The dilemma I am terrified of having children. Not childbirth, but the thought of potentially bringing up absolutely horrible kids.
I recently entered my late 20s and have been married to my older, lovely, husband for more than a year. When we first met we dreamed of our future family, but I feel the older I get the more comfortable and happy I am in my carefree, albeit selfish, life. He, on the other hand, cannot wait to be a father. Yet all I read and hear about, all day, every day, is how horrendously hard parenting is. And how a woman loses not only her identity, but her body, soul and spirit, and then also the intimacy of her partner.
This new trend of open tell-all parenting blogs and podcasts has turned me completely off the idea. It sounds awful. What if we produce an appalling child like in all the tales I read? Will this all-consuming child take away my happy life – a life I worked really hard for? Don’t get me wrong, I am a fiercely loving person and would put my child before anything else, I am sure. Yet I feel I am at a crossroads. It seems too high a cost for something that could be so dreadful.
Mariella replies You have a point. There you are, recently married, enjoying the newfound pleasures of settled coupledom – why would you want anything to come between you? There’s definitely a surfeit of information about childrearing out there, and little of it is celebratory. Then again, who writes a diary when they’ve had a remarkably pleasant day?
I can’t reassure you that parenthood won’t irrevocably change your life and, were I to have embraced it at your age, some of those changes would certainly have been unwelcome. Having kids is not a passport to permanent happiness, nor a one-way ticket to hell. It’s a biological ability that most women are born with and for a minority of women in the world today it’s a privileged choice. Aren’t you lucky that it’s a topic you can dwell on, discuss with your husband and make a decision about that is entirely subjective and yours to make? In so many other parts of the world it’s a life sentence – a straight line between puberty, marriage, sex and motherhood that continues on a loop until you die of exhaustion or reach menopause and breathe a sigh of relief. I’m saying all this to encourage you to continue to give it the degree of scrutiny you are.
Childbirth is neither a responsibility nor an expectation for all. The planet will benefit if you choose to say no and, increasingly, women will choose to do so unless we manage to make a more woman-sized space in society – one that supports parents properly.
Ask anyone who’s had a baby, though, and it’s hard to find regrets. Parents may wish they’d been better aware of the cataclysmic impact it would have on their lives, but few wish they had taken a different turn. When I was in my 20s I had no intention of having children. Indeed, my feeling was that it was an act of reckless selfishness to bring one into this cruel world. Back then nuclear meltdown was a genuine concern and my own experience of childhood was not one I would have wished on anyone. In my early 30s I began accruing godchildren and that’s when I realised that they were quite good company and offered a fresh perspective on life that was a welcome alternative to my tired world vision. As I crept toward 40 and the element of choice receded, the more I began to desire a baby of my own. By 40, when I finally married, it had become a desperate quest.
When my first child, Molly, finally arrived I would have welcomed Rosemary’s Baby or Damien into my eagerly waiting arms. In comparison, my little mergirl, fingers waving like fronds of seagrass, seemed nothing short of miraculous. The human heart is a mystery, capable of endless expansion and, seemingly, when it comes to children, almost never exclusion.
Loving the child you create is rarely a choice and, no matter how obnoxious it turns out to be, it’s unlikely you’ll be the one aware of their faults. I wouldn’t wish on you the mad rush to conceive I went through, nor should you have a baby as an act of submission to your husband’s will.
Of course you need to make decisions in partnership now, but the burden of responsibility still falls heavier on a mother’s shoulders in all but a few thoroughly emancipated unions. My advice would be to take the heat off for a while and ask your husband to do the same. Enjoy the relationship you have and make the most of these glory days of freedom. It sounds likely that, eventually, you will become parents, but that doesn’t mean it will ruin your life, only that it will change it and that, I suspect, is why it’s such a popular choice. Whatever your convictions now they will shift and sharpen, or mellow and dissolve as the years progress.
And one last tip – stop reading the baby blogs until you need hands-on advice!