Decision Making

Possible Regrets

Will I regret it if I wait too long and end up not being able to have kids?

It is inevitable in life that in taking one path, we are likely to have some sense of loss about the path we didn’t take. To varying degrees this is also true for the decision to have, or not have, children. Parents sometimes question whether they made the right decision to have children – particularly during times of uncertainty and stress. At times, they may envy the freedom and lifestyles of their friends or family members who don’t have children. The same is true for those who have elected to remain child-free. When they see a cute child or a happy family, they may have a twinge of envy and wonder what their child would have been like and what their life would have looked like had they decided to have children. Or a life event such as the death of a parent or the birth of a niece or nephew may also trigger a transient moment of wonder or regret.

That said, each individual is going to have a somewhat different reaction to permanent childlessness, based on the current circumstances of their lives and the degree of choice they felt they had over the decision. Women and men who hoped or expected that they would become parents feel more loss and regret when it doesn’t happen. But most go on to build meaningful lives in other ways that may or may not include children. On the other hand, those women and men who see themselves as choosing to be child-free usually feel less regret about not becoming parents. Those who were ambivalent or uncertain about parenthood may or may not feel regret – depending on the circumstances of their lives and whether they feel happy and content with the lives they have created.

Sometimes a visualization exercise can help you determine whether you’re making the right decision or one that you might regret. Close your eyes and picture yourself 10 years from now. In this scenario, you haven’t had any children. Tune into your emotions – how does it feel to picture yourself as a childless person? Do you feel sad, lonely, free, fulfilled? Alternatively, close your eyes and picture yourself 10 years from now as a parent. How does it feel? Do you feel fulfilled, sad, regretful, happy? Now do this again for both scenarios, but put yourself 30 years into the future. How does it feel and what does your life look like without children? What would your life be like with grown children and perhaps grandchildren? What do your reactions to these two scenarios tell you?

If, after completing the above exercise, you feel you would regret waiting too long and not having kids, you may decide to start trying now. Or, if you’re not ready to have children yet, or you aren’t sure you even want to have kids but you definitely want to keep your options open, you may want to consider fertility preservation. If you’re not sure if you’re ready, you may want to see our section on Readiness

I have no interest in having children. How do I know if I’ll regret that decision later?

Most men and women who have had no interest in having children throughout their reproductive years find that they have few regrets about their decision later in life. Sure, when they see a cute child or a happy family, they may have a twinge of envy and wonder what their child would have been like, and what their life would have looked like had they decided to have children. Or a life event such as the death of a parent or the birth of a niece or nephew may also trigger a moment of wonder or regret. That’s entirely normal – and it passes quickly.

However, it’s important to know that for some, interest in having children can change over time. For instance, some women say that they didn’t feel any maternal instincts or drive to have a child until they reached their mid 30s or early 40s – just when their reproductive time was starting to run out. During their younger years, many women are busy focusing on their own lives and self-development. They are enjoying the freedom to pursue their careers, interests, and relationships. Then they reach their mid-30s and sometimes something begins to shift. Some of their friends and siblings are having children, and they begin to feel a bit out of sync. They might find themselves exposed to young children in a way they haven’t been before, and may see the delight and richness that being a parent brings to the friends’ lives. They might also see the exhaustion, stress, disorganization, and lack of freedom that comes with having children, and be even more convinced that having kids is not for them.

So this interest can be developmental – it can change across time and stage of life. There’s evidence that men’s interest in children can change as they get older, too, although for men, it is often when they are in their 40s and their lives and careers are more settled, that the issue of kids comes up for them.

For women and men who have consistently felt no interest in having children from a young age, there is more likelihood that this will remain the same, in which case it is less likely that they will have regrets. But for those who were ambivalent or uncertain, there is a possibility that they will feel differently in the future. If you fit into this latter group, you may want to consider this issue further by reading some of the other questions in this section.

My partner doesn’t want kids and I do. But I want this relationship more, so I’ve agreed not to have kids. Will I end up regretting that decision and resenting my partner?

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.

You may be able to dedicate yourself to your relationship and find other outlets for nurturing. These might involve children, or pets, or volunteering with seniors.

However, over time you may feel a growing sense of resentment towards your partner, which can manifest itself in different ways – bickering, arguing, having an affair, or other forms of “getting back” at your partner. You may find yourself feeling hurt, confused, powerless, and bitter. You may not even realize how resentful you feel.

If you’re afraid that the resentment might eventually jeopardize your relationship, you may want to consider counselling – on your own, and/or with your partner. If the worry about regrets continues to haunt you, maybe you don’t want this relationship more than having kids – are you really willing to give this opportunity up in order to stay in this relationship? Asking yourself these tough questions can be incredibly difficult. It may be scary to think about leaving the comfort of your relationship for the possibility and uncertainty of finding someone else who is willing to parent with you. You may also consider doing it on your own. If this is a possibility, see our sections on sole support parenting here and our question about the pros and cons of sole support parenting here.