In pre-history, bearing children was essential for humanity to survive. Nowadays, it appears that survival of humanity (and many other species) depends of how well can we keep our biological impulses in line. That includes urges for power, hoarding, social status, choosing aggressive leaders… and child bearing. Many of Earth’s resources are endangered, not just oil, and if we want to avoid not just economical crises, but future world wars, we need to make our societies sustainable.
Yet this is just the start of the story, the wider picture. On the individual level, there is so much to pay attention to when raising a child, so many little things that potential parents don’t know or think about. Being a parent is an incredible experience and can be immensely rewarding, yet the number of challenges and lack of knowledge and preparedness too often result in chaotic, unhappy families.
If child raising was easy, not so many parents would be so tired and feel overloaded. Many parents can feel so resourceless at times, that, in spite of all the rational knowledge they might have, they find themselves resorting to threats, yelling, blaming, and all the short-term “solutions” they resented their own parents for. How many times did you hear (or say): “I really don’t know what to do with that child anymore!”? That reflects not just lack of communication skills, but also lack of preparedness.
We live in a society that makes parenthood more difficult than ever before. Isolated small families that deal with too many of their own issues to have time or motivation to help others, long working and commuting hours, selfish employers, limited finances, school system that brainwashes children instead of supporting their creativity and independence, mass media that promote toxic role-models and do everything they can to manipulate children into thoughtless consumerism… and these are only the external influences. I’m not saying that history was all roses and butterflies, but what modern society lacks is community awareness and support for working parents.
Next you need to be prepared for:
– the time and attention a child needs, especially in the first three years;
– to keep an eye on the child constantly, preventing things to get broken or the child to get hurt;
– child development stages and behavior experimenting, which might not all be pleasant (self-centeredness, testing your boundaries, adolescence…).
So if you consider having children, think about all the possible challenges and how you might deal with them. Be honest to yourself – your and your child’s happiness is at stake. Be aware that (just like with choosing intimate partners) biological urges might easily get rationalized and justified with other reasons, such as:
1) Do you think that “it’s about time”, “everybody has kids” or “what will other people say if I’m childless?” Do you feel embarrased when meeting your parents or your friends who have children? Are you afraid that you would be judged as selfish and irresponsible? Biological and societal conditioning might motivate quite a few people to put pressure on themselves, but also on others around them, to have children.
That might be enhanced by all kinds of fears and envy: fear of differences, that causes people to force others to conform; fear of recognizing own mistakes might motivate justifying them, envy that parents might feel at the freedom they gave up, or envy that the childless people might feel at others’ parental fulfillment… There are many “justifications” of thoughtless criticism of people who don’t have children at an “appropriate” age.
Do you feel that avoiding criticism might be one of the important reasons to have children? It means it’s high time to work with your own self-criticism. You might be generally easy to manipulate into doing things against your own judgment, too.
2) Do you feel that “soon it might be too late”, that is, you feel your “biological clock” ticking? Perhaps you feel an urge to have a child which is difficult to describe and explain verbally? This might likely be an experience of biological conditioning. If there are not enough other healthy reasons to have children, think carefully before you decide.
3) Do you worry about “who will take care of me when I’m old?”, or are you afraid of being lonely in older age? If that’s your primary motivation for being a parent, you might well end up as a lonely old person anyway. If you lack maturity and skills to be a good parent, your children might not be motivated to stay in touch.
4) Do you want to “mold” your child into a specific type of person? Perhaps to be similar to you, to achieve something you have always dreamed about, or simply to fulfill your criteria of approval? This might be a compensation to something you lack(ed) in your own life, and might cause you to put too much pressure on the child, probably planting seeds of future conflicts.
People are different, even if members of the same family. We all have different genetic make-up, different temperament, needs, experiences, sense of direction… Consider if you are willing to love your children even if they are different than what you would like? If she disagrees with your values and beliefs, if he chooses a career that you find not good enough, if they are not the “right” sex, or are homosexual, or are less pretty or intelligent that you hoped for, if they make “wrong” decisions… That is all quite possible.
5) Do you want children so that you can share your knowledge and inspiration with them? The motivation is nice, but not by itself enough for good parenting. Consider the possibility that your heir might not be interested in your career or lifestyle. If you lack other motivation for parenting, consider how you can share your knowledge in other ways, with people who might be more willing to listen.
6) Do you hope to “fix” your parents’ mistakes through raising your children, to give them what you never had? Unresolved emotions about parents might make you react innappropriately when the child is immature and demanding. Try to first heal yourself and then have a child. A happy and fulfilled parent can give much more to a child, than parents who hope to heal themselves through the child.
7) Do you want children because you hope they will love you the way you wish to be loved? Or give you something similar – respect, compassion, understanding? A child’s love is needy and dependent, not supportive. Even when children are older, it’s likely that they will be focused on their own life and take you for granted. That’s normal – parents should be responsible to fulfill their own needs, rather than expecting the child to provide what they lack.
If you hope that a child will fulfill your emotional needs, it means you will act as if you were emotionally a child, and your child the parent (or partner). That has very toxic consequences for the child, such as feeling unsafe and unsupported, anxious and overly responsible, not being able to develop an independent identity and sense of boundaries.
Healthy motivation can be described as: pleasure in giving freely to your children, pleasure in watching them develop and grow into unique people, without expecting benefits for yourself. Yet, even if you are certain that your motivation is (at least mostly) healthy, consider if you are ready for the following challenges:
1) Are you the kind of person who enjoys children? Can you find pleasure in coming down to a child’s level, in seemingly endless repetition of simple tasks and simple games, in activities that have long ago faded from your focus? Can you actively join children in their imagination, find creative and playful ways to motivate them for daily activities that need to be done? If not, that’s not something you should criticise yourself for – humanity would never survive if we all had the same type of personality and interests, and a human society needs people who contribute in different ways. But if you decide to have children, keep in mind not to blame them if you wouldn’t enjoy parenting.
2) Are you ready to give up a big part of your personal time and freedom? In the first few years of a child’s life, a young mother can be grateful even for a chance to get 10 minutes of carefree shower. Perhaps your baby will cry as soon as you are out of sight, or even if away from your body? While babies are under 12 months of age, it’s too early to teach them independence and that “not everything can be the way they want”. This is the stage of transition from the womb into the outer world, and it takes a while. You need to provide enough safety so the child can naturally grow into the next stage – independent exploration. Consider investing into a baby carrier, so that the child feels the comfort of being next to your body, while your hands are free.
3) How will you deal with the child’s demands? Children are usually quite demanding – emotionally, financially, regarding time, attention, through endless questions and challenging behavior. Later, you might need to help them with studying (or, better, use the time to motivate them to do it themselves). Can you stay calm and reasonably happy in such moments? Do you know how to set boundaries, to reject innapropriate and repeated demands without blame and criticism? How to deal with a child’s tantrums?
4) Do you have adequate external support? It’s much more natural that a child is raised by a community, not just two or even one person. If you try to raise a child alone, you might “burn out”. The best way for parents to find a balance between their own and the child’s needs is with the help of others. If grandparents or institutions are not available to help, consider if you know other families with small children, so that perhaps you can arrange shared child care. You need to be certain, in that case, that those are emotionally healthy people with good parenting skills, so not to damage the children.
5) Is your partership stable and healthy, built on good foundations? Do you trust your partner to be mature and responsible? Does your partner also want children, and for healthy reasons too? The arrival of a child is likely to bring out and encourage the good and the healthy, but also the bad and the ugly in the relationship between parents. Many couples start to accumulate resentment, complaints and conflicts after a child is born; mothers are likely to feel tired, frustrated and irritable, while fathers might feel rejected, ignored or criticised. Sometimes mothers are so frustrated by exhaustion, they might not easily understand that the father might not have a clear idea what her “Help me!” request actually means. If your communications skills are not good, or if you are not willing to take responsibility for how you feel, your partnership can easily come into a crisis, or even fall apart.
Some people say that it’s a myth and an illusion to think that parents have to be limited by the birth of a child. Yet, many parents say that the challenges and limitations are much bigger than they had expected. If you want to go through the experience of being a parent, I hope this article will help you to make a thoughtful decision and prepare for the challenges that follow.