The Right Decision Is the One You Make

Friday, February 17, 2017 - 5:00 am

The Right Decision Is the One You Make

I’ve had so many huge-hearted, professionally passionate girlfriends (straight and queer) asking me for my thoughts about whether to have kids lately. As readers of the column know, I’ve got two — six months and three years old, and both as cute and disruptive as they come. I don’t really believe in “advice,” at least on matters as wide and deep and complex as this one, but I do feel like I can offer this piece of earned wisdom: choosing whether to have a kid or not is one of the most important choices you could possibly make, and it’s also one of those which you have to make with a preposterous paucity of information.

Will your kid be easy going or super intense? What kinds of disabilities or challenges might your kid face? Will you like mothering? How will your partner, if you have one, respond to the experience? Will you feel less motivated by work or will becoming a mother just fuel your passion for what you do professionally even more?

You have to decide yes or no without having the answers to a single one of these questions, and so many more. Isn’t that insane? When you decided what kind of blender you were going to buy, you had more information than you do now. As you approach one of the most profound crossroads in any human life, you show up with a backpack lead-heavy with the unknown and you have zero visibility on what’s ahead. You’re like a Sherpa with a blindfold on.

But here’s what I love about that insane reality — it puts you in touch with a core truth about life, one that we mostly manage to pretend doesn’t exist while we’re Google-ing and Yelp-ing and dishing with our friends and whatever other forms of exhaustive research we do to make ourselves feel well-informed and, most importantly, in control. (I’m especially looking at you maximizers.)

You aren’t in control.

If you decide to have a kid, you’re not in control. Oh boy, are you not. When you decide to become a parent, you essentially put your dangerously enlarged heart in harm’s way. You sign on the dotted line for endless tedium and maximal vulnerability. And you have no clue what you are doing, even if you read all the books.

And you know what? If you decide not to have a kid, you are also not in control. You’ll fall in love all the same — with a partner, with a circle of beautiful friends, with somebody else’s kid (aunties are the best). You’ll be no stranger to loss. Just as parents inevitably wonder how their days would have been shaped without little ones, you’ll wonder how your days would have been shaped with them.

We’re all peering over the fence, wondering what the path not taken is really like. You aren’t in control no matter what you decide. Accepting that is frightening, but also liberating — a bit like setting that lead-heavy backpack down and deciding to step forward purposefully with your view obscured and a smile of serenity on your face.

Which is all to say, don’t avoid having kids because you want to be in control and don’t have them because you want to be in control. We parents aren’t really authority figures — we’re just really good at pretending that we know what we’re doing. And having a kid doesn’t make you a legit adult — it just satisfies the people with this stupidly narrow definition of adulthood, or more specifically, womanhood. But on the flip side, not having kids doesn’t mean your life is going to be drama-free. “This thing called life,” as the late, great Prince put it, isn’t easy even if you completely avoid toddlers. It just isn’t.

I decided to have kids because my husband made me. Just kidding. Sort of. Most accurately, I decided to have kids when I was a kid. Something at the center of who I am, something totally irrational and intuitive, always knew I wanted to become a mother.

Yet, when I suddenly found myself in my 30s, with a husband who said he was ready to have kids, I in no way, shape, or form felt ready. For the record, I don’t actually believe anyone is ever “ready” to have kids. Not even my husband. Not a cell in my body said, “Yes, this is the time.” Instead, I just kept looking at all of the ways in which I’d painstakingly built a life that I loved, and pre-grieving the fact that I was going to ruin everything. Just kidding. Sort of.

But he’s very persuasive and I’m ultimately a rip-the-band-aid-off kind of gal, so here we are. Having kids did ruin a lot for me. I can’t travel like I used to; besides the pain in the ass of arranging overnight childcare, there is the pain in the heart of being away from my littles. I no longer eat brunch or take long wandering walks through the city on a regular basis. I don’t get to read as much as I would like to, which might sound insignificant to you, but reading is my spiritual practice, so it’s a true loss. I haven’t had my body to myself — i.e. not pregnant or nursing — in four years. I haven’t gotten more than four consecutive hours of sleep in six months. So that’s rough.

But most of all, I’ve been on the steepest learning curve of my entire life, and madly, viscerally in love, and totally out of control. I never could have made a different decision. It feels as if it was made for me on so many levels. I am humbled, so completely and totally humbled by it all.

Put down the burden of thinking you can make this decision with any of the muscles you usually use to make decisions. There’s no Rate My Kid profile or Amazon ranking for this one. This is not the stuff of pros and cons; this is the stuff of profound surrender and massive potential heartbreak and abiding faith (and for people who have to conceive with the medical establishment’s assistance, sometimes a lot of money and hard decisions). You’ll either have kids or you won’t, and either way, it will be terrifying and magical.

Maybe some mysterious part of you already knows the answer. Listen to it. You can’t do it wrong. Meaning is everywhere. Love is everywhere. Control is overrated, no matter which path you travel.

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is a columnist for On Being. Her column appears every Friday.

Her newest book, The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream, explores how people are redefining the American dream (think more fulfillment, community, and fun, less debt, status, and stuff). Courtney is the co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network and a strategist for the TED Prize. She is also co-founder and partner at Valenti Martin Media and FRESH Speakers Bureau, and editor emeritus at Feministing.com.

Courtney has authored/edited five books, including Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists, and Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection is Harming Young Women. Her work appears frequently in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Courtney has appeared on the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, MSNBC, and The O’Reilly Factor, and speaks widely at conferences and colleges. She is the recipient of the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics and a residency from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Centre. She lives with her partner in life and work, John Cary, in Oakland, and their daughters Maya and Stella. Read more about her work at www.courtneyemartin.com.

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