To Be (or Not To Be) a Mom: The Continuing Saga

Back in October I wrote this guest post for my friend Brett over at his site, Irresistibly Fish. I had every intention of posting it over here as well, but somehow it slipped through the cracks. I’m posting it here today because I never had the opportunity to share it here and it’s something I’m still really wrestling with in my life right now. Brett has an entire series on his blog called “To Be a Mom” that you should check out if you want to hear some great perspectives on motherhood. (I was the only guest blogger who is not actually a mom).

I do want to be sensitive to any of you who may be struggling with infertility or grieving miscarriages.  I understand that it may be hurtful to hear someone else questioning if they even want children if you have lost deeply-wanted children or are struggling with infertility. It is so not my intention to cause you more pain so I wanted to post this “trigger warning” for those of you who may not want to read this one. 

Also, to be clear, this is not a criticism of people who choose to have children. I believe there are many people who are meant to be parents. This is just an exploration of my own sense of purpose and calling.

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To be a mom used to be something I dreamed of. As early as elementary school l I told people I  was telling people that I planned to have six kids (mostly girls with one or two boys thrown in). I regularly made and updated lists of my favorite baby names.

I grew up in a home where motherhood was valued and praised. I have a wonderful, selfless, self-sacrificing mother and my dad adores her. Since I have two sisters who are significantly younger than me, I started practicing my mothering skills at a young age.

To be clear, there was never any pressure or expectation placed on me by my family that my calling in life was to be a wife and mother. I simply had a natural bent towards domesticity and nurture. I like cooking and baking and I love small children. I think I “get” them better than I get adults. Maybe this is because there are parts of childhood I’ve never outgrown – for example, the urge to stomp my feet when I am frustrated or to sing tuneless songs narrating what I’m doing or to be scared of things like balloons that might pop at any moment – so I understand where they’re coming from a lot of the time.

I started babysitting when I was twelve didn’t stop until I was 25. I taught 4-year old Sunday school class at my church all through college and after college I transitioned into full-time nannying, which is the closest you can get to parenting without actually having your own kids. (Of course, this varies from situation to situation, but in some of my jobs I did the grocery shopping, prepared meals, did homework and school projects, washed clothes, bought clothes, arranged play dates, bought birthday presents for parties, and attended school functions so I honestly think it’s fair to say that this was part-time parenting).

I met my husband at 18 and was married at 22. Our plan was always to wait a few years before we started our family, but I still wanted a big brood of kids and felt pressure not to wait too long. As I was nearing 25 and nothing was happening for me career-wise I started to think, “Maybe we should start having kids.” I believed that having kids would be meaningful and frankly, I believed I’d be good at it. It was something I’d always wanted to do.

And then, about two years ago, something in me changed. I can’t explain exactly how or why, but I woke up one day and I no longer felt the desire to have children. People joke that nannying is its own form of birth control. I don’t think it was that nannying made me stop wanting kids. But I do think nannying made me want to be the right kind of parent.

To be a mom, to really be a good mom, you must be willing to die to yourself and to invest the best of who you are into your children. I have a mom like that, so I know what it looks like. I have worked with different kinds of families and there is a profound difference between the parents whose priority is their children and who are willing to sacrifice their comfort, their careers, and their dreams to invest in their kids and the parents whose priority is themselves or their careers or the image they want to project. I don’t doubt that these second kinds of parents love their children. But based on my experience with those kids, I don’t think they are being the kind of parents their kids need them to be.

I started to wonder why I had wanted a family in the first place. Why do most people have children? I don’t mean that in a flippant or cynical way. It’s something I asked very seriously. One of my deeply held beliefs is that WHY we do things matters tremendously. So I started to ask. Do I want children because I’m hoping they will give me a sense of purpose? Because it’s the next thing to cross off the list? Because nothing else in life is working out and this feels like the next logical step? Because I’m afraid of missing out? Because I believe it will express a unique kind of love with my husband? Because I’m curious about what a mini-me-and-Jonathan would be like?

For many people, the desire to have kids is probably some combination of those things. And that’s not necessarily wrong. I’ve just come to believe that, for me, those reasons are not ENOUGH. For me, there has to be a deeper sense of calling and with that a commitment to sacrificing whatever is required to parent well.

Understanding what parenting really means and what it requires has convinced me that it isn’t something that should be undertaken lightly. I genuinely believe that God took the desire for children away from me for a season because it isn’t the right time. Not long after I’d had this total change of heart, the opportunity for my husband and I to move overseas came up. Our move abroad has been one of the best decisions we’ve ever made, and we wouldn’t have made it if we’d had a child or even been trying to have one.

I don’t know if this feeling will last forever or if God will bring back that desire again at the right time. I do believe that God is ultimately in control of my family and that whether or not we have children depends on him much more than on me. But as much as it depends on me, I want to make sure I pursue motherhood for the right reasons. And if I should get pregnant unintentionally, then I will embrace that as a clear sign of God’s timing and will trust that he will equip me for what he’s calling me to.

I used to long for motherhood, but now to be (or not to be) a mom is something I strive to hold with open hands. I want to keep it in proper perspective, neither looking at it as a means of personal fulfilment nor refusing it out of fear or selfishness. To be a mom is a high calling, but it isn’t everyone’s calling. I want to be sure I’m listening to mine.

 

Image from; joannagoddard.blogspot.com
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30 comments

  1. Wow. Me and my wife discuss this with very similar perspective. We are still not positive with the responsibility and don’t feel we need that kind of extension. We too wonder how people feel so confident about having a child when we are scared. We are teachers btw and know how much wrong upbringing can affect a child.
    Good to know we are not the only ones that evaluating

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    1. I honestly think it’s better to really think through these things than to just rush into parenthood because it’s expected or even because you just want to. Even if you come out on the other side and decide, “Yes, having kids is right for us,” having thought through all these things can only be a benefit.

      I would encourage you not to let your decision (one way or the other) be driven by fear though. Sometimes I’m afraid I’ll be a bad parent, but I think even really great parents feel that way. And all parents make mistakes, no matter how great and committed they are. It’s one thing to know what it means to be a good parent and try your best and still make mistakes and a totally different story to go into parenting not thinking at all about what it requires and not being willing and able to give it your all.

      Blessing to you and your wife as you continue to think about these big questions. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have never wanted children, ever. I even remember as a child at school having my friends argue with me saying, oh you will change your mind. Not once since, have I ever considered even for a split second wanting to be a mother. But I understand people wanting children and I respect that decision, and I expect the same respect back in return over my choice (and my partners choice) to not have them.

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    1. I have several friends who are the same way – have always known they didn’t want kids and never changed their minds. But like you say, I genuinely understand and respect people who do want kids and I would never try to argue them out of it, haha. And like I said, I’m very open to a change of heart or to coming to feel that having kids is what I’m supposed to do. I’m not just being stubborn about it for no reason. But I don’t plan to pursue motherhood until I feel that’s what I’m meant to be doing. Thanks for the support and for sharing your thoughts!

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    1. Thank you! I certainly agree that it’s becoming more common these days for parenthood to be optional rather than required. 🙂 I certainly don’t think everyone should stop having kids, haha, but I think it would be helpful if people made the decision (either way) more thoughtfully.

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    1. Thanks! It’s like that quote from Eat, Pray, Love about how motherhood is like getting a tattoo on your face – you kind of want to be committed. 🙂 I’m very open to my feelings about this changing, especially since my husband doesn’t feel exactly the same (though he is very understanding). But for now, this is how I feel and I’m sticking with it. 🙂

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  3. I think it’s very normal to be scared and even disillusioned. I, too, am scared. But look at me — I have two instant sons. And I do because I chose to live my forever with a husband who happened to come with two little boys. Even if anyone suggests that the kids live with their relatives (grandparents and single uncles/aunties), I’m the first one who will staunchly disagree because I know the importance of having a family, especially to children. I don’t want to be the first to break a family, not even that way. This belief became strong in me when I worked for child-welfare organization and met a lot of orphaned, abandoned and abused kids.

    Really, it’s the weight of the responsibilities that scares me. Scares women like us. In fact, giving life to a new one scares me much more. But as you say, it all depends on God.

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  4. I really like this post. I’ve always wanted children too, but recently I’ve been questioning why I want them.

    I know you can relate to growing up in south Louisiana, where having many kids and starting early is not uncommon. There was definitely pressure from the churches and homeschool circles I grew up in to have lots of children and start having them young. While my parents didn’t push this on me too much, there were people around us who did, and the house was filled with material that promoted it, if you know what I mean.

    Now, I have a hard time not panicking because I’m 26, and thanks to some difficult circumstances in life, my husband and I are still a long way from being financially stable. The soonest we might start with kids could be when I’m 30, and according to all those books and speakers, I’m missing my “prime” years for childbearing.

    The feminist in me totally rolls my eyes at this — trust me, I hear myself. But I can’t get rid of this anxiety about the fact that … I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do. I believed for so long that I would run a small, home business, and have kids while doing it. I’ve got the small business going … and no kids in sight. It’s like I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do with my life now. Sometimes I feel lazy, or less than what a woman should be without that next step to pursue. I took so many steps in this direction that I don’t know how to turn around.

    I KNOW there is wrong thinking in here, but it’s really a struggle to weed it out :/

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    1. Hey Anna! I feel like you are reading my mind. Seriously, it is a little creepy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this exact conversation – “I’m not sure I’m supposed to have kids. But I’m so scared of not having kids What if I’ve waited too long and now I can’t have them?! We need to have a kid RIGHT NOW!”

      I’ve often told my husband that I wish I could get pregnant and then sort of be pregnant for several years, haha. Not because I’d want to physically be pregnant forever, but just to give me the assurance that we’d have a kid someday and I could go about the business of what’s going on now without worrying about what may or may not happen in the future. This “What if we finally realize we’re supposed to have kids and I waited to long?!” thing produces a lot of anxiety. As does the thought of, “What if something happened to J or I before we had kids? Would I regret not having children together and missing the opportunity?” Yeah, maybe. But…those are fear-based reasons as much as any others. I don’t think it’s right to choose children out of fear either.

      I get really really worked up about this sometimes, but one thing that does comfort me is the reminder of God’s sovereignty which I know sounds really cliche, but particularly I’m comforted to think that God is not sitting on his throne waiting for us to make the wrong decision and then saying, “Well, you’re screwed forever now. You can never get back on track.” If you are open to God’s leading and direction then he can change your heart. And that’s why I say I hold it with open hands – I don’t feel compelled to motherhood right now, but I’m very open to having my heart changed. 🙂 And I really do think that’s crucial.

      BTW, did you see my king cake post a few weeks ago? I was curious if you’ve ever made one or if you can find something similar in Germany?

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  5. YES. We’ve had this same discussion so many times. Like, our world kind of sucks right now, and this kid would have absolutely NO choice about coming into it. If we are going to bring a human to life intentionally, I want to feel a sense of calling – like God’s got a specific reason fro this other body/soul that needs to exist. And maybe that’s just silly. Idk. But I don’t think the world necessarily NEEDS more bodies at this point. And praise Jesus for birth control. AT THE SAME TIME. I’m with you on the “if I get pregnant, I’m ok with that and God’s in control” part. Also, I really want to be a mom. But I’m pretty sure like 53% of that falls into the category of providing ME meaning and purpose. I think something like 20% could be the natural human desire to procreate. And the rest… some mysterious stuff that comes into every decision I make. Love the post. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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    1. I have that same gut feeling. That the world doesn’t NEED more bodies. And I also (some days more than others) really want to be a mom. But I recognize that part of the reason I want to be a mom is because I think I’d be good at it, haha. Which is not a bad thing, but I really don’t want to make that decision with the motivation that this will help me show off how awesome I am at mothering, haha. I guess at the end of the day I just think God is all-powerful and if there’s a specific person that’s meant to be born to me and my husband right now to fulfill an important purpose in the world, then no pill or piece of latex is going to thwart the will of God. People get pregnant on birth control ALL THE TIME. And honestly, I think we will eventually have kids. I’m just praying that if/when that happens, God will change my heart first so that I know it’s his timing. (Or, you know, circumvent the birth control, which would also be a clear sign to me haha). I’m glad you could relate. Thanks for sharing!

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  6. Interesting post and comments. I guess what I would say is that fear is a bad reason to do anything, or not to do something, as another poster has said. And recognize there will NEVER be a time in your life where you will feel completely ready to be a mother, where you feel you have enough money, where your career is stable enough, where you live in the right neighbourhood, etc etc etc. I do worry about basing these kinds of decisions on ‘feelings”. If you are a Christian, what does God say? I mean, not “what do I think God is telling me based on my feelings” but “what does He clearly say, in His word?” Well, if you look at Scripture you can clearly see that procreation is a great good. I do believe that most people are “called” (if you want to use that word, I wouldn’t) to have children. Our biology, if nothing else, is clear on that. One thing about first, getting married, and second, having children, is that it is a sure-fire way to force us to get our eyes off of ourselves and to admit the needs of another person may be more important than our own. And that is a good thing. Never mind all the other benefits of having children, but again, I worry that people might think they should have children because of all the blessings that will bring to them (the parents). Again, it’s not all about you. It’s about bringing up another generation to serve the Lord and to advance his Kingdom, about getting out of the way and having the privilege of participating with God in the bringing of new life, and the awesome and terrifying responsibility of ensuring that new life is adequately cared for, a responsibility that brings us closer together as parents and closer together to God as we lean on Him to do the job. Don’t be trapped into the culture’s way of thinking that you can only do this when you are “ready”.

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    1. You bring up some good points. I actually completely agree with you on most of these things – I think fear is a terrible motivation for doing anything. It’s actually the main reason why I’m not comfortable HAVING kids right now – because my motivations would be fear-based. If I chose to have kids right now it would be because I was afraid of not being able to later or afraid of regretting it later. I’m actually not AFRAID of having kids right now – I think we’d figure out a way to provide for them and I actually think we’d be really good parents. I just don’t want to have them for the wrong reasons.

      I agree that there will never be a time when I feel completely ready to be a mother though I’m actually pretty comfortable with being able to make it work financially, etc if it happened right now. And of course, there’s no doubt in my mind that if we had a child, I would love it. So for me, this isn’t a matter of not feeling ready in a material or emotional sense. It’s about sensing that THIS is God’s timing.

      You bring up selfishness and I completely agree with what you said – It’s not just about us. It’s not just about how we feel. I couldn’t articulate it better myself. That’s exactly WHY I think the motivation behind having children is important. You look at it like, “People are deciding not to have children because they are selfish” and I’m thinking, “Too many people are having children for selfish reasons.” I want to make sure my reasons are right before I go into something so big. Am I having kids because I think they will fulfill ME? Because I think they will bless my life (like you mentioned)? Am I having them by default because it’s the next thing society says I should be doing? All of those are, to me, inherently selfish reasons. As much as it depends on me (and I know so much of this is out of my control) I want to pursue motherhood intentionally and with right motivations.

      I think the most compelling argument for having kids is certainly that this happens naturally within the context of marriage for many people. BUT. There are also many people for whom it doesn’t happen naturally. And I have a hard time saying “It’s God’s will for all married people to procreate” because I don’t see how you can say that without saying that those people who can’t are missing out on God’s plan for them.

      I also don’t find that argument that we are to bring up another generation to serve the Lord to be a compelling reason to have kids. I mean, I absolutely believe that’s true, I just don’t believe that can only be done through your natural children. I think we each know dozens, maybe even hundreds, of people who need to be cared for, who need to experience the love of God, who need Jesus. Sometimes it feels like a cop-out to me to say, “I’m supposed to spread the kingdom, so I’ll just make all these new people who will be formed in my likeness that I can mold and teach” instead of doing the work of influencing, loving, and expanding the Kingdom through the people who are already in the world – especially children in our lives who don’t have Christian parents. (I am an elementary school teacher, so there are hundreds in my life).

      Ultimately, my prayer in all of this is that if and when we are supposed to have kids, God will change my heart and motivations (which I am asking him to do). I even pray, “God if this is stubbornness or sinfulness on my part, please don’t let me stand in the way of your plan. Give us a child in your timing, even if it’s not our plan.” God is in the business of changing hearts and I am inviting him into this situation.

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  7. It was so good for me to read this. You said out loud things that a lot of us think but maybe are afraid to say. I was sure I was destined to be a mom and was surprised by my infertility. In retrospect, I realize that my reasons for wanting to be a mom had more to do with following the crowd than with following a calling. God knew better. The hard thing is that in a lot of Christian circles, motherhood is upheld as the highest calling to which a woman can aspire (which I think is the church’s reaction to a culture that sometimes denigrates stay-at-home moms). Those of us who don’t conform to the mold can have a hard time fitting in. Thanks for your refreshing candor.

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    1. Emily, I’m sorry to hear about your struggles with infertility. I’m inspired by your attitude towards this. I’ve often felt heartbroken for friends who experienced infertility because of exactly what you said – there is such a strong emphasis in the Church on procreation within marriage and the lofty goal of motherhood that it makes people who can’t feel defective and less-than, not only in a physical way, but as though they are incapable of fulfilling their calling or being in God’s will. And that’s devastating. I’m glad this was encouraging to you in some way. Thank you so much for sharing. I think more people in the Church need to consider what their adamant insistence on the rightness of parenthood does to their brothers and sisters who are single or unable to have children.

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  8. I wonder how different the image of family would be should we stop and listen to God’s callings for our lives. This is beautiful, Lily. Though I am only roughly eighteen and am nowhere close to having to decide whether I want kids or not, I have certainly had experiences that make me stop and think about how others came to that decision. I have witnessed the effects of parenting, beautiful or treacherous, from families I have encountered, as well as my own. These encounters have left an enormous impact on my life, causing me to begin to ask the question whether I plan to ever start a family or not in the future. I am at a time at my life where my future is all anyone seems to care about – what college are you going to, what do you plan to do for a career, and so on. But God has reminded me continuously to focus on the experiences he is handing me NOW, as they will prepare me for what lies ahead. After all, God has the power to change our desires, as you already know. And I love that you mentioned that our decisions are dependent on Him and not ourselves. What a beautiful truth! When our decisions are aligned with God’s plan for our lives, we experience hidden blessings we never would have dreamed of! The difference is, however, whether we are able to discern our decisions from God’s plan. I’ve learned through the years that the only way to be sure is to focus every aspect of our lives on Him. God has given me a new word to guide me through the year of 2015: Focus. Though motherhood does not necessarily apply to me just yet, it very well could in my future. So for now, God is leading me to focus on preparing myself. Focus on growing spiritually, staying in His Word. Focus on Him and trusting Him through everything, big or small. Focus on the new perspectives I see from others He has placed in my life – just like you! – for they are never placed there by accident. I plan to study children’s Occupational Therapy, yet God has also blessed me with a heart for global outreach. Whether or not I follow through with OT, and whether or not He sends me overseas (just as you and your husband), I have to be prepared for what He has in store for my life. Not only because it affects me, but because my life will affect the lives of others when I allow Him to use me. I can’t imagine the beautiful ways in which God is using you and your husband in South Korea to reach so many others – all because you kept your ears attentive to His calling, and your heart open to understanding and trusting His plans for you. I pray that others (including myself) will look to God in the way you have. Your faith inspires me, as it does many others I’m sure. Should you ever decide to have children of your own, they will be incredibly blessed with a mother like you!

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    1. Alex (Alexa? Can’t quite tell from your username), This is so precious. Thank you for reading my post and for responding so graciously and encouragingly. I’m so touched that you found this meaningful, even though it doesn’t relate to your current life stage. I love what you said about focus and focusing every aspect of our lives on God. I used to stress out so much about this big idea of not missing “God’s Will” or “God’s Plan” and then I came to realize that if your eyes are set on him, you’re not going to miss it. I really don’t have to freak out about whether or not I’m following the plan because even if I make a mistake and I step off the path, it’s not like God will just leave me there and say, “Oh well, you screwed up.” He’s going to redeem the situation. And I find that SO COMFORTING. Thanks so much for your sweet words. I remember that finishing high school phase so well with all the questions that come with it and I know that God will direct your steps as you move forward. I love your attitude of “This is my plan for now, but we’ll see what happens.” I try to be that way too – some of the best things in my life have come unexpectedly because, as you said, I was willing to listen and to trust. I have to remind myself of that when it comes to making plans for the future, and especially in this conversation about having children. I make plans, but God’s plans are better. 🙂

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  9. Just for clarification’s sake, and because I am enjoying thinking this through with you, just want to add that I don’t think that people who decide not to have children are necessarily selfish. And I can see that there could indeed be people who are having children for selfish reasons, too. Part of what we wrestle with, I think, is that we have found a way to take something that was completely in God’s hands, ie procreation, and figured out a way to give ourselves that power. I’m not saying that planning when (or if) to have children is necessarily wrong (but I do think we have to be very careful about the types of birth control we use – which is a whole other topic). But the thing is when God decides to give us children (or not) He is operating at a whole other level than what we do when we are making that decision. He has perfect love, compassion and wisdom, not to mention omnipotence, we obviously do not. I do wish you all the best with your decisions on this…but one final thought from me, from where I stand at my 50+ years and three grown children, is that although I can remember those younger years before kids and how the thought of children could seem so terrifying and in some ways so limiting, the reality of it all was both much worse and yet far richer than I was expecting. So my counsel, for what it’s worth, is to not wait until all the pieces are put together perfectly, because that day will never come. Some times you just have to jump in…and that’s okay too.

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    1. Thanks for helping me think through and process all of this. I genuinely appreciate your thoughts and your wisdom. I also find the ethics of birth control complicated sometimes and agree with you that God is ultimately in charge of all of this and that we have much less control than we think we do. 🙂 I also appreciate your thoughts about not thinking you can wait until you have all your ducks in a row because you never really will. I know from experience in other areas of life that sometimes taking a leap of faith turns out to be the best decision in my life. My mother (who now has 4 adult children) says much the same thing as you – that the reality is far worse and much richer than you can comprehend before having kids. She became a mother just before turning 20 and was a completely wonderful one, but she’s told me before that she was completely unprepared for just how hard and painful motherhood is and for that reason she is very encouraging of my questioning these things. Not that she regrets having us at all – just that she sees the value in not walking into motherhood blindly. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and experiences and for your encouragement. We will see what the next few years hold!

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  10. Lily, get out of my brain! I’m not even kidding, I was just outlining a possible blog post earlier today about how — after being at the point of crying when yet another friend would post a baby announcement on Facebook — I’m feeling content.

    It’s different. I still want kids, but I also want to be a good mom if I ever am a mom. I can so relate with wanting to take is very seriously. And I feel like, at least right now, my husband and I wouldn’t be able to be what a child would need us to be. Partly because we’ve only been married for a little over a year, so we’re still getting adjusted and all that. But also, mainly, because I’m still trying to deal with my own health (cynical depression, PTSD), and I need to get to the point where taking care of myself doesn’t require so much effort before I’d even think of adding anyone else to our little family of two.

    Whether or not to have children, how to have them (we’re leaning towards adoption due to some health issues that wouldn’t make biological kids the safest option for me), and when are all questions I want to answer very, very carefully. I don’t want to rush into anything.

    Also, I relate so well with this: “Maybe this is because there are parts of childhood I’ve never outgrown – for example, the urge to stomp my feet when I am frustrated or to sing tuneless songs narrating what I’m doing or to be scared of things like balloons that might pop at any moment …” Yes, to all of those things. I sing-narrate ALL the time and I have the same issue with balloons (love balloons but hate it when they suddenly pop). And I can stop my foot when I’m frustrated, too.

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    1. I think there’s this crucial balance many of us are looking for between feeling responsible enough to properly care for another human being and heeding the advice of others who say, “You’re never going to feel completely ready.” I do believe that there’s a grace that comes only once you’re in the situation. But in some ways, it’s like any other decision you are trying to make responsibly. You shouldn’t buy a house if you can’t pay the mortgage or adopt a dog if you’ll never be home to let it out or play with it. I don’t think you have to have all your ducks in a row to have children, but I think, like you mentioned, it would be good to work through some of your bigger issues first. And of course to build a strong, healthy marriage.

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  11. Wow. This is powerful. It takes such insight and self-awareness to process these thoughts on this level. I also appreciate your wording and your ability to articulate your choice without a hint of judgment toward those who choose differently. Very thought provoking.

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    1. Thank you for your kind response, Lisa. As a writer, it’s so encouraging to have someone say, “I really understand what you were trying to communicate here.” Sometimes I spend a lot of time crafting the words trying to make sure I communicate exactly what I mean and people still jump in and interpret with their own agenda and see what they want to see (i.e. people who think I’m in the “I don’t want to have kids because I want to do my own thing” camp label this selfishness or people think I’m judging people who choose to have kids, etc.)

      I am a firm believe that the reasons WHY we do things really matter and too many people make decisions without ever considering why and whether or not it’s the right reason. Thank you so much for reading. I really appreciate your thoughts and encouragement.

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