I have two girlfriends who decided not to have children, they're late forties now. They're happy with the decision.
The first one wanted to concentrate on her career. She worked funny hours and loved her work, and knew she'd have to give it up if she had children. Plus she went through several medium-term relationships in her twenties and thirties, and none of the relationships looked likely to last forever.
The second one wanted to concentrate on men, she socialised all hours and loved her fun, and knew she'd have to give it up if she had children. Plus she went through more relationships than you could shake a stick at, and none of them looked like they'd last the year.
I've asked both of them if they regret not having children, and they each pointed to their small dog (one has a Westie, the other a Jack Russel-Poodle cross) and said "George/Benji is quite enough for me thanks!"
I talked to them a bit deeper, and they each opened up about their life with no children; that they wondered about old age and being alone, that they also wondered what sort of mother they'd have been, that it must be great to see someone grow up. But they say they are happy, and they sure seem so. Respect, as they say.
Neither of them asked me if I regret having children.
I'm glad they didn't. Because I can't, in all honesty, say it's been without any (selfish) regret. There have been countless, literally innumerable moments, no not moments; hours, weeks, months when I've been knackered, terrified, and generally felt worthless despite my best efforts.
I'm not talking about those moments on a Sunday morning when you wanted to go back to sleep until the afternoon. I'm talking about things like when your children are frightened for their future, let down by love and friends and employers, and you wonder if it was right of you to decide they should come into the world.
Being a parent isn't a ticket to happiness, any more than not being a parent is. But now I'm getting on top of the constant struggle of parenting, I feel ready to recommend the third way. Fostering.
If you decide not to have children, that's final. If you decide to have children that's final too. If you foster, it's as final as you wish. If things crowd you down to the point where you have to throw in the towel, you can. Everyone understands it can be hard, some children can be really challenging. If it's getting too much, your social workers will work hard to get a good outcome, and if that outcome is that you step back for a while, or even for good, no problem, and everyone will respect the good that you did while you were there.
I think it's important people know this.
If fostering turns out to be even better than you thought, and you can put in an extra bedroom somehow, and swell your house, well that's an option too.
People do too. More often than people discover it's not for them, people discover it's right up their alley.
I've had my moments in fostering so far, of course. But I'm here, loving it, and looking forward to our next placement.