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Originally published January 30, 2013 at 4:20 PM | Page modified January 31, 2013 at 5:31 AM

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Why I am not having kids

My husband and I choose to be childless in Seattle, writes editorial columnist Sharon Pian Chan

Times editorial columnist

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My husband and I just ended our debate about having children. To breed or not to breed, this was the question — and it had been ticking like an egg timer in the back of my head for 15 years.

We talked about it for five months. In the car on the way to work. During dinner. For five minutes, for 30 minutes. After seeing nephews and nieces.

I wanted it to be a decision we made, not one made for us by chance or time. I turned to friends with kids for advice. “Feel free to convince me to your side,” I told them. Leaving a legacy and crazy joy, they said. I bow down to their personal sacrifice. It is an enormous gift for society to raise an educated, productive, ethical, moral child.

On our last vacation, my husband and I mulled over this question: “On your deathbed, what will you regret not doing?” We listed our answers at dinner on the last night. Neither of us mentioned children.

We have decided we have other things to give to the world. We won’t be having kids. We choose to be childless in Seattle.

We are not alone here. According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates, children make up 15.3 percent of Seattle’s population. We are the second-most childless U.S. city behind San Francisco, which stands at 13.4 percent.

Observers say our childlessness shapes public attitudes toward education and quality-of-life issues, such as parks and playgrounds. I’ll be voting yes for Seattle’s $1.2 billion school levy measures on the Feb. 12 special-election ballot anyway.

I’m lucky. I live in a time and place where I have the freedom not to have kids. But that doesn’t mean society has fully accepted me.

Feminism empowered women to talk about motherhood as a pursuit that deserves as much attention as men’s work. In the past 20 years, women have bravely spoken about struggles to conceive, which helped educate a generation about fertility. But society rarely hears from women who decide not to have kids.

“Do you have children?” My friend’s standard answer is, “No, and it’s not for medical reasons.” I’m cribbing it.

Will I regret it?

Probably sometimes. Just like parents sometimes regret their choice.

Will I regret not having children to care for me when I’m old and infirm?

Kids or no kids, everyone should be saving for retirement. I don’t believe in treating children like indentured social security, and, let’s be honest, many people in nursing homes have children.

Would I have to sacrifice my career goals if we had a child?

Probably. I’ve gone from believing I can do it all to believing that life is short. Saying no to some things allows me to say yes to others.

My husband could be the primary caregiver while I charge after my goals, but then he would have to say no to some of his goals.

My mom was a senior manager at a global stem-cell bank when she retired. While my brother and I were growing up, she worked part-time. I’ve heard her say more than once: “If I had just had another 16 years, I could have gone so high.”

Am I being selfish if I don't have children?

I’m selfish for not committing to my hypothetical child’s well-being. But I will have a lot more attention and money to shower on real-life nieces, nephews, mentees and philanthropic causes.

Also, not having a child is the most important thing I could do to reduce my carbon footprint, according to a 2009 study by Oregon State University statisticians. (Of course, like all parents, I believe my theoretical child would have grown up to become a brilliant physicist and saved the world from global warming, so this is a moot point.)

I broke the news to my grandmother, mother of six, while visiting her in Hong Kong. “That’s fine,” she said in Cantonese, “if you want to be lazy.”

I told my parents in California over Christmas. “Don’t do it if you don’t want to,” my mom said without pause. “You won’t like it.”

It’s OK that I didn’t dream of growing up and having a baby. My husband and I can be a family without a kid. The ability to bear a child may be what defines me as female, but I’m still a woman without one.

Sharon Pian Chan's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her email address is schan@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @sharonpianchan.


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