How to Decide if You Are Ready to Start a Family

man and woman thoughtfully considering options

Ivan-balvan / Getty Images

Making the decision to have—or not have—kids can be fraught with emotion. Aside from wrestling with the societal pressures to have children, you may be wondering if growing your family is something you even want to do. The choice to start a family is highly personal, and there is no one right answer for everyone.

"The pressure to have kids comes from a lot of places," says Jordan Davidson, editorial director of Health and author of "So When Are You Having Kids?" Davidson adds that our society is considered "pronatalist," meaning it places a high value on having children. "People feel they can’t opt out of having kids because it would mean going against societal norms."

If you have found yourself navigating this landscape, you might want to ask yourself some tough questions in order to reach the decision that's right for you. Ahead, let's break down how to decide whether or not you want to have children now—or ever.

It's Okay to Be Overwhelmed By the Question Itself

Choosing whether or not to have children is an important decision—and yet there are very few resources to help people through this process, says Davidson. In fact, it was this lack of resources that led to her book.

"The research for my book 'So When Are You Having Kids?' started on a very personal level," she says. "I was trying to decide what I wanted for my future. I kept asking people how they decided, only to be met with a bunch of 'I don’t know's' and arbitrary checkpoints that didn’t really apply to me. As I dug deeper, I realized that the conflict I felt wasn’t uncommon."

Not only are people uncertain about whether or not they want children, but they also have questions about whether they want to bring children into this world. They may be concerned about the environment and climate change, struggling with student debt, or worried about systemic injustice.

"If you’re deciding whether or not you want children, it’s completely normal to be scared out of your mind," says Kristen Souza, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor who specializes in parenting, child development, trauma, and relationships. "Many of our fears come down to what we think parenting should look like based on our own experience, sprinkled in with a whole lot of self-doubt. Wherever your fears lie, they are valid and it’s okay to thoughtfully examine each one of them before making a decision."

Factors That Can Affect Your Decision

External factors can cloud your decision-making, too, says Davidson. Some people who get an infertility diagnosis may feel like a decision was already made for them. This diagnosis can pressure them into starting fertility treatments or write off having children altogether before they have truly decided what’s best.

"People [also] might not feel as though they are equipped with the skills needed to become good parents," she adds. "[And] if you are queer and/or trans, you might not have thought parenthood was something you could aspire to, especially if you didn’t grow up seeing other queer or trans families."

Experiencing childhood abuse or having strained relationships with your own parents also can impact your feelings about having children, says Emily Guarnotta, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist and perinatal mental health provider who specializes in family planning, maternal mental health, perinatal mood disorders, and more.

"[Additionally.] people with physical or mental health conditions for which there is a genetic basis may not want to pass these along to children," Dr. Guarnotta adds.

One area that has been receiving much attention in research is Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), says Mary Jo Trombley, PhD, NCC, the program chair for the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Phoenix. ACEs are categorized as traumatic experiences such as abuse or violence from the ages of birth to 17 that leave a child feeling unsafe and unstable.

"This sense of instability can carry over into adulthood and negatively impact relationships and overall well-being," says Dr. Trombley. "As related to questions about whether to have children, ACEs can have lasting effects, preventing people from psychologically wanting children."

Questions to Ask Yourself About Starting a Family

Deciding whether or not to have children is not an easy decision to make. "It’s straightforward to envision a life without children when you don't have them, because it’s the life you’re living now," says Davidson. "It’s a lot harder to imagine how your life would change if you had kids. Talking about it and exploring your feelings doesn’t commit you to a decision, but it can help you feel empowered to make one."

If you are in the process of trying to determine if you want to have children, here are some things experts suggest to consider.

Identify the Messages You Have Received About Parenthood

The first messages you receive about parenthood come from your own parents, says Davidson. The subsequent messages come from broader forms of socialization.

"Think about what your religion, your community, and your culture all tell you about parenthood," she suggests. "What do you feel is expected of you based on these messages? For example, if you grew up in a town where everyone has at least one child by their mid-20s, delaying kids until your 30s might not feel like a reasonable option because you don’t have a real-world example of that."

According to Davidson, it can take a lot of time to unpack these messages. But it is important to separate what you have been taught from what you feel.

Start Having Tough Parenting Conversations

If you have a partner, start having these discussions, suggests Davidson. Talk about your childhoods, what you liked, what you didn’t, and what expectations you have for how you’ll raise your children.

"One of the greatest sources of contention for parents is the division of caregiving-related tasks," says Davidson. "If you have a partner, start talking about the big parenting questions like how you'd divide household chores or how you’d approach the first few sleepless months of diaper changes and feedings."

Talking with your partner helps create a better understanding of what you each expect, and whether or not you are on the same page, says Dr. Gulotta. Make a list of changes that will happen, such as financial adjustments, new routines, responsibility in the home, and shifts in relationship dynamics.

You also may want to take time to evaluate your partnership, says Dr. Trombley. For instance, are there issues in the relationship that having children might exacerbate? Or, are there any current life circumstances that having a child could impact?

"Having children is a lifetime commitment," she says. "It includes ongoing emotional, physical, and financial support, and the couple should evaluate their commitment to each other as well as to each of these areas."

Immerse Yourself in the Parenting Community

There is perhaps no better way to determine if you want to start a family than getting in the trenches and seeing what it is like.

"Follow parenting-related accounts on social media, read parenting books, make a baby registry, do things you would do if you found out you or your partner was pregnant tomorrow," Davidson says. "Take note of how you feel when you do these things. Do you find yourself scrolling past the parenting posts on your feed, or have you gotten into them?"

Recognizing—and maybe even journaling about—your reactions, thoughts, and feelings regarding parenting can go a long way in helping you make a decision.

Separate Your Desires From Your Decisions

If you are struggling to make a choice, you may want to ask yourself what it is that you want instead. In other words, Davidson notes, desire is a want and a decision is a plan on how to get there. Making the decision about whether or not you are ready to start a family begins with determining what it is that you truly desire.

"One study of women with different childbearing intentions found that some kept delaying the actual decision, even after they achieved the goals they set for themselves, suggesting that there was something deeper than the need to reach certain milestones before having a child," says Davidson. "If you find yourself setting unrealistic goals or pushing back your decision-making, it might be a sign that you don’t actually want kids."

Davidson says it is also important to be realistic because no amount of planning can fully prepare you for parenthood. She suggests looking at the factors holding you back and evaluating what you can and cannot solve.

"Take debt, for example," she says. "You may want to pay off your student loans in their entirety, but that may not be feasible. Is there a way that you can make smaller payments, so you can save enough money to feel comfortable in your child’s first year of life?"

How to Address Societal Pressure to Have Kids

Getting asked "When are you going to have children?" or "When do I get to be a grandma?" can leave you feeling pressured or even defensive—especially if you do not know the answer.

But you should not feel pressured to answer their questions, even if they are well-intentioned as most typically are. Instead, Dr. Gulotta suggests responding with a simple, "Thank you for checking in, but right now I am not ready to have this conversation." You could even share that this is a personal subject for you and you are not comfortable talking about it.

"You don’t owe anyone an explanation when it comes to your family planning," says Davidson. "If you feel comfortable sharing you can, but you should never feel obligated to do so. If you find family members or others repeatedly nudging you in the hope you’ll change your mind, sometimes a forceful and direct reply is best: 'This matter is settled for me. You don’t have to like my decision, but I ask that you please respect it.'"

It is also important to remember that your self-worth is not based on whether you are a parent, says Souza. "No matter what anyone tells you, the decision is yours and yours alone."

A Word From Verywell

If you are wrestling with the idea of whether or not you want to start a family, it is important to take some time and reflect on what being a parent—or not being a parent—would mean to you. Think about what you truly want, and go from there.

It's also important to remember that making a decision to have kids is a highly personal one. There is no right or wrong answer. Likewise, your decision does not determine your value or worth. Those things are already secure in who you are at the deepest level.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Mullins A. ‘Join the club’ or ‘don’t have kids’? Exploring contradictory experiences, pressures and encouragement to have children in pronatalist social fields.Voluntary and Involuntary Childlessness. 2018:147-170. doi:10.1108/978-1-78754-361-420181006

  2. Helm S, Kemper JA, White SK. No future, no kids–no kids, no future?: An exploration of motivations to remain childfree in times of climate changePopul Environ. 2021;43(1):108-129. doi:10.1007/s11111-021-00379-5

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fast facts: Preventing adverse childhood experiences.

Additional Reading

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.