Once upon a time, a woman wrote in to the Motherlode column at the New York Times to ask for stories from parents who had regrets about having children. (And, in case you are interested, the blog did publish a controversial response from a dad with regrets.)
I don’t know why this continues to bother me, internet eons after everyone else has moved on, but it does. I have wanted to respond since I first read “Steph’s” question, and lacking any other material, I’m finally doing it today! Here is what I wish I could say to her:
Honey. You are going to make yourself crazy. Possibly you already have. Calm down.
It’s kind of adorable, actually, how you think you can answer this question by exploring it from all the angles – that you think just a leedle more research is going to help you make the right choice.
Oh, sure, there is something to be said for choosing parenthood rather than having it thrust upon you. But as I’m sure you know, parents whose children are “accidents” are frequently wonderful moms and dads who love the job, and parents who planned their families meticulously are sometimes miserable – sometimes because their plans didn’t work out, and sometimes precisely because they did.
In my opinion, dearheart, the reason why nobody can give you the information you’re looking for is because the moment we became parents (for some of us, maybe even the moment we started trying), we came to know exactly how much we do not know, and exactly how little we can control.
- I did not expect, when I first decided to have children, that I would one day debate Bamm-Bamm Rubble‘s superhuman strength over dinner. Or that the story of that time I fell off my bike would be so frequently requested. Or that anyone after my 8th grade social studies teacher would care so much whether or not I remember all 50 state capitals. Life with kids is weird and unexpected. Truth.
- Decisions are never final. What works this week (in discipline, in work scheduling, in getting the kids to eat, in finding time for yourself and your partner, ad infinitum) will not work next week. Unless it does! Ha!
- File under Cannot Control: Two pregnancies, three babies. And that’s the good math. Plenty of people would kill for those stats.
- I am guessing, based on your letter, that this is going to be a tough one for you: You are going to screw up. You are going to screw up so, so huge. You are going to break rules and promises and you are going to lie awake at night worrying and wondering about how to fix it or if it’s too late to fix it or whether trying to fix it might just make it worse and much of the time you will just have to guess and you won’t find out if you were right or not until years or maybe decades later.
- Nobody else parents just like you. I thought, before becoming a parent myself, that there were universal Rules. There really aren’t, for most things. You’re not your mom, or your best friend, and their kids are not your kids.
- As an experiment, you may want to try smearing yourself with sour milk and applesauce. Be generous. You will get covered in plenty of even more disgusting things, but wear those around for a day or two just to kind of ease yourself into it.
So, no. No, I cannot tell you if you should be a mother. Everything, in fact, that I have just told you is just as worthless to you as all the other research you have already done. Your problem is not that there’s insufficient data: there are parenting books, and blogs, and communities, and classes galore, and absolutely none of it can tell you what you should do.
Here is all I feel I can safely about becoming a mom: I am, and I love it, and even though there are plenty of moments in which I think, “Can’t somebody else take care of it for once?” or “Honestly? You ripped up somebody else’s art project on purpose, and you expect me to take your side?” or “This is too hard,” there has honestly, truly, really never ever ever been a moment in which I’ve thought, “I wish I had never done this.”
For what it’s worth.