Is parenthood for you?

Is parenthood for you?

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The parenthood question: Yes or no?

For some people, it’s easy to answer the question "Is parenthood for you?" They've always imagined becoming a parent, they have their life set up the way they want it, and they're ready for it. Others wonder about it for years or need to do some serious wobbling before taking the plunge. Some just never have the urge to raise children.

Wherever you are on that spectrum, you can make a conscious decision about becoming a mother or father. And whether you're having trouble deciding if you want to have a child or are just wondering if you're ready to take on this lifelong project, we hope this article will help you get closer to a decision.

One thing's for sure: No one has to have kids. There’s no pressing reason to have them, other than your own hopes and dreams. It’s completely up to you to choose – or not choose – parenthood.

What’s so hard about parenting?

Being a parent can be fun and satisfying in a way you can't fully imagine if you don't have children. And it's really hard work – more work than you can imagine until you've done it.

What makes parenthood difficult? In a nutshell:

  • Parenthood places intense demands on your time and energy, with few breaks to refresh and recharge.
  • Moms and dads almost never have enough time, money, emotional support, training, or preparation to do the job they want to do
  • It puts your own emotional issues squarely in your face as your children inevitably push every button you have.
  • The mistakes you make in raising kids – and you'll make some, for sure – affect the ones you love the most: your children.

Having a child is a major life change, and because women everywhere bear the major responsibility for raising children, it's a change that typically affects women's lives more than men's. It means adding the way society treats parents (not well) on top of the way society treats women (ditto).

"Parenting – the vitally important job of raising the next generation – is treated economically almost like a hobby," says Patty Wipfler, founder of the nonprofit Hand in Hand Parenting in Palo Alto, California. "Women already don't get enough pay, support, or recognition for their contributions to society, and becoming a parent kind of squares that."

In families that maintain a breadwinner-caregiver split, both parents are more involved today than in previous generations. But the day-to-day housework, meal-making, emotional counseling, childcare, purchasing, and household details and logistics still tend to fall – unpaid – on the shoulders of the primary caregiver.

That's not to say choosing parenthood is an easy decision for either parent. Any working adult will face unhappy tradeoffs between work and parenthood.

New parents who have demanding jobs – as so many of us do – are confronted by a new sense of responsibility for the family. Long hours of work can increase the sense of emotional isolation that many adults deal with anyway, and many feel frustrated at not being able to be the kind of parent they wish they could be.

What is parenthood really like?

It’s hard to have a realistic sense of how it would feel to be a mother or father. Here are a few ideas that might help you imagine it:

  • Read psychologist Harriet Lerner's book The Mother Dance: How Children Change Your Life.
  • Get a real-life glimpse of parenting by caring for a friend's or relative's baby overnight.
  • Try assuming you've made the decision to have a child and then spend a week thinking about how that makes you feel and all the ways your life would change. Then assume you've decided not to have one and live with that for a week.

Parenthood isn't for everyone. Maybe you've never wanted children. Or maybe you have other ambitions for yourself that caring for children would make impossible.

"We are this wonderfully creative species," says Mindy Toomay, a fiction and cooking writer and teacher who’s entirely comfortable with her decision not to have children. "But so many people never explore their creative or spiritual potential because family demands get in the way. For me it felt like it would be an impediment – it has been for a lot of people I know, particularly women." And certainly there are instances of people becoming parents and then regretting their decision.

On the flip side, some people are surprised by how much they like being a parent. "I did catering in high school so I wouldn't have to babysit," says Sally Webb, now the mother of two small boys. "But I found I really love being a mom."

Most people are brought up to expect that they'll be parents. But the decision to have a child is not up to your mother, your father, your friends, your place of worship, or even any expectations you might have grown up with. It's your life, and it's up to you.

Are you ready to have a baby?

The following questions were developed with help from Denise L. Carlini and Ann Davidman, co-authors of the book Motherhood: Is It for Me? Your Step-by-Step Guide to Clarity. They’re designed for you to discuss with your partner or a friend, mull over on your own, write about in your journal, take to your therapist – whatever helps you take a good look at them.

If you would be raising a child with a partner, show these questions to your partner and see whether you’d be comfortable with his or her answers. The questions are aimed at both men and women.

Davidman offers Motherhood Clarity and Fatherhood Clarity courses to help people get closer to making this important decision. Courses are online, so you can join from wherever you are. She also offers one-on-one courses. For more information, call (510) 595-4629 or visit Davidman's website.

"A lot of our work involves helping people understand their ambivalence so they can move on to the next step of making a decision," says Davidman. "We've found that ambivalence can be a result of emotional issues the person isn't completely aware of, such as unresolved grief."

Carlini and Davidman suggest you start by asking, "What do you want for you?" – regardless of your current situation and of what you might have to go through to get what you want, such as finding a partner if you want one.

If you think you might want a child, don't even ask yourself at this point how that will come about, whether biologically, through adoption, or whatever. Concentrate on your personal wishes and desires.

  • Do you spend time with children? Do you enjoy it?
  • What did you enjoy about being a child? What didn't you enjoy?
  • What did you appreciate about the parenting you received? What didn't go well?
  • What messages did you get about what a parent is supposed to be?
  • How do you feel as you answer these questions?

For more great questions to ask yourself as you make this important decision, see our article on evaluating your readiness for parenting.

Watch the video: what are you waiting for parenthood (June 2022).


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