Decision Making

Assessing Needs

What needs do I have that can be met by having a child? Are there other ways I can meet those needs?

You may have heard of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. According to Maslow’s theory, there are 5 categories of human needs:

1. Physiological Needs – these are the needs that are vital to survival, and include the need for food, water, air, and sleep.

2. Security Needs – these are the needs for security and safety, such as a steady income, a safe place to live, shelter, and adequate health.

3. Social Needs – these are our relationship needs and include the need for acceptance, love, affection, and belonging.

4. Esteem Needs – these are related to our need for recognition, accomplishment, and personal worth.

5. Self-Actualizing Needs – these have to do with a sense of personal growth, feeling that we’ve fulfilled our potential, purpose, and meaning in life.

The theory goes that once our physiological and security needs have been met, to varying degrees we set about in our lives trying to fulfill our social, esteem, and self-actualizing needs – which for each of us differs in importance depending on our unique personalities. Let’s take social needs as an example. Beyond basic relationships with family and friends, some of us are quite low on the social needs continuum. We are very content with our own company. On the other end of that continuum are those people whose social needs are very high. They are the ones who are happiest and most content when they are with other people. They have high relationship needs that may be met through family, friends, romantic partners, animals, or being a member of various groups (community, religious, activities).

So what do these needs have to do with the decision of whether or not to have children?

An honest assessment of each of these needs can tell you a lot about whether having children is an important way for you to fulfill your social, esteem, and self-actualizing needs, and whether you have the personal and physical resources available at this time in your life to have a child – and if not, what you need to change to fit having a child into your life if that is an important need for you.

Try this exercise. Draw three columns on a blank piece of paper. In the left column list the 5 categories of needs, beginning with physiological needs and ending with self-actualizing needs. Under each of the 5 categories, list your current needs. For example, under physiological needs you may list “8 hours of sleep”. Under security needs, you might list “more money to pay the bills”, “moving to a safer neighbourhood”. Under social needs, you might list “having time for yourself” or “being in an intimate relationship”. Under esteem needs, you may list “finishing your education”, “getting a promotion”, “climbing a mountain”, or “travel”. And under self-actualizing needs, you might list “contributing to others”, or “making the world a better place”. List as many needs as apply under each category.

Then, in the second column, list how each of these needs is currently being met and could continue to be met if you live your life without children. Then, in the third column, list how each of these needs will be affected/met if you choose to have a child.

Then step back and look at what you’ve come up with. For example, your need for 8 hours of sleep will definitely be compromised in the early years of intensive parenting, if you elect to have a child. Can you live with that? You may not have enough money to cover your current bills, so can you afford to add a child to your life right now? Your need for time to yourself or your desire to travel and see the world will likely be a challenge, especially in the early years of raising a child. Again, is this something you can live with? On the other hand, the joy and pleasure of the relationship you will have with your child may outweigh these costs. And your need to contribute to another life by having a child may take priority over many of your other needs.

Here is another way of assessing your needs. On a piece of paper down the left side, list all of your different needs, such as the need for safety, love, belonging, companionship, nurturing, self-esteem, achievement, respect from others, etc. What needs are most important to you? Rank these in order from most important to least important. Now draw two columns – one with “child” at the top, and another with “other ways” at the top. For each need, ask yourself how a child could fill that need. For example, for love, a child could provide you with love, and you could feel love for the child. Now go to the other column and ask yourself if there are other ways that you could feel and receive love in your life, for example from your partner, family, friends, or your pets. Continue this exercise until you have considered each need and whether or not it could be met by having a child or other ways. What does this exercise tell you?

I’ve never felt any maternal/paternal instinct or need to have kids. Is that normal?

You are not alone! Many men and women don’t feel an instinct or need to have kids. In fact, according to recent statistics, the rates of voluntary childlessness have been on the rise for the last 20 years with some estimates being as high as 15% of all adults electing not to have children.

The drive to have children, and the need to feel fulfilled in life by having children varies across individuals. Some people say they’ve always dreamed of having children and knew they wanted to be a parent. Some talk about feeling a maternal or paternal instinct or drive – while others have no such inkling.

Then there are those people who are pretty ambivalent about having kids – and only begin considering parenthood when they reach a particular age or milestone (e.g. their 35th birthday), or when some event happens that makes them reconsider this issue (e.g. the death of a parent; falling in love with someone who really wants kids; when their friends start having children).

Some people are quite content to meet their nurturing needs through volunteer work or raising pets, while others feel no such nurturing tendencies and are happy to fill their lives with other things.

If you aren’t feeling a need to have children, you may enjoy reading this humorous book by Jennifer Shawne the debunks the myth that everyone needs to have children to feel fulfilled: Baby Not on Board:  A Celebration of Life Without Kids (2005)

Am I being selfish by not wanting to have kids?

Sometimes, people call adults who choose not to have children “selfish” – which can be very hurtful. These kinds of comments and attitudes can make you feel ashamed or embarrassed to admit that you don’t have kids because you don’t want kids. You may begin to doubt your decision when people say “you’ll be sorry later” or ask “who will look after you when you’re old?”

Just as there are a lot different reasons why people choose to have children – everyone has his/her own reasons for choosing not to have children. Thinking about whether or not you want children doesn’t make you a bad person and making a decision not to have children doesn’t make you selfish. In fact, it makes you a responsible person.

Will my life be empty without children? Will I feel unfulfilled?

Many adults without children build fulfilling, meaningful lives. They may or may not choose to involve children in their lives by spending time with nieces and nephews, coaching a kid’s sports team, or volunteering with an organization like Big Sisters or Big Brothers. Others may devote their energies to their pets. And some people elect to fill their lives with other activities that give their lives meaning and make them happy.

In time, even those who end up involuntarily childless due to infertility, usually find a way to move past their grief and build meaningful lives that may or may not include spending time with children.

If you’re concerned that your life won’t feel fulfilled without kids, you might be interested in reading the stories of other people who have created happy and full lives without children:

Some books that might be helpful:

Complete without Kids: An Insider’s Guide to Childfree Living by Choice or Chance by Ellen L. Walker (2011).

Without Child: Challenging the Stigma of Childlessness by Laurie Lisle (1999).

Beyond Motherhood: Choosing a Life without Children by Jeanne Safer (1996).

Two is Enough: A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice by Laura S. Scott (2009).

This research has been made into a documentary. Find out more here.

And for a bit of humour: Baby Not on Board:  A Celebration of Life Without Kids by Jennifer L. Shawne (2005).

Because it can sometimes be challenging to find other like-minded people who aren’t parents or planning to become parents, most large cities have groups specifically for adults who don’t have children – so they can socialize and pursue activities together (e.g., sports, travel, theatre, etc.). Check on-line to see if there’s a group like this in your community. There are also countless blogs out there on childlessness –– which can serve as a window into the experience of childlessness.

Check out whether or not there is a local chapter of this child-free social group here.

Check out this website for resources and information here.

My partner doesn’t feel a need for kids in his/her life, but I can’t imagine life without being a parent. Whose needs should take priority?

Both of your needs are important. Balancing needs can be challenging. It becomes quite difficult when these needs don’t line up and may even be in opposition. Have an honest conversation with your partner. Express your strong desire and need to have children. Is he/she willing to have children so that you can fill this need? Or is his/her need equally as strong not to have children? If you reach a stalemate, you may want to meet with a counsellor to help you work through these issues.

There are times in every relationship where you have to compromise your needs for the needs of your partner and vice versa. Maybe it has to do with whose career takes priority first, or where you decide to live. This kind of give and take is important in any healthy relationship. However, if having kids is really important to one of you, and if not having kids is equally important to the other, whether or not you have children is one of those decisions that often is a deal-breaker in a relationship.

That said, if there is no way of reaching a compromise that meets both of your needs, you have to ask yourself some tough questions:

·   How strong is your drive to have children, and what needs will be met by being a parent?

·   Can you meet these needs in other ways that will be satisfying and fulfilling?

·   Can you imagine your life in the future – in 10 or 20 or 30 years without children?

·   Is this relationship more important to you than having children?

·   If you agree not to have children based on your partner’s needs, will you be resentful?

The last question is particularly important, because resentment in a relationship – particularly over such a significant life choice – is a bit like a seed. Once planted, it can and frequently does, grow and fester. It can become like a poison, affecting every aspect of your relationship.

Sometimes we have to say goodbye to relationships when our important needs aren’t being met. This can be incredibly painful and difficult, particularly if it means leaving someone you love. But if, in your heart of hearts, you can’t imagine a life without children, then summon up the courage and leave. If you have time, you may find another relationship with a partner who shares your same needs and desires to become a parent. Or you may decide that time is running out, and elect to become a single parent by choice.

If I decide to have a child on my own, what supports do I need as a sole support parent?

There is an old saying that “it takes a village to raise a child” – which is true in as much as none of us can do this completely on our own. That said, there are more and more women, and even some men, who consciously and deliberately decide to pursue single parenthood by choice. For some, it is because they never found a partner with whom they wanted to parent. For others, it is because their partner decided s/he really didn’t want to have kids.

While it’s great to try to do it on your own, you don’t have to be completely self sufficient. Asking for, and lining up supports, help, and resources is a great way to prepare for becoming a sole support parent. Take a mental inventory of your available supports in these areas:

·   emotional support and resources

·   practical support and resources

·   financial support and resources

·   support from your work colleagues and boss

·   medical support/coverage

·   community support

What supports are available to you currently? Where are there gaps? Consider how you can fill these gaps so that you’re as prepared as possible. The more supports you can line up before you have a child as a single parent, the better.

Single parent support groups can also be very useful in helping you identify and access the resources and services you may need. Talking with other sole support parents can be a great source of practical and emotional support. Search online to see if there are any single parent support groups in your area.

Here are some books you might find useful:

Choosing You:  Deciding to Have a Baby on My Own by Alexandra Soiseth (2008).

Choosing Single Motherhood:  The Thinking Woman’s Guide by Mikki Morrissette (2008).

Single Mothers by Choice:  A Guide for Single Women Who Are Considering Or Have Chosen Motherhood by Jane Mattes (1994).

The Single Mothers by Choice group was formed by Jane Mattes and has chapters all over North America. Check out their website here.

Other, on-line resources that you might find helpful include: