Before you or I make that life-altering decision of becoming a parent, it's important to think about if you're really ready. You may want one and be at a good place in your life, but how do you know if you're ready for a baby? This is especially important considering that, as women, we are often pressured to believe that it is natural and expected to have children. We aren't supposed to take the time to wonder if it's really right for us personally, or if there are actions we need to take before we can be emotionally ready for such a responsibility. We are supposed to have maternal instincts from the get-go and feel incomplete until someone calls us Mommy, and something is fundamentally wrong with us if we simply aren't interested. Lots of women do want children, but lots of women don't want kids or are really conflicted. And there is nothing wrong with any of these viewpoints, so let's just leave women's choices alone please and thanks.
When not wanting kids is treated as an abnormality, it often shames people into ignoring their reservations about raising children. But it's really important that we acknowledge and understand every single reservation that we have instead of brushing it under the rug because we want to be "normal". Raising a child is the hugest deal and we need to recognize it as such. If I decide to have kids in the future, I want to adopt. But even still, I'm not sure if I will ever be ready to have kids at all. I do know it is not a priority for my happiness at this point, so I haven't pondered it as seriously as some of my other friends in their 20s. It's unfortunately true that we do have to pay attention to our "biological clocks" if we want to give birth, and we do want to have energy during our children's lives, so it is understandable to stress about it sometimes. But it's important to stress about it for the right reasons and to have appropriate expectations for parenthood responsibilities.
To get your introspection started, here are six very important questions to ask yourself before deciding whether or not to have a kid:
1. Do I have any issues I need to work through so I don't pass them onto my children?
If you answer 'yes' to this question, it doesn't mean that you shouldn't have kids. But it does mean that you need to be responsible enough to get help before you have them. Personal issues that are dangerous to children can range from insecurity to child abuse. If you experienced physical, verbal, sexual, or emotional abuse as a child, it is very likely that parenting will trigger those memories and reactions within you. Various studies claim that one in three physically abused children will become abusers as adults. It is possible to break the cycle of abuse, but it takes effort and time. Seek counseling and other resources so that you can attain the tools required to not put another child through what you went through.
Surviving child abuse is a lifelong battle, so it is not as if you will be “cured” before having a kid. However if you have acknowledged your issues, have actively taken long lasting steps toward resolving them, and have access to help when times get tough, then you might be ready to give a child the love and protection that you weren't lucky enough to receive. Similarly, if you have numerous, deep insecurities about your career, appearance, intelligence, etc., it is very important to make sure you do not project your issues onto your child, creating numerous, deep insecurities within them. Acknowledging these issues and seeking counseling will benefit both you and your future offspring.
2. Can I recognize where my parents succeeded and failed, and can I act based on that?
Your parents might have tried their best, but they still probably got a lot of things wrong. The bad news is that you will probably get things wrong, too. The good news is that now you have a chance to at least not make the same parenting mistakes that really messed you up as a kid. I'm not talking about the times they elicited eye rolls, because that's just part of youth. I'm referring to the serious instances that affected development: Did your parents call you mean names? Did they shame you about your identity or appearance during puberty? Do you wish they had supported your creativity? Were they too strict or too detached? Were they too worried about being a cool mom a la Regina George's mother? It's extremely important to spend time reflecting on your own upbringing before you raise another person. While there is no instruction manual for raising a child, if you grew up with your parents, then you at least have a road map to show you what not to do.
Likewise, your own childhood memories can be a road map of what you should do. Think about times when your parents praised you for your mind or showed you that you were beautiful. Did they make you laugh or empower you? You definitely want to mimic what made you happy and helped you to become a good person.
3. Why am I having a child?
Consider why you want to have this child. Is it because you've realized you're ready and excited to nurture another human being? Because I bet you'll be a great parent! Or is it because you think it will mend a failing romantic partnership? If you are mulling over the latter mental question, then please stop where you are right now and check yourself. It is awful to bring another innocent human into an unstable situation in the selfish hopes that you'll stop fighting with your SO. If your relationship is in need of such drastic rescue, then perhaps you should figure out if it is even a healthy partnership first. Plus, your plan probably won't work. So what happens if you give birth or adopt a child, and then you still breakup? Will you unfairly resent the child? Kids are not pawns; they're human beings. Similarly, do you only want to have kids because you feel pressured by family members anxious for grandchildren, or by friends who won't mind their business and keep talking about your biological clock? While, again, it is true that there is a limited amount of child-rearing years, there is also no law that says you have to ever be with child, and there is nothing wrong with just not wanting kids. Women are thought to be broken if they don't desire children, and it's hard to tune out the societal voices demanding you adhere to gender norms. But acting under pressure and not maternal desires is absolutely terrible for both you and a child. Make your own decisions!
4. How should I have a kid?
Think about all of the options which allow you to bring a child into your life. For some women, the physical act of giving birth and passing on family genes is an extremely important part of life. Other women just want a child, no matter how they become a parent.
Is it healthy for you to get pregnant and give birth? Some women have to take lifesaving medications that make pregnancy dangerous for both themselves and the fetus, and some women's preexisting conditions may endanger their health and the baby's health during the pregnancy and birthing process. If any of these situations describe you, or if you have fertility problems, then you might want to consider surrogacy or adoption. If you adopt a child, you are helping one of 397,122 human beings (just in the US alone!) who already exist and are in need of love. You are also not contributing to overpopulation. An inability to get pregnant or choice to not get pregnant does not mean you have to say no to being a parent!
5. Do you love the reality of parenting, or the idea of buying baby clothes?
Raising a child entails much more than buying your kid those cute mini-Converse sneakers at Target. As fun as it is to shop for baby clothes, make sure you are excited about EVERYTHING that comes with parenting someone throughout an entire life - not just the bells and whistles that come with infancy.
6. Will I love my child for who they are?
If you aren't capable of supporting and loving a child regardless of their gender identity and/or expression, sexual orientation, physical appearance, ability, etc., then please stay away from children (and the rest of us) until you have rid yourself of your bigotry. But if you are the type of person who will love and empower your child for existing truthfully as a beautiful human being, then please use your powers to nurture a little kid because the world needs more people like you.Images: Darren Johnson / iDJ Photography/Flickr; Giphy