By: Revanche

Time, income and deciding to have children

August 8, 2011

I grew up on a steady diet of books like Margeret Sidney’s Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (available free on Project Gutenberg!), Gertrude Chandler Warner’s The Boxcar Children, and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.  (Also all the sci fi and fantasy I could get my hands on, but that’s irrelevant to this conversation.)  I wondered if I’d romanticize the notion of families and raising children under less than rosy circumstances as a result of that early brainwashing.

I do think families should pull together and do whatever needs to be done to get through tough times, and I do think families should take care of each other. Obviously. But econo-philosophically, I developed in my teenage years a much more “I will never be poor again!” determination a la Gone With the Wind than any willingness to try to lead the loving but impoverished lifestyle.

That’s not to say that I think money is the answer to a good childhood or a happy home life. I grew up poor, as a first generation immigrant kid.  My parents arrived on these shores with nothing but the clothes on their back and a babe in their arms. But we were, in my opinion, still relatively well off: we didn’t have to beg, dig through bins for leavings to put food on the table.  Mom and Dad found just enough opportunity to work incredibly hard, and we kids pitched in as well, we used hand me downs and didn’t shop new until I was a teenager so our basic needs were always filled.  But we did live on the edge of poor, spiral-dancing that line between not having much and poverty.

And we can’t deny that money is one of the major factors that may have significant impact on the outcomes of a child’s life.  While I suspect that much of my sibling’s manipulative and attentive seeking behaviors were natural, I did also see that he was quite affected by having less than others, and not having our parents around enough during those formative years to instill the sense of confidence and gratitude for what we did have certainly didn’t help. If I’m having kids and there’s any external factor that I can influence to prevent the development of risky behaviors, it’ll be my job to do it.

From a purely practical standpoint, there’s no question that having financial freedom does make life more manageable these days.  Leaving aside the luxuries, being able to easily make ends meet and still have time to spend with your little ones are core requirements of having them to begin with, to my thinking.

The thing that was missing from my childhood, though, was a chance to spend real time with my parents. Time “with” Mom and Dad was helping them at work, or doing chores with them at home. Or the talks at night after dinner if they weren’t too busy or tired. While I didn’t precisely resent it at the time, I was always sad we rarely did much as a family. I definitely do regret it now that I’ve lost the chance to truly enjoy their later years with them.

***

When I envisioned that stage of my life, I simply could not see choosing to start a family at a low-earning point in my career knowing that I would have to miss key years of my childrens’ lives while fighting an uphill climb of long hours and probably political battles to advance. Looking forward, it was just unlikely that our generation was going to be settled into a single and easy career straight out of college.  So far, that’s definitely been the case.

***

Now that I prepare to move into that stage of my life, it seems like whether or not I’ll be having a family of my own is a question I should have an answer for. But I don’t.

I don’t know if I want children.

That’s basically blasphemy around some of these parts.  I’ve caught the lecture that “children are the reason you get married.” Because you couldn’t possibly want to have a partner without procreation following quickly thereafter. That was a disconcerting moment, coming from someone nearly ten years younger than me.  I expect it from the (specifically judgy individuals of the) older generation: we’re selfish, we’re lazy, and we’re [fill in the blank] if we don’t have kids.  But it’s weird when a youngun judges you for maybe not wanting kids.

I don’t know if I don’t want children, either.

As a teen, I was certain that they weren’t in my future.  Other people’s children were adorable, but every child has obnoxious mode. I babysat them all the time and most of them were cute some of the time but they invariably turned into Gremlins and they did not wait for a predictable trigger like feeding after midnight or being splashed with water so it just wasn’t worth the effort.  And I mean: childbirth. Ugh.

More than ten years later, it’s not the idea of children that is shudderingly bad but rather the concern about motherhood that looms.  My health issues aren’t getting any better so how could I be a fully present, fully capable mother?  And I worried enough about my sibling, could I take on the challenge if I had a kid like my sibling?  With no intentions of projecting that expectation on my spawn, I still have to be aware that there is a chance that one or more children might inherit whatever combination of whatever led to that mess, and do my best to guide him or her out of it before it became a real disaster.

To further complicate things, I can’t be certain that I’m capable of working full time and managing a pregnancy or raising a child. The responsibilities of taking care of Doggle alone, who is fairly low-key, are enough to take up my limited reserves. And I can’t count on getting better. It hasn’t happened yet.

Adoption was always my go-to option but again, children deserve time, attention and require energy.

I wanted this to be my decision, and the right decision for me and my spouse.  But it’s one of those I’ve not felt strongly for or against, other than not making a mistake.  When do you know you’re ready for kids? How do you know that you know, if you were never completely certain from the very beginning that you wanted to have them?

Once in a while, I find myself second-guessing my decisions.  Should I really have waited this long, even though I’ve never felt that driving urge to have children? PiC really wants a family and perhaps I could have physically handled it earlier? I certainly thought I was making the wisest choices at the time, but was it really?

Once upon a time, I swatted away the cautionary notes, the “there won’t ever be a good time”s, the “if you don’t now, then when?”s like annoying gnats.  But I’m finally there. On the cusp of my thirties, I’m at the point where I have to admit that for childbearing, I’m not getting any younger.  It’s time to make some real decisions, even if not yet time to commit.

24 Responses to “Time, income and deciding to have children”

  1. I would probably be ostracized (not really. maybe.) if my family knew I didn’t want kids. Most of my cousins got married in their early 20’s (even one at 18!) and all had a kid within 2 years or less. That’s just what we do!

    But not me; I’m breaking the mold. Already at 31, along with one other cousin who is like me and is one year older than I am, we’re seriously far behind in the family situation comparatively so.

  2. Ciawy says:

    I used to feel like you do – I don’t know if I want kids, and yet I don’t know if I don’t want them either. Money and time are big concerns for me as well. But now I know that I do want kids. I believe that I’m ready to make motherhood work – time wise, money wise and whatever may come with it. Having kids is a really big decision to have. I’m sure time will come when you will feel ready to make decision – whether you want kids or not. Either way, you have to make the decision for you and PiC.

  3. Annabelle says:

    This is a really well written post, and I totally get where you’re coming from. I’ve come to realize in the past few years that I definitely don’t want children, which confuses a lot of people. But it’s SUCH HARD WORK raising children, and if you didn’t want them to begin with, it would be even harder (see: Betty Draper on Mad Men). For me, if I changed my mind I’d try and make it happen, but I wouldn’t want to have children unless I knew for sure that’s what I want.

  4. I went from thinking: I want 3 kids! To: hmm…I think one will do just fine. And I don’t even have a timeline set for that, but I know i’m not getting any younger here. It’s difficult! I’m nowhere near where you are (i’m still happily single and trying to figure out where I want to live and settle down) but i’m terrified of giving birth and taking care of somebody for the rest of my life.

    Some women say they went straight into mom mode and desired a baby instantly, after all those years of thinking: meh, not for me. I’m still scratching my head, wondering how that’s even possible? Others say their lives changed once they gave birth. Yet again i’m thinking…did it change for the better?

    It’s scary and confusing and all I can say is…just take your time and don’t do something you’re not sure of just because of x,y and z.

  5. Sense says:

    Oh, you have just summed up the last 5 years of my life. 🙂

    To have children…or to not.

    Unlike you, I grew up knowing that I would have them. Never even questioned it. I even had boyfriends that asked me about kids, and I responded, “Of course I want them!” …until my mid-twenties when my stabler friends who could be good parents started having them. And then I started to really, REALLY think about what I wanted.

    I just keep coming to the conclusion that since I don’t achingly, desperately or even the slightest bit want a kid, I shouldn’t have them. I don’t NOT want them, but I’m in the void between. The only thing I can compare it to is this: I WANT WANT DELIRIOUSLY WANT a dog. A kid? Doesn’t even factor on the scale. It is the absence of want.

    It’s not like I don’t like kids or wouldn’t make a great mom–because all my friends and family tell me I would, and I know that I would die a thousand horrible deaths for my child if need be. I would be a fantastic mother. But does that mean that I should be one?

    I have finally decided that if the love of my life comes along and is in the DESPERATELY WANT KIDS mode, I will oblige. As long as I can get my dog, that is.

  6. Sense says:

    also, I really REALLY wanted to be a Boxcar Child. they had so many fun adventures! Sneaking off and making it on my own was a fantasy of mine, a la From the mixed up files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler (sp??).

  7. On the cusp of your 30s is still pretty young, health problems aside. You still have plenty of years to make this decision. Most of my friends and colleagues are just now starting to have kids in their mid to late 30s. (To the chagrin of friends and colleagues who have made the decision to remain childless.)

    Remember that you won’t be the only parent– your fiance will most likely be an equal or more parent, especially if you let him. It won’t be your burden alone.

    And there’s no shame in deciding you don’t want kids. But at almost 30, you really don’t need to be making this decision now. Marriage’s sole purpose is not procreation.

  8. MovingEast says:

    This discussion is a tricky one. I’ve got a second baby on the way, and a 2 year old now, and it is magic. A total disruption of most of our previous lifestyle, but worth it for the interaction with our little guy.

    I can feel a whole heap of overused statements at the back of my mind – never a good time, don’t appreciate it until you are there, etc etc. For me and my wife, we can’t imagine not having the little guy in our life, and the good times far outweigh the gremlin times.

    I was not sure about having kids for many years, ended up becoming a dad at 37 (wife was 32). I wasn’t sure, but travelling back overseas to catch up with family, and cousins with new kids, and even going to a high school reunion and hearing about many people’s families… it did get me thinking. Going out many nights did start to get old, a lot of friends became parents and dropped off the social calendar, and after initial shock, seemed to be very content.

    My father has tools in the shed from his dad, I hope to inherit some of them, and with a 2 year old, I’m starting to show him the same sorts of things my dad showed me, and he wants to help with his toy wooden hammer. It is very sweet and this type of thing really makes parenthood a pleasure.

    One other thought – other kids are okay, but I kind of lose interest in them after a while. For some reason, our little guy is endlessly entertaining. I think the closeness from birth does make a difference, and justifies some of those statements about the whole experience being hard to explain until you are in it, and then you wouldn’t give it up for the world.

    Anyway, in conclusion – I thoroughly recommend parenthood, and I also think you have a little more time yet before the decision must be made. Good luck

  9. oilandgarlic says:

    Being on the cusp of 30 means you still have time. However I would highly recommend starting to try before mid-30s. It may not be as easy as you think and parenting in your later years is even more exhausting!

    Having said all this, I really can’t give advice because my husband and I waited way too long! He actually brought it up when I had already given up the idea of having children. I thought we were childless by default (i.e. not discussing it at all).

    I wished we had started earlier because as I said it’s physically tiring and we’re so old we may never know grandchildren. Yes, I’m already thinking of grandchildren.
    I’ve never been supermaternal with other people’s kids but it’s been surprisingly natural to be maternal with my own.

    I come from a similar background to yours. My parents both worked when I was a kid and we probably didn’t have as much family time as other families (also not rich by any means!). However, they instilled good values in all of us kids and we’re all capable, resourceful and love/honor our parents. As for the balance, you can make it work. I’ve written too much about it on my own blog already!

  10. You are writing a post that I’m mulling over in my head as I am hearing babies being born left and right (and people getting pregnant_.

    Being closer to 30, I’m always debating this in my head, especially with people judging you with sentences like:

    Well you aren’t getting any younger

    or

    You can only have kids under 30, not over

    Then I hear mothers having kids at 45 and I’m confused.

    Still, I hear 35 and under is the magical number so I have some years left in me, but it’s still very frustrating seeing as I still have yet to move closer to you (LOL) and get myself situated and so on.

    What to do?

    I always thought I wanted a lot of kids but childbirth freaks me out and now I’m thinking 2 would be fine… maybe 3. I don’t know, we’ll have to see how I hold up under the pain.

    I will make it work but the question is always that darn timing and that clock ticking.

  11. Mary says:

    I think the biggest thing in your blog is PIC wants a family. If you decide you really don’t that would not be good for your future together.
    I thought I wanted a family and so did my husband, we were not then [or now] as financially set as we wanted to be, so we put it off for 4 years of marriage. I woke up one day and realized that I was getting to the point that children were beginning to look less attractive – you know- less time for us to do what we wanted, when we wanted and yet, I still wanted a family – so I dumped the pill and we have 2 grown sons! Hubby and I are happy we did it and even occasionally think we maybe should have had at least one more LOL.
    But, anyway, I don’t know your situation, but I think you and future hubby would do well to sit down and really address this. And I, for one, think if you don’t want kids you shouldn’t have them, but if your spouse [future] really wants them, it will do great harm to both of you to go against what one of you really wants. Guess I am rambling, but I know a woman who had 2 children and her husband did not want them [he does love them] and they are no longer together, they had other issues, but that may have begun the issues. I also know a couple that he wanted and family and she really did not and they had children and she resents them and is not as good a parent because of this.
    Not knowing you, I think you could be a good mother, and perhaps your situation and the resposibilty you have taken on with your parents are effecting your concerns.
    Anyway, I think you and future hubby may need to talk and it may cement for you a better awareness of what you want for yourselves.

    Good luck.

  12. I feel the same way. I am now 36. I told myself that if I ever felt the “urge” that I’d go for it. Well, I haven’t really felt that urge. My clock hasn’t made any noise and I’m not getting any younger. I think I’m going to be okay either way. I just wish I knew for sure one way or the other so I could feel as thought I’ve made a final decision. Oh well, we’ll see where this year takes me and if my feelings change or I suddenly hear the clock!

  13. I think about this topic too. Do I really want a child vs. how much regret will I feel if I don’t have one. I don’t think anyone should have children if they are not ready, but the timing/fertility issue is real.

  14. Dude. I LOVED the Boxcar children and Little Women when I was a kid. Just re-read Little Women this year, and still love it 🙂

    I’ve always at least kind of wanted kids. Hubby doesn’t like other kids much, but he’s sure it’s different if they’re your own. I’ve never felt that I NEED kids to complete my life (I know some women who feel/felt this way), but I’ve generally liked the idea.

    But then I start really thinking about what it would mean to have kids. Being pregnant, which if family history is any indication, would be difficult physically for me. Giving birth. Postpartum depression. My career…while pregnant and with a child at home. Our finances. Our little health problems that could combine to make a sickly kid. And hubby’s family has some history of mental retardation.

    Right now, I’m content to wait it out. Hubby and I occasionally buy movies that we’d want our kids to watch growing up. I’m already staking out which of my childhood books my mom needs to save for my theoretical future kids (the books didn’t make the move across the country with me). We talk about “if we ever have a kid, we will/won’t…”. So far, we haven’t really felt any pressure from anyone to make a decision more quickly. We’re still young enough and in school(!), so no one seems to expect us to have kids any time soon.

    It’s a complicated issue, and a very personal one. Good luck!

  15. I’m so happy to see so many people in your comments actually thinking about whether to have kids or not. Those of you who were so thoughtful before jumping into parenthood are probably amazing parents, and I am so glad that there are parents like you out there who chose to have kids with great forethought and care in your decision. You guys rock! 🙂

    My husband and I are in our early 30s and are not having children by choice. I think the questions you’re asking are excellent ones, even if you end up having kids, because they mean that you realize that having kids is a decision that affects so many lives, not the least of which is your own. The biggest issue I can see is that you have always leaned toward not having them while you are with a person who definitely feels he wants them. This conversation needs to be between the two of you, negating anything anyone in your families might say. I have known since I was a kid myself that I didn’t want children. When I was asked, “But what about when your husband wants them?” I always answered, “If God really wants me to be married, he’ll bring me a guy who doesn’t want kids either.”

    My husband would be an AWESOME father, but he didn’t want kids before we even discussed romance (we were close friends first — it was actually one of the reasons he was attractive to me) and still doesn’t. The key isn’t how great of parents you’ll be, but how much time, money, and you that you want to devote to being a mother. The greater question is this: Do you really want kids? Because in the end, if you don’t want them for whatever reason (be it a gut feeling or a million and one reasons that you can write down in a list) that is enough.

    I don’t think enough people ask themselves the questions you are asking, unfortunately. Parenthood isn’t a thing that you can just say, “Try it, and you may end up liking it!” because, well, because what if you end up hating it? I could try being a nurse, end up hating it, and just change jobs; however, I can’t try being a parent, end up hating it, and then go back to not being a parent. This question should be a definite “yes” or a definite “no” from both parties before they are married, because it can be a major cause of strife in a marriage and often leads to divorce when partners don’t come to an agreement beforehand. (I’m glad I knew my husband’s answer to this before I fell in love with my now-husband, because if I had had to leave him because he wanted kids, my heart would’ve been broken irreparably. And, no bones about it, if he wanted kids and I didn’t, I would have had to leave him. There’s no way to compromise about having kids: either you have a kid or you don’t have a kid. There’s no kinda-kid that I’m aware of in the world.)

    (Eek! Sorry for the long comment!)

    ~the celt

  16. I’m pretty much in the same boat as you. Me boyfriend and I have pretty much decided that we both don’t want kids until our 30’s and everyone acts like we’re crazy. I don’t think we are being unreasonable though. Everyone says that we’ll be called the grandparents at Kindergarten, but I don’t care. I always tell my friends that we’ll be the ones with the boat and the money while all the other parents are struggling and 16 years old.

  17. MoneyMaus says:

    A lot of constructive and interesting comments. I agree with all of those who said you and your partner need to have (probably many) discussions on this, seeing as he wants them and you do not.

    My parents have always told me to marry someone who wants what I want. And I want children. So this is a non-negotiable for me. (They’ve also always told me they have always found it harder to relate to couples their age, mid-50s, who decided not to have kids – because that is always an instant connection between people regardless of other things. Thought that was an interesting perspective!)

    I truly, truly commend you for writing about this and especially expressing your feelings about being unsure. Also, I don’t think “physically” handling it is an issue at all – especially when there’s a partner involved! I’m 4’10” and weigh practically nothing but that won’t stop me…the way future down the road kiddos will just have to be carried less by me one day 😉

  18. The comments here and your post reassure me that I’m not alone in my own choice to not have kids. Thank you for opening this line of dialog. I’m at that point where I don’t think I want to even get married. I would much rather move to a city and fall in love with its history, architecture, its society.

    But at the root of it, it’s more a selfless decision than a selfish one. There are things that have happened in my family that make me realize I could be passing on these undesirable genes if I do have kids; the possibility I could give birth to someone like my dad (that’s a bad thing).

    This planet is already suffering from overpopulation anyway, right?

  19. Amy says:

    My hubby and I made the decision to not have children and we both had surgery to make sure of it. My only feeling is one of relief that I don’t have to worry anymore and that the decision is finally made. I hated the ambivalence. Good luck in your decision-making.

  20. Revanche says:

    There are so MANY good comments here I feel like I need a separate post to respond!

    And actually, I think I will do just that.

  21. Grace. says:

    I don’t know that one ever “knows” if they want children or if there is ever a “right” time. But when I was 28 and trying to make that decision, a very wise counselor said to me, “You do know that whenever you talk of the pleasures of motherhood, you’re thinking about older kids, don’t you?” Um, NO! I didn’t realize that. All at once I saw that I am so not a ‘baby’ person. Even the hard parts (daycare, diapers, sleepless nights) became less of a problem if I focused on older kids. That led to a decision to adopt older girls, and five adult daughters later, it remains the best decision of my life. But just so you know–my ‘baby sister’ who is a year younger than me chose not to have any children and her life is totally fine.

  22. Kathleen says:

    Really good post Revanche. I related to a lot of the issues. My partner and I just reached the 7-year mark and have been engaged over a year and yet haven’t done much beyond that. My mom is on my case constantly about getting married as we already live together and she is actively campaigning for grandchildren. I turned 30 earlier this year and while I feel my biological clock ticking, I still don’t feel an urgent need to get going with procreation. I’m not even sure I want children, and neither is my partner (or rather, he said he’s fine either way), though he should think more seriously about it as he’s a little bit older than me. Most of my other friends have baby fever and a recurring response to my protests/concerns/questions about having children is, “There will never be a perfect time to have children. You just have to go for it and make do.” That’s not good enough for me though.

  23. Kathleen says:

    And I totally agree with the celt’s comment: if you do move forward with becoming a parent and then decide you don’t like it, it’s not like you can just return your kid to the store or to the stork. It’s a permanent, life-altering decision and not for everyone.

    Good luck with making your decision and I know you’ll do what’s best for you and PiC.

  24. I think this quote says it best.

    “Having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face. You really need to be certain it’s what you want before you commit.”
    — Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love)

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