Balancing the Costs of Being Childfree

A while ago, fellow childfree blogger Piper Hoffman posted a rather brave entry about the disadvantages of not having children. She listed a few that I personally don’t find compelling (disappointing my family — eh, it’s practically a hobby, alienation from peers — hey, I’m already a misanthrope!). I’d like to argue that the primary disadvantage, the only one that holds any weight for me, is the voluntary forsaking of a relationship and set of experiences that have the potential to be deeply satisfying, rewarding, and important.

Note the key word in that sentence: potential. For all the people who find parenting a wonderful experience, there are also plenty who find it frustrating, stressful, and limiting, plenty who have unhappy, complicated relationships with their kids, and plenty who wish they had never bothered. And for that potential return, they pay very real and essentially unavoidable costs of time, energy, resources, and money. There’s no return policy if it doesn’t work out, either. Sorry.

Let me concede that the desire to have children or not isn’t fundamentally a rational one, subject to ROI (return on investment) calculations and carefully thought out reasons. I declared I didn’t want children when I was ten, and while I have subsequently considered that decision from a rational perspective, it didn’t produce that gut level conviction that I never wanted to be a mother.

However, if you’re on the fence, I think it’s worth weighing the costs of having children against missing out on a potentially rewarding experience. These are the costs, as I see them.

  • Free time. My life at present is relatively slow-paced, quiet, and calm. I have time to cook from scratch, time to splurge at the pottery studio, time to play with lonely shelter kitties, time to read, time to blog, time time time. I love my uncluttered, contemplative life.  Because I live with two other essentially self-maintaining beings (Kevin and Brie), my time outside work is essentially mine to do with as I please.
  • Headspace/energy. Although you can be a mom without having a Twitter handle like @crazymommyblogger and think and talk about other things besides your kids, plenty of women don’t succeed. I don’t think it’s due to any lack of intelligence. It’s just that kids take up a lot of your finite energy and space to think, and I’d rather put them towards other things.
  • Money. Kevin and I don’t make a lot of money, but we have low expenses and enjoy a good quality of life and the occasional luxury without feeling the pinch. Now consider that middleclass Americans spend about $250,000 to raise a child to age 17. That’s without college tuition.  Yow. Goodbye, local organic produce.
  • Environmental resources. As a concerned global citizen, one of the most impactful things I can do is to be an evolutionary dead end. I accept this. I’d rather have a future with pandas and amur leopards than one with my biological descendents running amok.
  • Other relationships. Kids take up so much of your resources that it’s almost inevitable that other important relationships — with your spouse, your friends, your pets — get neglected. Plenty of studies show that childfree couples are happier than parenting couples.

Are kids worth this significant price of admission? No doubt for some people they are. But the next time someone asks me why I don’t want children, I’m tempted to answer, “I’ve done a cost analysis study, and I just don’t think the return on investment is there for me.”

18 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks for the ping-back. I agree with you that whether a person wants children is not necessarily a rational choice, and that those of us who choose not to reproduce miss out on the potential of rewarding relationships with their children. (Incidentally, I have also chosen to miss out on the potential rewards of extreme sports, swinging, and other activities that require far less commitment than raising children.) I would only add that there are so many advantages to not having children that it’s difficult to describe them all in one post. A few you didn’t mention that are particular to women: not having to endure pregnancy or childbirth; not suffering the decreases in income and promotions that studies have shown mothers experience; and not having the strain on your marriage of the nearly inevitably inequitable division of kid-related labor (this is related to happier relationships, which you mentioned). Not having children is one of the best decisions I ever made, right up there with my outstanding choice of life partner.🙂

    Reply

    • Agreed — these are just the most compelling reasons for me not to have kids. (I’m not particularly career or money oriented, so the job scene is less important to me.) And there’s such a huge range of experiences and relationships people can find fulfilling, and they differ so much from person to person, that we really shouldn’t have to defend our decision not to have children, any more than we should defend our decision not to try a lesbian relationship or skydiving.

      Reply

  2. Love love this!! I’ve never wanted children and when people ask me why I’m going to send them to this post😉

    Reply

    • I thought of you while writing this, actually — how your big backpacking trip through Asia would have been completely impossible if you had kids. For you, I think freedom and spontaneity would be major reasons to not have kids.

      Reply

  3. I look at the choice from a ROI-point of view as well. My most compelling reason to have a child would be to show people (as in: my mum) that I’d be a great mother and my children would grow up level headed and happy. The potential of that back fifing is unbelievably high, very much a risk investment.

    To me the TIME issue is extremely important as well. Time to think, time to read, time to write, time to make sense out of the world. Time to play with the dog, time to spend time with the husband. All of this is too precious for me to risk.

    + I announced between 6 and 8 that I wouldn’t be a mum… It’s pretty amazing that we know at such an early age sometimes.

    Reply

    • It’s interesting that you bring up your mother; maybe a lot of us are, in part, trying to show our parents something for the rest of our lives. Your comment makes me wonder if my decision not to have children is also, on some level, a reproach to my mother. I’ve realized how fragile and easily messed up children are based on my own childhood and those of the kids I work with — even though they were fairly happy, definitely not abusive childhoods. I never want to be responsible for another person’s lifelong emotional scars.

      Reply

      • I’ve considered wanting kids as a way to prove something to someone… Bad reasons all around. No kids for me for now. I’ll revisit my decision at 35.

        Reply

  4. Posted by Laura on 12/30/2010 at 12:29

    Love the post! I would add that from interviewing over a hundred couples for Families of Two, and talking to hundreds more childfree since, that many childfree would add that why they choose not to have kids has to do with a strong value of freedom. I also find that while there are objective reasons why people opt out of parenthood, underneath those reasons is a lack of emotional desire to have kids. They just don’t have the desire where it all starts –on a heart level. Laura http://lauracarroll.com

    Reply

    • I’m looking forward to reading your book, Laura. I never realized until this year that there was a whole community of people united by their socially unpopular choice not to have kids.

      Reply

  5. Posted by Emily on 01/03/2011 at 20:15

    Great post and responses. I also knew as a child that I did not want to have children. I have absolutely no desire to procreate and motherhood is a lifestyle that I do not understand nor is it appealing to me. Freedom is key to my personality and if it were limited by children, I would be miserable. Also, I too have a strained relationship with my mother, which I think has been passed on my by great-grandmother and grandmother. I’m not passing on this tension or any of my bad traits.

    Pregnancy and and newbown babies are repulsive to me. When I try to imagine myself being pregnant, I imagine a slimy, blue, screaming alien growing inside of me (think Eraserhead!). I would get all fat and stretched out, then I’d have to squeeze the alien out of my womanhole. It gives me the creeps! Strangely enough though, I’m a natural with babies/kids and I currently do childcare to make money. I have fun hanging out with little ones, but nothing is better than coming home at the end of the day to a child-free home!

    I think one of the biggest costs of parenthood is health. In my observations, child-free adults are healthier, thinner, and look/act younger than parenting adults of the same age. Its unfortunate that parents sacrifice their health for the supposed ‘rewards’ of parenthood.

    Lastly, a word to men out there: Stick up for yourselves!! I think very few men truly desire to be fathers. I’ve known so many guys who were healthy, active, and enjoying their freedom until they married a woman and were trapped into having children. A lot of guys could “go either way” when it comes to having children. They would prefer to be childfree, but would consider having them if that is what it would take to please the wife. “Going either way” isn’t definite enough! You either really want to have kids or you do not. Parenthood is a irreversible life-changing event! If you fellows are uncertain if you want to procreate and are feeling pressured to do so, leave your baby-crazy woman and find a different lady.

    Reply

  6. Posted by Bridget on 01/05/2011 at 11:29

    LOVE! LOVE! I agree with Christy! I’m asked all the time and people think I’m a freak. I love the way you have so eloquently worded the topic (as you always do).

    Reply

    • Thanks! I really hope we’ll one day live in a world where women won’t be judged as freaks for not wanting kids.

      Reply

  7. […] blogger Ailanna does not necessarily relate to these, but puts hers forth: “the voluntary forsaking of a […]

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  8. Posted by Laura on 04/16/2012 at 11:14

    There is one benefit to having children that I have not seen written down, and its the ONLY one that I can come up with. When you have the precious little darlings (written with a good dose of sarcasm), you can develop them to be, for lack of a better term, INHOUSE SLAVES.

    My husband and I are celebrating 17 years of marriage this year, and throughout those years we have spent our time off from work cleaning, grocery shopping, bottle depot runs (beer and wine bottles mostly!), yard cleaning, lawn mowing, car washing, etc…etc…and my clients who have children do get a break in the above duties.

    NOT ALL OF THEM MIND YOU.

    But some have managed the intricate and sometimes volotile business of raising DECENT HUMAN BEINGS from infants. I have been a hairdresser for 30 years and let me tell you, not all people should have the RIGHT to go forth and multiply because they do a really ROTTEN job of it.

    My husband and I have an amazing relationship together with our four cats…….two originals as kittens, and two we rescued from the shelter. And we do have children in our lives that we love, and, if they behave, will benefit from our eventual departure from this world, but neither one of us has any regrets at all, especially when the 3 year old next door goes OFF when he doesnt get his way. And the only way we would not hear this childs vocal range would be if they lived in a bomb shelter, with 12 inch thick cement walls, 25 feet below the surface of the ground. And there are many more of them in the ‘hood.

    WHEW……….yup. No regrets!

    Reply

    • Hi Laura,

      Haha, my parents tried that with us. And I have to say, it worked pretty well! Dishes got washed, laundry got laundered, and bathrooms got cleaned every single week. Our cars were also a lot cleaner while my allowance was hinging on it.🙂 However, with the money saved by not having kids, I can afford the occasional car wash…and the rest, well, let’s just say I’m not a particularly punctilious housekeeper and don’t care if things aren’t always pristine.

      I find it supremely ironic that I have to go through an interview, home inspection, and fairly detailed questionnaire about my future plans and emotional/financial/situational stability to adopt a cat but not to have a child.

      Agree with you about the sound of a shrieking child. I have very low tolerance for sounds of that volume, pitch, or duration.

      Reply

      • Posted by Laura on 04/16/2012 at 11:46

        Hey Jennifer……….my parents did that with us too. CHORES…..and they had to be done, no ifs, ands or buts. Short of being deathly ill with measles or an inner ear infection, we had to do our chores. And for me, being raised on a small 2 acre farm, the chores were almost every single day of the year, rain or shine.

        But, it wasnt an allowance hinging on getting our chores done properly, and on time…..it was the notion of being able to go out and hang with friends on the weekends, AND the allowance. Being “grounded” was a fact of life where I grew up. When you misbehaved there were serious consequences, and some of them being physical involving a nice peice of cedar branch behind the wood pile on a bare butt. I only had ONE of those sessions, where my brother, who was a stubborn as a rock, had many.

        These consequences are not even remotely the same in this day and age, IF the parents even USE this idealogy. I myself think that a good swift smack on a bare bum before the age of 2 sets the ground work for said bare bum to LISTEN and BEHAVE. Alas, its not allowed, although the few people I do know, who do this in PRIVATE, have remarkably well behaved, thoughtful and considerate children. Other than those few, kids, in my oppinion, are for the most part SPOILED ROTTEN.

        In my day, (I am 50 this year) it was about 85% of the kids in my town were the HAVE NOTS, and then 15% were the HAVES. Now adays, its the complete opposite. And it drives me mental when I see kids as young as 13 walking down the road, completely oblivious of their surroundings because they are playing Angry Birds on their iPhones.

        And these young sparks are going to be the ones taking care of us in the old folks home! Makes me cringe……….hence why I started brainwashing my friends kids early on…..that if they come visit me and Uncle Eric in the old folks home and make sure we are treated well, then we will make sure they are in THE WILL. Powerful words…….yet, not all are affected by this.

        And now, I must rip my butt off this chair and go putter in my greenhouse with all my tender annuals, because………….I CAN. Monday is MY DAY. And no one can pull me away from MY DAY. Not unless it involved lunch and some time at the spa!

        Reply

  9. […] blogger Ailanna does not necessarily relate to these, but puts hers forth: “the voluntary forsaking of a […]

    Reply

  10. […] blogger Ailanna does not necessarily relate to these, but puts hers forth: “the voluntary forsaking of a […]

    Reply

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