Why I Told My Best Friend Not To Have Kids

One of my best friends is on the fence about having children, but I’m not, I told her not to. My advice isn’t because I regret becoming a mother, or that I think she’d be a bad one–on the contrary. I know she’d be a wonderful mother and I’ve never for one millisecond regretted having my children. My advice is based on what I believe it would do to her because I know what it’s done to me.

My friend and I, we are the exact same age almost to the day. We are Pisces. We have been friends for over 25 years and for more reasons than shared decades and zodiac signs, we are like family. We met when we were eight and for the first seven years, we lived a few blocks away from one another. As a result of working, busy, or preoccupied parents, we were part-feral children. Also, the 80’s were a different era for kids. Back then we were given a couple of dollars for McDonald’s and an entire day by ourselves to ride bikes provided we showed up when the street lights came on. We abused and enjoyed the freedom.

We grew up together in every sense of the phrase; we went to the same schools, had the same friends, cheered on the same squad and liked the same boys. We even drove the same kind of car. I know her family and she knows mine. I know all her stories and most her secrets. I know her better than she knows herself sometimes and it is for this reason that I tell her not to have children.

We Wild Child’s of the 80s were independent by default. I was the youngest of three and she was an only child and for our own reasons we learned self-preservation skills for survival. We were hell-bent on figuring out life on our own terms and we made many of the same mistakes along the way. We’re stubborn, passionate, empathetic and selfish fish.

Today, I am three years into the lesson on motherhood and like a good friend, I don’t want to see her falter like I have. Knowing what I know about this role, and knowing her like I do, I want her to know the things no one tells you before jumping off this cliff. I want her to know exactly what this shape-shifting role will do to her.

Even as I write that I know she won’t listen, not really. Own terms.

Friend: No one tells you when you become a mother about the overwhelming nature of the sacrifice. The effect children have on marriage, your time, body, identity and circadian rhythm are all alluded to with trite remarks like, “your life is about to change”  and, “better get your sleep now.” They are true, and none of them explains enough.

No one tells you that what you will give will be all you have–that the Giving Well will run dry but the only answer will be to dig deeper– all the way to China–and even then, it will never be enough. No one tells you that the amount of selfishness you have going into motherhood is conversely proportional to the degree of difficulty. I suppose those things aren’t easy to communicate. Cakes made out of diapers and platitudes on pastel cards are simpler.

No one tells you that the wreckage of your unreconciled past will come bubbling to the surface all over again in places you never thought to look such as pictures of the first day of preschool, first family dinners or stumbling over how to answer a toddler’s question about when you were a little girl.

No one tells you that your own mother-issues echo endlessly in your ears like storm waves crashing on cliff sides because as it turns out, mother-issues are as endless and relentless as waves crashing on rocks. No one tells you that having children forces you into that surf again and again…forever. Those are things you should know, Friend.

But every time, right after I tell her not to jump off that cliff into the abyss, I follow it up with… “but you’ll never regret it.”

The truth is Friend–and I know you know this is true–I am a better person because I became a mother. Yes, I am beaten down in many ways. Yes, I am sucked dry and left empty more times than I want, or is fair. Yes, I am overwhelmed to breathlessness. But what I’ve found in the process is something people only allude to in platitudes on pastel cards that never tell you enough. What I’ve found sifting through this unreconciled mess are pieces of forgiveness, shards of understanding, piles of patience and reams of capabilities for weathering so much more than I ever thought I could.

Yes, there is more fear, more doubt, and the nerves are more raw, forevermore… but I am also less stubborn, less adamant, less sure of anything and that has made more sure of everything.

I tell her not to have kids because I don’t want to see her at the bottom of this cliff afraid and forced to be brave in tsunami of wreckage that will resurface from her ocean floor. My empathetic fish’s heart will hurt watching her gasp for air like I have, because I know her– she’s a lot like me. I suppose in a way my advice is me being a selfish fish.

But she is too.

And the two of us, we swim very, very well… even in the roughest waters.

8 thoughts on “Why I Told My Best Friend Not To Have Kids

  1. You have captured so many of the complex emotions that come with being a mother. I relate so well, although I am an Aquarius. :-). My mother’s and my relationship was somewhat complex (aren’t they all, I suppose?), which we did our best to come to terms with when she was diagnosed with colon cancer and died a year later. She never knew me as a mom; that role didn’t happen for me until 9 years later. But the ghost, or imprint, of that relationship is ever present. I cringe when I sound like her sometimes, and then the emotional pendulum will swing to being proud to be strong like she was, especially in protecting my kids. I often wonder what our relationship would be like now. I certainly have more patience and compassion for people and situations than I once did when I was simply someone’s daughter. And I think I would have to buy my mom a drink for her raising 3 kids aged 7-13 in the middle of a divorce. Let’s say that motherhood has given me a new perspective with which to respect my mother in a real way. I just wish it wasn’t too late to realize all this and more importantly let her know. I dream about talking to her about my motherhood experience— the joy, pain, worry, sacrifice, heart-wrenching love, madness, and celebration. Whether to validate, or just have someone to vent to, that would be nice.

    I have heard it said that “deciding to be a parent is like getting a tattoo on your face; you better be sure.” That pretty much sums it up. But even if you get that tattoo and it doesn’t stand the test of time or expectations when you got it, that is when you REALLY learn about what fabric you are made of as a human. I have found out that I am made of a very durable, all-weather fabric, that is soft enough to be comfortable, but still needs to be ironed to look good. Definitely not to be dry cleaned. :-) I think that would be a good question to ask oneself before deciding to have kids–what am I made of? Because every aspect of what I am made of will be tested to its limits and beyond. Do I have the resiliency to spring back into shape, or am I flexible enough not to break? We did not put that much thought to becoming parents. Although we do not regret it one iota, it would have been good to put more deep thought into it beyond baby showers and visions of perfect babies who slept through the night always and toddlers who always cooperated and never had temper tantrums. And those special teenage years that we have to look forward to.

    Another thought provoking topic, Shannon. Thank you for your gift of writing. Good luck to your friend on her soul search.

    • Relationships are complicated in general but I believe the most complicated is that of mother and daughter. The complexities simply fascinate me.

      I, too, have learned so much in this role of motherhood. It has been my greatest teacher AND test. You are certainly right, it shows you what you’re made of for sure. I love you analogy.

      Have you read Wild by Cheryl Strayed? She writes very eloquently about growing into a woman after your mother has died. Before I read Wild, I read this essay by Strayed that appeared in Brain, Child Magazine. It haunts me and is what led me to admire her writing so much. It’s about becoming a mother and reflecting on her own mother. It’s also about writing, which of course, I love. Here’s the link.

  2. I have read “Wild” and absolutely loved it. I ended up “Googling” her after I read it and finding her interview with Oprah. I love her writing. Will definitely check out the link you sent. I am intrigued. Thank you for sharing that.

  3. Beautiful, raw, well said. Truly captures the reality of motherhood, especially for us 80’s Wild Childs. I bow to your courage to put it out there…

  4. I had to smile at the memory of a day of bike riding until the street lights turned on. On our street the moms would call our names at dinner time and, no matter where we were (or where we weren’t supposed to be) we would hop on our bikes and go pedaling home. I was also blown away by the way my own past came flooding in, around the time my daughter turned three. And before she turned four, my parents and I were no longer speaking to each other. Yes, I see that they were human and fallible just like me, but it shook me to the core to imagine doing to them the least of what was done to me.
    I also had a friend who was on the fence about having children, and I am ashamed to admit that I lied to her about the magic that awaited her, because I was in the midst of a secret suicidal and homicidal depression unlike any that I had ever known and I just could not bear to be alone in it.
    Thank you for sharing.

  5. I was sorry to see all the comments on the Mamapedia post by that hater Jan Matys. Don’t let him get you down, your words were inspiring and true and real and some people are scared by that perhaps. Remember the immortal words of Kat Williams – a “hater’s job is to hate.” So, let him do his job and you keep on doing yours. Great work.

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