An internal debate about the pros and cons of starting a family
In this series’ previous installments, I used the internal debate technique to explore the three of life’s big decisions: Should you marry or break up? Should you change jobs? and If and what sort of college should you send your child to?
Today, I use the internal debate technique to explore the pros and cons of having a child.
Person: I’ve always felt I wanted a child.
Alter ego: Is that a should or a want?
Person: A little of both.
Alter ego: It’s stupid to have a baby even partly because your friends are having babies.
Person: That’s not mainly it. I don’t know if it’s estrogen or conditioning but I feel I want a baby.
Alter ego: I’m hearing a little ambivalence in the way you say that.
Person: Well, I’m not crazy about giving up my freedom for 18 years.
Alter ego: It’s longer than that. Your life starts changing from the day you get pregnant. And with lots of adult children back on their parents’ sofa after college, who knows how long it’s going to be?
Person: You make parenthood sound like a liability. I love the idea of holding my baby, seeing my child grow up, leaving a legacy.
Alter ego: Think of all your conversations with your friends. Are they in such la-la land about parenthood? They complain about parenthood making your brain go to mush, the relentless responsibility, the nonstop crying when they’re a baby, and when they’re older, the fights over homework, drugs, sex, just getting them to complete their college applications!
Person: You’re being cold. Think about the joys of nurturing a child, seeing your kid develop, being lifetime friends. The relationship!
Alter ego: Speaking of relationship, what about your husband? He’s willing to go along with your having a kid or two and he’ll do a fair amount of the parenting, but you know he really doesn’t care that much to have kids. In fact, if you told him you didn’t want kids, he’d mainly be relieved.
Person: I think that having a child or two would be good for our relationship. As it is, we’re starting to have parallel lives. He’s into his work and his hobbies, I’m into my work and my hobbies. There isn’t a common activity to draw us together, except sex.
Alter ego: That counts.
Person: But I’m feeling that, especially as time goes on, we need something else to bond us.
Alter ego: Having kids will hurt, not help, your relationship. It’ll hurt your sex life, which is already starting to go downhill. And parents fight a lot about their kids; “You’re too permissive.” “No, you’re too strict.” “She doesn’t need that.” “You’re being cheap.” And big stuff like public versus private school. And what about religious training? You’re a little religious while your husband is an atheist. Having a child to help your relationship? Hah!
Person: You’re seeing the ¾ full glass as ¼ empty.
Alter ego: I haven’t even mentioned the cost. It costs a quarter of a million dollars to raise a kid in a middle-class way, and that’s not counting college. And in the Northeast, a more upscale upbringing costs a half-million!
Person: It doesn’t have to be that expensive. I find it obscene that parents keep showering their kids with endless toys and designer label clothes. That not only teaches them shallow values but makes them feel entitled, like if the shower of stuff stops, they’re somehow being wronged.
Alter ego: You’re deluding yourself to think that exerting some moderation on buying them clothes and toys is going to put a dent in that quarter or half million—I’m talking food, clothing, the bigger apartment, health care, child care, haircuts, smartphone, summer camp, private school if you feel it’s too risky to send your kid to the public school. And I know you: After you have one kid, you’re going to say, “It would be so nice for my child to have a sibling.”
Person: So what? Family is what it’s ultimately mainly about.
Alter ego: What about your career: making a difference, making good money? If you have a child or two, you know you won’t be as devoted to work. You may even quit.
Person: I don’t think I will. Plenty of women do good work and have children.
Alter ego: Are you sure you want to bring children into this world? It’s a scary place.
Person: There will always be good and bad but I choose to believe that, ultimately, humankind progresses. I believe my child will live in a better world.
Alter ego: I hope you’re right.
Person: What if my kid is born defective? I’d still love the baby but it would change my life forever. My life is good now.
Alterego: Again with the fear-mongering?! The chances are tiny, especially because you don’t smoke, drink, or do drugs. And you and your husband have good genes.
Person: My grandmother did die of breast cancer. My father died early of a heart attack.
Alterego: I’d tell you to go get your genome analyzed at 23andme but the FDA just stopped them. You could though see a genetic counselor.
Person: I may do that. I’m feeling all this resistance now. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I’m scared of giving birth–a bowling ball coming out of me?!
Altergo: Billions of women do it, have done it for time immemorial. You’re strong and healthy. You’ll be fine.
Person: I need to think about more pros of having a child—It would be nice when I’m older to have grandchildren. I know I’d love being a grandma.
Alter ego: You shouldn’t have kids so that 20 years from now, you can play grandma for a few hours a week.
Person: And moms and daughters are usually very close with each other.
Alter ego: What if it’s a boy. Are you going to abort it?
Person: Stop it. Of course not. It would be comforting to know I’ll have someone to take care of me in my old age. Women live a lot longer than men. My husband probably won’t be around.
Alter ego: Your reasons for having a kid are getting absurd. If, and I do mean if, you need someone to care for you in your old age and your husband isn’t alive and you haven’t met another guy, you can do what millions of people do: hire a caretaker. Don’t be irrational.
Person: But this is about feelings. The main reason I want a child is feeling: f-e-e-l-i-n-g. Doesn’t that count?
Alter ego: Not all feelings should be followed. Why don’t you wait until you get really clear about whether you want kids?
Person: If I wait, I’ll still have a child at home when I’m in my mid-to-late 50s. Will I have the energy to be a mother then? And even if I did, would that be how I’d be wanting to spend those years?
Alter ego: Maybe you should adopt an older child. Or get a dog.
Person: I need to think about all this (sigh).
Marty Nemko holds a Ph.D. specializing in education evaluation from U.C. Berkeley and subsequently taught there. He is the author of seven books and an award-winning career coach, writer, speaker and public radio host specializing in career/workplace issues and education reform. His writings and radio programs are archived on www.martynemko.com.
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