There are many reasons why some people decide to have or not to have children. Although it’s a personal decision, it seems like the inevitable question (“Are you going to have kids?”) comes up in every conversation, especially around Mother’s Day. The thing is, there is no right answer. Being a parent is a dream for some, and a nightmare for others. There should be no shame in either response.
We decided to round up the reasons behind living with and without children, while gathering facts and perspectives behind the two lifestyles, and exploring taboos that go along with both.
No Kids Club.
There are a growing number of young adults who are opting not to have children in Canada. While their decision is sometimes vilified (“Why don’t you want kids?!”), there is growing support for those who are child-free by choice. Last year, the country reached a record low fertility rate of 1.47 births per woman during her reproductive lifetime, compared to 3.94 in 1959.
Opting out of motherhood seems to be due to a combination of factors. Other than simply not wanting children, some don’t want to add to environmental issues, are concerned about the implications that having children might have on their mental health, or don’t want to commit to financially supporting a family.
Author and activist Rachel Cargle wrote about her choice to be child-free in an Instagram post. Her explanation (although she doesn’t owe anyone a justification) shows the complexities behind the decision.
She mentions the benefits: “Hello spontaneous travel, disposable income and sweet solitude & silence!” But there are also underlying shadows, as she calls them, like “no built-in nuclear family, missing out on the indulgent child based aspects of life, considering my lifestyle when I may get too old to care for myself.”
She concludes that for her, the pros far outweigh the cons. She’s able to help raise the children in her community and gets to be intentional about how she spends her time.
The reasons women choose to have children are just as varied as those who don’t want any.
“There doesn’t appear to be one ‘maternal instinct,’ and not just because half of all pregnancies are unplanned,” explains writer Olga Khazan in The Atlantic. “For some, parenthood is a hard-boiled belief; for others, it’s a switch that flips after a crisis. Other times, it’s just a feeling you get.”
One major factor that has changed in the past several decades is that women who are having children are doing it later in life. First-time mothers in 2019 were around 29 years old when they gave birth, compared to 23 years old in 1959.
“This trend...coincides with increased participation for women aged 25 to 54 years in the workforce and a rise in university-educated women,” according to the Statistics Canada report.
But just because someone chooses parenthood, it doesn’t mean it comes easily or naturally. The feelings surrounding it aren’t linear. Some mothers are opening up about their regrets and smashing the stigma of being a picture-perfect parent.
“The reality of motherhood is incontinence, boredom, weight gain, saggy breasts, depression, the end of romance, lack of sleep, dumbing down, career downturn, loss of sex drive, poverty, exhaustion and lack of fulfillment,” German writer Sarah Fischer wrote in her book, The Myth of Mothering Joy.
Columnist Anne Kingston explored the topic in a MacLean’s article. She discovered that learning about regretful mothers “upends binary thinking that women who regret having children must be neglectful or substandard parents: it’s motherhood these women regret, not the children.”
None of this should take away from the joy, happiness and purpose that motherhood can offer. But certain perspectives—like the regretful mother or the woman who doesn’t want children—have been lacking from the discussion. Self-worth shouldn’t be tied to whether or not you have children. And especially on a day that celebrates mothers, we should also recognize that some women cannot be mothers, or choose not to be.