My mom and I weren’t super-close when I was a teenager. So it was unusual that one day I found myself out to lunch with her, just the two of us. As we sat there silently, sipping water and waiting for our food, she suddenly leaned over and said: “Don’t ever get married and don’t ever have kids.” At the time, I was offended by the insinuation that she regretted marrying my dad and having me, that she wished she had chosen a life of independence and freedom instead of being stuck with us.
But now that I’m in a committed relationship and have a kid, I know how she feels.
All of this unexpectedly fell into my lap when I met my boyfriend in 2013 and got pregnant five months later. At the time, having the baby seemed like the right thing to do. I felt my boyfriend would make a good partner and father. I had the support of family and friends. I was 35 and needed to make a game-time decision.
I knew things were going to change drastically, but I hadn’t really considered the reality of the situation until I was already in it. A good day for me three years ago was eating Thai food in bed and watching Netflix. A good day for me now is when my kid hasn’t thrown a tantrum in the last hour, ate most of his lunch and took a long nap and woke up in a good mood. His entire being is the determining factor for how things are going for me, and I have absolutely no control over it most of the time.
My attached, over-30, childless friends — the ones deciding if they should start a family and the ones who have chosen not to — press me about my feelings. They want to know what it’s like on the other side, especially from someone who had no intention of ever being there. They all want to know how I really feel about this decision. They want to know if I regret it. They want me to say it out loud.
What they don’t understand is that it’s an impossible thing to say. Many of us may think about it, some of us half-jokingly wonder if we’ve made a mistake. But all of us know there’s no turning back now.
The best I can muster is reminding them that the smiling photos of my kid on Instagram are only 20 percent of the story. No matter how much I stress that he’s actually kind of difficult and demanding, wild and whiny, I still see the disbelief in their eyes. Even when I break down my life in commute time, work hours and weekends spent parenting, the concept seems too hard to grasp.
This is what I want to tell them:
If you really like the way your life is right now, it won’t get better by having a kid. Right now, you don’t have to time a brunch date around someone else’s naps, feeding schedule and mood. You can wait 30 minutes for a table or be seated next to the door if it’s cold out or tolerate yelling across the table if the music is too loud. Not after you have a kid. Are there highchairs? Does the bathroom have a changing table? Is there a kid’s menu? Do they provide plastic cups with straws? Crayons and paper? And always be prepared to leave immediately if there’s a blown-out diaper or a meltdown.
Want to leave the house sans kid? The few times you’ll be able to get away will be glorious solo excursions to Target or negotiating with your significant other for a girls’ night out once a month. For single moms, this extends even further to asking for help or paying for it.
Perhaps things like brunch and a glass of wine with friends seem trivial compared to the preciousness of being a mom. But a part of me still wants to spend an entire Sunday in bed or at a bar drinking and watching football. On top of it all, it feels wrong to miss those days because I have a kid who is supposedly bringing all of this joy and meaning into my life.
Are you are willing to say goodbye to the life you have now to nurture someone else’s life? Think about it. It’s OK if the answer to that question is “no”.
If the answer is still a “maybe”, then I’m siding with my mom: Don’t get married and don’t have kids.