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Carolyn Hax: Certainty about wanting kids turns into fears and doubts

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
3 min

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My girlfriend and I have been together for over four years and really love each other. She’s my best friend and the best person I know. But recently I’m questioning having children with her. She very much wants them and I always said and thought I did, too, but now that I’m getting older and working full time with a stressful job (she is too), I’m starting to doubt if I can really handle parenthood.

The idea of working a stressful job, taking care of the kids, and having essentially no time for myself or private time with my girlfriend is so depressing and scares me to death. I love playing video games, watching movies with my girlfriend, taking walks with her, and hopefully again soon, traveling. Kids seem like they would make all of that impossible.

Hypothetically, if I didn’t have to work and had enough money, then yes, I would want kids. I love the idea of introducing a new human being to the world and helping to shape them toward a successful future. What I don’t like is the fear of losing my own identity, failing as a parent and having the kid grow up to be a monster, and potentially having my once-great relationship crumble from the stress.

I have not talked to my girlfriend about this yet. I think a part of me is hoping she will agree with me that it’s hard as hell to get by as it is. But then again, I think if she surprised me by saying, “Yeah, I agree, I don’t want kids anymore,” I would be sad. I’m really confused about what I’m feeling right now.

This doesn’t have to be decided right now since she’s not looking to get pregnant for another six years, but I’m thinking it would be extremely selfish to just sit on this for that long and then say I don’t want kids after all. Should I raise the subject now or wait until I’m sure one way or another?

— Not Sure About Kids

Not Sure About Kids: Raise it now! Yes. You’re asking great questions. Figure it all out together. The process might break you apart, but that qualifies as a good outcome if it’s the result of your knowing yourselves better and being true to that understanding.

It could also send you down the road of different career choices, relocating to a less expensive or demanding area, etc., since maybe the child rearing isn’t the problem, but instead the amount of time you spend on the adult treadmill.

Or you could come to see that “the fear of losing my own identity, failing as a parent and having the kid grow up to be a monster, and potentially having my once great relationship crumble from the stress” is the second-guessing gantlet all pre-parents go through, if they’re even a little bit honest with themselves or even a little bit less than 100 percent on board with the idea of having kids. It may still be enough to talk you out of it, but not because it’s a set of doubts unique to you.

Seriously — imagining the life you have now and then imagining a child in that life is a responsible thing to do. You can’t truly anticipate the effects of being over the moon for your child, but that’s a good thing — because experiences vary, and no matter how parents feel, they still have to show up for their kids.

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Advice columnist Carolyn Hax and cartoonist Nick Galifianakis have collaborated on their Washington Post column for 25 years. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post, Photo: Daron Taylor/The Washington Post)