Wednesday, July 05, 2006

And now for the meaty issues

"So, when are you going to have kids?"

This is the question that newlyweds fear, loath, avoid, and discuss at length. Afterall, as all grade-school children know, first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes ...

My husband and I are relatively lucky, in this regard, since given our age (young) and status (middle-class) we're not expected to have kids soon. The issue is certainly on the table, of course, and I am finding that I am terrible confused about the whole thing.

On the one hand, I want children. I have wanted children as long as I can remember, and I want them quite strongly, the sooner the better. Certainly if I were to get pregnant, I would be overjoyed and would not even consider abortion. We are in a position where we could afford children (in no small part because Quebec has some of the best maternity-leave and childcare policies I have ever heard of - certainly enough to make my European cousins quite jealous). My parents are almost retired, and are not too far away and quite supportive. We're both in a position where we could deal with kids, psychologically and so forth. By most measures, we're ready.

On the other hand, by many of the "intellectual class" measures, we're not ready. My husband is still in (law) school, we're young (not even 25!), and - perhaps most importantly - I don't have a career. I have a job, but it is temporary in so many ways. I have not ruled out the possibility of going back to school (it was always assumed I would get a ph.d. -- so much so that my parents didn't attend my graduation because it was only undergrad). One does not have children without being properly settled in a career, right?

Generally, I feel comfortable with the idea that I would have kids first, and then work out my career. Despite the added difficulty of navigating things once one has children, I think that the time it would take me to get oriented after having kids would allow me the time I need to figure out exactly what my career might look like. Articles like those by Linda Hirschman, and follow-up articles like this, just add to my confusion. Where do I start? How do I, as a young women only entering the workforce and my child-bearing/rearing years, use these discussions to guide my choices? Although it is interesting to read impassioned arguments from people who have made their choices and are now defending where they stand, I don't feel like they offer me the kind of information I need to make the best choices possible. I don't want to "let down" feminism, but neither am I seeking to be a poster-child for a cause (or a sacrificial lamb!). I am not a 20-something who is afraid of children - if I thought it reasonable, I would have kids tomorrow. But I worry about the impact children will have on my future - what if my marriage doesn't work out (God forbid)? What if I put my husband through law school, have one or two kids, and then wind up a single mom with no career propects? Terrifying. What if I have kids and go crazy because I don't feel I have a career to bolster and affirm my identity apart from the oh-so-dependent person I am raising?

Yet it would make good sense to have kids now: physically, I'll never be better off. My body can heal easily and (relatively) quickly. Sleep deprivation is something I can work through more easily now than in 10 years. I have the energy. I am so uncertain when it comes to career that another few years of stalling would be ideal, and why not use those years to start a family? Most importantly, of course, I just want kids.

(For the sake of this discussion, it is reasonable to assume that my husband is flexible when it comes to having kids - he would perhaps wait a bit longer than I would want were it entirely up to him, but he is not opposed to starting a family in the next few years.)

Questions. Are there even answers? Or just best guesses?


Songbird said...

I was in much your situation when I had #1 Son. My husband was in law school, and I had a job but not a career. Frankly, at that point I hadn't figured out what my career might be anyway. I didn't love, love, love being home with little kids, but I mostly did for a long time. During that time I became very clear about what I wanted to do when it was possible to go back to school. Now I'm enjoying my kids (20, 15 and 11) *and* my work, too.
I think parenting young children is incredibly stressful whether or not you are working outside the home. One choice isn't objectively better or worse than the other. It's figuring out what works for you that matters.

Beanie Baby said...

My entirely unsolicited opinion is that it's very, very hard to make long-term career decisions before you have kids. So much of your priorities change after you have them that what once made sense no longer does. So from a career perspective, it is not necessarily a bad thing to have kids, then decide what kind of work you want to have that will allow you to combine family and home life successfully, then pursue it.

It's not always possible and it's not desirable for everyone, but it isn't unreasonable, either. I know it's not a popular idea and we're supposed to have ourselves figured out before we have kids, but in my case, everything about my career plans reoriented itself after having Frances. I'm glad I wasn't farther along that path first.

parodie said...

I love it when people offering unsollicited advice tell me exactly what I want to hear.

Thank you, Songbird and Beanie Baby, for your input. You both make me think that our plans are fairly sane, which is always reassuring. I have heard so much about how being a parent is so catastrophically overwhelming that I occassionally wonder whether I'm going to be setting myself up for despair or a dead-end job. Perhaps that says more about my ability to come up with worst-case scenarios than anything else. :)

purple_kangaroo said...

Hmmm, I didn't have a career or a completed college degree when I started having kids, and I was in my early 20s. I don't regret that at all. Well, maybe I sometimes wish I had finished my bachelor's degree, but that was because of health issues and not because of kids.

I definitely find that I am developing skills as a mom (and especially as what's turning into a specialist in research and consumer influence because of Baby E's health issues) that I feel would serve me very well if I ever needed to get a job. I think I have better skills and credentials now than I did before having kids.

I hope to do what one of my sisters-in-law did and finish my college education with my kids when they're that age, if not sooner.