I don't know how I feel about having children

Sunday, 14 January 2018

The past few years I’ve had some real swings to and fro on how I feel about maybe having kids someday. I’ve never been a staunch ‘I never want kids’ kind of person; although I’ve never had a point in my life so far where I definitely thought my life would be improved by the addition of children, I’ve always been open to the idea that this might change. It does change, occasionally, but rarely for long. I had a brief broody period a couple of years ago during which I could imagine life as a mum, and how wonderful it would be to have a child to raise and grow with. I could hear their giggles and chattery conversations with me, and see myself as a cool tattooed mum kicking life’s ass and taking names all with a toddler on her hip.

Since then, for the most part, I’ve been dead against the idea.

I still have the odd moments when my maternal instincts kick in.  I think I’d be a good parent, and look forward to learning from and being shaped by a child as much as they would learn from and be shaped by me.

The problem is that these moments are fleeting, and I’m always brought back to the same conclusion: I don’t want to be tied down by huge, life-changing responsibility that isn’t and has never been my dream and that I might regret. Parents who criticise the willingly child-free like to call us selfish for not raising children, and to a certain extent that’s absolutely why I don’t always think I want any. I like my life. I like my freedom. As much as I adore animals and love pets (way more than I want kids), I found the commitment involved in even taking Wilson in and having to plan my life around her a huge struggle to wrap my head around, and she’s a very independent cat, not a child. I’ve only recently got to grips with managing my own life like a real adult, let alone caring for an infant or kid, and my peaks and troughs with anxiety make me concerned for my ability to adequately raise one at times.

In terms of regret, that’s a tricky one. I know parents are never supposed to say that they regret having children, but as discussion about the negative aspects of parenthood (and in particular, motherhood) have become somewhat less taboo, I’ve read a lot of stories from parents who – if they could go back in time and make different choices – they would choose differently. That isn’t to say that they don’t still adore their children, or haven’t enjoyed watching the grow up.  But, if they could do it all again knowing what they know now and that the experience of parenthood really wasn’t for them or knowing the life and opportunities that they missed out on due to opting for parenthood out of obligation or because their partner wanted kids or because they didn’t realise they had any other choice, they wouldn’t.

Luckily, as a woman in 2018 I don’t have quite the same pressure to be a mum that a lot of older women had when they were my age. Having children is no longer a requirement of being a woman, but I am still wary of the subtle, ingrained view that once you have your long term partner, and your career, and your house, the next step is largely still expected to be starting a family. It’s not a requirement anymore, sure, but it still tends to be ‘just what you do’, and I don’t want to unintentionally fall into that trap thinking it was just the natural next stage of life when it doesn’t have to be.

The logical person in me also looks to the facts: to over-population, to the state of the planet, to the fact that – other than frankly more selfish desire to hopefully have someone to care for you when you’re older – there is no real need to procreate. It also looks to the likely struggles that my child would endure thanks to the uncertainty of their future, of our politics. I don’t want to raise a kid if they aren’t going to be guaranteed the same privileges and head starts that I was; I don’t want them to struggle through life without the NHS or pay five times my tuition fees for university or be unable to experience the joys of travel because of cost and visas and lack of opportunity. (Unlike, as apparently voting statistics would suggest, many of the generations before us, I want my children to have everything I had and much, much more. They deserve better.)

Life for our generation as parents is going to be different to our parents’ lives with us. With the lack of increase in wages, the higher cost of living, the increase in tuition fees, the difficulty in getting decently paid jobs, it’s looking likely that just as our generation often find themselves stuck living at home with parents well into their twenties or even thirties, the same will probably be said for our children. So, on top of us having to struggle for longer to get our lives together and get houses and actually start to enjoy some semblance of security, once we choose to have children, we’re probably going to be sharing our home with them for far longer than our parents did with us simply because they won’t be able to afford anything better. We’re also having children later, due to the simple fact that we cannot afford to and are in no position to have them (generally speaking) any earlier than thirty.

On mulling it over, that means that, most likely, while our parents were able to see us properly fly the nest in our mid-twenties and settle down and enjoy their lives and retirements between their forties and sixties, that will be pushed back considerably for us. We may not even have children until our mid to late thirties or early forties. That means that we could be well in excess of fifty by the time our kids graduate university, and if the current trend is anything to go by, they might end up living with us for a long time after that. Our retirement age will no doubt be pushed back further, so we’ll be housing or supporting our grown-up kids (through no fault of their own) while holding down a job well into old age, possibly into our retirement, and then by the time they’re able to find solid ground we’ll be too damn old to actually enjoy our golden years without them.

Truth be told, there is no good time to have kids. There is no magic formula or plan you can have that will prepare you. For many, having kids is a reward in itself that makes it worth all of the trials and tribulations, and that’s cool. But I know me – I struggle. A lot. And having only just got to grips with my career and living my life and being my best self at 26, I’m not ready to give that up and the thought of not having my independence again until my late fifties or sixties is terrifying. Years ago, I had hoped that if I were to have kids, I would have them by 28 or 30. I wanted to be active and healthy and youthful enough to still play and keep up with them and relate to them (I’m constantly exhausted now at 26, I cannot imagine experiencing that plus parent-level exhaustion at 40+). Now I’m not willing to give up my youth just yet, which scuppers that plan, and leaves me wondering when – if ever – I will actually be okay with the idea of bringing a child into my life.

If I get pregnant, I get pregnant, and we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Maybe it’ll happen and I’ll think of it as a blessing, I’ll immediately fall in love with the idea of parenthood and we’ll roll with it, or maybe it’ll happen and I’ll have the complete mental breakdown I expect myself to and I’ll know I’m either not ready or it’s just not for me.

Either way, all I know for sure right now is that I don’t know, and I’m not making any plans to commit to an ‘I don’t know’ and an increasingly bleak social and political future.

2 comments

  1. I love this post, Steph, it's refreshing to read something like it when becoming a parent is still seen as the next logical step. I've never really wanted children (I have no maternal instincts and, like you, I enjoy my freedom) but I often get told I'll change my mind, to the point where even I'm sort of waiting for that to happen (it hasn't yet). xx

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  2. My view on having kids is pretty much the same as yours. There are more cons these days compared to what there was for our parents generation. I'm always being told that I'll definitely want kids some day, but even if I do want them, I'm not sure that means it's the right thing to do.

    Catherine | Caffrin.C x

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