How to decide if having children is right for us?
March 21, 2021 6:08 PM   Subscribe

How to decide if having children is right for us, after our life plan going off the rails?

Hi everyone,
I have been feeling very torn lately.
Long story short, my husband and I moved for a job opportunity several years ago. Our life plan went off the rails. We had planned to buy a house and start a family.

The decision to move ended up being a disaster, he was harassed and bullied at the federal agency he worked at, was illegally terminated, and we lost our life savings and wedding money fighting the agency, which I won't name. Our wedding occurred in the midst of this. I lost "best friends" who were in my wedding, who weren't able to be there for me during one of the hardest times of my life. We eventually obtained a settlement, which included backpay, retroactive benefits, and his name was cleared. We were staying with his parents and it was a very toxic environment. I could not find a decent job where we were, the job market was not good for my profession. He was luckily able to go to grad school (he got GI bill payments so we could keep paying the lawyers) and he did complete a MS degree. I moved back and got a good paying job, and between his GI bill payment and my job we were able to pay the legal fees without borrowing more than 30k (OMG) from family that we still have to repay.

He moved back to our original location after graduation. We were apart too long, and almost got divorced. There was so much anger and hurt we both went through with what we lost - dreams, money, friends, the wedding we wanted, family members' support. We went to marriage counseling and it took us about a year or so to settle into life together again. Now we are better than ever.

We live in a high cost of living area but have other supportive family here, and we both have decent jobs. We don't make enough for child care payments and need both of our jobs for cost of living - still working on getting promotions, which may not happen and makes supporting a child harder with less money. We have a small one bedroom apartment. Now, 5 years later after all this started, we are feeling more stable and very content with each other. However, he is 44 and I am 36. We have had a HARD start to our marriage. He is having health issues that are solvable. But we are also getting older.

I always thought I would have ONE child. I get tired easily and don't want to lose my mind. Now that life is finally calm for us, I sometimes dread the thought of going back to a high stress life. But other times I feel very sad thinking about missing out on that aspect of life I always thought I'd had. I have other things in my life that bring me joy, but not in the same way. Some older relatives recently passed away and that also makes me want to have a family, to continue "us" after we're gone. It's something we talk about openly and go back and forth with. I just don't know how to come to the right decision.
posted by notesforever84 to Human Relations (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
First, congratulations for making it through the tough parts of life that tested your relationship to the breaking point.

However, I would advise you to "trial" the situation before committing to baby-dom.

First, you need a discussion with him. If he's not supportive, this will put a strain on your relationship.

If he's supportive, it's time for a test. Have you heard of "RealCare Baby"? It's a baby simulator, basically a life-sized doll that will cry randomly and need to be diapered and fed, and burped, positioned, and rocked. It was often assigned in high school as a deterence to teen pregnancy. Prospective parents can rent one for a few days to make sure they are ready for the strain.

This same company also has simulated pregnancy belly for rent (?!).
posted by kschang at 6:23 PM on March 21 [4 favorites]

I would start planning and getting creative with logistics strategies AS IF you were really going to have a child. Work out the details for yourselves. If you want, you can plan an alternative time-consuming but rewarding activity to do if you decide not to have a child, so you'll know that your planning is for _something_.
posted by amtho at 6:26 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]

I think a child would be very fortunate to be born to parents like you and your husband, because you two clearly are committed, tenacious, resourceful people, who can take a lot of misfortune and turn it around. Life is all about dealing with problems. They never end. One gets fixed, another comes up. You've clearly been able to manage that reality. People who are 'successful' at childraising aren't the ones who somehow managed to have all their ducks lined up at the beginning and somehow avoided difficulty for themselves and their children. Your child would learn from you two, soooo much of what is essential for living a meaningful life.

There's no winning formula. There's no guarantee that having had a dream wedding or owning a house at the start of a child's life is in any way demonstrably better -- for the long term health of the child -- than not having one.

It's really good you two are talking about this. REALLY good. If it's hard to come to a decision, (a) you are not alone! keep talking to other people about this, they will have helpful things to say!! ; and (b) I wonder if talking to a third party, like a marriage counselor, could provide some useful frameworks for how to take the discussion from discussion to decision.

FWIW, I know a hundred people who have had kids in their late 30's (my daughter's mom among them). Sure, risk is somewhat higher, but 36 (or 37, or 38) is by no means Off Limits. But it is understandable that you are tired and recovering from some really challenging and exhausting times and that the child-raising enterprise can look daunting if you're still processing and carrying the remnants of those struggles. Feeling like Father Time is watching you with his stopwatch ticking is unlikely to add much of value to the process. Taking a year or two to recover, to be able (finally?) to have some time to put towards yours and your marriage's needs, might be just the right step to get you to where you want or need to go.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 6:40 PM on March 21 [24 favorites]

You've had a pretty rocky marriage so far. If you have a baby now, how okay are you with say, becoming a single parent in a few years? I'm not saying that your marriage is gonna end, but you've been highly stressed for a lot of years and this is gonna be another stressor. If you have a kid with your husband, you will always be tied to him and have him in your life for another 18 years even if you get divorced. Is he the kind of guy you can deal with as an ex-husband for 18 years (i.e. is he reasonable) or does your husband perhaps have traits that would not be fun to deal with in co-parenting?

Also, you could try the whole coin flip thing. If you never have a kid, how do you feel about it? Is the thought of having a kid worth everything? Would you always regret it if you say no and fast forward in your brain 5 years?
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:43 PM on March 21 [19 favorites]

There are so many ways to leave a legacy that do not involve creating a life. Be kind to those around you, create art, volunteer, write, help start a program for children in your community, donate to a legal aid fund, focus on finding and nurturing a diverse range of deep friendships, contribute in a positive way to your community and anyone you meet.

Hanging hopes on a child to carry on the honor of your family is an incredible burden. Ask me how I know. The lingering disappointment from not getting the wedding you want isn't a great sign. You can have a party any time; if your child isn't "perfect" it lasts your whole life, and that's if you're lucky.
posted by phunniemee at 7:03 PM on March 21 [30 favorites]

You know how get through hard times as a couple. You know how to deal with life when it goes off the rails. You two stuck together when you could have fallen apart. You don't seem to have any illusions that parenthood is a cakewalk. There's a lot of gold here.

There is no right or wrong answer. Yes, you'll have hard times if you have a kid. But you'll deal and be okay. You'll get through it. Might you regret having not having a kid? Maybe. Maybe not. But you'll get through that too. No matter what you decide you'll be okay.
posted by space_cookie at 7:25 PM on March 21 [4 favorites]

Take some time to yourself to just be. Listen to your gut (it's got neurons, too). If there is no obvious immediate answer from your gut, try on different statements and see if any of them speak to your gut. What does your gut say?
posted by aniola at 7:25 PM on March 21 [2 favorites]

You have learnt the hard way that the future can never be predicted. You can keep waiting for the perfect time and perfect set up to have a kid, but -- as you both now know -- that could change at any moment. What you've also learnt, however, is that you two are survivors and are committed to each other no matter how hard it gets. That's huge.

Also, bear in mind that a lot of the way we talk about having children in the US is very negative. There is always the underlying assumption that parenthood is awful and exhausting and utter drudgery. Sure, sometimes it is -- especially if you don't have a good equitable partnership as parents. But kids can also be an utter joy. Beautiful, snuggly, silly, giggling bundles of loveliness, even when they are covered in snot and/or having a meltdown. We often forget to talk about that when we have these kind of conversations. You might decide that you want someone lovely to be in your family with you, even if the logistics are hard.
posted by EllaEm at 8:11 PM on March 21 [19 favorites]

This is so close to my own experience -- you are definitely not alone in this journey. For us, the life disruption was mental illness. We'd had a lovely wedding, had just bought a house (which we nearly lost), and were feeling financially secure. Then we had years of unbelievable disruption and struggle. And now, years later, we are on the "other side" stronger than ever, just like you and your partner. You've been put to the test and your resilience carried you through.

We had to re-evaluate our own dreams in our mid-thirties and develop a new vision for our future. There are three blog posts from Cup of Jo that I read many, many times (the comments on these are great as well): How did you know you were ready to have a baby?, How many children do you hope to have? , and 7 women on deciding not to have kids.

Something that was really impactful for me was deciding to welcome the idea of a child, just to "try it on". As EllaEm wrote in a previous comment, there is a lot of negativity in the way we talk about pregnancy and children in North America. Plus, I had spent so long in situations where having a kid would be very, very challenging, it was a big mindset change to give myself permission to dream about that a little bit.

I'm also a spiritual person, and I have the sense that whether or not we have children, it's all part of something bigger. That brings me tremendous calm in what can be a fraught decision. YMMV on this one, of course.

I wish you so, so much courage and joy.
posted by third word on a random page at 8:26 PM on March 21 [9 favorites]

I think children are absolutely magical, and if having a kid is something you think you want, and you trust yourself to take care of it lovingly, you should go for it. The details will work out in some way, as long as you know you can commit to being respectful to the new little person you've created. 36 is getting closer to the age of deciding... but if you need a little more time, it's also an age where that's probably ok too.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 9:00 PM on March 21 [4 favorites]

You can't predict the future. There'll be hard times in your life whether or not you have children. Children will be hard sometimes. There is no right time to have a child. People who wait never do it, which is like pretty much everything.
I have children. I'm not rich, but I look at people with money and think they're missing out, because they don't have anyone who's that close to them, even if they have good friends.
My children borrow my car, refuse to accept my advice, argue with me about books and music, drink my alcohol and then have to be cajoled into eating food I provide. You can't imagine how wonderful all of that is.
I can't provide much advice on child rearing, because nobody who's raised a child will ever claim they knew what they were doing, but children are amazing and it will make you happy just to be around them. When people tell me they're not having children I think that's a valid choice, you can add meaning to your life in other ways, and there are certainly lots of people in the world. But children are wonderful, and they bring a warmth into life that I don't think can be had any other way.
posted by AugustusCrunch at 11:16 PM on March 21 [12 favorites]

This is my own experience and not advice for what anyone should do.

I am the mother of three children, 22, 19, and 15. There was never a question in my head about whether I wanted children. Even as a small child I loved babies.

I absolutely loved the baby part of having children, even with the loss of sleep and stress of constant vigilance. I was very lucky in having an extremely supportive partner who also loved babies and did his fair share of the work of parenting despite being the breadwinner while I stayed at home.

Now that they're adults/nearly adults I often find myself regretting having children. They're wonderful people and I have no major conflicts with any of them.

But we live in a very complex society and it can be hard to find your place in it and figure out how to make a living/make a life and I sometimes find myself regretting imposing life on them and giving them this enormous problem to deal with (life, the gigantic challenges therein) and also saddling myself with the problem of what to do with them if they don't solve the problems on their own.

( Hi kids, if you ever find this post, I love you! You know that. But you remember all those times you said "I never asked to be born!"? Sometimes I feel bad about that).
posted by Jenny'sCricket at 2:21 AM on March 22 [24 favorites]

don't want to lose my mind

If the two of you want kids, it's the right choice. It will never be the ideal time, it will never be the ideal circumstance. It's a bit like the saying "there's no bad weather, just the wrong clothes." If you wanna go outside, wear layers. That is, if you're going outside anyway you can only prepare as much as you can - and then you go out.

From our experience - the level of change has been inconceivable. It's been both good and bad, but above all else it has changed us (individually and together). And for all the tribulations implicit in that, I am above all else very, very grateful.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:55 AM on March 22 [6 favorites]

I can't help with your decision, but I just wanted to duck in to say that at your age, do not assume that you can "take a year or two to recover" and still have a child. Female fertility declines rapidly starting in the mid-thirties.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 7:17 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]

Where does your husband currently stand on the idea of children? I didn't get a sense of that from the post. I think for a lot of people, especially cishet women, an excitement and commitment from their partners for the work of childrearing makes a huge difference in outcomes.
posted by Kwine at 7:25 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]

Also, bear in mind that a lot of the way we talk about having children in the US is very negative. There is always the underlying assumption that parenthood is awful and exhausting and utter drudgery. Sure, sometimes it is -- especially if you don't have a good equitable partnership as parents. But kids can also be an utter joy. Beautiful, snuggly, silly, giggling bundles of loveliness, even when they are covered in snot and/or having a meltdown. We often forget to talk about that when we have these kind of conversations. You might decide that you want someone lovely to be in your family with you, even if the logistics are hard.


OP, I am glad you're having these conversations with your spouse and I strongly encourage you to talk to more people about this, listen to your gut, honor the little voices inside you be they of caution or desire, and respect both your feelings when you make this decision.

My contribution here is to amplify what EllaEm said. I feel like the prevailing attitude on the internet about having kids is an overcorrection against the platitudes about children that we all hear from older generations - that children are wonderful and fulfilling and the most meaningful thing people can do with their life and la la la la. The truth actually lies in BOTH viewpoints, not somewhere inbetween. The best comparison I can give you, from personal experience, is the way I feel about exercise: it's can honestly feel like fucking torture sometimes, it is boring and repetitive and uncomfortable and frankly even disgusting... but also there's just a bone-deep, soul-deep satisfaction, wholesome joy, and stupendous payoffs. Let neither the doom-sayers nor the compulsovely positive folks keep you from seeing that BOTH of them are right. This elephant has BOTH a trunk and a tail!
posted by MiraK at 8:43 AM on March 22 [13 favorites]

My general advice is that if you have hesitation about it, don't. My husband and I were always on the fence, and eventually decided to go for it, for lots of small silly reasons, but mostly just the feeling that we'd be missing out not to. We have two boys, 4 and 6. I love them with all my heart, but I do not love parenting. It is so consuming and everything in your life--your time, your space, your money, your body, your everything--is on the back burner if there at all, at least for several years. That is all good as long as you're really into it, but yes, your instinct that it will be a massive sacrifice and stress increase is exactly right.
posted by reksb at 11:01 AM on March 22 [12 favorites]

Speaking of negative representations, older people without children are usually represented in media as sad and lonely. They are described as objects of pity, and never as role models or someone to be envied.

This negative portrayal is so prevalent that I hesitated to ask real-life friends in their 50s, 60s, and 70s how they felt about not having kids. I worried that I would be hitting a sore spot. What I discovered was the opposite! They had decades of rich experience, travel, and hobbies. They continued cultivating their friendships into lifelong deep bonds. By not having to pay for kids, they saved enough money for early retirement. They never for a moment regretted their decision to be childfree.

These older childfree friends got deep satisfaction through pursuits such as motorcycling through South America with close friends, starting a fulfilling business, and becoming an admired leader in the local community. They had the time to make a wide range of friends, including younger friends like me. They felt extremely fulfilled, while avoiding what they saw as the drudgery and suffering of raising kids. They generally felt lucky.

For example, Oprah is a childfree celebrity, but the media rarely mentions that she is childfree and certainly never holds her up as a role model for the childfree life. On the other hand, countless celebrities are held up constantly as role model moms (and dads).

Just want to point out this unequal media portrayal, as you make your decision.
posted by sandwich at 11:16 AM on March 22 [15 favorites]

i was 36, i was on the fence for years, but it has been so, so wonderful! she's 3 now. marriage is on the rocks, i'm exhausted, whatever. zero regrets and i have to keep myself from telling everyone i know in my age group that regardless of their circumstances they should go for it. i know it's not right for everyone, but as far as my personal experience, it's exceeded expectations.
posted by katieanne at 11:29 AM on March 22 [5 favorites]

My kids are 100% my favorite people, and I can't imagine life without them. And, I always thought that I would have more than two. But I divorced their father, and met my current partner, and through a variety of conversations and observations, my current partner was clear that he did not want to have any more children beyond the one he has. And I am 100% sure that deciding to procreate with someone who wasn't on board was going to bring a whole lot of pain to all involved- especially if we split up. I have so many issues with the father of my children, but as a father,in hindsight, he was good enough for my kids,while he wasn't the most emotionally available, but he did provide very good financial support and continues to support them financially even now that they are in college.

So, while I have not been in your particular situation, I did have to come to terms with deciding to give up on the idea of having more children, and I think with each painful part of our lives, it isn't something that is clear to me as the right choice- more that it just is. And I feel this way about many things in life- including my divorce and the way I have handled difficult situations- yes there are regrets and what ifs, but there is also relief, and aspects of life I never considered. Sometimes the most painful heart wrenching life choices end up transforming one's life. My kids are both away at college, and my life is great with my partner, and every once and a while I consider if I have a baby or toddler or preschooler, and for the most part, I am relieved I don't. And while I miss having the bond that a child brings, I don't miss the triangulation, or split loyalties that happens with parenting (and I experienced with my ex.) There is no one right choice, but hopefully you will come to the one that is best for you and your husband.
posted by momochan at 12:45 PM on March 22 [2 favorites]

I was in a similar situation when my spouse and I decided to go for it, but a little younger. Turned out I was infertile and it took years of interventions to get and stay pregnant, so we ended up a few years “behind schedule,” so to speak. We’ll be even older as our kids grow up. We should have started sooner.

I was definitely hesitant about having kids in the first place, but my spouse was an adamant believer and he eventually changed my mind. But now... the kids are at difficult ages. I feel like I’ve lost my freedom. And they consume so much of me. I miss my old life in a lot of respects.

Another factor is that one of our kids has a significant disability. It’s unlikely they’ll ever live independently. It’s a lot more likely that my spouse and I will be caring for them for the rest of our lives. We’ve basically lost the future we always wanted to have. So that’s a huge part of my feelings about having had kids. (I know that’s a terrible thing to say, but it’s true.)
posted by sock puppet du jour at 1:35 PM on March 22 [9 favorites]

I’ve been struggling with the same dilemma over the past year or so and it’s been a rough ride. I’ve had great fear that I’ve “lost my chance,” and fear of future regrets. I left a toxic job right before covid hit and ended up unemployed for over a year. That really put into harsh perspective what it would be like for our income-to-expense ratio to take a bit hit. That along with the pandemic, and the skyrocketing cost of living in my city, meant postponing our goals of marriage and buying a house.

I went through a dark time when I believed with all my heart that I would never find happiness and fulfillment without becoming a mother, and I broke down crying almost daily over it. As the topic consumed me, I began reading about different experiences of parenthood, to try to learn and find as much as I possibly could. I explored all the good and the bad. Very similar to what you’re doing right now. I journaled every night with specific intentions - to find gratitude, to learn where I derive happiness, and to understand what gives me passion to live.

And somehow I came out on the other side having decided that children are not for me. I realized that I am actually happy. More than happy. Since finding a new job, finally a job I enjoy, I have a passion for my work and career that I never had before. I have more friends than I have time in my calendar to spend with them all (post covid) and my fears that my “mom friends” would eventually drift apart from me never did come true. Especially now that most of their kids are out of the baby years. I have so many interests that I’ve put off pursuing for so long due to being in school for forever, being a broke new grad, and then being worked half to death. If now isn’t the time for me to start living, then when?

And I really do feel like this is the right choice, because as soon as the conclusion came to me, I felt nothing but sheer relief. I continue to feel complete and utter relief. Instead of fretting about possible infertility and having to start trying right the fuck now, and how we’re going to pay for daycare and still save money toward a house, and our kid’s future education, and mayyyybe retirement, we just... bought the house. We’re planning our future honeymoon. We’re planning a post-covid trip with a couple of close friends. We’re just enjoying each other’s company. My previous turmoil was driven purely by fear. Fear of not having what everyone else had, fear of missing out, fear that the choice was being made for me instead of being a choice I made. I don’t have that fear anymore. I look at my friends with kids and I no longer envy their lives.

Maybe we’re selfish. I don’t know. The world feels like an overpopulated place with really big problems and not really any feasible solutions. The pandemic and recent political events have shone a light on how awful people can be to each other, and how fragile social progress really is. What kinds of battles will today’s children be fighting as adults? What kinds of wars? Would we as elderly parents be well equipped enough to take care of ourselves, let alone our children? Could we ever stop worrying about them? A close friend is now finding that her youngest is showing some worrying signs of developmental delays and . If that was my child, could I ever get past the guilt? Not that parents of children with disabilities should feel guilty, I just know that I would. Just as I would if my child grew up to be unhappy or unwell in anyway. Someone to love and care for us in old age? There’s no guarantee of that even with children. I’ve seen too many families ripped apart squabbling over inheritance money before grandma or grandpa had even passed yet.

So yeah... I may be missing out on the experience of being a mother. It does still make me sad that I will never know a little mini version of my partner. He’s so great with babies and kids, that it seems a shame he won’t be a father. But we are happy right now and we will be happy for the foreseeable future with what we have. We’ll continue building an exciting and fulfilling future together. We don’t feel like we have the right resources (money and time) at hand for us (not speaking for anyone else, only ourselves) to be happy and fulfilled as parents. And that’s ok because we do have what we need to be happy and fulfilled in other ways.

Good luck, I hope you find your answer.
posted by keep it under cover at 8:42 PM on March 22 [6 favorites]

I didn't think about having babies at all and at 23, wasn't careful about contraception. For various reasons, I decided to keep the baby, and his father, and had a second child so that the first wouldn't be an only child. It's been the hardest, most grueling, difficult, painful thing I ever did, but also the most rewarding (they are both close to 30 now). I wouldn't wish them away, I love them too much, and most of the hard stuff is done, but they are still a complex drain on me, as is the knowledge that though I tried my best, I wasn't the best of parents, and their father was a very bad father who still impacts their lives.

I had a friend once (almost a generation older) who suggested that the ideal time to have children is when you can't bear not to anymore, but she wasn't taking into consideration the biological clock.

If it were me, in your circumstances, with what I know now about the work that children and an unavailable or sick spouse is, (which is ridiculous because I don't know you, and how could I know what raising children in poverty with an unreliable husband would be like), I wouldn't do it.

Once I left the bad husband and the children left home, [they were still (and continue to be) a financial burden to me], and because of ex-husband, my career had stagnated 20 years. But my career improved, I was able to travel, I had time for friends and following my interests - my life improved impossibly.

However, please take my "advice" with a grain of salt, as we may be nothing alike with different values. I wish you the best in deciding, and if you do have a baby, that they sleep through the night before your maternity leave is over.
posted by b33j at 12:12 AM on March 23 [2 favorites]

We don't make enough for child care payments and need both of our jobs for cost of living - still working on getting promotions, which may not happen and makes supporting a child harder with less money. We have a small one bedroom apartment.

People love to say "it will all work out," but it doesn't sound like you are financially in a position to support a child. Kids are a stressor on a relationship even if the parents have all the time and money in the world.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:19 AM on March 23 [2 favorites]

Ignore me if I'm fixating on semantics. But in your ask, you talk about the possibility of regretting not having a kid, but I don't see anywhere where you say you actually want one. Like, *want* one. Like almost like yearning for one. You thought you'd have one. But you don't say in as many words, at least, that you always wanted one/etc.

Again hopefully not getting overly analytical with what you happened to write, but you do say you have things in your life that bring you joy, but not in the same way. Again, if you just assumed it was understood you actually really want a child, then that would read differently to me. But as is, it makes me want to note that some large number of parents had kids because something was missing from their lives, but it turned out kids wasn't it. I think it often follows the discovery that getting married also wasn't it, and probably similar discoveries before that. Might not apply to you at all, but also might be worth examining.
posted by troywestfield at 1:48 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]

« Older How can I get access to legal records in Puerto...   |   what if an intra-muscular injection needle is too... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments