To Be Or Not-To-Be A Mom??

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.

6 Comments

  1. Julia Carter
    Posted May 2, 2011 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    With the global population as large as it is, and being in the country (USA) which uses the most resources per person, we need to rethink having children. It could stop being something people feel as if they have to do out of a sense of duty. I really do not believe that for every person reproducing is an actual need, and we certainly don’t need a lot more humans right now.

    That being said, there are people who really want to have children, and will really love them well and bring them up with attention and care. What if the people who really wanted to raise children and had the heart for it did so, and other people didn’t? Every child born would be wanted and loved. This would alleviate overpopulation, better conserve resources, and would result in many fewer social problems.

    I know sometimes there are “accidents” which turn out to be blessings, but for the most part I believe in “planned parenthood.” If every couple considering having a baby would first read and consider the content of this article we would all be so much better for it.

    I have two childless girlfriends, which makes three of us, and we are all happy about it. However we often get sighs of sympathy when we tell parents we have no children. Then they are puzzled, or even horrified, that it’s by choice. We all need to work on erasing the social stigma that goes with choosing not to reproduce, and I envision us evolving to a place where both parents and the childless are equally honored.

  2. Ellen
    Posted July 31, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Well put! We’re approaching 7 billion now, and I was surprised to hear this week that our population in 1950 was only about 2 billion. That’s such an astounding amount of growth, and it’s not surprising that our quality of life has diminished. There will be more suffering world-wide if we don’t get this population thing under control. Imagine a world where every child was planned and loved fully by parents who had the resources to give, and where those of us who live in richer nations could really make a difference for our brothers and sisters in poorer countries. The way I see it now, it’s an uphill battle, but much could change in a short time with more speaking out on this issue.

  3. Jennifer
    Posted May 29, 2011 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Its so nice to see that this demographic is becoming more recognized. Its a very viable lifestyle option and one that is rarely discussed or presented in this country. Childfree couple are not child haters and can be very nuturing. They have just chosen not to raise children themselves. For me, having a fulltime commitment to my spouse, to whom I can give all of my attention, is extremely gratifying. Recently, we found this website http://www.dinklife.com which has provided us with a resource to network with others who have chosen a childfree life, and its great! Check it out. There are more of us out there than we think.

  4. Ellen
    Posted July 31, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for your comments. I think it’s true that as childfree adults join together for social and other gatherings, more and more “on the fence” people will see this life as a viable option. Those of us who don’t have children have more time and emotional energy for our spouses, our jobs, our communities, our friends, and ourselves. I have three wonderful dogs and a husband, and they fulfill me totally.

  5. Posted June 26, 2011 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    these are all great questions and should be mandatory for anyone considering children. unfortunately, more of then than not, kids appear as happy accidents.

    i think if anyone is debating whether or not they need to be a mom, they probably don’t. the way i hear it, it sounds like a must-do urge. if it’s not there, relax. enjoy your lifestyle as you’ve got it. who really wants you to have kids more, anyway? you? or your community?

  6. Ellen
    Posted July 31, 2011 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s appalling that over 50% of pregnancies in our country are unplanned. That’s an incredible figure and says so much about how people put their entire future into the hands of fate, at least with this particular situation. I’m all for educating and encouraging young women to use reliable and easy birth control (such as an IUD) until they are absolutely ready to become a mom. And you are right also to say that if a person isn’t sure or isn’t passionately driven to be a parent, there’s no reason to have to parent. The world needs these people to do other tasks.

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