Things to Consider If You're Ambivalent About Having Kids [Part II]
So you think you want children and you're considering having them, but you're understandably freaked out, overwhelmed, and confused. People have told you "Trust your instincts and you'll be fine." You smile, but you're silently screaming WHAT IF MY INSTINCTS ARE TO RUN AWAY AND NEVER LOOK BACK? I get you. You've always wanted children, but in the "future." The future is now, and you're not ready. You're afraid. You're ambivalent about having kids. You're scared your core identity will change. You're scared your body will change. You're scared your career trajectory will change. You're thinking. You're reasonable. How do you work through this? This is the second of a two-part series in which I'll discuss ambivalence about having kids. The first part explored my personal experience with it, while this second part will delve into some things to contemplate if you're grappling with this issue.
Here are the most important things to consider if you're ambivalent about having kids:
- Remaining voluntarily child-free is a perfectly reasonable and moral choice, but it's not one that truly suits most people. The idea of parenthood is so deeply embedded as a norm in our society that people who choose not to have kids are often viewed with great stigma and bias. This is really unfortunate because I can only assume that people who have decided against having children have done so after meaningful reflection. I can't imagine that people make that choice lightly. And so much the better that people don't put themselves in a horrible position by assuming a weighty responsibility that they never wanted! I have several friends (and the number is increasing), who are absolutely 100% positive that they never want to be parents. But I have many more friends who are avoiding parenthood because they're scared, and that's just not a great reason to not have kids. My point here is that you need to be real with yourself and determine if your decision not to have kids is an affirmative choice that reflects your well-thought-out life plan and values, or if you're just too nervous to do it. I would guess that most people would fall into the second group. And it's not a good look.
- Accept that in parenthood, just as in life, there will be some good and some bad. Let me get this out of the way now: YES, A SIGNIFICANT PART OF BEING A PARENT ENTAILS GREAT PERSONAL DISCOMFORT AND SACRIFICE. IT CAN FEEL SCARY, STRESSFUL, AND EXHAUSTING. People who tell you otherwise are either in denial or they are lying to you. But that is true of every single other meaningful thing you do in your life. And it's still worth it. Think about the last time you did anything truly great that didn't require hard work and sacrifice. Getting your degree? Excelling at a sport? Getting a promotion? Making a relationship work? Getting in shape? I think you get the idea. Yes, parenting is a challenge. It will push you to your limits. It sometimes feels very bad. But it also comes with highs that I can't even begin to explain to you. The love, the joy, the pride, the satisfaction, the wonder. I'm not trying to sell you on becoming a parent, but we certainly shouldn't expect anything worthwhile and significant to be all rainbows and ponies. Raising a child is no different.
- Nobody (NOBODY!) goes into parenthood with perfect information, so stop stressing about things you can't predict or control. It's extremely easy to stress about all the bad things that can happen to your life if you have a kid. You'll never sleep again, your body will be destroyed, your career will be off track, your social life will go down the drain. But you honestly never know how things are going to go. As much as you think you can predict how your life will look after kids, life has a funny way of laughing at your expectations. Just as happens with people who don't have children, you will be faced with unforeseen challenges and you will also be cut some unexpected breaks. There's no point in going down a stress spiral anticipating all the what-ifs you're sure will happen to you, because you just never know.
- The weight of the responsibility of parenthood is real, but you can't be sure how you'll react to it. This relates to the previous point. What I can guarantee is that once you have kids, your life will be different and you will have to account for the well-being of another person. But you just really can't know how you'll react to that responsibility. I had a certain idea of what kind of mom I was going to be, and it wasn't very accurate. You may be surprised to find a whole new, impressive side to yourself once you have a child that you would have never have tapped into if you had avoided having kids out of fear.
- Your view of parenthood is probably unrealistically skewed towards the negative. It's easy to articulate to a childless person what's bad about having kids, but it's much harder to articulate what's beautiful about it. Everyone can relate to how bad it is to not sleep and to be covered in poop. It's much more difficult to explain the joy and pride and love you feel after investing so much time and care and affection into a little human being and watching that person flourish. Don't let yourself be fooled by all the negative reports from the trenches. Parenthood really is a beautiful thing, and it's just harder to put into words to someone who hasn't experienced it.
- Not being a "kid person" doesn't disqualify you from being a good parent. I have never been a kid person. I tended to find kids loud, sticky, and annoying. But I love Theo more than I could ever describe and, rather unexpectedly, I feel like a natural mother. Probably because he's my child and not somebody else's! Don't be afraid if you don't like kids in the abstract. Trust me when I say it's different when you have your own. Nature takes care of it. And if you're in the minority for whom that doesn't happen, you can get help, so don't worry.
- You can prepare for parenthood. Don't be put off by your limited experience taking care of kids. You can prepare to become a parent. Before I had Theo, I took childbirth and newborn care classes at the hospital and read an entire library of books relating to pregnancy, birth, infant care, and child development. I spoke to some of my most trusted friends about their parenting experiences. And honestly, I felt competent when Theo arrived. I'm going to do an in-depth post on how I prepared for parenthood and provide detailed resources, but just trust me when I say that there's no magic secret. Being a good parent isn't an innate quality. Maintain a growth mindset, and you'll be amazed at how well you can prepare if you just invest the time and care and attention that you would into any other important project.
- If you're capable of cultivating humility and flexibility within yourself, then you're capable of being a good parent. After over a year-and-a-half of parenting, I've concluded that the two most important qualities you need to be a successful parent (aside from the obvious fact that you have to love your child) are HUMILITY and FLEXIBILITY. I think this topic deserves its own post, so stay tuned, but as long as you can accept that you always have room to grow and improve, and you are willing to ask for help when you need it, you will be fine. Parenting is an exercise in imperfection. I can assure you that you will mess up a lot of the time. You just have to be okay with accepting that and rolling with the punches. Ask for forgiveness, ask for help. But just keep putting one foot in front of the other and everything will be fine. Nobody is doing a perfect job at this thing. And that's entirely okay.
- There's no perfect time to have a child, but some moments are better than others. I'm a planner by nature. I always try to do things perfectly and at the perfect time. As you can guess, there is no perfect time to totally upend your life to have kids, but some moments are better than others. My best advice on this front is that the "ideal" time to have kids is when you're relatively financially stable and when you feel like you have a reasonable support network at your disposal. The name of the game is creating as stable of an environment for yourself as possible. It makes a huge difference! The less you have to worry about the basics of survival for yourself, the more freely you'll be able to devote your energy to raising your child. Because all attempts at control go out the window with kids, I think it's wise to go into parenthood with as many reliable systems in place as you can. Figure out who you can call on for a lending hand or moral support. Budget out the cost of the basics you'll need for your family. And then take a deep breath and go for it!
I'd love to hear from you in the comments if you can relate to any of this, disagree, or have anything to add!
Thanks for reading!
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- Mar 11, 2018 Things to Consider If You're Ambivalent About Having Kids [Part II] Mar 11, 2018
- Dec 14, 2017 Things to Consider If You're Ambivalent About Having Kids [Part I] Dec 14, 2017
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