herald

Tuesday 21 August 2018

To have kids or not? That is the question

This is the month when a lot of people think about starting a family. Often couples think they have to have a baby. It's not essential. There is no reason other than wanting to, but, often, they feel the pressure from family and peers who are becoming parents.

My friend had what she calls her 'granny meeting', a once-a-month lunch where the women who've reared and shared now swap stories of the next generation and discuss families.

"A huge topic of discussion is who hasn't got pregnant yet. They've been together X amount and there are no X/Y chromosomes on the way." My friend, who's also a midwife and therapist, got annoyed, saying: "Maybe they don't want children. Why don't you leave them alone?"

She has seen enough to know that parenting is a challenge not everyone needs. Her biggest gripe is conveyor-belt conceptions, where the babies are brought into the world by thirtysomethings because it's time to have a family now.

"It's the next thing on the list. No proper discussion, no decisions, they just come off the pill like lemmings and jump off the cliff. It's a shame because a lot of couples just aren't ready to take on the parenting commitment, and I end up picking up the pieces in family therapy sessions. Given the world we live in now, we should think about why we're becoming parents more than ever."

I would never have had my children if I didn't really want them. I was scared, yes, but I was sure that I had lived enough not to resent a life arriving that was going to clip my wings. I have total respect for people who decide they want to hang on to their wings and not rear the next generation.

One person I meet through work, who I think a lot of, told me she has decided not to have a family. Becoming pregnant is her worst nightmare. She loves her job and she loves her life. She wants to be a brilliant aunt to her nieces and nephews. Her perfect choice of man is older and separated, who has children and doesn't need more.

I know one woman who never wanted to have children who has become a stepmother. Her partner is a widower and she decided, over a five-year period, that she could commit to helping him raise his sons. When I asked her how this differed to having her own, she said: "I left several relationships because my boyfriends weren't prepared to accept I didn't want children. But he wasn't foisting his wishes on me. These were his circumstances and he never pressurised me into continuing a relationship with him based on being the mother they lost.

"So I got to know his boys without that pressure. And I found I was good at answering the needs of two children who are now teenagers. I could relate to them in a way I could never relate to young children. I've been called selfish, cold, even frigid because I didn't want a baby. But I think I've more energy and more commitment to the boys I took on than many parents going into the teenage years who are already exhausted from parenting."

I see her point. I also see why it's wrong to have children because your extended family are on at you to start doing so. There are enough parents out there, me included, who need the help of energetic friends who aren't mothers and fathers. My boys have a great relationship with a couple who don't have their own family. The cute hoor in me knows that they have enough petrol in their engines not to rely on the telly to get them through a visit from my lads. They're not reluctant blood relatives who are required to assist. They're involved in my family because they get something from it they don't want for themselves.

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