How Do You Know If You’re Ready to Have Children?
A friend of mine told me that she’s so excited for motherhood because she can’t wait for life to slow down. I’m not sure how she imagines parenting, but the last word I’d use to describe it is slow. Are there long stretches of mind-numbing boredom with an infant? Sure, just as there are long stretches of mind-numbing boredom with meetings in the workplace. But overall, it’s a fairly fast-paced job with a loud, demanding boss who won’t necessarily tell you what he or she wants yet expects you to just know.
Bea sent me a post about how one cannot possibly know what parenting is like before having a child, therefore, any attempt to try to discern what parenting will be like in order to use that knowledge to make a decision about whether you’re ready to parent (or if you ever want to at all) is untenable. I’d argue that pretty much every aspect of life is unknowable before being immersed in it, but I guess few other choices have a no-going-back clause like parenting. You can get out of a marriage, you can switch schools, you can change careers, you can sell your car and buy a new one. But you can’t really decide three years into parenting that maybe it wasn’t for you without affecting a lot of people’s lives forever.
So how do you know?
I remember before we started trying that I was talking to a co-worker in the teacher’s lounge who had just had a second child. I asked her how she knew that she was ready to parent, and she told me that when she could imagine a world where she couldn’t go out to the bar any night on a whim for happy hour, she knew she was ready. So I went back to my classroom and tried to think of my life without the ability to go to a coffeehouse and read in the evening (I obviously led a tamer life), and that sounded awful. Which meant that I probably wasn’t ready for kids.
Except I did feel ready to parent.
So I asked my sister what she thought of the advice, and she told me that this woman’s thoughts on parenthood seemed to contain a lot of either/or, whereas the reality was that parenthood was a long experience that was constantly changing and that even in babyhood, there would be ways to get to the coffeehouse if that was what I wanted. Though I may not find that I want that down the line anyway. Parenthood does not mean boxing up your life and never doing what you love again. It just means juggling things around a bit to make sure you don’t lose yourself while parenting someone else.
So I wrote a note to my not-yet baby in the journal I bought. (I was so naive; I thought we’d get pregnant in the first try, so I prefilled the journal with lead-up thoughts so the baby would have more to read when they grew up. Bwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah, the universe laughs.) I told the baby that I already loved it more than reading in coffeehouses. It’s true; even before they arrived, I loved the twins more than books and coffeehouses. Which doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes miss the ability to go sit in a coffeehouse and read a book whenever I wish. I mean, I can, but like all lives — with or without kids — there are responsibilities that need to come first and a lot of them get in the way of relaxing. Or going to the coffeehouse looks different: I take the twins, and they read their books and have a hot chocolate while I read my book and have a coffee, and I get to have the experience I want without shirking anything in the process*.
So I wrote that note and got started trying to make said baby.
And years later, we had the twins. I got a lot of time to really think hard about whether this was what I wanted or not. And yes, I made the decision without truly knowing what parenting would be like for me: how I would do being responsible for another human being, what type of child I would get, and whether or not the two of us would mesh well together. The only thing I could know was whether I was ready for my life to change, and once I could cringe and say, “I think so,” we went ahead and tried to change it by adding parenthood into the mix. And in some ways, it is what I thought parenthood would be and in other ways, it is nothing as I expected.
I also don’t think that point ever ends. You can’t know what it is like to have a toddler while you have a baby. You can’t know what it’s like to have a kindergartener while you have a toddler. You can’t know what it’s like to have a teenager while you have a kindergartener. Every stage of life has been a surprise. Which shouldn’t be a surprise at all since that is the way everything has gone in my life sans kids too: I didn’t know what adulthood would be like as a teenager, and I’m guessing that I won’t know what it will feel like to be in my eighties until I get there.
It reminds me of a question I constantly ask: how will I know when the twins are ready? How will I know when they’re old enough for me to leave the room for a moment? How will I know when they’re old enough to let them go downstairs by themselves in the morning? How will I know when they’re old enough to leave alone at home for an hour? (We haven’t done that last one yet.) The fact is, we won’t know. In the past, I’ve guessed based on a gut decision. But until I reached that moment, I couldn’t predict the age or day it would happen. Just one day, it felt right to walk out of the room to get something, and one day it felt okay to send them downstairs and go back to sleep.
I guess you’re ready when you notice the readiness coupled with the thought that everything is a chance. When you can accept that chance as well as anyone can accept the outcomes of a chance, go for it.
How did you make the decision to start trying to build your family whether you have reached parenthood or not?
* Coffeehouses and books mean a lot to me. I started taking the kids with me when they were nine months old after RSV season. And we’ve never stopped. It’s easier now that they’re older, but if it means a lot to you, my sister was correct that you find ways to work it in.