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.”