And Baby Makes Three
by Judith Klein LCSW
Susan is 38 and Bill is 39. They both have successful careers and a viable marriage. For several years they have been thinking of having a child. As the biological clock ticks away they feel pressure to make a decision.
Whether or not to have a child is simply the most fateful decision an individual or couple can make. The women’s movement paving the way for varied options for both women and men, the loss of the extended family as a support system, and economic insecurities make this decision even more complex. Susan and Bill are typical of people seeking the help of a therapist to clarify their feelings, and to enable them to make the best choice for themselves.
What are some of the issues Bill and Susan face around two becoming three? There are the reality issues pushing them toward becoming parents. Both were brought up with the expectation that children follow love and marriage. They see how much joy their friends are experiencing as parents, and think they might also find parenting a fulfilling experience. Susan worries that she may regret not having a child when that option is no longer available to her. Both are concerned that choosing not to have a child may cause feelings of disappointment in their marriage.
On the other hand, there are reality issues that deter them from becoming parents. The financial impact of having a child is evident in the need for a larger apartment, increased medical costs, educational considerations, child care expenses, and more likely decreased income for a period of time. Susan and Bill would have to give up much of the freedom to which they are accustomed. Because Bill’s mother lives in Arizona, and Susan’s parents live in Ohio, they would be unavailable for babysitting, and could offer only limited emotional support. They realize that the pull to be a full time parent might be in conflict with career aspirations. Finally, having a child is an enormous responsibility, and unlike most other commitments, it is lifelong.
Initially seeking therapy to resolve reality issues, individuals soon uncover underlying emotional issues that are even more crucial. For many people having a baby represents having someone to love, and being loved in return. Another pull toward having a child is the expectation that life will now be complete and other deficiencies of life will be satisfied. The wish to please one’s parents by giving them a grandchild, or conversely deprive them of the same may be another hidden motivational factor. Although Bill is aware that his widowed mother longs to join the company of all her friends who are already doting grandparents, he is unaware that to compete with his childless brother for his mother’s approval is a more important issue. Susan consciously wants to please her parents by fulfilling their expectations of her. However, she is unaware that when her anger and resentment toward them bubbles to the surface, she does the opposite of what her parents want. The decision to have a child is too often inappropriately linked with the needs and desires of the potential grandparents. It is the true needs and desires of the potential parents that must be uncovered to reach an appropriate decision.
For both Susan and Bill, memories of their experiences as children with the inevitable shortcomings of their parents make them question the kind of parents they will be. Bill worries that he may be tyrannical like his now deceased father. Susan worried that she may ensue guilt in her children by playing the martyr as her mother did. She also questions whether she wants to undertake anything that may cause her as much distress as her mother felt. For others, this means giving up their role of the child which holds the fantasy of entitled nurturance.
These factors are just some of the issues making Bill and Susan's decision difficult. Individual and couple therapy are available to aid in this decision. A skilled therapist can help people like Susan and Bill sort out their feelings, and use their new understanding to help make the best choices for themselves.
Judith Klein, LCSW