Carolyn Hax: Listen to gut instincts about parenthood

Carolyn Hax
Columnist June 4, 2012

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My husband and I are 27 and 28 and have been married for 21 / 2 wonderful years. We’re financially stable and we own a home. We are starting to feel real baby pangs.

But whenever we talk to a couple who had kids young, they all urge us to wait. They say we should enjoy spoiling ourselves and each other for a little while longer, and they wish they had waited. We’d be the only ones among our friends with a baby.

But we have also talked to couples who waited till their mid-to-late 30s to have children. One unequivocally says if she had it to do again, she would have started a decade earlier. We have seen heartbreaking fertility struggles, and I have a co-worker who at age 42 just took several days off to come to terms with the fact that she will never be a mom.

We are sure we want kids, but it seems like no matter when we do it, we’ll have regrets. Can you help shed light on this?

Grass Is Greener

There will always be something you wish you had known or done. If you base your decisions on what others say, you will open yourselves to even deeper regrets than if you base your decisions on what you know about yourselves.

Listen to your friends, by all means, but not to the conclusions they’ve drawn; those are about them.

For example, those who are the first among their friends to have kids do sometimes resent their peers’ freedom — but some don’t miss that “carefree” phase one bit. The change is universal, but feelings about it are personal.

So, listen instead to the reasons your friends felt and concluded what they did, and use them to inform your decisions.

You’ve figured some out already, like financial security, getting self-indulgence out of your system before dedicating yourself for 18-plus years to a child’s needs, and not waiting so long that your fertility plunges. There are also the issues of your energy level, the ages you’ll be when your kids become adults, etc.

Dear Carolyn:

I don’t know why, but it is a hot-button issue for me (married man, no desire for children) when I see people equating giving birth with being a parent. I’m guessing the reference to the 42-year-old was about realizing she wouldn’t conceive, but that in no way means she will never be a mom.

Don’t Forget Adoption

Adoption isn’t a breeze — but, yes, “giving birth” and “being a parent” aren’t interchangeable.

Re: Grass Is Greener:

Also, the more kids you want, the earlier you need to start.

Why not give yourself one year (or whatever) before you start trying? Then make sure you ENJOY that time, go on vacations, go out spontaneously, sleep until noon. Then start trying, knowing you have plenty of years of (theoretical) fertility, and you’ve gotten your needed young-and-free years in.

Anonymous

Right — if, in fact, they need them.

And, if, in fact, those years are something they ever want to leave behind. If after their year (or whatever) they decide they want more time or no kids, that’s okay, too. No one agenda is “right.”

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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