Motherhood springs on us in different ways. For some, it’s a logical, analytical decision, thought out months or years in advance, perfectly timed and executed. For others, it’s a yearning that becomes a gaping wound when, month after month, the test still comes back negative. And for still others, it’s not planned it all.
At some stage in every relationship, though, you reach a point where you consider the “big question.” No, not marriage. The other one. Whether — and when — to procreate.
Seeing how this is a moms blog, I’m probably preaching to the choir here. Still, before having kids, I spent some time lurking around on this site, getting the lay of the motherhood land that I presumed lay somewhere in my future. I suspect others might too. And even if you’re already a mom, you might have that childless friend or relative who turns to you for insight on parenthood.
So how do you (or they) know when it’s a good time to bring children into the world? In the best-case scenario, here are three signs that you might be ready.
- You’re in a relatively stable living situation. Children require a lot of time, energy and money. (Imagine that.) Before bringing another human being into the world — one who will depend entirely on you every waking moment and change the course of your life for, well, the rest of your life — you should probably be in a reasonably stable situation. That means having a steady income, a decent place to live, health insurance and, most importantly, a healthy psychological and emotional state. The upheaval of becoming a parent can cast far-reaching ripples on even the calmest of mental surfaces.
- Your marriage (or long-term relationship) is in a good place. Few things put more stress on a relationship than having kids. Suddenly, you’re no longer the whole world to one another. You have a mighty shared responsibility for shaping a new life. And that means dealing with the inevitable conflicts. You’ll end up arguing over the pettiest of things that nonetheless seem like mountains at the time — whether to introduce rice cereal or butternut squash puree first, or how to properly clean the inner crevices of a Dr. Brown’s bottle. And you’ll have to work through differences when it comes to the real mountains, like parenting philosophies and foundational values. If you have any underlying problems that have been swept under the rug, your kiddos will sweep them right back out, and now you’ll be tripping over them. (They’ll do this in a very literal way, too, with more toys than you ever thought could fit in one household.) Put simply, kids won’t “fix” a troubled relationship. Resolve your issues before adding a new variable that can put cracks in even the most rock-solid of relationships.
- You AND your partner want kids. It seems obvious, but this isn’t the kind of decision where you wanted a cat and your partner didn’t, so you compromised and got a cat. Assuming you’re in a position to choose, you should both be on board with the decision to reproduce. (Now, I’m not talking about when an “oops” occurs. That’s a whole different ball game, and one I won’t get into here.)
For some, these three things don’t seem like enough. For some, there’s a laundry list of prerequisites for having children. If your heart is set on becoming a mother, don’t let an impossible agenda of “shoulds” and “oughts” get in the way.
Here’s what you definitively don’t need to do before having kids.
- Don’t get a puppy or kitten as a “test run.” It’s fine to have a pet, and it may be wise to get one before you have kids (because let’s face it, the last thing you’ll want with a baby latched to your boob at all hours of the day and night is yet another creature to keep alive), but don’t do it for this reason. The pet will be around for a long time, pooping on your floors and vomiting on your sofa. If you feel like your nurturing skills need honing, get a houseplant. Otherwise, trust yourself — even if you don’t feel like you have a strong mothering instinct, or even if you have an instinctive aversion to small, messy, slobbery children, you’ll feel differently when it’s your own.
- Don’t feel like you have to get through a “pre-children bucket list.” Such a list can quickly become never-ending, especially if you view kids as the end of life as you know it. Yes, things will change, priorities shift. The chaotic newborn days might not be the best time to take that dream backpacking trip through Europe. But you can still pursue your own goals and dreams. You can still travel. You can still advance your career. So instead of trying to pack a lifetime of adventure into your pre-children years, pick a few things to cross off your bucket list, and save the rest for when the kids are a little older. Or for when you’re an empty-nester. (As every new parent hears repeated ad nauseum, those days will come far too soon.)
- Don’t wait for the perfect time. Here’s a little secret: There is no perfect time. Nothing you do will really prepare you for the transition to parenthood anyway — for those exhausting, sleepless and sore days when you wonder whether life will ever be normal again and whether you’ll ever be able to sneeze without needing a panty-liner. (Don’t worry, it will, and you will, for the most part anyway.) If you keep waiting for the perfect time, you’ll forever be disappointed, because that time will never come.
Ultimately, the logistics of how motherhood comes about — when and how, whether by choice or happenstance or agonizing struggle, whether deliberately or reluctantly — don’t matter. Those details, seemingly so major in the moment but ultimately so minor, pale by comparison to the wonder of watching your baby learn to walk, the joy of hearing “mama” among her first words, the exhausting worry over every rash and fever, and, above all, the inexhaustible love that is motherhood.