It's something that I often hear from clients who can't decide whether to have children and it's a big question. If we are happy in our relationship, why chance it by having children? As a woman from the USA, who interviewed for my book said:
'We're really enjoying our life and our relationship. We travel - we are going on a 2 week trip to Europe in the summer which we are excited about. My husband has his own business which is going really well and I am working part-time and am doing volunteer work as well. When I go to visit friends with small children, they seem so stressed! I notice them snapping at each other, getting really cross. And everything revolves around the kids! All they do on Saturdays is run around and take one to baseball and the other to ballet. On Saturday night, they were so exhausted that we all just stayed in and watched a DVD - and they went to bed early. It really seems like a lot of hard work - and I worry that we will lose the enjoyment that we have for being in each other's company.'
As Matthew D Johnson, author of the Guardian article and the book points out, young children put a great deal of stress on relationships.
'It seems obvious that adding a baby to a household is going to change its dynamics. And indeed, the arrival of children changes how couples interact. Parents often become more distant and businesslike with each other as they attend to the details of parenting. Mundane basics like keeping kids fed, bathed and clothed take energy, time and resolve. In the effort to keep the family running smoothly, parents discuss carpool pickups and grocery runs, instead of sharing the latest gossip or their thoughts on presidential elections. Questions about one’s day are replaced with questions about whether this diaper looks full.'
Recently, a writer published an article in Self magazine I've Choosen To Be Childless and It Made My Marriage Stronger - it outlines her experience of having a happy and fullfilling relationship without children.
Another interesting perspective on the issue is that many people report that despite the stress in the beginning, they still report that they glad they had children. This is backed up by other research showing that parents do have similar satisfaction levels to their pre-birth levels. This study Having Children Later Makes You Happy? also takes into account other factors which can influence parent satisfaction levels. Interestingly, the study shows that people who have children later in life, the more satisfied they will be.
Research reports can provide some interesting information and context to make your decision but many people don't find them extremely helpful.
One thing that clients of mine have found helpful is to find out more about their friend's experience of having children - particularly if they are able to 'get beneath the surface' of their friend's decision. I have a questions that you can use to do this which are:
1) What unexpected joys/pleasure do you get from being a parent that you didn't realise before?
2) What do you miss from your life before children? Both as an individual but as a couple?
3) What would you like more in your life now?
4) How do you negotiate childcare and household responsibilities? [note: This is a big area of disagreement for parents!]
5) What, if any, would you think is the 'pay off' in having children?
Find out as much as you can - and try to talk to several couples if possible!