From the Mailbag: Deciding When to Have Children

From the Mailbag: Deciding When to Have Children

When I was first married, all I wanted was to be a mom. I just wanted a baby – I had wanted kids since the time I was 12. A baby to call my own, someone to love unconditionally. It didn’t enter into my mind to wait to have children, or to even discuss it. It didn’t occur to me to wonder if I was ready to be a parent – I was married, I wanted a baby. It wasn’t the be all and end all – but every month that went by that I wasn’t pregnant I was sad. My oldest was born 14 months after the wedding, with his brothers following quickly. Within the blink of an eye we had four children, and life was busy!

These days, I see many couples (not just in the secular world) waiting a year or two before they try to have children. They want to get settled into careers, and make sure the marriage is a strong one – valid reasons. Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like had I waited. But then, I wouldn’t have the kids that I have now. And my life would have gone differently.

I never even considered for a second not having children. I have always tried to understand why a person wouldn’t want to have children, but I just can’t. My kids have fulfilled me in so many ways – I can’t imagine someone not wanting that for themselves. Add the religious component into it – we’re supposed to have kids, and plenty of them!!

This letter was waiting for me in my inbox this morning – I am very interested in reading your responses.

Hi HaDassah,

Would you ever consider discussing how/when to know if you are ready to have a kid/start your family and the intricate halachas relating to this extremely personal mitzvah to procreate; and any possible leniencies that exist i.e should a rabbi just determine when you are ready or should you rely on the fact that you know you do not want children so you should not be a parent?

I know the child free movement is growing stronger, throughout the world, and is definitely starting to creep into orthodox Judaism. I am curious how people/Rabbis view this change.


What would you tell my reader?

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  1. Daniel W says:

    Not a rabbi, but on a genral level, there are all sorts of birth control leniencies overall.
    On a particular level, there’s “don’t want to have kids” and “not ready for kids”. On the “don’t want” side, it might make people sad or confused, but that’s your choice. Even from a Halachic standpoint, you don’t get lashes for NOT shaking Lulav, so you’re just “missing out” on a Mitzva. You can spend all of Shabbos literally lying in your bed and, thoguh you may have missed the good stuff of Shabbos (though sleep is one of those good things…), there’s no violation.
    On the “not ready”, we have the most complex, since how do you turn from “not ready” to “ready”? There’s a financial element, a mental element, sometimes even a geographical element. Maybe you need to spend 2 years finishing school so you can then move to a new location with a better family care network. There’s also the emotional “Am I ready for the stress of taking care of a baby, will I figure it out?” to which my wife made sure we hung around the young nephews to give me exposure and get me used to the idea.

    Of course for all of these you can say “God will only give me what I can handle” and yes, to an extent you as a human will adapt to the situation God has given you.
    In the end, the jewish value at stake here is “passing on Judaism to the next generation”. Most do so by procreating, but some by adoption; others still by teaching. I would think that it’s still important for yuo to hold that value, but how yuo do so can go anywhere in the range.

  2. Shorty says:

    Sometimes child-free isn’t exactly by choice. Infertility affects one in eight couples. I think some people assume that couples haven’t had kids…yet. Sometimes it isn’t a yet, it’s that they are dealing with biological issues that are preventing them from having children.

  3. Babelfish says:

    I think, as a general rule, that someone who does not want to have children should not have children, because chances are that the person and their children would be unhappy.

    So I don’t think that religion should be a reason to place unhappy children in this world.

  4. This question is sort of foreign to me because… if you don’t want to have kids, don’t have them! For the life of me, I can’t imagine how it’s a mitzvah for an unwilling parent to become one. I don’t know if I want kids; if I decide I don’t, I simply… won’t.

  5. That’s such a strange question. It seems maybe there are deeper issues that the person may have with having children that the short form letter doesn’t state. It seems to me to so intricate to Judaism – we are partners in creation, and creating a new life is a huge part in that partnership. In fact, it’s the greatest amount of giving we can do. I’m pretty sure that we don’t force a woman, and it’s not even a requirement for her (see, but why would we want to delay this?

  6. Justine says:

    Such a personal decision … I think that on some level you just know that you are ready. You don’t have to think about it and it is all ok. When you have to wonder whether or not the time is right then perhaps that is the cue for you to know that it’s not right …

    • Daniel W says:

      Well, there’s nothing wrong with having a deep conversation about whether or not the time is right. That’s not necessarily an indicator of you not being ready; rather it could be an indicator that you’re taking it seriously enough that you might actually BE ready :^)

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