I’ve never been a person who loves babies.
Growing up, I had friends who always knew they wanted to be mothers, who would melt in adoration every time they saw a small child, but I tended to be the opposite: whenever someone asked me if I wanted to hold their baby, my mind would immediately start racing over all the polite excuses I could offer.
I even went through a period of several years as a teenager where I told everyone that I wanted to be a nun because the idea of getting married and having children scared me so much. (Needless to say, I grew up a little and realized that disliking babies does not necessarily mean you have a vocation to religious life.)
As I got older, though, my attitude toward marriage and babies softened, and I started to see the appeal in having a family. I had such a happy childhood myself that I wanted to recreate that kind of environment in my own adult life, for my own children. By the time I met and fell in love with my husband, I felt pretty sure that I wanted kids — at least three, like my own family growing up — but I still felt pretty uncomfortable around small children, and regularly wondered if I was really “mother material.”
This fear lasted right up until I had my first baby. In fact, when I was pregnant I managed to be so awkward with one little girl that I made her cry, causing me to temporarily panic that I wasn’t going to get along with my own offspring; the scene triggered a fit of silent laughter from my husband. (I guess it was pretty funny, in retrospect.)
Now, as a mother of two, I have so much sympathy for people who feel uncertain about whether or not they want to be a parent. It’s a huge, life-changing decision, after all, and it’s not exactly like you get to try it out before you commit. Not everyone is called to marriage and family life, and having children isn’t necessarily a better (or even harder) choice than not having them — every path in life has its blessings, sacrifices, and struggles, and we all have something unique to contribute to the world, whatever our calling.
If you do feel called to have a family, though, you shouldn’t let fear put you off. There are so many things I wish I could tell my past self as she wrestled with how to balance her desire for a family with her fear of kids, and I hope that sharing some of them can help others in a similar situation. If I could write a letter to myself in the past as I worried about becoming a parent, here’s what I’d say:
1. Don’t try to second-guess how much you will grow
You are capable of so much more than you think you are right now. The sleep deprivation and the sacrifices you’ll have to make as a parent may seem utterly terrifying now, but you don’t have to do it all at once. You’ll take things day-by-day, and as you go, you’ll discover depths of love and strength within yourself that you had no idea you were capable of.
2. You don’t have to like all kids to like your own kids
It’s okay that you don’t feel “broody” or enjoy holding babies — truly, it is. The infant stage of childhood is a relatively short time, all things considered, and different people thrive during different phases of parenthood. Everyone is wired differently, and just because you’re not baby-crazy doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be a parent. Plus, you don’t have to like all babies — you just have to like your own (and you will, don’t worry).
3. It helps to learn self-care before you start a family
From the moment you first hold your baby in your arms, parenthood can feel like a whirlwind that sweeps you up and never puts you down. Self-care is so important, and it’s hard to learn how to look after yourself once you’re in the trenches, changing diapers and wiping noses non-stop, so it’s a good idea to start practicing self-awareness and healthy habits now.
Once you’re a parent, you’ll need to make sure you don’t lose sight of your own desires, and the things that you enjoy; after all, a happy parent is a good parent. If you love to read, make sure you get a Kindle for reading during those night feeds, or stock up on audiobooks for when you’re at home alone with the little ones — I promise, this will keep you sane when you’re going crazy with sleep deprivation.
4. There’s no “perfect time” to have a baby
I’ve thought a lot about whether there is a “right” or “ideal” time to have a baby, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there isn’t — timing is such a personal thing, and it looks different for everyone at different stages of their lives. Having a baby is always a leap of faith, and it’s impossible to prepare perfectly beforehand. You’ll always be taken by surprise, and the key is to grow with the experience.
The only thing you can really do to get ready is to prepare your heart, mind, and life to be open to the unexpected, and to make sure that you have a good support network around you, if at all possible.
Looking back, I can see now that even my super broody friends weren’t more prepared than me for the reality of parenthood. Having children is a truly humbling experience, and you have to embrace the fact that you’ll be a beginner and feel totally out of your depth a lot of the time.
Trying to figure out what it will be like beforehand is like trying to visualize what marriage will be like before you meet and fall in love with your spouse: your children will be unique human beings with whom you will have beautiful, complicated, and ever-changing relationships.
Before having children, my biggest fear was really of the unknown; becoming a mother has helped open me up to the unknown and expanded my heart and mind in ways I never thought were possible.