frequently-asked-q's

Do I Want Children?

Everyone assumes she wants children, but Erin Stewart is still contemplating the question.

For no apparent reason, I am pressured into talking and thinking about kids. Granted, I am in a long-term relationship, but it doesn’t explain people’s curiosity. It’s surprising how often the topic of children arises in the life of a woman in her twenties. The idea that I want to have children is so widely assumed that the question is always when, rather than whether. Problem is, I’m stuck on the ‘whether’.

Sometimes I want to have children in the distant future

It might be just polite conversation. I remember people asking me all through school what I wanted to do when I grew up. I never liked the question. For most of my life, I didn’t know what I wanted to be, and when I did, I fully reserved the right to change my mind. I wanted to be a detective, historian, author or journalist, teacher, lawyer, management consultant or psychologist. To change one’s mind is perfectly natural, but it made me feel as if I couldn’t really trust whatever answer I gave, as it would probably change in a few weeks. I found it better to just mutter “I don’t know”, rather than mislead someone.

Now that I’m an adult and shaping my career, intrusive questions about my ambitions have moved from work to family life. Sometimes I want to have children in the distant future, other times I don’t. I experience a familiar, hormonal click when a cute kid is on TV, or at the idea of teaching my own child how to do something I like or having a little person who incorporates their parents’ best traits. Children are fun to talk to, and often impress me with their humour, intelligence and observations. I think they are far more capable and valuable than they’re given credit for. This doesn’t mean raising one is the right decision for me.

Children could compromise what I know I want

The hormonal click is fleeting. At this stage in my life, I am neither financially nor emotionally ready for children. But even thinking further ahead – nappies, sleepless nights, fights, being tied down with little scope for travel, cleaning up vomit and food, relegation to ‘family restaurants’, and coming to terms with my possessions being destroyed – there are many reasons not to have children. I want the time and space to work on my own projects and career, and see the world. Children could compromise what I know I want.

I don’t want to assume, I want to be able to choose

This, of course, is subject to change. Even with birth control and fertility programs, we don’t always get a choice. You constantly hear stories of women who always assumed they would have a child one day – maybe when conditions were right, certain goals were reached, they felt established in their careers, could reasonably take time off work, or finally had enough money for the lifestyle they wanted. These things might never happen – the goalposts can move, and fertility dwindles.

I’ve found planning ahead pointless. It would mean assuming I will have children someday. I don’t want to assume, I want to be able to choose. The real problem is that reserving the right to choose means at some point biology will take over and it may become too late. Perhaps that’s why it’s easier to assume one will have children, rather than face the possibility of regret.

It’s not necessary for me to reach a final decision today. Yet, if I never make up my mind with a sense of finality, my potential to choose dissipates. Do I want children? If so, when?

Ask me next week.

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