Recently, someone whose blog I like to read asked me a question by email, and it inspired me to think really hard about this and talk about it in a way that felt like some good therapy. So I wanted to share my reply with you all:
"How far into the future did you envision your kidlet before jumping in?
Here's what I mean: I have been married for [N] years now, and we do not have kids. This has never been one decision; it is a decision that we make several times a year - we're not having kids this year. Not this year. Should we? No, not this year. And so forth and so forth. This year, we are thinking... meh? Maybe...? One of the things that is currently terrifying me about the decision is teenagers - I cannot fathom having a teenager. A baby, a toddler, sure - I could imagine that, and it's not so terrifying. But the idea of spawning someone old enough to drive a car?? Really?? Hence, my question - did you envision your daughter being a teenager and think, "Wow, that sounds great!"? I'm wondering if my fear of teenagers is an indication that kids ain't for me, or if nobody really wants a teenager but everyone does it anyway.
Thanks for your input.
You know, if you asked me this question before I had my daughter I would have thought that my 'envisionment' was more thorough than it actually turned out to have been. I had pictured a kind of fantasy land, where I fell in love with her at first sight and she hardly ever cried and happily breastfed or drank a bottle from her daddy and... then was suddenly a toddler going trick-or-treating in an awesomely cute costume and... then was suddenly in school bringing home drawings and I was brushing her hair and she was making friends... and so on and so on like a montage of little lovely snippets of TV childhood/teenagerhood/young adulthood/etc.
That FELT very thorough at the time, it felt like I was thinking it all the way through. My feelings of wanting her in my life FELT very specific, but now in hindsight I can see they were really amorphous. I easily brushed aside those scarier thoughts (teenager: driving, having a phone, being alone with dudes, doing drugs, trying alcohol, SH!!!T!!!) and I still do. The difference between my pre-baby thoughts and post-baby thoughts about it is that now I just take it one day at a time, one milestone at a time, read what I can to try to be prepared for the immediate next step and don't think too far in the future.
Part of that is a weird superstition I have about assuming anything. I am wary of getting my hopes and dreams entangled in the uncertainty of the more distant future. I am not sure where this comes from, and it has only really emerged since having her (although traces of it have been in my brain since my own childhood). Like I described above, I used to freely build fantasy lands about whatever thing I was considering, as part of my deliberative process. But now, especially about her, I am uneasy about that--afraid to set myself up for unthinkable kinds of disappointment. So, I just try to keep up with the most likely next few steps and wait to deal with the rest when I get there.
The other part is just the result of having that birth process/early infancy/etc. fantasy world SO TOTALLY blown out of the water by the reality of labor and taking care of a newborn. JEEBUS was it different than I expected, and my post-partum anxiety hormones sure didn't help. It took six weeks, six whole weeks, before I felt like she liked being in the world, and she wasn't even THAT colicky (only a little). I did not feel that overwhelming satisfaction at caring for my tiny sweetie that I imagined feeling. I just felt tired, hungry, confused, and kind of dead inside every time I had to do another routine baby task that nobody else was around to help with, or for which I was too irrationally-obligated-feeling to ask for help with. That immense disconnect between what I had imagined and what it actually felt like completely changed my perspective on envisioning the future with this kiddo.
Now, we have grown into our love for each other: I definitely do feel those pangs of love and happiness and sweetness cuddling her to sleep, or when she smiles at everybody as we're walking into daycare, or waves and shouts at her gramma on skype. But milestones don't have accompanying trumpets (oh... umm, I guess she's been standing for a few days now, huh?), and she's her own little person so she reacts to each new step in her life in her own way, which doesn't usually match up with what I had planned for it (like solid foods: I was so stoked to get to start feeding her all these wonderful things and she's like "WHAT is this??"). So I've changed from envisioning the (fake) future to just trying to enjoy and do my best at the real present. And it's good this way.