How Do I Know I Want Children?
Sunday, December 4, 2011Tweet
I've received quite a few reader questions recently, from how I clean my DivaCup in a public restroom to how Mike and I deal with our different perceptions of what is yelling vs. just raising your voice.
But the one really caused me to think was this: How do you know if you want kids?
(Or I guess if you're asking me specifically, it would be "How do you know that you want kids?" since I've already shared that I do.)
Since I come from a faith tradition that expects you to have children if you're married and doesn't even think whether you want children is a question, some people would judge me for having this discussion at all. But in case you haven't figured it out by now, I don't consult the Catholic Church for what to do before making all my life decisions.
That said, I find this a difficult question to approach logically. It's like asking me, "How do you know you love Mike?" or "How do you know you're heterosexual?" or even "How do you know there's a God?"
I just... do.
I can picture our future with kids as easily as I was able to picture spending the rest of my life with Mike when I started dating him.
I tried approaching the question from a different angle: "Why do you want kids?"
But the truth is, you could sit me down with a piece of paper and force me to answer that question, and I would, but it would be a bad answer. It's like we say in survey design: If you ask someone a question, they'll answer it, whether or not they're really capable of knowing the answer. Or it's like those studies where they make people pick their favorite jam, but when they ask them to pick and explain why they like the jam, people end up changing their minds about which one is their favorite.
Yes, I just compared having children to tasting jam.
Sorry. This is hard.
Let's leave this question for a minute and revisit an equally difficult question instead, which is how I know I don't want to be pregnant. If you've read that post, you know that that particular feeling of mine has caused me a lot of stress and guilt.
But here's what I keep coming back to: Again and again I hear women talk about how desperately they want to be pregnant. I hear pregnant woman talk about how excited they are to be pregnant and how long they've wanted it and dreamed about it. And I feel nothing like that.
Actually, I recently found an article by someone who wants to be pregnant but doesn't want children. And that has caused her a lot of stress, for obvious reasons, but I was struck primarily by how equally strong and yet completely opposite our feelings are.
I'm open to the possibility that my feelings may change. But right now, the idea of being pregnant is as distasteful to me as coming down with some horrible illness. And I know that there are other women -- probably most other woman -- who don't feel that way. So I'm left to conclude that this is part of who I am. That for whatever reason, God doesn't need me to be pregnant. Maybe because He knows how many kids need to be adopted and knows that Mike and I have hearts for that, and this seals the deal.
So the best thing I can say is to be open to your own feelings and honest with yourself. Think about playing with a child or children. Think about witnessing a baby's first words and first steps. Think about staying up all night with a sick child. Think about holding a child in your lap. Think about a child having a temper tantrum. Think about helping with homework and discussing tough topics and watching their mind mull over new concepts. Think about people you know with children and their whole family dynamic.
When I think about all of that, I think "Bring it on!" It makes me smile. I get excited thinking about our future family.
If you don't have that same reaction, that's OK. As much suspicion, disappointment, and other negative feelings as our culture often lays on childless individuals, I'm not here to tell you that you must have children to have a fulfilling life or make God happy.
Then there's the other question this person raised: What if you don't think you want children, but the person you're dating does?
I'm not going to tell you that you need to break things off, but I do think this is why it's important to know yourself and be honest with yourself. The last thing you want is to leave it undiscussed and think, "Well, maybe I'll change my mind" and go into marriage with completely different perceptions of the future than your partner.
Have you read Eat, Pray, Love? At the beginning, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about being physically ill every night because her husband was pushing the issue about having children soon, and she couldn't admit to herself that she dreaded the idea of having children, so she was trapped between not wanting to disappoint her husband and absolutely not wanting children. And it literally made her sick.
Basically I'm saying, don't let it get to that point.
The last part of the equation is, if you do want children, do you want children now?
(I could write a whole post on how unhelpful it is to pressure women into having children as soon as possible, but that's for another day.)
I've written about this before, but as much as I'm looking forward to having a big family, I know we're not ready for that right now. As a couple, we have some things we want to work out before having children. And financially, we're hoping to adopt several children fairly close together, so we need to save up a good amount of money now since Mike will be staying home full time once we have our first.
I didn't do a great job of answering this question, if it's even answerable, so I have to defer to you, my wonderful readers. If you have a child or children, how did you know you wanted children? (Or maybe you didn't until you got pregnant!) If you want a child or more children, how do you know? Is wanting children part of who you are, or a decision you make? (Or perhaps, a mandate from God in which you have no say?)
What do you think?