining birthrate, all punctuated with stories from various child-free archetypes: The successful career women like Oprah Winfrey, Gloria Steinem, Condeleeza Rice. The woman who simply doesn’t feel the biological clock ticking. The woman who didn’t have her own kids because her husband already did. The woman who thinks she’d be a bad parent. The couple who really just enjoy their lives the way they are. And yeah, the one single woman who perhaps doth protest too much. (If it’s the hardest job in the world, I’m damn happy I don’t have to do it.)

The thing is, all those feelings are valid. And (and I’m talking to you, my parent friends) if our first instincts are to correct those women or somehow convince them to try it our way, then there’s something wrong.

With us.

I know that when you’re happy you want everyone to feel it too. That’s natural. It’s why couples fix up their single friends, why your pal just back from Costa Rica won’t shut up about it, why potheads enjoy company around the bong, why evangelicals knock on your door. But I think this is such a sensitive topic, that we–the parents–need to resist that urge to promote parenthood like some cult. Like, you know–the evangelicals.

I suppose it’s just that I relate to the other side too. I lived a fairly satisfying life for 35 years before becoming a later-in-life mom, as the high-risk OB gets to call it. I know that’s not so old in NYC where plenty of the dads in our school could pass for grandfathers, but when I traveled, especially to smaller towns, it was abundantly clear that a 30-something without kids was an anomaly.

Still, I lived my life. And it was good. I was the walking Zagat guide at my office, ready with a recommendation for any Manhattan cafe or bar or restaurant to suit any need. I dated fun people. I dated not-so-fun people that made good stories later on. (God, it was so fun leaving the match.com date in the bar after berating him for talking for 90 straight minutes without even asking me how I was, then making him promise me he’d never do that to another woman again. Yeah, I was feisty at 30.)

I bought art, I bought furniture that didn’t suck, I spent long leisurely weekend mornings with the crossword puzzle. I traveled at will. I upgraded to business class. I dropped a fortune at the Prada store in London when the exchange rate sucked for us, even after the first salesperson blew me off, dying to quote Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman with all my shopping bags in hand.

Indeed as I cracked 30 and kept going (funny how that works) I knew I didn’t want to be single; but it wasn’t for the sake of making babies. In fact, at the time, I thought I could have lived a pretty nice life never having had children at all.

I can only wonder whether that feeling might have changed though, the older I got. The more my phone-a-friend list atrophied, as besties created their own families, leaving me to fend for myself more often at Sunday brunch, or to work our girl time around some baby’s demanding naptime schedule. The more my relatives started to pry as to my future plans. The more the tabloids shouted from the covers every damn detail about every celebrity who may or may not have been impregnated.

The more my body stopped giving me the option.

I wonder how my life might be playing out today, should I be in my 40s, happily coupled (ideally), in a state of moderate financial comfort, and never have thrown caution to the wind with that whole birth control thing. I wonder which of those women in the article I’d be like. I wonder if I would be seriously happy with my life, living with no regrets and no what-ifs. Or a perfectly content Aunt Liz. Or someone who lives with a touch of well-disguised remorse, especially in a world that increasingly commoditizes and fetishizes motherhood and celebrity baby bumps and Marisa Mayer. Because I think that part might be really hard.

The thing is, I will never know.

I’m beyond happy with my choice to have kids. Not a single regret, not even once. But then, I have to remind myself that it’s the only choice I have experienced.

And that’s why I can’t judge how women without children feel either.

They deserve the right to live with no regrets too. They deserve the right to be happy. And it is incredibly clear that a whole lot of women and couples living without children are just that.

More happy people in the world–that’s not such a bad thing.

{ 106 comments… add one }

  • Dina 8.06.2013, 11:09 am

    Thanks for this post Liz! I am 34 and childless, with the same partner going on 14 years. We are choosing not to have children and because of this I am usually put in a position to defend our choice, which sometimes, is emotionally exhausting. I shouldn’t really have to defend the choice but I feel the need from time to time because I want them to understand that it isn’t about being “selfish.” I think to myself “what woman ever defends her choice to HAVE children?” and then I stop, re-boot and move on. 9 out of 10 times it’s someone from an older generation who presses the issue, rarely from my peers. I am happy about our choice and for all my friends choices to have children. We are all living the life we want and it’s all working out – which is a GREAT thing. Cheer’s to happy people all around!

    • Mom101 8.06.2013, 11:30 am

      Thank you for sharing this Dina. I love that you’re happy!

      For what it’s worth we don’t usually need to defend our choice to have children–unless we are 1) young 2) “old” 3) having more than two 4) not rich 5) on some crazy online message board of childhaters (though I tend not to defend much there!)

      • Dina 8.07.2013, 2:41 am

        Good point! I really loved this discussion today.

        • Mom101 8.07.2013, 7:46 am

          Me too! Sorry it took so long for the comments to all post. (Your comments are always the best part.)

    • ozma 8.24.2013, 1:32 am

      You may have to defend your choice to have children–but maybe not from everyone. It will generally only happen in the workplace and around friends who don’t like kids. And people are not as invasive about it. But in my profession, I think less than half the women have children and there are times in the career cycle where it just looks bad and you risk everything when you have a kid if you are a woman. (It continues to be fine if you are a man).

      Still, like I said, it is probably less annoying to defend against this smaller group of people. But not easy.

      Liz, I wish everyone could be happy all around but I think there are a lot of issues with working and having children for women–simply establishing your life in the US career track. Finding a partner who is mature enough at the right age, getting into the correct place employment-wise and so on. Many women run out of time and find themselves much less than happy. I was lucky that this didn’t happen to me but I had my kids way later than I wanted to and went through a lot of loss and pain to do it.

      • Mom101 8.24.2013, 11:41 am

        Thanks for that perspective Ozma. You make excellent points.

  • Sili 8.06.2013, 11:11 am

    Yes, yes and yes! Oh and…amen!

  • Loukia 8.06.2013, 11:13 am

    I love being a mom. I love my boys more than my life, and I’m sure you know the worry that comes with having children. Life before children was so… different. It was great, but man, I never knew really just how MUCH we can do in a 24 hour period, or how LITTLE sleep we need to survive. 5 hours a night of broken sleep for the last 8 years, and I’m still standing. I don’t envy my friends who don’t have kids, except I do feel a bit of… okay, maybe envy, when I think about the fact that they don’t have this worry, this lifelong worry that we have as parents. I’m totally filled with anxiety every day and maybe not everyone has anxiety attacks like this, but they were few and far between before I had kids. I feel blessed every day, truly, but sometimes it’s tough. However, I always knew I wanted to be a mom. I feel complete. And I’ve had a full time job. I travel. I have friends. I absolutely still have “me” time. My life just got… more full? And the LOVE… it’s amazing. (I hate the worry, though.)

    • Mom101 8.06.2013, 11:31 am

      I think it’s really hard to explain that something can be tough and anxiety provoking and also more fulfilling than anything. So…don’t explain. [insert happy face]

  • Suebob 8.06.2013, 11:14 am

    The only time I get cranky about the not having kids thing is when people assume I have not thought deeply about it or when people assume I am somehow less valid as a human because I don’t have kids.

    I know some people can’t imagine life without kids, but I’m not one of those people. I think parenthood is incredibly important – too important to do if you’re not sure you want to do it.

    • Mom101 8.06.2013, 11:32 am

      You are one of the most thoughtful people I know. I can’t imagine anyone who knows you assuming that. You make me a more thoughtful person too. I’m sorry that there’s this feeling that kids validate your existence. That’s just…weird.

  • Amanda 8.06.2013, 11:20 am

    Thank you. Sometimes, as ridiculous as it is, we all need reminders that we don’t have to fight.

    In this case I need to take the advice I give my girls, which is, “Don’t let them get to you. You’re better than that and you’re happier than they want you to be. You win.”

  • Amanda 8.06.2013, 11:25 am

    Not sure that came out as intended, I meant happier than the headline writers and pot stirrers want us to be, not the people who are happy without children.

    Sigh.

  • Craig 8.06.2013, 11:34 am

    Similar to what I wrote on FB – Happiness comes from self-fulfillment – no matter what your goals are. Children, Career, etc. Those people, article, etc that perpetuate “life” competition have missed the point. We are not in competition with each other over happiness. For one – there is enough happiness in the world for everyone. And it’s found on one’s own terms. Like you, Liz – I married “later” and we had our daughter “later” than many (most) of our friends. I loved my life then. I love my life now. I’ll never be one of those people that say now that we have a child I can’t even remember what life was like before she was here. I can. And there are aspects that will always be “missed” so to speak. On the flip side – now that she’s a part of our life – I have entirely new levels of fulfillment. Maybe they are better. Maybe they are just different. I have no regrets (ask me again when it comes time to pay for college or dating!). We should all live our lives to be the best WE can be – whatever that means to us individually. Maybe if we all lived our own lives and strived for this bliss, we would collectively be nicer to each other as well….

    • Mom101 8.06.2013, 11:43 am

      We are not in competition with each other over happiness.
      That is awesome.

  • Korinthia Klein 8.06.2013, 11:42 am

    This is why I read your blog. Time Magazine is trying to fuel fires. You are putting a reasonable and heartfelt analysis out there and saying in effect, “What fire?” I agree with everything here. No one should be guilted into regret.

  • Holly 8.06.2013, 11:59 am

    I’ve been carrying around the magazine in my bag, reluctant to read it (I’m a subscriber, didn’t have to buy it), so thanks for the run down. I don’t look down on any of my friends who don’t have kids. On the contrary. Sometimes I wonder how my life would have been different without them. Kids are a game changer. They change EVERYTHING, and I often envy my sisters and friends’ freedom. But I wouldn’t change anything either as I am quite sure I would have lived in regret without having children. However, I don’t blame anyone for not having kids. There are a million factors behind their decision, and often it is not one of their own choice. I really wish Time hadn’t made the women who are silently suffering feel worse. I expect that the cover alone did.

  • Julie Marsh 8.06.2013, 12:02 pm

    I had no idea how much I would love having children. I knew it would be a lot of work. I never dreamed of all the fun I’d have.

    I was raised by people who did not seem to enjoy being parents. (Perhaps they did. Perhaps in 30 years my own kids will say the same about me. Who knows.)

    I had a terrible boss who was a terrible person and outspokenly child free. I think he made the right decision, and it was his decision.

    I had a dear friend who loved children but never had any. She teaches and is a devoted auntie. It works.

    I’ve been told what I ought to do to be happy enough times that it’s cured me of doing the same to others. Usually.

    Brilliant post, Liz.

  • Karen 8.06.2013, 12:04 pm

    I think that the pressure on women to have kids is ridiculous. If you don’t want them, you are happy and satisfied with your life NOT having them….then don’t. Kids aren’t for everyone. If you figure that out about yourself BEFORE you have them? I applaud you. Ignore society, well-meaning but obnoxious family members, health media telling you that breastfeeding/childbirth/mommy-health-benefit du jour will prevent awful-female-disease du jour….live your life the way you want. You don’t need to have children to be a happy, satisfied, fulfilled human.

    (And how come you got called Later-In-Life mom? My OB called it, “Advanced Maternal Age.” Ouch.)

    • Mom101 8.06.2013, 1:46 pm

      Oh yeah. I got the advanced maternal age thing too. That’s what the insurance companies need to pay for all those extra fun tests.

    • AlisonC 8.07.2013, 10:58 am

      My friend had “elderly mother” on her hospital notes and I think she was only 30 at the time.

  • Karen Untereker 8.06.2013, 12:17 pm

    I really loved this — thank you so much for the well thought out post (and saving me time/money). Dating a man with three kids and watching all the baby photos from peers come through my newsfeed has me in a state where most of the time, I think I don’t want to have kids of my own. But I notice that any time I say to a friend “well, I think I might be really satisfied being a stepmom of three great kids,” the reply is an automatic “of course you want kids” which ultimately reinforces the idea that there’s something wrong with me for maybe (!) not wanting kids of my own. I appreciate TIME for writing an article that explores that life and even more appreciate you for sharing your perspective.

  • Meagan Francis 8.06.2013, 12:21 pm

    I am one who has a crap-ton of kids (well, five) and started as a wee baby myself (well, 20.) And I love my life, and my kids, and have no regrets. But I think I could be happy without children, too, if I had to be or if it had worked out that way. I know that because of the great examples I have of happy women without kids, and because like you said – as a self-actualized healthy person I couldn’t HELP but try to make the best of the life I’d be living. It would be a very, very different life from the one I have now…but it would still be a life, and I have to believe it would be a good one.

  • Suzy 8.06.2013, 12:22 pm

    Our anthology on remaining child-free, No Kidding, was excerpted and mentioned in Time.com. One of the statistics is that people are having less children, in particular, college grads. The US is experiencing its lowest birth rate in a long time.

    To be honest, when I was asked to contribute, I didn’t think the book would be a best seller (which it is, on Amazon) because I thought, why would people want to read this? If you have kids, you won’t be interested and if you don’t have kids you already know why you don’t. I was wrong because apparently many women in their 20s are still making up their minds, and they want to read what others have to say on the topic. And in women’s studies, it’s become a very big topic.

    • Mom101 8.06.2013, 1:45 pm

      That’s awesome Suzy, huge congrats on the success. It’s awesome to know you’re helping other people with your own experiences, whether you’re reaching a few people on a blog or a whole ton of book buyers.

  • becky 8.06.2013, 12:45 pm

    I sometimes wonder the same thing, if I would have been happy just having my stepdaughter. If my husband & I would be off traveling and doing cool things — and if that would make me happy.

    I do know that my two little boys make me insanely happy and I love them dearly. I wouldn’t change it, truly, but a little part of me misses being able to take off & do what we want when we want. We will again, someday, of course. It’s hard not to wonder about the path we didn’t take, though.

  • Melanie @MelanieMedia 8.06.2013, 1:52 pm

    It’s funny, even though I have a child, I’m the one who will tell people to think about it long and hard before they decide to get pregnant. I applaud people who say they’re just not sure being a parent is right for them. Bravo for the self realization! It’s not for everyone and this idea that children are the ‘natural’ next step after marriage is pretty ridiculous.

    • Sf 2.10.2014, 4:46 am

      Thank u!!!
      35 and no kids and im thinking long and hard about it!

  • Betsy 8.06.2013, 3:24 pm

    I think about this all the time. It’s a good thing we can’t know what our lives might have been or come to had we not had babies. The irreversibility of motherhood is a built-in safety mechanism that keeps us, well me anyway, focused and discourages me from going to that “what if, where would I be” place simply because there’s no point in wondering. I’ll never know. I’m here. My children are here. As much as I enjoy my children I’ve never, ever, believed that motherhood is the only route to true self discovery in this life. Good on those couples who know what they want, and don’t want, or can’t have, and power to them when it comes to trying to dwell among the proselytizers.

  • Jen 8.06.2013, 3:29 pm

    What??? You mean other people can make their own choices and that’s actually ok? And they can be different from my choices, and that’s ok too? I thought this was the internet, I must be lost.

    This is always a nice place to come for a dose of sanity. Thanks for your insight! :)

  • doug 8.06.2013, 4:16 pm

    Really interesting topic…..for men too…..and you are right on the money. Gina Gionfriddo’s fabulous play “Rapture, Blister, Burn” starring Amy Brennerman at the Geffen Playhouse in LA explores this brilliantly…..as well as the history of “having it all” from the point of view of 3 women (one 70, one 45, one 25). If you have time and if you are there, a must. If not, buy the script from Playwrights Horizons.

  • Ruthy @ Omeletta 8.06.2013, 6:30 pm

    I’m pregnant with my first child at 30, and I agree 1,000% with every thing you’ve said here.

  • Sheila 8.06.2013, 6:42 pm

    Great post, as usual. This speaks to me. I will be 50 in September and have no children. I LOVE kids but did not want to raise them. I have a horrible temper and many childhood memories of being yelled at by the man from whom I inherited the temper. I did not want to do that to another generation.
    I am an EXCELLENT aunt, a great friend and a loving sister. I have traveled to places I never dreamed I would see, have a job that is fulfilling and challenging and in general, love my life. Every once in a while, I get a twinge of “What If” but I know I made the right choice. And so did you. And so did every other woman who did…or didn’t…have children.

  • DALE 8.06.2013, 6:52 pm

    You’re absolutely right. We have friends in all categories and they seem perfectly happy with their decisions

    • Mom101 8.07.2013, 7:51 am

      Thanks for your comment Dale! As a grandmother (who knows a LOT of people) I’m sure that’s very true. Good to hear the pov of people who are further along in life with more perspective for looking back and reflecting on choices made.

  • Diana 8.06.2013, 8:58 pm

    Well written, my friend.

    I have kids, and did it the opposite way as you — having them young. Like you, I don’t regret one bit of it for even a second. I also think I’m probably one of those people that could have been happy either way. It’s hard to know what circumstances in which we can be happy until/unless we’ve had a chance to try it out. In general I think most of us are pretty adaptable creatures though, adjusting and finding a happy spot in whatever hand life deals us. Not all of us, but a lot.

    • Mom101 8.07.2013, 7:49 am

      So smart Diana, thanks.

      I imagine some of the 20-somethings who hate kids now may find themselves 30 somethings that want them. Or…not. But yes, we are adaptable. And we change. That’s some of the fun of life.

  • Deb @ Urban Moo Cow 8.07.2013, 12:19 am

    I love, love, love being a mom. I bet I would hate, hate, hate being a dentist. These are choices we make. Why do we all feel that we have to defend ours in full view of the “other”?

    • Mom101 8.07.2013, 7:48 am

      Ha, someone asked “how can you know you’re happy without kids if you’ve never had them?”

      I said something like, “well, I’ve never been a man, an astronaut, a Buddhist or a Nobel Prize winner but I know I’m happy.”

      • Deb @ Urban Moo Cow 8.07.2013, 2:15 pm

        TOTALLY. (I’d probably be calmer if I were a Buddhist, but that is a whole other discussion…)

  • Dorothy 8.07.2013, 2:38 am

    I’m one of those women who really felt a huge desire to parent and have children and now that they are teens I pretty much can’t stand parenthood. This part of raising kids is bewildering, stressful, expensive and not particularly fulfilling. I have a devoted spouse and three well bodied, well tended children and have many fond memories of when parenthood was rewarding and family life was worth all the effort. So, my childless friends seem much happier to me at this stage of our lives and my husband and I are trying to maintain our perspective and sanity until our progeny reach their mid twenties- at which time I’ve been told you can actually enjoy your kids again. Amazing how nutty adolescents can make you feel.

    • Mom101 8.07.2013, 7:47 am

      Thank you so much for your honesty.

      I can safely say a lot of us with younger kids are crossing fingers for a different experience…

      wishing you the best of luck.

      • Carpool Goddess 8.07.2013, 11:55 am

        There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. My kids are 19 and 22 and have pretty much grown out of the difficult teenage stage. They are a pleasure to be with the majority of the time. Lots of patience until you get there. Wine too :)

  • Rachel at BacknGrooveMom 8.07.2013, 8:49 am

    So glad I popped over to read this.

    Earlier this morning, I thought to myself – perhaps women who have kids and women who don’t can’t help to attack one another because each one reminds the other of what they do or don’t have….

    BUT, I like the way you put it – maybe we just are thinking too deep? AND really….we should just be content with our choices because we made them?

    For me, most of my friends had babies way after me and enjoyed their single-something years way longer. I could wonder and think, but what would be the point? THEN, I would not have what I have today…..

    • Mom101 8.07.2013, 10:32 am

      We always have a choice on whether to attack someone or not. About anything. Of course we can help it.

      Rachel, do you attack people for their religion, if it’s different than yours? No, because you’re confident with what you believe. Substitute any analogy…right?

      And I’m glad you feel good aboutwhat you have going on.

  • jodifur 8.07.2013, 10:34 am

    My husband’s best friend and his wife don’t have kids. We have never talked about if it was by choice or just the way it turned out, but they seem happy and fulfilled with their life. I knew from an early age I wanted kids, but life worked out and I have one. And I’m happy with my life. My husband would have been happy without any, but he is a fantastic dad.

    This is a very long comment to say I think people’s life choices are what they are, and we would be a lot better off we just stopped judging everyone.

  • Sometimesisleep 8.07.2013, 11:47 am

    I wrote a post about ending the Mommy Wars the day before this cover came out (which I discovered from you, Liz.) It turned out to be rather timely. I’ve decided they should really be renamed “Women Wars” as we seem determined to defend every choice we make to those who’ve made different choices.

    Every choice adult women make is couched as a parenting/child rearing choice. How frustrating for women who are actually making choices for any myriad of other reasons- career, personal, whimsical.

    I’ll own my choices. You own yours and we’ll both congratulate each other for being happy in our own skins.

  • MonkeyMom 8.07.2013, 11:51 am

    I was one of those women in her 20’s who said, “I’m not sure if I ever want kids.” My husband and I loved that we could do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted. We had our 1st child when I was 30 and he was 32. Our 2nd child came when I was 32 and he was 34. I am so happy that we made the decision to have children. They are wonderful…and they are awful. Being a mom is an experience that I am glad I am not missing, however, this is for me and my life. I have a few dear girlfriends who have remained child free. They’re happy too. Just because my life is great with kids, doesn’t mean their life will be great with kids.

  • Alyssa S 8.07.2013, 12:11 pm

    Seriously, what harm ever came from NOT having children? Unless we were facing some species ending population shortages, why should anyone care? I’ve told many a friend that has made the choice not to have kids that I respect them for acknowledging that fact. I think it’s much better to not have them then to be goaded into having them when your heart isn’t into having them. My husband and I waited a long time to have ours. We wanted to be ready and despite the many years of being told “there’s no right time to have them”, there were certainly many “not right” times in our life up until then not to have them and I don’t regret having waited. Family and friends kept pushing us but my thought was, unless these people were ready to help food, clothe and raise these kids, then they weren’t entitled to an opinion!

    • Mom101 8.07.2013, 12:50 pm

      For what it’s worth, the Time article does get into some interesting stats about birthrate decline and the potential economic and societal impact (smaller workforce, fewer taxpayers, decline of certain family-focused industries, etc) Which is interesting. A lot of it is speculation–that could be a whole article on its own. But I don’t think anyone should have kids for some “greater good of the US economic structure.” That’s just strange and regressive to me–like fairy tale times, when your family was your labor force.

  • og 8.07.2013, 12:44 pm

    I think my husband and I could have very happy without kids, but we wouldn’t have known it. And that’s the problem. I went through several IVFs to have kids and if it hadn’t worked, I’m sure I could have been seriously depressed for life. At the same time, now that we have kids, we sometimes thank that maybe we weren’t meant to be parents! Of course that’s my experience based on having twins and one with serious health issues. If I had only one healthy baby, I don’t think we would have any regrets.

  • Adrian 8.07.2013, 2:11 pm

    Thank you so much for this post. I am so tired of the assumption that since I am childless and single that there must be either something wrong with me or that I am constantly out Partying and having cheap one- night stands.

  • Jodi Goldstein 8.08.2013, 10:49 am

    Wow! I started reading this with such trepidation. I am a Harvard educated Lawyer, an Emmy Award winning television producer and a survivor of 16 hours in Tower 2 on 9/11 and I am childless by G-d’s choice. When I won the Emmy, I told my Mother, who cares? When people started finding out, they couldn’t believe I hadn’t told anyone. My response, is that statue going to be at my funeral, do I kiss it goodnight every night, have you ever seen pictures of my children. NO? because I don’t have any. So my credible response to this is NO! Can they appear happy and make do? Yes. I always avoid this and because it took a Rabbi to help me make a way to keep living, especially after 9/11 when as if the survivor’s guilt wasn’t bad enough, why did 3,000 parents die and not me. G-d couldn’t answer that because as Jews we are not allowed to ask why. So truthfully in my own unfortunate personal experience versus opinion, the answer is you can make a life but that true happiness and only true happiness in life is love and there no greater love or moment in your life than your children. G-d bless all of you, and thank you Liz for your brilliance and amazing journalistic compassion, seemingly only there from Mothers and Fathers.

  • Jen 8.08.2013, 9:59 pm

    I’ve done some research on the subject; Its been a traditional belief that people are happier with children due to the assumption there would be loneliness without and in some instances, the thinking children bring a bond uncomparable. Also outdated stereotypes that define a woman’s happiness being linked/tied to someone else (e.g. a man, children) However, during the mid 90’s and later – more researched confirmed having children didn’t equate to happiness and individuals could experience bonds/self-growth in other ways – this is likely due to feminism, more education and women simply having more choices If some women still find other women judge them harshly no matter the choice, its likely due to a narrow mindset. We live in a far more diverse society then our parents – just look around – and being able to adapt succesfully going forward will require individuals to be open minded about choices. Personally, I firmly believe all good parents need to educated their kids on the reality of being parents and the importance on contemplating the decision, especially in these modern times where its far more challenging & the outcome (unfortunately) isn’t always positive. How can you truly prepare any child for adulthood without having very realistic conversations about what it means to be a parent?! I am very grateful to my mother and father there was no pressure to have children , but moreso, they were adamant about its moral seriousness.

    • Mom101 8.09.2013, 8:45 am

      I’ve seen the research about relative happiness favoring those without children, in part because of the anxiety and stress related with raising children and feeling accountable for their health and well-being. It makes perfect sense. Still, happiness is relative. If you’re happy, you’re happy right? I don’t care if I’m 1.6 statistical points less happy than someone else in a different circumstance. Gotta make the best of your situation, whatever it is.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

      • Jen 8.16.2013, 10:25 am

        I agree!

        And to add, this is all culturally biased too – just look at the Time photos, what images do we see here! From my experience, when African-American women are strong and independent, that’s all complimented. When White women choose a different path, then its all questioned. So, when reading these articles, studies, etc, the silent footnote is “Some standards don’t apply”.

        • Mom101 8.16.2013, 6:42 pm

          Wow Jen, that’s really astute.

          I’ve always said the reason I could be an unmarried mother without anyone questioning it is because I was born White. I think there’s a huge cultural bias towards woman (and men) in all sorts of ways. Another post?

          • Jen 8.17.2013, 2:18 pm

            Another post – yes – Wow back.

  • Marinka 8.09.2013, 8:33 am

    I don’t understand the need to tell someone that they should have kids/or shouldn’t, for that matter. Or to question their happiness.

    I also don’t understand how some people can eat vanilla ice cream when chocolate is an option, but I’m guessing Time is not going to tackle that one yet.

    • Mom101 8.09.2013, 8:45 am

      Cover Article, October 2014.

      You heard it here first.

    • Jen 8.16.2013, 10:28 am

      @ Marinka — Beautiful name!

  • Melinda 8.10.2013, 12:58 am

    This has been said before but you said it so beautifully. Why do the choices that make us happy have to be forced on everyone else? Because there will always be thoughtless people in the world, unfortunately. You’re probably preaching to the choir here, but I still loved reading it.

    • Mom101 8.10.2013, 9:10 am

      Thank you Melinda. I don’t know that the notion of wanting others to feel the happiness we feel is thoughtless per se–I believe it’s either done defensively or with good intentions. But yeah, if we step back and think we can see that it’s either hurtful or thoughtless at best. We could all work on that in lots of ways in our lives, I’m sure. I know I can.

  • Elaine A. 8.11.2013, 10:17 pm

    This makes me think of the conversation I had with a friend at my 10 year h.s. reunion (10 years ago, ha!). I was simply making small talk and I asked her if she had any children and she responded that no she did not and they were not planning on having any. At the time I was a little shocked to hear her say that, I think because I personally could never imagine NOT wanting children. And at that time I was in the midst of trying to get pregnant myself!

    But we have a few good friends who have chosen not to have children and I always say that if you do not want them then you definitely should NOT have them!

    It’s just like anything, it is someone’s personal choice and yes, my jealously of a child-free life might be there every-now-and-again but I wouldn’t change my situation in a million years and I bet they feel the exact same way. :)

  • Carin Clark @Mrscpkc 8.13.2013, 10:24 pm

    Great post. The one thing that bothers me the most about parents, especially mothers, is how they deem their way of life – what they think, what they do, what they decided is appropriate – to be the bible on all things. Just because you absolutely love being a mom and think that any other woman out there who doesn’t partake in the awesomeness of bearing children doesn’t make it right. And certainly doesn’t give you a free pass to shove parenthood down someone’s throat. I have three kids, and I became a mom at a young age, it’s like second nature to me I really don’t know what life would be like any other way. However, I have best friends who don’t have children – and one who said she would never dream of doing something so stupid as to birth another human – and that doesn’t bother me one bit. I am now able to join in on vacations, frequent girl’s nights, and other motherless adventures which is so nice because frankly I need that break here and there. And I certainly don’t start talking about kids’ stuff with my non-mom friends…or my mom ones for that matter…when they start, I change the subject. Lol.

    • Mom101 8.14.2013, 12:50 am

      I hope you mean “the one thing that bothers me the most about some parents…” Or maybe you just need to hang out with different parents? Glad you have some good friends to give you a break. I think girls nights are essential for everyone (raising my hand high).

  • Marivic L 8.14.2013, 1:12 am

    As a woman who married late and have birth at, what the hospital records marked (in red) on my chart “AMA” (Advanced Maternal Age)–39 and then again at 40, I can relate to exactly everything you’ve written.

    I was very happy single, working, traveling, making my won choices and not having to consult anyone. The joys of parenthood are many, and I can’t imagine life without my two daughters now. But had the chance not come along, I would still be traveling the world business class, and still buying gorgeous antiques for the heck of it.

    Thanks for you thoughts!

  • Nita Bourland 8.14.2013, 3:29 pm

    Childless is not always a Choice…
    We both had medical issues
    I don’t think I will ever be Happy…we have no close
    Family either..

    • Kelley 8.17.2013, 6:49 pm

      Sending love and light.

  • Renee 8.15.2013, 3:57 pm

    I haven’t read all the comments so apologies if this point has already been made: I think forcing/pressuring people (usually the woman) into having children is a horrible idea – probably a good way to ensure a pretty miserable childhood for said future baby. The shoe fits on the other foot too, though. When I read websites/articles proclaiming the child-free choices that poeple make, they often (though not always) tend to make those of us that chose to have kids sound like losers – i.e., “why would you give up your free time/money/good body etc etc for a baby? We are so much happier than you!” And God help you if you have (gasp!) 3 or 4 kids. It’s really annoying. So the happiness competition seems to flow quite freely both ways. Also, I know quite a few people older than me (I’m 37) who chose not to have kids and regret it GREATLY. This anecdotal evidence is certainly not necessarily worth extending to the entire population of childless by choice couples but it may be a reason why some well-meaning relatives try to nudge those people along. Maybe they’ve seen that things aren’t as rosy when you’re in your 50s and 60s without children as they were in your 20s and 30s.

  • Marta 8.15.2013, 9:43 pm

    Thank you for saving me the time of reading the article! I know people who never want to have kids. Who are still young and not yet at the “high risk” age since they’re 28 like me. I do sort of think they will change their minds. That they are still young and single and don’t know what they really want. I’ve always know I wanted kids, and yes I had them much earlier than I expected (and wanted) but I always knew they would be in my life. And on some level I don’t get how others don’t want that. That said I have friends/coworkers who are older than me, who never had kids and didn’t regret it and are happy. I know that not everyone wants the same things in life and that’s okay, but yet I’m still always surprised when someone tells me they don’t want kids.

    • Mom101 8.16.2013, 6:43 pm

      At 28 I also said I didn’t think I wanted kids.

      Nice to meet you, I’m now “Mom101″ (ha)

    • Julie 2.02.2014, 3:37 am

      I guess its sometimes quite simple though. If you grew up in a home that didn’t want kids, you might not want them either. I hope that makes sense. I was given away as a baby then abused by my new family, so I knew from an early age that kids weren’t everyone’s recipe for happiness.

      • LilyDaze 2.25.2014, 12:25 pm

        At 28, I was saying I didn’t want kids too. Heck, I’ve been saying it since I was about 20. And all my life I heard people tell me I would eventually change my mind, that it was normal because was young and wanted to enjoy myself and party… That when all my friends would start having them I wouldn’t have anyone to party with anymore and would want to start a family too…

        But guess what, I’m 36 now, in a great relationship, most of my friends have kids, and I still don’t want any. I haven’t changed my mind. Young doesn’t always mean you don’t know what you want. After all, when 2o year old women say they really WANT kids, do you see anyone tell them they will change their mind because they’re too young to know what they want?

        I’d rather leave the child rearing to those who actively desire it, like my best friend. She’s an awesome mom, and does a much better job than I ever could. Mad respect to mothers all around, it’s just not for me. :)

  • Angie 8.16.2013, 4:47 pm

    You said something in a comment about “we don’t need kids to validate our existence,” but I feel often people around me do that. A dear friend, when going through a divorce, used to say “I’m living for my kids.” and it made me sad – live for yourself! I think any choice makes sense for the chooser, and sometimes the kids choose you (my surprise 4th baby who is the light of all of our lives and has made the older kids truly better people).

    We women spend way too much time beating each other up over being good moms, bad moms, not moms…aack! Let’s just support each other in this world that’s still too difficult for women.

  • Kelley 8.17.2013, 6:58 pm

    Yall. Loving all these comments.

    And I swear I wrote a really thoughtful one a week ago…

    When I saw this cover in my mailbox I thought, Oh Hell. Here we go again.

    I have three kids. And I’m one of those folks who thinks I wouldn’t have felt like all was right unless I had them. I’m Advanced Maternal Age(37!), as many have mentioned here, and have been desperately trying to have another for over two years. I’d have 2 more, I now realize. Why? I wish I could put my finger on why because people think I’m CRAZY. But it’s what works for my family, what works for me.

    Yet if you told me, Kelley, I don’t ever want kids. I’d say awesome. Don’t. Because that would be a crazy choice if you know your mind and your heart.

    And isn’t that what we’re all working towards? Knowing our mind and our heart? And trusting both? And being happy with our choices?

    Thanks, Liz. I always look to you.

  • iris de mallemarok 8.24.2013, 1:20 pm

    You’re either happy or you’re not, though. I was perfectly happy without kids for 36 years, then had an accidental pregnancy (I know, like an idiot, and I always feel like a grade-A asshole when mentioning it on the same page as people who have had problems conceiving. I hope I’m not rubbing it in).

    Anyhow, I was happy without, and am equally happy with a kid at 38. I never justified either decision or let it inform my general state of being.

    My daughter brings me indescribable joy, it’s true, but I think too many people have children thinking it’ll give purpose or meaning to their lives, then become miserable (and treat their children miserably) when it turns out to be a lot of hard work.

    The short of it is, I think you’re right, that Time Magazine is doing some real trolling with these cover stories. But one thing (even a thing as earth-moving as a child) shouldn’t really define your state of happiness or well-being. If it does, I think you’re doing it wrong.

  • Jennifer June 9.02.2013, 6:57 pm

    I wouldn’t trade my kids for the world.

    That having been said,

    I could really do without being told to “Relax!!” by the germ-feasts that mooch of me, leave a trail of filth behind them, and cost me half my hopes and dreams.

    Also, I know people who would love to have kids but can’t bring themselves to bring kids into this messed up world that we adults have created and honestly, I can’t blame them one single bit.

    To each her own as long as they are they are genuinely happy and being true to themselves.

  • Julia 10.15.2013, 8:00 am

    My husband and I have been together almost 13 years. Initially neither of us really wanted kids. I had grown up with an emotionally unavailable and physically abusive mother. My husband grew up with a berating hyper-critical mother. So neither of us new what it was like to really be loved by our mothers. So we stuck to the “if it happens it happens” ideology. Well, it never happened. My husband , who sustained an injury in highshcool

    , only has one testicle. While it seems that I am perfectly OK to conceive, the cost because he cannot “deliver” does not seem worth it at this point in our lives. Obviously this is TMI for most. Therefore I usually shrug my shoulders and say something like “guess it just wasn’ t in the cards”. I sometimes feel that I will never be accepted as a true member of society unless or until I conceive. It is definitely harder to make friends, especially the older we get. I wish there was more support for people like us!

  • Lola 11.15.2013, 5:08 am

    We absolutely love children, but my husband and I decided not have children of our own.
    I feel like I am more of a loving aunty type of person than a loving mother type of person. My friends and family’s kids love me and I love spending time with them. I just roll my eyes when people think we hate children or are selfish. Sometimes I can’t help but think “I wish people would leave my uterus alone, it’s MY uterus”.
    I have the utmost respect for parents because I can only imgaine how tough the going can get with the cost of living today. But you parents pull through and I admire your strenght and unconditional love. We just choose to give our love to the children of those near and dear to us instead of having our own.

    • LilyDaze 2.25.2014, 12:33 pm

      Exactly! I love kids too, I just don’t want my own. I have a blast with my friends’ kids, and I get to be the cool, edgy aunt to whom they go when they have questions they’re uncomfortable asking their parents. I have the patience to teach them music when their parents are a bit strung out, and babysit so mom and dad can have a romantic date. I think it all works out perfectly :D

  • Confused 11.27.2013, 5:24 pm

    I am a 35 year old female. Single and have been single for 15 years never really had a commited relationship. Great carreer meet lots and lots of people, travel often. I want to get married and have children. And i do not know how and time just keeps flying at a super speed im not sure why i cant find a husband. Or how to even find one? After i turned 35 i have been anxtious and nervous about being single that it stresses me out greatly. What do i do?

  • Jen 11.29.2013, 11:06 am

    I am enjoying reading all of these comments! I think there is a 3rd category out there that is rarely spoken of ..those women and men struggling with infertility or always wanted to have children but it just may notbe a viable option for them ( for various reasons). It’s like being stuck between worlds…quite a confusing and overwhelming journey and a hard one to understand whether you’re a happy mom or a happy child-free adult. Be blessed you were even given the choice much less war with each other

    • Miek 12.11.2013, 5:43 pm

      Thanks Jen. I googled on ‘happy without children’ and got to this article, not because I am childless by choice, but because I am 32 struggling with serious infertility for 2.5 years and I might never have kids. But there is no place for us in a world full of happy families and childless couples that stand behind their decisions. My carrier is a mess now because I cannot focus with all this grief in my life. Thanks again for you kind words, it means a lot!

  • Tasha 12.08.2013, 3:50 pm

    I think about this topic often. At 33 and married for 5 years with no children, I am an abnormalty. All through my 20’s I really wanted children and then once I started teaching and my friends started having kids well the desire started to decrease. I realized how hard parenting is and what a life long commitment it is. You will always be a parent. I’m not sure I thought about it much when I was younger. I just thought that’s just what you do. I get a lot of backlash from older generations that I am married and without a child. Even people I just met feel the need to tell me that I need to have a kid. Although I am afraid of regretting not having a child when I get older, I’m not sure if pushing a woman into motherhood is a great idea. We are socialized to believe that every woman should be a mother. I now realize it’s a choice to have children. I don’t have to. I am open to having a child but I also know that it will be okay if I don’t since i don’t have a deep desire. I just wish it was a more accepting choice.

    • julie 2.02.2014, 3:25 am

      Please do what you know is right for you. Many of those who would try to push you into motherhood will not be around to help if you struggle with your children.

  • Ramona 12.28.2013, 12:43 am

    God I wish I had baby

  • Mary 1.14.2014, 1:35 am

    Opinions vary. But importantly, whether, with children or not. I think we should live our life without regrets.

  • coney 1.14.2014, 11:45 pm

    thanks for this article and at least have opened my eyes that being childless can still be happy. i always wanted a child since i can remember and knowing that it is difficult for me to get pregnant makes me feel sad at times.

  • Suckstobeme 1.15.2014, 2:24 am

    There’s another category that often goes unseen. I had a long term relationship which broke up in my early 30s. No kids. I then met my current partner later in my 30s. He has three kids. I don’t have any. He doesn’t want any more and I think it’s probably too late for me to try to find another man who’d be open to having children with me. Also, this man’s children’s mother is insecure and doesn’t want me around them so contact has been curtailed. There is no opportunity for me to be a biological or a stepmother. It’s very hard. To the best of my knowledge, there’s no physical reason why I can’t have kids, though I’m now 41. And what makes it even harder to bear is when my partner expects me to think his kids are the best thing since sliced bread. He wants me to want his kids with another woman but not want any of our own. I can’t tell you how sad I feel. And then I get questions from people, asking how many children I have etc. Or if they have kids they talk to me like there’s something wrong with me cos I don’t. It seems hardly anyone has considered the possibility I want them but it’s out of my control :(

    • Mom101 1.15.2014, 8:28 am

      Wow, that’s a really tough situation. I wish you the best and I hope you can work it out with open communication. He should know how you’re feeling, or you’re going to live a long time with resentment.

      I wish you a lot of luck M.

    • vanessa 4.17.2014, 9:49 am

      Hi Hun

      I know exactly how you feel, I am also in a similiar situation, I am now 45 so too late but i have been with my partner since is was 39 and at the beginning of the relationship he was talking about having a baby but over the year has denied saying it and not wanting to have a child, he also have 4 children and says he does not want anymore but expects me to be supportive with his children and he has a nightmare of an ex-wife so if i had a child she would probably encourage the children to be very jealous of a new baby.
      I feel very sad like you and to be honest resentful and wonder what the meaning of life is sometimes without children, you are also shunned by some mothers who feel they dont have anything in common with you because y ou dont have children and can pity you and be very patronising

      My feelings are with you x

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  • julie 2.02.2014, 3:19 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you Liz.The best I have evet read on this topic. You nailed it. All the very best to you and your family. They have an awesome Mom. From Julie. Happy relationship, no children of my own but love their company.

    • Mom101 2.03.2014, 11:17 am

      Thank YOU Julie–and to all the commenters here, whatever your points of view. I appreciate your honesty, your openness, and your thoughtful discussion about what can be a really heated topic.

  • Anna 2.02.2014, 11:28 pm

    All I’ve ever wanted is a family and kids, and it didn’t work and I’m full of regret.

    I couldn’t convince the man I got pregnant with that this was the only thing that mattered…and I got an abortion at 37 and really can’t justify having a child after having done that against my better judgement.

    Its not a nice place to be.

    I wish I could not care and feel better.

  • Rae H 2.13.2014, 4:39 am

    I’m not having kids because I have amazing non commercialized creative talents. If I had kids, my life would be about them. It’s a choice I’m making, and I carry the guilt from my mom and inlaws. It’s like, I’m the one making the decision that effects my husband, his family and mine. I love my husband, but sometimes I want to run away from all these let down people. Because I’m great, and isn’t that something.

  • Not a mommy 3.09.2014, 11:18 pm

    I am a woman who has lived through cancer – twice. I am now in low thirties and the questions I get when first meeting someone is never what profession are you in but always ” how many kids did you have?”

    I often reply that I don’t have any children and ALWAYS get a reply of something like ” you will want soon” to which I always reply “even if I did ever want children it is impossible. I have had cervical cancer treatment twice for two separate instances.”

    You would think that the reply would be a quick drop the subject or talk about something like how to have sustainable fuel supply in 20 years or plan for global population impulsion but no. Each and every single time either look of sadness. …. Not for the cancer but for the lack of children and the ever so thoughtful ” if you keep trying you never know ” or my favourite ” did you know you could adopt” in which I then have to explain that I was never sure that I wanted children and not being able to sealed the deal. Which is then replied to ” oh my life would be over if I didn’t have children” or something equally defeating.

    I love that you love your children. Give them a kiss every night and keep them safe. I love that you love the choices that you made ( or a happy accident that you still chose to keep). I do not love you force feeding your love of your choices down my throat. Although I love my life as is, there is a tiny hormonal instinctual piece of me that sometimes crus out baby! and every time you force your lifestyle on me that itty bitty tiny piece off that I think every woman has ( some much bigger and done microscopic but it is still there) screams out and says Why me.

    Without your pity looks and brochures about IVF and stories about your third cousins adoption I am happy as a……. As you are with your baby. When you push the treatments and the how could you be do selfish statements to me I am as miserable as…. We’ll imagine someone said that baby you had was all a dream and you could never have one

  • Donna 4.21.2014, 11:15 am

    I am a 46 year old women with no children – NOT by choice! I tried and tried very hard, so hard it nearly broke me! My parents have grandchildren by my brother. My husband (we have been married for 26 years) and I are now outsiders in my family. No one knows what to do with us, if we hold/play with my brothers children there are sad looks all around, a tear in my mothers eye of what should have been. If we politely ignore the children we obviously haven’t come to terms with things – you just can’t win. To be childless in this day and age is a nightmare as women today make having children a career, not just part of life – like passing your driving test, leaving school, getting married and having children. It’s just one of those things we do or don’t, can or can’t. A tip for when one is asked ‘do you have children’ is to say ‘it never happened for us, but if we could have we would have had loads’ The look of the person as they think of their bunch of kids multiplied is amusing! And they always reply ‘two is enough for me’ I say ‘oh, what a shame…you really should have more…lots more’!

  • LT 4.24.2014, 8:09 am

    I’ve never experienced people needing to defend their choice to have children. I’ve experienced having to defend against not having them, and for several reasons. I dislike children, I don’t have time for children, I don’t have a maternal instinct, and the list goes on and on.

    I constantly have people try to put me down for this choice, though. I made a choice that I felt was the right one. I don’t want a kid, and I’d be a crap mother, so why be so unfair as to bring an unwanted child into the world. Personally, I find pregnancy to be disgusting (no offence to anyone, but it’s just not for me personally) and I just don’t want to do it. Yet I’ve had people tell me that I’ll never be happy, and I’ll never know love, and on top of that, that I’m such a disgusting, selfish human being for my choice. So I’m either evil and selfish, or I bring an unwanted child into my home, which somehow makes me better than choice A.

    • Donna 4.24.2014, 5:46 pm

      Goodness, people put you (LT) down for NOT wanting children and these same people put me down for not being ABLE to have any – someone is very SAD here and I don’t think it’s you or me!!! I will just add that my Husband told me this morning that he married me for me – NOT the children I may have been able to have and that he stays with me only because he loves me – not for the sake of ‘the’ children. I was talking to some girlfriends last week, they were all saying what they did at the weekend – when is was my turn I just smiled and said – WE went to bed on Friday night and didn’t get out till Sunday!!! They were impressed and I have to say…so was I! They said I was lucky and I suppose in a lot of ways I am even though I won’t be able to be a Mum. I know I am boring you now…but I do get on very well with my friends children – I’m sort of a crazy aunt to them and their parents tend to ask my advice when there’s a few stresses with them – I love pointing out that of course if I had manged to have children, they would have been perfect and never been any trouble – my friends…all of them always laugh hysterically – can’t think why;0)

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  • Steph 9.14.2014, 5:34 pm

    Thank you for this article. For once, it’s nice to not be criticized or looked down upon for my decision to not have children.

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