One of the things I’m happiest about is my decision — which was partly up to me, and partly my partner, and partly just personal circumstance — to not have children.
The decision is very personal, and I don’t mean to advocate strongly one way or the other. But one thing I want to argue against is the assumption that you have to have children — that it’s an unavoidable life point around which you have to organise everything else, irrespective of your situation. I grew up with an assumption that having kids was a mandatory step in life, and I’ve since realised that it’s dangerous to go in with that thought.
As my friends and family members have had kids, I’ve come to realise that there are so many aspects to having and raising children that one simply doesn’t think about when one is young. Back when I wanted to have kids, I either brushed the below questions to one side, or wasn’t aware of them at all.
So below is a (somewhat overlapping) list of important — but difficult — questions that one should ask oneself before having kids. Choose wisely.
This isn’t a complete list. There’s probably more to consider. If you want to add anything, let me know.
Questions to Ask Before Having Kids — In a Nutshell
Here is a master list of the questions to ask before you have kids. The core of this is to challenge the assumption that you “have to” have kids (like other assumptions about things we have to do, like get a job, buy a house, etc. — see more here). It’s a big choice, and we should make it more actively.
- Job: Beyond wanting kids, do you want to do the work of being a part-time or full-time parent?
- Location: Do you want to stay with or near your partner for the foreseeable future?
- Money: Do you realize how much this is going to cost?
- Time: Are you willing to give up or severely reduce leisure like your hobbies, keeping fit, travel, or just sitting around doing nothing?
- Values: Do you share the same values as your partner about raising children, regarding sharing the responsibility and how you want to raise them?
- Support: Do you have the right support around you, including family, friends, and social services like health and education?
- Health: Are you willing to raise a child with a physical handicap or a neurodivergent trait?
- Commitment: Do you want to commit to this for the next 20 years — or possibly longer?
See below for more details on all these questions.
Having Children as a Situation vs Job
Beyond wanting kids, do you want to do the work of being a part-time or full-time parent?
This question overlaps with many below, but it’s a good introductory question to consider before having kids.
I actually would like kids, in that I’d like offspring who look like me and who I can play with and educate. I just don’t want to be a parent every day, 24×7.
I think of this like this: I enjoy being healthy, but I don’t want to commit to going to the same gym every day for the next 18+ years. Or, on a less intense note, I also enjoy archaeology (as a random example), but I don’t want to dedicate my career to it.
Being a parent is a full-time job for many, or at least a part-time job for most. There are good bits that we think about — those postcard moments — but then there are all the hard bits, like when they’re crying non-stop, going through some health issue, not letting you sleep, and much more.
Unless you have a ton of support (e.g. sufficient wealth for carers, or family members who do all the work) make sure you want to be a parent, not just “have kids”.
One Location + Limited Travel
Do you want to stay with or near your partner for the foreseeable future?
Raising a child often requires a stable environment. This means one location for long stretches (years). And whether you are with your partner or apart, it means keeping staying in a location near them, if you want to share parental responsibilities.
A research synthesis from the Urban Institute highlights the negative effects of instability on child development, emphasizing that children with residential instability have worse academic and social outcomes than their more stable peers.
These outcomes include lower vocabulary skills, problem behaviors, grade retention, increased drop-out rates, and lower adult educational attainment. The consistency of a child’s environment is crucial to their sense of security and their ability to form lasting, trusting relationships.
So, you really need to be sure that you want to a) stay mostly in one place, and that b) you can agree on that location with your co-parent. This decision requires a long-term view, considering the child’s developmental needs and the potential impact of frequent changes in their living situation.
Do you realize how much this is going to cost?
The USDA reported that the average cost of raising a child from birth to age 17 is $233,610 in the USA. So it’s a kid or a Ferrari, for example. Or a holiday home.
And this eye-opening statistic doesn’t even include the cost of college!
Of course, the cost is higher or lower depending on the choices you make about education (public vs private), healthcare (if it’s available in your country), and where you live.
But regardless, money can have a huge impact on you. It’s not just money you’re spending on the child; it changes your own responsibility towards money. Your options for how you want to earn and spend money become much more limited when you are responsible for someone else.
Further, money is one of the primary sources of conflict in relationships. So, be prepared for that extra stress to spill over into your relationship with the partner with whom you share the burden.
Goodbye Personal Time
Are you willing to give up or severely reduce leisure like your hobbies, keeping fit, travel, or just sitting around doing nothing?
Parenthood is a transformative experience that reshapes your life. But it also impacts your priorities, and, most notably, your time.
One of the most profound adjustments new parents face is the significant reduction in personal time. It’s a substantial shift that can turn your previously “free” time into a carefully coordinated schedule around your child’s needs.
A study in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that parents, especially mothers, experience substantial decreases in leisure time. You don’t just miss out on the occasional hobby; you have less opportunity to socialise with friends, relax, and even sleep.
Are you ready to re-prioritize your life, knowing that hobbies and downtime will take a backseat to your child’s needs for the foreseeable future?
Shared Parenting Values
Do you share the same values as your partner about raising children, regarding sharing the responsibility and how you want to raise them?
Alignment in parenting styles is crucial. Even though you might think that you agree generally with your partner about how to raise kids, you might find many points of friction along the way, like discussions on
- Where to live — which country, what size of town
- Public vs private education
- Strict vs relaxed approach
- Religious upbringing
- The importance of extra-curriculars
- How much time kids should spend with parents (and with each parent)
- How much time parents should each devote to child-rearing
There’s much, much more, of course. And it’s basically impossible to cover all the ground before embarking on the journey — though you should certainly try.
Research published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology indicates that discrepancies in parenting approaches can create conflict and discord and significantly affect family harmony and children’s development.
Discussing expectations, roles, and parenting philosophies before having children is vital. And know that the impact of disagreement can be severe. It’s not just about the day-to-day decisions, but the foundational values and approaches to life that you’ll be imparting to your children.
Available Support Systems
Do you have the right support around you, including family, friends, and social services like health and education?
A proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and it’s an accurate reflection of how many parents feel.
Support systems for parents can include extended family members, close friends, community groups, childcare providers, educational institutions, and even health professionals. These all play a pivotal role in providing emotional, logistical, and sometimes financial support for parents in child-rearing.
A study published in the Journal of Family Issues emphasizes the importance of support systems for raising kids, even in families with at least one full-time parent. The presence of a robust support system can significantly enhance parenting competence by providing encouragement, resources, and a sense of community.
Assessing the availability of these resources, both within your family and within your social support institutions, is crucial before taking the deep plunge into parenthood.
Handicaps / Neurodivergence
Are you willing to raise a child with a physical handicap or a neurodivergent trait?
Before you embark on the journey of parenthood, it’s essential to consider the full spectrum of responsibilities that might come your way.
According to a study published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics, approximately 3% of children are born with genetic abnormalities. This doesn’t even account for neurodiversity, such as autism or ADHD, which the CDC states affects 1 in 54 children.
Embracing a child’s uniqueness while navigating healthcare systems, educational accommodations, and societal acceptance can be a lifelong journey, demanding unwavering commitment and love. Children with handicaps or neurodivergence can be a significant stressor on family relationships.
A publication from Carers Australia elucidates this stress, stating, “The impact of having a child with a disability goes beyond the affected child to impact the entire family. In fact, parenting a child with a disability can present a unique and complex set of challenges… Research suggests these pressures place family members at an increased risk of developing mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, as well as placing significant stress on familial and social relationships.” This stress is not just emotional but also practical, as parents find themselves navigating complex medical and support services, education plans, and financial strains.
Raising any child can be rewarding. But it’s worth asking yourself if you’re up for the full spectrum of challenges it can present.
If you live in a place where quality healthcare for any potential issues isn’t a given or affordable, then this question should give you all the more pause.
In for the Long Haul
Do you want to commit to this for the next 20 years — or possibly longer?
Parenthood isn’t a phase or a job from which you can take leave; it’s a near permanent shift in your identity and priorities.
The demands of parenting require a significant adjustment in personal time management and priorities.
But given we really only begin to form strong lifelong memories from late childhood, many of us are unable to comprehend what a timeframe of 20 years is — because by the time we’ve had kids, we probably haven’t done anything for that long, and definitely not voluntarily.
Also, remember kids grow up, but they rarely grow away. Even after a period of ~20 years taking care of your child, your role may evolve, but your responsibility and emotional investment may also remain.
For many, having children is the right move, bringing joy, fulfilment, and an unmatched bond. For some people, it’s a goal they’ve had since they were kids themselves.
See also this article about envying other people’s lives — house, cars, and kids.
Nonetheless, to have kids is a decision that warrants more caution and introspection than many people give it. It’s not a checkbox to tick, but a profound, long-term (even lifelong) commitment that should align with your values, lifestyle, and future visions.
I once thought I had to have kids, as if it were a mandatory milestone in life. But I didn’t, and I’m content with that choice.
If you feel pressured, pause and ponder these questions. They’re crucial in determining if parenthood is the right path for you.
Remember, it’s about bringing a new life into the world — a decision that should be made with more care, caution, and consideration than any other.