The Pros and Cons of Having Children: An Open Letter to a Friend

You asked me for a list of pros and cons of having children. I have thought long and hard about what I would add to these lists.

It isn’t, however, buying a car, or a house in the sketchy neighborhood that everyone thinks might one day make a comeback. So here is my truth—it is not an absolute for anyone. It isn’t even an absolute for me.

The decision to become a parent is a life-altering decision that will make and unmake you over and over again.

People say that humans are resilient, and that we can bear a great deal. As a mother I can attest to the reality of this cliche. I was twenty when I became pregnant with Bailey, twenty-one when she was born. Her very birth was traumatic for me, and I consider myself splintered—me before Bailey, me after Bailey, and my mind after Bailey. My desire to be a “good” parent is obsessive and overwhelming. After all—humans are resilient, but that does not mean we do not break. You will break over and again, and people will forget about you—you will learn to mend yourself. It will be haphazard and you’ll lose pieces along the way. But something new and even more beautiful will replace what you’ve lost. You will still be yourself.

I wonder about every decision I make in regards to my children. Am I keeping them safe? Am I smiling enough? Do they feel loved? Do I say it enough? I wonder which of my decisions will send them to therapy. I wonder if they have a proclivity for self harm. I wonder how to protect them from the forces that act against them. I wonder if I am too hard on them. I wonder if I haven’t been hard enough. I wonder if I’ve provided the right experiences for them. I wonder if I’ve helped them love themselves. I wonder if they talk to me.

You think you won’t be that way, but you will. Whether homegrown or selected with love, your child is yours. Nature and nurture will collude and you will be responsible, largely, for what the child becomes. His or her expectations of life will first come from you. You will encompass his loves and his disappointments. You are his life-giver, and this is not a small act. It is the largest act you can perform—and parenting is a performance. You are “on” all the time. You will go to bed some nights wondering if you were “on” enough. You will often feel as though you have failed.

But just as often you will also feel pride, and you will know where you have succeeded. You can’t become comfortable in this state, because parenting is constant. They need you, always.

Sometimes you will want to fall apart and you will scream in your own mind that you just want ten minutes to fall apart without worrying about unseating the fragile image of stability that you have spent every waking moment for as long as you have been a mother creating.

You will learn the limitations of language, and it will make you angry. You will love them in a way that words cannot express. This is why language was invented, this love, and it is simply not enough.

There are no lists for this. But you only come this way as the being you are once. Whatever you decide, do so with the knowledge that, as with every other decision you have ever made, you cannot have an absolute. You cannot be certain.

America

You suckle at her teat though you’ve had your fill. You are engorged to the point of aching, but you 

Must have all of her. 

She is weakened under your weight. 

And under the weight of your father before you. 

She must have been beautiful once, you muse. 

You’ve never seen her, though. Not really. 

You’ve always looked past her and imagined

What she could be. 

You’ve done this for as long as she has been and now

You can’t see what she never was. 

Still, you have ruined her. Perhaps she had promise. Once, before your fingers grazed her

Body–already claimed but belonging to her–she was free and she was beauty. Only for a moment. 

From the moment you saw her you knew she must

Submit. 

You wrecked her. Now she bears your children–hungry, tired, huddled together. Their voices are weak–you have taken yours and left them nothing. 

You sneer at them. They should find their own way. But she is their mother. They see her scars–the holes you have made in her–but they love her. 

Her heart is skidding to a halt. You can hear it. She exudes an odor that she didn’t have before. Oily and sweet. 

You will drink yourself to death. You know it. They know it, too. But you keep at her anyway. 

You will go. They will to, too. No one will be left to bear witness to the mess you made.