“Fencesitters” are what we call people who are still not sure if they want children or not. A “Fencesitter Relationship” is when one party wants kids and the other doesn’t. All too often I see people on childfree boards asking for advice on these situations, so I’ve created a page to give you all my best advice on this subject, since I’m sick of retyping it all the time on other boards.
You (or your spouse, if that’s the case) may want to walk through the following steps. But to do so, you have to be very honest and realistic about it. You won’t be sending your answers to anyone — so you just have to be honest with yourself.
If you are here because you are considering a serious relationship with someone who has kids, well, this isn’t exactly the right page for you, but you can read it anyway. But if you want my advice, I’d say don’t do it. You deserve to be with someone who puts you first. Besides, people with kids (especially custodial parents) should be focused on raising their kids, not out trolling for dates or looking for someone else to raise or support their kids for them. Just sayin’.
I admit I am not unbiased on this subject. If you want to hear the other side of the coin, go to any parenting board on the internet and they’ll do their damnest to convert you to their side and convince you that’ll you’ll be miserable without kids.
This is a childfree site, so sure, it’s going to sound more like I’m trying to talk you out of having kids. But let’s get this straight: I’m not trying to talk anyone OUT of having kids. I’m only addressing this to people who haven’t decided yet if they want kids or not — I can’t be talking them out of a decision they haven’t made! I’m also not trying to sway them to my side of the fence, I’m just giving them food for thought, and they’ll make their own decision. I don’t recruit people. I just tell them MY side of the story and MY views which, while biased, might help them make up their own minds. I don’t think anyone should have kids without seriously considering both sides of the issue.
Don’t give me this crap that, “If everyone thought very hard about it, no one would have kids.” Trust me, there are always people who will have kids. But only a fool would think that not thinking about this decision is what is best for your (hypothetical) kids.
If that is all clear, you can proceed.
Step 1: The absolute first thing you need to do is to figure out what you really want to accomplish in life (besides kids) and what your favorite hobbies are (besides playing with kids). Then consider how having children will affect those goals. Will having child(ren) hinder those life goals? How much time will you have for your favorite hobbies when you have a child? Now (if married or in a serious relationship) think about your spouses’ life goals and hobbies. Will having kids help or hinder their life choices? If it will hinder yours and/or your spouses life goals, are you sure you’ll be okay with that and not resentful? It’s okay if your answer is that kids will not hinder and might even help your life goals and hobbies and you won’t be resentful if the kids do hinder your life goals and hobbies. But make sure you are being totally honest and not just fooling yourself. You have to be realistic about this.
Step 2: Next you need to figure out WHY you want children. Maybe this list will help:
The WRONG reasons for becoming a mother:
- To save marriage (“This will create a bond between me and my spouse!”)
- For financial security (Child support, social welfare programs, etc)
- To have an identity (“I’m Kaylee’s mom! I’m doing the most important job in the world!”)
- To make up for lack of personal accomplishments (“My kid will cure cancer and that’ll make up for throwing my own life away!!”)
- To vicariously relive childhood (“I’m going to give my child everything I never had!”)
- To prove adulthood (“I am mature and responsible because I have a child!”)
- As an insurance policy (“I’ll have someone to take care of me when I’m old!”)
- To avoid getting a job (“I’m a full-time mom! I can’t work!”)
- To avoid loneliness (“I’ll never be alone now that I have a baby. My baby will love me!”)
- To feel needed (“I will have someone who needs me, and I can be in charge of someone!”)
- Cult of Mommy (“Now I’ll fit in with all my peers!”)
- To feel alive: (“Feeling a baby move inside of me will make me feel alive and creative!”)
- Out of guilt (“My religion wants me to ‘atone” for the sin of enjoying sex, so I must have a child to make up for it.”)
- To satisfy religious requirements (“My religion demands I don’t use birth control or that I give my husband a son!”)
- Prove non-virgin status (“See, someone had sex with me!”)
- As a science experiment (“A little bit of me plus a little bit of my man – let’s see what comes out! Tee hee hee!”)
The WRONG reasons for becoming a father:
(some of the above list applies as well)
- To prove fertility/virility (“Me big tough man! Me impregnate females!”)
- To prove sexual orientation (“See! I’m not gay, I’m straight! I had sex with a woman and got her pregnant!”)
- To prove youth (“I can still get it up!”)
- To be the “King of the House” (“Look at me! I’m dominate over children!”)
- To keep wife at home (“Having kids keeps my wife from emasculating me and getting a better job and more pay than I get! And she won’t have as much time to find a better man than me!”)
- To continue family name (“Look, my family name and genetic line will go on, so it’s almost like being immortal!”)
Did you find one or more of your reasons for wanting kids on that list? Odds are you did. When it’s all spelled out like that for you, does it still seem like a good idea? Does it still sound like a good reason for your child to be born? Just as an example, if the main reason you want kids is because you want to save your marriage, is that fair to you kid? “Welcome to the world little one! Now, here’s your job: you must keep your parents together. Now, get to it!” What if your reason to have a child is because you were a big sports star in high school and you miss those “good ‘ol days” and you want to have a son to carry on that torch so you can vicariously relive those days? How fair is that to the kid — expecting a) a son, and b) a good athlete. That’s a lot of pressure to put on someone who isn’t even born yet!
I absolutely hate that ridiculous “science experiment” reason for having kids (and it’s fairly popular among idiots). Ditzy women everywhere seem to think it’s so “cute” to just create a new human being because they are bored and need something to do. They aren’t good at actually creating something artistic or smart enough to go to the science lab and do a useful science experiment, so they just randomly create human beings just to see what they can get when they are bored. Incredible! If this is one of your reasons for having kids, DON’T. If you just want to see what you can get by screwing around try learning how to cook and see what comes out of that oven. Don’t just recklessly create a life because you’re bored and curious. Get a hobby!
Don’t believe the hype that having a child is totally selfless. It’s absolutely untrue. People have kids because there is something in it for them. Period. They might be great parents once the kid is here, but there was something selfish that drove them to have kids in the first place. Even if the reason was, “My mom wouldn’t get off my back bout having grandchildren!” the selfish desire is, “I’m uncomfortable with the social pressure and I’m too passive to stand up to it, so I’ll have this kid will make my social and familial life easier.” Here’s a fun experiment: quiz everyone you know about why they have or plan to have children. Most times they’ll start out with, “I want…” and the rest start out with some excuse as to why their birth control failed.
If you are still convinced you have a great reason for having a kid, good for you. Keep reading.
Step 3: A lot of people seem to like kids of a certain age. Stop and be honest about what age group you like best, and what age groups don’t sound like fun to you at all. Think about the possibility that you could work with children in that age group that you love the best. If so, maybe that is exactly what could give you the “fix” you are looking for without having your own kids. I knew someone who LOVED babies — so she became a nurse on a maternity ward. She always had her fill of babies, but never had to deal with the toddler age she dreaded. My sister loves middle-schoolers, so she teaches middle-school and volunteers at a middle-school summer camp. She gets a steady stream of kids in the age she loves the most, and never has to deal with the other ages. It’s the best of both worlds!
My husband is an athlete and for a short time was stuck on this “Kodak Moment” of how great it would be to have a son to sports things with. He never really thought much about all those other ages he’d get stuck dealing with. He started working with youth sports leagues and now he gets his fill of working with kids and sports and not having to deal with the rest of the crap he’s not so interested in.
Here’s another point. My husband often comes home from working with these kids and says, “Ug, thank god I don’t have to bring them home with me! Those kids just aren’t like we were when we were kids. They are such snots and rude to authority!” Have you ever considered that? True, you might be able to raise your own kid better (might being the operative word here), but his snotty peers will have a big influence on them. Won’t the other kids rub off on him? Maybe they will and maybe they won’t. But at least be aware that you won’t be the only influence in your child’s life.
If you like older kids, you could host exchange students — it’s a great way to get some parenting experience with a kid who can mostly take care of themselves, and you could also learn a lot about other cultures.
Step 4: Baby-sit. Seriously! Find a friend or relative and offer them a night of free babysitting. The younger the better, because if you decide to have a baby, it’ll start out young, so best to know what you are in for. If it goes well, baby-sit a few more times for longer stretches at a time. If you still enjoy it, that’s a good sign. If you don’t, maybe you should really re-think this. If you are real ambitious, you can look into foster parenting to find out what living with a child is like before fully committing to it. True, it’s kind of a hassle to jump through all the hoops to become a certified foster parent, but won’t all that make you a better parent in the long run?
If you think you don’t want to foster because those kids might be “defective” in some way, just remember, your biological child might be defective, too. In fact, to hear bored house-mommies tell it, one out of every three kids is mentally defective in some way — either ADD, ADHD, bi-polar or autistic. Having a defective foster kid will just prepare you better for the defective biological children you’ll have later!
Step 5: YOU CAN’T GIVE YOUR OWN KIDS BACK. Just think about that for a minute. Right now, you still have a chance to waffle on this. Nine months from now that won’t be an option. Are you REALLY ready for an 18+ year commitment? It’s not like buying a house — if it gets to be too much, you sell it and move. A kid doesn’t just go away.
There is a line from the movie Terms of Endearment about parenting that goes something like this, “As hard as you think it’s going to be, you end up wishing it were that easy.” Parenthood is a lot of worry and stress. Oh sure, there are probably upsides to it, too, but I think it’s always good to be a little pessimistic, because it’s better to be pleasantly surprised than horribly disappointed.
If you are a woman, I’m sad to say this, but you are most likely going to get stuck with the vast majority of the parenting. Yes, some men are great about helping out, but they are still in the minority. And while your husband right now might be swearing he’ll do his share and more, that remains to be seen. Many guys SAY that, but don’t follow through. So be prepared to do most of the work. Like I said, it’s better to be pleasantly surprised.
Now think about this: You might not always be a couple. Even if you are absolutely certain that your spouse will do at least 50% of the parenting, what if she dies? Or what if he leaves? In most cases, the kids stay with the mother in a divorce, but if you are the father, they could end up with you. You’ll be now doing 100% (or close to it) of the parenting. Are you ready for that? Does a nasty custody and child support case sound like fun? Oh, I know, they aren’t all nasty, but many of them are.
Just remember: those kids are here to stay. If you’re cool with that, and you arehonest enough to realize that you might end up raising them alone and you think you could do it all by yourself, hey, more power to you. But you need to be honest about what you’re capable of.
Step 6: Read books on parenting. Take a child psychology class or two. Take parenting classes. Make sure you aren’t just looking at parenthood through rose colored glasses. Some recommended books to get you started:
- The Parenthood Decision: Discovering Whether You Are Ready and Willing to Become a Parent by Beverly Engel
- I’m Okay, You’re a Brat!: Setting the Priorities Straight and Freeing You From the Guilt and Mad Myths of Parenthood by Susan Jeffers
- Mask of Motherhood: How Becoming a Mother Changes Everything and Why We Pretend It Doesn’t by Susan Maushart
- The Case Against Having Children by Anna & Arnold Silverman
- What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg, and Sandee Hathaway
- What to Expect the First Year by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg, and Sandee Hathaway
- What to Expect the Toddler Years by Arlene Eisenberg
Step 7: Kids cost money. Lots of it. I’m not going to say much more than that, but it’s something you need to think about. Do some research to find out how much even the cheapest kid costs, and make sure that is something you can afford. The last thing this world needs is one more kid being raised by taxpayer money just because some breeder decided, “I WANT a kid, but I’m too lazy to work to support it!”. Hell, there are a lot of things I want, too, but I don’t expect anyone else to pay for those things for me and neither should you.
Step 8: Post Partum Depression. Do you really want to risk it? These days, just about every mommy claims to get it (it’s the latest trend, don’t you know?). Apparently, it’s more likely than not that having a kid will make you (or your wife) clinically depressed. PPD makes you want to drown your children, run into a brick wall and shave your head. Ooh, that sounds like fun. Let’s all do it! It sounds to me like giving birth is terribly depressing and makes women suicidal. True, you’ll be able to get away with anything you want without consequences because you’ll just claim, “I was depressed!” Still, I’d much rather be a happy non-parent who has to be responsible for her actions than a miserable, suicidal mommy. That’s just me. If you still want a kid, start stocking up on anti-depressants now.
What about your social circle? Once you have kids, you’re going to be hanging around other mommies more and more, even if you don’t want to. The other mommies, they are going to drive… you… crazy with their incessant talk about babies and childbirth. If the postpartum depression doesn’t do you in, this will! If I woke up tomorrow and wanted kids, THIS is the thought that would scare me straight. I would rather drive into that brick wall than hang out with other mommies all the time. (Admittedly there are some intelligent, non-boring mommies out there, but they are the minority and harder to find.)
Step 9: Maybe at this point you are seriously considering kids. Great! You know that you’re going to be a good parent and instill your child with the values your parents instilled in you, rather than being one of these fluffy-bunny, self-esteem junkie parents. You’re ready to go and you’re going to do it right. Now consider this:
The majority of the people around you aren’t going to do it right. Your kid is going to have so many bad influences around him, you’re going to have to work twice as hard to keep him in line, or you’re going to have to give up and go with the flow. I’ve gotten emails from women complaining about this very thing! Are you ready for that much work? You’re going to spend a lot of time trying to explain to your child why his friends can get away with everything and he can’t.
So many of these outside influences today try to rob kids of any sense of competition or ambition by telling them they are perfect “just the way they are” and so while you’re trying to teach your kid to do well in school and work hard so he can get a good college education and career, other people are trying to convince him to “just go with the flow, man” and do nothing. Why work so hard when you’re already perfect and special just the way you are? A big part of why so many twenty-somethings today are total slackers is because of this mamby pamby crap.
As hard as it is to get your kid to be a well behaved kid, counteracting all the negative outside influences is so much harder. Homeschooling him and only letting him see people you approve of won’t help either; it’ll just create new problems.
Step 10: Face the facts that if you are in a Fencesitter Relationship, you might have to break up. This is a deal breaker — it’s not something you can compromise on. It is a tragedy when someone has a kid they don’t want because they gave in to pressure. So to the party who doesn’t want kids: don’t give in unless you decide youreally want a child. All children should be wanted!
If someone wanted to leave me for just the mere idea of a child they didn’t even know and might not even like, I would be so offended I wouldn’t even want to stay with them. If the idea of another person seems better to them than me, obviously they don’t really love me and I don’t want to be with someone like that! I deserve someone who loves me and thinks I’m good enough to make them happy. So do you!
If your spouse pulled this on you, I’m so sorry. But don’t take it personally. If someone is willing to throw a good marriage away for some “Kodak moment” stuck in their heads, they aren’t much of a loss to begin with. These people are the “grass is always greener” folks. They are always looking for something better than what they have now and they’ll never be satisfied. There is not much difference between saying, “Honey, I’m leaving you so I can have a baby.” and “Honey, I’m going out to look for a better wife/husband. I haven’t met this person yet, and I don’t know if they’ll be good looking, if we’ll have anything in common, or if I’ll even like them very much, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be better than what we have now.” Take heart that if it wasn’t a baby, they probably would have pulled the, “I’m bored with you and need a new spouse” thing sooner or later. It’s not much consolation now, I know, but try to realize that you’re far better off without someone like that. They’ll never be satisfied and in a few years, when your life is going well and fabulous, you’ll probably run into them at a grocery store with screaming kids and looking all harried and unhappy and you can just smile and pat yourself on the back for dodging that bullet. (Note: I’m not saying all parents are unhappy, but “grass is always greener” people are rarely satisfied because they can never be content with what they already have)
Breaking up is painful, but sometimes it has to be done.
If you’re still in your fencesitter relationship and haven’t decided yet what to do, double up on the birth control. I’ve heard these “oops” stories and while I don’t believe they are as common as misogynists want us to believe, I wouldn’t take any chances. But then again, even without a fencesitting husband, I don’t take any chances!! Use two forms of birth control just to be safe!
Hopefully these steps have helped you and given you more answers than questions. You just have to do a lot of self-analysis and get to know who you really are. As a childfree or childless person, you have the chance to do that. Once those kids come along, you won’t have that much time anymore. Just don’t jump into anything without REALLY thinking about it and considering the consequences.
If you decide to go ahead and have kids, Enjoy! But don’t ever go around saying, “I used to be childfree just like you!” because you weren’t.
The Wrong Reasons for Parenthood inspired by the book “The Case Against Having Children” by Anna & Arnold Silverman. I believe it is out of print, but if you find an old copy, pick it up!