Troubled Childhood Can Lead to Childless Adulthood

“I’m afraid to have kids because of how messed up my own childhood was.”

That sentence is taken from a blog post by psychotherapist Annie Wright, who finds many of her clients worry that if they grew up with less than perfect parents they can’t possibly be good parents themselves. That’s not necessarily so, she assures them. In fact, they may be fabulous parents as they strive to do what their own parents could not.

How we grew up has a big effect on how we feel about having children. Those effects can start setting in before we’re old enough to have conscious memories. Did your parents love being parents or hate it? Were they involved in your life or more hands off? Were they abusive? Did they argue all the time? Did your parents divorce and leave you feeling like a lasting relationship is impossible? Was money a problem? Were you a latchkey kid raising yourself? Were you forced to babysit your siblings so much you feel as if you already “did” parenthood? For women, was motherhood considered the only option, one of many choices, or the end of a happy life? For men, was fatherhood portrayed as a noose around your neck or the best thing in the world?

My mother loved babies. Once she gave birth to my brother and me, she quit her secretarial job and never worked outside the home again. Caring for us and Dad and the house was her job. Of course, that was the 1950s and 1960s. Think “Leave It to Beaver” if the dad wore a hard hat and khakis to work. I think my father resented the obligations of parenthood, but he never questioned the rightness of having children. It was an era when, as he told me later, “That’s what you did.” Mom and Dad modeled a happy marriage and treated us well, so I grew up thinking having children was a good thing.

Add in the dozens of dolls I mothered and all those old-fashioned movies and TV shows that ended with “love, marriage and the baby carriage,” and I never questioned that I’d be a mother someday. I figured I would write books, raise children and live happily ever after with my Prince Charming.

Oh well.

My first husband and his sister also seemed to grow up in a happy traditional home, but neither ever wanted to have children. Their parents were overly involved in our adult lives. Other than that, they seemed fine, but I wasn’t there in the early years. Were there things I didn’t know about? A lot of important impressions are formed before a child reaches kindergarten. What happened to them?

Most readers of this blog have grown up in a very different world, a post 9-11 world facing climate change, a divided country, and an economy that makes it nearly impossible for young people to buy a home. How can they possibly afford to raise children? Adding to the confusion, divorce is common, husbands and wives are both working, and couples are waiting longer to consider getting pregnant, which can lead to fertility problems.

Where does that leave you? My upbringing caused me to want and expect to have children and to grieve when I didn’t. How about you? Did the way you grew up make you want to have babies or shudder at the thought? Is there something in your partner’s past that makes him/her shy away from having children? Have you talked about it? Without pushing for babies, this might be a good conversation to have just to understand each other better. “What was it like growing up in your family . . . ?”

Please comment. I’d really like to get a discussion going on this.

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B is for Baby, the One You May Never Have

 Almost every day I receive a comments from readers whose problems are at the very heart of this blog. They are deep into a relationship where they disagree about having children and don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to tell them except that I’m sorry this is happening to them and that they have to decide which is more important to them, the man or woman they love or the babies they might never have if they stay together. It’s an awful decision, along the lines of would you rather be blind or deaf. Neither choice is good.
A post from last year titled, “If you Disagree About Children, is Your Relationship Doomed?” has drawn many of these comments. Click the link to read them all. Meanwhile, here are a few.
“My boyfriend and I have been together for six years and just recently discussed getting engaged within the year. I am 30 and he is 39 and has been married once before. I have never known that I definitely wanted to have kids, but just recently I have been feeling a stronger urge to seriously consider it. My boyfriend just told me that he 100% will not have kids and I need to seriously consider if that is okay with me because he is not “changing his mind.” He is the love of my life, and I would never consider not being with him, but to hear him so vehemently say no to kids made me a little depressed. I am hoping that maybe one day he will consider it or my recently budding baby fever will subside…”
“Hi, I am 42, my husband is 41. We’ve been married for just over five years. I have two grownup children aged 22 & 18 from a previous awful relationship. My husband and I had an incredible marriage. We never argued, always respected each other and loved each other very very deeply. Two months ago, he left me!! He does not want to be 60 and never have become a father. I understand how he feels, but he refuses to acknowledge how I feel. I was a teenage mum and have spent my entire adult life looking after kids, and he wants me to go right back to the beginning and start again. He can’t see what my problem is. He just says I don’t love him enough. If I did, I would make the sacrifice for him. He says that I have “rejected” him. Now I am completely devastated. I can’t eat, sleep and can hardly get up in the morning…”
“I am three weeks down the road of separating from my partner (37) of 4 1/2 years. When we first got together, we both wanted to get married and have four children. After a year we went overseas traveling and he starting saying he didn’t want children. I thought it was because we were traveling and with loads of people in their early 20s. But when we got back, he was still saying that he didn’t want children. I thought he just wasn’t ready, and we kept getting more fur children. Well, after I don’t know how many conversations, he admits that he doesn’t want to be like his dad. It was a look of surprise when it came out of his mouth. He didn’t and still doesn’t have a wonderful relationship with his dad. I just wish he could see himself through my eyes and what a brilliant father he would make. He is wonderful with his niece and nephews. And has so much to offer a child. I just want my life back! And the one we planned….”
 “Together seven years, married for one. He had two kids from his first marriage, I have zero from my first marriage. I have always always always wanted one of my own. I feel ‘broken’ or less whole thinking that he now doesn’t want to have one with me anymore. He said he is just done…”
I have a hard time knowing how to comfort these readers. I hope you can help me help them with your comments here or at the original post. Feel free to tell us about your own situation.
You might be wondering what the B is for Babies business is about. I am participating this month in the A-to-Z Blog Challenge. Every day except Sunday we will publish new blog posts inspired by the letters of the alphabet. Because I have several blogs, I’m going to make this like a progressive dinner or a scavenger hunt. The alphabet blogs will proceed from A to Z but will dance around among my newsletter (4/1 only) and Unleashed in Oregon, Childless by Marriage, and Writer Aid.More than 1,300 other bloggers have signed up for the challenge. Check out the list at You might find some great new blogs to follow. I know I will. Find out what C stands for tomorrow at Unleashed in Oregon.