As a society we assume couples (especially women) want to have kids. Several people joked with me at my wedding about starting a family right away. I laughed, but I was panicking inside: "Can’t you just be married for a second and see what that feels like first?"
If a couple waits long enough to have children, they will inevitably experience a baby boom among their friends. When you’re attending a baby shower every other weekend, you do start to feel excited about the prospect of having your own child.
Or is it that you start to feel pressured to have your own children?
And parents start applying some serious peer pressure on you. They say manipulative things like, "I just never imagined how my life would open up." Or, "When you’re ready, you’re going to make such a great mom."
How do you know when you’re ready to be a parent? How do you know if you even want kids? Here are eight questions to ask yourself before you decide to start planning for a baby.
1. Why do I want kids right now?
My mom asked me recently if I think that having kids is selfish. In some ways, I think it is. The allure of having a definitive purpose, experiencing unconditional love, and having part of me continuing on after my body is done with this world are probably some of the reasons I wanted to have children.
I can’t say for certain the "right" answers to this question, but I can say with a fair amount of confidence that the following answers aren’t great and could be signs that you’re not ready for kids:
"Our relationship needs something, and maybe that’s a kid."
"Everyone else is having kids, and I feel left out."
"My mom is putting a lot of pressure on me to make her a grandmother."
"My partner really wants a baby."
"I feel like it’s something I’m supposed to want to do."
You have to raise your child. You have to change your life and dedicate it to another human being. You have to be ready to be a good parent.
2. Am I ready to put myself last?
Of course, parenting is also the least selfish thing you can do. You’re committing your life to your child. I think most parents (with the possible exception of philanthropists or teachers) would say that they give far more in energy and consideration to their children than they give to any other entity, including themselves.
People like to say, "Are you ready to put your family first?" I think the more accurate question is, "Are you ready to put yourself last?"
Before kids, you can prioritize your career, or your songwriting, or your shower taking. You can put effort into whatever you want as long as your partner supports your endeavors (if you care what your partner thinks).
But after becoming a parent, your first priority is your kids and doing whatever it takes to make life work for your family.
That might mean taking a job you don’t love in order to support your family -- or leaving a job you do love because you need better hours or more pay. That might mean holding a crying baby all night so your partner can get some sleep. Or it might mean breastfeeding your infant in your car in the parking lot of Walgreens, while waiting on a prescription diaper cream.
Now, all of this could be temporary. I’m not implying that you have to give up your dreams or your grooming habits forever. However, it is a reality that all of your wants will be secondary to all of your kid’s needs for many years to come.
This is one of the hardest adjustments of parenting. And, frankly, it’s an adjustment that some people can’t make, which can lead to one parent taking on most of the work of child rearing.
3. Can my relationship survive parenthood?
Whatever issues you have in your relationship will become magnified when you add a child. Kids mean twice the amount of household chores, twice the responsibility, and half the sleep (meaning half the patience and twice the emotion).
If you have concerns about the way he communicates or the way she works too much, just know that those concerns are going to be amplified even more when it impacts your child too.
So, you can lay all your concerns out on the table and work through all your issues as a couple before you have kids. Or you can accept your partner exactly the way he or she is, and accept what that will mean for you when you have children together. Or you can recognize the possibility that your partner’s behavior will drive you insane.
Let’s say your partner never does the dishes. You can talk about that. You can come up with a plan where you share that chore every other day. Problem solved.
Or you can accept that your partner will never do the dishes, and that means that you will be washing a bottle at 2 a.m. while your baby cries waiting for it. But you’re willing to live with that scenario and let it go.
Or you can recognize that your partner does not wash dishes now and won’t wash dishes when you have a baby, and there are more dishes to wash. You can know that this will absolutely drive you crazy when you have a kid, and eventually lead to you asking for a divorce. Hey, at least you got a great kid out of the doomed dish washing relationship.
4. Will I stick with it if it’s hard for me to have a baby?
We’ve all heard about (or experienced) how hard it is to raise a baby (which we all kind of expect to be hard), but do you know how difficult it is -- and expensive -- to even have a baby?
According to the CDC, around 7.5 million women ages 14 to 44 have difficulties getting pregnant or carrying a baby to term between 2011-2013. Adopting can cost many thousands of dollars. Fertility treatments cost many thousands of dollars.
I’m not telling you this to discourage you. I want you to be educated so that you can steady yourself for the possibility that the road to parenthood could be long and hard on the heart and the spirit. It can also be hard on your relationship.
If you manage to have a baby pretty easily (and I really hope you do), you’re tremendously lucky.
5. Can I handle not having a perfect kid?
When you consider having a baby, you can’t just imagine snuggling a sweet little angel. You have to consider if you can handle a really tough baby – a baby who doesn’t sleep, who’s colicky, or just mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. Can your partner handle that?
You don’t get to choose the temperament or health of your kid. Are you ready for the possibilities?
6. Can I afford a kid?
It’s not just the baby equipment, the bigger car, the bigger house, the adoption or labor costs, and the childcare costs to consider. It’s also the health insurance premiums, the deductibles per child, the unpaid maternity leave, and the unpaid sick days you’ll need to take when your child is sick.
Of course, there’s also the monthly cost of disposable diapers (we pay about $50), the expense of feeding a growing kid healthy food (which can cost a lot more than unhealthy food), and there are the clothes and shoes that they grow out of every few months.
But really, it’s less about the money and more about the stress over money. Are you willing to do whatever it takes (i.e. picking up extra shifts or additional jobs) to make sure your child has everything he or she needs? Are you and your partner willing to live on a budget?
7. Am I willing to change my lifestyle?
Bye-bye travel abroad. I’ll miss you, white furniture. We’ll always have Paris, Texas, little Mazda Miata. See ya later, late nights at work, and sleeping in on weekends, and five-course meals at fancy restaurants.
Yes, of course, you can still have these things eventually (except the white couch), or in moderation, but now it’s different. You can’t travel while the kids are in school. It’s kind of frivolous to have a car that you can’t get a car seat into. And the five-course meal will cost you twice as much because you’re paying for a babysitter while you eat it.
Are you ready for these changes?
Back to the question of "Is it selfish to have kids"? I suppose it’s akin to asking if Shakespeare was selfish to create his masterpieces.
I assume he wrote because he loved writing – maybe that was a selfish pursuit. But it was also the least selfish thing he could do. He gave so much of himself to the task at hand and left such an everlasting gift to the world.
I wonder if he knew what he was doing.