Once a friend’s young daughter asked her, “Why don’t Janet and Dan have any children?” Robbin explained to her that not every couple had kids, and she seemed to be satisfied with that.
The real answer is more complex.
The idea of having children occurred to us after we got married. Dan definitely wanted kids. I said that if we were going to have them, I would want to have them before I turned 30. Then, when my father was dying of multiple myeloma, I thought that if we were going to have a child, it would be nice to have it soon, so that he could see his grandchild. Although we tried for a while, nothing happened. I later decided that wasn’t a very good reason to have a child.
(Dan’s parents had, well, encouraged us to present them with a grandchild. I figured that since their other son had three kids, that would have to satisfy them. They later acquired a total of five great-grandchildren.)
One of the big reasons, though, was that I struggled for most of my life with clinical depression and was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which had a heavy depressive component. I spent a lot of time immobilized, isolating myself, and living in a dark fog that I emerged from only to cry. And I decided that it would be unfair to subject a child to a mother who suffered with a disorder that made it difficult to take care of herself, let alone someone else. “Mommy can’t; she’s too sad” didn’t sound like something that you could explain to a young child.
I know that there are many people who have bipolar disorder and also have a child or children. Frankly, I don’t know how they do it. Once I was stabilized on medication and therapy, I might have been able to raise a child, but now that I am, I’m no longer of an age when child-bearing is possible. During the time when I could have had a child, my mental health was not stable enough for a family with children.
Then too, I had the feeling that I would be outnumbered. Dan’s inner child is, shall we say, close to the surface. I feared that he and any child we might have would run riot, leaving me to be the disciplinarian, the mean mommy. This was probably unfair and untrue, but the bipolar disorder also left me prone to imagining the worst thing possible in any situation.
Gradually, I gave up the idea of ever having children. Dan had a hard time adjusting to the idea. He would brood about it and feel the loss keenly at times. Later, he decided that he agreed with me – that with the state the world is in, it would be problematic bringing a child into it. And he satisfied his paternal urges by helping other people as a counselor.
I’ve had people tell me that I should have children. A psychiatrist I went to even told me that in my old age, I would miss not having children. A friend told me that he thought I should have passed on my genes for intelligence. Others have thought I should be open to such a blessing from God. I brushed off these opinions. As well-meant as they might be, this was a decision that Dan and I had to make for ourselves.
Most of our friends had children and, I have to admit, almost every one turned out well – even outstandingly. Despite the difficulties that every family faces, their families were loving and the children well-raised. Some of my friends have even become grandparents (which I found a little alarming the first time it happened).
There are several reasons that some people say that not having children is a bad thing.
First and foremost, there’s an idea that not having children is selfish. In this view, couples prefer to spend money on themselves rather than spending it on a child or children. I will admit that Dan and I sometimes take vacations, and anymore, they’re expensive. But there have been times in our life when we weren’t meeting our bills. Food insecurity is a real thing; at one point we were eating $.20 frozen burritos and $.35 boxes of mac-n-cheese. At another time, we were on food stamps. Again, I know that people do raise children on reduced circumstances, but it seemed inadvisable when we had a choice.
My psychiatrist’s comment that I would regret not having children when I was older proved not to be true. I am more convinced than ever that our choice was a good one. Besides, I don’t feel that adult children should be solely responsible for their parents’ upkeep. They may have children of their own that they need to support. If they can do it, great! But having children for that reason seems like a big assumption to me.
Then there’s the idea that I should have passed on my genes. As far as I can see, genetics is kind of a crapshoot. There aren’t any guarantees. Even if I did pass on my intelligence, which is far from certain, I would risk passing along less good things, like the bipolar disorder and a family tendency to cancer.
Am I happy living in a child-free state? Yes. Do I have regrets? No. This is my life and I have made my choices. Other people are free to make their choices about having children, and I applaud the ones who do it and do it well. But societal pressure is a form of peer pressure that I didn’t feel called to comply with. To those who don’t understand, I can’t explain it any better. I am satisfied with the way my life has worked out.