When my husband and I first met, we were not in a good place emotionally. Both of us are much better now through a lot of individual work on our issues (anxiety/depression/PTSD for me, and anxiety/depression for him). I was raised in an abusive and neglectful environment, and, while my parents did a better job of raising me than their parents did raising them, I felt the repercussions of their childhoods greatly.
I know I won’t be a perfect parent, but I do worry about passing on similar emotional issues that I went through/learned from my parents (like self-esteem, abandonment, and body issues, lack of affection and lack of boundaries…). Another similar concern is that there is a lot of mental illness in our families. My mom has BPD, and my husband and I each have a relative with schizophrenia, in addition to other relatives who are mentally unstable.
We work hard to create what I think is a stable, loving, and supportive family. And with all my anxiety, I strive for balance. I know I can be present physically, but I worry about my own mental health suffering and my neglecting myself, in order to prevent neglecting a child. I love how honest your writing is about your experiences with parenthood. How did you know when you were emotionally ready to raise a child (and commit 18+ years)? And how do you find balance for yourself in all the ups and downs of raising a kid? — Anxious About Parenthood
I answered a similar question last year. About all the various questions people might have when thinking about having a baby and becoming parents, I wrote:
You can’t ever know the answers to all these questions until you just do it. And for many of us, the answers won’t be concrete anyway. They’ll shift and evolve because parenthood, like life, is fluid. There are high tides and low tides. There are days — well, moments, really — as a parent when you can’t imagine a better life. And there are moments when you long for the way things used to be. And sometimes that longing is such a crushing feeling because you know things can’t ever be like they used to be. Never. And ‘never’ feels so permanent.
If that just made you anxious, I can empathize. If you’re worried about how you’ll retain the sense of balance you and your husband have worked so hard to create, both as individuals and as a couple, I appreciate that, too. I also can understand the fear you have about passing down your own emotional issues, as well as hereditary illnesses. You are certainly not alone in any of those fears. And you aren’t alone in having had an imperfect childhood and a family history of various diseases. Many, many, many people have experienced those things and many, many, many of them have gone on to be wonderful, loving parents. You can, too.
None of that means it will be easy. And it doesn’t mean you’re ready. I’m a little concerned that you have already stopped using birth control when you say that you aren’t emotionally ready to be a parent and that ideally you’d like to have a baby three years from now. Three years is a long time from now. I understand that you may have some fertility issues, but if you’re young and have time to spare, why not wait 18 months? Give yourself a chance to mature a little more and adjust to married life (you just got married after all, right?).
In 18 months, you will probably still have the same fears, but you and your husband will likely have a stronger foundation, both as individuals and as a couple, to weather some of the challenges parenthood will throw your way. And there WILL be challenges. No matter how much planning you do ahead of time, you will still wonder what the hell you’re doing. There will be days you do not have the balance you desire. There will be many, many days that you WILL neglect yourself — or at least neglect giving yourself all the care you’re able to now. But there will also be days when things seem … normal (a new normal). As I wrote before:
Once you have kids, you’ll spend at least their early years constantly carving and slicing time for this thing and that and trying to find more energy to do all that is needed of you. There will be other things you’d rather do, and other things you HAVE to do. You’ll get help. You’ll enlist family members or a babysitter or find a daycare you love. You will guzzle coffee or take naps. You will definitely go to bed earlier. You will be tired a lot. Whether you work outside the home or stay with your kid full-time, you will be exhausted. But it’s an exhaustion that you will slowly get used to.
How will you know when you’re ready to embrace that exhaustion and those challenges and the complete and utter overhaul of your life? You will know you’re ready when the excitement is greater than the fear. Either that, or it’ll just happen and you’ll have to just arrive at the excitement in your own time. But if you can avoid a surprise or avoid getting pregnant before your excitement-to-fear ratio is a little higher, I would. I would also not be at all shy about seeking counseling/therapy to help you cope with the demands of parenthood while dealing with your various mental health challenges. If you have the means to get support and help, do it! We aren’t meant to parent in a vacuum. Help and support, in all their various forms, are what makes parenthood not only survivable but pleasant.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.