Are You Ready for Children?

In an excellent and provocative post entitled, “Wondering if you should have children or not?” Emily Willingham attempts to help prospective parents — primarily prospective mothers — answer that question by asking them a question in return.

I’ll summarize what I think is the thrust of her post: While the chances are your child will be fine, a not insignificant number of parents will have a child with a lifelong disability, and there is no way you can control that. If you’re not ready to commit every last bit of energy and time to that endeavor on the off-chance that this will be your future, don’t have children.

In her words: “Parents are an accident or a developmental milestone or a virus away from having their lives change in ways no one can predict.” She continues, “It’s not a question of ‘If I become a parent, will I still be able to work?’ It’s a question of, ‘If I become a parent, am I prepared to be nothing but a parent all day, every day, if a sudden change, infinitely unpredictable, requires it?'”

Blunt, uncompromising, perhaps unpleasant, but true.

I don’t know how I would have answered her question before becoming a parent. I think I knew it would be hard, largely because of my own experiences growing up (e.g., losing two brothers, etc.). All I know is that now that I’m in this life — like most parents in the same situation — I’m doing my level best.

That said, the fact is that the majority of this burden falls to my wife. I try to be the best, most engaged father I can. And still…her shoulders carry more of this weight.

3 Comments

  1. As I sit here waiting for a full MRI in the next week, with a relative who was given two months to live the very same day the lower half of my body went numb, I would say nothing is ever certain. Before I had a child, I knew I would be willing to do anything for her, but didn’t really wonder about my own mortality–whether or not I would have a child if it were possible that I would be gone from her life while she was still a baby.

    We can never know the future, and sometimes the future eats us no matter how hard we resist. I guess we just keep moving on, doing the best we can. Sometimes it will be good enough at sometimes it won’t.

    You hear so often about the stress disabilities place on marriages. Congrats to both of you for keeping it together and doing such a great job. Fathers today kind of rock. This sounds weird, but I’m glad we have your generation.

  2. As a professional who works with new and prospective moms I don’t know how many at that stage could answer yes to that question. As a mother with family and friends facing both life threatening and chronic illnesses in their children I know that we hold reserves within ourselves that we never knew we had and love that is stronger than what we can describe. It may not be worth preparing ourselves for parenting by worrying about what may not be. A better way to prepare for parenting may be to heal ourselves the best we can so that we are open to all the love that exists in parenting and open to the strength it gives us to deal with the unknown.

    • To me the important thing is not how you answer the question, but that you at least ask the question beforehand. Parenthood might be miraculously flawless, but it can also be a bumpy road that throws everything into chaos. Knowing and accepting this is a distinct possibility is the first step to preparing for parenthood.