My friend Naomi, a successful consultant in the Bay Area, told me that an invitation arrived in her office mailbox one day. It was for her 20th high school reunion.
She opened it. She looked at it. And she looked around her office and said to no one, “Oh my God! I forgot to have kids!”
I think of Naomi when I get emails requesting that I write an article about choosing to have children or not.
Now, I’m not sure if the people writing these emails are looking for advice, or if they want me to convince them make one choice or the other – but I do know it’s a delicate topic. So, this week, I’ll look at it from different angles.
Here’s something to remember.
When it comes to making life decisions, there’s no amount of “convincing” that will work. Decisions are deeper than “reasons.” Reasons are mental activity. Decisions are of the soul and the will.
Besides, I only know what it’s like to not have children. I’m sure I’d write a different article if I ever chose to reproduce or adopt. All choices come fully equipped with highs and lows, gifts and sacrifices, fears and fallacies. There’s no right answer here.
The pressure to have kids is definitely present in any woman’s life. Actually, I’m not sure if “pressure” is the right word. Perhaps “assumption” is a more accurate word. “You’re a woman. You will want children.”
In my experience, there are a few universal beliefs about having children that often accompany this assumption:
– Kids make you less selfish
– Kids teach you how to love unconditionally
– Kids keep you young
– Kids show you your life purpose
– Kids will make you less lonely when you get old
– Kids will take care of you when you’re feeble-minded
(I happen to believe you could insert many words into those statements. Try “Art,” for instance. Or “Dogs.”)
Now, some of these are lovely, true, and powerful reasons.
But some of them come from a place of fear. And I happen to believe that fear is a lousy motivator.
For instance, an older woman once told me that having kids would prevent me from getting old all alone. A moment of panic set in. “Quick!” shouted the committee in my head. “Get pregnant! You don’t ever want to be alone!”
But here’s the thing.
When you make choices out of fear, then you set your life up to be about avoiding pain, not about moving towards love.
As some success coaches ask: “Are you playing to win? Or are you playing to not lose?” (“Do you want to have children? Or are you afraid not to?”)
When it comes down to it, the deepest reason to have kids seems to be:
“Because I truly want them.”
It’s a deeper longing. A knowing that parenthood is the right thing. It goes beyond “reasons.”
Now, this isn’t to say that there aren’t some unbalanced emotional longings behind those longings. Like, how cool Angelina Jolie looks in all her pregnant photos and wanting to be that cool. Or how boring our marriage has become so let’s have a kid. Or that it’s just the next thing you’re supposed to do because you can’t think of anything else.
So, then, as with any decision, I would begin here:
“What is the motivation behind the choice?” “What’s the longing behind the longing?”
You might find a mix of really deep reasons and really dumb reasons. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have kids if you find some fearful or petty stuff among your answers. But the awareness of that stuff might go a long way to making you a happier parent, and making it a deeper choice.