Care and Feeding

My Parents Don’t Think Life Can Be Fulfilling Without Kids

I don’t want children, and I’m worried my folks will never understand.

Woman explaining something to her unresponsive mother.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by fizkes/iStock/Getty Image Plus

Slate Plus members get more Care and Feeding from Jamilah Lemieux every week.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a 23-year-old queer woman currently quarantining with my parents. I’d like your help with a script for when they ask about my plans for having kids, but with a wrinkle: For them it’s seemingly less about “giving them grandchildren” and more about “how will you find meaning and fulfillment in life without a family” (exact quote). I mean, it’s one thing to talk bodily autonomy or the health/financial reasons why having children is not for me, but is there a respectful way to disagree that I’m missing out on the Core of the Human Experience if I give back to youth and my community in other ways? (For the record, I still wouldn’t want kids if my health/financial situation were different, but I also don’t think I’ve found fulfillment of the type parents seem to have when they look at their kids and their eyes mist up.)

—Childless, but Not Meaningless

Dear CbNM,

Your goal should be to have as few conversations with your parents about this matter as possible. Be polite and firm. Your choices are not a rejection of your parents, but rather, a product of recognizing what you need and want most out of life, and they should be proud to have empowered you to make decisions with your own desires front of mind. No one should feel as though they are obligated to have children and that if they don’t, there has to be some sort of grand justification behind it. However, there’s nothing wrong with explaining just why it is that you have decided not to have any, to emphasize what currently brings you satisfaction, and to share what you feel comfortable revealing about your future plans and what makes you enthusiastic about them. Let your parents know that you are very grateful for the gift of life that they gave you, and that you have found other ways to contribute to the world that make you feel good, just as they were able to do as parents.

I’ve decided that I do not wish to be a mother, and while I understand that this may be disappointing for you to hear, I am happy with the life I am creating for myself, and I hope that you will eventually come to celebrate the fact that you empowered me to be independent, determined, and self-aware enough to do so. I’d rather we didn’t talk about this constantly. I feel very certain that my mind will not change, though I’ll certainly let you know if it does, and having to debate or explain my reasoning over and over makes me feel unheard. I understand what your concerns are. I have heard you and I respect you. I am only asking that you do the same for me.

I’m sorry that your parents have made you feel as though you have to justify your choices to them, and I certainly hope that they are not including your orientation on a list of things that you have “decided” to do that differs from their own decisions and, thus, doesn’t work in the service of a meaningful existence. Them simply wanting grandkids would probably be a lot easier to bear than this environment they’ve created in which you find yourself compelled to illustrate just how you’ll be able to hold your head high and look back at your life with pride if you don’t have your own offspring.

I also hope that the fact that you don’t feel like you’ve yet experienced the level of “fulfillment” that some folks get from parenting doesn’t leave you wondering just how you can access that feeling. Nothing feels like parenting, and parenting is little like any other work; it is incredibly rewarding for many of us, but there are certainly those who’d tell you that having children has not only failed to make them feel fulfilled, but that it has made it harder to access the things that might. Also, you are only 23. I do not want to infantilize you, but I’ll just say that most folks your age are still very much on the journey to figuring out just what/where/whom makes them feel their best. Wishing you lots of luck and peace!