Help me demystify children
July 14, 2010 10:41 AM   Subscribe

I need to figure out whether or not I want kids, before I accept my boyfriend's proposal. I think that I don't, but I have almost no experience with them. What are some places that might allow me (a stranger with no babysitting experience) to spend time with young kids, so I can start to make up my mind?

The only friend I have who has children lives on another continent. My own family is small, and everyone is childless. I literally have only spent a total of 15 minutes with any kid under 10, in the last ten years.

Some background: I am 30, living in Los Angeles. I have a great career, but one that would be hard to do if I had children (as I work from home.) I have lived with my boyfriend for several years, and he has been very clear about the fact that he wants us to get married within the next couple years, and that he wants to have kids one day. He is not into the idea of adoption. I have told him I do not want us to get married unless I also know I want kids for sure, lest I doom the marriage. I would happily marry him today, except for this unanswered question.

Things that are holding me back from children:
--The very real possibility of giving up the creative career I love, since I know that I wouldn't be very good at juggling both kids and work. Kids would win every time, and my work would go out the window
--Having to raise the children partially alone, since my family lives elsewhere and my boyfriend travels several days out of each week for work.
--The inability to reverse the decision, once they are born
--The fearful prospect of going from an independent career woman to a stay at home mom, resenting my husband who is off in Vegas for work all weekend while I am overwhelmed by crying kids
--All those studies that say that the majority of people who have children are less happy than they were before they had children

I'm trying to approach this as a research project, to be as thorough as possible. I'm usually a very decisive person, so it befuddles me to not know my own feelings on this matter. Perhaps it's naive, but spending time with kids is the only thing I can think of that might help me make up my mind. I don't want to give up the wonderful relationship I have with my boyfriend unless I really know for sure I don't want children. I need something to help me break this limbo, one way or the other.

Part of me thinks I could do a good job at the mom stuff. And I really love my boyfriend and the life we've made together. But I can't know that I'll be willing to trade what I have now for a life with children unless I spend some time with kids and can make a decision based on (at least a little) experience with them. And of course, how I handle them, react to them, etc.

So while I'm open to any advice you can give on the above statement, my real question is: lacking friends/family with kids, are there any places that would allow someone like me to volunteer to babysit or help out, considering that I have no child-rearing experience? Or are there any other ways I can try and figure this out on my own?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (46 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
As someone who wants to have kids one day, I would be very wary of having children knowing that my spouse would be M.I.A. every weekend.
posted by gumtree at 10:48 AM on July 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

I don't think that spending time with other people's kids is going to help you any. Lots of people can't stand kids in general but adore their own, and that may be the case for you. You just won't feel any connection to someone's else's kids.
posted by amro at 10:48 AM on July 14, 2010 [9 favorites]

As someone who wants to have kids one day, I would be very wary of having children knowing that my spouse would be M.I.A. every weekend.

Look, yeah, of course that will make it more difficult. But there are a lot of single moms, and you will have the advantage over them that a) your husband will be available by phone or email to hear (and care about) the details of your day with the kids; b) your husband will be bringing in a second income which will presumably make things easier on you financially and maybe allow you to hire some help; and c) he won't always be away.
posted by amro at 10:51 AM on July 14, 2010

Would you and your boyfriend make enough money to be able to hire a full time nanny so you could continue to work?
posted by kylej at 10:52 AM on July 14, 2010

So, first, this seems less to me like it's about if you like kids or not and more about communication with your BF. I think your best course of action may be to actually show him this question. I know you posted it anonymously, but your list of explicit, very real, very reasonable objections seem like things he probably hasn't thought about.
posted by kavasa at 10:54 AM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had minimal experience with kids before I had mine (almost 5 months ago). I was also kind of ambivalent about it. The times I had spent with them left me still ambivalent, because it's nearly impossible to assess from even a few days spent with a child what it is like to be a parent.

I think you're off in some of your assumptions, honestly. There's no reason you need to give up your career. Lots and lots of people have interesting, challenging, creative careers and children. My experience so far confirms that. I am very happy spending time with my baby but when it comes time to focus on something else it's simply not a problem, and I don't feel in any way like I am shortchanging her. The travel of your bf seems like more of an issue, but even with that you could probably make something work.

I'm not sure about those studies, but one thing I can say is that so far I'm loving being a mom. Sure, it adds extra stresses in some areas, but it adds extra joys in others, so it balances out. I wouldn't be able to do it without a partner who is in it 100%, though... my husband spends as much one on one time with the baby as I do. We juggle our time so we each have non-baby times as well.

I'm being a bit longwinded. So just MeMail me if you want to talk more or ask me questions. If it matters, I am in my mid-30s, so I did have a pretty long time before becoming a mom.
posted by miss tea at 10:55 AM on July 14, 2010

It sounds like you think you'd be the one making all the career and time sacrifices. Has your boyfriend implied this?

Also, could you guys afford day care or a nanny? My friend is a nanny for a woman who works from home.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:56 AM on July 14, 2010 [16 favorites]

I don't know if you can really figure this out by hanging out with other people's kids. You pretty much have to just go with your gut. Your concerns are very valid, but what it comes down to is this: Do you want to get pregnant, give birth, and raise children?

Don't think about it so much in terms of the relationship with this man. Think about it for yourself. Do YOU want to do this? You already know it's a permanent commitment - much more permanent than marriage. You already know you shouldn't rush into it.

I'm not sure how spending time with other people's kids would help, other than just giving you an idea of what kids are like. The emotions you feel for your own kids will be so different and so much more intense. I have yet to meet anyone who changed their minds about having kids by playing with one - in the few cases I know of friends who didn't want kids and then suddenly DID, it was a spontaneous internal decision, not one that came about because they played with babies.

In all honesty, it sounds to me like you know that you don't want children and are trying to talk yourself into it to save your relationship. Don't do this. You, your future husband, and your future children could be deeply unhappy if you continue on this path. (Of course, it could all "work out" but that's less likely.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:58 AM on July 14, 2010 [8 favorites]

As someone who is now about 11 years older than you, I can tell you that the biological clock thing is very real. I know one person in total who is somewhat ambivalent about her decision to have a child (she loves her kid to death, but thinks that one is enough). I know that's not really advice one way or the other, but do consider the fact that 10-15 years down the road, that window is likely going to close.
That said, there are plenty of places that can give you the opportunity to sit kids. Consider things like community colleges or places that serve underprivileged adults, as they often need someone to watch their children. I volunteer for a sustainable food organization, and they regularly need people to play with kids while mom takes a cooking class or whatever.
posted by Gilbert at 10:59 AM on July 14, 2010

I strongly agree that babysitting, even lots of time with the same kids, will not help you figure out much about the broader issues you articulate so well above.

I don't think it could even help you answer in the negative (because even if you disliked temporarily caring for other people's kids, that's absolutely nothing like caring for one's own kid).

As you speak here, you are not at all sounding moved to have children on your own / of your own desire.

If your boyfriend is sure he wants biological kids *and* not likely to reshape his own life and career, that's a very tough situation. I too would be very wary of being a single mom for half the week, even with family support (much less without it).

You are assuming, because he is assuming, that you would be primary caregiver. He's saying to you, I want to have kids with you and I want you to give up your career shape and trajectory. I agree with kavasa: this is a deeper communication issue, an excellent one to talk about, and one that really will not be solved by your seeing how you handle kids in a given moment. I wish you great luck and I hope you'll ask more questions as you and he talk more!
posted by sparrows at 10:59 AM on July 14, 2010 [12 favorites]

I feel like "I want children someday" is different than "I want children some day and I expect you will quit your job to raise them and I also expect that you will deal with the fact that you'll be raising them away from your family and you will also have to deal with the fact that I am going to be out of town for a large part of the time."

Whether or not this is your assumption about what having a child would do to your life or something that your intended to be intended has communicated to you, I do not know, but I think you should be talking this out with him, and not with strangers on the internet or children. It does not sound to me like this is about whether or not you like kids as standalone little creatures. I think kids are fantastic but I do not want to have one right now, much as I love playing with them and smooshing their little faces.

Maybe your boyfriend wants to marry you so much and have children so much that he'd be willing to give up his career! Or maybe he'd be willing to move closer to your family! Or maybe other things that you two could think through. A really strong and deep bond between two people can really conquer a lot of these logistical issues, if you sit down and think them out with eachother's best interest in mind.

Also, maybe some of these are your expectations and not his -- that's ok, too -- like you say you're afraid that motherhood would take precedence over your career just because you would let it. But your maybe-one-day-husband-and-father-of-your-maybe-babies might be willing to help you keep that at bay, as well. You two should talk it out as a couple. If you're willing to say "let's not get married because of this future I can't imagine," what do you have to lose or be afraid of?
posted by pazazygeek at 11:00 AM on July 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

You're not going to get any idea of whether or not you want children without actually having them. Raising a child is the opposite of just spending time with a child. Having kids is the biggest leap of faith you can make. You can't undo it. You can't really get a taste of what it's like beforehand.

This is among the least answerable questions in all of human existence. You become a completely different person after having kids. Not better or worse, but completely different. There's no way to tell whether or not that person will be happier or not. And besides, the problem with those happiness studies is that you may well find happiness is less important than you thought.

I hate small children. I can't relate to them at all. I never wanted anything to do with babies. But my own? Entirely different. I'm sure as hell a lot less carefree than I used to be, but the experience of hearing your child utter an odd turn of phrase that you never realized you used daily? That's pretty fucking rad.
posted by pjaust at 11:00 AM on July 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

Amro is right. Your experiment could only demonstrate whether you want to spend the rest of your life as a babysitter, not. The missing element from your experience is the element of parental love and maternal devotion, bolstered by 9 months of carrying your child inside your own body and (possibly) a few more months of feeding it from your body. Pretty significant variables your experiment omits, no?

To answer your question directly, though, you could always start going to a church with lots of young families and volunteer to help in their nursery/child-care rooms.

Also, this is the 21st Century. Are you assuming that you'd be the primary caregiver to your children simply because you're a woman? Why are you envisioning yourself as a stay-at-home mom and not your boyfriend as a stay-at-home dad? For that matter, why would you put up with a spouse who would leave you overwhelmed with crying kids to spend all week in Vegas?
posted by hhc5 at 11:01 AM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

With your partner away every weekend and your other concerns about having time to do what you love, I'd strongly suggest making the hiring of live-in help a precondition to having kids. If this is something you guys can afford to do -- on his income alone, since yours may be intermittent for a while as you recover from pregnancy and childbirth and cope with a newborn -- then it sounds doable. If not, I think you would have to give up too much and would be very unhappy.

As far as getting experience with small kids, you could look into volunteering in places that have small children around -- a helper in a "Mommy and Me" style community class, or maybe in domestic violence shelter or family homeless shelter. If you REALLY want the full-on experience, you and your boyfriend might even consider looking into becoming licensed foster parents and fostering kids for a while. Not all foster placements are long-term, some are just occasional respite care for a few days or a week. I believe the foster care system provides training.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:01 AM on July 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

As a practical answer to your question about spending time with kids now, you might check out the foster system. NO, not to foster a kid. But where I live, there's regularly ads on the radio soliciting volunteers to babysit foster kids while the foster parents go to trainings/meetings/programs. Perhaps the agency in your area runs a similar program, and you could be vetted for something like that? That would give you the option to spend time with a lot of different kids, of different ages, without committing to developing an ongoing relationship with them in case it turns out not to be for you (the way something like BigBrothers/BigSisters would). Also, what is your career/skill set? Contact the local Girl Scout Council and volunteer to do demos or activities at troop meetings or day camps.

Your list of concerns is super reasonable, though. Is your boyfriend committed enough to having kids to change his career about so that he would be home more? Could you guys afford a nanny? What about office space for you, so that you could still get your work done? Talk to him about this stuff.
posted by amelioration at 11:02 AM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm trying to approach this as a research project, to be as thorough as possible.

That's all well and good, but you appear to be taking the checklist approach too far, IMO. Your post does not give any clue as to what your gut is telling you. When you think about the prospect of reaching your senior years and looking back, if you never had children, do you feel a pang of sadness? That's not the entire decision-maker, but it's a key component.

Having kids is more than the logistics of who's going to watch who while so-and-so goes to work. When you have a child, you are creating a human being that you will have a relationship with for the rest of your life. That's a far bigger deal than logistics and schedules.

Also, on the point of your central question:

But I can't know that I'll be willing to trade what I have now for a life with children unless I spend some time with kids and can make a decision based on (at least a little) experience with them.

Please understand that being around other peoples' kids is in no way indicative of how you will feel being around your own children. Do not use this as a barometer, because it is not accurate. There are things that will mortify you when other peoples' kids do them, things that would not cause you to bat an eyelash when it is your own.

(Personal view: As a father of three who was scared to death as a young man at the thought of having kids, I wouldn't have it any other way than it is today. Kids make everything better, in my life.)
posted by jbickers at 11:07 AM on July 14, 2010

My wife and I both travelled a lot, both had busy schedules, good careers. All of that changed after our kid came along and we were fortunate to be in a position where we could change the way we did our jobs to allow us to spend more time at home. If your husband is always going to be travelling, that's going to be tough, but you could still do it. Think about hiring a nanny, especially if his travel is always at weekends.

Your work won't go out the window. You'll just find a balance that works for both. Kids can be annoying, even your own, and spending an entire day with them can get boring, they do annoying things like want the same book read over and over again. You'll want to have something else to do.

I'm not sure testing yourself with other people's kids is a good gauge. On Saturday I had to spend 30 minutes getting a fridge magnet out of my DVD drive. Later I discovered another burnt fridge magnet attached to the bottom of the pot I'd just cooked in. Then, against direct instructions, he clambered onto the sofa before promptly falling off and hurting himself. Crying and wailing for 20 minutes. Saturday was a fun day. I wouldn't put up with this shit from someone else's kids, but it's different with him.
posted by IanMorr at 11:07 AM on July 14, 2010

I know everybody says this, but you might change your mind down the road. When I got married at age 32, my husband and I agreed that we did not want children. We had lived together for several years. We enjoyed having freedom to travel, party, sleep late, spend time together and indulge in our hobbies. Now, 6 years late, we are both suddenly open to the idea of having kids. We find ourselves financially stable, with flexible careers, and a close network of friends (many who have children). I know that I grew up with a very 1950s era idea of parenthood: the mommy stays home with the baby and the daddy goes to work. Our friends and siblings have proved to us that it doesn't have to be like that at all. I know multiple mothers (artists, scholars, mechanical engineers) who work from home part of the time and hire nannies or use daycare. The quality of day care has changed a ton too since I was a kid.

You need to talk this out in depth with your partner. If him being gone for work is a big factor in all of this, and he really wants kids, perhaps he can start looking for a new job or ask to travel less. Trust me, a lot can change in your 30s!
posted by pluckysparrow at 11:13 AM on July 14, 2010

Summary: Don't do it. (Unless you do.... read more below)


It's a ton of work, more work than you can possibly imagine, even though it seems easy in small bites. It is an endurance event, not a sprint. Babysitting only lasts a few hours... not a few decades. Raising a child is like 50,000 4 hour sessions of babysitting, stacked end to end.

Your body and health will be affected, and you will end up doing most of the work, regardless of whatever agreements you make with your spouse, and also curiously, regardless of your sex. That's right... you will BOTH be doing most of the work, because you both can't believe that the other is working that hard too!

You're thinking about this carefully, which is good. It signals to me that you have doubt, and you don't want to screw it up. Doubt is good, it keeps you from making emotional decisions that you later might regret.

Children are wonderful, and full of love, but they are stuffed to the gills with ego and demands... demands that last the rest of your life and are bigger than your imagination. It's your job to decide which are to needs to be met, and which are wants to be unfulfilled. It's your job to help pass on that skill of resource allocation to your child as well.

When you decide to have kids, you are deciding to end your life and to sacrifice your body and soul to helping to start a new one.

You will be entering a universe which is literally next door to the one you're in now... visiting those other stores that you never needed before, isles of stores you never noticed, etc.

When you decide to have kids, you're a candidate for a new occupation, Parent. Once hired into this occupation, EVERYTHING else is secondary... including your survival, and that of your spouse. If you're not willing to kill, or be killed, to save your child... don't apply for the position.

Once you have the position of Parent, you will not be given any instruction or guidebooks which effectively cover strategy. You will be given some tactical advice, but in the end you WILL be guessing a lot... but it's ok... we all do it out of necessity. Like war, any action is better than none.

There is a lot of pee and poop involved, everyone has had this handled for them in their infancy, so don't expect any medals or congratulations for doing it for your child.

You will miss your old non-Parenting role... and it will amaze you how trivial the things you once thought were absolutely important really turn out to be with your new perspective.

You will find that you smile and understand when you are on in train, plain or automobile with someone else caring for a screaming kid. You WILL offer sympathy and support, automatically... and smile that knowing smile... it's a fraternity.

Raising a child is like combat, except you start a life instead of ending one. It's just as messy, and all is fair, right up to the legal limits. Unlike a war, in this one your enemy can become an ally as you get older.

One thing you MUST promise yourself, and the rest of us in society...

I _____name here ____ promise to be a PARENT first, to NEVER, EVER put friendship with my child above my PARENTAL responsibility. I understand that it may be tough, but the future our humanity depends on me doing this right.

I love my wife and my daughter. I definitely would do it all over again, but I would have prepared more in advance. You have a choice ahead of you which you can't possibly know all the implications of, and nobody but you can make that choice.

I hope I've helped illuminate things for you a little bit.
posted by MikeWarot at 11:14 AM on July 14, 2010 [9 favorites]

I doubt spending time with kids would help you make a sound decision, if anything it would likely keep you not wanting children. Other people's kids suck.

Can you keep your career - of course you can! Might be a little more work but think about it you would not be the first person to have a family with a career with the intention to keep progressing at work.

Will you have to put some things on a back burner for your baby - Hell yeah, especially if you don't have family to help out regularly. But again, you would not be the first. We lived across the country from family for his first 6 months and now live 5 hrs from family. There is no one else I trust with my kids so guess what - no sitters.

You mention working from home - could you work from Las Vegas remotely?

The question you need to ask yourself is can you make room for a baby in your life with the limited understanding you have have now of the time commitment a baby takes? If the answer is no, then continue enjoying your life as it is. But if your answer is "yes, I can fit a baby in my world" then at some point in time there could be a baby in your future.

Everything else will fall into place, especially when you hold your baby for the first time and he or she stares back up at you and you know they know they are safe because they are with their mommy.

Sorry about that last paragraph, my intention wasn't to sway you either way. Best wishes for your soul searching!
posted by doorsfan at 11:18 AM on July 14, 2010

People have, or refrain from having children for various reasons. When it works out well, and you wind up with happy successful children whom you love and who love you in return, there is absolutely nothing better. It adds meaning to your life, gives you a true friend who will never desert you, and gives you a sense that you are a participant in the whole epic of human history, since your family line may continue into the indefinite future and may have endless numbers of consequences (hopefully good) for the future of the human race in general. And, on the other hand, raising children is insanely demanding and has an incertain outcome. Some parents wind up not even liking their own children (mine, for example, do not like me) and certainly there are children who do not like their parents and who become estranged from them. A baby is a creature of total selfishness and also total ignorance, which is difficult to deal with. They cry a lot. Something is bothering them, but what is it? They can't tell you. You have to figure it out. Not until your child is 5 years old will it even begin to have normal social interactions of the kind that adults have. That's a long time to wait.

I can't really say what the right choice is for you. My own choice was to remain childless. I have never regretted that choice.
posted by grizzled at 11:18 AM on July 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

- Definitely negotiate some kind of child care arrangement with your boyfriend. See what you have to do to make it work with your finances and whether he's willing to make the necessary sacrifices, which might include him getting a different job that doesn't require so much travel.

- Definitely negotiate having only one child -- it's number 2 that will really destroy your career.

- Don't forget that kids are only babies for a few years! You may dislike the idea of babies, but idea of raising a teenager (with all their quirks and developing personalities and independence) might be more appealing. (I like babies, but I think the challenges of raising a teenager would be more rewarding.)

- Spending time with kids and parents is probably a good idea, more to see what it's like to be a parent than to see whether you like the kid. It's not a crazy idea to go visit your one friend with a kid for this purpose, even though she's so far away.
posted by yarly at 11:18 AM on July 14, 2010

It troubles me that we're hearing so much about what your boyfriend wants, but not what you want.

Do you even want to get married? If so, why?

Would you ever see yourself considering having a kid outside of marriage? With another person if this relationship ended? Or by yourself if you were alone?

If you found out you were pregnant right now by accident, would you feel happy or terrified?

There is no way to demystify the decision, because it is a gut decision. You use logic for things like deciding when and where to have a kid and how many, but the desire should be there first. If it's not, then what your boyfriend wants should not be allowed to talk you into it.
posted by emjaybee at 11:19 AM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd ask the boyfriend the following questions:

Would BF be willing to give up his job and be a full time parent while you work?
If yes, this answers most of your questions.
If no, what would put him off the idea of doing that?
Could you solve those problems or remove those obstacles so that he didn't mind doing that?

Failing that, could he take some part time work so that you could both take equal shares of the parenting?

Presumably if he really wants kids and you're ambivalent, he has more experience and interest with kids and would be the better choice for a full time parent.
posted by emilyw at 11:21 AM on July 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'll address your concerns one by one.

--The very real possibility of giving up the creative career I love, since I know that I wouldn't be very good at juggling both kids and work. Kids would win every time, and my work would go out the window

Millions of people have both children and careers. You find daycare, or a nanny, and you make it work. Yes, it's a juggling act and yes, sometimes it really sucks. But if you realize and accept that your best is good enough and that there will be give-and-take, you'll be fine with being a work-outside-the-home mother.

--Having to raise the children partially alone, since my family lives elsewhere and my boyfriend travels several days out of each week for work.

I've done this with an infant and a preschooler and yes, it's difficult. But it's also very doable, since you know you'll be getting relief. It's not like being a completely single parent. You'll make friends with parents who will be glad to help out, maybe you'll have neighbors you can rely on, and maybe you'll do daycare or nanny care. In any event, it'll work if you make it work.

--The inability to reverse the decision, once they are born

Yep, no getting around this one. Once they're born, they're here to stay. I'd wager that most people think that's pretty okay. I tend to not like a lot of kids but I adore my own.

--The fearful prospect of going from an independent career woman to a stay at home mom, resenting my husband who is off in Vegas for work all weekend while I am overwhelmed by crying kids

My brother likes to give me advice. The best thing he ever said to me was, "This, too, shall pass." You can say it about pretty much every time you're going through. Good times? Hang on as long as you can because this, too, shall pass. Bad times? Don't dwell on them because this, too, shall pass. I personally think if you do decide to have kids you should keep your career. It's important to you and you will resent your children if you give it up. So don't! You don't have to! Learn to compromise now and your life in general will be better.

--All those studies that say that the majority of people who have children are less happy than they were before they had children

Yeah, I know people who have kids who are unhappy. I think they're just generally unhappy people, let alone putting kids in the mix. Parenting is difficult. The hardest part physically is babyhood through preschool-age because you're carrying them everywhere, you have to drag a ton of stuff around with you, you don't get a lot of sleep. But baby belly laughs are incredibly addictive and can heal the tiredest of hearts. Little kids see the world through brand-new eyes and oh my god, that's absolutely amazing. They say ridiculously funny things and they think you're the greatest thing on the planet EVER. It's amazing to see school-age kids navigate the world. They make friends, they figure stuff out, they ask tons of questions. Teenagers are awful and great at the same time. It gets easier physically as they get older but it is hard psychologically, sometimes.

If I had the chance to do it all over again, I'd do it, even knowing that the road ahead was sometimes really hard and I hated some parts of it. The journey is so worth it.

Then again, if you really don't want kids, you really don't want kids. And that's completely okay. Don't talk yourself into it just to keep the guy you have. It's not fair to him, it's not fair to you, and it's not fair to the hypothetical kid.
posted by cooker girl at 11:30 AM on July 14, 2010

I live in LA and have a baby. You can come over and observe my kid in the wild. MeMail me if you want.

But I don't really know that you can prepare yourself for this stuff. Since getting married and having a baby, I have realized two major things:

1) I didn't know anything about being married! Holy shit.
2) I didn't really know anything about being a parent. It is both more and less of a life change than I thought - that is, oh man, I have a KID. But I am also the same person. Just me. But me with this baby on my hip all the time.

That said, I can speak to your specific concerns, because I had them myself:

--The very real possibility of giving up the creative career I love, since I know that I wouldn't be very good at juggling both kids and work. Kids would win every time, and my work would go out the window

I am a writer and usually work at home. I'm not going to lie, I have found it extremely difficult to get any meaningful work done since having a baby (we don't have a nanny and he isn't in daycare). However, I want to be clear that that's a series of choice we have made: we didn't want a nanny. We didn't want to put him in care. So of course I don't get the hours of writing time I used to. We could make other choices with other results.

In our family, we're about to make some changes that will mean that my husband is a stay-at-home dad for a while, so I can work. I'm sure that will come with its own challenges. But it isn't a given that having a baby=career death.

--Having to raise the children partially alone, since my family lives elsewhere and my boyfriend travels several days out of each week for work.

I think you are correct to worry about this. My husband travels for work. It's HARD to parent by yourself. I would try to talk to him about how he envisions those times working. Perhaps there is room for compromise.

--The inability to reverse the decision, once they are born

Well, yes. But I also found this to be true of getting married. Yes, you can get a divorce, but you know, you'd never go back to being someone who had never made that kind of commitment. Binding yourself to other people is complicated. I really struggled with this.

However, I will say that the reality of actually having a baby and actually being married is less freaky than I worried it was going to be. Once you're actually in it, you deal with it day by day.

--The fearful prospect of going from an independent career woman to a stay at home mom, resenting my husband who is off in Vegas for work all weekend while I am overwhelmed by crying kids

There are other ways to do this. You guys probably need to have serious conversations about how you'll handle the work of having a baby. If you don't want to become a stay at home mom, you don't have to be one. Your spouse could stay home. You could both work part-time. You could work at home while a nanny cares for your kids in another part of the house, part-or full-time. Etc. You don't have to be Betty Draper!

--All those studies that say that the majority of people who have children are less happy than they were before they had children

I don't know. I have read those same things. And yet - I find life now both somewhat harder and much richer than my single-girl life was.

There are downsides: I have to consider two other people ALL. THE. TIME.

But... I also like myself more now. I am more patient than I thought. More kind. More roll-with-the-punches. I have been forced to think more long-term. To give up my need to control everything. And I like the person I have turned out to be. Yes, I miss things, but on the whole, my life has improved by a lot. (Also, I am much less judgmental about other people than I used to be, which I like.)

But I wouldn't jump to assume that this has to be a universal. I am not going to lecture you and insist that it's different when it's your baby and that you're silly to be thinking hard about this. I think there's stuff here you take on some serious faith. You pick a guy you hope is the right one, and you take a huge risk.

At worst, disaster ensues. At best, I think there's the possibility for real, life-altering grace in it.

Good luck making your decisions!
posted by thehmsbeagle at 11:44 AM on July 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

I don't know you, so I can only tell you my own experience. I have always loved kids, all kids, and I love my own child to the skies. But I actually dumped a boyfriend after he proposed to me and drew me a mental picture of what he expected our lives to be like. Instead, I married a wonderful man who is my equal partner in child-raising, and is happy with having only 1 or 2 kids, as we feel we can handle and still keep our dual-career lives in balance.

So it's not just about kids; there are lots of different ways to "do the kid thing." It's about the expectations you have of each other. In my experience, having common life goals is absolutely required for marriage, and being in love with someone does not overcome this deficit.
posted by Knowyournuts at 11:58 AM on July 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

This could totally backfire on you. Any time I spend time with my friends who have kids I'm blown away by how chaotic their lives are, how they used to be cool and hang out and have fun and now they always bicker because they're stressed and constantly on running on an empty tank. And those are my friends with money. My neice and nephew are cuter than a mother fucker but after a few hours in the house I can't get over how barely contained the insanity is, how little down time my brother and his wife get, how little space they have to themselves because they're a working class couple without a lot of resources to draw on, which is where I would be if I started a family. I wanted kids at one point and then everyone started having them and I started to reconsider precisely because I was exposed to the realities of childrearing and felt like it wasn't for me.
posted by The Straightener at 12:15 PM on July 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think babysitting isn't a BAD option, but you might want to take a kid for the weekend, perhaps while your boyfriend isn't around. You might like your kid better than someone else's, but it would give you a taste for how much work children are.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:25 PM on July 14, 2010

but you might want to take a kid for the weekend, perhaps while your boyfriend isn't around.

As someone who works with children professionally - PLEASE DON'T DO THIS.

It's true that you have no idea how much work it is to handle a kid, but this isn't the way to find out. It's not fair to you or the kid and is a guaranteed recipe for disaster.

I mean it. I work with kids 50hrs/wk and plan on having kids of my own and I could in NO WAY handle having a kid entirely by myself for an entire 48 hours solid. No way. I don't think I could even do 24 hours completely on my own. Thankfully, my partner and I have negotiated that I would never be expected to do so - that while I would be the primary caretaker by virtue of our various career paths and the fact that my career is in childcare - I would never, EVER be the SOLE caretaker.

Don't throw yourself into the frying pan. After that experience, the only thing left of your sanity would be a charred husk and you would absolutely NEVER want to have children. It's an unrealistic thing to expect of someone who has no experience with kids.

And yes, it's true that when you have your own baby you have it ALL THE TIME - but not only is it just different when it's your child (not least because YOU will be the "mommy" that they constantly cry for), but you would ideally not be doing it completely. on. your. own.

Babysit if you want, but the idea of someone who has spent no time with children taking someone else's child for a whole weekend is one of the worst ideas I've ever heard.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 12:36 PM on July 14, 2010

He is not into the idea of adoption.

This struck me as an odd thing to say--adoption vs. birth has no bearing on the issues you are concerned about. This implies that he raised the issue of kids, and you suggested adoption as an alternative. If your main concerns are about the impact of raising a child, why would adoption seem like a better option? Unless you are actually afraid of pregnancy, not raising children. Secondly, you think you don't want children, and yet you've known for a long time that he does. It doesn't sound like this has been a source of conflict, which suggests that unconsciously you are OK with the idea. Maybe the real source of resentment here is that even if you divide up the childcare equally, the burden of pregnancy falls on you.
posted by AlsoMike at 12:44 PM on July 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I want to agree with everyone who has said that there's no way that spending time with other people's kids is going to help you logic this out.

I will share with you my experience as another anecdote. I babysat from the time I was about 13 all the way through college and beyond, probably for about 10 years or so. I have watched kids from as young as 12 weeks all the way up to 10-year-olds. I also worked for two years in a department store portrait studio, taking pictures of kids of various shapes, sizes and temperaments all day long. And I enjoyed the work--I liked working with kids, everyone said I was good at it, that I would be a great parent, etc. And I always thought I would have kids, knew I loved them, thought about what it would be like to be a parent, thought about names etc. I even stopped dating one guy in part because he expressed his desire to remain childfree, and I thought there was no way I could have a relationship with someone who didn't eventually want children.

And then something happened.

In my mid-20s, one of my good friends who was around my age found out she was pregnant (on purpose). She was the first of my friends to have kids, and frankly, although I said the nice, supportive, excited things, and even went to visit them when the baby was born, internally I was, well, horrified. And I can't really explain to you why, it was just a deep, gut reaction to the very real idea of having children. All of a sudden I realized with perfect clarity that there was just nothing inside me that said "have kids."

I can give you specific reasons why I'm glad I don't have kids, but I'm also pretty certain that if I did feel, inside, like I wanted them, those reasons would evaporate. I also can't say absolutely for sure that I won't suddenly feel differently about having children, because I can't predict the future, but I will say that I'm in my late-30s now and I still feel very happy as I am, and I don't see any indication that my feelings will change.

It seems like either you're not sure what you feel, or you feel like you don't want kids, but you want to try to convince yourself otherwise. I think all you can do right now is talk, openly and honestly, about your feelings to your boyfriend, even if those feelings are of ambivalence, and not make any promises to change. Maybe you will change your feelings in the future, and maybe, like me you won't. Is your boyfriend going to be ok with the relationship either way? That's really the question you need to answer, and unfortunately, we can't help you with that.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 12:51 PM on July 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's true that you have no idea how much work it is to handle a kid, but this isn't the way to find out. It's not fair to you or the kid and is a guaranteed recipe for disaster.

If she can't handle a weekend with someone else's kid, how would she handle a week, a month, a year with a newborn?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:54 PM on July 14, 2010

At 30, I couldn't have imagined myself as a mother, in fact, I assumed that we would retire early to the tropics, where I would spend the last third of my life with people bringing me drinks with umbrellas in. ;)

In my late 30's when I suddenly became gravid; I had so little exposure to children that in the childbirth class, they were going to show a film on c-sections to the ladies, while the men were taught how to apply diapers, and I had to say that I had never changed a diaper in my life, and if someone could show me how that rectangle of fabric became something that kept the poop off the floor, that would be great. (Also, I didn't want to see the c-section movie. Yeesh.)

7 years later, and my little dude is fabulous. He survived a mother that was guessing most of the time. :) (I still don't care for other people's children, however. )

And as much as I would never have believed that I would abandon a career I spent a long time pursuing; I chose to stay home with my son. I'm starting to get back into writing, but obviously at a considerably reduced income compared to my 80hr globe-trotting career. Do I miss Paris and Hanover and Amsterdam and London? Oh dear lord, yes. But ya know what, as hard as it is to believe, I'd rather have peanut butter and grape sandwiches sitting beside the duck pond with Boy than the best brie and wine money could buy in Paris.

The thing is; babies are people. Maybe that's really obvious to most people, I dunno...but I was astounded at how much of his own person Boy was from the moment he opened his eyes...and any plans that I had were sort of tossed out the window, because they had all been made before I met this person who was going to share the rest of my life with me.

I tell you this because there is nothing that anyone can say to you that will really "prepare you" for parenthood.

It's hard work, it's little sleep, it's ridiculous amounts of stress and worry, and smells and sights that you cannot believe are allowed by the Geneva conventions. But it's also astounding joy, blissful tears, pride and laughter. It's creating a world where someone else can succeed, and taking pleasure and joy when they accomplish it, and offering encouragement, and pats on the back and gentle pushes forward when they don't.

It's scraped knees, and allergy shots, and broken bones and drum kits and skateboards and fights and tantrums and tears and bedtime stories and kisses and handmade cards and burned eggs on mother's day. It's laughter. It's tears. It's frustration. It's incredibly hard work. It's love.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 1:31 PM on July 14, 2010

Trying to decide if you want to have kids by babysitting one for a weekend is like convincing a 4-year-old that Kindergarten will be great by taking him to a frat party. I've babysat kids, watched them for up to a week, have four much-younger siblings I've cared for, am currently a mentor in a program for foster kids, taught Sunday School for three years, and am still not absolutely certain I want babies I'll be responsible for forever.

Having said that, it is a good idea to have those sorts of experiences, at least a little - there is this tendency in our culture for only kids to come away from their own childhood without any sense that kids are normal. Since the OP seems to be one of those people, that may be contributing to her ill ease.

But most of what you need, I think, is communication (something you'll want to keep doing after the wedding, anyway) and personal reflection. What are your priorities? What will 50-year-old you be most proud of, most disappointed in? There's an entire section in your local library dealing in such issues; consult it.
posted by SMPA at 1:44 PM on July 14, 2010

Sorry, meant to also say: That there is nothing at all wrong with NOT being a parent. There is all sorts of excitement waiting for the childless (or child-free as some like to say).

It's ok to not want kids. It is. It's ok to not want them today, and want them later. (It generally doesn't work all that well if you don't want them after you have them, as apparently it's in bad form to sell children to wandering minstrels. Also...a real dearth of wandering minstrels.)

There are lots and lots and lots of reasons NOT to have children. All of them perfectly logical and rational.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 1:44 PM on July 14, 2010

I think it's vitally important that both parents enthusiastically agree to any addition to the family. I work in science (admittedly a not especially family-friendly profession) and I see a lot of marriages strained by resentment from parents who decided "well, I don't really want kids, but my wife/husband does so I guess it's OK" and then found that they too had to make sacrifices. They love their kids, of course, but they blame their spouse for putting them in this position.

In most of these cases the reluctant spouse is male, but when it's the woman it's worse, since she inevitably seems to get more than her share of the childcare responsibilities, and then feels guilty for her resentment because she worries she is a "bad mother".

So, I'd recommend keeping in mind that if you are decide to have kids to please your boyfriend rather than yourself, it may wreck your relationship anyway.
posted by LadyOscar at 1:55 PM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Due to biology, most of the work is going to be done by you regardless of any agreements you might make ahead of time, for kids you don't want as badly as he does. Period. This would be true even if he wasn't planning on being AWOL a good chunk of the time. Your life will be 100% messed up because of this specifically because you're the woman, and I tend to think that if you don't want children badly enough to destroy your life as it is now, maybe you shouldn't go there. Your fears are all 100% valid, and pretty likely given the circumstances. If you don't feel passionate about children yourself, by yourself, if he wasn't in the picture forcing you to have them....

Well, I'd say not to. Also, what would happen if you had kids for him and then he died/divorced you and you were stuck being a single parent? You'd better want the kids for yourself, not for him.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:07 PM on July 14, 2010 [6 favorites]

Just popped in to recommend this article. I thought it had a pretty balanced discussion of the issue.
posted by bananafish at 3:10 PM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

If she can't handle a weekend with someone else's kid, how would she handle a week, a month, a year with a newborn?

I think you're missing the point entirely. The point that others have also been trying to make that is spending time with your kid is not the same as someone else's. And spending time with a 10 year old is not the same as spending time with a newborn. I see what you're trying to say, but the fact is that a weekend with someone else's kid is not going to show you at all what it would be like to have your own and if you haven't had any experience with kids is probably not going to go well.

The analogy that I can come up with is trying to decide you want to be a chef by running the kitchen of a 5 star restaurant on the busiest night of the year, entirely on your own. It's trial by fire, but not only that, it's not at all representative of what the actual experience will be like. Taking care of someone else's kids =/ taking care of your own.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:43 PM on July 14, 2010

Slight derail. Grapefruitmoon wrote:I mean it. I work with kids 50hrs/wk and plan on having kids of my own and I could in NO WAY handle having a kid entirely by myself for an entire 48 hours solid. No way. I don't think I could even do 24 hours completely on my own. Thankfully, my partner and I have negotiated that I would never be expected to do so - that while I would be the primary caretaker by virtue of our various career paths and the fact that my career is in childcare - I would never, EVER be the SOLE caretaker.

What happens if your partner has an accident and it in the hospital? What if s/he has to go on a business trip/boys or girls only weekend/attend a funeral? What if there is a power outage and your partner can't get to you within your 24 hour window? You can't decide to be a parent if you are NEVER going to be alone with your child for 24 hours in a row. When you decide to be a parent you have to accept that if something happens (illness/death/divorce) you could be flying solo. If you can't handle that you shouldn't be having kids.

To the OP: I nth everyone above to suggests having a conversation with your boyfriend about both of your expectations regarding caring for your possible future children. Remember though, that those expectations may change once you have kids because kids change everything.
posted by Abbril at 5:49 PM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

One more thing: since adoption seems to be out, you really - as the woman - need to decide if you can handle being pregnant. Your life ceases to be your own from the very second you get that positive result - your hormones and the needs of your growing baby take control immediately. I've had friends who were absolutely shocked to find out how hard it is to grow a human being from scratch and if they weren't totally sold on having those babies, I imagine that experience can be pretty hellish.

For fathers, parenthood starts with pregnancy in the abstract - but their duties aren't really clear until the baby exists outside the womb. For mothers - the second you get knocked up, all of a sudden you're not just yourself anymore. You're yourself AND a host organism for another person who also already has needs and demands.

Your life will change not gradually, but immediately. And then it will change again even more powerfully when the baby is born. These changes can be amazing and awesome and life-affirming, or they can be completely terrifying. I would suggest that if you do decide to have children, you seriously look into the challenges of pregnancy so that you're not totally taken by surprise by how much work it really is.

Another thing worth mentioning is the role of biology at play here - you will, absolutely, have a huge surge of hormones and emotion when you meet your own child for the first time. Your body will naturally love that child more than your own life - it's what we're programmed to do. There's absolutely no comparison in hanging out with any other kid that will even approximate what that's like. (I say this not as a parent, but as someone who hangs out with kids every day and knows full well that it's nothing like what it will be like when I eventually become a parent.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:49 PM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Deal-Breaker. Your boyfriend and yourself have different life paths. Break up with him.
posted by ovvl at 8:44 PM on July 14, 2010

Due to biology, most of the work is going to be done by you regardless of any agreements you might make ahead of time, for kids you don't want as badly as he does.

I don't agree with this. Sure, breastfeeding is a lot of extra work only you can do, but your partner can do extra work in other areas to balance that out. I'm not sure where else biology has an impact, as implied above.

My husband absolutely shares the work of our baby (and I don't see why that wouldn't continue). Any partner who says it's not possible is selling a line, in my opinion. It's a choice.
posted by miss tea at 4:27 AM on July 15, 2010

miss tea, I know of very few people who have their husband share the work as equally as possible. Yes, once in a great while someone does it and I can think of a few examples, but not with 95% of the people I know with kids. I've been yelled at for saying that in the past, then when I asked who did what in the family, ah...they reconsidered their answer. Socially it's more accepted/assumed that the woman will take on most of the duties, and from what I've seen and heard from others, that is mostly what happens. It might just be socially "easier" to do that, plus breastfeeding does kind of chain you to doing the work more easily.

Mostly, it's gonna depend on who you marry. And this guy doesn't strike me as being an equal partner in baby care.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:35 PM on July 15, 2010

Oh, I agree that's the way it often (mostly) turns out. I was just trying to make the point that it's not inevitable by any stretch, it's a choice. I do know a few other families besides mine where the child care work (and housework in general) is shared equally.

I get what you're saying but the way you presented originally made it seem like there are no options, which in my opinion gives the man an easy out.

Agreed that this guy doesn't strike me, on limited information, as much of an equal partner.
posted by miss tea at 5:06 AM on July 16, 2010

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