I don’t plan to have children—for the next few years, and possibly forever. The reactions I receive upon sharing this have led me to realize that we could benefit from some discussion. Apparently it’s quite a felonious admission in Christian circles.
I’m not here to argue about whether having kids is good or bad, exegete Genesis to debate whether procreation is a divine mandate, or start any other kind of dispute. It’s a shame that the subject of children is so often twisted into an us-versus-them or even a right-versus-wrong issue. It needn’t be divisive.
I’m here to share my experiences and invite contemplation. As someone in the minority on this subject, I hope to discuss the issue with a healthy balance of firmness and grace, rather than defensiveness. I ask that you, Church, read and consider how to not treat others in my position with inappropriate assumptions, pressure, judgment or shame.
I want to be honest about the responses I’ve received and the resultant self-doubt I’ve struggled with. Here goes:
Insecurity No. 1: Does my choice to not have children make me selfish, unloving, etc.?
“That’s so selfish” is probably the most common reaction people have when they learn that I don’t want children. Maybe they imagine me to be engrossed in a lucrative, self-glorifying career, or sitting around all day eating bonbons and online shopping. While neither of those is true, I have to admit that yes, I’m a selfish person. What makes me selfish, however, is not the fact that I don’t want to have kids. It’s the fact that I’m human.
I believe in the Gospel: that all people are selfish and evil beyond our comprehension, so much so that the only way our relationships with God could be restored was through Jesus’ death. Christ died for us all, parents and non-parents alike. The Bible doesn’t carve out an exemption from the need for grace on the ground that parents are sufficiently moral or selfless.
The fact of the matter is that there are selfish and selfless reasons to have kids, and selfish and selfless reasons not to. What matters is not so much what we decide, but why. And it’s a gross oversimplification to say that parents are automatically or categorically more selfless. We all know non-parents who make selfless choices, as well as parents who make selfish ones.
I suspect that underlying the “You’re selfish” reaction is a belief that having children is an exalted, or maybe even the highest, expression of love. Of course parenthood entails love and sacrifice that are unique in quality and degree. But let’s remember that to demonstrate his matchless, unconditional love, God didn’t send Jesus down and have him raise children.
Instead, Jesus ached so deeply for us to have intimacy with God that he gave up his life to make it possible. He put the good of the beloved ahead of his own, to the point of death. This agape love can and should characterize parent-child relationships. But if we truly believe the Gospel, we’ll concern ourselves with the salvation of, and extend sacrificial love with that goal in mind to, all people—our kids, neighbors (literal and figurative), and enemies alike.
Church, let’s marvel with thanks at the gift of parenthood and commend the generous love that parents have for their kids. But let’s also remember that children are not meant to be the only outlet for our love, and let’s stop using parenthood as an exclusive proxy for selflessness.
Insecurity No. 2: If I’m choosing to not have kids, I must hate all children and parents.
I struggle to understand where people get this idea. I guess it’s assumed that everyone (particularly women) are born with an innate, burning passion to bear and raise kids, so any deviation from the social norm must be rooted in some deep-seated hatred or vehement rejection of all things parenthood. Perhaps you can see how that faulty presumption leads to a misguided conclusion.
My suggestion is that we let go of the belief that everyone wants or should want to have kids, and instead make no assumptions either way and recognize that it’s a personal choice. Maybe then we won’t think the worst of, or feel threatened or offended by, people who choose differently.
For example (at the risk of being tarred and feathered for making this comparison): I have a dog, but I don’t assume that people who don’t own dogs hate them or hate dog owners. I recognize that pet ownership is not meant for everyone. While my subjective experience is that I love being a dog owner, I would never push someone to get a dog if he/she didn’t want one because it’s a huge commitment that deserves to be taken seriously.
Church, can we afford others the same respect and freedom when it comes to children? People can make dissimilar choices. We don’t have to create sides, or judge, polarize or disparage one another, because of legitimate differences.
Insecurity No. 3: There is something wrong with me if I don’t want to have children.
“Did you have a bad childhood?” “Did your parents do something to you?” “What happened to you to make you feel this way?” I’ve been asked all of these and more. Such responses are all variants of the idea there must be something wrong, broken or dysfunctional about you if you don’t want children. (For the record, my answers are no, no and nothing.)
Again, this line of thinking is predicated on the assumption that all people do or should want to have kids. Personally, I’ve never felt that desire. I can’t explain its absence any more than others who make statements such as “I’ve always wanted to be a parent” or “I just knew I wanted kids as far back as I can remember” can explain its presence.
Church, I know it may perplex you that I don’t feel the same way as most people when it comes to kids, but I’d appreciate it if this could be recognized as simply a difference—not a defect in my genes, upbringing or temperament that needs to be scrutinized, psychoanalyzed, shamed or “fixed” through unsolicited offers of prayer that I will change my mind.
Insecurity No. 4: My life will never have real meaning or purpose unless I have kids.
When people react this way, I kind of see where they’re coming from. They’ve had incredibly rewarding experiences as parents and want others to have the same. They feel their lives would be incomplete or far less rich without children, and they don’t want others to miss out on that joy.
But this response also presupposes that my experience of parenthood would be as fulfilling to me as their experiences have been to them. Maybe it would be; maybe it wouldn’t. Nobody can say for sure. Knowing what I do about myself, I’m not inclined to assume it would be, and in any case, I don’t think that this mere possibility is alone a sufficient reason to have kids.
More to the point, without disputing that parenthood is immensely gratifying for some, it seems like quite a condescending and factually incorrect leap to say that a life without children will lack, or be wholly devoid of, meaning or value. There are plenty of historical (including Biblical) figures who led child-free lives and made significant contributions to society and the Kingdom.
Church, our fundamental purpose in this life is to love God and make him known to all people. For some of us, this entails having children—extending love to them and raising up the next generation of believers. For some of us, God has given us other desires and other paths. Let’s recognize that parenthood is an extremely noble and wonderful calling, but not the paramount one or the only one worth pursuing.