In my clinical psychology practice, I see a lot of students from our local university, and it's refreshing to hear that more and more young people are viewing the choice of whether or not to have children as simply another big decision to make when exploring future life option. Girls are recognizing that, just because they have the capacity to get pregnant and be mothers, this is NOT their purpose for living. It's an option!
This was certainly not the case when I was in college in the Deep South in the late 1970's; at that time, we all expected to find a mate, get married, and begin to pop out babies. We spent more time choosing a major in college than we did contemplating the biggest decision of all—whether or not to have kids. Here's an example of just how rare it was to not become a parent—when I was writing my book, Complete Without Kids, my mother told me that she'd been thinking about people I grew up with in the city of Jackson, Mississippi, and she had come up with one girl, other then me, who was also childfree.
So, what should a young person consider these days when exploring the life choice of whether or not to become a parent?
Most of all, you need to decide what your primary life goals are. Take some time to sit and quietly contemplate the question, How shall I live?
There's a wonderful story about a wise man being asked, "What is the meaning of life?" He responded that, rather than ask for meaning, to instead ask oneself, "How shall I live?" Write down your aspirations, your hopes and dreams. What does the picture of your perfect life look like? Describe a perfect day, a perfect week, and a perfect year. Are you working from home, traveling around the world, going to an office? What are you doing for work? What accomplishments are you making? What are you leaving behind as a legacy? What is your home life like? Are you living alone, with a partner, or in a shared group setting? Do you have pets? Are there children in the picture? Is the caring for them a source of joy? What do you do in your leisure time, and how much of this do you have? Do you have an active social life or just a few close friends? Do you entertain in your home or go out to restaurants and clubs? Is your life pace slow or frenetic? How do you spend your weekends? Do you live in a condominium, a home with a yard, or acreage in the country?
Now imagine being 80 years old and reflecting back on your life. How would you like to describe the way you lived and what your life represented? For some people, being able to say that they were a parent is essential. They would go to any length to raise a child. And this is wonderful. But for many others, raising kids is far down on the list, and other goals would frankly interfere with responsible parenting. For example, if you want to be a mountaineering guide, traveling the world and taking clients on long journeys to faraway places, how can parenting fit into this scenario? It could, and it does, of course for some guides, but it most likely involves having a partner at home raising the children virtually on his or her own. Or, what if you want to be a doctor or a teacher, working long hours and giving emotional support to patients. Will you be spread too thin if you have to also be fully available to a family at home? If so, then you might opt to not have children so that you can be more available emotionally at work. And if you do prioritize being a parent, what sacrifices are you willing to make? Will you put career building aside so that you are fully there for your children? Are you willing to sacrifice financially in order to be a parent?
The trend to this point in time seems to be for many parents to view children as an accessory. They have their primary life goals, where most of their emotional energy and time is expended, but they also have kids. The kids get the crumbs left at the end of the day or week. These people had kids simply because it's what everyone did. But now, in an overcrowded world with diminished quality of life and depleted resources, we must be wiser. We must be more responsible and consider, for the sake of future generations, whether being a parent is truly right for each of us.
So, take the challenge today. If you are contemplating your future, consider how you shall live. And if you are in a position to give guidance to a young person, encourage him or her and give them support for doing the same.