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Feeling Maternal After Deciding Not To Have Kids

Written By Ashley Gray, LCSW, MFTC

I knew when I was 18 that I didn't want to have kids. By 21, well-intentioned friends and family members had talked me out of what I knew about myself. I didn't want to be a mother. I felt that truth in my body and dating and talking about the future made me nervous because I was fearful about the possibility of becoming a mother. This fear was more than the healthy anxious/nervous anticipation of becoming a mother. I was scared. By the time I was 26 I decided to own the fact that I didn't want to have kids. I figured I would experiment with the decision by starting to tell a few people in my life about my decision and change the info on my dating profiles to own this decision. I told myself that if it didn't feel right, I could change my mind. Once I finally owned my decision to not have kids and not let other people's opinions about that change my mind, I felt more like myself than I ever had before. I also felt more confident in dating because I was being true to who I was and what I wanted and I could be clear about my future. A year after I made that decision, I met my husband and I don't think that was a coincidence. The clearer you are on what you want, the more confident you are and the more prepared you are to welcome in what is meant for you.

This is not a slight to people who want to have kids. I think having children is a truly beautiful thing. I believe people that say parenthood is a love like no other and I support you if parenthood is the right decision for you. I am aware that I am missing out on that very specific type of love. Also, I do not hate kids. Sometimes people get this idea that if you don't want to have kids, perhaps you don't like kids. That is not the case for me. I love kids and I love being present in my nephews lives and supporting my friends with kids. I just know it isn't for me.

There was something people always told me when discussing the possibility of having kids. What if your maternal instincts kick-in and you decide you want to have kids? Well, when I entered my 30's they did kick-in, but not in the way you might think.

Maternal Instincts Kicking In

Once I entered my 30's I started caring about community in a way that I hadn't before. I cared about community and caring for others before, but not with the same intensity. I wasn't just thinking about voting, protests and news stories when thinking about my community. I was thinking about what it meant to be a member in my community not just when I was electing to be engaged in particular issues, but what it meant to be a part of this world simply by existing in it. I was thinking more deeply about what it really meant to care for others. I was thinking about the safety of the kids in the neighborhood, how to show up better for the people in my life and I desperately wanted my husband and I to get a dog. I saw this more intense desire to care for others as a maternal instinct kicking in, but in no way did it make me want to have kids. In fact, it further affirmed that I did not want to have a kid.

As I faced my own responsibility in the world, I began viewing parenthood as even more monumental of a responsibility than I had before. I also began to see the importance of people without kids supporting those with kids. I like that I can babysit the kids in my life and not feel over extended. I think that it is great that I can provide kid-free time and space for my friends with kids when they need a break from that. I feel that those with kids and those without kids are uniquely positioned to help one another out in different ways. Maybe viewing ourselves as only being in particular camps limits us from considering community and how we can connect and support one another.

Are We Limiting Ourselves?

These experiences made me wonder if maybe we can view maternal instincts in more expansive ways. Perhaps, if someone is feeling maternal or paternal, they have more options than just having children if that option doesn't feel quite right either. Could someone support children in their community in how they vote, where they volunteer, what they advocate for, etc, if they were feeling maternal or paternal and don't have kids.

I understand that not everyone who doesn't have kids chose that. I also understand that for some people who have maternal feelings come up, they do change their mind about having kids. I say these things to acknowledge that there is really grief around this and simply reading a blog post or volunteering isn't going to fill the void that grief created. If you fit in that category, I strongly encourage you to work with a therapist or trained coach that specializes in grief. You deserve the space to heal and move forward with newfound peace.

I also want to acknowledge that perhaps you might not feel as available for community because having kids is busy. Or you truly do want to have a kid free life and you don't want to be in the life of other peoples' kids. You know yourself best and you get to set your own boundaries. I am simply wondering, can we show up more expansively for ourselves and for others? What would be the impact if we did?

If You Are Still Struggling With Whether Or Not You Should Have Kids

We all have our own journey with this decision. It is a huge decision and deserves intentional time and energy. If you are still on your own journey and need some resources, I strongly recommend checking out Amanda White, LPC's Instagram page, @therapyforwomen. She herself was on the fence with the decision and ultimately decided to have a child. She made a highlight on her page that is titled "Kids or No?" and in there she has some great books, articles, podcasts and thoughts on how to make an informed decision for yourself. Many of the resources are things that she found helpful in her own journey. I hope they are helpful for you as well.

I'm wishing you the best on your journey! :)

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This post is written by individual and couples therapist, Ashley Gray of Arvada, Colorado. Ashley works with her clients using Gottman Method Couples Therapy, EMDR Trauma Therapy, Prepare and Enrich, attachment focused therapy, techniques from Emotionally Focused Therapy and EMDR and Couples Intensives. As a therapist, she is passionate about helping people build healthy relationships and supporting people with the resources they need. In her free time, Ashley hikes, paddle boards, reads, spends time with her husband and her cuddly dog. For more information about Ashley and her practice, click here.


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