Some time ago, Nancy posted a comment on the Pleiades web site’s forum (which used to be here, but seems no longer to exist) about her choice not to have children. That has generated several responses, among them a recent letter from a woman who made the same choice, but fears that when she is older, she may regret the choice. So, she asked Nancy, “I was wondering if you had ever had a change of heart, or experienced any of these fears”. The following are excerpts from Nancy’s reply. After reading this, please read the following letter on the same subject.
I can honestly say I have not felt a change of heart, or experienced any regrets. I am currently 58 years old, and, as I age, I am more and more convinced that this choice was a wise one, both for me and for my husband. However, there are numerous reasons supporting my conviction that may or may not apply to you.
I am, coincidentally, a person who early on in her life determined to devote what time I had to spiritual growth and understanding. And I credit my inner growth for much of the contentedness and certainty I feel about not having children. In other words, I am presently quite certain of my connection to something greater and more profound than solely being human. Thus, in my sense of priorities, I have relegated being human to a secondary and limited, but still holy, position.
I should tell you, however, that there was a time, about in my mid-40s, when the realization fully hit me that I would someday become an old woman, and more vulnerable. I worried about my safety without children to check on me, to fill in the gaps as I aged and became more and more dependent upon others. However, as I looked at others around me, I observed that having children was no guarantee of assistance, support, love or security to the elderly. Indeed, in some cases, it was the children themselves who posed a danger to the elderly parent! So, I quickly dismissed that worry, realizing it was simply a projected fear of old age and of death which I was trying to shift away from confronting head on. Besides, particularly nowadays, there are institutions designed to care for the elderly in a way that did not exist in the past, presumably because of the aging of the population; so, this kind of concern is increasingly groundless.
In other words, I recognize that, when all is said and done, children are simply and only other human beings; and thus, while they may be “family” by virtue of their carrying our genes, they are only and finally “another” human being. Therefore, one can find in another human being who is not “blood related” just as devoted a friend and confidant and so on to fill whatever need a child might fill in old age.
Also, if one wishes simply to be around young people, there are numerous avenues for bringing young people into your life. And the extent to which a young person (or, for that matter, an adult), whether related to you or not, responds and loves you will depend almost entirely on the extent to which you are able (willing) to love that child or young person. In other words, there are no guarantees that just because a child is genetically linked to you that he or she will love you in your old age, or even be accessible and helpful to you in your old age. Many people suppose that such a “guarantee” or assured responsibility exists, and perhaps some even have children for that reason, but there is no way to guarantee that a child will be good to you in your old age, and be available to assist you, despite all assumptions and beliefs to the contrary. Please understand there are numerous children who are devoted and loving and enormously helpful to their parents, but that is primarily because the parents were equally devoted and loving to the child, or the child is a special kind of human being with a generous soul.
On the other hand, there is a kind of biological imperative in some folks, both male and female, that is only fulfilled by pro-creating their “own kind”. Whenever a couple feels this imperative strongly, then it may very well be reason enough to have a child. BUT, I would urge any woman to be extremely clear as to why she is having a child, and to be certain that both she and her spouse are willing to change their priorities and their life for the child before having it. For example, I know of too many couples that had children because the husband “wanted a child of his own”, who have since split up, divorced, or even, in several cases, the father died, and the woman is left with a child that she did not have because SHE wanted it, but because HE wanted it. (Remember, wanting is considerably different from needing!) The consequences of these failed marriages only harm the children, who inevitably feel the lack of enthusiasm from the parent who cares for them, who in turn then go on to live a life feeling unwanted. This is, in my own opinion, a tragic situation. In other words, to have a child simply because a spouse “wants” one is more than likely the wrong reason, and may be the worst reason. A child is another person, not a toy or a pet. It requires enormous sacrifice, total dedication, and a willingness completely to adjust or alter one’s life. At least, that’s the way I see it.
Your observation that a childless husband may later leave his spouse for a younger, fertile woman who can “bear him children” may or may not be valid. Of course, some men do that, but I suspect that decision is made for MANY other reasons besides the absence of children. Indeed, a man’s desire for children is probably the LEAST common reason for a split marriage. If a man is going to stray, if he is a “strayer”, not having children will have little to do with it. More likely, those that stray in older age do so precisely because they are getting old and afraid of dying, and so they attempt to recapture their youth with a younger woman, and distract themselves from having to face their own mortality. That is simply an effort to find outside the answer that is, and always is, inside. We all do a lot of that!
From my admittedly totally unscientific observation, I conclude that most (not all, but many!) of the closest, most lasting marriages are composed of childless couples. If that is the case, it may be because they have time for each other far beyond the time that a family with children has. Because of that extra time, they themselves and the relationship itself can contribute to each other’s strengths, inner growth, security, and peace of mind. Each partner is, obviously, less distracted and less harassed by the duties which attending to children creates. That counts for a lot in a marriage.
Finally, of course, there is no guarantee that you will not regret having made the choice not to have children. For that matter, there is no guarantee that, were you to have children, you might not later regret having done so. In other words, there is no way to predict or guess the future, much as we would all like to be able to do so. We make decisions every moment of our lives; some are good, some are bad, some are indifferent. I would advise you to approach this decision with as much love as you can muster for yourself and your husband and your shared life, and with as little fear as you can. If you approach all your decisions as though you are loved and you love, then those decisions will almost always be right for you. Most decisions that are based on fear (except those that are made instinctively for physical survival) are usually bad decisions. And, remember, there is never any kind of finality to this decision. If, when you are 50 or 60 years old, you decide you want a child, there is nothing to stop you from adopting one, or, nowadays, even having one. (Well, that may be a little extreme, but not entirely!) (Incidentally, there is a way, when you are older, that you can see if you REALLY made the right decision, as we learned by an event which recently occurred in our life. We were asked by our local school and our state’s department of human services to be temporary foster parents for a ten year-old boy whom we know quite well and whose family was in crisis. After a short time having this sweet, adorable, young child living with us full-time, we were relieved and thankful when he was able to move to a more permanent family. If we had ever wondered if we had made a mistake, this experience confirmed for us the rightness of our choice!)
I hope this helps.
After re-considering the preceding letter about not having children (which was specifically written to and for an individual who had decided against having children), I recognized that possibly those individuals who have decided to have children might misunderstand, and assume that I am somehow opposed to anyone’s having children. Quite the contrary is the case. After all, without the continuation of the species, anything I say, or anyone says, is pointless! Indeed, life as we know it would come to an end. And thus, those who choose to have children are the salvation of the human race, and therefore of enormous importance.
I know of a good number of families who have had many children, and whose children, have developed into exemplary and well-adjusted adults. I also know of many families who have had many children, whose children have turned out to be neurotic, maladjusted, and unhappy individuals. I am convinced that the difference between the two is that in the former cases, at least one of the parents has sacrificed time, energy, self, and much of his or her (and their) lives to the upbringing, livelihood, and happiness of the children. As a result, and in return, the children have prospered and flourished. Viewed from that perspective, there is nobody holier or more honorable than a parent. As I see it, it is this kind of individual who should, and can effectively, have children, and all of us will be blessed by their doing so.
From my point of view, the discussion about whether to have or not to have children is ultimately about why. I believe that every woman (or man) in this position ought to ask herself why she wants children, or why she does not want children. The answers to those questions will indicate to each of us who we are, where we are, and what we are. This of course applies not only to having children, but as well to “having” or “wanting” lovers, jobs, longings, attractions, repulsions, and all the rest, including spiritual enlightenment!
Those who have children because they love children, want to nourish and guide children to become healthy adults, to give of themselves with love and devotion to another individual, and so forth, are natural parents. But what about those of us who have children for other reasons: to save a marriage, to comfort us in old age, to fill an otherwise empty life, to fulfill our own failed ambitions, to have a distraction from an otherwise mundane existence, to carry on the family name, to please our own parents, or as a “gift” to one’s spouse (yes, I have two friends who did just that; and regret it). And, just as there are those who, I believe, have children for the “wrong” reasons, so are there those who choose not to have children for the wrong reasons; for example, because they dislike children, they are too self-absorbed to sacrifice to a child, or they are afraid to have children.
So, as regards this issue or any other, our decision should be a positive, life affirming one, made with love and enthusiasm. Whether we decide to have children or not, if we are acting out of love, it will be the right decision. If made for any other reason, then individual growth and self-understanding fails, and we insulate ourselves from our full potential.