May 23, 2008

A Question from a Friend

I was asked a tough question by a friend and wanted to seek your wisdom, oh great internet friends! Here's the question:

"how did you know you were ready to have a kid? i want kids, i'm just trying to make sure that now is the right time for them. how did you know you were ready to not have a life anymore (and you can't say you didn't have a life anyway).
my wife is ready. i'm just trying to make sure i'm mentally ready (not fiscally ready)
"

Since I'm asking for your wisdom, I will share some of our story.

We talked about having children before we dated. We talked about it again before we married, and a bit after our wedding. When we went to visit Anny's brother and his wife one spring they shared with us that they were expecting! Great excitement for them, but it also made something click in Anny's head. We had more frank and honest discussions in the weeks that followed. I will not get into the tough stuff about getting from "trying" to "having" a baby in this post, but let's just say the Abby's cousin was almost four years old and had a sister by the time Abby rolled around.

Factors that we discussed in decision making:

Money: Honestly, this was always my first argument. It's expensive to have a child, moreso than we thought even. We cut back on some things and consolidated others.

Our Relationship: We were best friends before we began dating. We got closer then. By the time we were ready to add a third party to our party, we both wanted to be sure that we were solid with each other.

Time: We didn't ever spend a whole lot of time doing things that would be affected by a child. We don't do spontaneous trips to Niagara Falls or take lavish vacations. Our trips are almost always planned well in advance and involve a trip to see family.

Energy: We're not old, but I have a condition that makes me drained on occasion. This was a major concern for me in our discussions, and continues to be from time to time. I have had to learn to "fake" being awake, especially in the middle of the night. This is not an issue for most 30 year olds, but it's something that we had to consider.

What things did you have to come to terms with? What conversations did you have? What were heated parts of your decision process? Where did you decide to disagree but move on?

I think that my friend might be looking for reassurances that he would be a good father (which he would) but want to give him some food for thought. I'm not going to respond to him until after the holiday weekend, so please ask others to pop over here and share some wisdom.

7 comments:

  1. My husband and I were a little different than your friend. We did talk about children before we were married, with a "one day we expect to..." and we even picked out some names we liked! However, I never thought it would be soon.

    Then, when we had been married only a few weeks my husband started bringing it up. It has been a primary goal in his life. But I wasn't ready. Sometimes I think I'm still not ready. I eventually told him we would "leave it in God's hands", and though sometimes I was worried when nothing happened, more of the time I was relieved not to have to think about it. It wasn't until I was more ready that I began to get concerned and hurt that I wasn't yet pregnant, and that was after we'd been married about 4 years.

    Now that we are having our first (and married nearly 8 years), I can say that there are certain things we talked about that brought us as close to "ready" as we ever would be.

    We talked about topics like the following:

    is it important to us that one parent stays home or would we be comfortable with daycare/babysitter options if both have to work?

    if one parent stays home, does it matter who? Will there be any resentment on either part for a particular arrangement? (this was a biggy for us. I really wanted to be the stay at home parent, and had to change my attitude. It was a long, growing experience for me to learn to trust my husband for the full-time care and let go of my own preconceptions.)

    what are our goals and what does that mean for our choices in entertainment, education, socialization of our children? In other words, what values do we intend to bestow upon our baby? (this can be a biggy, and disagreements about whether or not a child needs/deserves such-and-such can stem from values, more than anything else. For instance, "will we have family dinners" really asks a question about a value. Perhaps family breakfasts would be just as good, as long as the intent, family together-time, is met on a regular basis)

    how will we handle it if none of our high ideals work out the way we want?

    And the one for me - is it parenting important enough (relating back to values) to make it worth it to give up the freedom a childless person has?

    None of these are quickly answered. It took me years, and my husband and I are still talking through more of it. Part of me is still nervous about the drastic life change that is coming so soon, and I am a bit nervous about the time to myself I will no longer have. But we answered the essentials - I knew I was ready to have a child when the desire to contribute to this world through the training of a child became stronger than my desire to have time alone.

    I knew we were ready as a couple when our conversations began to reflect a harmony in our goals and values in raising a family.

    But we aren't totally ready on every front - money will be tight, we don't have all the answers about certain issues (we'll just answer as we go! LOL), we are both nervous. So in that sense, I can understand why many say "you are never ready."

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think building a family is a lot like building a house.

    Your relationship is your family's foundation. You have to make sure that it is solid, or nothing that you put on top of it is going to work.

    You have to decide what size family/house you want. Are you going to go for a modest ranch, or a sprawling Victorian? How are your finances going to be affected by one choice or the other? If you're a couple who loves to travel, you probably don't want 15 kids (unless you're the Pitt-Jolie family, and then go for it).

    Sometimes the best way to start is to start small (like a starter house). Babysit. At the end of the evening are you so relieved to have that little monster out of your house that you'd gladly never have sex again to ensure that you don't get one of those? Then you're not ready. If things seem a little too quiet and a little too boring once the kid is gone, you might be more ready than you thought. Maybe get a dog. See how you do with being tied down and responsible for a generally helpless creature. And make sure you expose the puppy to lots of kids so that he'll be good with babies when it's time. Get a cockapoo - they're hypoallergenic, they don't shed, they're really smart and great with kids (or so I hear).

    Back to my house analogy - just like when you're building, there are always going to be unexpected situations that require a rewrite of the plan. It could be something small, maybe a strike or layoff, something that affects your income - how are your savings? Are you set up to deal with that? Or it could be an earthquake - the baby could have a disability. The baby could be sextuplets. Are you prepared to deal with that? Just like with marriage, you can't just plan for the "happily ever after," you have to prepare for the "sickness" part of "in sickness and in health." You have to prepare for the "poorer" part of "for richer for poorer..." Even if it's just a matter of, intellectually, realizing that things can go wrong. If you expect that you'll get a Gerber baby all wrapped up in a perfect package and delivered to your door without any adieu, you're not ready. If you recognize that parenting is messy, scary, unscripted, hilarious, goofy, spontaneous, directionless, instructionless, and generally insane, well, you're getting the idea.

    Have you been through a major illness with your wife? Maybe not yours or hers, but a close family member? What about a death? A birth? All these events, and your reactions to them as a couple, give you clues as to how ready you are.

    I think ultimately what matters isn't what a baby will bring to your life, but what you think you have to offer a child. If you think of becoming a parent in terms of what you will lose (money, free time, marital relations, etc.) then it will never be time. But if you think of it in terms of what you have to give, then it can be time, even when you don't have every little thing in place. Know what I mean?

    Wow, I get rambly and I don't make a whole lot of sense after 11 pm. Sorry.

    Amy @ http://prettybabies.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  3. I suppose tonight's car accident - though it was as perfect and non-harmful as a car-totalling accident could be - has put me in a bit of a black mood. But I would say . . .

    Everthing that Chere' said. But.

    My husband and I were college sweethearts, together for almost 7 years (married for 3) before our first daughter was born. 3 years after that, shortly before our second daughter was born, our marriage fell apart.

    It turns out that either
    A) despite being on exactly the same page re: all the big questions and answers, our marriage couldn't handle the stresses of children, or
    B) we just didn't have the marriage I thought we had.

    My personal view is that the real is answer is B, as revealed by A. We love our kids more than anything and wouldn't trade them for the world. We're also slowing rebuilding our marriage from the ground up, and are in a good place currently.

    But the pain of what happened to us was indescribable.

    I don't know: if we'd never had kids, would we have avoided the crisis? And, if so, would it have been worth it?

    For me, parenthood was something I wanted more than anything else. I always knew I wanted to be a parent. Now that I am a parent, I love my kids in more complex ways that I could ever have imagined. And I also understand better why some people choose not to become parents.

    I no longer have a "just do it; you won't regret it" attitude.

    ReplyDelete
  4. In our case, things weren't this cut and dry. My husband asked me BEFORE we were married if a kid was an option. I wasn't thinking along those lines ever, but said, "sure, what the heck? I'm not really going to marry this guy, am I?" A few months later, and several miles higher in the haze of love, we were married. We knew kids were going to happen - they were factored into the "5-year-plan." But we didn't know how soon! Both of my children were the best decisions I never made. Both were unplanned. Both were surprises, especially number 2!

    In my opinion, no time will ever be the "perfect" time to have children. There will always be something - sick family member, new car payment, bigger house, better school district, this that and the other. But honestly the unplanned was the best way to go. We didn't have to talk ourselves into or out of it - it just happened! You can really really over-analyze having kids, and I'd say for the most part, it turns out ok.

    So I'd say to your friend, "Go for it!" Just take a good shot. You never know if/when you'll get pregnant. If you change nothing but your method (or lack thereof) of birth control, eventually you will get pregnant, and all the pieces will fall into place.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Tara, I envy your positive outlook! I think it can be really dangerous, though.

    First: If you change nothing but your method (or lack thereof) of birth control, eventually you will get pregnant

    All of my sisters, my two best friends, some of my co-workers, women in my mommy's groups, etc. all had trouble conceiving and required medical assistance. Statements like this make them feel bad, like they're defective or something. (They're not. The assumption that it's easy to get pregnant for "most" people is what's defective.)

    Second, You can really really over-analyze having kids, and I'd say for the most part, it turns out ok.

    My sister is a social worker who works with the foster care system, my mom is a school psychologist, and my dad is a minister. Their experiences have made it very clear to me that quite often, it doesn't just turn out OK!

    One of the moms in my mommy's group is in this category. She and her husband weren't sure if they wanted kids, but they decided to go ahead - everyone told them they'd regret it if they didn't.

    They're happily married and could afford it: huge house in the suburbs, plenty of disposable income, etc. And she's a great mom: stays at home, very involved, lots of enriching activities, goes to conferences to nurture self and learn new parenting techniques, etc. Plus church support.

    But. If you ask her, she'll tell you that she was right before; she didn't want children. It was a mistake. And her son - a beautiful, bright, sweet, well-behaved boy - will be an only child.

    I bet most people who know them think it all worked out OK, but I'm not so sure.

    ReplyDelete
  6. So far childless here, so no advice. Really interesting to read the post and comments. What stands out to me from what's already written is that you should know yourself and your needs & wants before making this decision. Having a strong relationship and being prepared for less happy outcomes is also important. And it's really a series of questions. If, When, How.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Here are my thoughts:

    -There is never a perfect time. In my experience money is always a little tight, life is always busy so if all else feels right, you just have to make it happen. It is very easy to over analyze the situation.

    -You have to have a SOLID relationship (I cannot stress this enough). What does your gut and your experience tell you about your spouse and how well they currently contribute to the household chores, how well you support each other, the level of communication you have, how close are your family raising ideals etc etc.

    Kids, although worth every crazy moment, are very hard work at times and will only amplify any problem you currently have in your relationship. I have several friends who had problems in their marriages before kids and the kids have only brought on more stress to the situation.

    The two things that were hardest for me to adjust to after having kids are:
    1)The amount of planning that has to go into any activity you now want to do that does not involve kids. The days of doing whatever you feel like on a moments notice are over.
    2)Kids are expensive and I'm not really talking about things like the cost of diapers, food etc. I'm referring to the costs of daycare or one of you staying home and no longer having a 2 person income. If you can get used to these 2 ideas up front, you'll be in for an easier transition later.

    After all that soul searching, if you decide you guys are ready for kids, I will say this: no one will EVER be able to fully prepare you for the unbelievable love you will have for these little creatures. It really puts life in perspective and makes it all worthwhile.

    ReplyDelete