Where Logic Meets Love

How Do I Know I Want Children?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

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How Do I Know I Want Children? | Faith Permeating Life

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?


  1. I strongly disliked being pregnant, and I knew that I would before I conceived. It was, however, worth it to me to have children that were biologically mine. As much as our society says that it shouldn't make a difference whether your children are biologically yours, I knew that for me it would. Since you don't feel that way, there's no need to force yourself to be pregnant to have them. One of the happiest families I know has eight adopted children and there is no reason that your family won't also be a success.

  2. One thing I can say is that you guys obviously put a lot of thought into your choices and decisions. So way to go! And when it comes to the pressure to have children right away, adoption takes away that pressure. Slightly anyway. There is no biological clock ticking, in that sense. I honestly received an opposite sort of pressure. We were pressured, extremely pressured, to wait to have children. But...we did what was right for us. We want a large family as well and we want all the kiddos to be born before I'm 34. That's our plan. Thus, baby Rad is coming in April. :) And as for being pregnant, I wouldn't compare it to a disease (I know you weren't) but it has not been easy in the least. But I will tell you...there is nothing in this world that I've ever experienced that's made me feel the way I did the first time I felt our child moving inside of me. It's an utterly soulful, cosmic kind of experience. Families are created in many different and beautiful ways. :)

  3. @The Lost Goat
    This is the discussion Jackie and I were just having in the comments of my adoption post. It's never been important to me to have biological children. Mike thought it was important to him at one point, but the more we talked about it, the more he decided it was more like a "It would be cool, but it's not a big deal" thing. I think it was more about the fascination of what the combination of our genes would produce, which isn't really a good reason to have a child :)

  4. @Caiti
    That's really interesting that you felt pressure not to have kids right away! My perception is probably in part because I spend too much time reading Catholic/NFP blogs, but I also feel like as soon as a couple gets married everyone feels the need to ask, "So when are you going to start having kids?" I have definitely felt a little less pressure, in the "biological clock" sense, because we're adopting, but even then I don't want to wait too long. My mom had my sister late in life and basically said she didn't have the energy to deal with a baby/toddler like she did when my brother and I were born. On the other hand, Mike and I have talked about adopting kids of various ages... so who knows! I have faith things will happen the way they are supposed to.

  5. I love reading about people's thoughts on kids. I'm sort of... undecided. I have brothers who are very, very young (ten and fourteen years younger than me) and because I was around them as babies, I have a good idea of all the work that goes into raising a child. For years, I was adamant that I DID NOT want kids. EVER. The older I get and the more serious I get in my relationship, the more I become open to the idea of having a kid or two. That said, I know that when the time comes to actually make that decision, it's going to be difficult.

  6. @Krys
    I agree that it's not an easy decision if you're not sure. I think much of the difficulty is because it isn't really something you can reason out, at least for me. Like, most people don't sit down and make a list of pros and cons when deciding whether to marry someone, they marry someone (usually) because they love them, and I think the decision to have kids is much the same way--not something you can figure out on a piece of paper, but something you decide in your heart.

    My sister is almost twelve years younger than me, so I know exactly what you mean about having this sort-of experience with raising a child. That didn't turn me off from having kids in any way, but it definitely gave me a lot to think about in terms of how I want to raise my own kids.

  7. Great article! I knew I wanted to be a mother much earlier than I knew I wanted to be in a long-term relationship with the father of my child (or anyone). The negative things I heard about marriage from my mother and her friends led me to envision myself as a single mother, but I was not quite sure how that would work--if I'd feel overworked or lonely, how I'd manage the paternity issues, etc. My doubt about whether someone as weird as myself could find a life-partner didn't help. Oddly, it was not until I first fell in love that I gave any thought to my father's role in my life--which was considerable; he was very involved with me esp. after I was 2 or 3 years old--and creating that relationship for my child. I guess I had been thinking about "parent(s)" in a general sense and figuring I could do all of that alone. What I began to realize as I outgrew my adolescent conflicts with each parent is that there is a lot of value in having more than one parent, as each parent has strengths and weaknesses and things to teach, so having two (or more!) gives a more balanced perspective.

    I ended up with a life-partner who was not sure he wanted children. He wasn't definitely against it, but it wasn't an important goal for him. We occasionally discussed what we think is important for children in general--not just parenting but school and social support. After about 4 years (we were in our mid-20s) we had a serious conversation about my need to be a mother and what this meant for our future together. Because we always had an open relationship, Daniel suggested that I might find an additional partner who would be a good father, while Daniel could be like an uncle to the child. I was intrigued by this creative idea, but as I thought it over for a few weeks I also felt daunted by the prospect of searching for someone I didn't even know yet who would be as wonderful as Daniel AND would want to be a father, and of establishing a strong enough relationship with him that we felt secure enough to have a baby while I was still reasonably young! I have no experience with adult (post-college) dating, and it sounds awful, and imagine how much more difficult it would be with the conditions, "You have to be willing to have a child, AND you have to accept my existing relationship"! I also felt sad about the idea of Daniel having no descendants and never knowing what the offspring of the two of us would be like. After a few weeks, Daniel told me he was having misgivings about the idea, too, "because if there's a kid around here I'll feel responsible for helping to enrich it and shape it into our kind of person, and if I'm going to do all that work, it may as well be my own kid!" So at that point we reached an agreement about what else needed to happen in our lives before we'd be ready for parenthood. It was hard for me to wait as I neared 30 (the age of my parents when I was born) and he didn't have all his goals together yet, but it was very worthwhile waiting until he was totally on board!!

    Much later, he told me that the point I made that had the biggest impact on him was one that I phrased in kind of a silly way: "I want to be a forebear! I don't want us to be the last of our kind of bears!" He found upon reflection that he strongly values being our kind of bears, and while we have friends of our kind and that proves it isn't genetic, it's also true that he and I are very much like our parents and the best of our friends also have forebears of our kind, so clearly these bears are raised rather than self-generating, which means we can't count on an ongoing supply of our kind of bears in the world unless we raise a cub. Does that make sense? It worked for us, anyway! Our son is very obviously our kind of bear.

  8. @'Becca
    Thanks for sharing your unique story! I love that you approach things like this by trying to figure out what will work best for everyone involved, rather than relying on convention and assuming that is the best approach.

    I recently found the site offbeatmama.com, which celebrates all approaches to pregnancy, birth, and parenting. I love it and it has broadened my views even further (and solidified my lack of desire to be pregnant!). I bet you would like it.

    I know what you mean about wanting to do your part to create more people like you in the world. Even though there's no guarantee our kids will be like us, and though it's not a primary reason for our having kids, I do like the idea of raising a big family who are all taught to be loving and respectful of others, open to other perspectives, and able to approach problems with reason and thought. I think we need more of those things in this world... so I'm happy to do my part :)

  9. Thank you so much for this post!
    The only tool I've had is "imagine yourself..." and I'm starting to think that might be all there is. This is hard for a few reasons. 1) my nature resists making a decision based on feelings 2) As a single person, I don't allow myself to imagine a specific person as my husband.

    1 is sort of a personal thing, although if you can think of any way I can logic myself to a feeling, please: do share. It would make my life so much easier.
    2 is where I really run into trouble.
    Friends of mine who've gotten married report wanting to see what, through nature and nurture, kind of humans they can build with their husbands. You know that tone-on-tone blue silhouette that Facebook assigns to people with out profile pictures? It's hard to imagine raising kids with that guy.
    You mentioned being able to picture yourself with Mike, and then being able to picture yourselves with a family. Did those come in that order?

    I didn't realize that the Catholic tradition expects every married person to have a family. I'm a Protestant, and among conservatives there certainly is a sort of expectation, but it's a thoughtless expectation, similar to the one about single people needing to get married, that logic can poke holes in with hardly any effort. It hadn't occurred to me that the Catholic tradition had such a different baseline.

    Thanks for linking to your perspective about adoption: that is really thought-provoking!

    OK, sorry: long comment. Thanks so much for writing this!!

  10. @Karen Boyd
    Believe me, I am right there with you on not liking to make decisions based on feelings. That's why it took me a month of talking to my best friend on the phone every night before I decided I would date Mike. I always want to know I'm making the *right* decision, and when you decide based on a feeling, there's no way of really being sure.

    On the other hand, I feel like I can't let go and trust God with control of my life if I have this need for all of my life choices to be rooted in logic and reason. It's very much still a process for me, but one thing that has always helped me is remembering that I'm never going to be able to screw up my life so bad that God just throws in the towel and says, "Well, crap, Jessica, I can't do anything with this, you've messed things up so much." :) That's helped me get more comfortable with trusting my feelings when making decisions, particularly in situations where I can't reason my way to a decision.

    You mentioned being able to picture yourself with Mike, and then being able to picture yourselves with a family. Did those come in that order?
    Yes, only because until I got to college and met Mike, I thought I was going to be single for the rest of my life, and as I'd never run across the idea of voluntary single motherhood prior to college, I never even gave it any thought. When I started dating Mike, though, we would talk about lots of different things including our thoughts on parenting (never assuming until much later that we would be married and parenting together), and my ideas and my feelings toward parenthood all kind of developed at once.

    I would say that you should decide about having kids separate from being with any particular person, but I can't deny that Mike's willingness to be a stay-at-home parent had a big impact on my willingness/desire to have a family. Working has always been important to me and I know I would go crazy as a stay-at-home parent, so from a practical standpoint I needed a partner who was willing to stay home or at least be the one whose schedule was more flexible to be home with sick kids, etc.

    I didn't realize that the Catholic tradition expects every married person to have a family.
    Yeah, that's their standard line against gay marriage, that marriage is supposed to be for "the procreation and education of children." (You can go to that link for my thoughts on that particular belief.)

    Never apologize for long comments--they're the best! :) (And I'm likely to write an even longer one in response, haha!)


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