The traditional approach to adulthood involves going to college, getting married and having kids, usually in that order. But the times are a-changin.’
Many young people are questioning this prescribed life path, and specifically the notion that adulthood entails having kids of your own. According to a number of El Pasoans in their 20s and 30s, millennials are becoming increasingly comfortable with the decision to not become parents.
The allure of more free time and more disposable income and concern for the state of the Earth has helped many young adults overcome pressure from friends and family to become parents. It has also helped them become more vocal about their own autonomy to choose the life they want.
While having kids in your 20s is still the prevailing idea, enough people are choosing not to have kids that it has reshaped future U.S. demographics.
A 2015 report released by the Urban Institute found that between 2007 and 2012, the birthrates among women in their 20s declined by more than 15 percent.
For some people, not wanting kids is an innate feeling, something they just know irrespective of life’s other considerations.
Nathan Bertelsen, 32, of Las Cruces, said he grew up with a vague feeling that he’d probably have kids someday. But as time passed, he realized it wasn’t something he put too much thought into or was actively planning for. And since nobody in his immediate family has kids, he hasn’t felt much pressure to rethink his position.
“A lot of it comes down to questions of personal stability,” Bertelsen said. “But from a young age, I’ve always related to adults more anyway.”
El Pasoan Anaka Prado likewise attributes her lack of interest in having kids to an innate feeling, but she feels she is “louder and prouder” about her desire to live kid-free than most. Prado, 36, is part of a Facebook group called “Child-free by Choice,” in which she and her compatriots talk about how lucky they are to be able to “buy and do whatever they want” without having to take anyone else into account.
Prado considered having kids when she was younger, but said this interest evaporated when she moved away from El Paso and saw that there was a huge world to experience. She is planning a trip to London in the fall and feels the trip would not have been possible had she been a parent.
“I’m borderline militant [about not becoming a parent],” Prado said. “I’ve heard so many people talk about what they would have done differently if they hadn’t had kids.”
Lorely Rodriguez and Ricardo Jimenez, an El Paso couple in their late 20s, were on the fence about having kids but are now fairly confident it’s not for them. The challenge of being parents was secondary to growing their own relationship.
“There was a mutual understanding that we were going to establish our relationship before thinking about kids or even marriage,” Jimenez said.
Their decision was helped by how easily they could read different perspectives on parenthood, an option missing to parents from generations past.
“Thanks to the internet, people are more knowledgeable about what having kids is actually like,” Jimenez said, and are thus better able to gauge how much they actually want to undertake the challenge of parenthood.
“We’re really trying to enjoy ourselves. Our parents didn’t give themselves time to enjoy who they are,” Rodgriguez added.
Whatever the reason, the hesitation to have kids is reflected in millennial birthing trends. Data collected by the World Bank shows that the U.S. fertility rate was 1.84 births per woman in 2015 and are now on par with the lowest birthrates since the late 1970s. (The peak was in 1960, with 3.65 births per woman.)
“People are finally realizing that it’s not for everybody,” said Cynthia Evans, an artist from El Paso, who is sure she never wants kids. “People need to make their own choices about their lives and bodies.”
Nevertheless, almost everyone interviewed for this article says they constantly have to defend their decision to family members, and often to their peers as well. But the pressure doesn’t stop there. Evans said she is aghast at how often her personal decisions about her own body are second-guessed by complete strangers. She recalls doctors who have refused to give her a tubal ligation – commonly referred to as “having tubes tied” – or who question her male friends about getting vasectomies.
Evans’ decision to be childless is not something she takes lightly and is in fact bolstered by what she considers serious moral considerations. She doesn’t want to have kids in an overpopulated world with diminishing resources.
“I’m a big supporter of quality of life over quantity. Be a foster parent or adopt – there are already so many children without homes,” she said. “And it seems cruel to bring more people into a country under the Trump administration.”
On the other hand, sometimes the choice is not quite as philosophical. Tavo Vielma, 38, of El Paso, doesn’t want to be a father in large part because kids gross him out. He has nine nephews and appreciates being able to step away from his young family members as soon as the situation gets too snotty or loud.
“Children are gross,” Vielma said. “And the persistent, unnecessary noise drives me up the wall.”
Relative grossness aside, Vielma says his family members often worry about him being lonely in old age. But Vielma offers a different take on this concern.
“Worse than being alone would be having your kid not want to talk to you,” he said.
With that out of the way, Vielma said that at the core, his decision is all about being able to do whatever he wants to do, whenever he wants to do it. It’s a sentiment echoed by everyone who chooses to be child-free and an outlook that doesn’t require a lot of looking back.
“I’m very proud not to have kids,” Vielma said. “I’m very happy with my life.”
For 38-year-old El Paso native Rebecca Diaz, both she and her husband of 15 years were on the same page about not having kids. Unlike many married couples, they have parents who support their decision.
“No one has pressured us,” Diaz said. “My mom had a lot of kids. There are four of us. My mom told me, ‘I love you guys, but don’t have kids unless you want to and you’re ready,’ and I took her for her word.”
Diaz, who now lives in Colorado and works for a nonprofit, said that not having kids made it easier for her and her husband to relocate for better job opportunities. Her husband’s career transferred them to Kansas and Colorado so far, but other possibilities have included Las Vegas and Thailand.
A former teacher, Diaz said she enjoys children, but that she doesn’t need to have some of her own in order to feel fulfilled.
“If you keep your life fulfilled with things that you want to do, then you don’t get that sense of regret,” she said. “You can find that fulfillment through other ways. You can find it by teaching. You can find it by volunteering, by being with your community.”