I am 32 and married 3 years ago. My husband and I do not like children and thus we choose to be childless. Is that okay?
Dear Jia Mun,
We aren’t sure what ‘okay’ means and we know almost nothing about you and your husband. From the fact that you wrote asking us, we assume that you aren’t completely confident with your decision. Perhaps we can suggest some avenues to explore.
We come from a Biblical perspective that says that God’s preferred architecture of life is for people to marry and raise families. Getting married and becoming a parent are ideally both steps that discourage self-absorption and teach us the great human thrill of bringing good to others. God wants us to connect to others and countless modern studies show that being connected to family and friends is not only a formula for happiness but also one for health. Like so many other improvement projects, connection works best from the inside out. In other words, the most effective way to set about developing a love for humanity is to start off exercising our love on our own children. After that, upon the children of our loved ones and then moving on outward from there.
You say that you and your husband don’t like children. We confess to feeling a bit perplexed. What exactly do you mean by that? We do understand that having a child makes a massive difference in one’s life and we understand that this can be terrifying. But for you both not to like children sounds a little hard to understand.
Do either or both of you come from abusive and/or unhappy homes and you are worried about failing your children the way your parents failed you? Do you have any close relationships with unpleasant or spoiled children of friends or relatives? Or is your aversion to children a reaction to screaming babies on airplanes and seeing toddlers throw tantrums in restaurants?
Are you possibly concerned about whether you can become pregnant and your decision not to like children is a way of saving yourself from disappointment?
Are you perhaps both extraordinarily accomplished individuals and the idea of being inexperienced and incompetent in this childcare area of life scares you? Do you not like the idea of children because it will impinge on your careers or upon your free time? We’re just guessing here but taking the time to explore your own real reason for your statement will reveal a great deal.
You are in your thirties now, but plan on making a decision that will impact your life decades down the road. One of life’s challenges is that we must make many decisions that affect our future without a crystal ball that reveals that future.
You might want to search out blog posts written by those in their sixties, seventies and eighties who, earlier in life, chose not to have children. (Posts by younger people that merely echo your views are useless in this regard.) Some people look back and extol their earlier decision to have no children, while others have deep regrets. Don’t look just to confirm your views – read with open minds and hearts.
Most of us do not sit down and deliberately think about our purpose in life unless through illness or old age we become strikingly aware that our time on earth is limited. How will you and your husband answer the question of how the world was a better place for your being here? Children extend our time on earth by forming a continuation of our lives, providing one natural answer to that question.
Humans are created with a need to be givers and not only takers. Just as we need oxygen, water and food, we also have the spiritual need to give. One very fulfilling way of exercising that instinct is by having children. Little children will happily take everything you give. Only when they mature can you inculcate in them the principle that becoming givers enhances their life too.
We know couples who, despite their deep desires, were not blessed with children. The happiest couples that we know of in this situation made deliberate and continuous decisions to be involved in other people’s lives, becoming real givers. They were teachers and mentors, dedicated neighbors and relatives. What are your plans for expanding your hearts beyond the two of you?
Today, choosing not to have children is possible and socially acceptable. This was not true for much of history. God’s opening words to humanity concerned having and raising children and for centuries societies assumed that their citizens had a moral obligation to do so. The last few decades have upended millennia of thinking. It isn’t hard to find sources applauding the decision to be childless, but none of those sources will have to live with the consequence of your choice as you will.
Every child should be welcomed as a blessing. It is tragic that too many are not. We would not encourage procreation as a desirable activity in and of itself. But we do firmly believe that if God grants the possibility of children, then for most people rejecting that opportunity for love and growth is a mistake.
Whatever lies ahead, be happy and blessed.
Wishing you expanding hearts,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin