Whether to have children or not: The complexity of choice

What you need to know:

  • Culturally, women do not have to explain why they are having kids. But they will be stereotyped into explaining why they are not having them.
  • Children present a strong motive for a couple to stay together

In today’s liberal world where family pressure and societal expectations are increasingly taking the back seat in personal decisions, couples have the power to decide if and when they want to have children.

The women and childbirth conflict

The common assumption is that women are wired to want kids at some point in their lives. This assumption makes women who choose not to have biological children be perceived as selfish. “Women who don’t have children are castigated for their choices in the same breath that women who take too long to have kids after settling in marriage are sneered at,” says Susan Gacheru, a family therapist based in Nakuru. This is echoed by Dr. Berit Brogaard, the author of On Romantic Love. She says that the drive to have kids is largely a product of culture. “Culturally, women do not have to explain why they are having kids. But they will be stereotyped into explaining why they are not having them,” she says.

Relationship glue

Having a child or children is not a guarantee that a partner will stay or that a marriage or relationship will improve. “Relationship satisfaction often falls after the birth of the first child. A child results in less sex, less sleep, less romantic time for the couple, less money, and less time to make new friends and socialise,” says Dr. Ellen Walker, the author of Complete Without Kids. On the other hand, a child can be the tool that motivates a couple to stick together. “Despite kids being huge stressors in a marriage or relationship, they present a strong motive for a couple to stay together. The childfree don’t have that motive, and there’s no reason for them to stay together if it’s not working,” says Laura Scott, the author of A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice.

The case for no children

While women who don’t want children continue to be viewed as abnormal or biologically different, the truth is that more women are choosing to stay childless. According to a study by Dr. Catherine Hakim, a sociologist at the London School of Economics, more women in developed and developing countries are remaining childless as a lifestyle choice. “The contraceptive revolution has completely changed perspectives and given women more space to decide whether to have babies or not, regardless of their sex lives,” she says. Dr. Walker cautions people not to have children simply to continue a family’s bloodline or surname. “The claim that you must have kids to protect your family name or bloodline is genetically shortsighted,” says Dr. Walker. A woman should not feel guilty for choosing personal development over parenthood. “Childfree couples are more likely to dominate in their professions and record higher milestones and achievements,” she says. It is also possible to get married and mutually decide to stay childfree. “Getting married is not a prerequisite for having kids. Just as some women don’t want kids, there are men who don’t want to sire children,” says Ms. Gacheru.

The case for children

Dr. Susan Newman, the author of The Case for the Only Child says that the decision to have a child and the number of children must be a personal choice. For example, do not have a second child simply because people say your firstborn is all grown. Neither should you have a child because people are complaining that you have stayed too long without a child after getting married. “One of the valid reasons for having a child is the passion and will towards nurturing and mentoring kids, and the ability to derive enjoyment out of a parental task,” says Dr. Walker.

The number of children

According to Dr. Marty Namko, a career and personal coach and the author of How to Do Life, the number of children you have should be based on your ability to raise them. “Becoming a parent is an 18-year full-time job. Before you decide to have one or ten kids, ask yourself what kind of parent you want to be. Do you want to be a distantly relaxed parent or a helicopter parent?” he poses. The days when an unreasonably large family was hailed as a blessing are gone. Today, your finances and ability to raise your children decently matter. Dr. Namko adds that if you’re afraid you may not be able to balance between permissiveness and strictness; a large family may not be for you.