How do we decide about motherhood?

In this sheknows.com article by Marshall Bright, “This ‘Motherhood Clarity Coach’ Helps Millennials Decide Whether to Have Kids”, she begins by noting how everyone you talk to will give you different advice. You know how it goes: You’re better off without kids, I didn’t know love until I became a mother, of course you’re going to have children, having a baby will ruin your marriage, you’ll change your mind. . .

Right? Everyone has words of wisdom for you. But are they the right words? How do you know? Your friends and family are all biased. They want to be grandparents, aunts or uncles, godparents, or babysitters. They are happy or unhappy with their own choices and advise you based on their situations.

Enter the unbiased “motherhood clarity coach.” Ann Davidman, a Bay Area psychotherapist and the coach featured in the article, helps women to figure out not only their feelings about having children but the practical side as well. Does having a baby really fit into their lives financially and professionally? Are they healthy enough? Can they cope if the child turns out to have special needs? Not everyone who decides they want children actually has them, Bright notes, but at least they’re clear about how they feel.

I just googled “Should I have a baby?” Try it. All kinds of lists come up. “15 Things You Should Know About Having a Baby,”  “50 Reasons Not to Have a Baby,” “How People Decide Whether to Have children” –Oh my gosh, too much input.

Life was simpler when we didn’t have birth control, and all married people had babies if they could. If you’re a follow-the-rules-Catholic, it’s still that way. Our visiting priest last Sunday came from a family of 12. But most Catholics don’t follow that rule because . . . 12???

Davidman and Denise L. Carlini published a book on the subject—cheaper than counseling—titled Motherhood–Is It for Me? Your Step By Step Guide to Clarity. Each chapter includes a guided visualization, an assignment, and stories from other women. I haven’t read it, but it looks good if you’re into that sort of thing.

Do we need to go to an outside source, even pay money to decide whether or not to have children? What if it’s not totally up to us, frequently the case here at Childless by Marriage, where one partner is not able or willing? Would you/have you asked other people to help you with this decision? Or is it ultimately something that only you and your partner can decide? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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Thank you for all your kind words about the death of my father. I truly appreciate it. I still have times when it’s just unbearable, but it’s getting easier every day as the pictures of the last few months fade and I realize my father is finally free of pain and suffering.

Does ‘Happy New Year’ make you cringe?

It’s New Year’s Eve. Do the words “Happy New Year” make you happy or make you want to weep and throw things? Was 2014 the year nothing good happened and now you don’t have much hope for 2015? I know, holidays are hard. You see everybody else enjoying their families and can’t help comparing your situation to theirs. No kids or grandkids, fighting with the husband/wife or boyfriend/girlfriend, or alone and thinking, “To hell with it. I’ll just jump off a bridge.”

Apparently that’s what was going through the mind of a man who tried to jump off the Yaquina Bridge here in Newport the day after Christmas. The police wrestled him off the outer rail, and he’s in the hospital now, but one would suspect he did not have a merry Christmas or look forward to a happy new year. I don’t know whether or not he has kids. Apparently, it didn’t matter.

I hope none of you are that desperate. If so, do something. Get help or get busy doing something to take your mind off your problems until you can bear them a little better. Go to a movie; don’t wait for the DVD. I saw “Wild” the day it came out. It’s a fabulous story of a strong woman overcoming her demons, and there’s not a baby in it. It’s probably playing in your area, too.

A new year is a time to make new plans. Have an honest talk with your partner and decide what to do about babies once and for all. Remember, he or she is not the enemy. Try to see their side. Agree on a plan and then move on.

Hint: Don’t start the conversation while a football game is on.

I hope and pray this is the beginning of a wonderful new year for you. Remember, you are not alone. We’re here for you.

I’m considering some new features for this blog in the coming year. I welcome your ideas and comments.

Being without children is not always a bad thing

I sat alone at a table at Georgie’s restaurant yesterday reading a book and occasionally looking out at the ocean as the waves roared and crashed not far away. My salmon sandwich on focaccia bread was delicious. I didn’t mind the mayonnaise-pesto sauce running down my fingers. The iced tea was crisp and cold, and my waiter was handsome and helpful.

At the two big tables nearby, mothers and grandmothers wrangled children under age four, talking them through the menu, then entertaining them as they waited for their food. The men admired the view or talked about sports while the women played 20 questions with the kids. “Shall we color a picture?” “What color do you want? Red? Blue?” “Do you want French fries with your hot dog?” “After we eat, do you want to go look at boats or go play on the beach?”

At one table, the kids were pretty well behaved, but at the other with one infant and two high-chair kids, it got a little noisy. One boy screamed as he was lowered into the high chair. As soon as he quieted down, his brother or cousin started screeching “I want! I want!” every 30 seconds. Nobody shushed him or suggested he say, “Please.” Meanwhile, I enjoyed my lunch and my book and my ocean view. I did not wish for one second that one of those kids was mine.

After lunch, I drove to the nearby Yaquina Bay State Park, where I settled with my notebook at a warm picnic table overlooking the beach and wrote for a while. I could see a large family having a picnic at another table. All ages, lots of food. I do miss family picnics. But I was glad to have my quiet time in the sun.

Sometimes I wonder if I ever had the patience to do the mom thing. I’m sure I would have figured out how to handle my children’s needs along with my own, and I know kids don’t remain toddlers forever. With luck they grow up into self-sufficient adults with their own children, and they go live in their own houses. But maybe God knew what he was doing.

I cried a lot about not having children back in my 30s and 40s, the ages of most of you who write to me here. It hurt. Still does sometimes. But I can assure you from the perspective of almost a decade past menopause, that it’s okay. Life without children can be good, especially if you have other interests that keep you happy and busy. And there are other ways to mother.

If you’re in a decision-making mode, go with your gut. Great life partners are not that easy to find. If you have one and all is well except for not agreeing about babies, consider that life can be all right even if you don’t have children. But if the relationship is not good, for God’s sake, get out of it and look for someone who will make you happy and, with luck, also have children with you.

I welcome your comments. 

Book Review: Baby or Not?

I just finished reading this short e-book which I think you would be interested in.

Baby or Not: Making the Biggest Decision of Your Life by Beth Follini, 2013. This 76-page Kindle e-book by the woman who writes the Baby or Not blog needs a little editing, but the content is helpful for anyone trying to decide whether or not to have a baby. Its chapters include: the effects of having children on career and finances, situations where one’s partner doesn’t want children, co-parenting and foster parenting, the decision to be childfree, and having a child as a single parent. Follini, who lives in the UK, is a life coach who specializes in helping people make the baby-or-not decision. This book offers solid information on the options and a step-by-step process for figuring out what you want to do.

 Follini includes a whole chapter on what to do if you want a child but your partner doesn’t. Often it isn’t that the partner has made a clear decision against children but that he keeps putting it off or won’t talk about it. It may also be that the relationship has other problems. Or perhaps the one who wants children has not been clear about what she wants and needs. Follini asks questions to help people sort this out. Is he firm in his decision not to have children? Will you stay with him anyway or will you leave in the hope of finding someone else who is willing to be a parent? The answers may be difficult to face, but in the end, it might be better to know than not so you can make a decision and move on. 

I have long maintained that couples need to talk about this issue in depth, not in quick asides and assumptions. I didn’t do that. Too insecure to stand up for myself, I let the men in my life make the decision by default. Don’t do what I did. Figure it out before you run out of eggs. 

Book review: The Baby Matrix

The Baby Matrix: Why Freeing Our Minds from Outmoded Thinking About Parenthood & Reproduction Will Create a BetterWorld by Laura Carroll, Live True Books, 2012.

Laura Carroll, who previously published Families of Two, about couples living happily childfree, has put together an absolute encyclopedia about why the “pronatalist” viewpoint that tells us that everyone should have children is no longer valid. We don’t all need to have children, especially in a world suffering from overpopulation, she says. Although I disagree with some of her points, I have to admire this well-written and deeply researched book that I will keep handy as a reference from now on. Carroll challenges common assumptions such as the idea that people need to have children to be fulfilled, mature, happy, and cared for in their old age. Furthermore, she says that parenting should be a privilege for which people must prove they are qualified. People should be rewarded for not having kids instead of getting tax breaks for having them. Maybe, maybe not, but there is so much information here. Want to know how many childless women there are in Finland? It’s here. Want to know what sociology texts tell college students about marriage and children? It’s here.

Will this book help you if you’re in a childless-by-marriage situation? I don’t know. Carroll does not specifically say anything about couples where one wants children and the other is unable or unwilling to have them. But if it’s looking like you are probably not going to have kids, this book may make you feel a lot better about it.

He Might Have Been a Bad Dad

On Thursday, we talked about the situation in which one never finds that special someone they want to spend their lives with. Some people end up both single and childless. Well-meaning friends suggest they find a sperm donor, adopt or take in a foster child, but those options are not as easy as they sound, especially if you’re doing them alone.

But what if you have that special someone, a life partner who is wonderful in many ways, but you don’t think they’d make a good parent? I have talked to women who held off on motherhood because their husbands had problems with drugs or alcohol or anger. Others worried about mental illness that ran in their families. Maybe there were physical problems that would make parenting difficult. In some cases, the marriage was shaky, and they didn’t want to bring children into an unstable situation.

In my first marriage, we had some of these problems. My ex was a sweet and gentle man, but he drank and he cheated on me. Should I have done as one relative suggested and secretly stopped using birth control so I could have the baby I longed for? No. Bad idea. As much as I know now that that was the time in my life when I should have become a mother, I also know that my husband would not have miraculously changed when I handed him a baby. I suspect he would have run away. I wish I’d had a child, but I know it was probably a blessing that I didn’t.

What about you? Have you been in or observed couples where both parties might have been willing to have children, but it’s just not a good situation and they wouldn’t have been good parents? Let’s talk about it.

He said he didn’t want any more kids

Thursday, I wrote about how my first husband, Jim, didn’t want children. It was a gradual, non-stated thing until I thought I might be pregnant. Then he said he’d leave if I was pregnant.

Our divorce a year or so later had nothing to do with that, but under the rules of the Catholic church, I was able to obtain an annulment on the grounds that he refused to have children. The diocesan tribunal in San Francisco ruled it an invalid marriage.

So, three years later, along came Fred, cute, funny, loving, responsible, gainfully employed, all the stuff a girl wants in a husband. The first time we made love, I rushed to put my diaphragm in, but it proved unnecessary. He had had a vasectomy after his third child was born. After we got engaged, we talked about reversing the vasectomy or adopting a child, but finally he told me that he really didn’t want to have any more children. I was upset, but we went on to get married. Did I think he’d change his mind? Probably. I tend heavily toward denial. But in our 25 years of marriage, the only babies in our family were the ones his daughter had.

Looking back, I’m glad Fred was honest about not wanting more children. Over the years, I found that he liked children, but didn’t want to be responsible for them. Like Jim, he wasn’t keen on babies. To be honest, he wasn’t even that good with puppies. All that noise and mess. I grieved the loss of the children I might have had, and, to Fred’s credit, he felt tremendously guilty.

It’s not always that one person is the bad guy. I can see Fred’s side. He was 15 years older than me, and he had spent years raising the three kids he already had. He had thought he was done with that part of life until I came along. If there’s any blame to be laid, it’s on me. Fred loved me enough that I believe he would have gone along with the process if I had insisted that I couldn’t be happy without being a  mother. Instead, I made a non-decision and the years passed until it was too late.

How about you? Have you made a definite decision to have or not have kids? If you cannot be happy without them, have you made that clear to your partner?  Will it damage your relationship if one person has to give up what they want?