Don’t Worry, You’ll Change Your Mind: Making Life Decisions Young

Adults really love to tell younger people about what will happen when said young people grow up. Usually it goes something like this: “I used to think that way too, but I’m older and wiser now, and I think differently. And because I know the future, I can tell you that you’ll change your mind too!” Especially when a young person comes to a conclusion about dating, marriage, or children, old people are really, absolutely, totally certain that the person is wrong. There’s a lot wrong with this tendency, but let’s focus today on one specific instance of this: young women who decide early that they don’t want to have children and are told “don’t worry, you’ll change your mind”.

In part this is well-meaning. It can be embarrassing and confusing to realize that you may have been wrong about something after having declared THIS IS MY OPINION FOR ALL TIME! Many adults want to pass on the knowledge that they’ve gained after going through confusion and identity crisis. They also want to reassure you that it’s ok to change your mind. I’ve had this experience with my mother, who had children late after not wanting them for a long time. I’m well aware that the reason she tells me that I could change my mind is not to undermine me but because she wants me to be aware that it’s ok to change my mind, but regardless of all the good intentions in the world, telling a young woman that she will want children is deeply frustrating.

There are two main elements to why I would suggest you never tell a young woman that she’s wrong to declare her resistance two childbearing. One is that it’s incredibly ageist and the other is that it’s incredibly sexist. Not only that, but it’s also a breakdown in empathy: it belies the tendency of some people to be incapable of imagining that someone else may want different things from what they want. It’s good to practice understanding a perspective other than your own without being threatened that it may be an implicit critique of what you’re doing.

An important part of why some people feel that they can do this is because the opinions of young people and of women are often devalued. It takes a good deal of self-importance to tell another person what big life decisions will bring meaning and value. The perspectives of young people and women (particularly young women) don’t get portrayed nearly often enough in media, and are portrayed as flightly and stupid when they are portrayed. Is it any wonder that others feel they have the right to contradict those experiences?

Let’s get into the nitty gritty of what exactly is ageist about telling a young person that they don’t know what they want. The implication when you tell a young person that they will change their mind is that you can’t know any of your core values at a young age because everyone changes as they grow. There is some truth to this: many of us do change as we age. However young people are capable of rational thought and often do develop core values that will stay with them throughout their lives. Even if their values do change, that doesn’t change the fact that their preferences and values in the here and now deserve respect.

Every person in the world has the potential to change and grow. If that by itself were reason enough not to take someone’s opinions seriously, to imply that someone’s opinions were wrong, or to try to undermine what someone sees as an important value, none of us would ever have a reason to validate or respect another person’s choices. Unfortunately, if we want to live in society with each other and not be cruel people, we have to learn to accept and respect the decisions of others, particularly if (like childbearing) they don’t affect us in any way, shape, or form. So every time you invalidate a young woman’s choice not to have children by telling her that yes she will, or she’s wrong and she really does want kids, or don’t express that opinion it might change, you’re once again telling young people that their opinions are held to a different set of standards than anyone else’s and that they should never say what they think or feel because they’re wrong.

But what about the sexism? Why is telling a young woman that she’ll change her mind about an opinion any worse than telling a young man that he doesn’t actually want the career he thinks he does? Well there’s a long history of telling women that they actually are not smart enough to know what they should be doing with their bodies, or even to know what they want to do with their bodies. See: abortion legislation around mandated waiting periods, forced ultrasounds, and defunding Planned Parenthood. We are told over and over that we lie about our bodies (e.g. legitimate rape) and that old white men have a better idea of what the appropriate choices are for our lives. Many of these problems are explicitly linked to the idea that women are flightly and emotional and cannot make their own decisions (things which are also part of the ageism inherent in the “you’ll change your mind” statement).

Oftentimes the reasons that people give for resisting young women’s opinions about children are explicitly sexist: they say things like “How will you find meaning without kids?” (as if women can’t have purpose without babies) or “Why are you rejecting your god given purpose?” (churches are really good at promoting the idea that women have to reproduce).

And of course women are already perceived as childlike or incapable of making their own decisions. Women are already painted as overly emotional (like kids) and incapable of controlling themselves (like kids). Any choices women make that prioritizes themselves over others (especially children) are derided as selfish and unethical, the end of motherhood and humanity and kindness and compassion and family! So when a young woman says that she doesn’t want children, she is viewed as the epitome of selfishness, immaturity, emotional indecency: she doesn’t love babies like she should!

Overall, telling a woman that she’ll change her mind about children implies that you know her values better than she does and that she can’t make her own decisions. It’s inappropriate and invasive. Unless your advice or opinion has been solicited, leave it alone.


Previous post

Reality Checks: Creationist Cosmos, Chess, and Lunar Eclipse Photos

Next post

Reality Checks: Cousin Earth, Female Penis, Pets, and Trigger Warnings



Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at www.taikonenfea.wordpress.com


  1. April 18, 2014 at 7:53 am —

    I totally get this. I’m 30, and people are only just now starting to take the fact that I’ve never wanted kids seriously. It’s bizarre. The worst part is the condescending smiles as they say it. I’ve often wondered if they’d be so more supportive if I’d stated that I want something unreasonable* like eight children.

    *Unreasonable for a city dweller with very narrow hips on an average income – If your body, housing options and budget can handle eight kids more power to ya 🙂

  2. April 20, 2014 at 3:16 pm —

    I’ve always thought this was one of the most vile subtle forms of sexism out there.

    It’s also so patently, obviously false if people looked beyond their narrow horizons – there are so many women who are unhappy bearing and raising children that it’s hard to see why people have trouble understanding it. They’re all convincing themselves that it’s the way it should be.

  3. April 20, 2014 at 9:51 pm —

    What is really annoying is that the harassment over childbearing decisions doesn’t always stop if you have one either. Then you’ll be told you should have more, and if you say you don’t want more you’ll either have to endure the many reasons why, or be told you’ll change your mind. Of course I’ve heard from other women that have had more children that they get complete strangers telling them they have too many children. Seriously why is it anyone’s business how many human being you do or don’t create.

    I also generally hate any point where I’m told I’ll change my mind when I’m older, maybe I will, maybe I won’t but right now I feel strongly enough about it to make that statement so why don’t we drop it for now. If I change my mind we can cross that bridge when I get there.

Leave a reply