Why I’m Waiting to Have Kids

Reason number one: The ‘motherhood penalty’ is scary as hell.

I’m from the Midwest, where people tend to both get married and have children early. Most of my childhood friends have two or three children by now, and while I don’t begrudge them their life choices, I always knew that early motherhood wasn’t for me.

My path ended up diverging pretty significantly at age 23 when I was accepted to New York University’s master’s program for journalism. After I graduated, I started working in New York. Staying on the East Coast – where most of the people I knew were single and no one had kids – happened naturally. Marrying my husband, also an East Coast guy, pretty much sealed the deal. We live in Philadelphia now, but many of the same ideals surrounding motherhood (i.e., waiting) prevail here.

I’ll be 32 this year. My husband and I have been married for three years, and we still don’t have children. Here’s why.

I Wanted My 20s to Myself

Call it selfish, call it self-preservation, call it simply enjoying having a disposable income for the first time in my life, but I really, really enjoyed my twenties. From living in New York City and all that entailed, to weekly happy hours and nice dinners with my girlfriends, to shopping whenever I wanted (probably too often, in hindsight), to some really great trips — London, Paris, Rome, Napa Valley, Hawaii, a road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway — I loved my life.

If I had children, I knew that many — if not all — of those things would be out of reach or simply not fiscally responsible when you consider that the cost of raising a child is an estimated $233,610, not including the cost of college.

Getting an Education Takes Longer Now

While many people in my generation (I like to think of us as “old millennials”) are perfectly successful with a four-year degree, it’s becoming increasingly common that a master’s degree is a necessary step when climbing the corporate ladder.

In fact, according to a CareerBuilder survey, 20 percent of employers are recruiting employees with master’s degrees for positions that used to only require a four-year bachelor’s degree. Personally, I suspect that having a school like New York University on my resume has opened many doors for me that may otherwise have stayed shut.

But herein lies the problem: Say you graduate from undergrad at 22, work a year or two, then tackle a two-year master’s program. When you finally graduate, you’re already in your mid-to-late twenties, and you really only have four, maybe five, years of your twenties left. Also, consider the fact that student loan debt is on the rise, and it becomes clear that our higher education system undoubtedly serves as a barrier to procreating.

Having Kids Hurts Your Career — If You’re a Woman

I know this concern isn’t a unique one, but it’s a major factor in my decision. Studies show that with the birth of each child, a woman’s lifetime earnings take a hit of 4 percent. Per child. Then, consider that the U.S. is one of just three countries in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave. (Others are Suriname and Papua New Guinea.)

And don’t forget about the “motherhood penalty,” which is, quite simply, that once a woman has children, she’s “less likely to be hired for jobs, to be perceived as competent at work, or to be paid as much as [her] male colleagues with the same qualifications,” according to the New York Times.

Adding insult to injury is the “fatherhood bonus,” which is, quite literally, the opposite effect: Once men have children, they are more likely to be hired and more likely to be paid more than their male peers without children.

It’s enough to make any woman throw up her hands in disgust and simply put off having children another year. Maybe even indefinitely.

If We Wait, We’ll Be Better off Financially

My husband and I have several major life goals, and many of those involve — or require — being financially successful. Research shows that waiting on motherhood can help increase a woman’s earning power, such as one Danish study that found that the age at which mothers give birth to their first child impacts how much they earn over their lifetime.

It concluded that women who gave birth before age 25 experienced the biggest losses, while women who waited until age 31 or older to have their first child actually enjoyed financial gains. (Worth noting: I realize that by waiting, the more likely we are to need medical help getting pregnant, and things like fertility treatments and IVF aren’t cheap. But, our insurance covers fertility, which makes me feel a bit better about waiting. I realize how lucky we are in that regard.)

Since my husband and I are both working right now and we don’t own a home and live below our means, we have a lot of disposable income each month that we set aside for things like saving for a house, paying on our student loans, and padding our emergency fund. I have a feeling that this extra money is going to — poof! — go up in smoke once a baby comes on the scene.

I’m Not Sure I Like Kids

This one probably makes me sound like a terrible person and to be fair, is a bit of an exaggeration. I don’t dislike kids. I’ve just never been baby crazy. As a teen, I rarely babysat. I avoided the typical summer nannying jobs my friends took on in favor of lifeguarding, even though it paid much less. I hold babies… sometimes. In fact, babies tend to prefer my husband to me.

Kids are scary, exhausting little beings who don’t operate on the same level of pragmatic and reasonable logic like the rest of us. They often do unexpected things, like eat things they shouldn’t, throw up on other human beings, and scream for no reason at all.

Not to mention that fact that when you have seen one photo of a semi-cute, toothless baby, you have seen them all. Yes, I love your kids, but it must be said: As a childless woman, these photos all look the same to me.

We Don’t Own a Home

I think that many women, myself included, have a fantasy of bringing their first baby home from the hospital, stepping over the threshold of their idyllic suburban house, newborn baby in hand, welcoming him or her into their little corner of the world — a safe, well-decorated, spacious home with a room allocated just for baby. The room will be painted a nice shade of blue, pink, or a gender-neutral gray (because it’s 2017 and we don’t want to reinforce outdated traditional gender roles if we don’t have to).

Enter reality. My husband and I live in a barely 1,000 square foot, one-bedroom apartment in a big city. Although we do own a car, it’s in a garage, and we sometimes have to wait awhile to get it out — not exactly ideal for quick trips to Target to grab diapers. The two-bedroom units in our building are astronomically expensive, and I can’t stomach the idea of moving again. Our last place? A three-story rowhouse with twisting staircases and no doors. Not exactly ideal living arrangements for a hypothetical baby.

We’ve been renters for the entirety of our relationship, and I’m not sure when we’ll buy a home. And we’re not alone. Last year, homeownership rates dropped to the lowest they’ve been since 1965, due in part to millennials who are putting off things like buying a home, and — you guessed it — having children.

I’m Afraid My Friendships Will Change

This one is tricky, so I’m going to try to approach it with sensitivity. But here’s how it usually goes: When you reach a certain age, you start to experience friends having children. And your friendships change. Small annoyances like a bad day at work or an insensitive offhand comment from a spouse pale in comparison to concerns about child development, school districts, and physical milestones.

It’s difficult to vent to a friend who’s tasked with the daily responsibility of not only keeping their child safe but raising them to be a functioning member of society — and a good person, to boot. When a friend first has a baby, you must take a step back and give them the space to figure things out, find their rhythm, and come up on the other side for air— and this is often done at the expense of your own emotional needs in the relationship.

It isn’t wrong or something to be upset about. It’s simply what happens. I cherish my female friendships. They are such a big part of what makes my life whole (and essential to keeping my sanity), so this one is tough for me. I know that when I’m on the other side of this and the one having children, my friendships will change, too.

Final Thoughts

So before you ask that well-meaning question of that woman of a certain age who’s in a committed relationship or has been married long enough, stop yourself. There are so many factors that contribute to whether one chooses to have children and when — and they are all very personal.

Waiting isn’t weird. Sometimes, it’s simply the best choice for those of us trying to navigate our educations, career paths, and a mountain of student loan debt in an economy that doesn’t support working mothers.

One last thing: Before my mom reads this and thinks she will never have any grandchildren: Yes, my husband and I are planning on having children. But when we do so is incredibly personal and private. And I think it should stay that way.

Join the Discussion

22 Responses to “Why I’m Waiting to Have Kids”

  1. Kim

    Buy that home! If you have a dual income, you should be paying a mortgage, not rent! If you’re city people, then buy in the city. Don’t wait for the ideal moment to get a big house in the suburbs. Prices will only increase, especially where you are. Homes are still affordable in Philly. Your property will appreciate in value, you can deduct your mortgage interest from your taxes, and you own an asset that has real value. You’ve made some smart choices in your life and your career, but continuing to rent into your mid-30’s isn’t a smart financial decision. I’m raising two kids in 1,000 sq ft in Brooklyn (the second home I’ve owned), and it’s awesome. Home is where the heart is, regardless of sq feet. Don’t throw your money away on rent any longer than you have to!

    • Lisa C. Bridges

      I agree you sound scared of more than the kids part. You sound afraid of owning a home. And maybe you could imagine actually wanting your friendships to mean more than venting, which people should do with a therapist or minister at this point. Friends are for doing things for – not venting to. If you view friendship in these terms, it tends to limit them to compartmentalized acquaintanceships. Hopefully you’re making enough strides professionally that it’s all worth it.

    • lk1066

      While having a home certainly has some advantages, it also has disadvantages. It can be a lot of work, so homeowners need to have either the time and inclination to do it or the money to pay someone else. Either can take a lot of time away from just living your life as you want to. Also, many more people now do not feel comfortable making a long-term commitment to staying in one place for many reasons. In Philly, a lot of well-paid young professionals are skipping the home-buying in favor of the flexibility of not having a house, hence the boom in luxury apartments.

    • Kim

      Yep, I see that trend in NYC too, and it’s probably the right call if one plans to only be in a certain geography for a limited time (less than a few years). I thought I’d only be in NYC for 5 years max when I moved here in 2001, but once it became clear that I was planning to stay indefinitely, I bought an apartment (at age 32 & single), and it was one of the smartest financial decisions I’ve made. If you buy in a full-service building, such as where I’m living now in Brooklyn, there is very little maintenance. It’s not like owning a free-standing house in the suburbs, where you are responsible for every repair, all the yard work and landscaping, etc., and the tax benefit, especially for a married couple with a dual income, is huge. It may not be for everyone, but people who plan on being in a certain geography for a while – whether a few years or 10 years – shouldn’t be afraid of buying over renting. I’m speaking from experience, at 44 years old, married with two kids and still living in NYC. I have many friends who’ve been forced to move out of the area because they couldn’t afford to live in their neighborhood anymore (where their kids were in school and their entire parenting/social network lived). In every instance, they didn’t own their place and couldn’t afford another rent hike. It was better for them to move to another part of the country altogether to afford their lifestyle and be able to buy a home in a good school district and in a place where both spouses could work. I think of all of those years that they missed out on the tax benefit of owning a home, having an asset with value and being forced to move out of the city perhaps before they were ready (rather than doing it when they really wanted to) – and more importantly, how sad it was that yet another friend was being priced out of the city! If your mortgage + maintenance + RE taxes would be similar to what you’re paying in rent, not buying is a big opportunity cost. This was the biggest red flag that jumped out at me when reading this article. Having kids is no joke. It’s is HARD, and one has to be fully committed, but owning an apartment in center city isn’t anywhere near that level of commitment. That’s my piece of unsolicited advice for the day. I wouldn’t have responded if I didn’t truly feel passionate about it. I want women to take the real estate bull by the horns and get in on the action.

    • lk1066

      I would like more single women to buy real estate, but the idea still seems to be strong that buying a home is something that goes with marriage and kids, not just because it often makes financial sense. With marriage falling out of favor in much of the straight community, it’s time for the things tied to it—like owning a home and making financial plans—to get untied to it. I have friends who live in Southern California that bought real estate fresh out of college–one just married couple and one single guy—who are now living in homes that they probably couldn’t afford to buy now and are thrilled they own homes. They never felt stuck, because my friend in SanDiego was pretty sure he didn’t want to live anywhere else ever, and my couple friends set up a business and weren’t planning to move either. I just don’t find too many people who feel this sense of certainty about things anymore. I know single people in Philly who are involved in real estate, but it’s like any other business to them, and has nothing to do with wanting to live in their own home.

    • Kara Jenkins

      I completely agree the money is just being thrown away instead of going towards your home that you’ll get to have as your very own in the end

  2. Serene

    Loved your article , I am 35 and been married for 8 years to my favorite person and love of my life . It took us a while to buy a house however speaking from experience it’s a personal choice . A lot of people around me did according to the stereotype .. buy a house , have kid and then kids while we continued to travel and upgrade our quest for learning more . I am not sure when will be ready to have kids … but all I know is … I am going to be okay either ways … kids or no kids . People often trap you with their idealism by saying … don’t think longer else you will struggle huh! Hence I have come to this understanding that I am going to be fine either ways… if it’s in your priority list .. you would have done it sooner. There is message here which we ignore often lol. I loved connecting with your thoughts here. You go girl! Enjoy and experience this beautiful life.

  3. Jessica Alayne

    As an almost 31 year old in a VERY similar position, I related to so much of this and am happy you shared it. Very well written! I kept thinking we would feel different when we were ready but it’s not as emotional for me. It’s mostly just logical, rationale reasons like you laid out. Sending you a big virtual hug because you’re not alone!

  4. Suzie

    I felt exactly the same way until I turned 38 or so. Now I wish I would have done the exact opposite. Skipped college, got married and pregnant ASAP. My friends all have kids and a lot of them got to stay home and raise them. They are financially better off due to buying a home early in life when the cost was a lot lower than it is now compared to wages. Plus they have enjoyed all of the tax breaks over the years.

  5. CATherine

    Fabulous article; extremely well written; very plausible subject matter.
    You, Rachel Morgan Cautero, don’t ever put down the ‘other side’; quite the opposite as you acknowledge those whose choices are not your own are accepted by you. Kudos for writing one of the best articles I’ve yet to read here on ‘dw’! No whining, no ‘why me’ .. thank you!

  6. Katy SImister

    What an amazing article. I absolutely empathise with every detail, the love, sweat and tears to get my degree in social work, finding my dream job, meeting Mr Right, finding our beautiful home in the lush greeness of the the Ribble Valley (UK)… haha and not being very good with children! Then at 35! To find myself pregnant. The purest moment of clarity. Everything I was searching for was in this bundle of joy. Fast forward to aged 47 years (next week 48) single mum of two incredible children, a loving family and great friends. My children are inspiring, creative (sometimes frustrating) without question the greatest achievement of my life. And my career, beyond my expectations, starting/running a charity for disabled children, absolutely golden, doing exactly what I want, making a difference and following my heart, working with people I love, every day is a gift. And when I am not saving my little bit of the world, I love to travel, Italy is my current obsession. Who am I? A child born at the end of the 60’s. When the Beatles sang ‘all you need is love’. I feel privileged to embrace these immortal words and spread the love.

  7. lk1066

    This is wonderful. I felt much the same way, with some additional complications, only I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to have kids until I was in my mid-thirties; I was pregnant within a few months even though I wasn’t young. There is one thing you didn’t mention—having children will definitely change your marriage. For some, it is good; for others, it isn’t. There is something about having kids when everyone your age has them—it makes socializing easier for a long time, and like marriages, friendships often change with kids as well—but doing whatever feels best to you is what is best…for you. That includes buying a house or not, and the frequent move out of the city once there are kids. Things are changing so quickly—socially, economically, environmentally– that I don’t think many people will be buying a house and living there for 40 or 50 years any more anyway.

    Good luck.

  8. mcspencer

    Great piece. And don’t ever feel the need to apologize for anything, Rachel! Men don’t have to explain and neither should women. I postponed for all the reasons you list, plus the fact that I didn’t meet my now-husband till I was 39. And we ultimately decided not to have or adopt children. I love our life, especially since he has grown sons from a previous marriage and we have a granddaughter now…I have the benefits without the downsides of parenthood.

  9. Kara Jenkins

    Not trying to be ignorant but as a mother of four with a good college degree as well as a good paying job I want to say this article makes me sick.

    • Lalacity

      Then it looks like you kind of failed with the not being ignorant part.

    • Kara Jenkins

      Oh no no hun I am an ignorant bitch. I appreciate the compliment. Have a great night!

  10. Claudia K.

    Rachel made a lot of good points for the con side of the equation. I agreed that this decision is very individual, and we all should definitely do as they please, without being criticized for our decision. Bringing a child into this world does change everything, including the relationship to ones spouse (sadly, a lot of the times not in a good way). What was not mentioned, but should be taken into consideration is how the mothers age effects the health of the child, and how fertility treatments effect the long term health of the mother. Both can have a huge impact. All of the parents that I encountered at special ed schools were quite a lot older than I was at the time of their child’s birth (so was my husband. Paternal age also matters!). I am extremely happy about having my children at age 26, and 29. They are both living independently, and I am still young, full of energy and and plan to have a life full of adventures. I believe it is important to give the pro side as much thought as the con side when making this decision.

  11. childfree

    What is wrong with the idea of this article?Nowaydays,we do not need to explain ourselves and our choices. You make excuses as if you felt guilty.

  12. Katie Nes

    I swear you are in my head. This article nailed it. Hit every single one of my reasons.

  13. llr

    As to your friendships changing, they’ll change over the years whether or not you have kids.
    From a health perspective, waiting too long isn’t a great idea, both in getting pregnant and having a healthy baby. That goes into the “pro” column for having kids sooner.
    I had my kids at 29 and 32, after we bought a house and also after I was pretty well established in a great career. Though my marriage isn’t the best (don’t worry – no abuse or alcoholism or anything like that), having kids is the best thing that happened to me. If I had it to do over again, I’d have them again in a minute. I’ve told my kids that over the years too. I wasn’t much for babysitting, never was particularly interested in other people’s kids, but loved my own hugely. Like I said – best thing that happened to me!

  14. Heather Erickson

    I think you’re way over thinking it. I am 39 and don’t have kids…. I didn’t decide it that way. I got married and divorced young and then I dated losers for a while. After I met my second husband, I was kind of feeling old and not as into it as I was when I was younger. I know it’s not too late, but it almost seems that way. I’m just telling you this, because you sound like one of those ppl who is waiting around for the magic moment when you’ll feel like being a mom, and you’ll have a big enough house and a minivan and crazy-good salary and the perfect husband and a dog and the ability to read minds, or whatever…. the truth is, there’s never a perfect time. Ask any parents you know: they went through crazy times to get where they are. Things didn’t go as planned, but it turned out OK. And then you blame society; ‘oh well my job won’t give me enough maternity leave’, ‘I won’t get paid as much’, ‘my friends won’t like me anymore’…. honey, this is your life, if you want kids, have them, and deal with the ramifications that go along with that. Yeah, you might not have the perfect work-life balance in some fantasy utopia you’re envisioning, but it’ll be ok, again…. you have no trust that it will (repeat after me) BE OK. Stop over thinking it. It will, indeed, be ok. You will get through it and the 4% salary or whatever nonsense statistics you chose to believe will be worth it in the end when your kid loves you more than that stupid 4% could ever love you.

  15. Kristine

    I purchased my own home, myself, in the suburbs at 25. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. The endless amount of work and repairs are insane and costly on one income. Just something to think about when everyone else is all “Equity! Investments!” It’s freaking hard. I wish I would have rented instead. I don’t have kids and I’m on the fence because of the immense responsibility. I’m a nurse practitioner in an ICU and work 12-14 hour shifts. How do moms who enjoy their FT jobs and who are breadwinners and HAVE no choice but to work ever get to spend time with their kids? It’s so stressful to think about my future-thank you for writing this!