We're often told that we focus too much on the negatives of parenting, that we never stop to think about the positives. And, of course, we're conversely not allowed to suggest that parents consider the negatives. Naturally, many parents can't even fathom the negatives because the positives are so overwhelming.
But what if it's the negatives that are overwhelming? Let's try a little exercise:
Pro: A little piece of each of you, assuming the child is biologically yours; a child you can influence and mold to be a person.
Here's the thing. As appealing as aspects of that may sound, the resounding reaction as I write is one of neuroses, of what-ifs and what-am-I-losings.
What if I screw it up?
I simply cannot imagine the level of stress this question would plague me with day in, day out. I fly into panic attacks over job interviews, over altercations with friends, over the perception that someone, somewhere might be upset with me, that I did something to upset some sort of balance. Raising a child would be one humongous panic attack for me. Not for you, not for anyone else, but this is my reality.
I think about my experience helping with my niece, and the stress was constant. Did she eat enough for breakfast? The first day in my care she got sent home sick from school, possibly just from her own stress because her normal caregivers were gone, but it was also insinuated that I didn't feed her enough for breakfast. Am I doing her a disservice by helping her on her homework? Should she be reading a more challenging book? Is this TV show giving her low self-esteem? Am I spending enough time with her? This went on for nearly three weeks and I NEVER STOPPED WORRYING that I was doing it all wrong.
I hear tales of friends with new babies, first babies, who are dealing with this constant worry, especially my friend whose baby was sick the first few weeks, with occasionally nasty doctors insinuating that SHE was doing something wrong and making her feel like a failure. Constant worry.
The other question that would plague me is this:
Did I make a mistake here?
When I weigh pros and cons, the cons are simply overwhelming, but none moreso than my fear of regret. But it's the fear of regretting HAVING a child, not the fear of regretting the choice to remain childfree. It's the fear of a child knowing that I wish I never did it, that I had my old life back, that I simply don't like babies for more than a few moments, that I don't have the mom gene that makes vomit and poop okay, that I choose my career over them and leave my husband to raise the child. I honestly feel like adding a child to my life would add a great deal of burden for something I simply do not want, no matter what my body occasionally twinges and tries to suggest (that's a whole different post). And I feel as if staying childfree opens me up to be the best aunt, mentor, and friend to my beloved niece, to the children of friends, to enjoy children the only way I can -- when I can give them back -- while keeping the parts of life that *I* find fulfilling.
It's not that we don't think about the positive aspects of having a kid versus a childfree lifestyle, and I think it's because it's not something that can be quantified. How do you compare seeing the world to seeing your child graduate from high school? Apples and cheeseburgers, friends. Two different lifepaths, each one valid, neither one that can be decided by simply making a list of pros and cons.
When I tried the exercise above, listing a con for the pro, I ran off on tangents because there simply is no comparison. This is not a black and white issue. It lives in the gray area, so we need to find different ways of making decisions.
For me, it's about going with my gut, even as it sometimes defies me lately, with little twinges of "I wonder". It's knowing what I want from life, knowing my temperament and that of my husband, and knowing what we can, can't, and really would rather not handle.