Have you ever noticed how we announce that which is culturally expected by the prodding questions that we determine aren’t prodding at all? Like, are there wedding bells in your future? Don’t you plan on having kids? Aren’t you going to give that girl a sibling? We expect love, marriage and a baby carriage. And we expect an upgrade to double stroller pretty soon after all of that.
Most couples have been asked the question, “Do you plan on having kids?” at least once in their life. Every single parent of one has been asked when they plan on having another. Probably multiples times. Maybe even in one day.
I understand the curiosity; I’ve wanted to ask after people’s plans myself at times. Usually it’s simple curiosity on my part. I think a lot about building my family and I wonder what other people are considering themselves. If my own continuing path to children were different, I would probably ask those questions myself. Instead I only press the issue if I already have an idea of what they hope to do, or if they mention it themselves.
A person’s ideal image of his or her family can be a deeply personal dream or a rarely considered possibility. It might be complicated by health or financial restrictions or generally avoided because of ambivalence and apathy. Some women want very much to build a family they can’t have; others have absolutely no idea what their family should look like and feel guilty in the face of their uncertainty.
Of course most women know exactly what their families should–and will–look like and they have no problem achieving that ideal. Talks of sibling spacing and “pulling the goalie” are common once first children celebrate their first birthday. At some point a woman with a toddler and a still-(somewhat)flat stomach can feel very out of place; something very important is missing.
I used to think I knew exactly what my family would look like. Then life (and my relationship and our finances and the realities of motherhood and the ways things work out) got in the way. Suddenly I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted and I was even less sure of what I might be able to get.
Sure I used to dream of a family of five. I wasn’t sure how many years sat between each of those three babies’ births but I knew it wasn’t too many. Then I met my partner and found out he didn’t really want kids, at least not yet. Later, I found it was much harder to get, and stay pregnant, than we are led to believe. After some time, I had my daughter and I learned what motherhood was really about. I also got schooled in the financial toll it took. And I realized my relationship needed attention and I hoped to write books one day. Then, once we were both sure we wanted another child it was clear that no amount of planning could determine how many years would be between our first and our would-be second; some things in life are just out of our hands.
Life is full of compromise and building a family is no different. Sometimes you have to compromise with your partner, sometimes with yourself and sometimes with your destiny. Sometimes life just has other plans.
I always had such a clear idea of what my life would look like, and perhaps because it mirrored what everyone expected of me, I assumed I would get it. And then life happened and I realized it wasn’t that easy. Maybe I was just small-minded or naïve. Maybe it was youth and inexperience that misled me. Maybe it was a mixture of all those things. All I know is that I didn’t think my life would look quite like this on the sunset of my 32nd birthday.
And that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Perhaps I’m lucky that life is still surprising me.
But that doesn’t mean I’m going to ask people if life is surprising them, not unless they ask me first.