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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.


1 Courtney { 03.05.13 at 7:41 am }

Brandon and I knew that we both wanted to be parents before we ever met. It was a conversation that happened early along in our dating life. Once we had been married for a year I stopped taking the dreaded birth control pill. We knew that he had fertility issues stemming from a previous battle with Testicular Cancer but we began trying on our own nonetheless. So many people told us to wait longer to try and I am glad that we ignored them and did what we both wanted instead.
Here we are 11 weeks away from the delivery of our precious daughter nearing what would be our 3 year Infertility Anniversary. =) It sucked along the way, but it’s not about the end result, but about the journey there.

Your friend’s thought about life slowing down with children. Wow! My life has sped up so much just becoming pregnant. I only work two days a week now and there’s still not enough time to get ready for baby’s arrival! My mind can only race and imagine what it will be like keeping the house in order, updating my blog, and maintaining relationships all the while parenting a child.

2 serenity { 03.05.13 at 8:26 am }

I’ve always wanted to parent; have always been drawn to kids and wanted to be a mom. We had an idea that we’d never really be “ready” per se for kids, but we’d make it work.

I did laugh at the “life slowing down” comment. I don’t know if it was the dichotomy of our slow years of being infertile and then having a baby, but ever since Lucky was born it seems that time has sped up to a breakneck pace. I half expect to wake up tomorrow; where it’s actually 20 years from now.


3 MeAndBaby { 03.05.13 at 8:30 am }

I had a push/pull thing going on when I first thought of and then started TTC. I was (and still am) single so my more practical side was telling me I was not ready but the drive to research, make the appointments, find a donor, keep on going after failed cycles, and an infertility diagnosis, and then losses, told me otherwise. It was almost as if it was an unconscious decision. It was this force inside me telling me I was ready to be a mom. And I was. As much as I am scared to death of what the future brings as my twins grow and move on to the next stage in their lives, and as I struggle to try to do it right, I know I was ready. But, hell no, my life sure has not slowed down! It’s crazy and busy and fun and hectic and amazing. But slow, it sure is not.

4 Chickenpig { 03.05.13 at 8:48 am }

Unlike most people I had a lot of training with kids and babies. My mother was a teacher for pre K to 3rd grade, and my sister and I spent summers going with her to work. When I needed a job, my mother’s former co workers and friends who had their own pre schools hired me on. When I worked in a pre school the first time I was only 19 earning money for college, and it was the best birth control EVER. The second time I was 30, and I started to warm up to these little creatures as people. My grandmother said I would know if I wanted to marry someone if I couldn’t imagine my life without him. I think you are ready to be a parent when/if the idea of always living without a child frightens you or leaves you feeling sad. That was when my husband and I started trying.

5 Pepper { 03.05.13 at 8:57 am }

Although my life definitely didn’t slow down when I had my daughter I can sort of understand the concept… I felt overwhelmed by my job and stressed all the time, even though I thought I liked it. What I realize now is that parenting is overwhelming and stressful in a different way but I am so much happier now that I handle it differently and better. I actually like and love being a parent as opposed to thinking I liked being a teacher (which I guess I did most of the time, but it’s not the same). So in a way things did “slow down” while they also got infinitely busier. If that makes sense… which it does to me. 🙂

6 a { 03.05.13 at 9:37 am }

For all of my 20s and some of my 30s, I said I was too young to get married, and I meant it. After I moved in with my (not yet) husband, and we had survived for a year together (mostly 24/7, since we worked together too), I said that I was ready to get married. For me, that meant I was ready for parenting too, because that was really the only reason I had to get married. I didn’t care about being married otherwise, and just about had a complete mental breakdown on the street a day or two before our wedding. (Apparently, that’s especially common for people having destination weddings – my friend got married the following year in Tahoe and left the Doobie Brothers concert she had arranged for all of us because she got overwhelmed, and the other bridesmaid who had recently gotten married talked about throwing her engagement ring on the street just prior to her wedding somewhere tropical).

I guess parenting can allow you to slow down if you have a particularly active social life, or if people have expectations of you to show up places. Once my daughter came, I stopped caring if my mother got upset when I wouldn’t drive to Chicago for Christmas.

7 gwinne { 03.05.13 at 10:09 am }

Well, given that I’m single, becoming a parent was a definite choice. (I realize this doesn’t happen in THIS community, but aren’t something like 50% of pregnancies unplanned? Yeah, then there’s the rest of us…) I was also young (27 when I made the decision, though the first kid wasn’t born until 31). The desire was always there. And then there was a need for a job, a home, etc. Practical things. And I’d tell myself at times “if you can’t do X” (like driving on a particularly scary highway) then you’re not ready to be a mom; yes, very arbitrary, but I wanted to feel something resembling ready. Went through a very similar process years later trying for #2.

8 Denver Laura { 03.05.13 at 10:37 am }

I always thought that I’d have 2 kids (lucky to have 1). I first desperately wanted to have a baby after I got laid off at the ripe old age of 24. Thankfully that wasn’t in the cards as that marriage crumbled. We fostered for 2 years and after having 2 and 3 kids at a time, we’ve decided 1 is perfect for us. And somehow, we still manage to fit everything into our schedule. Of course, it helps that we’re being woken up at the break of dawn 🙂

9 Queenie { 03.05.13 at 11:18 am }

For me, being ready meant being.g done with the things that would have been hard to do with a child the way that I wanted to do them. (I.e., work 80 hours a week in a demanding job). I remember so clearly being in the middle of a huge project at work, so focused, so present in the moment, and being really demanding of a colleague, no doubt, and also a little tired and unhealthy. He turned to me and said that I really needed to slow down, have a kid, pace myself a little. And he wasn’t wrong. Life is busy with two kids, and hectic, but I’ve definitely slowed down. I think of his comment often. The question of whether motherhood slows you down really depends on what your life looked like before.
comment often, when I’m raring to go, but with a toddler and a baby in tow. It takes a cocos effort on my party to slow down and live life at their speed. I suppose the question of whether Not

10 Queenie { 03.05.13 at 11:25 am }

Gah. Damn phone. I was trying to say that it takes a conscious effort on my part to slow down and live through my childrens’ eyes, at their pace. I’m wired to go a million miles an hour, even when is unhealthy. So, I get your friend’s comment.

11 loribeth { 03.05.13 at 11:30 am }

I got married at 24 & I KNEW I did NOT want a baby right away. For several reasons, including: (1) We were totally, completely flat broke. :p I remember scrounging through the cupboards the night before we flew home for Christmas that year, looking for something I could make for supper. I had exactly 65 cents in my purse. (2) I had just finished five years of university (& had student loans to pay off — see point #1). I figured I owed it to my parents & myself to do something with all that education, put down some roots in a job before I started taking mat leave. (3) My parents had me when my mother was barely 20 & dad was 21. I knew grandchildren were definitely on their wish list, but they did not want to see history repeating itself in that respect. (4) We were living in a small one-bedroom apartment in the middle of the city. I didn’t think it was the best place to raise a baby (it was also an adult-only building when we first moved in, although that changed). (5) I was living far away from my family, dh’s mother was dead, and stepMIL had yet to enter the picture (& even then, the relationship was not close). I knew I would not have a lot of support. (6) Our relationship had, for the most part, been long distance for the past few years. I wanted some time to be a couple with my husband & have some fun. (7) I was 24 & thought I had lots of time.

Time flies when you’re having fun. 😉 Getting a job and a house took a lot longer than we had anticipated… we were in our apartment for five years. Meanwhile, the Toronto housing market went nuts — we reached the point where we were making enough money to carry a mortgage payment — but were it not for my very generous FIL, we never could have afforded the downpayment. Of course, you get this huge mortgage and go “eeekkk!” and realize you need to keep working for awhile to pay it off. Our youngest nephew was born in 1992, when we’d been married 7 years, & I remember getting a bit of an itch at that point. We talked about it & dh actually said OK — and then I got cold feet. :p

So we carried on until around the time of our 10th wedding anniversary. I felt much more secure, financially and careerwise, and 10 years and 35th birthday coming up were both milestone numbers. So I made an appointment to chat with my family doctor. And the long, strange journey began….

12 Alexicographer { 03.05.13 at 11:52 am }

Slow down … hahahaha, slow down. Oh, that’s a good one.

Well, the hubby already had two kids, so the decision to marry him was pretty much the decision to start parenting (arguably just the decision to date him at some point included a decision to start parenting, but whatever. Before we were married I started helping him pay the mortgage which OMG I would never advise anyone to do, but I knew if everything crashed and burned all I was really doing was helping my (future) stepkids out and even if I’d gotten burned, I could have lived with that.).

As for the second batch (which turned out to be a batch of 1), it was basically once the stepkids had moved on to college and we could afford (er, sort of) the vasectomy reversal. At that point I was working 5 states away (teaching college) from DH and he kept asking what we’d do (given the bi-state living arrangements) if I got pregnant, and I absolutely knew first off that that was a boringly mundane “problem,” and secondly that it was the least of our worries, something about which I was right, in spades.

We didn’t start IVF until I’d found another job in the same town as DH, but that decision related more to my higher salary and it finally being “affordable” (again, hahahaha) than anything else. By then it was (very) clear the reversal had failed and in retrospect if I could do anything differently it would have been to start earlier (not just the reversal but the IVF), but, oh well.

13 Liana { 03.05.13 at 12:12 pm }

If I had to guess, I’d say the idea of “slowing down” when you become a parent has more to do with where your focus lies. Certainly, parenting is the most demanding and relentless thing I’ve ever done. But being focused on what’s happening inside my house rather than what’s happening outside it makes me feel centered, grounded. “Slowing down” doesn’t seem like an unfair term for it from someone who may not know yet exactly what she means by it.

14 Kate (Bee In The Bonnet) { 03.05.13 at 1:38 pm }

In my case, early parenthood (and even sometimes still now at 2.5 yrs) felt more like shrinking instead of slowing down. Discovering the babytime at our local library grew my world a tiny bit and gave me the chance to meet several mamas of babies who are very close in age to my boys who are now my closest friends locally. And life isn’t so small anymore. I was totally unprepared for how incredibly small my life would feel (and at the same time, full of a love so big it felt like it couldn’t be contained in my body). It was just such a singular focus on this one task, only it wasn’t just one “task”– it was every single thing in my life being devoted to the survival and happiness of these two little lives. It was a lot of incredibly intense attention, blocking out everything else in the outside world. And I didn’t really know it would be so totally, completely all-consuming (I look forward to the day when I can sit at a coffee shop again without having to pay for child care– it’s just not possible with my children, not yet). I knew it would mean a lot of compromises, a lot of changes, but as you said, there’s really no way to know exactly what it will be like. I still exist, my life still exists, my desires and dreams and visions, etc., all still exist, but without major “arranging”, those “me” parts are in the background. The kiddos are #1. Even when I do manage to arrange life to be able to focus on the “me” things, life is still small, in that my head is consumed with my children. When I go out for coffee, it’s LOOK AT ME! I’M GOING FOR COFFEE! IT’S EXCITING BECAUSE I HAVE CHILDREN AND I NEVER GET TO DO THIS!!!! It’s not, ‘oh, I went out for coffee.’ It’s shouting from the rooftops how awesome it is to get some time away, and meanwhile thinking about them or feeling guilty that they aren’t with me, or that there’s a thousand other things I should be doing with my time rather than being so self-focused.

I don’t know. I don’t mean this to be some sort of therapy thing, but the change from being blissfully ignorant of how “selfish” I was (if by ‘selfish’, I mean ‘a totally normal human being who focused on her happiness’…) to feeling pretty much content with a life that focuses so intensely on something/someone outside my own head– that was a pretty big change, and one I wasn’t prepared for. I don’t want to sound like a mom who never puts her own happiness first– I do– but I wasn’t prepared to WANT to put myself last so often. Life got small, and I guess from pre-parenting perspective could feel instead like life would slow down.

But to answer your actual question, I pretty much always knew I wanted a family. H and I discussed it pretty early in our dating days. We wouldn’t have gone very far in our relationship if he hadn’t wanted children. As for the timing, we were pretty much ready and started trying after we had our wedding. We had a few things we wanted to accomplish first (very few), but we were legally married a full year before we had our actual wedding, so most of that got done before the wedding.

15 Sunny { 03.05.13 at 2:30 pm }

For a long time, I thought I didn’t want children. And then I was finishing grad school and starting my career… and I just realized I did. It was as vague as that, and yet it was strong and undeniable. Any notions I might have had of how it would be, though, weren’t quite right. It is far more difficult and far more amazing than I could have imagined.

16 Stinky { 03.05.13 at 2:50 pm }

I remember we made a conscious decision way back in 2007 to start a family, or at least, to stop contracepting. Like everyone else, I didn’t think it would take so long.
I think moving, emigrating, certainly set us back a few years: if we had stayed in the UK, probably would have ‘settled’ sooner and started trying before I was 30.
But what prompted the actual ‘decision’, well, I quit a stressful job after maintaining that we would work to be more financially secure, maybe buy a house first, but after I quit the stressful job, we became less and less financially secure, and I kinda thought, ‘hang on, I’m putting my family plans on hold for a fucked economy that’s really not getting any better? we’re living on one wage pretty much, used to it, so why not?’. I guess I was waiting for one huge momentous shift in consciousness of ‘NOW I’m ready to be a parent’ but in fact the longer the ‘fertility journey’ has gone on, the more I have doubted and wondered how much I really want this (if I’m honest). I’ve never been particularly gaga about kids – they’re cute enough and all that, and have not really grown up with many babies in my life til adulthood – there is a distinct ticking urge that I was aware of, particularly after the miscarriages, but me being super-analytical about this stuff – is it hormones, is it about what I have had within my grasp and lost, is it that I know I’m not getting any younger, or is it that I REALLY want to be a parent? Is it just *expected* of me, as a woman in a long-term relationship in her 30’s (although I know I don’t necessarily follow tradition or expectation unless its what *I* want)??
I’m also reading “We need to talk about Kevin’ which may or may not explain my current mindset.

17 jjiraffe { 03.05.13 at 3:51 pm }

I’m giggling at “slowing down ” too. Wut?

I remember a scary dinner with my best friend, her husband and her baby when Darcy and I were 27. The baby was screaming and didn’t seem to like anyone or anything at all. My friend and her husband looked like zombies. Any desires we had kind of went out the window for a while after that.

I think I was probably ready when I was 29. I felt like I had accomplished some good things in my career, and I was ready for the next adventure. I had to wait 5 more years though…

18 Mali { 03.05.13 at 4:25 pm }

Reading in cafes is very important to me too! I love the vision of you and the twins reading in cafes with your coffees and hot chocolates.

I got married young, and was very determined NOT to have children straight away. I had no real maternal urge at the time, and decided I would wait until it “kicked in.” I was the first person in my family (and extended families) to graduate from university, and in the 1980s felt as if the world was opening up to women in general, and to me. I resisted stereotypes, and couldn’t bear the thought of relinquishing the opportunities I had. Because in my experience, motherhood looked like hard work and not very rewarding and never-ending. And workplaces weren’t very flexible – combining motherhood with a career would be very difficult. So like Loribeth (I sometimes think we’re sisters) I waited till I was in my mid-30s. I’d achieved quite a lot in my career, and felt I’d proved myself (to myself). I’d realised that further career success was dependent on a huge range of issues, only one of which was talent, and I knew that I had certain principles I wasn’t prepared to let go to achieve more. Our relationship was in a really good place (after over 10 years of marriage), and one day, I just knew we wouldn’t use contraception any more.

Perhaps the key thing is that I could see myself as a mother, and I liked what I saw. I was under no illusions that it would be easy. But that was okay too. The difference between the way I felt when we started trying, and the way I felt ten years earlier was the difference between night and day.

19 Shelby { 03.05.13 at 6:46 pm }

When you’re willing to fork out your life savings and shove needles in your gut and bum that make you just short of bat sh- crazy just for a single shot at parenthood, then I think it’s safe to say you may be ready. 🙂

20 GeekChic { 03.05.13 at 9:26 pm }

I knew I didn’t want children from the time I was 10 years old. I’m now 40 and that has never changed.

I knew I wanted to get married after I had been dating my now husband for about 7 months. I wasn’t always certain that I would get married – but being around him changed that.

21 talesofacautiousoptimist { 03.05.13 at 10:10 pm }

B and I always wanted children. We decided to wait until after our wedding to start trying because leading up to that I was completing my internship on the other side of the country and I didn’t want to be pregnant and living by myself. So we had been trying since the end of 2010 and I am now currently 18 weeks pregnant with twins. We are ready!!! As for the slowing down comment. I am choosing to interpret it slightly differently. I do feel that I am ready to “slow down” in order to become a parent. This does not mean my life will be slow or easy going as a parent, it just means that I am re-prioritizing my current routines to slow down to make room for the new routines I will be taking on as a parent. For example, I have always been the one to take on a new project or extra work to work on at night, during weekends, and over vacations because I felt I had the time to do so. However, now as we are physically and mentally preparing for the twins, I am less willing to take on extra work activities as I plan to have that time set aside for parenting. Does that make sense? I do not anticipate parenting suddenly slowing my life down, but I do see myself turning down things I used to do in exchange for different things related to raising our children.

22 Tiara { 03.06.13 at 9:41 am }

I knew I wanted to start building my family when I did based largely on the fact I was running out of time biologically speaking. In a more nuts & bolts sense, I knew I had the finances both to get me pregnant (donor sperm, RE, tests etc costs) & also to support the 2 of us. I was also in a very good situation where my mom would be able to offer childcare so adding to the financial affordability. It wasn’t until after Elena was born that I likely wouldn’t have been ready maturity-wise if I had had children in my early twenties like I’d dreamed of.

23 Janet Dubac { 03.06.13 at 11:02 am }

At first, I didn’t want to have kids and both my husband and I agreed on that. Few years later, I changed my mind and we decided to just have 1. We did all the preparations until we agreed that we are really “ready” to become parents. When I had our son, it was a 360 turn of events and everything changed. But for sure, life was not slowing down. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. When it comes to deciding on becoming parents, don’t proceed unless you consider yourself “ready” because that’s a one way ticket and you can’t just say “I quit!”. 🙂

24 St. E { 03.06.13 at 11:54 pm }

I have always imagined that I would be a parent. Even if as a teenager I would have been asked this question (it would have been labelled an awkward question, for sure), I would have said that I have never imagined myself never having progeny ever.

But when marriage happened, initially I and DH wanted to keep things cooler on that front and I used contraception. A year later, I was ready for children. It was not a given milestone. I just perceived that I was ready to be a mother, and it was fair time.

Infertility forced us and tested our resolve about whether the ache was worth it.

I do however say, that standing on the outside does not really give a complete view of parenthood, because a lot of it, happens in the heart and mind of the people involved in caring for the child. Also, the child is not an app on your tablet, who can be switched off if you have no time to play.

25 gailcanoe { 03.07.13 at 8:21 pm }

I’ve always wanted children since before I could remember. I always imagined being a mom. That is, until recently. After 3 years of TTCing, we stopped treatments and stepped away. It’s been 1.5 years now and I’m just not sure if I want to anymore. The idea of living childfree nearly brings me to tears, but pursing adoption scares me nearly half to death. I have so many worries and fears about becoming a mom and worrying that I would regret it is just one of them. I see my friends and family members have babies and don’t know if I can handle the sleepless nights, illnesses, loss of identity, etc.
I wish there was a magic answer to know if I should or shouldn’t pursue adoption, but I haven’t found one yet, so I remain in limbo.

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