Years ago I received the following e-mail and question from a friend who is looking for honest advice on the choice to become a mother. The question really struck me and actually kept me up most of the night thinking about it.
“I am 31. I am in a loving marriage. I have full confidence that if my guy and I were to have a baby and start a family that we would be the best parents we could be. BUT… I just don’t know if I want kids.
Part of me does, so much! I see families and children and I feel ready. I love my friend’s baby. I love my husband and I would love to make us into parents. I can picture my unborn children.
But, there’s a part of me that doesn’t want the hassle- for lots of reasons. There are a lot of people on this earth. There are problems, big problems. There are things I want to do and crazy dreams I want to act on still. Dreams that truly don’t work with families and responsibility. all these things take away that “ready” feeling.
My question: Do these thoughts mean that I am not ready? If they don’t go away, does that mean I’ll never be ready to be a mom? Or are these common thoughts? (ie: cold feet before the wedding).
…but what would you say to someone like me? Someone who would be a good mom and love their babies too, but is still on the fence on having them at all… ? Did you all know that you wanted to be a moms??“
This post is different in that it is my thoughts on a question asked specifically to me (and the Mama Birth facebook community). Some of my answers and explanations people will disagree with, for which I apologize. But, I was asked for an honest answer, so here it is.
Honestly, I don’t think people should have kids if they don’t want them. Children deserve parents who will cherish them and who are willing to sacrifice for them. That being said, I wouldn’t exactly call any of my children “planned” nor did I really consider motherhood on this deep of a level. It seems like I just had done a few of the “things” I wanted to do before I had kids, I had reached an appropriate age, and then it happened. So the fact that you are even thinking about this in such a deep way shows that you are thoughtful and aware of the needs of others and want to meet them.
There are still many non-kid friendly things that I would love to do with my life. One of the biggest struggles for me (and I think for many) as a mom is putting those things off so that I can be the mother that I feel I need to be and that I think my kids deserve.
I know that I want to be a “stay-at-home-mom.” My mom was and it just seemed right. I knew I would breastfeed and would want to be attached and with my babies. I actually thought I would go back to working nights when I had my first, but it seemed so impossible once he was here.
He required so much attention and seemed to need so much that only I could give him. I am sure I could have found people to be surrogate mothers for me while I was away, but once he was born, I did not want anybody else to be that mother figure for him, even for a few hours a day.
As poor college students I watched other people’s kids so that I could stay home with mine. It always made me sad. Mostly because I realized that I did not love their children as much as I loved my own or as much as their parents loved them. It was harder to care for and be patient with little personalities that I did not understand, who I had not raised, and for whom I had only a babysitter’s affection.
I guess my point is that you need to determine what kind of mother you want to be and if you are willing to sacrifice what you need to in order to be that kind of mother. Everyone wants to be a slightly different kind of mother. If for whatever reason you know that your career (or travel or entertainment or whatever it is) will always be first in your life, then maybe kids are not right for you. We don’t have to have kids just because we are old enough and that is what people “do.”
Giving up our own dreams and ambitions is possibly the hardest thing about motherhood. There are places I would love to travel, jobs I would love to have, and degrees I would love to earn that I will not do while I have young children. I could of course do those things if money were abundant, but I don’t feel like it would be fair to the children who I brought into the world.
One thing I remind myself is that some of those sacrifices (travel, fun, career) are only temporary. “Just because you have not done it by the time you are 30 does not mean you will never do it,” is something I remind myself often.
Someday I will go those places and do those things. I will be older, maybe wiser, and I will hopefully appreciate them more.
One thing I have noticed too is that my dreams and ambitions changed once I had children. I always wanted to write a book (don’t laugh please). Now that I am mother I have a passion about certain subjects (maybe you can guess what they are) that I never really thought about before the births of my children. I had dreams before kids, but now they are more concrete, more real, and more focused. Before children they were vague and for some reason I had a hard time accomplishing them.
Now, if I care enough about those things, I make them happen. I stay up late. I am more willing to do the things I need to do to get the job done and change the world in the way I think it needs to be changed.
So my point- you don’t burst into flames if you haven’t accomplished everything you wanted to by the time you turn 30, 35 or 40, and some of those dreams seem so inconsequential after children. At the same time your children will make you care more than you ever thought you could about other things. Your children may become the inspiration for ambitions much greater than the ones you imagine now.
The Overpopulated World-
I had a teacher in high school who was a big advocate of zero population growth. The idea is that the earth and it’s resources are maxed out and we should limit population growth in order to help some of the problems the world faces.
I remember at the time thinking she had a good point. Now, honestly, the whole idea is laughable to me. Bringing a spirit inhabiting a body of flesh and bone to the earth is so much bigger than the problems that the world faces. It is a truly amazing experience that I can not describe properly. I can only say that I simply have a hard time imagining how something so pure and perfect could add to the world’s problems.
Are there limited resources? Yes. But I believe that human kind has an amazing ability to find answers to questions that need answers, and solutions to problems that seem to have none.
Is the world full of evil and awful things, people and problems? Certainly. I have no illusions about me being a good mother. I see my many flaws. But I think that every child born who is raised with love and tenderness had an amazing ability to right some of the wrongs, and tip the scales on the side for good. The world may not need more “people” but it does need more “good people.”
Any woman who contemplates her ability to mother as deeply as you have certainly has the ability to raise a good person that will make the world a better place to live.
Other Deep Thoughts-
Sometimes the things we fear doing or struggling with as mothers are things that we thought our own mothers did wrong. That is something to consider too as you decide if you are ready. Maybe you are ready, but you just really fear doing things to your children that were done to you.
Do you fear that you will have a hard time with those sacrifices and hassles because it seemed as though your mother did?
For me I remember as a child thinking that my mother was overwhelmed and unhappy. That has been one of my biggest worries as a mother, that my children will see me that way, that they will think that they caused trouble in my life and brought me unhappiness. This is one of the reasons that I feel a need to do things outside of my children (like my blog, teaching birth classes, and community work) that bring me joy. I do not want to be a miserable housewife with no interests who resents her children, but at the same time I want to work within the walls of my home. Finding a balance where I can do both is delicate and difficult. But it can be found.
The idea of the miserable housewife is prevalent and persistent among the feminist movement today. As I read “The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan, I remember thinking she was right about so much, but also wrong about so much.
It is possible to be happy and fulfilled as a homemaker. It is possible to give up things like a career without taking happy pills to fill the void. Women can find joy, purpose, direction, and meaning in their children and the work that involves children. Women can have and develop talents without working outside their home. We can also change the world, not just through our children, but through our own works. Sometimes motherhood opens up opportunities that we would not have had without it.
Be careful not to buy into the idea that the only good we can do and the only difference we can make and the most fun we can have is outside of the role of motherhood. It is a lie. It is also one of the blackest forms of misogyny. It is hatred not just for women, but for their special gifts.
Good luck in your journey to motherhood or not. Sometimes I look at women without children and envy some of their gifts, time, and freedom, but I know that some of them envy what I have too. Looking at what others can do or have that we cannot is natural. Finding the joy in the journey that we have chosen, is divine.
Note- Since this was originally published, years ago, so much has changed. My anonymous letter writer has chosen motherhood. I have no doubt that she will be as thoughtful and kind as a mother as her honest question indicated. My life has also changed so much. I work many more hours for pay than I did at the time of writing. I travel frequently for work. I am still trying to find the balance that I was looking for then, and still hoping that when it is all said and done, my children will be the better for my choices. And no matter what, I still believe that motherhood matters and is life’s greatest gift.