The journey to parenthood
One reader shares her journey from never wanting children to having two kids she adores.
At the young age of 15 I decided that I didn’t want kids. That decision is incredibly difficult to think about some days as I look at my three-year-old daughter and feel my unborn son growing inside my womb. I always related well to children; I am goofy and have a kid-like imagination during play time. It wasn’t until I met my husband during my military service and met his large family that my viewpoint on having kids and raising a family began to change. Slowly, over time, I realised that I am not bound to my 15-year-old way of thinking.
By choosing to have kids and raise a family with my best friend I had to mentally accept that I was not abandoning years of self-programming. Through the excitement of pregnancy with my daughter, I remembered wondering what others who knew me for so many years would think. After all, I very publicly shared with everyone in my circle over the years that having kids was not in my playbook. Would it make me look unreliable? Would I seem unsure of myself? I knew I was growing physically, then 23 years old, but I severely underestimated the social changes it would send me through over the course of nine months.
Here’s what I have learned from my planned pregnancy, and here’s what I take away today at 26 years old with a new baby on the way.
It is okay to grow
Not only did I have to let go of my ego and the fear of gaining weight, but I came to the strong realisation that we all evolve over time. Sometimes the journey of evolution leaves you looking completely opposite of your original intent, and that’s OK. I am a product of my experiences and, at 15 years old, I hadn’t met someone that I loved enough to make a family with. At 21 years old, I navigated a toxic relationship and left the relationship more convinced that I would never procreate. Fortunately, only a short time later, I met someone who would allow me the healing and experimentation I needed to eventually decide that I am capable of making a human — and that I would enjoy it.
Parenting looks different for everyone
I grew up in a home that ended in divorce. More than once. As a matter of fact, my mum divorced three times. I don’t consider myself a victim in this. Actually, I have more compassion for my mum than ever, watching her learn and grow. It taught me a lot about love, and it continues to inspire me today. She is happily married with an amazing man, who I am glad to call a father in so many ways. My husband’s parents, however, are much older and have been married for decades. They share six kids together and had a mostly stable upbringing. This undoubtedly is a factor that enabled my husband to be open to the idea of kids and allowed me a space to feel more comfortable exploring the idea of a family.
Raising my own daughter has looked much different from what it did for me and my mum. This has allowed me to understand that parenting, and the choices we make, are fluid. If I mess up today, I am not bound by those mishaps. If I am short-tempered or if I feel unwell, I can communicate this with my daughter and rely on my humanity to show her that I do care, but that I need a break too. My daughter and I have navigated our emotions together; we have cried and laughed together, and we have learned how to live in this family together. It has been an amazing experience.
As a young woman who experienced several misfortunate incidents with sexual assault and stigmatised culture, I found it incredibly eye-opening to the way I would raise my daughter. The way I parent with my husband is evolving still. In the last few years, I realised that it’s important my daughter understands that her voice matters. It is important for her space to feel protected, and if she does not want physical contact, her “No” means no — even with friends and family. I do not force her to hug and kiss me, or anyone else. If she is upset, I do not shame her for feeling her emotions, and instead I do my best to help her navigate those emotions. I ask her questions like, “Can you tell me why you are upset?” At just three years old, she is able to tell me when her feelings are hurt and I am able to reassure her that I am here to protect her and not to make her feel bad.
I am learning new ways to explain to her why my “No” matters and share with her that my intention is never to control her. Kids need to feel autonomous and independent; it’s how they best learn about their environment. As she gets older it’s my hope that she will have the confidence to navigate this world with a strong voice, knowing that ultimately her parents will be the ones to scoop her up and love her unconditionally.
This is my encouragement to you. Being a parent undoubtedly challenges us in every way, but as I speak up about my experiences and my journey, I am finding that more women experience the same feelings, the same anxiety and the same unknowns. You are allowed to change, evolve and relearn what parenting is for you. Do not be ashamed — be empowered and know that you are already doing your best and that is all you need to do.