Why we have kids
But neither of us are kid-oriented people. Neither of us had any interest in having kids. Why, then, do either of us have kids?
Sandy says she isn't quite happy with my interpretation of her history but can't quite pin down why – so please keep in mind that I may be misrepresenting things somehow.
In short, Sandy's last husband wanted kids. He wanted "at least three or four", and said so when they got married. She said, in essence, "I'll be happy to give you kids, but don't expect me to raise them." He said, in effect, "sure". (These quotes are both grossly oversimplified summaries of what was actually said.)
Unfortunately, it turned out that he wasn't really capable of taking care of the kids at a reasonable level; he tended to sit around with them all day watching sports on TV, and didn't do any work towards getting them into childcare – on the theory that childcare and schools are where kids pick up all their bad habits (from other kids – he seemed to have some idea that if he could keep them away from all other children, they would grow into better adults. The idea that they might want to have friends, regardless of how they were schooled, didn't seem to enter the equation). He also insisted on home-schooling, going on that same theory, but proved to be inflexible and arbitrary as a teacher.
So when the divorce happened, Sandy insisted on full custody.
Lesson: Don't let yourself agree to a deferred exchange with no way of enforcing it.
(We'll leave the Mystery of Mel, the college-graduate older brother, as a story for another time.)
My story is a little more vague. I had always thought that if I were ever to have children, I would want the environment to be just right. If that didn't happen, then I was perfectly content to let the opportunity slip by, as I couldn't ever see myself feeling more than a twinge of regret for not having kids, and I could definitely see myself having major, major regrets if one came along when I wasn't ready to cope with the responsibility.
My former spouse, though, was quite determined to have a child before she turned 30. Despite the fact that essentially none of my preconditions were satisfied, I felt I couldn't put my foot down and say "no" in the face of several factors:
- not wanting to let her down personally
- my head being considerably muddled by financial troubles and friction with her family
- being isolated in Athens, without any friends around to talk things over with
- she insisted everything would work out okay
- and of course the classic "you can't wait until everything is just right, or it will never happen" argument
And despite the fact that the divorce was a no-fault, I agreed to letting her have full custody for Anna because I didn't want to start a battle. The argument was "studies have shown that children who shuttle back and forth between families don't do as well as those who stay with one parent" – but of course I wouldn't have insisted on equal time, and would have left most decisions up to her. I should have insisted on equal custody, as far as decision-making.
- Stick to what's important to you. Yes, listen to your spouse's needs and wishes, but be prepared to let go of the dream of being together if it turns out that your needs and personal constraints are incompatible.
- Don't just go along with things to be nice, or to help someone satisfy their major goals in life, if you're worried about what it's going to do to you. Try to work through some scenarios ("If we're still in debt by X date, what will we do?"), and don't accept "oh, we'll muddle through somehow" as an answer. Write down your dreams and aspirations, and try to project what is likely to happen to them. Don't accept the implication that what you want is less important than what the other person wants.
- You can disagree over details of a divorce without starting a major battle. If the other person digs in their heels, then you may have to make that decision; but at least write down what you think would be reasonable, and formally propose it. Then offer to have a third party mediate (much cheaper than dueling lawyers). Borrow ruthlessly from family members if you can't afford to finance mediation yourself, as the alternative may end up being far, far worse (and more expensive, and you may end up borrowing much, much more).
- It really is okay if "it never happens" if it's okay with you.
- Don't let yourself agree to a deferred exchange with no way of enforcing it.
And: I've gotten in much more trouble from conforming too much than I have from conforming too little. Most of the progress I've ever made has been from disconformity, while trying to conform in order to make other people happy has really screwed me up.
- 1998-07-11 The Shame of Not Wanting Children by Carolyn Ray (who subsequently devoted herself to studying AI, something I have always been interested in but have never had the time to pursue -- and now with children in the mix, it will probably never happen; Carolyn, meanwhile, apparently developed a marketable product. --Woozle 19:35, 7 November 2007 (EST))