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Considering Parenting

Considering the Question

What does it mean to be a mother in today’s world? What will it mean to me if I become a mother? It is hardly surprising that neither question has a straightforward or universal answer.

I hear two conflicting points of view. One, that it’s terrific to be a mother; the other, “You’ll regret it; your life will change.”

I had a child at 46. Before that, although I loved being with other people’s children, anytime something went wrong and the child irritated me, I would think to myself, How could I ever stand the full-time responsibility of being a mother? Somehow, becoming a mother changed that. There is an intangible, indescribable bond intrinsic to the relationship, that in the long run transcends the petty everyday irritating occurrences.

I love kids, but I’ve never had a strong urge to have them myself. I always wondered: How do you fit together the pieces of taking care of yourself and being a parent? I was single for most of my thirties, then got involved with someone who was sure he didn’t want children. But I still felt it was important for me to make an active choice for myself--I didn’t want to say no just because he said no. I talked with a lot of women, looked at both sides, then decided against having a child. . . . The hardest part was telling my parents, because I felt like they’d be so disappointed in me. But when I did, I felt a tremendous relief, and really, I haven’t thought about it much since.

As you approach your decision, it helps to look at all sides of the question. Children are engaging, inventive, interesting, and funny. They can teach us much as they grow and change; we grow and change along with them. They challenge and inspire us to make the world a better place, and they give us a way to be part of the continuity of life. Many of us want to nurture and love children of our own, and experience parenthood as a tremendously moving and satisfying adventure.

At the same time, being a parent involves exchanging spontaneity and relative control of everyday life for a huge responsibility, complicated schedules, and relative chaos. You may not enjoy the day-to-day reality of being with children; you may love them without wanting your own. You may fear bringing children into a troubled world or want to pursue dreams incompatible with child-rearing. Being child-free often means more personal freedom and more time, money, and energy to invest in relationships, work, and other interests and passions.

Many of us are concerned about how the decision will affect our lives and relationships. If you have a partner, you may worry that a baby will change, stress, or hurt your relationship. Having children may interrupt your plans for career advancement, economic security, or professional growth. Your partner or others may pressure you to have children even though you don’t feel interested or ready. On the other hand, you may fear that giving up motherhood means missing a wonderful lifelong experience.

Many questions arise. Some have straightforward answers; others are more complicated: Does my job give me financial stability? Do I have a stable household? Is my partner or any other household member abusive? What about alcohol and drugs in my life? Are there family medical problems that might be passed on genetically? Do I have parenting skills, or am I eager to learn them? How will I juggle work and child care? If I am single, how would having a child affect any new intimate relationships? Do I have adequate health insurance and accessible health care? What will the financial costs be? What kinds of values would I want to encourage in my child, and who could help me do this? What kind of community would I want to raise children in? Would I have support if I or my child developed a disability? Am I ready to prepare a child to deal with the difficulties in life, such as racism, sexism, and homophobia?

If you have a partner, talk about the kind and amount of involvement in child-rearing you each would want to have. Would one of you stay home with the baby? Would you find child care? If your partner is a man, you may want to be especially careful to talk about how he, too, and not just you, will be balancing parenting, work, or other priorities.

Try, too, to evaluate your emotional resources for parenting. Are there caring people around you to help you keep your perspective, your temper, your sense of humor, and your sanity in the midst of the emotional upheaval, changes, and chaos that occur with parenthood? As you consider whether you want a child, know that there will be times when you wish you had chosen differently, no matter what you decide.

Having a child is an irreversible decision. You are a parent forever. Even if we place children for adoption, we remember them in ways great and small. But if you decide not to have children at a certain point in your life, your choice is not necessarily a final one. If you are past childbearing age, you have opportunities to adopt, to become a foster parent, or, in a new relationship, to become a step-parent. At all times you can enjoy and love the children who become part of your life.

Excerpted from the 2005 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves, © 2005, Boston Women's Health Book Collective.


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