Will I Regret Not Having Kids?

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As you get older and many of your friends begin to have children, it’s natural to think about children in your own life and wonder if you will regret not having kids. Some people are dead-set on never wanting children, but many fall somewhere in the middle.

Though research shows that people do regret having children, it is not something people often talk about, so it can be hard to get that perspective. Plus, it’s a sensitive subject to bring up for many people, leaving you to feel alone in your wondering. You’re not alone though.

A 2021 Pew poll found that 44% of non-parents between the ages of 18-49 reported that it is “not too likely” or “not at all likely” that they will have children someday—up 7% from 37% in the same survey in 2018.

Just a decade ago, more than 60% of people said they wanted children, but now it’s changed. But still, it can be hard sometimes to parse what you really want from the societal messaging.  

Underlying all of this, says psychologist Angela Lawson, PhD, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, is the assumption that women will want kids, and it’s the exception, not the rule to opt to be child-free.

Deciding whether or not to have children is one of the biggest decisions you will probably make in your lifetime, so it is smart of you to be wondering if you’d regret not having children rather than bringing a child into the world and regretting it.

So how do you go about making this massive decision? This probably isn’t something you want to flip a coin for, so read on for advice on how to approach this decision.

How to Decide If You Will Regret Not Having Kids

For some people, the pain of the expectation may be worse than the regret. Childfree adults in“pronatalist” societies (i.e., societies that encourage people to have children) like the United States reported lower life satisfaction due to the ideologies and pressure on women to have children.

And other research supports that we regret not fulfilling our vision of what our “ideal self” was—which is also a matter of expectations.

Dr. Lawson notes that when people reach their 30s, they may start wondering whether or not they should have kids. They might ask themselves if it's something that they truly want or if it's something they've been told they should want.

Examine Where You Get Your Beliefs From

To deal with these conflicting feelings, she says she talks to her patients about their experiences with societal beliefs about women having children and then beliefs within their families to examine where some of this messaging comes from.

Envision Your Future With or Without Kids

One of the exercises Dr. Lawson often takes her patients through is imagining themselves five years from now, 10 years from now, and then as an older woman—not having had children. 

“What does she imagine having done with her life? And does she imagine experiencing regret? Would that regret in any way diminish her lived experiences?”

She says she asks them what that would regret would feel like—and how it might influence their life.

Angela Lawson, PhD

I think in some ways, many women misunderstand what regret is and the implication of regret. People can regret all sorts of decisions they make in their lives. But that doesn’t mean those decisions and that regret are going to drastically affect their ability to be happy.

— Angela Lawson, PhD

Ask Yourself If You Think You Might Regret Having Children

Another exercise she takes patients through takes the opposite tack: “Do you think there's a possibility that you could resent having children? Then ask yourself what you think you'd be able to cope with more: regretting having kids or regretting not having kids?

Consider Freezing Your Eggs or Working With Children

For those who are truly ambivalent, and want to leave the potential open, she discusses options such as egg freezing or giving back to children by volunteering or spending a significant amount of time with friends’ children. 

She noted that the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s current guidelines say that women up to age 55 may use an egg donor or their own frozen eggs—even if they have already passed menopausal age.

But Dr. Lawson says most of the women she talks to who are considering being child-free say that they can imagine their lives perfectly happy without a child.

Most People With Frozen Eggs Don't Use Them

In fact, those who freeze their eggs rarely come back for them—nearly 60% in one long-term study did not come back, yet were still paying for storage, 10 years later. 

However, even though the usage rate of these frozen eggs remains low, nearly 90% of those surveyed say are glad they went through the process, for reasons including flexibility and enhanced reproductive control. 

What If You Decide Not to Have Children?

Many people think not having kids is a zero-sum game—or that it will be the answer to all of their problems, such as having someone to care for them when they get older.

But having children is no guarantee for how things will turn out, says Dr. Lawson. “You never know if your children will live in the same country or state as you or what your relationship will be like with them.”

If you don't want kids and you're worried about who will take care of you when you're older, Dr. Lawson recommends living closer to friends or relatives of similar ages or pooling resources with friends as you get older. Focus on cultivating strong relationships and friendships with others, that way, when you do get older you'll have a support system that you can rely on.

What to Do If You Regret Not Having Children

Maybe at one point in your life, you decided not to have children. But now, you're feeling regret about that decision and wish that you did have kids or that you do want them now but feel that it's too late. Here are some things you can do:

  • Consider having kids anyway: If you've frozen your eggs, you can consider using them if you find that you're ready to have children. You can also speak with your doctor to ask what your chances are for a successful pregnancy as you may be able to still have children on your own.
  • Consider adoption/surrogacy: Maybe you have a condition that has prevented you from safely carrying a baby to term, surrogacy may still be an option for you. Or, if there is no biological option for you, you may want to carefully consider adoption.
  • Journal your feelings: Choosing whether or not to have children will bring up even more emotions than you may be able to process out loud. Journaling may help you sort through them, as well as discover some of the deep underlying feelings that might be bottled up.
  • Volunteer to babysit: If it's really not in the cards for you to have your own child, you can volunteer to babysit for friends' children. It's not the same, but it can fulfill a part of that yearning for a bond with a child.
  • Speak with a therapist: This is an incredibly important, difficult, and weighty decision. So, you may want to speak with a therapist to help you figure out how to cope and make peace with not having children.
  • Travel: Not having children may free up lots of time so use that time to travel—especially to places that wouldn't be kid-friendly.
  • Foster: If you did not have children or were unable to have children, you may want to consider becoming a foster parent.
  • Get a pet: A cat or dog is, of course, not a substitute for a child, but it may help you fulfill the yearn to care for something.
  • Allow yourself to grieve: It's OK to feel like you lost something you thought you would have had or wanted—take the time to grieve this if you need to.

A Word From Verywell

Maybe something in your life doesn’t look like you thought it would—whether a loss of a parent you thought might be part of your support system to raise a child or you’re single and didn’t think you would be at your age. It’s OK to adjust the expectations that you made when your life looked very different. If you are feeling incredibly ambivalent, Dr. Lawson recommends talking to a therapist. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine Mental Health Professionals has a directory of providers who have worked with people going through just this type of situation.

8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Theodora Blanchfield, AMFT
Theodora Blanchfield is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and mental health writer.