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Guidelines for Decision Making
Making a decision about whether to have a child is often difficult. Decision making can be made a little easier if you realize some basic components of the process:
- Understand that making a decision means letting go of the other choice. The word “decide” comes from a Latin root that means “to cut away from.” This is fitting, because every decision involves loss. Because decisions involve the acceptance of loss, we can understand why we might avoid making a decision as profound as having a child. As long as we haven’t decided, we can fantasize about the pleasures and freedom of childfree living as well as the joys of mothering.
- Give yourself time. Even if you’re facing the biological clock, you usually don’t have to decide this week. We’re usually happier with and more confident in our decisions if we don’t rush them. There are two situations in which decisions about having a child must be made quickly: if you have an unexpected pregnancy or if a doctor has told you that you have a medical condition whose treatment will prevent you from conceiving or carrying a child. Except in these situations, take a few weeks or months to read, think, and to talk to your partner, if you have one, and to family and friends who have made different choices about parenting. These activities can often make the difference between forcing a decision you’re not ready for or comfortable with and seeing a decision gel in the midst of your confusion and reflection.
- Don’t expect to be 100% sure. For most of us, decisions are based on a strong leaning rather than on absolute certainty. Often, when we embrace a decision, our doubts and fears about it will be stronger than they were before we decided. It’s human nature to have some ambivalence about decisions. Most of us choosing to be parents are sad and scared about giving up some of our freedom and facing such a huge task. Most of us choosing to be childfree are sad about giving up the chance to parent. In either case, we may worry that we’ll be sorry later. People who are close to a decision often suddenly feel that the other decision is more attractive. We may be leaning toward being childfree, then visit a charming child. Or after deciding to parent, we may sit next to young children in a restaurant and see how exasperated both children and parents can be. If we know these temporary reversals are normal, they won’t be so frightening. We can have the patience to wait and let the decision solidify over the next few weeks or months.
- Don’t assume the wrong decision will ruin your life. If you are taking the time to make a decision, rather than starting out totally certain of what you want, there are probably things that you would enjoy about either lifestyle. Taking that into consideration may allow you to feel less desperate about your decision.
- Use both sides of your brain. Most of us tend to favor either logic or intuition in decision making. For this decision, it helps to try to use both modes of problem-solving. Using logic includes reading about the pros and cons of each choice and about how people manage choice. It can also include observing and interviewing people who have made their decision as well as considering plans for day care and how your everyday life would change with a child. Using intuition means making use of dreams, hunches, meditation and reflection and noticing gut reactions to hearing people discuss the various choices. If you have a partner, notice your gut reactions to what your partner says about the alternatives. Those reactions may be saying “Yeah, me too!” or “No, that’s not what I want.”
- Use the support of other women. Many of us find it helpful to be in a support group with other women making this decision. Some of these groups include partners, some do not; some groups are specifically for lesbians, some for single straight women, some both. Some have leaders, others don’t. To find a group check with your local women’s center, community health center, or family service agency. Family service agencies often appear in the Yellow Pages under “Marriage and Family Counselors” and “Social Service Agencies.” Some telephone books have community information and referral numbers on the inside cover. Community Mental Health Centers are often listed in the government blue pages under “State of (your state’s name).”
- Consider non-traditional options. For instance, some women are having a baby first, before they gear up in their career, since in many professions motherhood no longer holds women back from career success. Another option is to have a child with a younger man. Though women have traditionally partnered with men who are older, many men in their 40s and beyond are looking for younger women. Not only may younger men be more available, they are generally more fertile and they may have less sexist views of their responsibilities as fathers and partners.
The Decision Maker’s Bill of Rights
- Make the decision that is right for you and your partner.
- Take into consideration your needs, values, goals, and personality before making a decision.
- Base your decision on your potential happiness rather than a sense of obligation.
- Take time if you need it before making the decision.
- Put a stop to others’ attempts to shame or intimidate you into making a particular choice.
- Be a parent without being married.
- Change your mind.
Decision-Maker’s Bill of Responsibilities to Partner
You are obligated to:
- Listen to your partner’s needs, desires, arguments, concerns, preferences.
- Give verbal feedback to show that you understand his or her point of view.
- Explain your needs, desires, arguments, concerns, preferences, rather than assuming that your partner can read your mind.
- Recognize that your preference is simply that—a preference, and that neither your choice nor your partner’s is right or wrong in any absolute sense.
Last revised: March 2005
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