Can You Truly ‘Grow Up’ Without Having Kids?

I was recently watching Jordan and Mikhaila Peterson chatting with Russell Brand, and I heard Jordan say something that caught my attention. He said, “I don’t think it’s possible to grow up without having children.”

It’s a minefield of a subject, so naturally, Stephen and I decided to wade right in . . . I’d love it if you left me a comment with your thoughts.

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Matthew:

Steve, to switch gears, I’m going on a Mikhaila Peterson podcast today and I can’t wait because Mikhaila is… I think she’s really, really interesting. I think that her story’s fascinating. What she’s dealt with in her life is fascinating. I am extraordinarily excited about the conversation. In my research, I’ve watched her, Russell Brand, and her father, Jordan Peterson, all together talking and they got into the subject of children. And Jordan Peterson said quite a bold statement which, as we all know, Jordan Peterson is not known for, but he goes, he said, “I don’t think that anyone can truly grow up until they have kids.”

What are your thoughts on that statement? Because I heard that and instinctively, given that I think people don’t necessarily realize this about us, but we have spent probably more time with women going through issues around their biological clock and the possibility of not having kids when that was in their blueprint. It was something they wanted more than anything in the world and maybe they don’t get to have them. Maybe they don’t meet someone in time. Maybe there are complications they didn’t anticipate. But we have dealt with so many of those issues that when I heard that, instinctively, I went, “Oh, that’s a big statement,” But I also completely understand the sentiment of it.

I understand where it’s coming from and perhaps someone with kids would say, “But Matthew, you can’t truly understand until you’ve had kids.” I always love that family guy joke where Brian, he suddenly realizes he’s got a kid and he starts saying to Stewie, “When you have children, you will understand.” He’d suddenly become so patronizing, annoying to be around because it’s like the rest of the world doesn’t understand anymore. He’s suddenly transferred into a world where there’s something he understands that the rest of the world doesn’t, that doesn’t have kids, which there is a bit of that. I think we should talk about that at some point, but what do you think of that statement?

Stephen:

Well, far be for me to venture my opinion against a world renowned psychologist. But I-

Matthew:

Well, I think your opinion is valid Stephen.

Stephen:

Sure. I mean, I don’t have kids, so it’s a dimension of life that isn’t available to me yet. I can only sort of pontificate. I think, I’m not sure because I feel like there are so many areas of life where if you haven’t experienced them yet, there’s a level of maturity and understanding that is just closed to you. Maybe if you’ve never been… He’s talking about growing up and it’s like, well maybe if you’ve never had a job you’ve never really been growing up. Maybe if you’ve never paid your own taxes you’re not grown up. Maybe if you’ve never had to support anyone you’ve never grown up. And you know, when you were in a relationship, you feel like, “Oh man, God, before I was in a relationship, I really didn’t understand what love actually was or what it is to actually have to manage other people’s needs as well as my own.” Right? You’re used to living your own selfish single life. So I am well prepared to accept that there is a whole sphere of life that is unknown to you until you have kids. And lots of parents say to you, “My God, I never knew how much it really takes,” or they say, “I never knew my capacity to love until they had kids.” And that I’m perfectly prepared to take them on their word for that.

Stephen:

Maturity though is a multifaceted thing, isn’t it? Because some people never mature in certain ways, even with children and there’s ways they stay completely immature and reckless and like kids. I mean in a negative sense, not the having a lovely, innocent sense, but in being naive and immature. There’s ways that people never mature in all sorts of ways. So I’ve kind of reticent. In some ways, it’s like, “Yes, I can totally see that, but I’m also reticent to put too much weight on that compared to a hundred other ways you could be totally immature and foolish, if you like, and irresponsible. There can be people with children who are extremely irresponsible.

Matthew:

I suppose the idea is that you can’t ever truly be unselfish if you don’t have children. The truth of that idea aside, I suppose where it takes my mind because that’s the world, this is the world we live in. My lens a lot of the time is how would that statement, how would that thought affect people in situations over which they may have no control? There is a kind of, culturally, I’m still fascinated by the assumptions that are made about success based on relationship status, marital status, whether you have kids and it’s quite easy… I’ve experienced as a man, people who at certain points in my life when I’ve been single, the assumption is, “Well, why aren’t you in a relationship?” And you can feel there’s a tone to that question.

And of course, women feel this to an incredible degree. I feel it, and perhaps you Stephen, feel it to an incredible degree, I suppose, from a professional pressure that sometimes people put on us. Like you should be in a relationship if you’re doing what you’re doing, which I don’t actually agree with, because I don’t think that being in a relationship is a personal choice and it should be based on the person in front of you and whether you want to be in a relationship as opposed to just the desire to be in any relationship regardless of who it’s with so that you can say you’re in a relationship. I think that a relationship should be like a kind of a dream career path. You do it because you feel compelled to do it by having found something that you really love doing as opposed to feeling like you just should, no Matthewer what, just choose any old thing and do it because you feel pressure to go to an office every day.

Stephen:

And this is why I reject, by the way, I reject the over ascribing of some special status to relationship, children. People can choose them things for really, really bad reasons and that’s where I reject the idea that someone is further ahead because they got married and had kids. It’s like some people could have done that in a completely ludicrous, foolish way that suggests complete immaturity. So, that’s where I reject. I reject the societal idea that there’s a continuum of immaturity from single to maturity, to children and relationship. I have issues with that because I think people make bad choices. I think people make bad choices when that is seen as just an essential, necessary stepping stone or even just, it’s always applauded.

Matthew:

Yeah. Look, I mean life, more simply, I think life comes down to choices. Christopher Hitchens said, “In life, you have to choose your regrets.” Whatever you do, you’re missing out on something. That’s just always true. You’re always, if you’re single, you’re going to be missing out on the experience of having, you get to the evening and you want to, I don’t know, veg out with someone that you don’t have to entertain or someone that you really, you love and feel connected to, and you just want to watch a movie. Then you might be missing out on that. You might have a casual thing or something in its place, but it may not, it’s not going to be the same. If you’re in a relationship or you have kids, then you, it’s going to be much harder to go around the world and travel or to do other things that you might want to do or to get the solitude that you might crave at times.

There is just always going to be something you’re missing out on. It is, I suppose, an interesting conversation. Perhaps Jordan Peterson would argue that there is just in the hierarchy of lives well lived that having kids is the kind of the pinnacle of that. But that’s an interesting argument. And I think that there’s a… Life to me, there’s peak experiences in life and having children is a peak experience. It’s one of those peak, it’s like one of the most incredible things I believe a human could ever experience in life, but I come from a world and I suppose from a coaching philosophy that wherever you are, whatever situation you’re in, in life, it’s about making the absolute most of your situation. It’s whether you’re single, whether you’re in a relationship, whether you’re going to have your own biological kids, whether you’re going to adopt if you can’t have your own biological kids, or even if you can, but you just decide that adoption is more meaningful for you as a kind of narrative, as a story, has more meaning.

I believe in making the most of wherever you’re at. And sometimes when I hear certain statements, it’s a kind of value statement in itself that says, this is unequivocally the highest thing that you can do and that there is no other. It’s like, there is only, it’s like saying there’s only one path to enlightenment. There are many routes there. So yeah, I’m kind of fascinated by this because I just, I worry, I worry about the pressure put on people in general. I worry about the pressure people feel to be in a relationship. I worry about the… Especially women, I worry about the pressure they feel to be in a relationship or the shame that they sometimes feel for not having found someone or the low self-worth and confidence that comes from not having found someone so much of which is projected onto them by other people.

Matthew:

And then if enough people at the dinner table say, “How come you’re still single? Why haven’t you met anyone yet?” Or, “Doesn’t life feel meaningless without having found a relationship or having had a family.” The more people say that the more it becomes a kind of a brainwashing that you feel compelled to believe. And then you feel deficient in your life, even if life’s going pretty well for you. Even if a relationship could be a month from now around the corner, you could meet someone a month from now or six months from now or a year from now and your life could completely change, and that’s great. But, I hate the idea that in the meantime, people think that their lives somehow count for less or are worth less because they haven’t found that thing.

Stephen:

Well, yeah. And you can be responsible for others in so many ways. And in some ways that might be one of the things, if I’m speculating that Jordan Peterson is talking about there, where one move to maturity is being responsible for others outside of yourself. And you can do that in many ways, but I’m more like emotionally libertarian where I think people can make sacrifice and take responsibility in many, many different ways in life. And clearly marriage and kids is one of the most obvious and most clear ways to do that. But I think there are other ways to do that. And I think you and I, through years of coaching as well, have just seen so many people who have been self-torturing, thinking they should stay with the wrong guy because of family pressure, because of religious pressure, because of outside judgment and stay with the wrong person and they feel guilt and shame. That’s where I think, “Man, this belief could be dangerous if people just think they failed because they are not moving towards that right now. And that’s my fear of people just being shoved into relationships and responsibilities that are wrong for them.

 

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Matthew:

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28 Replies to “Can You Truly ‘Grow Up’ Without Having Kids?”

  1. I totally LOVE your insights, guys, and AGREE with every word!!maturity is not guarantee by having a kid; there can be a single person without kids more mature than a mother of three! So we should be very attentive about making certain statements..

  2. Yeah I feel this very strongly. I had kids late, partly because I began adulthood as a woman who had watched my mom be miserable and decided NOT to have kids. Then life happened, I changed my mind, and twenty years later I’m a single mother of two!

    I honestly have great difficulty even imagining seriously dating a man who has never had kids. And it’s for exactly this reason. Choosing not to have kids is totally legitimate and undesrtandable. I certainly can understand it because man is it ever a huge sacrifice! (Though absolutely worth it!)

    The problem is this: I think two people who both have chosen not to have kids can grow and thrive together on a path of their choosing. But late in life for those of us who DO have kids? Dating someone who doesn’t truly does feel like getting in a time machine and going back to your 20s.

    Nothing wrong with it. It’s just … young. And men I’ve dated who have never had kids have universally just felt …. harsh though it sounds … a little childish to me. Fun for dating. But not serious relationship material.

    I know that sounds unfair. And on some level it is. But at this stage in my life I will not date men without kids because I just have experienced that so many times that I feel like the odds of a mutually satisfying relationship developing are too low to be worth it.

    Mileage may vary of course. But that’s mine.

  3. Actually I want to add to what I said above because it came across as more categorical than I really feel. I agree with your take that people are individuals. And INDIVIDUAL people without kids CAN be deeply other oriented and emotionally mature. While some parents are so immature and selfish that they truly don’t deserve the gift of parenthood.

    But I still stand by my original take that it’s much less likely for someone who remains childless to truly step into what I would regard as full moral and emotional adulthood.

    So if I do date a single man who has never had kids I am always looking very attentively at what his OTHER life experience is and how that has shaped his personality.

    For example, I spent four years in a very strong relatio ship with a man who never had children but had taken two years off college to nurse his mom through cancer.

    I knew from how he told me about that experience that he had learned what I feel is the deepest superpower that comes with parenting: the ability to put your own needs and desires on hold for long stretches of time in order to truly care for another person.

    And sure enough, even though that man and I are no longer together he remains a great friend and a great person in my kids’ lives … he actually shows up with pizza a couple times a month just to hang out with the kids and catch up on their lives.

    That to me was a successful relationship even though we turned out not to be right for each other. Why? Because he is an other-oriented and responsible person who takes his role in my childrens’ lives seriously enough that he didn’t just evaporate when we stopped dating.

    So yes to treating people as individuals and not categorically ruling anyone out. But I still stand by my initial take that while most parents are FORCED to grow up, few people without children face those same challenges.

    The difficulties parenting throws at us often force us to become deeper and define our true values. Life can hand you plenty of challenges without kids … but having kids really drives the “emotioanal maturity” bus forward!

  4. To that I say: I don’t think it’s possible to grow up without overcoming the need to have kids, (partner,work or whatever else) in order to make sense out of your own life.
    The power of a path is not the path itself, but what we make it mean.

  5. I don’t think you can make that statement. There are so many couples that after they have kids they don’t get along anymore because they have different ideas of parenting. Arguments start most of the time from kids, at least that was my case. We ended up divorcing after kids grew up, but we were constantly arguing. How would you grow up, maybe you grow apart. It’s true not everyone, of course there are exceptions from the rule.

  6. Matt – hi. I was completely surprised and also disappointed with your end of discussion comments about finding a relationship. You finished with a family scenario where the woman may not have someone now, but what if she does in one month, six months, etc. Well Matt…what if she just doesn’t? Are suggesting a woman’s life is only complete with a relationship regardless of whether she has children or not?

  7. We can grow up from different experiences, but I agree to some extent, because when you become a parent, somehow you force yourself to do few things. For example, you have to smile in front of your kids even if you are sad, you have to learn to hide your feelings and control your emotions.
    Before becoming a parent, you might get angry in front of someone, even your parents, but things after becoming a parent might noticeably change.

  8. I do believe it’s possible to grow up whether you have children or not, I just think that you grow up in different ways with children than without children.

  9. Thank you so much for addressing this exact question. I never saw it addressed like this.
    It’s really moving me as it’s 100% resonating my situation as well. I never not wanted to have a family and yet this is how my life has turned out now being 53 (although I did have relationships). I am thinking about this now whether my live has not been well lived or lived in the maximum scope. I guess it’s ultimately the case. The way you talk about it is so very thoughtful, sensitive and non-judgmental. Thank you very much for that. Although it’s an impossible one to answer or judge.

  10. I completely agree with you guys! As a single female who has never been married nor had kids, and as a licensed psychotherapist who has worked with numerous clients with children who are still immature and do not know how to be conscious parents and have not healed their own childhood trauma, I absolutely believe that maturity is not predicated on having children or being a parent. And that statement by Peterson is quite judgmental and narrow minded in my perspective. I highly doubt he has research to support this claim! Thank you for covering this highly sensitive topic, I enjoyed listening to your discussion.

  11. Hmmm I am a father of three and before my children were born we were confronted with a situation where this young 12 year old was heading to a foster home unless we stepped forward. Did I want to? Answer was no. But we did and today I’m here for his wedding. I do think that making the choice to place his needs ahead of mine did help me to grow up.

  12. I think it is more about if your a good parents and doing it for the right reasons it’s does to some degree cause you to really grow up in a way that you wouldn’t otherwise. Yes of course there are people having kids for the wrong reasons and immature parents. But if you are doing your best to be a ‘good enough’ parent I can honestly say nothing not a job, mortgage, relationship, etc causes you to grow up as being a parent does. I wasn’t sure I wanted kids and did have them and it’s still harder than I expected. It’s not about a hierarchy at all. I think people who chose not t have kids because they know it’s not right for them are making a mature decision. But raising a human to be a productive member of society forces you for the first time to really put your needs in the back sit in a way that nothing else can. And if your not doing that and being ‘immature’ and selfish you children will likely not be thriving. So again to me it about not just being a parent but being a good parent.

  13. I’m a mother of 3. I feel as a woman, I grew up immediately at birth of child. I know there was NO change in my husband, he never ģrew up or changed into a loving father or husband. It was all on me as if I did this all on my own. I ďid decide after the birth of #3, that I’d prefer being a single parent, and that is what I did. No regrets, it was easier in all ways except financially. He didn’t even man up with child support either.
    I’m sure there are areas I haven’t grown up in. I tried to get educated in the areas my little family needed. 2 college degrees and state licenses. I’ve worked in a man’s job, was treated badly until i learned to stand up for myself. I could go on but won’t.
    I enjoyed the podcast, just seems like another person’s excuse to make their ideas be considered as truth. Not everyone feels or acts the same.

  14. I absolutely believe you can grow up emotionally without having children. At the core of Jordan Peterson’s comment is the fact that having kids forces you to put yourself last for a long period of time. However, people can and do develop the skills of self-sacrifice and serving others without having children of their own. The character development of putting someone else’s needs first typically happens when we have the responsibility of caring for a tiny human who is totally dependent on us for survival.

    On the flip side, there are people who have children and neglect them, or worse. are lots of people who have children but never fully recognize or correct their selfish bent. In those cases, the other parent may overcompensate, but the kids are still adversely affected. So, self-awareness together with serving others are skills everyone needs to develop if we are to become mature.

    Having children is not a guarantee adult humans will mature emotionally, however, it is a powerful force.

  15. Insensitive comment for a psychiatrist to make – world renowned or not.

    Maturity is important as a concept – akin to and bound in with wisdom, success etc. Something ppl generally seek and strive for.

    Couldn’t agree more ref Steven’s comment about maturity being demonstrable in so many other ways i.e. responsibility and care for others, whoever they may be. A person’s physical ability to get pregnant or get someone pregnant has little to do with this.

    I disagree with Matthew’s comment ref ppl not being selfish when they have children. There are plenty for whom having children has no bearing on their maturity or selfishness. I had first hand experience of this with my biological mother.

    I also disagree that having children is the pinnacle of life. Despite the subject matters covered (which are so important and greatly welcomed), we are still very much looking at the world through eyes which assume everyone wants children, which we don’t (yes, even some of us women!).

    Likewise, completely agree with Matthew’s comment ref societal pressures to be in a relationship, married, have kids etc etc. and that if you don’t, there must be something wrong with you.

    I have had quite the journey with this: spending most of my 20’s trying to conform and fit in, gaining my assurance and confidence in the world from this basis. At 30, a few years into a fairly miserable marriage (not that anyone knew that: pretences were everything), I had a eureka moment when the pressure from my husband to start a family became impossible to ignore. I knew that this life wasn’t for me – not the marriage; not the children.

    Leaving, despite feeling bad for the hurt it caused, was one of the best things I’ve ever done. And I learnt a lot about myself – my strength etc. – from the experience.

    That aside, us humans are multi layered and multi faceted. I had some very dark days thereafter, due purely – I believe – to these societal pressures which Matthew speaks of.

    Mine were so bad that having established that marriage and kids weren’t for me, and faced with a life where all of my friends were busy doing just that – on what felt like a completely different path to me, and in a job which didn’t challenge me and which I didn’t feel passion for, I contemplated very deeply and seriously what I was doing taking up precious space on this earth.

    Thankfully I both found a purpose beyond these things and I began my journey in shrugging off societal pressures in this important domain. I couldn’t be happier, more content and feeling more alive than I do at this time (I’m now 33). I understand these pressures very well and I don’t want anyone to go through a similar experience of feeling alone, directionless and of no value. And most of all, I am so glad that I’m still here, living a life which is authentic to me.

  16. If I leave no legacy and i have no children and no family around when I die = No true meaning in life

    I think about my future and when I’m old. Not sure why it seems like no one else does.

  17. Sooo, being a mother, I can completely understand what he is saying. Honestly, there is no judgement in that statement. There IS choice, however. By that I mean that a guardian (bio or otherwise) can choose to parent or they can choose not to. There are plenty of examples (often times bad) of that. But, in order to actually parent, we HAVE to set aside putting ourselves and our wants before the needs and sometimes wants of our children. That includes things far beyond the material. Ques: Who yells first or the loudest in a parent/child argument? Answer: Not the parent. That is as long as the parent remembers that it is not a battle of egos or wills but an opportunity for the child to learn that life isn’t always how they want it. Also, the parent learns how far THEIR limits can be pushed for self control in such situations. There are several instances like this that cause wonderful, mature, competent, capable adults to have to grow in ways they never dreamed or never even imagined once they become parents. What do you do when your child speaks of suicide? How about when they would rather fight than use their words? When all they want to do is dance or read or play video games? How good are you at admitting you were wrong or not taking the “I told you so” moment? Just being a mediator or the adult isn’t enough. Emotion is deeply involved. It’s often not something you can leave until tomorrow. You, as the parent, have to find out where you can best address the situation while also figuring out how to manage yourself in a way that doesn’t adversely affect the desired results. Listening to you, Matthew and Steven, there were the logical ego-driven statements about the ability to manage the process of growing-up without having children. This is not saying that anything stated was wrong but we always want to believe that we can find a way to manage something we have yet to experience. When YOU are that child’s everything and they are completely YOUR responsibility, the weight is graver than you can fathom. Your reasons for doing or not doing don’t always come from places of objective logic or reason. Your bigger picture takes on completely different shapes and hues. True parenting is never easy because you have to nurture both yourself as well as the child through the REST OF THEIR LIVES. I thought I understood, and I did. . . until I had my own.

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