5 Books to Read if You’re Unsure About Having Kids
Learn from other people’s experiences when making the most important decision of your life
Deciding whether to have kids is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make in life.
Unfortunately, it’s also a decision that everyone feels entitled to weigh in on. It was only six years ago in 2015 when Pope Francis famously said, “The choice to not have children is selfish.”
(Pope Francis, of course, does not have children.)
We’re in the middle of the whole “should we, shouldn’t we” debate, and I’ve been reading a lot, trying to learn from both parents and non-parents alike.
Here are 5 books that helped me. Maybe they can help you, too.
Complete Without Kids by Dr. Ellen Walker, PhD
- The author is a psychologist who speaks candidly about her own childfree journey.
- This book makes a great point of distinguishing between being childfree by happenstance, by circumstance, and by choice.
- It was the only book that dove into the “non-decision decision” to be childfree (the author herself is childfree by happenstance).
- Comprised of interviews with a range of parents and childfree people, of all genders.
- The key takeaway for me was the importance of making peace with your decision, whatever that decision is. The saddest testimonials in the book were from people who lived in regret, thinking, “what if I had made X decision instead?”
Regretting Motherhood by Orna Donath
- This book was a gut punch, packed full of stories that we don’t often hear, from mothers who regret their decision to have children.
- The author herself is childfree, and the book is a series of interviews with Israeli mothers. The author captures a huge variety of experiences in a short, concise book. It’s a very fast read.
- It makes the crucial distinction that regretting motherhood does NOT mean not loving your kids. Everyone in the book loves their children—they just do not enjoy motherhood itself.
- What intrigued me most about this book was the number of women who said their lives were “over” once they had one child — so having another, or two more, or three more, made little difference to them.
This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story by Jackie Shannon Hollis
- This one broke my heart a bit. It’s a memoir written by a woman who found love late in life. She wanted children, but her husband did not.
- Intimately explores the pressures many women face when it comes to motherhood: from society, from ourselves, and especially from our own mothers.
- The author yearned to be a parent, but had to make peace with being childfree. This book is about her journey from point A to point B, which was incredibly helpful for me as a reader in a similar situation.
- Spoiler: The final chapter sees the author and her husband caring for their friends’ twin babies, and wondering why they didn’t do it themselves. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t shed a tear.
Childfree and Loving It! by Nicki Defago
- I didn’t have high hopes for this book because of the terrible cover design, but it surprised me.
- I would give this book to anyone with a hate-on for childfree people. It disproves stigmas and debunks stereotypes about childfree couples. (No, they aren’t selfish. No, they didn’t make this decision lightly. No, they aren’t spending every other week vacationing in Hawaii.)
- It’s loaded with brief testimonials by parents and childfree folks, primarily in the United Kingdom.
- Nicki Defago takes a more academic look at the world as a whole and how it relates to the childfree movement, diving into birth rates, consumerism, and environmentalism, among others.
Childfree by Choice by Dr. Amy Blackstone
- I heard so much about this book before finally picking it up, so my expectations were high.
- Dr. Blackstone takes a very scholarly approach with this book. She moves from the start of the childfree movement, explores women’s rights, legacy, the maternal instinct, and finding fulfillment in being a mother figure, if not a biological mother.
- What I walked away with was a deeper understanding that we are, for better or worse, on the cutting edge of the childfree movement. Never before have women enjoyed such freedom when it comes to family-planning. We need to support people who choose to become parents (no, it’s not all sunshine and daisies) and we need to support people who choose to remain childfree (also not all sunshine and daisies).
All of these books have a few key things in common:
- Be kind. Childfree folks, be kind to parents. Not all parents are happy with their decision. Parents, be kind to childfree folks. Not all people are childfree by choice.
- Regret plays a huge role in determining your happiness. These books contained a wealth of testimonials from parents and non-parents — the unhappiest people were those who lived in the “what if…?” camp, assuming they would have been happier if they’d made a different decision. The happiest people embraced their decision — they focused on the positives of their reality.
- Parenthood is extremely hard. It taxes your body, your relationships, and your finances. Parents and non-parents know this.
- Our culture, workforce, and governmental policies all cater to parents. Being childfree is a difficult decision already, and it is made harder by these policies.
- There’s a huge grey area with parenthood. You don’t need to be biologically related to a child to consider them yours. You can be a step-parent. You can foster. You can adopt. You can be an incredible aunt or uncle. Many people have found happiness and fulfillment in the in-between.
I’ll leave you with this fantastic exchange from House of Cards Season 4.
Hannah Conway: Do you regret it, not having children?
Claire Underwood: Do you ever regret having them?