One of the most often-asked questions I hear in my therapy practice goes something along the line of:
“I’m just not that sure if I want to have children. What do I do? How do I know for sure? How do I decide and what if I make the wrong decision?”
It’s a question that comes primarily from my 20- and 30-something female clients, but I have plenty of couples and men who ask these questions, too.
Ambivalence about having children is a tender, complex, and often confusing place to be in — a little bit akin to having a giant, wickedly tangled big ball of woolly yarn that may or may not have an answer in the middle of it… if only you could get it untangled!
So today’s blog post is for anyone who’s possibly ambivalent about having children and asking themselves the above questions. To help you untangle your own messy ball of yarn and arrive at some clarity about your ambivalence, I’m going to ask a series of questions, the same questions I might use for any of my therapy and coaching clients.
And if you’re one of my readers who’s not ambivalent about having children – maybe you’re crystal clear you do or don’t want them, or maybe you even have children already – I still encourage you to read the post to learn some inquiries and questions that might help out someone you know and love who is feeling ambivalent and very confused. Consider it a cheat sheet to help you know what to empathetically say and ask the next time your little sister/friend/college roommate vulnerably discloses that she’s possibly-maybe ambivalent about having kids…
So grab yourself a cup of tea and keep reading…
First, Some Compassion.
Before we dive into the list of inquiries I’ve crafted to help you untangle the wicked, wooly ball of your possible ambivalence about having children, I want to pause for a minute and acknowledge how tender, complex, challenging, and potentially isolating being in the position of asking this question may feel.
Not being sure if you want to have children is a question that, at least until recently, hasn’t gotten much airtime or validation from society collectively. In many parts of the world and in many parts of this country, it’s still a basic assumption that “of course you’ll want to grow up and have children, right?” Wrong. Or, at least, wrong for some.
Largely, we still hold some pervasive and big assumptions that having children is a default and many people assume that if you don’t want children, there must be something wrong with you/you can’t have children/the choice is forced/it’s a sad decision/you’ll change your mind/you’ll ultimately regret it/your partner/spouse will resent you/you’re an outlier, etc etc. Heck, even Pope Francis reified this belief and not-so-subtly shamed those who don’t want to have children by calling them selfish earlier this year. Sheesh.
With all due respect to the Pope, in my personal opinion, wanting children is not a default assumption and, moreover, not wanting children is neither a selfish act nor does it mean anything at all is wrong with you if you don’t want them.
But the reality is that all of these collective and personal judgements (both conscious and unconscious) may make it increasingly difficult for you as an individual to tease apart what it is you truly want when it comes to having or not having children. So if you’re feeling confused about the decision to have children, if you’re feeling ambivalent and don’t know how to make sense of it, I want to invite some compassion around this.
The decision of whether or not to have children is a big important question and I applaud you for asking it and taking the time to get curious about what it is you truly want versus what it is society or others say you “should” want.
So with that said, let’s dive into a list of inquiries that might help bring greater awareness to any confusion or ambivalence you may feel.
What’s Contributing To Your Ambivalence About Having Children?
The following list of inquiries includes many of the questions I pose and explore with my therapy and coaching clients who are exploring the question of whether or not they want to have children.
The questions aren’t designed, necessarily, to help you “solve” your ambivalence or decide conclusively if you do or don’t want to be a parent (though if that’s what you get from reading these, great!). The questions are, however, designed to help you deepen your understanding of your ambivalence and confusion, to help you strengthen your own self-awareness around what’s contributing to an obviously important question, and to help you make contact with different parts of yourself that have something to say about this issue.
I strongly encourage you to crack open your journal or load up a new Google doc sheet and actually, literally write down the answers to these questions. Taking the time to write your responses versus just thinking about them can often yield deeper insights. Let’s begin:
- Do you believe, deep down, that choosing not to have children is even a choice available to you?
- What do you believe having children and being a parent might mean?
- What did you learn about parenting growing up?
- Are there any experiences you had with your own parents that might be showing up in your ambivalence? What do you know about that?
- What are your fears about having children? Logistically, financially, physically, relationally?
- What does the role of parent mean for you?
- What does the role of mothering or fathering mean for you?
- What are the expectations you have when you think about having children? What are the positive expectations? What are the negative ones?
- Have you had urges before to parent and have children? What do you remember about this from adolescence or even younger?
- What are you most afraid of if you decide to have children?
- What are you most afraid of if you decide not to have children?
- Does having children feel like a “life expectation box that you need to check off” or is it something you feel a physically and/or emotional tug towards?
- Growing up, what were you taught or led to believe (if anything) about having children?
- Was it assumed, whether in your family or community, that this is what you “should” do?
- How does the thought of creating space in your life for children feel?
- How long have you felt ambivalent? What do you know about your ambivalence?
- Is feeling ambivalent familiar to you? Does this show up anywhere else in your life?
- If you’re in partnership, is the idea of parenting with your partner creating any ambivalence for you?
- If you imagined into parenting by yourself or parenting with someone else, what – if anything – shifts for you then?
- Are there relational issues between you and your partner that you feel need to be resolved/healed/worked through before having children?
- How do you imagine having children might impact your current partnership?
- What have you learned about what happens to relationships when children come along?
- What do you imagine – if anything – you might have to give up/sacrifice/let go of if you decided to parent? What does this bring up for you?
- What does parenting mean for you?
- Could you imagine yourself parenting (or mothering or fathering) in any alternative ways beyond having children? How might you parent/nurture/birth and tend to other things and people and projects in the world?
- What do you gain from being ambivalent about having children?
- What do you lose by being ambivalent about having children?
- What would you need to feel/have/see/experience physically, financially, logistically, relationally in order to clarify your ambivalence?
- Could you tolerate it if you decided not to have children and later regretted your decision? What comes up for you around this? What do you imagine the fabric of your life might look like if you don’t have children?
- Could you tolerate it if you decided to have children and later regretted this decision? What comes up for you around this? What do you imagine the fabric of your everyday life might then look like if you do decide to have children?
- Have you felt pressured by anyone in your life currently or in the past to have children?
- How and by who have you been supported (if at all) with your ambivalence to have children?
- Is there any part of you that believes having children will bring meaning and purpose to your life?
- Is it possible for you to imagine crafting a life of meaning and purpose if you didn’t have children?
- If you found out tomorrow that physically/logistically or for some other reason you absolutely 100% could NOT have or adopt children in this lifetime, what would that bring up for you? How would you feel?
- Is there any part of you that’s waiting for someone else or some slip of fate to make this decision about having or not having children for you? What does that mean for you?
Moving Forward & Wrapping This Up.
Look, in no way shape or form do I have an agenda for you or anyone else out there around whether or not you have children. I am not the expert of your experience. Neither are your parents, friends, co-workers, or even the possibly well-meaning lady at your friend’s wedding who tells you, “You absolutely must have children, surely you want to, don’t you?!?” Nope. Neither them nor I can ever be the expert of your experience and tell you what you “should” do about your ambivalence about whether or not to have children.
I hope that the list of questions in today’s article brought some measure of clarity to any of the ambivalence you may be sitting with in regards to having or not having children. Of course, this list is only a starting point so if you would like even more help teasing apart and processing the question of whether or not you want to have children and all of what this might mean for you, I’d love to work with you personally. Call me at 510-373-2723 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
And finally, as we wrap up today’s article, I’d love to hear from you and have you join the conversation here on my blog. Leave me a comment below letting me know what questions felt the most helpful for you to hear and please share any other inquiries that you think might be helpful for others who are wrestling with ambivalence about having or not having children.
And until next time, take very good care of yourself.