To spawn or not to spawn?
December 23, 2009 7:38 AM   Subscribe

I am entering my mid-thirties and nearing crises stage about whether or not have children. Please tell me about your experiences to help me think this through.

My whole life I assumed that me having kids was inevitable. There was no question in my mind that I would want them, be great at it, find meaning in it etc. When I met my husband he felt the same way. We would talk about it and have those, "When we have kids we'll do X" kind of conversation.

Now that we're both getting to the age where we should really start, we just can't make the decision to actually do it. We have a harder time talking about it, we're not sure we can handle it, we're worried about/afraid of the reality of it.

We're concerned about how it will affect our lives (sleep, I need it to be a happy person--no, really I *need* it; we would hate to go back to the financial place where we have to count every penny; we don't live near family; neither of us have much experience with babies; etc.) We keep waiting to feel ready and that moment never comes.

And yet we both intrinsically want the experience of raising children. We both feel we would be great parents, we think the kids we raise together would be AWESOME, we can't really picture our lives without them.

Utlimately I think the part I'm afraid of is having a baby, not having kids per se. We got a puppy and although she was very cute when she was young and I loved her, I didn't start liking her until she was about 5 months old and was more than a little need machine. I feel like I'm overthinking this and spinning my wheels. I'm definitely not asking anyone to make this decision for me (!), I just need to get out of my head a little.

Have you or someone you know gone through a similar debate? What happened? Do you have advice about how I should approach this decision?
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (59 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have kids but a number of people I know who have had kids have told me that the presence of kids in their lives has not made them happier.

Others claim to be much happier once they had kids.

I think people tend to overestimate the extent to which kids provide fulfillment and underestimate the costs (whether monetary or otherwise) to having kids.

I don't think it's something that can be overthought, and it is to your credit that you are discussing this.
posted by dfriedman at 7:44 AM on December 23, 2009 [6 favorites]

First, no you don't have to have kids. A lot of people feel pushed to, by family or just social construct in general, bottom line is that you don't have to have kids.

Second -you can adopt an older child, or have foster children. There are a lot of kids out there whose parents didn't do so well, you can always take over for one of them.
posted by kellyblah at 7:44 AM on December 23, 2009

I feel like I'm overthinking this and spinning my wheels.

You are. It really doesn't matter if you are Ready ready if you and your husband are generally stable and want to do this. You'll rise to the occasion, trust me on that.

You need sleep? Hee, you'll be amazed at how you'll adjust to the lack of that it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:47 AM on December 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

You're overthinking this. I didn't have much experience with babies either, but I assure you that's easily overcome. Kids will definitely upheave elements of your life, but there will be so many new sources of satisfaction and joy. You're not going to care about the changes that worry you as much as you think you will.
posted by Songdog at 7:48 AM on December 23, 2009

I don't think you're over thinking. I would be a really good parent. I love kids. I never pictured my life without kids.

But my lifestyle is not really one that's going to accommodate them.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:50 AM on December 23, 2009

When the suggestion of reproduction was floated to me I thought 'Well, I like children -- meh, babies, but' and then I ended up thrilled with my own daughter's infancy. Other people's babies still don't excite me. But my own baby! There was a baby among babies...

The 'counting every penny' part is not such a drag if you are ready for the shift in priorities. I am no longer so in 'need' of shoes that are Just So and six new books and so on and on, and not focusing on myself all time is a pleasant change.

The sleep deprivation is no joke, and I hear you on the 'need it to be happy,' but you do adjust. Sleep when the baby sleeps and all that. Cuddling and nursing has a soporific effect, and napping with a baby is unlike pre-parenthood napping.
posted by kmennie at 7:55 AM on December 23, 2009 [7 favorites]

I think you should approach the decision like this. If you're a basically happy person and your marriage is sound, then you're going to stay a basically happy person and your marriage is probably going to stay sound, kids or no kids. If you have kids, you're going to be happy, and five years from now you'll be like "Boy, all the hard work is worth it, having kids is great." (This is me.) If you don't, you're going to be happy, and five years from now you'll be like "Wow, good thing I didn't have kids, my life is great." That doesn't tell you how to MAKE the decision but I think it does tell you how to APPROACH it. Don't make the stakes too high.

A couple more things.

1. Don't wait for the moment when you feel "ready." That moment will never come.

2. There's nothing wrong with not having kids, but it is unconventional. Living unconventionally can be a challenge.

3. Not to be alarmist, but in your mid-thirties there's already a small but nontrivial chance it'll be difficult for you to have kids. If you have trouble making decisions, you might consider going ahead and trying, then just letting biology decide.
posted by escabeche at 7:55 AM on December 23, 2009 [9 favorites]

We can't really picture our lives without them

I think this says a lot. It's pretty normal to be scared -- it's scary. But it's also everything good that you're imagining. You're just going into this possible experience with your eyes wide open, because you're a grownup now! Many of us went into it without realizing how hard it would be, because we were younger or stupider than you are now.

The good things are so good that they help you get through the difficult aspects of it (I also highly value my sleep, to the point where my family recently compared waking me up to disturbing a hibernating bear and the resulting violence). You figure out ways to get through the infant years, such as taking naps with the baby.

Are you going to be working full-time with young children? That is actually pretty sucky, IMO, but again, you find ways of making it work.
posted by theredpen at 7:56 AM on December 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

this might be harsh -- but for me, having kids later in life has been a double-edged sword -- i love them to death, but they can be major pain in the ass (re: sleep/ money/ responsibility/ lack of freedom/ worry) -- you will lose your life as you know it - BUT! - for me, I gained a sense of humanity I'm not sure I would have otherwise - I essentially "found my soul" and experience depths of love i never knew were possible. It has changed my entire outlook on "people" and "life"-- I have much more empathy, acceptance, and patience. No pain, no gain I guess. this is my experience and know there are other paths to find peace etc.
posted by mrmarley at 7:59 AM on December 23, 2009 [6 favorites]

we can't really picture our lives without them.

This is the part that bothers me. I think you're lacking imagination here, and tormenting yourself unnecessarily. Basing your entire identity and life-story on the concept of having kids is not necessarily a great idea even if you have them, let alone if you don't and may not ever.

You are attempting to control the uncontrollable -- no wonder you are so ill at ease. I think you should talk to a family counselor and have a professional inform your opinions on your actual readiness. (Sort of what you're trying to do here, only much more thorough and personal.)
posted by hermitosis at 8:00 AM on December 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

I think what you're experiencing is more like commitment anxiety than anything else... although my children are in their 30's now, I remember wondering if we were REALLY ready/mature enough/unselfish enough to have a family. The decision itself is what's hard... when we learned we actually were expecting, we were overjoyed.

During the early pregnancy, I worried about miscarriage; the baby's health; whether we were ready to be parents... In late pregnancy, I worried about handling labor; affording the cost of raising children; wondering if we'd even LIKE our new child. All the way through raising children, we've worried about something -- only the topics changed!

Fast-forwarding 30 years, I can say having and raising children has been: 1) worth every sacrifice; 2) hard in a very good way; 3) an enduring, incredible joy unmatched by anything else in my life. I can't tell you how much fun it is to see and know the people my children have become -- I'm very proud of each of them, and I can't imagine missing the joy they've brought to my life. We've recently begun adding grandchildren to our life, and that's a whole new round of fun and blessing that we'd never have experienced if we hadn't had children.

Go ahead -- make the decision to do it -- you'll be so glad you did!
posted by northernlightgardener at 8:00 AM on December 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have three kids. Love them to death. Loved going through every stage with them. The first few months I was definetely thinking, "my god, what have I done?" Went from getting married at 30 to 3 kids and a house in the suburbs with all the associated expenses at 35. Knowing everything I know now and knowing how great my kids are I would still be in the same decision mode as you are right now. Lots of pluses and minuses. My biggest piece of advice is if you are worried about the changes in your life and money, then you should be an Auntie not a mom. Also, kids never turn out the way you imagine. I had visions of my son the basketball star. NOT. (Although he is a superstar at lacrosse). My other son is an "independent thinker" type which in theory I LOVE. In practice, it is a lot of grief. (I need to let go of it a little.) We do not live near family. We had no help when they were wee ones and we had 3 under 3 at one point. I wish we had some better support. A night out once in a while would not have sucked. Hanging out on a weekend with all three watching a Yankee game or a Giant game is the best. Them laughing and talking, getting along with each other and asking the darnedest questions is amazing. I would also have had another or one less in hindsight. I think an even number works out better for sibling relations. I could go in with this stream of consciousness for a while, but the bottom line is that there is no black or white answer. It is all grey. Good luck.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:02 AM on December 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

mrmarley speaks for me too. I was about to say that, or something quite like it, but fortunately he got here first!
posted by Rain Man at 8:04 AM on December 23, 2009

I've known people who've had kids and then had a lot of difficulty with
- isolation, particularly when skint and/or naturally introverted, both of which make socialising hard enough even when you don't have kids.
- the 24/7 nature of the job, particularly when one partner is doing more of the work.
- kids who don't come out how they were expected to. E.g. your future scientist turns out to be obsessed by pink and Barbie and thinks maths is too hard.
- finding they didn't in fact immediately love the wriggling screaming slug thing, and wondering whether they ever would.

I also know people who didn't have kids (deliberately) and are very happy about that, taking full advantage of the extra income and freedom.
posted by emilyw at 8:05 AM on December 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Another poster said... There's nothing wrong with not having kids, but it is unconventional. Living unconventionally can be a challenge.

I'm 38 and have never had children (by choice). I'm happily married and live a joyful life full of friends, family, hobbies and travel. I've never, not even for a fleeting moment, felt that my life is unconventional.

Also, I think having children is a far greater challenge than living the (supposed) unconventional life without them.

To the original poster... I agree with others - you're overthinking it. Whatever choice you make, you'll be fine. Life has a way of working out.
posted by MorningPerson at 8:06 AM on December 23, 2009 [7 favorites]

Telling you about how children affected our lives is exactly like telling a deaf person about a Nine Inch Nails / Mozart mashup. You just don't GET IT, in your bones, until you go through it. So here's the only relevant piece of conceptualizing that I can give you that might be helpful: When you have kids, you cease being an adult and become instead a parent. Not only is the experience rationally different, it is also different at the core of your being. We are genetically wired to create more humans through procreation -- there are thousands of dormant neural pathways you've never experienced that will come alive when you first smell the skin of your own offspring. Will this be good? Sometimes. Bad? Sometimes. Irretrievably life-altering? Fucking-A. I think it's part of the human experience.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:09 AM on December 23, 2009 [14 favorites]

If you have kids, you're going to be happy, and five years from now you'll be like "Boy, all the hard work is worth it, having kids is great." (This is me.) If you don't, you're going to be happy, and five years from now you'll be like "Wow, good thing I didn't have kids, my life is great.

I'm seconding this. That might take the pressure off, knowing that no matter what you decide, it's all going to be ok. I was ambivalent about having in my thirties, and finally took it off the table until that changed (it didn't). By doing that I took a different kind of pressure off of myself so I could see the big picture more clearly.
posted by marimeko at 8:15 AM on December 23, 2009

I agree that you should not wait to be "ready". I don't think it really works like that.

I'm not saying this is something you "have to" do. It's ok not to, and I have no lost respect for friends who've chosen that route. But would I give up the experiences of parenthood for more years like those that preceded it? Not a chance. It's transformative and enriching (yes, and exhausting too) and it redefines your priorities. By all means don't have kids if you don't want them. But if you do want them you shouldn't worry too much or wait too long.
posted by Songdog at 8:15 AM on December 23, 2009

Babies are tough, I'm not going to lie to you. The good news is that babyhood doesn't last very long. Usually babies are sleeping most of the night by the time they are six months old. You'll feel like a zombie, and you will probably bitch at your husband and he'll seriously consider committing you to a home. But it doesn't last. By the time a child is a year old most of the babyness will be gone. They will be a walking, talking (sort of) little person.

You will adapt to the changes. I used to be incredibly impatient and had a very quick temper. Having kids taught me a lot about patience, and I find that I am much more mellow and tolerant. I am the kind of person who needs 9-11 hours of sleep to function and the newborn stage was rough, but I have an amazing husband who helped out a lot.

As others have said above, throw out those expectations. Your kid will have some of your traits, and some of your husbands, but they will be their own little person. From the get go.

I say go for it. I can't make the decision for you, but that's my vote. I am a better person because of my kids. I see the world in a whole new way. I have learned to let go of the little things and fight for the stuff that really matters.

Oh yeah, and the first time your baby smiles at you, you will be completely in love. The first time your baby laughs you will forget all about the sleepless nights. The first time your baby calls you "Mama" you will be in heaven. Getting a hug from one of my kids is better than chocolate, and the jewelry they make for me at school is more valuable than my expensive stuff. Your world will change, but it will be better.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:16 AM on December 23, 2009

Well, one argument against having kids would be that you're statistically likely to be happier if you don't, according to this article. "Parents experience lower levels of emotional well-being, less frequent positive emotions and more frequent negative emotions than their childless peers.... In fact, no group of parents—married, single, step or even empty nest—reported significantly greater emotional well-being than people who never had children."
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:27 AM on December 23, 2009 [4 favorites]

Fiftieth-ing that you don't *have* to have kids. I'm told by many people that I'd make a great dad. This is based on my five-minute interactions with kids, which are positive, but after that I'm eager to give 'em back to mom. My wife and I do not intend to have kids, or rather, we intend to not have kids. My sisters are picking up our "slack".

One of my wife's co-workers, soon after we got married, asked if children were in the newar future. My wife responded to the negative, and the co-worker (female) replied, "Good for you! I love my kids, can't imagine life with out them, but I wish someone had told me that having kids wasn't mandatory."
posted by notsnot at 8:30 AM on December 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

I love children, but not a day goes by that I'm not grateful for the lifestyle and freedoms my husband and I enjoy for never having had any. ...Unconventional? So many worthwhile things in this life are.

But I'm with MorningPerson. Whichever choice you make will be the right choice.
posted by applemeat at 8:30 AM on December 23, 2009

We can't really picture our lives without them...

I think this is really critical, although my perspective may be different than yours. I too always assumed I'd have kids, as did my husband, and I really, really wanted them. When it became clear that we were unlikely to have them without assistance of some kind, I resolved very firmly that I was not going to become Crazy Infertility Lady who wanted a baby at any price. I decided to really step back, imagine all possible outcomes, and live with each imagining for a while instead of rushing into ART.

To my great surprise, when I really spent some time in this imagined future, Life Without Children began to look as appealing as all of the other options. It has major upsides - maybe you give up some joy, but you gain a huge amount of freedom as well. Ultimately, we've decided to do nothing about our situation and just have a happy life as we are.

I would urge you, therefore, to really spend some time trying to picture life without kids. You may actually like the picture if you actually work of filling it out - or you may not, in which case you should probably have one. If "I can't imagine not doing this" is where you always end up, in other words, that seems a good indicator to me.

People are being honest here about the downsides of having kids, so I'll be honest about the downsides of not having them. It's primarily Other People, to be honest - it is grating to constantly read about how you're not having the complete human experience, how you don't really understand what love is until you have kids, and (yes still) how you have not achieved your full potential as a woman until you've become someone's mother. It's smug and dismissive and it's everywhere and frankly, it's hurtful and hard to deal with.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:36 AM on December 23, 2009 [16 favorites]

I have a kid and I love her with all my heart, and I was ambivalent about having her (my husband was the pro-kid one in the relationship) but I wouldn't change a thing now. That said, I have a few friends, who would never admit it until after a couple of drinks, but if they did it again they would not have had children.

You can't predict how it will go. My opinion? If you have always pictured yourselves having kids, do it.
posted by gaspode at 8:37 AM on December 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sleep is going to take a hit, no two ways about it.

That said, I couldn't imagine life without our little barnacle. Just turned three and we're working on number two.
posted by codswallop at 8:37 AM on December 23, 2009

You till be a different person with a kid or kids. You will wake up, and realize that it's a new life. A harder life, but not without great reward.

There is no way for anyone to tell you HOW your life will change, but it will. Most of your time will be programmed, for the next 14 or so years. This is both good and bad. You will not have time to "fill up," but also you will not be able to do things you are doing now. Whether you miss those things, or not is unknown.

I realized how profound my life had changed when my barely-walking kid and I were at a public event, with a lot of people there. She was eating an apple, spitting the peels onto the floor, and without thinking much about it, I was picking up those peels and eating them, just to get rid of them. Didn't think about it much till afterwards.
posted by Danf at 8:39 AM on December 23, 2009

I have a two-year old girl and wondered, prior to her birth, whether or not I was insane to have chosen to have a kid with my wife. But that was mostly in the context of trying to figure out what the future would hold: fact is, obsessing over the future leads to the insanity, not the decision to have kids (or not).

Turns out that having the kid was a good idea. Sure, quite a lot of the free time I used to have is now gone, and planning things is a bit more complex for three than for two, but the thing is that I've learned more from watching my little girl discover the world in the last two years than in the whole three decades of my life beforehand.

For what it's worth, my wife and I had always intended to have kids; it wasn't until we'd been together for a good five years before we finally decided to stop using any sort of birth control. That was the big decision for us; after that it was up to biology. Once we knew my wife was definitely pregnant came the all the fun of preparing (in so far as you can prepare, at least).

I can't say I agree with the line of thought that you are unfulfilled/incomplete without kids; that sounds like utter nonsense to me. I will say that I think I am a better person because of the two years of parenting I've had.

Either way, good luck
posted by joeycoleman at 8:47 AM on December 23, 2009

Reading your question it seems you are ready to have a kid. I've had lots of friends in your same situation and frame of mind and they ended being great parents.

Go for it.
posted by tucsongal at 8:57 AM on December 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

The only people I have ever known who regretted having kids, or act like kids put a damper on their life, are people who obviously wouldn't make good parents. People who get a dog, than don't want to take care of it, or people who spend all day complaining about how their life is so full of hardship when in actuality they are doing as well as everyone else.

If you feel like you want to have children, you will never feel fully "ready". You should honestly think about whether you would be a good parent or not. If so, I say go for it. Unfortunately this is one of those things in life that become harder the longer you wait.
posted by markblasco at 8:59 AM on December 23, 2009

I am in that stage where I regret not getting married sooner to someone who was more family-minded and thinking seriously about wanting a family. I never wanted a family until now. I read about this sort of thing, and in a documentary I recently saw, the psychiatrist says that women just have to grieve this loss for a little while and they eventually get over it. So I guess I'll have to figure out the hobbies, friends, etc. stuff to fill up the void.

So I would tell you to just do it because you sound like it's what you want and you'd be good at it. And take it from me, you don't have to spend that much money on your kids. There are people who have no money and are raising kids just fine. Figure out what aspects of your kids education you want to spend on and how solid your marriage is, and if you think your husband would be a familyman type, and go to it.
posted by anniecat at 9:22 AM on December 23, 2009

I don't have a flat-out recommendation for you one way or the other - there are good points on both sides depending on personal circumstances. But I will say this - that, in my experience, not feeling "ready" to have a child doesn't signify all that much in the way of an argument against having one. Because the decision itself is so momentous - taking on complete (moral, legal, practical) responsibility for another human being - who can really say they are ready for that before it happens? I mean, even the most responsible parent-to-be will feel scared when you get handed a red squalling little body which, frustratingly, does not come with any kind of owner's manual. So I guess I would say don't set too high of a bar for yourself to feel "ready" for that. I've got two children and sometimes I don't feel ready for the next morning.
posted by chinston at 9:22 AM on December 23, 2009

My husband and I had many years of togetherness before having a baby at late ages. We enjoyed the freedom and cash of no kids, and now that we have one (now almost two) we enjoy him tremendously. I feel like we've had the best of both worlds.

The sleep deprivation seems like it lasts a lifetime, but it really is just a short while that you are up when the rest of the world is asleep. I'm wondering where my baby went, it seems like just yesterday he was a positive line on a stick, and now he is a rambunctious little dude in high-tops who says MAMA and EAT and BEEP.
posted by pinky at 9:24 AM on December 23, 2009

This is the only thing I ever point out in threads on this topic, but I think it's worth it: this is a question on which essentially nobody is really qualified to give any advice at all. It's horrifically open to confirmation bias (because so few people would talk openly about regretting having kids, if they did regret it) and to rationalizations (because whichever choice people take, they seem often to feel a defensive need to justify it) and above all to some really mindbending philosophical issues (ie., that people who become parents are changed so comprehensively by the experience that they are not the people they were before, so are not really qualified to comment on how non-parental experience compares to parental experience: they are two different experiencing selves).

Also, what everyone else said about life having a way of working out whichever choice you make.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 9:26 AM on December 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

My (now) wife and I wanted kids. Or at least a kid. We didn't send out announcements like some people do telling people that we were "trying", we just went for it.

Having kids is unlike anything else you will ever do in your life. As biologically capable as we as a species may be of reproducing, there are few things in life that can prepare you for giving birth.

Pregnancy alone is a crazy ride. There's all sorts of things that happen after you get pregnant that Andy Griffith delivering a woman in a car (just about my prior experience with pregnancy) never got into that will seem like some kind of crazy mystery; aches, pains, reflux, having to get a whole new wardrobe.

If your relationship with your husband isn't strong, it will drive you apart. If the relationship is strong, it will forge you even closer together. Ginger helps, too.

My experience with the actual birthing process itself is probably not what you might go through, so I'll skip it here. Although be prepared to hear every single horror story about everyone else's pregnancy. And your belly will become fascinating to some, like you have become some kind of walking worry stone to rub.

It is truly an experience to go through it all. And nothing you read really prepares you for it.

I wish you well as you two decide what you'd like to do.
posted by hgswell at 9:34 AM on December 23, 2009

I'll share my story. Husband and I had been together for about a decade. We hadn't been trying to have kids, but we had done nothing to discourage it either. After about 10 years of wild monkey globetrotting sex, we decided that one or the other of us wasn't capable, and we decided that we probably weren't going to be parents...and we were ok with that.

Then, one day in my late 30's, we were in the store and I said "Wow, I really want a liverwurst and applesauce sandwich!" To which my husband, rightfully so, said "Ewww! Well, that's kinda disgusting, but go get the ingredients, I'm gonna step over here to the pharmacy section." He came back with a pregnancy test...and lo and behold, Igor was indeed on the way. (I call him Igor because every Mad Scientist tm needs one, doncha know.)

It was a radical, radical shift in our reality. No more hopping planes to go see a show in Manhattan, or visiting friends in Amsterdam. (Well, the dot-com crash didn't help either.) No more sleeping till noon, no more parties all night, no more zillions of people at my house at all hours, no more artists crashing on my floor, no more resident hungry band guys draped over the furniture...actually, finding a way to get the slackers out...that might have been an advantage, come to think of it... I sold our sports cars, and bought safe cars with car seats and airbags and all that sort of safety stuff. I'd never even looked at safety ratings before then.

Sleep? Ha! Sleep is for the young. You'll sleep again when they go to college. Maybe. I haven't had more than 6 hours of continuous sleep in 7 years.

In exchange, I got this wonderful, temperamental genius added to the house. He cries, he screams, he figures out difficult theorems, he develops his own recipes, he's created his own lab in my workshop, he thinks he's a Jedi, he wraps his extended family around his pinkie...he is in fact, a lovely combination of genetics that makes me laugh and cry and rage on an almost daily basis. I love him more than I could possibly have imagined loving anything. I would kill for him. I would die for him. (And there are days when I consider selling him to the gypsies because he's MAKING ME CRAZY!. Ok, crazier, to be fair.)

But...almost none of my friends have children. So, I don't get to see them as often as I'd like, because they still have a lifestyle that involves travel and parties and all the groovy things you can do when you're not planning on a college fund and worrying about how to keep the Monster in shoes and books. Find a babysitter I trust, since we don't live near family, has been almost impossible. My husband and I almost never get to have "date nights" where it's just the two of us. (Igor is very well behaved in linen-napkin restaurants, but it's not the same thing as being able to go share a bottle of wine, dinner and a play, ya know?)

To summarize; having a child radically changed me, my husband, and our life. I love my son with the burning passion of a thousand sons, and don't regret even a day of our life since I got pregnant.

But there are nights...when I stand outside under the moon...and remember fondly how much fun it was to howl.
posted by dejah420 at 9:42 AM on December 23, 2009 [15 favorites]

I used to groan, or at least become silently irritated, when in my pre-kid days a parent would say something about how having kids "changes your life".

so now that I have kids, and I have come to more fully appreciate the truth of this, I mostly keep my mouth shut about the life-changing thing. but it is true.

one implication of this is that the concept of being "ready" for kids is meaningless. sure, if you don't have a place to live, or can't afford to feed yourself, you are not ready for kids. but beyond this, no amount of cogitating can prepare you for children, so don't bother. having children is a scary jumping-off-point, and there really is no return no matter how you end up managing your job as a parent. judging only from the tone of your question, I agree with most people above: you sound like you'll be a great parent and you'll have a terrific time with it. I certainly have.
posted by lex mercatoria at 9:43 AM on December 23, 2009

Lots of other good advice on here - I agree that the no-sleep thing sucks, but is not as long as you might think, and your life becomes much more scheduled, and you need to be ready to not put yourself first. That's the hardest thing for many new parents I know - always having to put their own needs/priorities/desires on the back burner.

I mostly wanted to touch on a separate point you made about possibly not liking a very young baby. This is actually very common; newborns are demanding, take tons of attention, and can't really interact with you at all. You're giving them tons of energy and emotion, and they're not yet able to give anything back. (they don't even start smiling until 2 or 3 months) Plus they look like little wrinkled aliens, and not like the cute babies you see on TV and in ads. We think that we're supposed to instantly fall in love with our baby and when those feelings of frustration or lack of connection come in, you feel incredibly guilty. So you have to "fake it until you make it" - the bond comes, and it's incredibly powerful. It happens at different points for everyone - maybe when they first smile, or grab your finger, or start making baby noises, or look you in the eye, but it happens.
posted by chbrooks at 9:47 AM on December 23, 2009

You could have an easy kid who sleeps well, has an easy-going personality, is healthy, etc. You could have a child with a serious illness who needs surgeries and lots of medical care. You could have a child who is very difficult, or the next Barack Obama, or both. I have had questioning moments, but no regrets. I know couples who never made that decision to have a child, and regret it, and couples who don't regret it. The world needs good citizens, but, in general, there's a surplus of humans.

Really, it's a complete and utter crapshoot. Personally, I cannot imagine my life without my child, and am sorry that it worked out that I only had 1. I'm a divorced parent, and it has been difficult to co-parent. My child has ADHD, and other issues. But he's funny and loving and he has made me a better person. In ebay-speak, A+++would parent again!***
posted by theora55 at 10:00 AM on December 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Cutting off both your legs changes your life too. But I wouldn't cut my legs off just to experience what it's like to be without legs. Don't have children because other people expect you to participate in the human experiment. Do it because you can't see yourself existing as an older person without having been a parent.
posted by theraflu at 10:12 AM on December 23, 2009 [7 favorites]

I never felt a huge desire to have kids (and thus don't have any), although I quite like kids a lot. Some of your concerns seem petty to me. For instance, the only parents I know who claim they were "ready" were the *least* ready, believe me! And not having much experience with babies doesn't matter - many great parents didn't have any prior experience with babies.

But some of your concerns are valid. When I was as young as seven years old, I began watching over a large horde of younger cousins - changing diapers, feeding, whatever. Mind you, at that age I thought it was cool to be so responsible. But it was really tedious, and although it's been a couple of decades, I don't ever need to change a diaper again. I know several women who are done raising their kids. They love them and are close. But they admit to hating the pre-school years and have no problem admitting that they *wouldn't* have kids if they could start over.

I also have many friends and acquaintances who have kids. I can divide them into two groups.

One group is the group that's just pretty matter of fact about their kids. Pragmatic and common-sensical. They don't romanticize it or attempt to "convert" me. They seem to have an intrinsic good sense of humor about things, and just get on with it. They don't consider their kids to automatically be geniuses or a great achievement for mankind. They maintain pretty good social lives apart from their children. Sometimes they're stressed and tired.

The other group is the group who's always telling me how *great* it is to have kids. More often than not, they've made their kids the absolute center of their lives, and not in a good way. Their kids - even in infancy - dictate the rules. It gets worse as the kids get older. At the rare social gatherings that these parents attend, they're always going on and on and on and on and on about their kids. These parents are quite delighted to tell me how much more fulfilled they are to have kids. How selfless they are. How their sense of caring and humanity has increased tenfold. And, inevitably, how I am missing out by not having kids.

I could easily think from that, that well, maybe, it would be great to have kids. But that last group is also the group where the wives will call me the very next day, crying, about how desperately unhappy they are. How they can't sleep. How they don't have "a life." How they resent their partners and even their kids. How they wish they'd never given up their careers or slow-tracked them. How they haven't read a "real" book or seen a "real" movie in eons. How they don't have any money. The complain a lot about various ailments too. I'm sympathetic and a good listener, so I listen. But when I say anything that isn't what they want to hear - even something benignly vacuous like, "Well, get a babysitter and go see a movie this weekend!" what I get is, "Well that's all good for you. You don't have kids, and you get to travel and do what you like and sleep ten hours at a time . . . " As if, somehow, I were to blame for their unhappiness. The resentment is palpable.

Their husbands, meanwhile, do everything they can to not spend any time at home. They work a lot. Play golf. Hang out with buddies. Start jogging at night. They complain about the ways their wives don't take care of themselves and the lack of sex. I get hit on a lot by these guys, but in a sort of defeatist way - "Gee, you look really great. You're the same age as Julie and her boobs are really sagging . . . what are you doing Saturday night?" Uh, yuck!

If I had to sum it up, I'd say that that first group just had a kind of natural, matter-of-fact attitude about having kids. They wanted a family, reckoned it was possble and did it. I can't judge what sort of parents you'd be, but your message sends me warning signals. Parenthood is always going to be a life-changing thing. You think you'd "find meaning" (you don't have "meaning" already?) Or that your kids would be "awesome" (it's great to be optimistic, but let's face it - they may not be awesome. Most parents realize that, while they may love their kids and find many qualities in them, that "awesomeness" is a label you can more readily tag onto a more distant kinship - like grandchildren) Or you'd be "great at it." I've never met a great parent who believed that very long into parenthood. Parenthood is fraught with many moments of sheer ineptitude and even disaster.

I applaud your concern for things like lack of sleep, less money, and especially the story about your puppy. Those factors are real, and will matter. Whatever happens, I wish you good luck.

My only advice would be this: You mentioned that you can't imagine your life without them. Probably more than anything you wrote, this is a central thing. In my native country, it's assumed you'll have kids; choosing not to is regarded as the lunatic decision of an unwell mind. Consequently, coming to the decision that I didn't want them involved a lot of difficult work to imagine a life without them - the image of life = having kids was so well entrenched. So I would suggest that you work on a clearer image of what your life would be like without them. For me, I am able to do a lot of really soul-satisfying things because I don't have them. Many of these, ironically, are the sort of "selfless" things parents claim I am incapable of doing. I've worked with Roma kids in Eastern Europe, I've spoken at countless schools to kids about my war experiences and I have a lot of great "auntie" relationships with the children of my sane parent friends. For me, it feels like all of the upside, with none of the downside. And all this is in addition to a lot of the things I'm able to do, financially and in respect to time, because I don't have kids. But you should make some sort of theoretical plans for a life without kids, just to give you some sense of what it *might* be like.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:37 AM on December 23, 2009 [7 favorites]

Whatever decision you make, things will work out. There is no "right" answer in this situation. You sound like you can handle either outcome.

Now, my own personal experience with children has been positive. For years, my husband and I never thought we would want children. After seven years of marriage we decided that we would try this parenthood thing out. Our little daughter (now 5) has brought so much joy into our lives. I can't imagine life without her. Four months ago we welcomed a second daughter into our family. She is a treasure as well. And she has slept through the night since we brought her home for the most part.

But I am sure that if we didn't have children, we'd be happy too.
posted by Ostara at 11:16 AM on December 23, 2009

There is, of course, no one right answer to this question. My wife and I have decided to not have children. After much discussion we realized that the arguments we would come up with in favour of having children were mostly negative (i.e. "If we don't have kids one or the both of us might be lonely when we're old") as opposed to positive ("We want to have kids because kids are awesome* and we really want to be parents"). So we concluded that it wasn't the right choice for us.

It doesn't sound to me like that's where your headspace is at (i.e. "we can't really picture our lives without them"). None of my friends and relatives who have had children seem to be anything but very happy with their decision, so if the main thing you're worried about is the sleep deprivation (which I hear is unpleasant but passes in the relative blink of an eye) and things like that I'd say you should probably go for it as long as you and your husband are truly on the same page.

> I didn't start liking her until she was about 5 months old and was more than a little need machine

I have a friend who admitted to me that s/he didn't really completely warm up to his/her child until s/he got to the age where s/he was a bit more (in his words) "interactive." I didn't take this to mean s/he was a bad parent or person. Others in this thread have expressed similar sentiments. Again, it sounds like the phase where they do nothing but eat and cry and poop passes relatively quickly.

* kids are awesome, and I love uncle-hood
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:29 AM on December 23, 2009

I have one child, and I'm working quite hard to get pregnant a second time. This might influence my answer. I'm 34.

Having a baby, and now a kid, is the hardest thing I've ever done. It's about as hard as a lot of other really, really worthy pursuits; opening a restaurant, or climbing Everest, or becoming an astronaut, for example. I need a lot of sleep to be happy, and my baby was an exceptionally poor sleeper, to the point where I actually needed an emergency room psych evaluation when she was 14 months old because I was considering hurting myself just to get a bed in the psych ward for a night to get some sleep. (She woke every two or three hours.) She pushes my buttons, she hits my weak points, she aggravates me to the point of howling on nearly a daily basis. It's taken me an hour to write this much because she keeps interrupting me with seemingly-petty requests.

It is also, bar none, the most amazing and fantastic thing I've ever done. On virtually a daily basis, I am so happy to be her mother that my own joy receptors redline and white out, and I can do nothing but hug her and thank the fickle Fates that she came to earth to be my daughter. The exceeding gift of watching her grow up, of helping her to learn to be a good and wise person -- there is not one experience in my life I would not happily give up for this. (And I've done some cool things.) The oft-repeated phrase "Children are a blessing" has gained meaning to me, because this is a gift it is impossible to earn, or earn, or be worthy of.

How do you feel when your period comes? Thankful, or a little bit sad? If you were late and queasy, would you be excited, or terrified? If you're ambivalent about the idea, listen to your ambivalence, because it might be telling you something important. But if you want to do it, do it; there will never be a good time.
posted by KathrynT at 11:38 AM on December 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think its interesting that so many people are saying "Don't just do what society expects from you - you should find out what you really want!" Perversely, doing "what you really want" is your social obligation, it's not liberating, it's just another "should" imposed on you.

People all over the world do what society expects from them and they tend to be happier, overall. There's no definitive answer to the question "What do I really want?", and advising that you should always keep society's expectations at arm's length as if that is a magic formula is kind of facile.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:58 AM on December 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you want kids (awesome) and that you're scared of some of the consequences of having them (understandable).

It doesn't sound to me, as someone who chose not to have children, like you're someone who doesn't want to have children. I don't know how to say it other than I and my husband and most of the people we know who have also chosen not to have children find it impossible to imagine ourselves with children.

You and your husband seem to find it impossible to imagine yourselves without children. That's a strong indicator as far as I can tell. Yes, the financial pressures are real, and the sleep deprivation is far more likely than not (my nephew and one of my goddaughters are sleeping champions since birth, so not every child is up all night), and it's tough.

But marriage is tough, too. And you're doing that. Your profession is probably tough, and you're doing that.

I'm just riding in the slipstream of everyone who has awesome kids, so I understand you might be giving this too much weight, but it sounds to me like you want to have kids. And you're approaching it thoughtfully, which increases your chances of being a good parent tremendously.

If you want children but don't want babies, maybe adoption rather than having biological children might be an option?
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:55 PM on December 23, 2009

Go for it. It's better to know you aren't ready than to think you are. Because you aren't ready.

The details (the sleeping thing is one of the biggest adjustments) are the details, but at the base of it you have to have the willingness to, sort of, throw away all your stuff and walk out the backdoor naked into whatever happens next. Alright, it's not all that exciting, but it is a full-on transformation. It's good. You love your partner? Go for it, it'll make your life.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:25 PM on December 23, 2009

Keep in mind that when you get preggers, you get a whole nine months to get ready. You don't need to be ready for a baby at conception.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:34 PM on December 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

pseudostrabismus: "Keep in mind that when you get preggers, you get a whole nine months to get ready. You don't need to be ready for a baby at conception."

Oh...and they lie about that 9 months thing. It's 40 weeks. I don't know who the hell decided 40 weeks is 9 months, or if they just figured that women would shut down their uterui if we knew about the extra month...but it's 40 weeks. Gestational Math, obstetricians are doin' it wrong!
posted by dejah420 at 4:55 PM on December 23, 2009

Keep in mind that when you get preggers, you get a whole nine months to get ready. You don't need to be ready for a baby at conception.

Keep in mind that once you don't have to be ready for everything associated with parenthood on the very first day after birth either. It's going to be a process no matter what, and you will have new experiences and resources which will come along the way.
posted by kch at 5:21 PM on December 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh...and they lie about that 9 months thing. It's 40 weeks. I don't know who the hell decided 40 weeks is 9 months, or if they just figured that women would shut down their uterui if we knew about the extra month...but it's 40 weeks. Gestational Math, obstetricians are doin' it wrong!

Average month = 30.4 days. 40 weeks X 7 days / 30.4 = 9.2 months, or about 9 mo, 1 week. Not really 10 months.
posted by gaspode at 5:24 PM on December 23, 2009

If we're splitting hairs here, the average pregnancy length for women determined prior conception to have predictable menstrual cycles is forty-one weeks plus one day. In the Netherlands, 42 weeks is considered full term and not overdue.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:14 PM on December 23, 2009

what mrmarley said. We had our daughter in our 30s. We kept waiting to feel ready and then decided we would never have *that* perfect moment.
Having the Bean has made our life more tiring yes, but the laughter in our house and the level of cute and wonder has increased exponentially. I wish we hadn't waited so long so we could have had another.

It is the hardest best thing we've ever done and both of us would do it again in a second.
I wish I could wax more poetic but I"m enjoying the swine flu at the moment. And when our sweet 7 year old brought me one of her favorite stuffed animals to snuggle so I'd feel better--well there isn't much sweeter than that.
posted by pywacket at 6:27 PM on December 23, 2009

Do it now, if only because the possibility of late 30s/early 40s infertility issues would be way worse than dealing with a healthy happy infant at the current stage of your life.
posted by Morpeth at 6:44 PM on December 23, 2009

Get a dog.
posted by digsrus at 6:53 PM on December 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Not ready? Inexperienced? These things shouldn't stop you, because the only way you can get experienced enough to be ready is to actually go ahead and have a baby. Luckily, they grow a bit at a time, and you've got a head start on general life experience :)

Can't imagine life without them? Take the time to figure out what it might be, or chat to friends/relatives who didn't have kids. Make sure you've got lots of info on both options, not just one. For me, life without kids means more time for volunteer work and educating myself for a cause I'm passionate about, more time for making and appreciating art, more lazy Sunday breakfasts with my husband, and a smaller home that doesn't cost too much. For my uncle and aunt it's meant building and sailing a yacht around the world, before settling down to build an eco-friendly home off the grid in a forest. For friends of mine it's meant the opportunity to live and work overseas in difficult regions. For other friends it's meant the ability to focus on their careers and travel. There's a lot of unique life experiences out there - parenting isn't the only one, it's just the most common.

Been told you'd make a great parent? I've been told the same thing, but it's often coming from people who seem to be struggling with parenting [Dee Xtrovert's group 2 above], not people who (in my opinion) are doing a great job at it [group 1]. If a person you'd happily take as a parenting role model tells you you'd be good, give that statement more weight than if it comes from someone who just wants company in the parenting grind or is dealing with low self-esteem or having made the wrong choice.

Not sure about the birthing experience? As has already been mentioned, there are kids who need to be adopted or fostered. The world is getting overpopulated, so anything you can do to even out the load would be a good thing, if you decide that having a child is necessary to your happiness.
posted by harriet vane at 8:37 PM on December 23, 2009

My standard book recommendation for these questions is "Families of Two" by Carroll. It's about couples who never had children. Spoiler: they're all very happy.

That being said, having children could make you happy or it might not -- but don't expect children to fill some void or give your life "meaning" or anything like that. I think things will likely turn out okay for you either way.
posted by Nattie at 12:18 PM on December 25, 2009

Having kids will not make you happier. There are a lot of citations above regarding happiness and bliss and not having kids. Well......I don't measure my life like that. If I wanted to be happy, I would have moved to Thailand, read Metafilter 24-7, and walked barefoot for the rest of my days.

For me, having kids was about seeking something else. Something greater than happiness. I am not happy about having to get up at 4am to clean up puke, but damn if I don't feel like a man doing it.
posted by jasondigitized at 1:10 PM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

If in doubt- DO NOT SPAWN. You are dealing with at least three lives here. I love my kids, and I think I have had the patience for them, and the desire to dedicate the rest of my life to raising them. But you cannot imagine what a colossal pain in the butt they can be, compared with living out your life without offspring. The income tax deduction is a nice compliment to parents I suppose, but children cost lots more than that. In fact they cost way more than you do. Any outside interests will have to take a back seat to the interests of your children, and that sometimes includes sleeping, deep thinking, staying healthy, watching what you want to on TV, and building a retirement nestegg.

If you do not have the mental resources and patience, or if you expect your kids to fix your relationship, or give you the love and respect you crave, STOP NOW. They are sources of stress that go on and on.

Now for any of my kids that may read this, their Dad loves them, and is their biggest fan. The unexpected rewards of this relationship have been great. But entering into this kind of thing with unreasonable expectations can screw you up and also loose a screwed up human being on the society, perhaps our next mass-murderer.

So know that you should expect to get nothing, not even appreciation, and that they will bleed you white while driving you over the edge. Anything better than that, count as a pure gift. I count myself extremely lucky in this regard, but it's not automatic.

Consider this as well, the world really does not need more people at this point, but fewer. Consider well whether you have the resources physical, financial, and emotional to do this. And remember you will be 20 years older before they leave home.

If this scares you, good. If you are undeterred, maybe you're tough enough.

this is SLC Mom's hubby. Hi Hon!
posted by SLC Mom at 3:18 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

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