Many people get married and have kids right away, because that’s what’s expected. We chose to wait, instead. In fact, we waited so long that when we told my husband's parents we were having a baby, my mother-in-law said, "oh, we’d given up on you!" It was funny, but it was also a reminder of the common pressure most people feel from family, or friends, or even society as a whole.
It was important to us to be sure that raising a family was something we both wanted. Just deciding to start a family was a nearly four-year process! Even after we decided that we'd like to have children, we waited until we really felt ready: emotionally, psychologically, and financially.
They say that you're never ready to have children, and there's some truth to that: it's a huge learning experience and tests you in every way, no matter how much time you spend preparing. But I'm still glad we had children only after we were sure it was something we really wanted, instead of just doing it by default, or because it's what other people wanted or expected us to do.
That's not to say that the peer pressure stops when the family starts!
One thing that new parents always seemed to have a wealth of is other people's opinions. And when our turn came, it was the same. We heard opinions about everything: from what were we naming the baby, to whether we would to have a ‘natural’ childbirth, to whether we should use cloth or disposable diapers. It just went on and on.
For a new parent, my advice is: trust yourself. Listen to the well-meaning friends and relatives, learn from their stories and advice if you can, but never allow yourself to feel bullied or intimidated. Just as choosing whether to have children is a deeply personal choice based on your own feelings and experience, choosing how to care for your children is as well. Ultimately, you are responsible for them and you need to trust your own choices.
As the children have started getting older, the choices continue. Again, everyone has opinions. Should we sign up for soccer? What about T-ball, or gymnastics? Which preschool are they attending? And as I untangle the opinions of friends, family and fellow parents on these and other topics, I'm starting to recognize now that there's another person whose opinion I have to watch out for: my own.
Many of my friends and family are deeply involved in their children's lives, and that's a wonderful thing. But it's very easy to get confused between what genuinely excites and interests them, and what you might be pushing them into just to get "another bite of the apple.”
Of course, when they're very young, kids are still developing their interests, so exposure to a wide variety of activities makes sense. For example, I love musical theater, and I'd love to share my love of theater with my boys so they understand what it means to me, and understand how important the arts are to the community as a whole. But once they've had that exposure, should I push for them to be in the school play? Maybe if they show a real interest in it.
A huge part of being a parent is recognizing that my children are people in their own right, and I need to respect their emerging personalities and interests, if I expect them to know how to trust themselves in the face of all the opinions and pressures they'll face some day.
Ultimately it comes down to trust and respect: trust for yourself and respect for people who decide to live their lives differently. Every child is a unique person, and what works for one may not work for another. The life that you're living may be perfect for you, but a bad fit for your friends and their children.
And that's assuming they have children at all: many of my friends have no children at all and are quite content with that decision. They come by for visits and enjoy our children, but at the end of the day are very happy to be able to leave them with us and go home! And there's nothing wrong with that.
It really is something that only you can decide on. And you have to be comfortable with whatever choice you make.