Slate recently asked readers who are child-free and happy to let us know all about it—and did you ever! We’re posting some of our favorite responses on the blog this week.
Name: Brad Carty
Location: Frankfurt, Germany
I am a 54-year-old man who had a vasectomy at the age of 30. Although I had an uneventful childhood—not particularly happy or unhappy—I cannot remember ever wanting to be a father myself. When I was in a serious, long-term relationship in my 20s, my girlfriend and I discussed possibly adopting a girl if we got married: I never had any interest in sports or other “typical” male things, and worried that I would not be able to relate to a little boy, and she preferred a daughter as well. However, once that relationship ended, I quickly realized that I really didn’t want any children at all, and eventually had myself rendered incapable via surgery.
There were several reasons for my decision, but the main one was that I always wanted to have the freedom to change jobs. I don’t hear this discussed very much, but most people—if they are responsible and loving parents—do not avail themselves of professional opportunities because they would be too disruptive for their children. They cannot accept too many transfers, even for more money, because the kids are “settled” in a school and neighborhood, have friends they don’t want to leave, and because they would be the “new kid” and therefore, presumably, traumatized. Likewise, a parent who is dissatisfied with his/her current profession can’t quit and start training for something else because it is too risky in terms of finances and loss of seniority; even changing companies within the same profession can result in inferior health insurance plans and a reputation for being disloyal. I saw quite a few of my friends made miserable because they couldn’t tell their boss to stick it, couldn’t leave the town they’d lived in for decades (often their whole lives), couldn’t take any risk whatsoever because they were putting their children first.
I agree that a parent should put the children first; however, I am convinced that I would resent them for ruining my life once I did so. That may not be fair, but I know myself well enough to know that this is what I would feel. I’m also pretty sure I’d self-destruct, professionally and personally, if I had to do the same thing in the same place for decades. I’m told that the love one feels for a child more than compensates for every sacrifice, but the risk of having a child and then discovering I don’t have that love, or that it isn’t enough, is too great. I’m also told that the unconditional love you get from your child is the greatest reward imaginable, but (a) I’ve always observed it to be quite conditional indeed, and (b) I’ve never wanted love I haven’t earned—those who do should raise a dog, not a child.
I have a surprising number of male and female friends from my youth who have never become parents, although there have been a few marriages and divorces over the past 30 years. Some ended pregnancies, others couldn’t find a partner they wanted to raise children with (which is painful for some, because they thought they would like children and expected to become parents some day). The friends and family members with now-grown children don’t seem to be particularly enriched as a result of the experience (on the other hand, I’ve often heard their anguished tales of difficulties and disappointments with their kids over the years). I’ve seen some appalling, even monstrous behavior by friends’ children that they accept with a sigh and the gentlest of chastisements: Apparently, today’s children are to be given everything they want and have nothing taken away, because their friends all have everything they want, and no child should be made to feel deprived and therefore inferior.
How do I feel today about the decision I made nearly a quarter century ago? I can testify with complete honesty that I have never for one second regretted not being a parent. It has caused me to be very selective in dating, and has undoubtedly turned off the majority of women I could have dated: I’ve swum in a very small dating pool! On the bright side, I never had to agonize over an unwanted pregnancy, never felt compelled to marry for the sake of a child, and didn’t feel pressured to wed while I was still young enough to be a vigorous dad. Needless to say, I was able to travel, go to concerts and the theater, and buy myself nice things while others were paying for orthodontia. Eventually I married a woman who felt as I did, and for the past 10 years we’ve lived in various cities in Europe (again, I can change jobs whenever I wish). I can’t imagine any other life—I certainly can’t imagine it being any better than the one I have.
Previously in this series: