Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: How do I know if I want kids badly enough to have them to please my very beloved wife?
Minds aren’t stretchy enough to get around that.
They can usually manage this question, though: How good are you at adapting to what you get, versus what you always thought you’d have?
The people who are comfortable living the lives their choices hand them, and regarding them as part sacred duty, part adventure (and I’m not just talking kids here), will be much happier parents than those who respond to a tough situation by sighing at what might have been.
Re: Kids: I should have said, how do I know whether my reservations are significant enough that I shouldn’t have kids, even if that means losing said beloved wife? The question you asked is the one I’m asking myself. Plenty of people have told me they didn’t want kids, but then never regretted them. I wonder whether that’s just what people have to say. I am not inflexible, and I do consider myself quite adventurous. I see kids as adventure-killers.
That’s a failure of imagination.
No, you can’t shoot rapids with your infant, but you’ll get there eventually if that’s your priority.
And I see it as the ultimate adventure to take something that doesn’t exist and create it, nurturing it into something complete and independent of you.
I’m choosing my words carefully — this adventure can be a child, yes, but also a work of art, a garden, a business, so many things.
I too am skeptical of the “Oh you’ll love them when they’re yours” line. Some people regret having kids and just know they can’t say that out loud, and I’d wager there’s a bigger population who don’t even let themselves think that.
But. We parents can also be taken aback by what having kids does to our perspective on the world. When you’re in a restaurant getting irritated by the squirmy grubs at the next table, it’s all but impossible to see such rewards. What you see is adults trying but failing to finish sentences and feed themselves in peace, a real and annoying (albeit fleeting) part of the deal.
But when they’re your own kids, you also know them well enough to understand their “wow” moments — when they master a thing you used to take for granted and for months or years watched them be hopeless at doing. The album-fillers are smiling, talking, walking, etc., but there are also personal ones that are, for lack of a better word, just so damn exciting that you want to tell everyone! (Tip: Don’t.) You see a kid facing an obstacle, and you feel that struggle with them, and you watch them clear it using the force of their will and personality and wits. Wow.
You also see the world differently by having to explain it. There are countless times where a child’s question forces you to put together a better answer than the one you were about to reflexively give.
These specifics may be unique to kids, but the process of taking something from “0” to “fully realized” forces similar changes in priorities and similar changes to worldview. And how is that not an adventure?
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at washingtonpost.com.