Our Hypothetical Children

What's mine is theirs

Tom and I have pizza with my parents on Saturday night. I sit across from my mom. Tom sits across from my dad. Suddenly, I feel like I could be twelve years old again. Or, maybe I feel like I am a lot older. I can’t really tell.

My parents already had me when they were my age. Does that make sense? I am twenty-eight, and my parents were both twenty-eight when I entered their world in 1985. My dad was a newly minted veterinarian and my mom worked from home, but she always beamed with pride when she told people that her occupation was a stay-at-home mom. She took me to the library several times a week, allowing me to check out Pancakes for Breakfast more times than I care to admit here. My dad worked overnight shifts at least two nights a week so that I could go to college. They drove older cars and did without new things so that they could save money for me and my brother.

Both from immigrant families, my parents work harder than anyone I have ever known. I am grateful. I look at both of my parents. I pick at my slice of pizza and try to fathom how they managed to do it all, how they found happiness in their first few years of marriage with two young children, how they made it work so well. I feel young. I wonder if I can do it as well as they did. I wonder if I can give our children the kind of upbringing they gave me. I feel inadequate. I feel too old to not have kids, but still too young to feel old enough to have them.

I remember our first house in Littleton. I remember playing in the backyard and breaking the sprinkler heads and the smell of chalk on the pavement after it rained. I remember spending sunny days on my grandparents’ patio while my grandfather picked tomatoes in his garden, salting them and eating them a dozen at a time. He would tell me stories about Italy; I would stare at the black and white photo of his hometown, wondering if I would ever get to see it in real life. We’d sit out there for hours, lighting sparklers in broad daylight, even if it wasn’t the Fourth of July. The locusts came in August and we knew it was time to go back to school. I was excited to get hand-me-down clothes from my cousins. The nights got shorter.

We discuss having children: what we will name them and what traits they’ll have. Even though Tom and I have been married for two years, I still find myself mourning the loss of the childhood that was mine, while simultaneously trying to figure out if I am worthy of creating a childhood for my own kids. Can we even afford to have kids? Should we buy a house first? What do I want our children to value, cherish, uphold? What will our legacy be about? Will they come to know their family’s past, their ancestors’ fight to become American? I watch old home videos and notice that my room wasn’t filled with fancy toys or lots of stuff. Honestly, I don’t remember noticing the state of my toy collection or if the decorating scheme in our living room was cohesive. But I vividly remember the way I felt when I spent time with those I love.

Can we afford to have children? Sure. I look at the sacrifices my parents made for me, and I know that I can do it, too. We will find our own way of doing it. We will make it work. Having children won’t involve buying lots of expensive things, and our children might not have brand-new clothing or toys. Maybe our decorating scheme will be more of a mish-mash of hand-me-downs and thrifty finds. But our home, whether owned or rented, will be full of love.

And I feel lucky.

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  • Jillian

    “I feel too old to not have kids, but still too young to feel old enough to have them.” My brain, right there. My husband and I have been married a hair over four years and I still feel the same way.

    • MDBethann

      As a 35-year old woman at the end of my first trimester, married for 2 years, I feel like that too at times, even though I have peers with children who are nearly 10 years old. Heck, my one cousin’s daughter just finished her first year of college. It’s weird. It makes me feel like no matter what age I am and how “ready” we may be in terms of finances, home, stability, etc, we’re not going to be fully ready. But then again, are we every “fully ready” for any of the major changes in our lives – high school graduation, college, our first “real” job, marriage, buying property/house, death of a loved one, etc?

      • Jillian

        “But then again, are we every “fully ready” for any of the major changes in our lives – high school graduation, college, our first “real” job, marriage, buying property/house, death of a loved one, etc?”

        I hear you on that. I’m nearly 30 and still feel like a kid playing dress up. When someone asks me and says, “Oh, well, as an adult, you would know xyz”, I end up looking at them befuddled. You can’t possibly be talking about me, right? :)

      • Jennie

        I’m at the beginning of my second trimester, when baby arrives we’ll be 29 and married for two years, together for eight. From the outside, we don’t look ready. My husband got laid off right before we got pregnant, I’m applying to grad school and we live in a tiny rental. If we waited for everything to be in line so that we looked ready from the outside, we’d probably be well over 40. I know parents who’ve had their kids at 40 and it was the right choice for them. On the other hand, we’re ready now in that my husband and I are super excited about this baby and know that it will be so loved and cared for by us and our family and friends. Even if we don’t look ready (and sometimes don’t feel ready), we’re as ready as we’ll ever be.

        • MDBethann

          Jennie, you are exactly right. Our baby is very much wanted and loved already, but as with any new adventure/challenge/life change, there is (for us anyway) a mixture of joy, apprehension, and “are we really doing this?”

          We both love kids, we agree on how we’d like to raise our own children, and we’re definitely in this as a team, but there are still days (especially when I feel physically lousy or the news is particularly depressing) that I wonder “why are we doing this again?”

          But like you, we’re as ready as we’ll ever be!

        • Natalie Braham

          Awesome. “From the outside, we don’t look ready…” I feel you. Waiting until everything is perfectly in line to have children is a complete illusion. Sure, having somewhat of a plan is great. But if having a plan means having every possible scenario figured out 5 years in advance, then…well…I think that’s unrealistic. Best wishes for you and your new little one :)

  • Jenni

    What a great post, I really identify with everything you wrote, especially this: “I feel too old to not have kids, but still too young to feel old enough to have them.”

    I’m now older than my mom was when she had me. I have friends my age and younger who have kids. But how could *I* possibly have them when I’m still so young, inexperienced? We won’t seriously start thinking about kids for a few years, but I’m wondering if I’ll ever get over that feeling of not being ‘old enough’.

    • Peekayla

      Spot on. Both the article and your comment. I’m now 30 and will be just shy of my 31st birthday when we’re married. My mom had me when she was 25 and my brother when she was 28.

    • Oh, that line absolutely resonated with me as well. I’m 28 and a newlywed; when my parents were my age, they’d been married 10 years, had a 4 year old and a three year old, were building a new business as well as a new house from the ground up. I can’t even fathom doing all that right now; most days I feel like I can barely keep the laundry done and the house clean!

    • mimi

      I’m almost 34, and when my mom was my age, I was 14, and my younger siblings were 12, 10, and 8. We have been married less than a year and are planning to start trying soon, but the timelines are so different. At least my future kids will have young grandparents!

  • Peekayla

    Everything you said resonates deeply with me. Thank you.

  • Mira_Mira

    All of these very thoughts have run through my mind as well.

    You can definitely build a family without buying a house or having a large income, and you can definitely honour the feeling and traditions of your own childhood while creating a new one for your children.

    • Katherine

      As someone who owns a home (unfortunately, two homes at this point because my husband moved to live with me when we got married, and his house hasn’t sold yet), and who has a far larger than average salary, I still have a hard time envisioning how we’re going to be able to afford the child that’s coming in September. It’s not as if we’re currently saving the equivalent of childcare costs each month… Intellectually, I know that it will all work out, but it scares me that I don’t really know how.

  • If we have kids, I hope we can give them the same kind of upbringing your parents gave you, as it was not at all like my upbringing (not only did my parents have me by my age, they were already divorced and remarried by now). You had great examples to learn from; you’ll be fine. :)

    • Agreed. My mom had me when she was 28, just after divorcing my dad. While my mom did the very best she could, I wish we’d had a little more, that things would have been a little easier for my mom and for me. I’m now 37, happily married and expecting our first child. We have all kinds of financial worries, job issues, but we have each other. I worry that I can give this kid just a little bit more of what I didn’t have. Growing up pretty poor, I know we don’t need a lot of money, just a lot of love, but it’s hard to believe that I could be ready for everything to come. Really, I’m not sure I believe it at all. I’m just crossing my fingers.

      • All you need to do is be your kid’s number one cheerleader and everything will be okay.

  • js

    I think it’s important to note that in our parents day, you weren’t expected to own your own home, have the perfect career and have all your child’s college paid for before you even considered having a family, the way it is now. It’s fascinating to me as someone who was pregnant young and just had to trust it would all work out, particularly now that I’m pregnant with my second child. With this baby, I am armed with so much knowledge that it is both a blessing and a curse. I don’t advocate getting pregnant without a plan, but I do think it’s important to add to this conversation that your life isn’t over once you have kids. Also, it’s worth mentioning that you’ll get to experience your childhood all over again through their eyes. It’s good stuff.

    • Teresa

      This is what I was thinking when I read the article as well–things were just…different. It seems like everyone that I speak with that is around the same age as my parents say the same thing. They were totally broke when they started out and they just kind of figured it all out together (or, in the case of my parents, stayed broke and divorced…I’d certainly like to avoid that outcome). Now there is so much pressure to have everything figured out, even before you get married, let alone before you have children. I wonder when that mentality began to shift and why there is so much pressure to have things figured out that APW has printed it on a totebag (and a mug!). Ducks are indeed wiley and I think it obviously must be easier to raise kids when you aren’t constantly worried about money, but how much is enough? When you meet that goal, does it then still feel like enough? I’ve been thinking a lot about this and the idea of a 5-year plan lately (in regards to all of this life stuff) and feeling a bit overwhelmed. Thanks for this.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        Some ideas on when/why the attitudes changed, and be aware they haven’t changed in all communities. Also, not all of these will apply to all communities:
        1. Back when there was greater taboo with regards to sex outside of marriage, people married younger.
        2. The 1950s to 2007 was a period of extraordinary prosperity and upward mobility. Even people who didn’t have it altogether in their 20s could expect to in their 30s.

        3. Education and healthcare costs have increased faster than wages, despite (or because of) #2.
        4. With 2-income families, a child means more juggling than when even childless women did not work extensively outside the home.
        5. Divorce rates peeked in the 70s or 80s, and everyone since tries to avoid whatever circumstances they think lead to divorce. I don’t know what the narrative was for Teresa growing up, but I heard, “They divorced because they just weren’t ready for marriage [so I should wait until I’m older before getting married].” “They fought about money all the time [so we must be financially stable before marrying].” “They fought about the kids all the time [so we have to see eye-to-eye on all childrearing issues before we have kids.]”

        Keep in mind that it takes several years for attitudes to adjust to changed demographic facts.

        • Natalie Braham

          All of this is true, but…#3, for sure. I would add housing costs as well. Where we live (Denver) it is becoming increasingly difficult to live within city limits without having lots of cash or existing equity, and with the economy of 2008-2011, we don’t really have…either of those things. Good ideas.

    • Natalie Braham

      “I don’t advocate getting pregnant without a plan, but I do think it’s important to add to this conversation that your life isn’t over once you have kids. Also, it’s worth mentioning that you’ll get to experience your childhood all over again through their eyes. It’s good stuff.”

      Wow, I love this. I hadn’t considered these ideas before. Thanks!

    • Cecily

      Sometimes, as a woman in my mid-twenties who is getting married, I feel like a lot of decisions I make are centered around preparing for my future children. I need to forego that cool vacation I want to go on so I can save for a house. I need to find a job closer to my parents so that they will be nearby when the babies come. Sometimes, I need to step back and remind myself that it doesn’t make sense to plan so intently for kids that aren’t here yet. When they come, I’ll make it work, like all other parents do.

      I’m not sure why I feel like this, maybe it’s just me. Has anyone else had this experience?

      • ART

        100%, but I like to believe it’s also about what I want – I want to buy a house to live in with my husband. I want to be closer to our parents because I like to be around family. I don’t usually tend to see it as a sacrifice that I don’t go on cool, expensive vacations (I do go on cool, cheap vacations in driving distance!) Yes, these things will hopefully facilitate our having kids in a few years, but even if kids never entered the picture, I think they’re the things I would want in my life.

  • JDrives

    “I still find myself mourning the loss of the childhood that was mine, while simultaneously trying to figure out if I am worthy of creating a childhood for my own kids.”

    I’m there, too.

    • Hope

      My spouse and I will not be able to give our future children lots of the richness we recieved (living on a farm a stones throw from cousins, having both sets of grandparents nearby, new clothes, travel, etc.) but a childhood is not limited by the particulars that any person can give to another (aside from love from and between parents). You won’t create their childhood, their existence will. And it will be their experience, totally novel and full of delights regardless of the details. There is some article to this effect floating around–that parents don’t need to insert magic into childhood–it’s inherent.

  • Allie Moore

    love this. and high-fives for growing up in Littleton :)

    • Natalie Braham

      Yeah! Rock on!!! ;)

  • JSwen

    My fiance and I decided randomly, last weekend, that we would stuff our kids into the smallest room in the house (it could fit bunk beds, if necessary!) and there WILL NOT BE BLOCK LETTERS OF THEIR NAMES ON THE WALL!

    Your last two paragraphs totally hit home. :)

    • Love it. We decided randomly a couple weeks ago that we would make our children share a room for almost a decade regardless of their genders, or our financial situation.

      • KH_Tas

        I shared with my sister until I was 10, and we still like each other :)

        • I’m assuming you’re also female? I also shared with my sister, but my partner and I decided that if we had a boy and a girl, they could still share until about 10 years of age.

          • KH_Tas

            I am, but I’m with you on young girls and boys rooming together :)

          • My brother and I shared a room till I was 10! (He is a year younger.) It was fantastic. We continued to have “sleep overs” for a long time, always on Christmas Eve, until we were both in college.

  • “But our home, whether owned or rented, will be full of love.”

    So true.

    Our baby turns 1 next month. We still haven’t finished her “nursery.” But I also started wondering half way through painting the room (it had a full wall mural of Tigger, which we loved but wasn’t our style, when we moved in), why we were going to finish decorating her room before we finished decorating ours since she wouldn’t appreciate it for years and probably would want something different by the time she was old enough to appreciate it.

  • Natalie Braham

    Thank you, everyone, for your comments. I have enjoyed reading APW for so long—since before my wedding, actually—and I knew that I eventually wanted to contribute something to the landscape of ideas on this wonderful blog. Thank you to all of the wonderful people who make this site what it is, and for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts. -Natalie