This is part 2 of a 4-Part series. Check out Part 1 here where I write from the point of view of a therapist in a relationship counseling situation, helping people in a romantic relationship work through the idea of having children together. In this second part, I want to focus on the individuals in the relationship. This is where IRL I’d ask to meet with the relationship clients for 1-on-1 sessions. This post will focus on 1) your personal feelings, thoughts, and fears around having/raising children, 2) how you personally cope with stressful situations, and 3) the importance of learning parenting skills and ongoing therapy before and while raising children.
Y’all Ready To Be Real With Me?
This society loves to focus on the joys and excitement of having babies and raising children (except teens, who are stereotyped as being difficult). Whenever people talk about having babies, they are all encouraged to focus on the highlights: bringing the baby home, the first tooth/steps/birthdays, first day of school…*fast forward*…the kids grow up to love and take care of the parents when they’re old. That’s not the whole story. That’s like wanting to try out a recipe, but only getting the ingredients, the cooking time, and a picture of the end result. Nah, where’s the directions on how to cook it? What temperature do you preheat the oven for? How are you supposed to chop this? You’re not being given enough information and because of that, your expectations of parenting/cooking aren’t accurate. And we all know making decisions without having all the necessary information isn’t the move. Like I always say, awareness is key. Awareness saves lives and time. You can’t get rid of feelings so you might as well face them. Bottled up and/or ignored feelings come out in other ways, but they never go away. Bottled up feelings can turn into physical symptoms (headaches, stomach aches, feeling tired all the time, feeling tense all the time, high blood pressure, etc.) and that’s not good for your health in the long run. Or bottled up feelings can look like taking your frustrations out on other people or drinking them away. Whether through psychotherapy (To help you get started, check out the resources I listed in the “How to Know If/When You’re Depressed” post) and/or other strategies like mindfulness (See the “What Can Mindfulness Do For You?” post for more information on the many different ways to try mindfulness), building/strengthening/maintaining self-awareness is an incredibly important part of any relationship, especially parenting.
As I’ve said before children are adults-in-training and parenting is like being the supervisor. You are actively training a human on how to be an adult. They watch what you say, what you do, your body language, the things you hint at without saying, etc. and they use all that information as their manual in the real world. It does not hurt to be as aware as possible of who you are and how you act. Like I said before, many people struggle with situations/issues that could have been handled better if they were more aware of their feelings and behaviors. There’s value in knowing what specifically about something is making you react like that or feel that way. Especially when raising children. Here are a couple of personal feelings/beliefs that should be dealt with preferably before having children (if you already have children then the sooner the better):
- Fear: Fear is something that few people talk about when pressuring other people to have children. No one ever says, “So when are you having kids? I remember the times I cried and was stressed all night…” Everyone is so encouraged to feel joy that other emotions are silenced and even shamed. It’s okay to be afraid. Afraid of change. Afraid of turning out like your parents. Afraid of not being as good as your parents, etc. Let yourself face those feelings. And think about how those feelings/fears around parenting could affect how you’d act and how you’d raise children. Reflect on those feelings and/or talk to someone you trust about them.
- Bigotry: Just like we’d (and I mean “we” as in Black people and other people of color) want racists to stop having POC children, what bigotry do you need to work on before raising kids? Some common ones I see on twitter: ableism (not wanting to have a disabled kid), homophobia (“What would you do if…”), transphobia (pushing assigned gender onto kids, threatening to kill transgender children), and sexism (“I can’t have a daughter…”). These are your issues/bigoted feelings and passing them onto kids is like passing on poison. Only caring about the kinds of bigotry that hurts you is hypocritical. If you aren’t ready to love whoever you bring into this world, don’t have children. You aren’t ready/qualified to train kids into adulthood. And having children despite not being qualified for the job is a selfish act. It makes having children all about you and your life goals and again, raising children isn’t about you. When you make it about you, you will eventually be very disappointed and probably won’t have a very honestly close/stable relationship with your children. It’s about supporting children and training them on how to be grown. If you don’t want to put into this extra effort, you aren’t ready for this job (and I feel for children who are raised in hateful homes. That has longterm effects).
- Resentment: This is almost unspoken. Parents resenting their children. I mentioned this a little in Part 1 too. Children aren’t just cute IG photos and video clips. They aren’t life goals or trophies to show the world you are successful. Again, ultimately, children aren’t about you. It’s a 24/7 job you can’t clock out of. Are you ready for this job? Are you ready to feed babies in the middle of the night? Scrape butter out of their hair? Deal with the 4th temper tantrum that hour. Watch that cartoon movie you low-key hate 40x? Help your child with homework every single night even though you just got home from work? How about when your kid is a teen and you feel emotionally disconnected from them? Are you ready to make sacrifices for them (social life, privacy, sleep, time, etc)? What are you willing to give up and change as you prepare for your role as trainer/coach of this child? Have you processed this loss? This is huge. This is the loss of your old life and the person you were when you had more freedom and less obligations. Have you reflected enough on this? Have you talked it out as often as necessary? Do you have a plan for a time in the future when you might start to feel resentful and how you’re going to deal with it? Children did not ask to be born. Projecting your non-dealt with feelings onto them is unfair and can harm them emotionally and psychologically in long-term ways.
Don’t drag your children into your mess. Don’t some of you wish someone would have said that to your parents?
Don’t Be Scared To Ask For Help
How do you deal with stress and frustration? I just turned on “Cranes in the Sky” to type this next bit: Do you bottle it in…take it out on people…drink/eat it away…pull away from ppl…? How do you cope with the world around you? Again, awareness in parenting is so important: know yourself so you know what you do to the people around you and the potential impact this can have on a child that depends on you for everything.
Let’s talk about family planning, parenting skills training/classes and psychotherapy. Because you are not alone in this magical 21st century. You can decide if/when you are ready to have kids and I’m actually not talking about finances here. I’m talking potential limitations like the parents’ personality right now, the parents’ trauma, and emotional/mental health. Do you have a solid support system? If you aren’t ready, be honest with yourself. Parenting skills training/classes (especially if led by mental health professionals, ideally of color) and psychotherapy done by willing parents and soon-to-be parents can help build awareness, learn how to deal with emotions, symptoms, and trauma reactions, and, learn new ways of communicating with their children. Also parenting skills classes and psychoeducation teach people the science of how children develop biologically and psychologically. Learning about how the brain develops and what children are actually capable of doing at different ages really helps you make sense of how children act. I see a lot of people who get frustrated at children for being children with child brains. Most of the time, parenting is looked at as something that “comes natural”. Something that you can wing it and everything will turn out fine, except it doesn’t. We know it doesn’t. People can pass their traumas onto their kids and create new ones without realizing because they’re caught up in their own unresolved problems, feelings, and traumas. There’s a lot of stigma on therapy in this society and most people wouldn’t think of it as a regular part of preparing for parenthood and childcare. But I really think incorporating low-cost, high-quality, and culturally competent psychotherapy would change society in huge, positive ways. Imagine more self-aware people, working on what they need to work on, and raising a new generation of people to build that awareness from the very beginning.
A little self-reflection ain’t hurt nobody. Are you ready for children? Like people child-proof a home, have you prepped yourself? It’s your responsibility to make sure that you are fully qualified and prepared to take on this management/supervisor position. Yeah, society is pressuring you, but you don’t have to rush into this if you’re not ready. Your decisions have a huge effect on a whole human’s life and on the people they will deal with. This isn’t just about you and your “Things to Do Before I Die” checklist. If you already have children, remember that this is a job and just like at work, you gotta leave your personal stuff out of this. See a therapist. Take continuing education trainings (parenting skills). Build up your support system/network with other parents. Vent to friends. Taking feelings out on your children or living through them harms everyone in the household. And it’s time for healing.
The next part in the series, Part 3, will cover beginning to reflect on the expectations you have of parenting and the values/perspectives taught by your parents and society. The next post, on 6/10/18, will cover drugs, what substance use is, and how to tell when use has become a problem.