The choice of whether or not to have children is probably the most important one of a woman’s life. Just think about it—if you marry the wrong person, you can get a divorce. If you go into the wrong career, you can retool and try something else. If you move into the wrong neighborhood, you can pack up and relocate. But a child is your responsibility for the next eighteen years, and on some levels for the rest of your life.
I never put much thought into whether or not I wanted to become a mother until I reached the tail end of my childbearing years. So when I suddenly found myself wondering if I’d regret passing up this life experience, it was dismaying to discover that there was very little guidance available to me. I ultimately had to come up with my own list of questions about becoming a mother, which helped me to reach a final decision. Here, I’d like to share some of them with you, and you can find more in my book, Complete Without Kids.
Am I aware of the huge responsibility of caring for a child from birth to eighteen (and possibly beyond)??
Half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, but winging it as a parent doesn’t bode well for anyone’s future. A mom-to-be or not-to-be needs to have a plan/vision of what the future holds.
Am I ready for the time commitment of raising a child?
Healthy children need abundant love and affection; the estimate is that it takes almost eight hours a day to raise two children to the age of eighteen. Are you willing to sacrifice some of the activities that you’re currently doing in order to parent? Specifically, it will mean less time for career, hobbies, friends, sleep, your marriage, or your own self-care. It’s also no secret that children are expensive. A conservative estimate is that it costs $220,000 to raise a child to the age of eighteen. Are you financially prepared for this?
Do I truly enjoy being around children?
Some people might say that this is a silly question to ask oneself, because we all know that “once you have a child, you love him or her”. It makes sense that you’d fall in love with and enjoy spending time with a child of your own, but if the child were never born, is it possible that you would miss him or her?? Think honestly about this. I had to answer it for myself and admit that I’ve never really enjoyed being in the kind of places where children and families gather, and I don’t enjoy spending time in my friends’ homes being a part of their family activities. I honestly don’t enjoy playing with most children. I’m more of an adult person, and I recognized and accepted that. If I were to have a child, I might selfishly expect him or her to become a “little adult” in order to meet my own needs. Some parents do this and think it’s okay…I didn’t think so.
What are some ways to put myself in a parenting role to see how it feels?
This may sound like common sense, but so many of us make huge life decisions without doing the proper research. For example, I once met a young woman who spent four full years earning a teaching degree, only to discover when she went out to do her student teaching that she didn’t like being in the classroom. Likewise, many potential parents make the decision to have children because they have an idealized image of what it will be like. Many people have not had the opportunity to be around children and families, and they’ve not examined the costs, sacrifices that must be made, time commitments, or the potential that the child may have a disability. My advice for potential parents, and even those who believe that they don’t want to have children, is to take time to do real-life research by spending some time with a family and asking people who are parents and also some who are childfree about their experiences. This is, after all, perhaps the biggest decision a woman will make in her life, and once it’s made, it’s not one that can be easily reversed.
Am I willing to give up having it all in order to be a mother?
I’m not a believer in the idea that women can do it all—build a successful career, have a healthy marriage and friendships, be a great parent, and have time for oneself. In my clinical practice, I’ve met with hundreds of women who are exhausted and feeling like failures in most of the above areas, and I blame it on the message our culture gives women that we are super heroes. Fortunately, we seem to be moving into a phase in which women are exploring choices for their futures and making decisions about what they will focus on and what they will let go of. For many young women, this includes deciding to not have kids. They instead decide to devote energy to their careers, their marriages, or their communities. There is still so much societal pressure on women to become mothers, that it is difficult to not choose this path, but I’m witnessing women do so successfully, with full peace of mind.
Do I have the life stability that a child needs?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all adults made sure that their lives were stable and in order prior to getting pregnant? A child deserves to be brought into a home where there is adequate time, money, and emotional energy to fully care for them. It’s a fact that marital satisfaction rates plummet following the birth of the first child—that is for couples that didn’t plan to get pregnant. But when a child is planned, there’s no negative impact on the marital relationship. Recognizing what it will take in terms of time, money and emotional energy prior to getting pregnant, will increase the odds that a child will be born into a stable environment. If you’re in a relationship that’s rocky, consider seeking couple’s counseling before discussing starting a family. Many couples falsely believe that having a child will bring them closer to one another, but the opposite can be true, simply due to the stress caused when a new baby enters the home.
Do I have the support network needed to assist me in raising a child?
Once again, take a realistic assessment of how much time and energy it will take to raise your child. You will need to have the support of others to do a good job. These supports might include friends, family members, or hired help such as nannies and daycare providers. If your support network is weak at the moment, and you really want to become a mom, take steps to bolster it. You may need to make a geographical move in order to be closer to family support, make changes in your career path so that you can be at home more, or save up for a daycare setting that’s near to your office.
Do I have the personal qualities that make for healthy parenting?
I often hear women say that they don’t think they would be good mothers, because they were raised in a dysfunctional home. There are cases in which people parent in the same way that their parents did, but in other cases we learn what not to do. How you were raised is not an indication of how you would parent. Instead, you must ask yourself if you have certain qualities that make for good parenting, including patience, consistent ability to be firm when necessary, good listening, and the willingness to at times put your own desires behind what’s best for your child. Parenting requires personal sacrifice, and many mothers would assert that the joy they get from their child is well worth what they’ve had to give up.