Congratulations, you are thinking about becoming a parent! Or you've already definitely decided to become a parent! Or you're literally holding a fresh babyfriend while reading this! Congrats all around! Whether you came to this idea as a result of drunken musings about what awesome parents you would be with your partner, or because you watched the episode of Full House where Aunt Becky has twins, or you peed on a stick and it came out positive and now you’re like, “Hmmm… I guess I have some thinking to do,” this is truly a big decision worthy of much discussion and thought. Remember when your high school Health teacher told you what a big responsibility babies are? That is, unless you were taking a health class with an abstinence only program, in which case your Health teacher never discussed pregnancy at all except to call it “a blessing between husband and wife” or whatever, and I’m sorry that we, as a nation, failed you in your education. But barring that scenario, your teacher was right: Babies are a huge responsibility.
Babies are also adorable and they come with really cute accessories and we are biologically programmed to respond favorably to them. This cuteness and positivity do some very practical, good things, not least of which is ameliorate a lot of the really annoying issues that come along with having a baby. I mean, real talk for a second here: Can you think of any other situation where you would pay buttloads of money and 9 months of annoyance (culminating in a very painful experience) on behalf of a person who routinely throws up all over you and your possessions and who doesn’t even have the decency to talk to you for the first, like, year you know them? The cuteness and the profound parent/child connection, fortunately, usually, makes all that other stuff tolerable. Sometimes, eventually, it even masks all the other stuff to the point where it becomes kind of second nature and you don’t even notice it anymore.
Unfortunately, because babies have some built-in qualities that help them offset many of their own inherent "problems," a lot of people take this to mean that babies are solutions to other problems in our lives. I guess I see the surface logic here, but the truth is, babies are resoundingly not catalysts for making any part of your life better… at all. In fact, babies often make your existing problems worse, and that goes double if you haven’t addressed or attempted to address those issues head on before the little one makes their appearance. Here are examples of problems babies cannot fix…
Your Relationship With Your Partner
It’s a pretty standard trope, right? The baby had in a desperate attempt to save a relationship? Or maybe you didn’t intentionally get pregnant, or didn’t do it as a conscious attempt to fix your relationship, but you still somehow ended up thinking that your pregnancy could accomplish that. Spoiler: It doesn’t work. Even if the baby keeps you together, it doesn’t save anything.
I must say that, at first blush, one can understand where people might think, “This is a great idea!” A baby will be something you both have in common that you’ll love. So then you think, “This baby will reprioritize our relationship and reignite the spark we once had that’s been missing, or [solve whatever issue has been plaguing your relationship].” But what’s really ends up happening is you have a baby and that baby becomes a way to put off confronting the issues you’re ignoring but need to discuss.
While the love you have for a child makes that child tolerable, it doesn’t extend to loving other people. Not even the child’s other parent. In fact, a child is often an enormous stressor and makes other people way less tolerable. Especially people you’re already having issues with. Those conversations you’re putting off: They will be thrust into the foreground of your life, and you will have to deal with them while sleep deprived while caring for a wailing infant. You’d think however many seasons of 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom would get this by now.
Your Relationship With Your Parents
Relationships with our own parents can certainly be complex, especially as we move into adulthood. When you have kids while maintaining those complicated relationships, it may be tempting to think, “Well, now that I’m a parent, I’ll finally have the power to make my own parent listen to me and respect me, because we’re the same now!” But I can assure you that no one in the history of ever has dropped out a baby, showed it to their toxic parent, and had the parent be all, “Oh. You’re right. I get you completely now and I see the error of my ways. Let me give you all the love and respect I’ve neglected to give you up until this moment.” The best you can hope for is that having a baby might open a new door to discuss some deep, difficult issues. You can’t for a minute believe that the door in question is a fire escape the enables you to bypass the whole messy business of confrontation.
Whether you had an amazing childhood and now you want to go through it all over again with your surrogate self, or you feel like you had a completely sucktastic childhood and giving your own kid a good childhood will somehow ease the heartache you feel about your own early years: It doesn’t work that way. This child and the experiences they will have are unique to them. While it is, without a doubt, right and proper that you should want to give your children the good things you either had or didn’t have, they deserve their own childhood — they shouldn’t have the pressure to be your redemption, and you shouldn’t have to feel that pressure either.
Your Sense Of Self
Having a kid might change you. It might not. (Personally, having kids changed my life, but it didn’t change who I am even a little bit.) Your children will very likely inspire you and motivate you… but they cannot be your meaning. Wrapping up your entire sense of self into your children is dangerous, and unfortunately it’s so, so easy to do. It’s easy because they are little black holes of time and energy and you love them. So everything you do becomes about them, and you begin to see yourself only through the lense of who they are. This can happen pretty organically. (Let’s be honest: You all know or knew that parent at some point. They can often be found at the sidelines of little league games, shouting plays and aggressive encouragement. Or they’re the parent who calls their kids’ college professors to argue for a higher grade. Hell, you've probably been that parent at certain moments before looking at yourself like, "Whoa. No." before reeling yourself back in. I know I have.)
It’s generally just never a good idea to rely on any other person to tell you who you are or what your purpose is, not even your children. Because, hopefully, if you’ve done your job as a parent, one day they are going to live lives completely separate from your own and you’re left with the same void you felt when you decided having them would fix it, lest you become one of those nightmare parents who meddles way too much in the lives of their adult children.
Wanting To Feel Loved
“I want a baby because a baby will always love me unconditionally.”
I have heard this sentiment with disturbing frequency. Let me tell you here and now that this is not true at all: A toddler’s love is nothing if not conditional. My 4 year old tells me he loves me every day. Sometimes it’s accompanied by a fabulous, full-body hug, complete with nuzzle. And then I’ll tell him he can’t have candy for breakfast and he will groan, scowl, and inform me, “I’m very frustrated, and I don’t love you anymore. I don’t need you anymore. I’m going to my room.” I’m pretty secure in my sense of self and our parent/child relationship, so I usually just say, “OK. I still love you, though. Have fun in your room.” But if I were of a more fragile constitution? That would be a heartbreaker! I mean, even with confidence my heart sinks a little when I hear it! And it’s not just toddlers; I bet you can think of more than a handful of your friends who just do not care for one or both of their parents.
Having kids is not about what you can get out of the deal. Having kids is about feeling like you are at a stage in your life where you want to provide love, happiness, and security to another creature for the rest of forever. Yes, in the process this will likely make you very happy, but it’s not the key to happiness, and it’s not going to eliminate any of your existing problems. And those existing problems? They will probably have a deleterious effect on your ability to provide all that love, happiness, and security if you don’t get to working on them before your little one makes their grand entrance. I feel like we need some sort of catchy PSA catchphrase to make people more aware of these problems, so I’ll end with this one: Contemplate before you procreate! Bonus points to anyone who can think of a stern yet relatable mascot to deliver this message. I’m thinking something with the jolly wisdom of Smokey the Bear and the gravitas of the “Crying Indian,” minus the ugly hat of the former and the problematic aspects of the latter.
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