Monday, October 09, 2006

Dismaying Story #66: Family Planning Pressure

Dear Andrew,

Recently at a party my Mom made a comment that, "we'd better have grandchildren while she still had the energy" and everyone laughed, including me. I'm used to this. My Dad whispered something in my ear on my wedding day as we were dancing, and I know how full their hearts will be the day I make them grandparents.

I do however feel pressure from time to time and sometimes it seems to get to me. This is probably typical considering my age and the fact that I've been married for over two years. It's the natural progression and the next step, but lately, it seems to be all I’m hearing. Many of my friends are either already parents, pregnant, trying to conceive or working up to that next step. My husband and I have talked about having children since early in our relationship and have had several serious talks quite a few times about when the time may be right for us. So far, we haven’t been able to answer that, which makes the pressure consume me.

One of my friends happened to be at this party. As the evening was winding down, from across the room in front of all of our guests and after my Mom's humorous comment about grandchildren, this friend shouts that we should get pregnant together. Mind you, she's been trying for all of a week and secondly, we're not that good of friends where that might be something I'd actually consider! I laughed it off because it was #1) none of her business #2) nothing I wanted to discuss with a room full of friends and family.

I managed to contain my composure until most of the guests had left, and then I burst, shouting, "Does it make me a bad person that I’m not pregnant yet?" I looked around the room at dazed faces staring back at me. Crickets chirped, I heard a pin drop - and I felt completely mortified.

It bothers me that my reaction was aimed at the wrong people, and actually those that love and adore me most. It also bothers me that it upset me so much and that I allowed something so small get under my skin. I don't know why it bothered me to the extent that it did, but when she questioned me and my baby motives, I felt like I had to defend our decision, our relationship and that she perceived me as a bad person because I wasn’t reproducing with her.

My husband and I need to decide for us when the time is right. It's not a matter of will we or won't we. We already know that answer. It's a matter of when. For me, it's difficult to know when it is the right time because it's a scary decision full of many unknowns. We're in no hurry for several reasons; for instance I'd like to have a house and a mortgage before we have children.

Thankfully my family all accepted my apologies with a hug, although I am still quite embarrassed about my outburst.

Signed, Not a Mom Yet

Dear Not a Mom Yet,

I always feel a bit sad, for several reasons, when I hear of a young couple getting married in their teens because of a pregnancy. Parents who are so young face many extra challenges, such as trying to be parents and spouses when they are not yet fully mature, the need to earn a living when they may not have completed their education, and so on. One of the big reasons I feel sad for them, though, is that they will miss out on what I consider to be one of the most glorious parts of a marriage. They will have virtually no time to be just a couple, without children.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love kids. My wife and I have a few stress factors of our own running around the house and I'm tremendously happy they are part of my life. I am also glad that my wife and I had several years at the beginning of our marriage when it was just the two of us. We had some time to figure out who we were as a couple, to work out how we wanted to handle many life-sharing issues such as balancing the housework, managing household finances, and deciding where and how to spend holidays. We had the opportunity to be together, just the two of us, and to grow close as a couple.

Time. We had the time we needed to develop a strong bond between us. We became married partners in fact, not just on paper. Later, our children also benefited. They got to grow up within the context of a more stable household as a result of those years we had alone.

You say you are in no hurry to have children, but at the same time the decision as to when you take that leap consumes you at times. You feel pressure to have a baby quickly, and at the same time you want to wait for a number of reasons.

You strike me as a people pleaser and a planner. Both of these can be good things, but in this case they also add to your stress. You care very much what others think of you and your actions, so their comments about babies weigh on you. The needs and desires of others add to the pile of reasons in your mind as to why you should consider having a baby sooner rather than later. Being a careful planner, though, you want to have your ducks in order before you take the plunge. This is a big part of the push-pull conflict that has you so stressed out.

First you should recognize where all that pressure is coming from. Did the comments from your mother and friend create the stress inside you? No, they merely contributed to it. If the "when to conceive" debate was not already a huge issue for you, then you would have laughed those comments off easily with hardly a second thought. You have had a raw nerve over this issue for some time, though, so their comments hit home in a big way. They awakened your internal self doubts, which fought and tumbled inside you for a while as the party wound down. You worked yourself into such a highly agitated state that your frustration made you burst out.

Of course your family hugged and forgave you. I can tell from your reaction that such outbursts are not typical for you. Your family knows this, and can no doubt tell you are feeling pressure. You should forgive yourself, as well; most of us do things like that once in a while and it's no big deal.

You and your husband have only been married two years. For some people that is enough "couple time" prior to having children, but for you it is not. You should accept that and take the time you need before taking the leap into parenthood. If it helps you feel any better, the magic number for my wife and I turned out to be six years. (... and her grandmother was convinced that any couple who waited so long was destined to be childless.) So relax. You have plenty of time.

Since you are a planner, here is a suggestion that might help you put the issue more to the back of your mind for a while. Make a list of the major life issues you want to take care of before having your first child. Ignore the desires of your friends and parents; this is your life and the decision should be based on your needs, not theirs. At the bottom of the list, write down a rough guess-timate of the number of years it will take to work through the issues. Talk with your husband -- are you both okay with the idea of waiting that long to have children? If not, pick a compromise that makes both of you comfortable. Back up nine months from that point, mark a big red "X" on your mental calendar, and give yourself permission to spend the intervening time focusing on life and each other.

Of course, things may not work out exactly like your plan, and that's okay. You may change your minds in the meantime, and we all know what Mother Nature likes to do with such plans. Giving yourself permission to focus on something else is the key, though. You should decide, for your own sanity, that it is okay for you to stop obsessing about it for a while. Then when someone drops a baby hint, hopefully you can simply smile, knowing you have already taken into account what is important for you and your husband.

All the best,


  1. Oh, my goodness--I am SO glad my parents don't put this kind of squeeze on my brother and I! He and his wife are in grad student indentured servitude for another six years and I'm not even close to being married; at the rate we're going, my parents will never have anything but grand-pets, anyway.

    I cannot imagine how anyone thinks that this is any of their business. If my parents/friends/siblings started in on me to find a husband and have kids, I'd tell them to get a life and leave me alone (I want a husband and kids, but I worry about this enough on my own, thank you; I don't need any help). I don't owe anybody a baby and having my whole social network breathing down my neck about it would make me so nervous I don't know how I'd ever face it. If they were that nosy about it beforehand, I'd worry about how they would scrutinize me once the kid arrived! Aack! All aboard for Unsolicited Advice Central.

    I sometimes wonder if the divorce rate would go down if more people took a couple of years to be a couple and know each other better before they had kids.

  2. Anonymous11:51 AM

    Pressure from well meaning people can be burdensome. I admire "Not yet a mom" for having the good sense to plan a child. We do plan almost everything else in our lives. Even down to the mundane, what to have for dinner. My husband and I were married for five years and still wrestling with when is the best time. There came a point when my father-in-law was very, very ill. It was touch and go for awhile. One evening in the I.C.U. I was watching my husbands heart break not knowing if his father was going to pull through. At that very moment I knew I wanted this wonderful mans child NOW. I told him I needed to have a part of his father in my life, for the rest of my life. Fortunately, ten months later we gave birth to an amazing little boy. And when we told our parents we were pregnant, my father-in-law grew stronger along with the child that was in my womb. I know having this baby was the catalyst that gave my FIL the motivation to get better. We were blessed with 14 more years with this man in our lives. He was my sons "best buddy" up until a couple months ago when he passed. My son was blessed. My point to this post is that it is not always the "time" but the situation that you are in that can be the determining factor.

  3. I don't think the family is really trying to put pressure, but that they're offering some family friendly encouragement. I know I've been fairly upfront with my cousins asking them if they're thinking about having children soon, or when a second or third might be on the way. This gives me some insight, maybe I'll be a little more cautious with my curiosity in the future.

    It's probably better to wait until those maternal instincts kick in with full force. It'll make the pregnancy a lot more... entertaining.

  4. I really like Andrew's list idea. I did something similar in my twenties.

    I believe that the root of your problem is the human desire for others to conform to their way of thinking. It reinforces their own choices, which we often seem to need.

    If it helps at all, the reverse can also happen. We didn't have kids until our early 30s and were still the first to do it in our circle. Or so we thought. At the end of the day our two kids have no first cousins and no one in our original group of friends has kids, married or not. We were the odd ones out. One of those kid-dissing friends gave me a surprise baby shower when I was pregnant with my first and a surprise it was: imagine a group of women exercising their negative opinions on the whole nuclear family thing while celebrating the upcoming birth of a friend's baby. Under the pressure of a standard-issue feel-good life event they felt more need to reinforce and seek support for *their* positions than to celebrate someone else's choice. It was a pretty eye-opening event.

    Stick to what works for you and remember that most people's opinions say more about them than about you.

  5. so totally agree with what you had to say here!!

  6. As a former teen mom (now the 27 year old mom of a 9 year old), you hit the nail, square on the head.

    For me it's always been that everybody will ALWAYS question my child-bearing. With one, I get questions as to why I don't have 2. With 3, my mom got questions as to why we didn't all look alike and was my youngest sis adopted. When I set out to have my tubes tied (just this past summer) I got all sorts of questions about why would I get that done when I might want a second on down the road.

    The point is, there's always going to be a point where somebody is shoving their nose in very private business. I've found it best to just let it roll right off like the proverbial water off a duck's back. Come up with a few snarky quips to fire back at that nosy-nelly, if it bugs you so much. Comment on how much fun you're having with the practicing, for now. ;) Or, be brutally honest about your reasons (that always shuts people up for me, because they have a problem making light of a seriously private issue when I've tossed my serious & private reasons back at them). And whatever you do, don't let them see you sweat.

    Anyway, as always, you have given excellent advice. I get to face a whole 'nother round of questioning when I head to my 10 year reunion this coming summer with an almost-10-year-old only of my own. I'll have one of the 2 or 3 oldest, but she's the only one of this age that's an only. At least I've got the winter to think up more snarky quips.

  7. Anonymous4:49 PM

    I would just like to add that no matter how well you plan for a baby it may not happen when you want it to. Unfortunately a lot of couples have difficulty conceiving; something that you tend not to hear much about or think about until you are in that situation yourself. I have been together with my husband for twelve years although only married for the last three. We decided to wait until we tied the knot before trying for a baby and that was three long years ago and no baby as yet. Of the four friends I have who already have children, three took more than 18 months to conceive and one took five years. I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, and I would not wish for Not a Mom Yet to rush in to anything she is not ready for, but she should consider the possibility that she may not get pregnant exactly when she wishes to and calculate this in to her planning. I know now that I wish I had begun trying for a baby sooner than we actually did. That said, I wish her the best of luck for her future and hope that she has no troubles in conceiving when she is ready to!

  8. I always believe this is the easiest way to decide if yo are ready to start a family, and tell any do - gooder the same:

    Are you both ready to share each other with another person. Simple, if you are BOTH not ready to share the other persaon then...easy answer

  9. I think people should have kids when they are ready to and it’s no ones business when that will be.
    I also think it should be well planned and thought out very well to avoid any problems.
    Young people having children before they have time to enjoy their youth only brings out resentment especially if one spouse is stuck at home and the other is still enjoying their free time as always.
    Have fun now while your young and have kids later when you think you are bored with same old same old.

    Here is a thought, maybe they should borrow a two year old from someone and keep the child for the weekend to see how they handle it.
    They can call you after Andrew for therapy.

    If the in laws or her family are worried about not having the strength to deal with grand kids down the road then they should start exercising now and be healthier for when they do have grand kids so they could keep up with them.

  10. I have to agree with what the second anonymous commenter said. From a personal perspective, I knew I wanted children one day, but that magic 'cluckiness' never actually overcame me. There was no magic lightning bolt that struck me and told me it was the 'right time' to start a family. I simply thought, 'Well, I've been married a couple of years, I am almost 30, I do want a family....we'd better get cracking'. I think we can overanalyse these things (certainly I could have waited indefinitely to feel 'ready'). I adore being a mother, and my kids have made my world better than ever before.

    I think it's not always widely known that a woman's fertility starts to decline from her late 20's, and declines quite *steeply* from 35 or so. We all see Geena Davis and other celebrities having babies in their 40's and think we can just defer childbearing, but the statistics show that a woman who is 40 has a low rate of successful natural conception, and a very low success rate from IVF.

    I agree that it is a decision that requires careful thought and consideration. But on the other hand, if you are reasonably financially secure (house paid off or not), in a stable relationship, and you know you want children....delaying too long could mean the decision is taken away from you.

    Just adding my two cents worth here. Thanks Andrew!

  11. Many people will attempt to jolly you into havind children, because they have found the joys of parenthood and want you to have that same wonderful experience. They aren't bad people, just enthusiastic. You can always agree with them and look away with that hurt look in your eyes and make a comment such as ---"I'd love to have a baby, but it just doesn't seem to be happening." You don't have to tell them that you are on the pill and abstain on fertile days. Some things are just really private! The choice of when to or not to have children is so personal that they need to know that you want that privacy. If all else fails, tell them that you feel it is rude to discuss your family planning with more than two people present.

  12. Anonymous4:23 AM

    this is freaky as it's coming right now when i have suspicions of being pregnant. it's really weird because i hadn't planned it or anything, but it just seems to be happening (not confirmed yet, though). the funny part is that had you asked me a couple of months ago if i want a baby i would have said 'no way, not now, it's not my time yet'. however now that i think about it, i want to be pregnant. one of life's weird situations...

  13. Sounds to me like she's just making excuses for her husband. There is never a good time to have kids, you just have to be willing to make sacrifices!

    Take advantage of the opportunity while you can before it's too late. Don't wait for everything to be planned perfect, that's just silly! Kids aren't perfect, and they will never be a "good time" to have one. It's just what you're willing to give up!

  14. I still remember my husband's grandparents telling ME they were too young to be great-grandparents on our wedding day (while laughing of course)...then as years passed and it was clear we were dealing personally and privately with infertility the entire family began to 'rib' us about methodology and every other inappropriate and quite cutting remark.

    While we never said anything, I do make it clear NOW to my husband that if it is brought up again...I will tell them, "sadly we struggle with infertility"...and see if that will nip it in the bud.

    Suffice to say, these remarks do hurt.

  15. I don't think anyone has any business telling someone when to have children. Even the well meaning people who ask, "So, do you plan to have children?" (which is something all of us ask) I think is misplaced. If they say no, do you feel comfortable asking, "So do you plan on having a vasectomy?" I mean, really. The things we ask people. I'm also disturbed at the way we ask young people if they've found someone to marry. Why do we feel the need to push people into relationships and then making families? I suppose it's something intrinsic about replenishing the earth.

    I would much rather tell young (or old) people that it's okay to be alone. It's okay to be childless. It's okay to have children now, or later. All of it's okay. It's even okay if you find yourself infertile and spend your life without being able to have children of your own. There are many children who need people in their lives. It's like we can't see the forest for the trees. Motherhood is a great gift that I would not be the same without having. But I shall never preach to anyone that it's the only way to live a life.

    All of Andrew's advice was good. Some serious soul searching is in order.

  16. I don't think you should feel bad about your comment. People never know when to keep things private. Everyone wants you have kids and act like there is something wrong if you dont. I had a similar situation where we were trying and I wasn't pregnant for a year and a preachers wife said "when are you going to make your mom a grandma already?" I had to stifle the tears because I had just failed to get pregnant and wondered if I ever would. So to your family inform them that only God knows when and if you are to be blessed with a child and suggest they put the pressure on God, and leave you alone.

  17. I've come to the conclusion that other people never seem happy with where you are in life...even if you are. When you start a serious dating relationship, the first question you get asked is, when are you going to get engaged? When that happens, then it's when is the wedding, then when are you going to have children, when are you going to have another? You get the drift. Now that I've been married, had 2 children, gotten divorced, and am now in another serious relationship, everyone is asking me when I'm getting married again. Give me a break people! Everyone needs to let others live their own lives. That's my 2 cents. :-)

  18. Anonymous3:38 PM

    i had to laugh at the advice about marking the calendar. I understood what you meant as to this story. But when we first were married, my husband decided we should start a family and we had many stand offs because of his demand. I wanted to get used to be married first! then become a parent. We both felt very strongly. One day he yelled "when" and I actually yelled back "do you want me to go get a calendar and mark it with a big red x!" It is all pretty stressful. Everyone has made thoughtful, compassionate comments here, but in daily life there will always be uncomfortable comments, later about the way you're raising the kids you finally had. You can hear them all, but choose to only apply those comments that work or help for you.

  19. Here's something funny that someone said to me. When I first became a grandma, I mentioned it to this fella and he said, "Well it's great to have grandchildren, but don't be in a hurry to have more." Like... how in the world would I have control over that???

  20. Anonymous3:16 PM

    No one is ever ready to have a baby, and no time is the right time. Even when the baby is planned, it always seems that there are still a few more things to do, and a few more tasks to get done before the baby arrives.

    But there is the flip side to that. The couples that wait too long. Years go by. And they might find that too many have gone by. By the time my husband and I "were ready", a medical condition came up that would make it impossible for us to have a child. Looking back, I would have rather been a mother instead of a professional... because a career isn't as important as I thought it was, in light of the fact that I will never know the joy of bearing my own child.

  21. Anonymous1:47 PM

    I never wanted kids. The guy I married never wanted kids. Despite my whole family knowing this, we still got questioned frequently as to when we were having kids.

    Seemed to me that my collective family was going to keep asking untl we said yes.

    Luckily, that never happened :-)