The decision whether or not to have children is one of the most significant we make. Until relatively recently few people had much choice: ignorance, social pressure and a lack of contraception decided for us. But times have changed, and those who choose not to have children are increasing.
In a recent UK poll, nearly a quarter of the women asked said they did not intend to. As the world’s population continues to rise and rise, some even argue that the decision not to is a responsible and selfless one. But in general, when wrestling with the question of whether to have children or not, finding impartial advice from family and friends is difficult. Most people have strong, definite opinions one way or the other, so it is important to think it through for yourself.
Before having children there are certain questions you need to ask. First, and most obvious, is this: do you really want children? Times have changed, but many people still feel pressured. Some people are pressured by their friends, others feel obliged to give their parents grandchildren. Even in 2014 there are still those who feel pressured by the wider society. Ask yourself what you want.
The next question is a more practical one: can you afford to raise a child? Toys, clothes, food, school fees and so on can financially cripple a couple. Such financial strain can even continue beyond your child’s college years. You may find a 25 year old son or daughter turning to you for help after an expensive divorce or the collapse of a business. If you hate your job, you may feel trapped and grow to resent your child or your partner.
Financial problems can also strain your marriage. The effect raising a child will have on your relationship with your partner is perhaps the most important question of all. Even those who wanted their children and enjoyed raising them will often admit that parenthood placed great stress on their relationship. Any counsellor or therapist will tell you that many couples have children in the hope that it will bring them closer together when in reality it drives them further apart. Children can be exhausting, and a couple’s sex life is usually the first casualty. Couples often experience a reduction not only in sex but in general intimacy. There simply won’t be as much time to do the things you once enjoyed: a long, romantic dinner, a bottle of wine and a film, even a simple walk on the beach hand in hand. Couples frequently discover that they are arguing more as well. One parent may resent having to take a career break while the other sets off for work. Couples may have different views on how to discipline a child, or how the child should be educated. Of course, this may not be the case, but it is something to keep in mind.
It is also important to consider your general ambitions. Is there is a great deal you still long to achieve? Do you dream of backpacking around Europe or India? Do you want to complete your PhD? Do you have career ambitions that remain unfulfilled? It is unfair to bring a child into the world if you are going to resent him or her. No child asks to be born. Having and raising children can be the single most wonderful and satisfying experience of an individual’s life. For others it can seem like a prison sentence preventing them from achieving all they want to achieve.
What are your motives for having children? Many people think of their children as a sort of insurance policy for old age: someone who will take care of them when they can no longer take care of themselves, someone who will keep them company in their final years. Aside from the sheer selfishness of this, children are no guarantee of comfort or companionship. A child is not an extension of yourself. He or she has a right to their own life, and that may involve leaving the town, and even country, in which they were born. As a matter of fact, research has shown that childless couples are, on the whole, no more or less lonely in old age than couples who have children.
Raising children can be enormously enjoyable and fulfilling. For many, raising a happy, healthy child is their proudest achievement. But if it is to be a rewarding experience there are important questions you must ask yourself first. And there are important pitfalls and dangers that need to be considered. Only once everything is clear in your mind can you make that important decision.