My wife and I are in our early 30's and we're struggling with the thought of children because of this - they're utterly alien to us. I feel on an intellectual level that I think I'd like to have children and like to be a father, but with the exception of one friend (who because they have kids we've largely lost contact with), we don't really have any peers that have children, so we don't ever interact with them, and it's all terribly abstract to us.
By a long shot.
So I would say this: if you want to live life on easy mode and enjoy all the little pleasures that modern life has to offer, then don't have kids. I say that without judgement; your life is yours to live as you see fit. But if you want meaning, if you want to struggle for something more important than yourself, and if you want to leave something enduring behind when you depart from this world, then have some kids.
Or anything else that involves devoting time other beings: homeless feeding drives, mentoring disadvantaged people about programming, working in an elderly home, etc.
The feeling of being part of something broader doesn't only come from having children sorry.
We've had 6 children. It's hectic, loud, chaotic, frenetic, and exhausting. But I'm having the time of my life and super happy to have such a wonderful cacophony trailing around all the time.
Children are special, but not for everyone.
Pull the other one. The judgment is very obvious. Just go ahead and own your opinion. (For the record, I do plan to raise children.)
I put things in stark terms, though, because I think children are, if we're being realistic, one of the only routes to a life with meaning available to the vast majority of people. Most people do not have fulfilling careers. Most marriages fall apart at some point. Children are forever, though.
And I think people need meaning in their lives. If you're a person who is deeply into some other calling and you think that can sustain you for your entire life, then go for it. I can think of many people in my life who could probably find a lot of meaning without children. But they're not the majority of the people I know. And yet the majority of the peers on my Facebook are not on track to ever have children.
Regarding what you just wrote, here's me acknowledging that there is meaning to be found outside of children (which, logically, implies that childless people can find meaning):
> I can think of many people in my life who could probably find a lot of meaning without children.
My argument is about playing the odds. Children are the most meaningful thing in most people's lives. Most people do not find many of the other things they spend time on meaningful (their career and, proxied through their spending, consumption of goods and services). As a result, I think it's a pretty good default strategy to have children. Which is why I promote that strategy whenever somebody is on the fence (OP sounded like they were on the fence, after all).
But if you've thought seriously about it and decide that there's something else you'd rather do with your life, then by all means, follow your heart.
- I was one of the older cousins on both sides of big families so I got to see a lot of little kids running around.
- I read this amazing post from Jeff Atwood: https://blog.codinghorror.com/on-parenthood/
- I watched this talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/rufus_griscom_alisa_volkman_let_s_...
- I read a good quote that went something like this: "I asked my dad if I was ready for kids and he said 'If you are worried having kids will mess up your life, then you're not ready because you are still thinking about yourself. If you are worried that you might mess up THEIR life, then you are probably ready because it means you are already thinking about them.' "
Children definitely change your life and are a lot of work. That being said, the first time they smile at you or call you "Dada" or "Mama" it feels like you won the emotional lottery. Then each milestone big or small just keeps adding to that feeling.
read a number of books mostly full of things that are common sense just worded differently.
the two most helpful things in hindsight so far (only 11 months in :-)) were the following a book around sleep  which is fairly short but can be shortened to a single excel spread sheet (which my wife and I did). the books seemed useless until we met others who had major challenges getting their child to sleep through the night, either we were super lucky or this book was amazing. ask me in a year after our second and I'll let you know if it was luck or not.
and then being told that once the kid comes out thousands of years of evolution magically hit you in the back of the head. this surprisingly was completely true (although I still do not know how)
lastly, none of my friends that live close have kids yet and some relationships have gotten weaker while others stronger. I think some of my friends are keeping distance for 'reasons' which is frustrating because losing touch with a good friend was not an expected result after having a kid.
This is true, there are studies out there that have shown men go through physiological changes in the brain, similar to what happens to women, both during their partners pregnancy and after the child is born.