Posted by: counselorcarmella | July 28, 2011

To Kid Or Not To Kid

A few months back, I was having a conversation with a client about a recent breakup.  “We’d been out a few times,” she said. “We really liked each other and were thinking about making things more official. I told him that I  have known for years that I don’t want to ever be anyone’s Mom and that, if he really wanted children, I needed to know now before we got too attached as  possible romantic partners. I would much rather   part ways while casually dating than to  have to deal with this issue after getting married.”


My client showed a lot of wisdom in  bringing this topic up  early on.  When  the subject of children isn’t  thoroughly discussed,  the results can be catastrophic down the road. That’s what happened to Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the book  turned movie Eat Pray Love starring Julia Roberts. In that book, and the follow up, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage, Gilbert candidly addresses this issue.


Gilbert writes that, when she got married to her first husband,  they both assumed they would have children one day. She says she thought she had plenty of time to   enjoy her career first and that  parenthood seemed like something far in the future. Eventually, though, time caught up with Elizabeth and she realized  the idea of being a  Mom still wasn’t something she was interested in.


After eight years together and six years of marriage,  her husband  was ready to get on with having a family  and  her lack of enthusiasm about parenthood became a real problem. “I was supposed to want to have a baby., “ she says in Eat Pray Love. “I was 31 years old. My husband and I… had built our entire life around the common expectation that, after passing the doddering old age of thirty, I would want to settle down and have children… I kept waiting to want to have a baby, but it didn’t happen.”


“While the vague idea of motherhood had always seemed natural to me, the reality–as it approached–only filled me with dread and sorrow,” she writes in Committed. “Unlike so many of my friends, I did not ache with longing whenever I saw an infant… Every morning, I would perform something like a CAT scan on myself, searching for a desire to be pregnant, but I never found it.” She  describes  briefly trying to get pregnant and how thankful she was each month  when she realized she hadn’t been successful at it. She  says she felt like she’d been  given more time to enjoy her life the way it was.


Feelings like that should make anyone stop and think about  whether or not having a baby is the “right thing” for them. “Do I wwant to take on parenthood now?” is a valid question. “Do I ever want to take on parenthood?” is an equally valid question, though not as many people ask themselves this one. I  wish more people would give  more serious consideration to “kidding” as a conscious choice. Some people know for certain that  they want  children. Not everyone feels “destined” for parenthood, though. In the face of such uncertainty,  much time,  thought, and prayer   should  be spent  on the decision.


The problem is that  this careful consideration is not encouraged most of the time. Our society treats parenthood as the “logical next step.”  Its treated as a given not as an option. The assumption seems to be that any “normal”  adult in a stable relationship with adequate financial resources “should” want  children. Like Elizabeth Gilbert,  I think most  young women and men figure they’ll begin feeling that urge to  reproduce, will  start sensing a pull towards parenthood, and will  “just know” when the time is “right.” If they’re not exactly excited about the possibility of parenthood, they rationalize these feelings instead of  seeking to understand what their lack of  enthusiasm might be telling them.


In  Eat Pray Love, Gilbert admits to doing this herself. “I’d been attempting to convince myself that this was normal,” she says. Ambivalent was the word I used, avoiding the much more accurate description utterly consumed with dread.” I was trying to convince myself that my feelings were customary, despite all evidence to the contrary.”


If someone decides for any number of reasons that they don’t want kids,  they know  they’re going to  have to deal with a lot of crap about that decision.  Its going to be hard to find a partner who  feels the same way.   Family members will be disappointed. Friends and associates will be genuinely perplexed. Something must be “wrong” with a person  who might  question whether  parenthood is really something they want to take on, right?


Fortunately,  more and more individuals and  couples are pushing back against the dominant  pattern.  They care enough to  give the matter serious consideration from various angles. Some consciously choose parenthood.  Others decide, individually or as a couple, to  pass on procreation. For the most part, these folks are educated, financially stable, career-oriented people who would theoretically make great parents.


Many people decide they’ve waited too long and would be  subjecting themselves and their children to unnecessary  health risks by  trying to  become parents in their late thirties or fourties. This happens a lot as  people are spending more time pursuing advanced degrees, career success, and/or getting married later and later.  It is reasonable  not to  be as enthusiastic about the idea of  parenting when you’re  already old enough to be grandparenting and  to not want to  face retirement and paying for a child’s college education at the same time. Others are not willing to go through the invasive,  time-consuming, and expensive process of fertility treatments or adoption that are the “next step” if  pregnancy doesn’t just happen due to age or other factors. For other individuals and couples who choose the “child free” life, they  want to be able to focus on  travel, careers, relationships, and  other goals they’ve spent years working towards.


Other people know that, due to physical or emotional issues of their own, or just how their personalities are, they wouldn’t be patient and nurturing enough for children. They  know they would resent  the time and energy (not to mention money) they would have to invest to be decent parents. Again, as a counselor, I applaud this self-awareness.  I’ve worked with plenty of  people who’s parents had them for  self serving goals  an truly  didn’t  show much sensitivity to the childrens’ needs or wants.  They wanted children to  make them look like the perfect family, to make  spouse or parents happy, to stabilize a  shakey marriage, or to live out their own dreams.  Maybe they  believed the often  stated  idea that, “You’ll want them once you have them,” only to find that they  still didn’t. Many people have children but then want to continue in lifestyles that don’t allow them to spend enough time and  focussed energy  being  involved parents.


Some people who choose not to reproduce are following spiritual callings and want to devote themselves  fully to  the service of God.  For those folks, of course, this often means avoiding marriage, too. Others  make the choice due to  more global concerns. They believe there are already enough kids around and don’t want to add more of them  to the earth due to  concerns about overpopulation or depleting already limited natural resources.  They  aren’t sure they want to  bring children into a  world full of violence and  challenges of all sorts.


Most of these people aren’t child haters. Many of them enjoy  children and spend time with  kids within their family and community. They’ve just decided (for  diverse and personal reasons) that they don’t want their own.


 “We need an abundance of responsible, compassionate, childless women on hand to support the wider community in various ways,” Gilbert writes in Committed. “Even in my own family’s recent history, there are stories on both sides of truly magnificent aunties who stepped in and saved the day during emergencies. Often able to accrue education and resources precisely because they were childless, these women had enough spare income and compassion to pay for lifesaving operations, or to rescue the family farm, or to take in a child whose mother had fallen gravely ill.”


“I have a friend who calls these sorts of child-rescuing aunties “sparents”– “spare parents”–and the world is filled with them,” Gilbert writes. I would broaden this  idea to include uncles, too (spaunties and spuncles?).  These “sparents” are on hand to  help  in times of crisis, to babysit or provide financial or emotional resources, to take children into their homes temporarily, and to  offer skilled child related services such as  being teachers, counselors, or health care professionals. 


The bottom  line, as Elizabeth  Gilbert stresses, is  the need to feel passionate about becoming a parent. She refers to it as being a pulling that should feel like a calling or destiny.  Her sister and  other mothers told her not to even consider having a baby until she was absolutely sure she really wanted one.  Her sister even  said it was like “getting a tattoo on your face.”  Once you’ve done it, you can’t  undo it and you’re stuck  dealing with it.   


I agree. Under the best of circumstances, I think parenthood is much harder than anyone expects, no matter how  prepared they try to be. It costs more in time, money,  energy,  sleep, patience, and  sacrifice of  personal  wants than anyone can begin to calculate in the best of situations, much less if anything out of the ordinary comes along (which it often does in countless unexpected ways).  It should only be  undertaken with certainty and  with as  complete  an understanding as possible of  the sacrifices and challenges involved.


As we know, Elizabeth Gilbert ultimately decided to, as she puts it in Committed, “join the Auntie Brigade rather than enlist in the Mommy Corps.” This was a major factor in the  collapse of her first marriage. She knew that she got much more excited about writing and traveling than she did about the idea of parenthood and followed the path of honesty. That path lead to Eat Pray Love and becoming a best-selling author who’s book was made into a major motion picture. What if she’d gone against what she truly felt was right for herself?  Would she have  been glad she did? Would she have  been miserable and resented her husband? Its impossible to say. What if, like Elizabeth Gilbert, you’ve never thought much about this, get married assuming the desire for kids will  happen, and then one or the other of you just never  starts to feel “ready” to start a family?  Those are risky propositions. Ideally,  its probably a lot easier to have some clarity around this issue way before getting married to avoid the painful reality of divorce Elizabeth Gilbert  had to face.


By the way, she eventually met and married a man who   didn’t  have a wish for her to have kids with him. Gilbert enjoyed her husband’s already grown children without feeling any need to “mother them.  They had a mother and a father and had already been successfully parented.  “For some reason, I had never once considered the possibility that I might be allowed to have a lifelong male companion without also being expected to have children,” she says. “Even now, the freedom and abundance of it all feels something close to miraculous.”




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