On Choosing Not to Have Children
I don’t want children.
This isn’t a decision I arrived at lightly. When I hit my 20s and my anxiety and depression started getting worse, I began to wonder about my ability to take care of a child. I saw the parents around me and the devotion and hard work it took to raise children. And I knew, right then, that I didn’t have that in me. I honestly don’t think I’d be a very good mother. Hell, I’m hardly able to take care of a cat at this point.
More importantly, I realized that I had absolutely no desire to be pregnant or have children. Pregnancy would mean going off the medications that helped keep me stable, and post-partum depression – what with my history – would be intensely, extremely dangerous. I knew that before I ever considered having children, I would have to figure out a lot of my own problems first.
Mainly, I don’t want children because I don’t want to inflict myself and my problems on a child. I took stock of my life, how I function, how I contribute to society and the church, and realized that children were not a part of that. I never pictured children in my future, and I never saw them as part of God’s plan for my life, except in a “that’s what you’re supposed to do” kind of way.
And “that’s what you’re supposed to do” isn’t enough to make me commitment at least 19 years of my life to raising and taking care of another human being, to taking responsibility for molding and shaping a new life. The prospect terrifies me. Utterly terrifies me.
This isn’t to say that parents aren’t scared – I know they are. But like the difference between someone who has a reasonable, respectful fear of heights and someone like me, who physically cannot move when she is more than fifteen feet in the air, I have come to believe that the ways in which I was scared of having children were different and possibly more intense than the fear an average parent feels.
I am childfree. Unlike what Kathleen Nielson at the Gospel Coalition proclaims, this is not because I have not taken God into account. This is because I have, and I believe strongly that God does not want me to reproduce. Like many Christians when confronted with a person who chooses to remain childfree, Nielson refuses to listen to what actual childfree people are saying and instead cherry picks quotes from an article to fit her own narratives of selfishness versus selflessness. But these overarching narratives fail when you begin to ask individuals their reasons for actually having children – you’ll find a multitude of responses ranging from “that’s just what you to do” to “I wanted to make sure the family continued on” to “I feel called.” You realize that selfishness is not confined simply to those who choose not to procreate, and selflessness is not the domain of those with progeny
Flattening out perspectives into a selfish versus selfless negates the beauty of the diversity of the stories God is weaving. Likewise, by focusing on American Christians and conflating American Christian reproduction with the potential “downfall of civilization,” Nielson erases the vast, growing majority of Christians in the global south, and casts white American Christians as the saviors of God’s society, rather than one piece in a Global Church.
Additionally, it should be noted, Nielson makes no distinction between those who are childfree by choice and those who are childless by infertility or medical conditions, despite wanting children.. Indeed, at one point, she heartlessly implies that a woman’s worth is directly tied to her ability to reproduce,* saying: “And, interestingly, only this perspective [of children as God’s gift] lets us see the worth of a woman to whom God grants or does not grant children."
By ignoring the massive, global diversity of the church, Nielson’s article amounts to fear-mongering and shaming of people who exist within the church as childfree, both by choice or by circumstance. Her implication is that God rewards earthly actions and prizes some of God’s followers over others, a distinctly unbiblical and unchristian approach to the question of children. Within this framing, Nielson condemns those whom God has chosen to be different without any acknowledgment that this could be a viable option.
God does not create us all to be June Cleavers and Stepford Wives. Just as some are called to be parents, some people are called to act differently, to live a life without children, and God does not withhold joyous life from those for whom reproduction is either not a priority or an impossibility.
*It should likewise be noted that Nielson's framing of reproduction as a female issue ignores the existence of people who have the ability to reproduce but do not identify as women. There are men with uteruses, a fact completely ignored and erased by this article.