Child-Free by Choice: Challenges of Deciding
Not to Become Mom
by Morgan Mandriota
women to take on the roles of caregiver or mother — even if we can't or don't want to.
Like me, many other women who choose not to become moms face unique challenges and pressures.
Becoming aware of these challenges can lead us all to better understand, empower, and support those who navigate this decision.
Choosing not to mother is a
personal decision. Yet, some people believe it's not even a choice.
Everyone's different and may experience these challenges differently. But here are a few examples of testing situations you may encounter:
Potential challenges of choosing not to become a mom
However, experts like Harris vouch for their universal validity.
"Child-free women, in particular, may have to deal with the stereotype that they're not feminine, warm, or simply don't have a 'motherly instinct,'" she explains. Because of this, you may experience a sense of being "othered," especially in those cultures that may assign more traditional maternal roles to women.
4. Being 'othered'
Not having children yet, or ever, while watching people your age or younger become pregnant has felt extremely isolating to me in some instances. I know I'm not the only one experiencing this.
In fact, 2021 research in Michigan suggests that childfree individuals may have a higher chance of being considered "an outgroup."
According to the study findings, people who have become parents, plan to do so, or wanted to at some point but couldn't, tend to experience less interpersonal warmth toward childless-by-choice individuals.
Results from this state-based study may not represent a global tendency, though. Microculture and similar factors could influence the participants' perspectives. More research is needed to further explore these findings.
I've questioned my maternal instinct all my life.
Whereas most women I know gravitate toward babies and kids at parties, I prefer to sit by the snack table. When a toddler waddles up to me holding a toy, I have no idea what to say aside from "hello." When people ask when I'm having kids, I can't give them a solid answer because I don't know if I ever will.
I'm not alone. And if you feel this way, you're not either.
People of all ages, genders, and races choose not to become parents for different reasons. But society, ultimately, expects
Morgan Mandriota is a New York-based writer who is passionate about exploring the intersection of pleasure, healing, and holistic well-being. She currently works as a staff writer with Psych Central where she specializes in creating content about sex, relationships, mental health, and alternative approaches to wellness. Her work has been published in notable publications, including Betches, Bumble, Bustle, Cosmopolitan, Health, mindbodygreen, Shape, Tinder, Verywell Mind, and Well+Good. In her free time, she enjoys chasing sunsets, playing video games, spending time in nature, swimming in a sea of CBD salve, trying different therapy practices, and working on her passion project Highly Untamed. Connect with Morgan on Twitter and Instagram or visit her website here to learn more.
Choosing not to mother is a personal decision. Yet, some people might believe it's not even a choice. These cultural expectations about motherhood can affect your well-being, including your self-worth.
Psych Central empowers people to describe lived experiences using language that feels right to them. We do this by sharing perspectives from members of the mental health community. The views expressed by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions, voice, or stance of Psych Central.
Gendered terms like "mothers" and "women" are used throughout this article.
But we understand gender is solely about how you identify yourself, independent of your physical body. So, when we use this language, we're referring to all people who identify as a woman or mother.
Other aspects of making the decision may also need to be considered.
"There's a difference between [ ... ] the 'choice' to become a mother and the formal reproductive rights that determine access to resources, support, and freedom needed to mother," says Harris.
For example, some women and people in the transgender community who experience infertility challenges may not even have the "choice" to become a mother, adds Harris. "Oftentimes, women may 'choose' not to mother because their options are constrained due to societal pressures and demands."
According to Harris, giving birth may also be a life or death choice for some women, and many aren't willing to take that chance. And so, a life without kids is their safest option.
"We're in the midst of a maternal health crisis, which is especially dire for Black women," explains Harris.
"Raising a child is a huge responsibility and simply is not for everyone, and that's OK," says Tamika Simpson, a clinical psychologist and perinatal mental health expert with Ovia Health. "Deciding not to have a child is a personal decision that society sometimes forgets that people have the right to make."
But as a woman, you may often feel like you have to have kids.
New York-based Ashley R., 24, grew up in a Hispanic household where she says her family trained her to become a mom.
"From taking care of my brothers, learning to cook, clean, and even babysit for my cousins' kids, it felt like the only purpose I'd ever have is to be a mom," she says.
Wanting to become a mother out of obligation rather than desire isn't without an effect. It can negatively impact your mental health and toy with your sense of identity, says Kanika Harris, PhD, director of maternal and child health at the Black Women's Health Imperative (BWHI).
"Once we let go of the idea that people are 'supposed to' have children, it becomes easier to recognize that there are plenty of people that don't want to," adds Simpson.
1. Facing a 'choice' that reads more like a demand
Decisions around motherhood tend to be complicated with myths of:
- biological clocks
But Harris emphasizes that choosing to parent (or not) is a person's reproductive right.
In a society where motherhood is often interlinked with a woman's worth, the choice to not bear children can directly impact your self-esteem.
"As women, we're expected to procreate," says Brandy Porche, a licensed professional counselor in Frisco, Texas. "When women choose not to have children, they're looked at as selfish and non-nurturing, which is a very unfair stigma and leads to
Porche also notes that depression and feelings of inadequacy can pop up in thoughts like "what's wrong with me?" or "why don't I want kids?"
If you feel this way, Harris reminds you that there's nothing inherently wrong with you. "We're reenvisioning and adapting our roles as mothers and as women beyond mothering – and that's not a bad thing."
2. Experiencing the side effects of stigma
Brooke says these types of comments have consequences
that not many think about. For example:
- crying in your car because you feel no one takes you seriously
- anxiously wondering how to disclose your decision in a relationship
- experiencing hopelessness from being "different"
Women who decide not to mother can be shamed and guilted by family and community members for making this choice.
"These attitudes often make women feel that they need to defend or justify their decisions to others," Harris explains. As a result, we may experience anxiety and self-doubt, among other mental health challenges.
Brooke Z., a 21-year-old from Ohio, decided against having kids by age 13. Since that moment, she says she's heard a wide
range of accusations, including that she's:
- vain, heartless, and detached
- letting her family down
- giving her family nothing to look forward to
3. Being on the receiving end of judgmental comments
- not having a partner
- fear of the pregnancy process
- having other priorities
(e.g., career, traveling)
- simply not wanting to
To have kids or not to have kids?
There are many reasons why people opt not to parent:
- the state of the world
(e.g., climate change, politics)
- mental health conditions
- physical abilities
- financial concerns
No matter the reason, this decision is personal and valid.
Ultimately, Jen chose a hysterectomy. "I often think I did myself a favor," she says. "I'm not sure I would've survived [pregnancy and motherhood]."
Among other reasons, California-based Taylor C., 24, chose not to have kids because she's scared. "I have terrible periods and can't imagine what pain and discomfort pregnancy would bring."
For those like me with similar fears or health concerns, choosing to be child-free can be relieving. "These people are happy with their decision and often feel like a weight has been lifted once they state their decision firmly and confidently," says Simpson.
I worry about my mental health if I was to become a parent. I truly don't know how I'd be able to balance raising a child, personal health, work, relationships, and everything else.
The thought of doing it all is incredibly overwhelming and stressful to me, so the idea of not having to deal with that reality is a huge relief.
Other women may feel this way for different reasons.
Jen M., a 51-year-old from New York, lived with uterine fibroid cysts and other reproductive health challenges throughout her 20s and 30s.
It scares me to bring a child into this world when things feel so uncertain and chaotic for so many reasons. But, as "selfish" as it may sound to some people, the biggest benefit to me is being able to prioritize my well-being.
Here's how that may feel for some women:
Are there mental health benefits to choosing not to parent?
So, it's not surprising that living childless may lead to some women and couples feeling they're able to focus on other pursuits, including:
- higher education
- career trajectory
- being more active in their communities
- feeling less emotionally and financially stressed
- focusing on personal health
I live with ADHD, Lyme disease, and other conditions. How I take care of my health directly impacts my ability to function every day, so my healing journey is one of the main focuses of my life. Not having children allows it.
"I respect those who choose to go into motherhood, but it's not for me, and I'm OK with that," says Ashley. "I feel so free. I'm really in tune with my values and where I want to be in life."
In fact, compared to parents, women (and their partners) who don't have children may feel they have more time to spend on other interests and projects. And they may have a point.
According to the 2021 American Time Use Survey, adults who in 2020 lived with at least 1 child under the age of 13 averaged 6.1 hours a day providing child care.
In households with more than 1 child under the age of 13, men spent 4.9 hours a day caring for children while women averaged 7.1 hours.
1. Sense of freedom
"Women are more than bodies, and we each offer ways to make the world a better place – whether that be our children or our talent, time, energy, intellect, expertise, or compassion," says Harris.
The challenge of deciding not to mother may not be about living a childless life. Not being able to openly express this personal choice without facing the stigma can be the problem.
A 2021 Michigan-based study suggests no difference in self-reported life satisfaction between people who decide to have kids and those who don't.
But according to some experts, child-free women may actually be one of the happiest groups of people.
Simpson works with many of them who confirm they love and enjoy their lives without kids.
2. Life satisfaction
That's what I'm doing. Ultimately, that's all any of us in this same position can do: As challenging as it may be, we must try to tune out those external voices and honor our wants and needs.
By disconnecting from the noise of the world and connecting back to herself, Brooke says she changed her life for the better. Self-care practices like journaling and spirituality helped.
"I believe we're all worthy, and that I'm worthy, separate from any decision I may make in my life," she says. "The advice I'd give any woman dealing with the aftermath of deciding not to become a mother is to dig deeply into who you are and build a foundation of worthiness."
4. Try to tune out society and take care of yourself
If you need help navigating the effects of deciding not to parent, these tips might work.
How to cope after sharing your decision
She reminds you that it's also OK to:
- walk away from hurtful or uncomfortable conversations or people
- take a step back on Mother's Day
- practice self-care
Consider setting whichever boundaries feel right for you and
try to honor them along your journey, especially when you feel they're violated.
Simpson recommends having go-to responses, like:
- "I decided a long time ago that I don't want children, and I'm sticking to it."
- "I've made the very personal decision not to have children as that's what's best for me."
"When people question you, you can politely respond that it's a personal matter. Should the questioning continue, simply don't respond, and they'll get the drift," Porche adds.
1. Try to set boundaries
Taylor loves kids, but she's OK with being the cool, child free aunt who travels and focuses on her career. "I want to be a teacher, so I'll be able to participate in helping the youth grow and teaching them new things."
"I still feel a pull to maybe foster parent one day or even adopt, but I haven't felt called to actively pursue it," says Jen. "I could just continue to be the best auntie and godmother ever, knowing that as these kids grow up, I'll have a place in their lives."
"There are many extended roles of mothering that have deep and meaningful benefits for society and family development, all of which can boost a woman's sense of self and self-esteem, if she chooses to take them on," says Harris.
If you choose not to parent a child but still feel you'd like to lean into caregiving, consider:
- adopting or fostering pets
- volunteering within your community
- building relationships with children (e.g., teaching, babysitting)
- nurturing your connections with loved ones
"I believe that I can choose to love, care for, and nurture the people placed in my life," says Brooke. "I choose to believe that love is important in all of its forms and that my love for my family, friends, community, and dog is important as well."
2. Consider finding other ways to be a caregiver (if you want)
Speaking with a therapist may help, too. A mental health professional can offer personalized strategies to help you navigate your decision and the potential challenges that come along with it.
If you're looking for emotional, mental, or reproductive health support, resources are available.
- connecting with others who share similar experiences
- following maternal mental health professionals on social media
- researching organizations that offer advocacy and support services
3. Leaning into support resources can help
And that's OK.
I feel that I'm doing what's best for me. My decision and yours are worthy of respect, admiration, and support, regardless of what anyone else has to say about it.
I still go back and forth between wanting kids and not. But the benefits of being child-free currently outweigh any potential pros of parenting. So right now, I lean heavily toward choosing not to become a mom.
Like me, many other women have taken the same path, although not necessarily for the same reasons.
Whether or not you ever decide to become a mother, it can help to remember that you're still whole, you're not selfish, and you may not change your mind one day.
- say they'll regret the decision or change their
- emphasize how happy your kids make you
- assume they'll be "missing out"
- tell them their lives will be meaningless or unfulfilling
- make them feel they're being selfish
- say they just need to find the right partner
How you respond to women who share their decision to not become mothers matters.
Consider these do’s and don’ts that Simpson offers.
What to say vs. what not to say to someone sharing the decision
- recognize this is their decision (and one they've probably thought carefully about)
- remember, it isn't your place or responsibility to change
- remember, people find happiness and fulfillment in
- understand they're likely experiencing enough societal
pressure and don't need more
- support them and know that they made the best decision
Deciding not to parent a child may involve unique pressures and challenges, particularly for women.
But, ultimately, it's a personal choice.
You're still whole, you're not selfish, and you may not change your mind one day.
As challenging as it may be, we must try
to tune out those external voices and honor our wants and needs.
Choosing to parent (or not) is a person's
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