Have you noticed we seem to be obsessed with being ‘ready’ to have children? You’re either too young, too poor or haven’t lived enough of your own life yet to be taken over by another. You go through your 20s accepting this, and then suddenly hit your 30s and everyone around you is having kids and the ‘you’re ready now’ mark is stamped onto your forehead, whether you feel it or not.
‘Do you think you’ll ever had kids?’ becomes the way your parents say hello, and the once relieving monthly reminder that you’re not pregnant becomes a sinister one that your biological clock is ticking. It’s decision time, do you want to start trying? Are you actually ready?
It’s a daunting mental minefield, and ultimately, you probably know you might never feel 100% ready, but there are questions you can ask to understand just how prepared you are. We spoke to new parents, grandparents and family and relationship counsellor Anna Jezuita to find out exactly what they are…
1. Why do I want to have a child?
'It's a good idea to ask yourself if this is a well-defined deeper need or something that is fulfilling a need of others, such as your partner or your parents,' Anna said, 'There are no right answers – just your answers, and the point is to see them clearly and honestly.'
'Try doing a lepest type scenario, planning your life post-kids to see if that changes your mind,' says Diane, mother of two now adult daughters, 'figure out all of the possible ways your life will change because of it, your career, finances, relationship and social life will all be drastically different, do you like what you see? That helps put into perspective whether it's you who wants this or the people around you.'
2. Are you prepared to have stretch marks covering your entire body and your boobs go from bowling balls to empty tea bags?
'I didn't realise you could get stretch marks literally everywhere, not just your belly or bum', says Diane, 'or that your boobs overnight go from bowling balls to saggy, empty tea bags.'
The way your body changes with pregnancy is not to be underestimated. We may all wish to be the Megan Fox of pregnancy, but reality is everyone is different. In fact, some mums can find their skin and muscles are stretched to the point where their shape is altered, sometimes even permanently, according to Babygaga.
Essentially, you just have to figure out how much looking a certain way means to you, and if you're prepared to see something different in the mirror for the rest of your life after having kids.
3. Why now?
'It is important to understand the underlying reasons for the timing,' says Anna, 'is it a real need or is there externally-induced anxiety, like from your friends all having kids, or needing to conceive before the next big project?'
Just like the threat of being priced out of your friendships in your 20s, you could easily be babied out of your friendships in your 30s, once your former 4am club crawling mates start popping out kids. If their new family lives start making you question your own, it's time to consider whether you actually want kids or whether you just feel pressured to fit into this new era your friends seem to be ushering in.
4. Are you ready to be outsmarted by a five-year-old?
'In my overtired, baby-fog brain I used to come out with things that literally made no sense', says Diane, 'I had a one year old and a six year old at the same time, and my oldest daughter was in a phase of repeating everything I said, reminding me how stupid I was at every turn.'
'You're kids can be surprisingly perceptive and clever,' she continued, 'they'll come out with random one-liners that floor you, and probably show you up in front of your family at some point by repeating jokes you made not realising they were listening'
5. What are the things that are important to me now, and how do I feel about letting go of them for a long time?
'The reality of parenting is very much about priorities being taken over by the child's needs, and your career, personal space and even your body may feel like they don't belong to you anymore,' says Anna, 'It is worth considering the things that you perhaps want to do before having kids, bearing in mind that there will be always something left.'
'I wish i'd travelled more before having kids', says Elizabeth, mother of five children and grandparent to 10, 'both my granddaughters just went travelling around Asia which is something i'd of loved to do but i'm far too old now, you have to think about all of the freedom and opportunities you have when you don't have kids. Take them while you're young enough to get an 10-hour flight without wearing plane socks.'
6. Are you prepared to become your mother?
'Once my daughter fell over and hurt her ankle and I remember saying "that'll be a pig's foot in the morning", says Diane, 'I have literally no idea where that phrase comes from or what it means but it's something my mum always used to say when I was little. I remember the words leaving my mouth and thinking "oh my god, I am my mother"'
Whether it's a heart-warming realisation or a re-evalutate your entire existence moment, becoming like your parents could be inevitable once you're in their position. Realistically, they're the only up close and personal example you have of parenting, and whether you've tried to avoid their styles of raising children or not, you're bound to have picked up some techniques -or weird phrases - from them.
7. What does being a ‘good parent’ mean to me and is that different to my partner?
'We all have ideas based on experience of our own childhood, but now you are creating a new family, with its own values and rituals,' says Anna, 'What would you like it to be? What is important in looking after a new human being?'
'You and your partner may be getting along fine not because there are no contradictions in your views and values, but that's because there was no opportunity for them to clash,' she continued 'bringing up a child will definitely question your views about discipline, education, social values and more. Best to lay those views out now and see where the compromises will need to be negotiated.'
9. Can I cope with cancelling the brunch with the girls that i've been looking forward to and rescheduled four times already?
'You will cancel on people all the time,' says Diane, 'It's part and parcel of kids, sometimes they'll fit into your day perfectly, sometimes they'll shit themselves every single time you're about to leave the house.'
It's not just the disrupted schedules that can cause you anxiety though, it's also the constant stress of never knowing whether your doing it right. 'I went through hell and high water when I got divorced to keep my children's father in their lives because you always want that second opinion', continued Diane, 'there are so many questions, so many options for every little decision you make, it's the highest stakes trial and error process you'll ever have to deal with'
'Children come to this world without a manual, but with the expectation of being fully understood and looked after. Which means parenting is a constant guesswork, getting it wrong and discovering that whatever plan you made is likely to be failed or, at best, adjusted.', says Anna, 'It is useful to know your own "mental wiring" around plans and schedules and if you feel that it may be causing some difficulty and distress, perhaps talk to someone about some coping strategies.'
8. What is my support network and am I good at asking for help?
'The answers to this is also a provisional answer to all the "what if the worst happens" scenarios,' says Anna, 'who can I count on in a time of need? Consider not only your partner - if you have one - but your family, friends and health professionals like a midwife, boss, or counsellor.'
'Of course, having all these lovely people around won't help if you live by don't want to trouble anyone, don't trust anyone or think nobody will do as good a job as you will,' she continued, 'this question is about understanding your own needs, acknowledging their importance, and making sure you ask for help even if the need seems small and trivial, like having a long bath without rubber ducks and interruptions.'
10. Do I feel prepared in terms of financial needs?
'Finances and being able to afford things that the child will need can cause a lot of stress in addition to all the daily challenges of figuring out who this new person is,' says Anna, 'Planning and resolving this part of life ahead of time is a great way to ensure a more peaceful parenthood. That may include a basic check of your savings and employment package, or go as far as moving to a location with good schools.'
'Have you thought of real cost of children for the next 18 to 21 years?' asks Diane, 'It's not just the cost of childcare, it's also the change in your relationship with your family if you rely on them for childcare, it's how both you and your partner will cope with having less money or if you're career has to change because of that.'
If you're having difficulty conceiving or deciding whether you want children, counselling may help, click here to visit the Counselling Directory.