Expert Q&A: How to Decide if Parenthood is Right for You
Q: How do I know if I should, or even want to, have kids?
A: Feeling pressure to have children? Consider these statistics from the Population Division of the United Nations and from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In developed countries the number of children born is far below the replacement rate, or the degree to which a population is replacing itself, of 2.1 children. In the United States, the rate of children is 2.09, which is just a little below replacement.
Yet, despite this population trend, it's still likely that the social and family pressures to have children can make you feel that you are a bad, selfish, and troubled if you don't want any children.
If you are not sure whether to have children, read the answers to the most commonly asked questions. This information is based on studies of families, adoption, twins, juvenile delinquency, affects of divorce on children, and on the findings from the General Social Survey of the National Opinion Research Center.
One last word of caution: Statistics and research findings are about many people, taken as a whole group. Your individual situation may be very different.
1. Do I have to make big sacrifices if I want children?
It is not necessarily true that you have to give up your hobbies, career, education, and your personalized "bucket list" of things you want to do. But you do have to be patient and a bit more realistic and flexible. You won't die if you don't get your dream home or car. And you just might take longer to get that college or graduate degree. If, however, you aren't willing to wait or alter your script for yourself, then it's time to do some more soul-searching.
2. Is it okay to have only one child?
Every sibling profile carries benefits and drawbacks, and sibling profiles are not static anyway. Genetics and other family factors also affect children. For example, not every first-born child is the textbook "professor and boss." Only children have really been given an inaccurate reputation. As with all children, what matters most is a caring and healthy family environment. Parents of all children should make sure to keep the focus on both the child and the couple relationship.
3. Do I have to have a big income to have children?
Toys and clothes and doctors' bills add up. Add the optional private school, ballet lessons, and karate coaches and you're paying even more. But here's the good news: Your kids will still likely grow up well if you don't give them everything. Amongst the greatest gifts you can give a child, though, are a good educational foundation, early household responsibilities, like chores, and, finally, an ability to postpone all their urges and demands.
4. Will I be happy if I don't have children?
It seems that childless couples report being happier--but this increase, compared to couples with children, is very small. The least happy group, however, is singles who do not have children. Research continues to show that social support and close social connection are very important to health and happiness. Having children expands the social support system, especially in later years when there might be grandchildren.
5. What if I am worried about being a good parent?
Most parents worry that they are not doing the right thing with their children. Luckily, there are many parenting books and workshops that can help you--especially if your own parents were not the best role model. You can still be a good parent, even if your parents were not very good themselves. In fact, some people with less than ideal parenting learned exactly what not to do. You don't have to be a perfect parent. Not sending your children to camp, for instance, doesn't automatically lead to an impaired child.
However, what can harm your children is a family environment of frequent and intense arguing, physical and sexual abuse and ugly divorces and poor post-divorce parenting. Absent fathers and contentious post-divorce fights can be very toxic. Think carefully about any issues you might have with anger--and know beforehand about the behavior issues of the partner you've chosen.
6. Should I have children if my family history includes serious diseases?
Are you worried about passing on genes for serious conditions such as cancer, mental illness or autism? No one can resolve whether you should have children if you are concerned about your genetic family history. There may not be genetic testing for your situation. Discuss these issues with experts in the field. Every decision is highly personal. For example, some couples decide not to have any children. Others adopt children. There is no one "right" answer for everyone.
7. If my partner and I have major differences in race, religion, and interests, can we still raise happy children?
Yes! What's far more important than having these differences is how you and your partner deal with them. Develop a plan for how you two will deal with issues such as religion or ethnic identity. Work as a team with your partner where both of you are seen as contributing to your children's life. In fact, children often benefit greatly from the richness of differences. You and your partner can teach your children about tolerance, acceptance, and celebration of individuality. The goal is to create a fertile environment and not fight about who or which way is right or better.
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