I don't know about you guys, but I'm tired of posts about my career situation. So, let's talk about something else for a change, and have an Ask Cloud
post that is completely unrelated to my career.
Here's the question:
I'm just about to turn 34, single, and have always felt very sure that having children would be one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. My questions are fundamentally 1) How long do I wait hoping to meet a partner before I decide to proceed with having a child on my own?, and 2) Would I actually be able to make things work?
Here's a bit more relevant information:
I've been single now for about 2 years. My former fiance, whom I loved dearly and really wanted to build a life with, broke things off once he decided (after a long tortuous period of introspection) that he didn't want to have kids... He ended things saying he didn't want to be responsible for denying me parenthood, because "you're someone who is made to be a mother". Since then I've dated a good amount, and am fortunate in that I seem to be approachable and get asked out fairly often, but haven't met anyone quite right... the personalities and logistics haven't matched up in one person, yet. I've tried to be extra social this last year in order to increase my changes of meeting someone, but am getting a bit exhausted by that, and a little disheartened. I'm a generally happy person, and am happy on a day to day basis in my single life. However, having had the experience of having a great partner in life, I want that again and know what I'm missing without it. And, of course, I'd also like a partner to raise a family together with.
I've got a great job as an electrical engineer at a large company, and my job would almost certainly let me work 60% time for several years. Yes, I'm very very lucky there. I live very far from my family, which is a bummer since my mom is a huge kid person. But I have very good friends where I live, most of whom have young children. And I've always lived frugally (on about 50% of my after tax income) and been an aggressive saver, so, I've got a good chunk of change in the bank...enough that I could pay for an excellent daycare and occasional night nanny help. (Moving back to my parents would mean giving up my great job and moving to an extremely high cost of living area, so, probably not the best option).
I've always loved children, and spend a lot of time around them thanks to my friends. I've been lucky that they've included me in their families and let me be a true Auntie to their kids. Seeing parenting up close, though, makes me aware of how exhausting and terrifying it can be.... The thought of doing it on my own makes me feel so vulnerable. I've had several harsh reminders in the last few years about hard life can be, and I don't want to be naive. My best friend came very close to dying 3 months after her daughter was born from a very rare postpartum complication; since then I've had nightmares of me or my child having an accident or medical issue and there being no one there to help. I worry about how to handle the sleep deprivation (I don't handle it well), how to handle the kid being sick and unable to go to day care when I need to go to work, the work travel that I'd still need to do occasionally, the days when I'm just exhausted but I still need to get dinner on the table... And that's all assuming the child is generally healthy! Doing it alone, without a partner, seems really hard. I worry that it wouldn't be fair to the kid to have a mom that chose single parenthood. I worry that I'd become a mom, and then it would just be so hard that I'd think "this sucks! I miss my old awesome life! I miss my hobbies and cool travel and time for friends!". And I worry that I wouldn't be able to do a good job at work...even as part of me thinks I'd do a better job once I knew it was my ability to take care of my family. My gut says I'd regret not having a child more than having a child and having it be really hard sometimes. But...how to tackle the logistics?!
I don't have any suspected fertility issues, thankfully.
I've broached the subject of having a kid on my own with 4 friends; three responded immediately with variations of "YES! You totally should, you'd love it, and a child would be so lucky to have you as their mom. And I'll help you". One responded with a thoughtful "It's really hard sometimes...even with two of us to give each other a bit of a break...".
So - thoughts? Thoughts on timing and when to move from putting energy toward dating to becoming a parent? Is it crazy to think about doing it myself? And if not crazy, just difficult, how to do it?
I obviously have no direct experience with being a single parent at all. My first thought was that she needs to read Gwinne's blog, Something Remarkable
, since Gwinne does have direct experience with being a single parent by choice and she writes a great blog about her life.
But that would be a spectacularly short answer, so I will make a few comments.
1. I have a couple of friends who have met partners via a hiking club. I don't know if any club in which a bunch of people come together to do some sort of activity would have the same effect, or if there is something special about hiking (long periods of time together?) but that is something to consider when think about finding a partner: maybe look outside the usual dating scene. As one of my friends put it, she stopped trying to find people to date and started trying to find people she liked, and then one of them turned into someone she dated.
2. If your gut tells you that you'll regret not having kids more than having them, then you should at least try to have them, in my opinion, particularly since you have the resources to help make things easier.
3. I have nothing smart to say on the timing issue, except that no obvious fertility problems doesn't mean no fertility problems, so factor that into your decision making. I will say that we had four other families over for a mini-reunion from Pumpkin's day care, and at least two of the other mothers are older than me- and one is ten years older than me (I had Pumpkin six weeks shy of my 35th birthday). So while I don't want to give the impression that you should take your fertility for granted, I also don't want to give the impression that 35 is some impossible fertility cliff.
Regardless, I have no direct experience with fertility problems, either, so I am not a great source of advice there, either.
Based on recent events, my guess is that if it were me, I'd agonize over the decision and then one day just march into a clinic and get the process started. Perhaps a better approach would be to pick some date and some criteria and say that if the criteria aren't met by that date, you're off to the clinic. For instance: "if I'm not dating someone by next December, I'm going to set up an appointment at the fertility clinic." But I don't know. This may be an aspect of the decision that is too personal for anyone else to be able to advise you.
The other thing I'll observe on this topic is that just because you haven't met a partner with whom to raise a child at the time the child is born, it doesn't mean you won't eventually meet that partner.
4. On how to make it work if you do end up going the single parent by choice route... well, that's logistics, and I love talking about logistics!
OK, it isn't all
logistics. I think there is probably a big mindset piece, too. Remember, this is all from someone who is NOT a single parent, so take my observations with a ginormous grain of salt, but.... It seems to be that to be successful as a single parent, you need to really take the advice to "put your own oxygen mask on first" to heart. This has definitely become a cliche now, but it is excellent advice for all of us. I struggle to really implement it in my life, though, and what happens when I fail isn't pretty. It is a meltdown. Of course, my husband is there to take care of the kids, keep things running, and help me put myself back together when I meltdown. If I were parenting without him, I think I'd really need to work on not letting myself get to the meltdown phase, even if it meant doing something that seemed selfish to take care of myself and relieve the pressure before I reached meltdown levels.
One practical way I think you'd want to implement this mindset is in your child care and school decisions. Even as a two parent family, we factored our convenience into our day care and school decisions. I have watched friends founder on the school thing- i.e., choose a school based solely on its awesomeness and disregard the fact that it is 30 minutes out of the way. I can think of only one case where that arrangement still stands, and in that case there is an awesome car pool that has formed. In all other cases, something gave- either the kid moved schools, the family moved house, or someone quit a job. It is hard to explain the morning and evening time crunch to someone who doesn't have kids. I certainly didn't understand it before I had kids. But then my first kid needed us to really stick to a nighttime routine or bedtime took even longer, and suddenly, having dinner at 6 p.m. became a non-negotiable thing in our house. And then we had another kid and the realities of getting two kids ready in the morning meant that the I stopped scheduling meetings before 9 a.m., even though I usually
made it to the office before 8:30 (this was before the company relocated).
So anyway, your convenience matters as much as or more than the specifics of the school's curriculum. I think that is true of all decisions in parenting, really- time is finite, and the one of surest ways to create stress is to set up a situation where you are always short for time during a routine that has some sort of time boundary.
One other logistical thought: I think you'd need to be very direct in setting up your support network, and ask for specific help if someone even hints that they'd like to help. I think the key there is to think realistically about what is an imposition and what isn't. If someone at our day care or school needed our help covering child care so they could go on a business trip or what not, we would do it and it would be hardly any trouble- adding one more kid to the routine isn't a huge deal at this point. If someone whose kid went to a completely different school needed that help- well, that is a bigger ask. That is not to say we wouldn't help out, just that it would feel like a much larger favor.
In general, I want to help people out, but also don't want to imply I think they need
help, so I probably don't end up offering as much help as I could. I think that you'll have to find a way to deal with that weirdness in order to set up a network of people who can help you out.
You mentioned that you're worried about sleep deprivation, so you could start as you mean to continue, and line up specific help on the sleep front. Find people who will come take your baby on a long walk so you can nap (in my experience, the baby needs to be out of the house for at least an hour for this to be useful). Some friends probably really would be willing to come over and help out with the night shift from time to time if it turns out that your baby is a night owl. Accept the help and schedule it before you feel your sanity slip away. There are night nurses and also people who will babysit overnight so that you can escape to a hotel and get a decent night's sleep. You can also decide to get a co-sleeper and then graduate to partial or full night bedsharing- you may get more sleep that way, and without a partner around to complain about being kicked out of bed, why not? You may have a baby for whom sleep training is a good fit (it wouldn't have worked on Pumpkin, but I think it would have worked on Petunia, we just preferred a different approach.) My point is, there are a lot of ways to tackle the sleep deprivation problem. Once you know what sort of sleeper your baby is, you can pick a method that works best for you.
And really, that holds for all of the issues you'll face as a parent. You're a smart person who is good at problem solving, so trust yourself to find solutions to the problems parenthood presents. The biggest challenge, in my opinion, is tuning out what "they" say you should do about a situation and then identifying the right problem to solve. Once you do that, you'll probably see a lot of possible solutions.
Readers- who has more/better advice? Please leave it in the comments.