Children can be a source of joy for all families. It can be difficult for your relatives to understand if you have chosen not to have any – there can be many reasons. You may have made your decision and feel very comfortable with it – but your family hounds you at every gathering with “When are you going to give me grandkids?” or “What are you guys waiting for – you’ve been married five years!” But they’re your family (or friends). Keeping compassion for your family while standing by your choice can be tough, but hopefully these suggestions will help.
- Create healthy emotional boundaries. No one has the authority to demand you have children–even your parents. Or grandparents. You have every right to not have a baby. If this is not what you want (or at least not now), you will have to assert yourself as an independent adult. This is often very, very difficult and fraught with emotional landmines.
- Relatives may have a hard time letting go of control over you. This is not necessarily being done out of power-mongering. Understand you will always be their little loved one, and they want to spare you heartache. They want to prevent you from making mistakes. But part of being an adult is for you to make decisions about your life without their control, including decisions on childbearing.
- If you are a legal adult, you have every right to privacy regarding your reproductive choices. You do not need your mother to be privy to your choices to use birth control, for instance.
- Likewise, you need to politely but firmly keep relatives out of your marriage or other relationship. Your grandmother may have her opinion that you and your spouse would regret not being parents, for instance — but that does not mean she gets a vote.
- Understand (but not necessarily agree with) their point of view. There are several reasons people urge others to have babies:
- Cultural. Traditionally, the entire point of adulthood in many cultures was to continue your bloodline. Your choice not to can be seen as an affront to these values, even if that is not how you feel.
- Cultures that have experienced genocide (such as those of Jewish decent) may feel an additional pressure to have offspring.
- Some families have a special cultural stake in having children. If you are the heir to a European aristocratic title, for instance. Or if you are the last direct descendant of a family line. Or you are part of a family run business.
- Faith. Some religions place a high value on having children. This may put you at odds with tenets of your faith.
- Self-centered needs of others. Your mother cannot wait to be a grandmother, and may pressure you to have children to make that dream a reality. She loved being a mother, and wants you to experience the same joy. She may not be able to see that you have different needs and dreams, and is not “owed” a grandchild by you.
- “But what if you change your mind?” Everyone knows or has heard of a person that did not want kids when younger, and then changed his or her mind at some later point. Sometimes the ending is happy. Unfortunately, sometimes this realization may happen when it’s “too late” to have children – such as a woman who put off having children until she was older and find out she is now infertile, and regrets her procrastination now.
- Have the conversation with your spouse or significant other. If you are considering a long term, committed relationship, one of the things you will have to confront is the question, “Do we want children?” If you two cannot agree on this point, you may not be compatible.
- Be honest. If you do not desire a child, but your spouse does, it is best to know this before investing years in a relationship that simply may not work out.
- This conversation must have “only two people in the room”. That means the wishes, opinions, and dreams of your relatives must not factor in. If your significant other says something like, “But I don’t want to disappoint Mother…” politely remind him or her that this is between the two of you, not anyone else.
- Be firm. If you don’t want to continue answering for the next 25 years, you must stand firm to your choice. If you are married, tell your spouse to take the same kind but firm position as yours (get your story straight and stick to it). Being squishy and avoiding a direct answer will only give your relatives hope that you will recant one day. Say something very direct, like, “I know you may not agree or understand, but we’ve made the decision not to have any children. We’ll let everyone know if we ever change our minds.”
- Give them a reason only if you wish to. The reasons for your decision are your own. You should feel compelled to explain only if you are comfortable and wish to divulge this information to your friends and family. If you don’t want to tell them, don’t. You don’t need to justify your decision to anyone.
- Allow them their feelings of disappointment or grief. Maybe you’re the last son, and therefore the family’s last hope to carry the family name forward to a new generation. If you have no children, your family line will end with you. This can create a lot of pressure for you, and a lot of lost dreams for your family should you choose not to have any children. Or maybe you’re a woman who has simply decided that she does not wish to be a mother. Whatever your reasons are, compassionately understand that your family has dreamed of holding your children since you were a child yourself. Allow your family to grieve for their loss (yes, it is authentic grief, a loss to them of a kind) – you’re not the only member of your family, and if you value your relationship with them, you must allow them their authentic sorrow. Your decision does affect them. You are entitled to live as you see fit, however, and the fact that they will be sad should not make you feel that you should become a parent if that is not what you want for your life.
- Remind them that having children should be a unanimous decision. If there is any disagreement about whether or not to have children between the couple, the decision to remain child-free should prevail. Children should be brought only into homes that welcome, want and cherish them without reservation.
- Give careful and honest consideration to all suggestions. If you are dead set against having children, and, for example, you are the last surviving son in your family, unless your family has a history of congenital disease or mental illness, it wouldn’t hurt you to hear them out if they come to you with suggestions for compromise. There may be a family suggestion as to how to carry on the family’s name (you can always suggest that your sister allow her children to carry your family name instead of her husband’s, for example). You don’t have to do this at every gathering, but at least give your family’s thoughts an honest hearing, and consider their suggestions – it will go a long way toward them feeling less hurt and also let them feel that they had their say in the matter. There is nothing that says you must take any of their advice or suggestions. Just remember that it’s your life, not theirs, and they won’t have the responsibility of any progeny of yours – you will.
- If someone refers to you as “childless” and you find this inaccurate or offensive, you can say that you like to think of yourselves as “child free” or that you “have decided not to have children.” You might explain that “childless” often has a sympathetic connotation for couples who are trying to have children but cannot. In that context, “childless” is appropriate, but its connotation is not appropriate for a child free couple.
- Being firm early on, and then letting it be known that you really don’t wish to discuss it further will make it less likely that they will pester you at every family gathering.
- Research this topic on the web. There are many child free websites and books in the stores. The quickest way to disarm any attack on your character is to demonstrate that you know more on this topic than they do, and having an educated answer for all their questions. For example, if they call you selfish, you may wish to remind them that some people have children for selfish reasons.
- Notice that most examples given include “for now” or “for the time being” in them. Even if you have made up your mind, this works a lot better than just saying flatly, “it’s never going to happen, give it up.” Saying “for now”, gives them the impression that you haven’t completely made up your mind forever, and it will mollify them somewhat. If you state it in very final terms, unless you wish to say something like “I’ve had a vasectomy, that’s the end of it” there will very likely be a lot of hysteria you will have to deal with. Avoiding that is a good thing.
- If all else fails, make an announcement at a holiday dinner: “I know you’re all wondering why we aren’t pregnant yet. Or why we don’t adopt. Or whatever. We want you to know that we love you all, but having children is a very personal decision for a couple, and we have decided against it, at least for now. Every time you ask us about it, it really pressures us, and we’re asking that you don’t any more. Please. If there ever comes a time when we decide differently, you will be the first to know.” After all, if they can’t take a hint, then you shouldn’t worry about them getting a little miffed by your taking matters into your own hands and being very blunt.
- There’s good thinking in the old saying “never say never.” Although you may believe you’ve made up your mind once and for all, you are a very different person at age 30 than at 20, at age 40 than at 30. Things – and people – do change over time. Things you thought you would never do, you find yourself doing easily. If you are firm, but leave the door the tiniest crack open, you will not have to eat a lot of your words later on. If you say, “Our decision to stay child free for the time being is very firm. If we make a different decision later on, we’ll let you know; in the meantime, please don’t ask us any more.” it lets them know you don’t want to discuss it further, but does leave an escape valve (which may actually serve to relieve pressure on you as well as on them).
- Even taking the small compassionate step of saying “for now” or “For the time being” may allow some small sense of hope to remain. Most people will allow that small hope to fade as the years pass and you still have no children. But there are some who will cling to that hope, and continue to badger you from time to time. It’s then that you should firmly and bluntly say, “We made our decision a long time ago. We’re very comfortable with it, and wish you could be, too. We’re not going to change our minds, and we’d appreciate it if you would stop asking now.”