(Originally posted in June, 2013. Re-posting now because the question has come up frequently from LWs and in the forums. P.S. That picture of Jackson below is exactly what Joanie looks like right now, which is kind of freaky.).
So, some of my reservations are practical things, like how expensive daycare is, and if my job will let me only work four days a week, and we’ll have to get another car, because you can’t strap a baby on a scooter. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll love the baby a lot more than I love my husband. How will I find the time and energy to care for a baby? How will I not drink for nine months? I’ll have to buy all new clothes. What if I get fat and never lose the weight? Will my husband really scoop the kitty litter while I’m pregnant?
But then I see how my husband acts with the little girl next door, and I start thinking about how great it will be to see him with our kids, and I feel like I must have a baby right now.
So, help me out. How did you know you were ready? — Ready or Not?
I hear you. I felt the same way you did for a long time. In my early 20s, I wasn’t even sure I ever wanted kids (though that was, at least in some part, because I didn’t think I wanted them with the boyfriend I was with and couldn’t, at the time, figure out how I was going to move on from that relationship). By the time I met Drew, the man I would eventually marry, I did at least know I wanted to be a mom. And he made it very apparent — on our first date, no less! — that he wanted to be a dad. The time frame was up in the air though, and it continued to be even a year into our marriage.
By that point I was 33 going on 34 and Drew was already in his 40s. His own dad was 50 when he was born and Drew really wanted to avoid being such an old father. He wasn’t pressuring me, but he did say that he’d like to be done having babies by the time he hit 45 (he’s 43 now, FYI). I knew time was ticking. But I still didn’t feel READY. I was waiting for that moment when I’d just KNOW — when I couldn’t imagine going another day without at least TRYING to become a mother. But, like you, I continued to have doubts and worries. Could we afford a baby? What would happen to my career if I stayed home like I wanted to do? What would happen to our marriage? Would we ever be able to travel again? Hang out with friends? Have sex in the middle of a Sunday afternoon if the mood struck?
The truth is, 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.
Parenthood IS permanent. But the stages of your kid’s life are anything but. And what feels monumental and overwhelming today will be a distant memory next month. If you can remember that — and sometimes it’s hard — you can ride out all the hard moments. If you and your partner can find time to connect one-on-one and continue stoking the the flame between you — because it’s a flame that fuels the whole family — together you will ride out the hard moments, and together you will celebrate all the great ones, too. (This isn’t to say that single parents can’t ride out hard moments and celebrate great ones, or that a couple should stay together simply for the sake of the kids. Obviously, families come in all shapes and forms, but, in a traditional family headed by two parents who are a couple, tending to that relationship is as important an act of parenthood as anything else).
Yes, there will be times when you love your kid more than your partner. And there will be times when you’d much rather spend time alone with your spouse than one more hot afternoon at the playground with your whiny toddler. (Oh, and your toddler will whine. Trust me. They all do. As sweet and wonderful and lovely as my toddler is, his whining is relentless some days and there are moments when I think it will just break me. That’s when I put him in his crib for five minutes, walk to the other room, and just breathe. It’s important to breathe). And you will gain weight when you get pregnant and it may be hard to lose it once the baby comes and you may have to buy all new clothes and you may not like the way things settle months after giving birth. Pregnancy definitely changes a woman’s body forever.
As far as finding time and energy to care for your kids, the truth is you WON’T have enough. You’ll never have enough of either. 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 — so much so that, if you ever DO have a chance to sleep in (like if a grandparent babysits for the weekend and you and your partner get away), you probably won’t be able to sleep past eight at the latest. And even that will feel like such a luxury.
Having a child will change your sleep schedule and everything else in your life. There’s no way to fully prepare for it and there’s no test to figure out whether you’re ready. The practical things should definitely be in place to make things as smooth as possible. There should be money to pay for a baby. You should have a budget. There should be savings and a steady stream of income. Both parents should be in agreement about whether one of them will stay home. They should have health insurance and life insurance, and they should have a place to put a baby. All the rest you figure out as you go.
Your career, your friendships, your changing body, your marriage, and your everything else — you figure out as you go. Planning is futile. It’s fine — great, even — to have some goals and a general idea of how you’d LIKE for things to be, but life has a way of disrupting even the best-laid plans. So pack a spare outfit. Have snacks on hand at all times. And know alternate routes for when you face a detour. That goes for an afternoon with your one-year-old or a lifetime as a parent.
I was 34 when I finally decided I was ready to take the plunge. And sometimes I think it was one of the craziest decisions I — or anyone else — has ever made. I must have been mad! Drunk off love! Struck by a sudden and uncontrollable biological urge to reproduce. And that may all be true, but I tell you what, if you know in your heart you want kids and you have the practical stuff figured out, then all the other stuff you think will matter — saggy boobs, included — really won’t. Well, sometimes they will, but, mostly, you will love your child so much that all the sacrifices — financial, physical, and emotional — will be worth it, and you won’t be able to imagine your life any other way.
I have to end this now. Jackson has just woken up from his nap. I can hear him in his crib saying, “Mama? Mama? Mommy?” I will go pick him up, change his diaper, and give him some apple slices I cut up earlier. And then we’ll head out into the afternoon (it’s afternoon as I write this). I’ll be sure to bring along some snacks.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.