When I was stuck in indecision about whether I wanted to have kids—feeling pressured and obsessing over what everyone else wanted—I wanted someone to tell me that it was OK. That it was OK if deep down I didn’t want to be a mom. That nothing was wrong with me if that was the case.
I eventually reached that conclusion myself through life coaching, and it freed me up in such a way that I was finally able to see things clearly. I was finally able to make a decision I feel great about, which is to try to have a child with my husband. And not only that, but I realize now that I can be happy no matter what I choose. Those years of painful indecision were ultimately a gift because they helped me realize my own power in creating the life I want—one I love deeply—and now I get to help other women who find themselves in similar places.
Although your journey and the journeys of the women I coach are very personal, what I want to do here is share three reasons why it’s OK not to want to have kids, in hopes that this will help you move toward your own decision—and find peace there:
1. You decide what stories to tell.
For years I thought that deciding not to have kids would mean a bunch of awful things about myself. I told myself that I should want to have kids, and if I didn’t have them then I’d be less of a woman. I’d be missing out. I wouldn’t fit in. And all of that would mean something was wrong with me.
Now I see that it was all a story I was telling myself. A completely optional story. Sure, some people would have agreed with me, but that doesn’t make it true. It’s all subjective. Case in point: I’ve coached women who believed stories similar to the ones I used to tell myself, and yet there are plenty of women who told themselves very different stories about their motherhood decision, as illustrated in Meghan Daum’s anthology Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids.
At the end of the day, we can find evidence to support any story we tell. So why not look for evidence to support beautiful stories about our lives? Stories that help us become the best versions of ourselves? Because as research professor Dr. Brené Brown says, "The most dangerous stories we make up are the narratives that diminish our inherent worthiness."
So let’s say you decide not to have kids. What will you make that mean? And does that make you feel like crap? Regardless of what you choose, you’re the one who decides what stories you tell yourself. Choosing not to have kids doesn’t have to mean anything horrible. In fact, it doesn’t have to mean anything at all. It can just be.
2. The people who want you to have kids will be OK.
When’s the last time you tried to make someone happy? We’re a funny bunch, we humans, thinking we can control other people’s feelings. Because even though it’s common to want to make people happy, the reality is we can’t make someone feel a certain way. (I checked—no one’s invented an app for that yet.) Sure, we can do what they want us to do and maybe make it easier for them to feel happy, but any happiness they then feel is because of their own thoughts and their own stories. Many of you know this firsthand: Even when you do something to make someone else happy, chances are it works for a moment and then they revert back to the same old problems that bothered them in the first place.
So if there’s a person who desperately wants you to have a baby, know that they’ll be OK should you decide not to become a mother. Your not having kids could never make them feel bad—just like your having kids could never make them feel good. Any emotions they feel will be created by their own thoughts, and that’s their own responsibility. I recommend doing your best to feel good about how you communicate your decision and letting go of the rest.
3. You can survive any emotion.
Let’s say you decide not to have kids, yet you hang on to the story that not wanting kids means something’s wrong with you. You’re probably going to feel pretty crappy about your decision, right? But the great news is you can survive shame. You can survive sadness. You can survive regret and fear and any other emotion. And not only that, but you can learn to process any emotion in an efficient way—a way that promotes healing and limits the pain you continue to cause yourself.
Here’s the best way I know to process any emotion:
- Acknowledge whatever you’re feeling. It might help to literally say to yourself, This is guilt. This is shame. This is sadness.
- Let it be there. Don’t judge yourself for feeling it—you’re human.
- Observe the emotion. What does it actually feel like in your body? Is it a heaviness in your stomach? A warmth in your chest? If you can take the time to describe it in detail, you’ll realize that the worst part of a crappy emotion is resisting it. When it’s just pure guilt or pure shame or whatever, without the resistance, it’s really not so unpleasant.
- Pay attention to the thoughts that caused this specific emotion. What’s going on in your head?
- Own your part in this experience. When you can see the connection between your thoughts and the feelings they create for you, you realize your own power in managing your emotions.
It's all good. Really.
So, ladies, as you sit in your indecision, know that everything is OK. Know that when you’re ready, you can land on your feet with confidence, love, and some serious self-compassion—regardless of what you choose.