Please help me decide if I want to be a parent or not?
March 13, 2009 7:01 PM   Subscribe

Please help me decide if I want to be a parent or not?

Hi MeFites, I'm hoping to find some good advice / books / DVD's / forums which will help me determine if I would like to be a parent or not.

My husband of 11 years has recently been expressing an interest in starting a family, and while I've never really thought much about having children I would like to be able to give him a fair and informed answer to the question "shall we have kids".

I'm not sold one way or the other yet and I would like to evaluate my feelings on the situation, and do away with any pre-conceptions, before I make any decisions. So I guess what I'm looking for is...

Advice in general
Do you think a life with children is better than one without, or vice versa? Please also share your reasons if you have time :)

Book / DVD recommendations
Are there specific books I can read, or DVD's I can watch, which will help me ask the questions I need to ask to determine if I want to be a parent (such as evaluating the impact on lifestyle, finances, the rewards and trials that come with being a parent, etc)?

Also are there any good forums you can recommend where I can get unbiased advice (well, as unbiased as possible)?

Thank you very much in advance for any help you can give me!

posted by katala to Human Relations (52 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Fact: People without children are generally less stressed and happier than people with children. There is research to support this.

And what's one more person on this earth but yet another mouth to feed?

Don't do it, I say.
posted by kldickson at 7:17 PM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you really must have a third person in your house, adopt.
posted by kldickson at 7:18 PM on March 13, 2009 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I have found it's really hard to get anything like 'unbiased' advice on this; you have to make your own observations. Once people have had children, they find their lives change a great deal and eventually they have a hard time imagining life without their children - and often think it would be much emptier, a great loss. Those who have not had children play up their happiness with their decision, their freedom, their sense it was not for them, the environmental benefits, etc. I think there are good reasons to both have children and not have them, and benefits for you and for the world to have them and not have them. I also think not everybody needs to be a parent or should be a parent. THis doesn't help you, I realize, but in thinking about this a long time I've found very little that comes from the outside that can sway me one way or the other. People tend to be happy with the choices they made, or at least make it sound like they are, or just have a hard time imagining where they'd be if things went differently.

One of my observations: I've heard many more people say they wished they did have children than wished they didn't. But some part of that might be the social stigma against parents openly expressing anything but gratitude for their children's existence.
posted by Miko at 7:26 PM on March 13, 2009 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I'm hoping to find some good advice / books / DVD's / forums which will help me determine if I would like to be a parent or not

This is the wrong approach, the convincing should take place from within you and not from the outside. Advice/books/DVDs/forums can only tell you about the experience of being a parent, not decide for you whether you should do it.

If you are not 100% absolutely sure you want kids, you probably shouldn't have them. When things become difficult (ie: up at 3 am with a crying 2-month-old who just pooped, and the poop is leaking out of the diaper, and you have to be up early the next day) you may find yourself regretting your decision and, perhaps, blaming your hubby who "pressured you into it." It's hard enough if you were sure about it; if you needed to be convinced, it could become a nightmare.

That being said, I'm the proud father of a 10-month-old; my wife and I were ready to have a baby, and although it's been hard at times, we have never once regretted it. We can no longer imagine life without him, nor would we want to.
posted by Simon Barclay at 7:39 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's really hard to get any non-agenda driven information on this sort of topic, but if you google "childfree" you'll find lots of resources and discussion that supports the no kids lifestyle. I'd never heard of this movement or whatever you want to call it until recently, so just thought I'd throw it out there.
posted by bluejayk at 7:40 PM on March 13, 2009

Best answer: I didn't have kids, and I (thought I) was happy. I now have two kids, and I cannot imagine my life without them, and I wish I had them sooner. My life has renewed purpose, and feels complete; every day brings a new joy as I watch them grow into people. Sometimes it's a heavy weight, but a single moment makes it all seem light as a feather.

FWIW, I think you're asking the right question, and it shows good parent potential: "Do I want to be a parent?" is a very, very different to "Do I want to have kids?"

And also FWIW: have a look at kldickson's posting history before you take 'don't do it' to heart.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:48 PM on March 13, 2009 [6 favorites]

If you really haven't thought much about it, in 11 years of marriage, and your asking for DVD recommendations on AskMe, so you can come to a logical conclusion, I say don't have kids, right now. I mean, what are you going to tell your kids? That you love them because they fullfill xyz needs according to such and such philosophical theory and they make your life good in such and such ways according to blah blah blah philosophy about life, that you found on the internet. How about "I love you just because".
posted by metastability at 7:52 PM on March 13, 2009

You should ask him if he would still want the baby if it developed mental or physical problems. Children often put great strain on a marriage, and children with mental retardation and significant developmental delays require a lot of money and a lot of care.

My husband's cousin and cousin's wife had a baby a few years back and they found out that the child has all kinds of problems. They do not have a very happy life and my husband's cousing now focuses more on his work now than on their family because he's miserable about it. They were very happy before and now seem pretty depressed. They both thought they wanted children but neither of them imagined this kind of scenario. Their marriage experienced great strain and, while they are still together, they both seem very unhappy.

So, that being said, ask him what he envisions having a kid would be like? Does he just want someone to throw the football to or create a mini version of himself, and live out some fantasy of having a kid? Or is he hardened to the reality that signing up to have kids is signing up for more unpredicatability for what will happen in your life?

Also, how do you feel about living a predictable life versus an unpredictable and possibly stressful, chaotic life?
posted by anniecat at 7:54 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Truly, it's your choice, katala. I advise against it, of course, largely on the basis of the fact that I think reproducing is unwise when there are plenty of mouths that don't get fed on a daily basis, and as I said, if you MUST have children, adopt - there are plenty of children who are adopted, and I know at least one (a young female cousin who is from China) who's pretty well-adjusted so far, and I find it disgusting that there are such things as in vitro fertilization clinics and people who take fertility drugs when there are people who could be adopted who need families. I am childfree, and I am proud. At the same time, if you want them and can afford to raise them and make them happy, productive adults and you think you're emotionally and financially stable enough to do it, nobody's stopping you from having one.
posted by kldickson at 7:55 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I still emphatically recommend that nobody has them until every last kid on this earth without a family has one.
posted by kldickson at 7:56 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The first thing we asked ourselves was whether or not we liked kids. Neither one of can stand them so the decision was easy.

That may be the first base level, super basic question to ask yourself.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 8:00 PM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

@obiwanwasabi: I looked at kldickson's history and find your comment rude. She might be young, but that hardly makes her opinion less relevant. I'm 33 and think her comment is fair; I thought the same thing at her age. We're not selfish and immature just because we don't have or want children. (If I'm wrong about your implication, feel free to say so. I might be wrong about whatever you're trying to say.)
posted by anniecat at 8:00 PM on March 13, 2009

Also, evaluate whether you have anything resembling a maternal instinct or anything at all that might work against a kid having a good life. I personally have no maternal instinct (case in point: I made the last donation to a class of kids who needed a science diagram for their small class. When I received letters from them, my first thought was 'Aw. I'm going to be the professor of one of these kids one day.'), and several characteristics of who I am make it extremely unlikely that I would even ever be a good parent. I have neither the desire nor the necessary characteristics to be a parent, and being the responsible person I am, I'm not going to have any children.
posted by kldickson at 8:09 PM on March 13, 2009

Best answer: Spend time with children and families.

This is the only way you're going to gain any real insight into what you think and feel about having some of your own. No one can tell you what you want here, and as most people spend very, very little time around children once they leave their parents house, it's likely that you don't have a clear idea there either. Listening to other people talk about their experiences really isn't going to do you much good. You need experiences of your own. Moving from a world populated almost entirely by adults into one with knee-biters bopping around is a real eye-opener.

I don't currently have children, but I live with a family that has a toddler and another on the way, and I can't tell you how much I've learned about what it means to have a kid in the house. Their little girl gets a huge smile on her face every time I come home, and man, I get for the first time what that's like. Yeah, she wakes me up at 3AM way more often than I'd like (that girl has a set of lungs), but I'd probably care a lot less if it was me she was calling "Daddy" (or what passes for it at the moment; English is still a distant second language to Gibberish).

So get to know some families. Offer to babysit. If you have dinner at a family's house, ask that it be conducted like a family dinner rather than "having company". Just spend a Saturday afternoon with a family as they go about their business. Yeah, you're busy, but if you aren't even willing to do something like this...

If you don't know anyone with kids, that's probably a bad sign right there, because if you do have children, they'll have a ton less in common with you almost overnight, whereas you're going to have vastly more in common with people who are raising children. If none of your friends have kids, this could be a more significant alteration of your social world that it would be otherwise.

Something to consider though: most people find themselves at their most fulfilled when they're giving of themselves to other people. There is perhaps no greater opportunity to do this than having children with the possible exception of being married in the first place. But in the marriage relationship, there's a general expectation of some kind of mutuality that's largely absent from your relationship with your hypothetical children. You and your spouse give to each other. You will give to your children for decades before they even start giving back. Sure, they're a joy, but though you and your husband lean on each other for support and encouragement, your children lean on you that way but you can't do the same for them. It's just not fair. All of which to say that if you are the kind of person that finds fulfillment in investing in other people, having children is far and away the best opportunity you could possibly have to do that.

If you thought being married was stretching, I'm told that having kids puts it to shame. Like with marriage, having kids isn't likely to leave you where you are. It's going to make you a lot better or a lot worse but the one thing it isn't going to do is nothing.

But all of the last two paragraphs are just my impressions for your consideration. Having said those, I'd return to my original suggestion: if you don't spend time with children and families, you're never going to be able to get a clear idea of what you think, which, after all, is what matters here.
posted by valkyryn at 8:12 PM on March 13, 2009 [14 favorites]

You should ask him if he would still want the baby if it developed mental or physical problems.

anniecat, I sympathize for your husband's cousin, and I understand how that could ruin a family, but that is (close to) a worst-case scenario, and it's not fair to ask. This could happen to anyone besides someone's children, such as their spouse, their parents, their siblings, etc., all of which could make their life miserable. This type of thinking means never leaving your house because you might get run over by a car.
posted by Simon Barclay at 8:17 PM on March 13, 2009

Having kids is FUCKING hard work. I have two kids and I can tell you that every day I say I wish I was still a bachelor, yet I love them to death and would DIE for them.

If you think an answer for this is on MetaFilter or on a DVD, then I don't think you are ready to have children.
posted by Frasermoo at 8:19 PM on March 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

valkyryn is very wise with his advise. I would add that ideally, spending time with a baby-having family should consist of more than babysitting or having dinner -- it should consist of spending a night or two at their house. You only get the full effect after going through a 24-hour cycle or two.
posted by Simon Barclay at 8:21 PM on March 13, 2009

Best answer: Do you think a life with children is better than one without, or vice versa?

Raising a child has made me a better human being, no question. It was not always fun, but it was often moving, frustrating, exhausting and enlightening. It was one of the best decisions of my life, thought I didn't realize it for years.

Also, I once thought as kldickson did. It's astonishing how wrong I was.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:22 PM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Spend time with children and families.

This is the only way you're going to gain any real insight into what you think and feel about having some of your own.

Not necessarily. I was firmly in the "No children ever, I can't stand them," having spent more than enough times around various kids while growing. Though I'm still not crazy about kids in general, feelings about my own are different.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:29 PM on March 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Spend time with children and families.

I disagree completely.

I always wanted to have kids. I never had any interest in other people's kids. But I knew I'd love my own, and be interested in them.

I now have a son. He's three years old. I've been a part-time stay-at-home dad for most of those three years. It's very hard work, but it's wonderful, amazing, and fulfilling. It is defining.

I'm now much more interested in other people's kids.

All that said, I'd agree that Katala has to find the answer to this question inside herself. A kid isn't an object, it is an activity or an interest. A kid is a relationship. A kid is the most complex, in-depth, demanding, potentially rewarding and potentially infuriating relationship you'll ever had. Do you want to have your life energy taken up with a really really intense relationship? You'll get a lot out of it, but you will have to give up a lot in the process, too.
posted by alms at 8:32 PM on March 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Spending time with a family is a good idea. But bear in mind that MANY folks cannot stand other people's children, and yet are in love with their own. Just 'cause you don't like some kids doesn't mean you shouldn't necessarily have your own.

Maybe a better question to ask here is, "what made you actively decide you wanted kids? Or, what made you actively decide NOT to have kids?" Some people just know either way. Others have it fall into their laps. But I know many people here have done some thoughtful soul-searching about their desires, imagination of their future lives, and expectations. Can any of you speak to that?

Of course you can't tell HER how to decide, but how did you decide?
posted by barnone at 8:36 PM on March 13, 2009

Best answer: I agree with Miko upthread.

With that in mind, my instinct is to say if you don't want kids, then don't have them. That doesn't mean you have to have an active desire not to want kids. What I mean by that is that you should have an active desire for them. I think having kids is something you should have a good reason to do, not something you do because you can't find a reason not to. It's something you should opt in to, not out of.

I would be especially careful of looking at the situation like, "Well, I'm on the fence, but my husband really wants them, so that tilts me toward having them." I understand the impulse, and I think sometimes that's even a reasonable thing to do. But keep in mind that even if your husband promises that he'll handle the kids, they're still going to have a big impact on your life. There's no avoiding that. How much time you get to spend alone together will change. For people who really want kids, that's definitely worth it. But if you don't have enthusiasm about it going in, it's hard to tell how you'll feel about it. Some people end up feeling good about it, and some people feel like their lives are ruined.

I'm of the mind that, when these sort of things can be planned one way or the other, children should ideally be raised by people who want them very much. I was once at a park with my husband, and we saw this couple playing with two of their kids. We could overhear their conversations with them, and how completely patient the parents were no matter what happened. They loved their kids so plainly, weren't just faking enthusiasm when they played with them... I just thought wow, every kid should have parents like that. I would not have reacted like they did, I don't think. The rest of us can find other ways to enrich our lives and let people like them have kids. I think everyone would be better off.

Anyway, I don't have kids and don't want them. Neither does my husband. So my book recommendation to you that would help you best understand our feelings is Families of Two by Laura Carroll. It looks at several couples who decided not to have kids, explains their reasons for it, and how they feel about the decision and their lives.
posted by Nattie at 8:41 PM on March 13, 2009 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Having a kid is the most all-encompassing, life-changing, and irrevocable thing you can do to yourself short of sawing off a limb. It will place an unbelievable strain on your marriage and career. It's more difficult, literally, than anything else I have ever done in my entire life.

Many parents will say that sort of thing and then follow it up with "but it's soooo wonderful you just can't imagine how great it is, it's just sweetness and light nom nom nom." I don't disbelieve these people -- there certainly seem to be enough of them -- but I do not understand them. I wish I were one of them.

If you're happy without kids, don't have kids. Maybe you'd be one of those sweetness and light people. But maybe you won't.
posted by ook at 8:44 PM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

imagine standing in line for the most crazy mental fun frightening roller coaster ever conceived. It will shred you at the start and enthrall you.. it might be mellow in parts, but it will go bat shit mental when you least expect it, interspersed by moments of pure joy.. the joy might last for a good distance, then it goes bat shit again.. then it's great... then it's fantastic..

and that might be the first day or two.... god knows what happens after 2 years... I'm hoping to tap my parents for that info.
posted by Frasermoo at 8:47 PM on March 13, 2009

Best answer: I doubt you'll get much less biased in a forum than where you are, frankly. Which is to say, a lot biased. I'm biased, I don't know how you could not be.

I keep thinking I have something clever to say about the topic but just I come back to something I think I've said before: before my wife and I started trying to conceive I had a pretty clear cut transition in my feelings about parenting, from ambivalent to feeling significantly that it was time. Doubts and apprehension never went away. I can't imagine going into this not feeling that strong, positive attraction to the idea of being a parent. It is extraordinarily hard work. It's a complete transformation of your lifestyle. I've never done anything I've felt more sure about or more scared about.
posted by nanojath at 9:14 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm a bit frustrated with myself, because I just remembered a book that would be perfect for you, but I canNOT remember enough about it to properly Google. Here's what I remember:

-I heard about this book because the author was interviewd on NPR - most likely Fresh Air or -Diane Rehm but it's possible it was something else like Day to Day
-This was recent, within the last 3 years
-It was by a woman who had interviewed several other women in depth about their choice to become or not become mothers
-The major characteristic of the book was that it was supposed to be startlingly honest, with mothers talking about both the positives and negatives of parenthood and women who never had children talking about the positives and negatives of that
-The author shared some research and statistics about happiness, parenting, etc

Major Google points to anyone who can find it. I just can't remember quite enough about it - it was a great interview though.

This book, Opting In, might be one to check out. The author talks about how a lot of the language around parenting serves to exacerbate women's already existing anxieties about themselves and their capabilities, their needs and their roles.

Another thing I think it's good to beware of is the idea that if you wanted children, you'd know - you'd feel this inexorable pull. Some women do. But I think expecting that everyone does is not reasonable; I think it's part of the romanticization of family life to play up that aspect.

A lot of women have children because it's the kind of life they want, because it's a good plan, even without feeling 'maternal instinct,' whatever that is. Some do it because there's a contraceptive accident. Some because they feel a strong pull to parenthood. Some because a parent dies and they suddenly find a strong desire to carry on the family. Some for a host of other reasons. Almost all the reasons people have children are okay ones. The outliers don't really apply in your case.

Almost anyone of goodwill can become a good and loving parent. Sometimes when thinking about the choice, we set up unrealistic expectations for ourselves - looking at those patient, perfect parents in the park and thinking 'I could never do that, that's not me' - when in fact, that family could very well go home and have the biggest, messiest, poopiest meltdown you ever saw, with red-faced screaming and some cereal-throwing and Mommy saying "I can't do this. You deal with it" and slamming the bathroom door and hiding out for a while . Really; it happens in the best of families.

Human beings are imperfect and inconsistent. Some days we do really well, other days the seams show. I don't know any mothers who are consistently patient and content in their family life or in their role as mothers, 24/7, day in day out, with no feelings of sacrifice. (Or fathers either.) I think suggesting that someone should feel that way is setting the bar for 'should I be a parent?" much too high. If you think about being a parent, then assume you're going to fuck up. You will. Assume you're going to make mistakes. You will. Assume some days you'll be at your worst. You will. Assume you may at some times say to yourself "This is destroying my life and career." You will. Assume you're not always going to be thanking your lucky stars for the precious cherub you were sent. Not every moment, you won't.

I think we might encourage people to be too cautious about parenting, as if you can't do it well if you have imperfections. I know very few people born to perfect parents. Oh wait, I know none. And yet, a lot of people turned out wonderfully and it's really nice they exist.

So what I'm saying is not definitely be a parent or definitely don't, but don't set too much store by people who suggest you'd know 100% if you wanted children. I don't think that's true. You're approaching this as the decision that it is, and you get to make the decision intentionally, with your mind, which is awesome. It hasn't been made for you by default or circumstance; you're not rushing, you're not young, you're not romanticizing, and you're not riding a hormone wave. You get to think about it - and the things you're thinking about are totally worth thinking about. The fact that you are thinking rather than yearning or pining emphatically doesn't mean you'd be a poor parent. But you'll have to use the same rational process to determine whether you'd be a good parent, too.
posted by Miko at 9:15 PM on March 13, 2009 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I don't have kids, never really wanted them, and am very happy to be free of the drama and responsibilities of parenthood. When I was little my mother constantly professed how much she loved her children, yet she always seemed tired and irritable, and complained about being "stuck in the house with the kids all day". The times she seemed to enjoy me and my brother were few and far between; mostly we were a constant burden and drain on her energy. She would say things like she's so proud of us, or her children are her joy, etc, but she never acted like we were a joy at all, just a never-ending responsibility.

It seemed pretty clear to me, as a child, that being a mother was a lot of hard work with little pleasure or reward. Our society abhors any parent who says their kids are a drag, so there's a deep bias in parents' public statements about how wonderful their kids are. But some people (like my mom) are just not happy being parents, no matter what they claim outwardly. In my opinion, if you're not sure you want kids, don't have them. The world doesn't need any more people, and you really, really, really don't want to be like my mom for the rest of your life.

Obviously if my mom hadn't had children I wouldn't be here, and I'm perfectly OK with that, philosophically speaking. I suspect she had kids only to get her own mom off her back, not because she actually wanted 'em herself. I think her life would have been a lot better had she remained childfree, and I'm sad she burdened herself with an unrelenting chore that she didn't really want. Even sadder, now that her kids are grown we're still not a joy to her - my brother is a loser and I don't get along with her. No happy ending here, I'm afraid.
posted by Quietgal at 9:34 PM on March 13, 2009 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Go out in the world - when you see a couple with a baby, do you feel a desire for one, are you repelled, or completely indifferent? If some of your friends told you they were expecting, would you feel relieved you were not one of them, or would you be envious? Those reactions can tell you a lot.

My husband and I dated for many years before getting married, and were married for many years before having a child. I am glad we had the time to ourselves, to do whatever we wanted before introducing a third person into our relationship. I feel like we have had the best of both worlds. And now, like everyone says, I can't imagine how life would be if we had NOT had our son. He is the light of our life.
posted by pinky at 10:37 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you're wondering what the answer is, you're not ready.

Seriously. If you don't feel it, you don't feel it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:53 PM on March 13, 2009

Best answer: Thanks everyone for taking the time to reply :)

Adoption is not an option for us I'm afraid, we live in Australia and at last check it's a minimum 10 year waiting period to adopt.

I also don't believe in the too-many-mouths-to-feed theory because, while it's certainly valid to an extend, we'd only ever have one child if we did go ahead and I just can't imagine how one person who I would do my very best to help be courteous, intelligent, helpful and free-thinking could possibly do more harm than good.

I do like kids, and that's a very good question to be asking myself. I get along well with kids of all ages, always have, and I'm fairly certain I would be a good mum. I just don't know if I'm ready for the whole pregnancy and birth thing (makes me think eugh in a big way), or for the significant change to my life that a new member of the family would create.

My other concerns of course revolve around the impact a child could have on my career, income, free time, sanity ;) But it may all be worth it, I just don't know yet.

if you are the kind of person that finds fulfillment in investing in other people, having children is far and away the best opportunity you could possibly have to do that.

A very good point. I'm definately like that, investing in and helping others is one of my strenghts I believe. I also like the idea of spending more time babysitting, thank you.

You should ask him if he would still want the baby if it developed mental or physical problems.

A valid concern. I just did and he said it wouldn't make any difference.

Thank you for the various book recommendations! Miko I found a few books that might be the one you mean, is it one of these?

Will you be mother?

Beyond motherhood - choosing a life without children

Childfree and loving it

Do I want to be a mom?

The parenthood decision

Pride and Joy

Why don't you have kids?

Women without children
posted by katala at 11:45 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mod note: A couple comments removed. This is not the place for an extended referendum on kldickson's personal philosophy.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:01 AM on March 14, 2009

Best answer: Katala, best of luck to you as you make your decision. You sound like a very intelligent and insightful person, and I'm sure you will arrive at the choice that is right for you. One small (belated) comment to this thread: because you have been with your husband for 11 years without having children thus far (presumably by choice, as you did not mention anything about "trying" or infertility, etc.) I have to also assume that, until recently, you have not felt a strong need--or overwhelming desire--to have children. There is sometimes a lot of very subtle, low-level pressure from society in general to have kids (that whole "I thought I was happy [before I became a parent] and I had no idea how wrong I was", etc.) that can put doubt in your mind unnecessarily. Trust your own instincts. If you are happy with your life AS IT IS, then enjoy that happiness and don't feel guilty about said happiness, or question if you could "be even happier". Happiness is a true gift, in whatever form that takes, and only you know whether you truly want to change the dynamic in your present life. Good luck!
posted by salmonking at 12:38 AM on March 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think we might encourage people to be too cautious about parenting, as if you can't do it well if you have imperfections.

Since you used my example in particular, I feel like you weren't quite understanding what I was getting at.
posted by Nattie at 12:49 AM on March 14, 2009

Best answer: If you don't have children you have the opportunity (not usually fully utilised of course) to work on your own personal development.

If you have children, you have to put your own development mostly on hold while you invest your energy in their development.

Both, of course, are valid choices. But for the second one you really do need to make full acceptance that your personal growth will be limited for a long period of time.

Except for the growth that comes from giving.

In the end, I believe we are all part of the one great soul, so working on your own development, or giving towards the development of another works out as the same thing.
posted by Sitegeist at 4:50 AM on March 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

I know this has been essentially said upthread, but I just want to emphasize it: just on a logical level, consider how utterly absurd are the contributions from people on this thread who haven't had kids but presume to tell you you wouldn't find having kids to be the most fulfilling thing you'd ever done in your life, AND the contributions from people who have had kids and who presume to know that they wouldn't be even happier if they hadn't. AND, for that matter, the contributions from people who say they used to be opposed to having kids, but now they have them, and they realize they were "wrong" before; in fact, they were different people before; their definition of fulfillment was changed by the act of having kids, so it makes no sense for them to claim that their earlier selves were wrong.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 5:59 AM on March 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Just wanted to chime in and say that I'm another father very like Brandon Blatcher and Frasermoo. There is a lot of social stigma in this (US) and most other cultures that militates against honestly saying "I love my kids, but I didn't emerge from the womb wanting kids and still, generally, don't much care for kids even though I'd die for my own." I don't think, to be honest, that there's a lot of actual correlation between people who like kids and people who ought to be parenting.

Two questions - how much of a need do you have to be in control of your immediate environment to feel sane and safe and productive? How schedule-driven is your daily routine? Kids tend to fuck those sorts of thing up pretty severely, especially when they're young and you're obviously new to the parenting thing.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 6:17 AM on March 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: One exercise to do. Picture said child at all stages. Not just the cuddly infant or the precocious toddler, but the 6 year old toothless wonder and the 10 year old smartass. The 13 year old expert on absolutely everything, and the 18 year old lost soul. The 24 year old, the 40 year old, and God willing, the retiree. Really think about this person and whether or not guiding them through life is something you desire.

Does this excite you? Interest you? Make you shudder? Repulse you? Take a moment to really think about how you feel. It's not hard and fast--there are hurdles in parenting that would make anyone shudder--but by and large it can be a good exercise at determining your true feelings.
posted by agentwills at 6:45 AM on March 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a relatively new parent. I have met many other new parents, some of whom are thrilled to have become parents and revel in every aspect of it, and others who are perpetually exhausted and seem to be having difficulty dealing with parenthood. It occurred to me that the happy ones knew from the beginning that their lives would be transformed by having a child, while the exhausted ones imagined that they could continue living their lives as before, but with the addition of a child. Having a child will change everything. Understanding that you will be making sacrifices with regards to the amount of attention you will be able to pay towards your personal interests, spouse, and career will go a long way in helping you become a happy parent, should you decide.

I miss my hobbies and spending quiet time alone with my spouse, but I absolutely love being a father and adore my children. The love I feel for them is unlike anything else, both awesome and frightening.
posted by Mountain Goatse at 6:59 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A lot has to just remain a mystery until you actually do it, I think. I always liked children well enough but was never too captivated by babies -- but I was thrilled with my baby, a fantastic person wholly unrelated to other infants... How I feel about other people's children has little in common with how I feel about my own.

I asked a friend of mine what his favourite age had been in raising his son; he paused and said "I think, if you like your kid, you like them all," and this is true.

It is crazy-hard work but it is not without pleasure or reward; quite the opposite, I feel.

With no offence meant to younger parents I think waiting until I was in my thirties was a great way to go. I have no resentment about lack of 'me time' -- I had years of it.

There do seem to be a number of parents like Quietgal's mother, which depresses me. I didn't understand those mothers before I was a mother and I still don't. When you're observing other people's families, be wary of the ones who're complaining too much. Reluctant parents make for unhappy kids and the result seems to be some pretty chaotic, miserable households.
posted by kmennie at 7:08 AM on March 14, 2009

I don't buy the idea that the way you know you should have kids is by just passively feeling a pull towards children, that some magical switch goes off in your soul and you just know. I don't doubt some people feel this way, but *none* of my friends with kids went into it this way.

Mrs. Bartfast and I are having our first next month. We had always been extremely ambivalent about having children, in fact we hadn't even discussed it before we got married 10 years ago. There were several things that moved us to our decision to have a child, which I won't go into, but one of the most useful pieces of information that helped us decide the positives outweigh the negatives is that we know of *no* intelligent, compassionate people around us who regret their decision to have children.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:52 AM on March 14, 2009

To clarify, my empiric research on the subject suggests that the emotional "I want a baby" switch really goes off after, rather than before, the baby is born.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:57 AM on March 14, 2009

Aha, katala, good sleuthing! I thought that "The Mask of Motherhood" sounded closest, and might in fact have been her, but I can't find the radio interview. While poking around I did find these other features:

The Mommy Myth

Fresh Air interview on the book Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety
Judith Warner is the author of the new book Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety. In it she writes about the "choking cocktail of guilt and anxiety and resentment and regret" that is poisoning motherhood for American women.
On Point interview on the book The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How it has Undermined Women:
Susan Douglas, co-author of the “The Mommy Myth,” has been tempted to lock her daughter in a dog crate in the basement. Most days she doesn’t experience the “festival of lights” that the media, she says, make motherhood out to be. And just because women would rather read a novel once in a while than play endless games of Barbie, they do not have attitude problems.

I wanted to find this not to paint some awful picture of how motherhood will run roughshod over your life. I just want to point out that the idealization and romanticization of women as mothers begins even before the decision to become or not become a parent. It begins when we believe that we should just naturally want to be parents; that there is a maternal instinct which ideally suits you for the job; that the full realization of your womanhood or the full fulfillment of your spousal relationship comes only through parenting. But it also begins when we think other people, who have chosen children, could do so because they are naturally better suited to do it, more perfect parents than we would be. That's trying to prove the cause by pointing to the conclusion. Nattie, I should probably not have used your example, but what I heard in your comment was a comparison with an apparently happy family's attitude toward their children with your own attitudes as people without children, and an associated assumption that they were better suited to be parents than you because, in that moment, they were getting a lot of enjoyment from their children and you could not picture deriving that same kind of enjoyment or having that patience. Now, it might very well be true that you never would, and I'm certainly a defender of the idea that every individual has to make the parenthood choice for themselves, and their choice has to satisfy only them, and that only they can set the criteria for evaluating their own happiness. So I'm not calling your decisions into question, at all.

But what I am alert to is something that is separate and much bigger than the incident you related -- the general habit of projecting 'better suitedness for parenthood' on other people based on our outside observations. It's quite common. Whenever people talk about observing other parents, and making extrapolations from their perceived behavior and feelings in any one moment, I think that the myth of perfection is kicking in: "Those people are right to be parents because they're so good at it; I don't feel like/ act like/ have the same qualities as them, therefore I am not the right person to be a parent." I think this reasoning is misleading.

Because the truth is that even the parents that seem perfect are full of questions, frustrations, anxieties and, yes, regrets; they lose their tempers, act badly, have flaws; they might be prone to negatives like overinvolvement or losing themselves in their children; and their children will definitely find shit to blame them for in the course of their own difficult lives. There is so much we don't know when looking at another family (one or both of those children might not have been planned, for instance).

When you see people as parents, their lives have already changed dramatically, some time ago, and they're going with it. It doesn't mean they always knew they would feel that way, or that they always feel that way. The fact of their having ended up with those children has shaped them as they appear in that present moment -- they weren't born with the skills and attitudes we see in them today. If a couple with no children suddenly has an unplanned pregnancy, and decides to go forward into parenting, they could very well turn out to be magnificent parents who - surprisingly to them - derive previously unimagined forms of joy from their children, and find their self-concept enough changed that they have become someone different. Even so, they are probably not magnificent parents all the time. There are probably times they think about what would have happened if they made different decisions, and times they resent the burden and sacrifice that taking care of other people represents.

In short, I think it's important to beware of comparisons, because they are where we romanticize and idealize the state of parenthood. Whether other people are happy and capable as parents is not the question to ask yourself when deciding to become a parent. It's whether being a parent might contain kinds of happiness you want. Much of parenting is learned (a huge amount, as my social worker friends can tell you), and people change through the experience of parenting (as my friends who bore unplanned pregnancies can tell you).

I believe that people who have the luxury of approaching this as a decision become terribly anxious about the choice because we are stuck between two myths. Myth 1: that the desire to be parent is a discernible magical emotional pull that you somehow just know, and if you are the proper kind of person you will have this knowledge about yourself and thus have the universe's approval to become a parent, and Myth 2: if you are not the proper kind of person you won't feel the pull, won't have the presumably natural abilities and instincts, and won't be a good parent. In thinking about the diversity of families in my own life, and how they came into existence, and how the people in them feel about their choices and their family life, I can see that those myths don't hold true.

It's really a personal decision. Knowing it's a big, life-changing task is important, but in fact, almost every human being has the basic abilities to become a good parent under the right conditions and with the right support, whether they originally planned to or not, and people do it every day. But it takes a very serious commitment of time, mind, heart, and soul to do it decently. It is a choice. So it's certainly much more comfortable for everyone if it is a positive choice, made in freedom, for reasons you're happy with. It's not for everyone and it's fine to say 'There are other things I want to give to the world during my lifetime.' "I don't want to" is a complete, full reason not to have kids, needing no detailed explanation or ratioanale.

But I also think women should feel free to reject the myth that they should 'just know' they want to be parents, and that they might be too imperfect, too full of inadequacies to be parents, if they want to be. Parents who don't want to be parents and can't really do it with a full heart are a sort of sad thing. But another sort of sad thing is that there are people who might have liked to be parents, but who get the message that it is some near-godlike task requiring many magical properties, and become afraid they aren't equipped to do the job.
posted by Miko at 8:00 AM on March 14, 2009 [11 favorites]

Watch the movie "Parenthood." Really. It is amazingly nuanced. All kinds of parenting messages imbedded therein. Pay special attention when the grandmother describes her childhood rollercoaster ride.

Best wishes!
posted by inkyr2 at 1:20 PM on March 14, 2009

Best answer: I happen to love children and also know that parenthood is not in my future. It's funny how these things work out.

I realized a while back that my desire to have a child was secondary to my desire to have a positive impact in a child's life. And while parenthood certainly positions you nicely to have a positive impact in a child's life, it can often hamper your effectiveness in times of great need. Let's face it, most of the assistance parents offer is immediately disregarded simply by virtue of its source.

Take a look at what your ultimate goal is, and don't be constrained by the black and white theory that parenthood is the only good option. As many have said, there are already a lot of kids out there. And many of them already have parents, but still need something more.
posted by greekphilosophy at 2:01 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

My two kids are grown and semi-gone, which is one of the things about having kids-- they just aren't around that long. And it's an incredible thing to do while they are there. That you're even asking this question suggests to me that you are not going to be a neglectful parent; in other you are not going to screw up (well, any more than we all screw up our kids).

He's been somewhat discredited but a terrific book to read about not sweating parenthood too much is Bruno Bettleheim's A Good Enough Parent. All yuppie and millennial parents freaking out because the sitter gave Precious white bread and let her watch commercial tv should read this book. (And so should everyone else with small children).
posted by nax at 5:18 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have a 9-month old girl and it's been an incredible time. Really more challenging than I could ever have imagined but amazing and frustrating and wonderful and crazy. As I often do, I'll recommend that you check out the forums on There are some discussions there on "Thinking and Talking about Potential Parenthood" that might be of interest to you.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 7:10 PM on March 14, 2009

Best answer: Well... I will say that if your husband is serious about wanting kids and you are "eh, I could take it or leave it", it might be easier on you to convince yourself in that direction. You do run the risk of the relationship ending entirely if he's adamant about having them and you end up being adamant about not wanting them.

On the other hand, and I say this because you're the girl, I think you should REALLY want to have them if you are going to. (I will admit that I wouldn't be so strongly emphasizing this if you were a guy.) All of the work will be on you for the first nine months, and then most of it will be on you (at least for breastfeeding purposes) for a lot longer. Your life flips upside down more than his will. I think if you are going to be making the most sacrifices to have a kid, you'd REALLY better want to have that kid exist rather than "I'm just doing it to keep hubby." I tend to think that parents should want to have kids very badly if they are going to, because they are in for a lifetime of ups and downs if they have them. Apathetic parenting does not strike me as a good idea.

Anyway, keep on thinking about it as best you can (him too) in both directions, but I just wanted to point out that there's some pretty high stakes involved.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:26 PM on March 14, 2009

Look at the sheer volume of words above -- both the length of your question, and the (mostly) heartfelt answers below it. All of it is irrelevant. You can research the topic to death, but you still won't know what parenthood is like 'til you do it.

You can't get a good idea -- or any idea, really -- about being a parent beforehand, because every child is different. You can get a pretty good idea of what it's like to be a Honda owner or a Bichon Frise owner by reading and asking your friends who have 'em, but kids are different. (And you can't return a kid because it's defective, or if it bites.) It's kinda like asking whether you're going to want a divorce -- but before you meet your husband.

Better to ask yourself this one question: "Am I ready for Chapter 2?"

Easiest decision I ever made. (The best one, too.)
posted by turducken at 12:14 AM on March 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Look at the sheer volume of words above -- both the length of your question, and the (mostly) heartfelt answers below it. All of it is irrelevant. You can research the topic to death, but you still won't know what parenthood is like 'til you do it.

Well, except for the many, many words that discuss precisely this point, and its implications for the OP's situation. Perhaps you didn't read them.

Easiest decision I ever made. (The best one, too.)

No, see, it's glib statements like this that are - however heartfelt - irrelevant to the OP, for the reasons discussed at length in the "irrelevant" comments above.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 3:41 AM on March 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My husband and I have discussed whether we want children or not, and until we decide that we want to opt in to having a child we are going to take no action (other then using contraceptives!). We are expecting questions and perhaps even pressure from relatives and friends over the coming years as a lack of a child becomes more pressing as we enter our mid 30's. We have come up with a stock answer to any question about when we are planning to start a family - "It is something we have discussed but don't plan for in our immediate future". It leaves the door open for us and them, but at the same time doesn't promise anything.

Parents have said that they cannot imagine their lives now without their children as they are so fulfilling - we feel the same way about our two cats, we cannot imagine never having them! Sorry to anyone who feels that demeans what they said about their children but to me it seems like a similar sort of attachment. We like other people's cats, but don't like others, so you definitely can't tell if you want kids based on how you get on with other people's!

In our minds you really have to want to have a baby rather than just hope it will all work out.
posted by lilyflower at 9:34 AM on March 16, 2009

Best answer: Thanks heaps for the continued comments!

Salmonking - Thank you SO much for your comment, you seem to have been able to summarise susinctly exactly what I've been feeling and thinking. I am indeed very happy with my life and getting to this stage of happiness has taken a lot of hard work over the years in terms of career, income, personal development, and of course my marriage to my wonderful husband. We both have adequate time to work on our own hobbies and improve ourselves while also spending time together. I love it, I love my job, I'm starting a new business, and I really don't feel like anything is missing at all, plus I still have so much I want to do, see, try, I don't even feel like the future could possibly be missing anything either. I've never desired children, and my husband has only come to feel interest in having kids in the last few years, so yes it's a new thing for him and an unchanged thing for me. Your words really spoke to me, thankyou again.

Emperor SnooKloze - Two questions - how much of a need do you have to be in control of your immediate environment to feel sane and safe and productive? How schedule-driven is your daily routine? Kids tend to fuck those sorts of thing up pretty severely, especially when they're young and you're obviously new to the parenting thing.

Good questions. I wouldn't call myself a control freak but I certainly do require a certain standard from my environment - tidiness, peace and quiet, that sort of thing. My daily, and indeed weekly, schedule is also pretty routine driven; I tend to do the same things at the same time depending on the day (weekday vs weekends vs freelancing), I find a lot of comfort in knowing my days are planned out.

agentwills - One exercise to do. Picture said child at all stages... Does this excite you? Interest you? Make you shudder? Repulse you? Take a moment to really think about how you feel.

Good exercise. I must say it certainly sounds interesting, but it doesn't excite me, and I must admit fills me with dread to some extent. I feel selfish to admit that, but I really do love my peace and quiet, my routine, I just don't know if I'd cope well with a little child (no matter how adorable) turning that on it's head and I was only even thinking about the first few years, not the next 20 (scary thought).

Miko - Thanks for that! I will also look into "The Mommy Myth" and "The mask of motherhood"

jenfullmoon - You do run the risk of the relationship ending entirely if he's adamant about having them and you end up being adamant about not wanting them. That was definately a concern for me but we had a chat (ok argument) about it between my last comment post and he has said hands-down he would never leave me because I chose not to have children. What he has asked for though, and what I think is perfectly fair, is a qualified answer to his question "do you want to have kids" - an answer based on fact and research as well as my gut instinct response to the thought of having children. So that's what I'm in the process of doing now. I did offer - perfectly seriously - to cut him loose so he would be free to find someone he could have children with; I was prepared to lose him and be miserable myself rather than force him to miss out on being a father, but he wouldn't even consider that for a second. He really truly loves me, he is a good man and that's about as understated as I can get :)

lilyflower - We have two cats too and adore them :) I know our parents in particular think we're crazy to limit our holidays and the kind of rental properties we can get because we absolutely refuse to give up our cats, but I can't imagine life without them and believe any committment to an animal must be for life. I also want a dog as soon as we own our own place, and I must admit I've wanted a dog for far longer and with far more longing than I've ever even considered parenting.

Thank you again for the great comments. Please keep them coming if you have something to add. I am doing my very best to stay open-minded about the question and still have some books to read but I must admit at this particular point in time I'm leaning more towards a definite "no" than I was previously. I will be sure to update this thread again in a few months (before that of course if there's additional comments) to let you know what happens.
posted by katala at 1:28 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Katala, a close friend of mine grew up knowing her mother had never wanted kids. She was still a good mother, and they have a close relationship, but I think that knowledge coloured my friend's perspective on having kids. She decided not to have kids herself. She joked about it like "Yeah, I don't really want kids, I don't know why. My mom didn't either; maybe it's just in my genes!" She seemed fine with her decision and took ownership of it. She never said stuff like "I don't want to end up like my mom, resenting her kids" because her mom didn't act like she resented her kids. It seemed like kids were just something my friend didn't want.

Some years later, she changed her mind and decided to have children. I'm not sure entirely what led her to the decision, but she did it. She now has two children and loves them fiercely. She is an amazing mother and doesn't regret her decision at all.

Worth noting: my friend's only sibling, a sister, has also made a conscious decision not to have kids. What I'm saying is, is it possible you have preconceived notions (subconcious or otherwise) about whether you want kids? My friend and I have never discussed this, but I wonder if she just grew up thinking she wouldn't/couldn't/shouldn't be a mom.

From what you describe, you sound like you'd be a great mother. Some of the things you might be hesitating about would actually be a big plus to you. For example, you said you like order and routine...well guess what? Kids thrive on order and routine.

I am a parent myself, and it's the most rewarding thing I've ever done. And yes your life will change but you do NOT have to lose yourself in the process. You do NOT have to become a completely different person. I still have the same great relationship with my husband (even better, and I didn't think that was possible). I still pursue the same hobbies and hang out with the same friends. Yes, you have to rearrange and reprioritize things, but it doesn't have to be all kids, all the time.

Good luck!
posted by yawper at 2:13 PM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

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