Choosing Childlessness

October 30th, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 26 comments

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?

Jia Mun

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

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26 comments

Lisa says:

I must admit, I am stumped by the question of someone asking if that is okay. If being childless is what each person in the relationship choose, then why ask that question? It is not anyone’s business but those two people (and possibly God). Unless something else is going on, like the wife agreeing to be childless so she can try to please and keep the man/husband.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

The question did sound baffling to us also, Lisa,
but at the same time, the very asking of it was poignant to us. We wanted to fling open the doors to what the diplomats call a ‘full and frank discussion.’
Cordially
RDL

Mary Anne says:

I have three children, ages 7. 11, and 14. My 11 year old has some special needs, and we’ve spent many a hour, worrying, praying, and doing therapy. They keep us busy!

I am so glad and so, so blessed we had all three of my children. I have grown so much as a person, maturing, giving, being better able to understand life and God through the experience of parenting. I have a number of friends who chose not to have children. These couples have been married 15-20 years; they are 45 to 50. Their lives are the same, they are the same. They have not had the same experiences for growth. I think they will be very unhappy and lonely, especially going into their later years.

Susan Lapin says:

Growth is not always pleasant, but it is rewarding, Mary Anne.

David says:

My wife and I were unable to have children – both of us were ‘deficient’. We discussed, and decided that IVF and adoption were were not the direction we wanted to go. Yes, over the ensuing decades there were times I would ‘what-if’, and I presume my wife did too. But, we could not turn back the clock, and I accepted our decision. However, we did not crawl into holes and hide. Overtime we became involved in other activities. Since we did not have children, we had opportunities to do things that otherwise may not have been feasible. Would it be nice to have children, and possibly grand children? Yes, but we don’t, and won’t. I’m not going to spend time regretting the decisions we made. Each couple needs to make their own decisions, using their own measuring stick. In some cases, you may change your mind in the future. Other times you won’t. That is how life works – for every decision we make (or don’t make, which is it’s own decision.)

Susan Lapin says:

David, it sounds like you and your wife made a good life out of the circumstances dealt to you. If I may say, not going to extraordinary methods through IVF or adoption is not equivalent to choosing not to have children. You are certainly correct that we all live with the results of our decisions.

Timothy Yochanan Wilbur says:

well said Daniel, liked your response. I am faced with similar mindsets within my own family. Toward marriage and having children. Not needing to get married, too scared to get married etc. Children will stop us being young. Lots of personal fears motivate and dictate. Just got to claim the promise of YHWH for families. Love your work re Timothy Yochanan

Russell Meyer-Wilson says:

I got married at age 34, had our first child four years later, another another son, two years the after, just shy of forty. As an athlete and active person I wanted to enjoy our marriage and freedom with our time, before kids. I am grateful for this time, yet certainly would not want our old lives. Kids are a blessing in every regard, they make you feel more alive and youthful than you would believe. Kids bring an energy to ones life that demands youthfulness – probably one of the reasons physiologically conception is not possible with age.

Kids keep you young.

David says:

I dispute Timothy’s statement, “Children will stop us being young.” I didn’t feel that way at all. I think children help to keep me young in mind and body, at least mine do. I am more exposed to youthful cultural things and youthful concerns like getting through college with children. They motivate me to keep fit to be able to compete with their youth, such as playing basketball or judo or going on hikes with them.

I do think there is a sense of “children stopping us being young”. That is when one has children, one has to be more responsible and it is more important to plan for the future. A parent has to be a responsible adult, no more carefree life like when one was young and single.

Susan Lapin says:

I think you and Timothy agree, David. I think he was saying what some members of his family say, not what he believes. I do feel my family keeps us young. A cousin of ours, the father of a large family once said that by the time he can have a mid-life crisis, he’ll be in his eighties.

Jean Mason says:

I am in awe of the many fine and thought-provoking points you have raised here — not only for this questioning couple — but for us all!

I am a mother of 4 children – aged 17 to 26, with the oldest due with her own child soon. But the early years with their dad were not so great – as he being an “only child” of a single mom, did not want children.
But G-d had blessed us and l would not have any regrets on my part.

I think that there is so much that passes today as “culture” or “modernism” — but is really a veil of selfishness.

Without procreation, how can humanity thrive? And now we see many countries in which the birth rate is not high enough to support bringing them forward. Japan is one right now, as well as some in Europe. Feminism has also taken hold — and many women like that think themselves some kind of hero to remain childless. But in the end, it’s a very lonely, limited existance.

Thanks Susan and Rabbi, for all the Wisdom you impart. May we pray that more and more people would embody, practice and spread G-dly values and precepts…..For the world would surely be a better place!

Susan Lapin says:

Jean, you are right to draw attention to the problems that countries face when the birth rate is too low. People answer “immigration” but too many immigrants overwhelm a culture producing a new country under the old name. Europe is, indeed, in serious trouble.

Joan W says:

This is a subject that I too have wrestled with. My father died when I was 15, my mother had mental illness in which she was hospitalized several times for being psychotic. I was removed from the home to live with basically, strangers, arranged by a sister, for awhile, until the law made me return home until I turned 18 years of age. My home was abusive physically and mentally. I did not want children for fear of mental illness rearing it’s ugly head (one sister has mental illness that she has been hospitalized several times for and attempted suicide, the other sister is “quirky”, both 8 and 12 years older than I. I decided really young that I didn’t want to have children. After seeing my sister’s kids grow up, I see the roadmap of damage done to our psyches played out in their families and it’s sad, destructive, and mass dysfunction. I suppose that was another fear of mine that I would pass on the disfunction of my family life somehow even though I had several years of counseling in high school to help me through the chaos around me. But, I must admit I have the nagging question, “Will I have disobeyed God’s directive to be fruitful and multiply? Will I be guilty of not trusting God enough?”

Susan Lapin says:

What a terrible dilemma you faced, Joan. How wonderful that you triumphed over your dysfunctional background. You have much to offer the next generation even if not through your own children.

Elaine says:

I think your answer was very clarifying. I am also 32. In the beggining of our marriage I wanted so much to be mother, but it seems this wish has faded away as we have been in a hard season since then. I will be married 3 years soon, and have decided to postpone pregnancy. We both became very fearful after a financial crisis have reached us. But, I must say this post was beautiful and brought me a lot of hope again.

Susan Lapin says:

Elaine, we can well understand the fears. Most of us, of course, are descended from people who had children despite the Depression, the terrible years of WWII and other tragic times. The best gift for a child is stable parents who cherish each other. If your marriage is thriving despite hard times, we hope that children will only bring more blessing.

Tammy says:

I’d like to share a different view to the ones posed in here. I got married at 24 and wanted children more than anything. My then husband always found a way to postpone it and I was young and dumb so I didn’t realize he did not want children ever. I became pregnant at 29 and was thrilled. I shared the news with excitement and started talking to him about the wonders of being parents ever since that day. He finally settled with the idea and our second child was born 4 years later. I’ll spare the details, but will say that he was an horrendous father despite the fact that he was a psychologist. He raised them like an authoritarian, always yelling and giving orders. They grew up scared of him, especially my youngest. I had to mediate over and over again and gave them all the extra love I could. I talked to him millions of times about being kinder, more patient and loving, to no avail. It was exhausting. Eventually, he abandoned his family and ran away with another woman. My boys were just 7 and 11 y/o. It’s been rough on them, and I regret having had children with him. They deserved a better father. They are grown men now and do not want to know anything about thier father. I don’t blame them, but the wounds are for life and I have to live with that pain. As to why I’m sharing my story… I believe that not all humans are meant to be parents. It is better not to have children than to bring children to suffer in this already troubled world. It’s a very personal decision and one that should be considered deeply as it is life changing not only for parents but for children too.

Susan Lapin says:

Tammy, I’m so sorry that you and your boys had to grow through such rough times. We agree that not everyone makes a good parent. I think we would say however, that everyone should work on themselves so that they can be a good parent. Side-stepping parenthood isn’t an excuse for not working on one’s flaws.
While your boys have had a rough start, I pray that down the road God reveals their own value and potential to add to the world to them, so that they can be grateful to you for giving them the gift of life.

David says:

I do agree fully with rabbi on this subject.

I will say that I have never particularly liked children until I had my own. My reaction toward children is very different depending on whether they are my children or someone else’s. I don’t dislike others’ children, but I am not the type to want to play with or hold other people’s children like some people do. My children have greatly enhanced my happiness. I will also say that I think the world is a better place because of them.

I will also say that, in my opinion, there are some people that shouldn’t be parents. Not everyone would provide the necessary love and care. I know plenty, including some in my own extended family.

I will also say, that I do know smart honorable people that I think would be great parents but choose not to be because they don’t want to be bothered by children or they believe that humans are a cancer to Earth. That seems to be a common attitude in Japan, Singapore, and Europe and those societies are dying a slow death as a result.

Susan Lapin says:

David, I myself babysat for the money, not because I particularly enjoyed children. That changed when I had my own, so much so that I homeschooled them for many years. So, I relate to what you are saying.
Your other points are expressed well.

val magnuson says:

if you don’t want children-please don’t have one-good luck-

Vallerie Fletcher says:

I learn so much from the way you both answer questions! Your answers always seek to get to the real heart of the matter. Here your answer was kind and instructive; encouraging altogether. I have seen you answer the most difficult of questions with brilliance I could have never foreseen. This is what being founded upon the Holy Scriptures will do. Just want to say thank you because I hear many young people today saying this very thing and I needed some guidance as well. I believe our legacy through children is our one way to terrestrial immortality. Sincerely, VF

Richard says:

It could be that not having children is not what this woman desires . But because she is a timid soul she is bowing to the wishes of her husband lest he abandon her. And the fact that she is asking if its ok not to have children and not the man . Suggests she cant have an opinion of her own and she is feeling guilt for agreeing with him.

Susan Lapin says:

You’re reading a lot into it, Richard. There certainly could be a difference of opinion here and that could be added to the questions this couple needs to discuss.

Johnny says:

As with othersnhave said on this discussion thread, I too agree that some people are too dysfunctional, with lots of unresolved personal issues that they are incapable of raising children.

That is why some people are unfit to become parents. In cases such as these, it it certainly better for these kinds of people to not have children, lest they just abuse and mistreat their children.

Susan Lapin says:

Johnny, again, I would suggest that working on resolving the issues should be done whether there are children or not. And there are many people who grew up in dysfunctional homes who became wonderful parents. There is a fine line between recognizing a reality and making an excuse for not growing.

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