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Other People's Children

Is It Really Different When It’s Your Own Child?

By Amalah

Hi!

I’ve been trying to get pregnant with my first child for over 18 months, and am just tipping over into the whirlpool of interventions. As I hover on the brink, two things are making me hesitate: first, I am so tired of trying, and it’s only getting worse. Second – and the reason I’m writing to you – I’ve just spent a week at a friend’s and his kids are really making me reconsider.

Friend and partner have two kids, a 3 year-old and an 18-month old. And I feel like a heel for saying it, but I don’t think I want kids if they’re like these two. The younger one will not let go of Mom for an instant and objects loudly to necessary evils such as bath, food, bed. The day started with a 20-minute scream because Dad held her while Mom had a (not even daily) shower, and is ending with another screamathon because, again, Mom had to, you know, do something else for a piece. Frivolous unreasonable things, like eat dinner, pee…

Older Child reacts to Younger’s screaming by screaming, whining or whimpering (usually a put-on cry without tears, what I think of as a dry cry – not that I’m saying there’s no reason for Older to be upset, hell, I’d join in if I thought it would help) and getting  just as clingy as Younger. So there’s been a lot of noise, even without the natural emotional mood swings, shoves, fights and bumps which produce regular shrieks, crying and bawling throughout the day.

Plus, neither of them sleep, which means no one sleeps, both of them are fussy eaters and… and… I appreciate that kids go through phases, but the screaming, not sleeping and not eating have been a go since day 1. Friend still updates Facebook every time they get a whole night’s sleep. It’s not often.

So I’m facing a decision: do I try really hard, spend my savings, work extra hours hard, to have a baby of my own and hope like hell it will be different? or is this just how it is, and maybe infertility is a chance to reconsider what I really want?

Sign me:
Lucky escape or evil curse?

Is it really different when it’s your “own” child? Yes. And no. It’s complicated.

Look, I’m not going to B.S. you here. Having kids is amazing, life-changing, frustrating, draining, exhausting and humbling. It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. It’s every cliche you’ve ever heard.

Babies are small giant sucking vortexes of need and responsibility. They come into the world completely helpless, completely dependent on you. YOU. You you you you. You, with the boobs and the body they just possibly thoroughly WRECKED while making their grand entrance into the world. They will cry and cling and wail while you repeatedly bend to the endless whims of this…well, this small strange alien-like meatloaf who poops in their pants and refuses to sleep.

And you will love them. You will love them so hard it will terrify you a little bit. You knew YOUR world would change once you had a baby but you didn’t know THE world would also change. THE world suddenly becomes a scary place, full of awful things that are now your responsibility to keep at bay, to shield your helpless squalling meatloaf from, because if something happened… If anything happened….

And that’s all in like, the first two hours.

There are ages you’ll like and ages you’ll diplomatically say are “not your favorite.” For some, it’s the newborn days. Or toddlerhood. I’m personally really good with babies but not really excelling at 7-and-a-half, to be honest, as it feels like the stakes have been raised even higher, because it COUNTS now, because he’s going to REMEMBER my exasperation, my lack of patience, and all the times I didn’t have the right answers to his questions about Mean Kids At School or What Happens When We Die or I’m Scared About Growing Up. Also, man, do they ever get mouthy sometimes.

You start out as the sun and moon and stars of their little world and the responsibility can sometimes feel like an overwhelming burden,  but then as they grow it is basically your job to make yourself obsolete, to fade away. To do your best and to “succeed” means they will break away from you, move away from you, to become the completely separate, independent person they always were. But you’ll remember what it felt like when they were small  and seemed more  like a natural extension of yourself, a tiny person you created and grew and loved with every fiber of your being. Who was walking around with your heart and skin and the weight of your entire world. Who you loved even when you didn’t necessarily like them. Who is now out there navigating a world that’s bigger than you. And you will feel proud and sad and worried and you will feel all these things even when you’re like, oh man, I am really super excited about not chauffeuring children to 17 different extracurricular activities every week and spending a fortune on groceries.

They are expensive and selfish and they are not you. They exist to shatter any and all pre-existing ideas you had about what “your” child will be like, what “your” child would or would not do. Because you don’t know. You can’t know. “Your” child could be a boy or a girl or a bad sleeper or or picky eater or clingy or hate sports or special needs or brilliant or average or any combination of all of those things. And “your” child may come to you as a surprise or planned or from fertility treatments or adoption or from a blending of families. It’s an adventure. It’s a  crapshoot.

And of course, it’s entirely possible to have a rich, full and wonderfully meaningful life without  them. Goodness gracious, the places I’d go and the people I’d see! The money I’d have and the freedom I’d probably completely not appreciate. And yes, there are people who most certainly are simply not cut out for parenthood. But I’m not entirely sure there’s a super-great connection between those people and people who are on the fence about kids, like you. There are very  wanted children out there with just plain terrible parents, and plenty of parents who weren’t sure (or who were just plain surprised and thrown into the ring) and are doing a great job and raising terrific kids. Life finds a way, like the raptors in Jurassic Park. Who come to think of it, remind me of some children I’ve met.

Your friends’ kids sound…yeah, pretty normal. There are kids like that. There are phases like that. There’s probably nothing about their parenting that “caused” any of it, though sure, the bookstores probably have seven shelves dedicated to various, conflicting books that all promise solutions to Toddlers Being Toddlers. Having two so close in age certainly amps up the drama, but I’d be lying if I told you that just having one would necessarily be all that different. “Your” baby might be easier…or not. See: crapshoot.

Your friends probably get annoyed too. Your friends also probably know this is temporary and one day — one day so soon, too soon — they’ll be slamming doors on them because GOD MOM LEAVE ME ALONE. Your friends probably love those little clingy balls of temperamental need like nothing else on earth and can’t even imagine what life would be like without all that noise and chaos.

Maybe it’s all tied to biology and evolution and our primitive drive to continue our species and not abandon our obnoxious, helpless young. Or maybe it’s just  different, when it’s your own.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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allisonjayne
Guest

Yes yes yes. As someone who was previously very much on the fence – to the point where I was googling abortion clinics at one particularly dark point in my VERY EXPENSIVE pregnancy – just do it. I’ve got lots of happily childfree friends, and I totally think that’s awesome. I certainly do not think that everyone has to have kids. But if someone is on the fence….I think about how I was on the fence, and how close I came to deciding the other way, and it breaks my heart, because while I know my life would still be… Read more »

Leah A
Guest
Leah A

My mother always told me that she was never a kid person, but with your own, it is different. I also have a peculiar reason why I am posting here… I also am dealing with infertility. After a miscarriage, an ectopic, and 2 chemical pg’ s, I’ve decided to see a fertility doctor. Here is where it gets complicated; dh’s sister passed right before we got married, orphaning 2 children, 8 and 2. The late sister obviously had issues, as she passed in her 20’s. MIL took in the kids. She now seems to have decided that she only wants… Read more »

Isabel Kallman
Admin

Hi Leah, I’m sorry to hear of your struggles. You have left a message on an older advice article. For a variety of reasons we don’t answer questions that are left in the comments section. I published it so that others who may find it can weigh in if they wish. If you would like our advice columnist to consider your question, please submit it to amyadvice[at]gmail[dot]com. Our advice columnist has an extensive queue and doesn’t always get to answer questions but please do submit this one for consideration. Thanks.

Kendra
Guest
Kendra

Absolutely beautiful Amalah and right on, as usual. Being a parent is everything and nothing like you ever imagined. And I wouldn’t change a single second of it.

Myriam
Guest
Myriam

I think it is different when it is your own. However, my theory is slightly less “kids will be kids” than Amalah’s. I think that kids are about 60% personnality, and 40% parenting. Not that I blame the parents, but if you have a clingy kid, there are ways to make things easier, or harder. Maybe your friends are taking the hard way ’round. Or maybe it is just a phase for them… What I’m saying is that even though you don’t have control per say, with your own children, you will have agency… Also, If I can perform some… Read more »

Julie
Guest
Julie

I agree with Myriam’s armchair psychoanalysis. I also believe that my kid is awesome and other people’s…well, EH.

Let’s go to the math, just for fun. A huge percentage of people who didn’t have kids regret it. Only the teeniest portion of parents would not do it again. If that helps.

a
Guest
a

I think “a huge proportion” is probably overstating the case… by quite a bit.

puncturedbicycle
Guest

I think ‘the teeniest proportion’ is also overstating. They’re dark moments people don’t like to talk about, they may not even remember, but they’re there.

Danielle
Guest
Danielle

Sheesh Amy, I’m not the weepy type except when I read, well, everything you write. Beautifully put. Naturally.

Julie
Guest
Julie

I was too lazy to find the source of the stats (a study in a book a friend has borrowed). It may well be overstated; it was at least a majority, probably being the portion of people that waffled on children until it was too late versus the portion that honestly knew it wasn’t for them.

Julie
Guest
Julie

Whoops. Replied in the wrong spot.

Stephanie
Guest
Stephanie

Well put, Amy. It IS every cliche out there. Amazing. Hard. Beautiful. Ugly.

I will say, however, that some behaviors by kids can be attributed to their parents. How complicit are you? When I hear “my kids won’t let me do X, Y, Z,” I think “let?”. You’re the parent, you set the boundaries. If it doesn’t work, you move the goal posts. At 18 months (and especially at 3, dear lord!), a baby should be sleeping through the night. They can do it. But no, you shouldn’t look at one family and think all kids are like that. They’re not.

allisonjayne
Guest

This. Totally this. Your priorities might change once you have a kid, and they might change over time, but yeah, I agree.

JoseelaMoutarde
Guest
JoseelaMoutarde

Amy. AMY.  I sobbing so hard right now. As always, you are spot on.

To OP. I have an almost 2 year old daughter who, though she was planned, made me completely freak out during my whole pregnancy. Like, FREAK OUT. She is now my whole world and I honestly don’t know how I thought my life was interesting without her.

And yes, she sleeps awful, and she tantrums, and she whines, and she kicks and screams. But she also sings and dances and kisses and laughs. And any one of those things instantly make up for any bad moments. Always. 

MR
Guest
MR

Parenting is definitely the hardest thing you will ever do. It can be so exasperating and draining, and there are moments I have some regret – more just that I miss the carefree times I used to have – but then there are those moments when your child makes you so stinking proud, or does the cutest thing ever, or says the cutest thing. There are those moments like the first time your child draws a picture of you and she together… You stare at those barely recognizable stick figures and the pride in her eyes and you light up… Read more »

Jeannie
Guest
Jeannie

As someone just coming off a terrible, terrible morning with my seven year old and three year old: yes, it is still worth it. Yes, it is different when it’s your own kid. My kids are (generally) super awesome and worth every. single. sacrifice I have to make for them; but that doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally think “Whose idea was this??!! What was I thinking??!” My husband puts it like this: the fact is, that there are great times with parenting, and bad times. The bad times don’t detract, at all, from the good times. The good times… Read more »

karen
Guest
karen

I think it’s also worth pointing out that kids always act differently, and usually less desirably, when other adults are around. Especially when they are not familiar with the new person. I went to stay at my good friend’s house, who lived quite a ways from me, when she had two young kids, before I had kids. She later confessed to me that she was so glad when I left because her kids calmed way down and she relaxed a lot because she had spent the whole week worried I would judge her parenting. So, doesn’t really address the main… Read more »

Brooke
Guest
Brooke

I’m glad you made this point. I would hate to think that someone would decide whether to have kids based upon how they act when we have company. My kids can be amazing, polite, loving sweet and kind. But they rarely act like all of those things when we have guests.  Also wanted to add that the fact that you RECOGNIZE how hard it is, and have determined to engage in some self-reflection about whether you are cut out for it leads me to believe you are just the responsible sort of person who SHOULD be a parent. You are… Read more »

Rebecca
Guest
Rebecca

“And of course, it’s entirely possible to have a rich, full and wonderfully meaningful life without them. Goodness gracious, the places I’d go and the people I’d see! The money I’d have and the freedom I’d probably completely not appreciate.”

Thank you for acknowledging that one can have a meaningful life without kids. It’s what my husband and I have chosen – and we definitely appreciate “the freedom,” which is one of the reasons we’ve chosen to be childfree.

Kelli Oliver George
Guest

Yes to all of what Amy said!

Honestly?  I am not really a kid person. I HATED babysitting as a highschooler and chose the glorious career of collections and telemarketing (which paid far better anyway).  I ‘ve been baby crazy.  However, I AM crazy about my own kids.    And I still struggle being around other kids (my daughter’s birthday party last weekend shredded my every last nerve, ZOMG.)

So, yes — it IS different when they are your own.

christine
Guest
christine

This maybe a controversial viewpoint… But for us, I found that the transition between one kid and two to be my breaking point.  When we had just one kid, we were able to do pretty much everything that we had done pre-kids, especially because it was very easy to drop him off with grandparents and be absolutely assured that all of them would have a good time while we took a break.  It was awesome, and everyone was happy…  Nowadays, our house feels a little bit more like the friends’ home described by the OP. Honestly, I often find myself… Read more »

Holly
Guest
Holly

Yes, absolutely different when they’re your own kids. My level of patience is much, much, much higher for my own two kids, and it dwindles from there, based on my relation to the other kids. Like, my niece and nephew get more patience than the school friends, and random kid crying in Target gets the least. Not that I judge the random kid crying, just that it tries my nerves way more than if it were the kid of my friend. Does that make sense? Same with diaper changing for instance, my own kids diapers, fine. My nephew/niece… okay. Some… Read more »

KW
Guest
KW

What a poignant and lovely response, Amy. I’m definitely in the “different with your own kids” camp. If I caught someone else’s three year old grinding leftover cake from their party into my carpet , I might punt kick the kid (of course, not really, but I’d probably imagine myself doing it…). But catching MY three year old doing it? After an imaginary punt kick or two, I make him help clean it up, put him in time out, kiss away his tears afterwards and proceed to have a fabulous rest of my day listening to him chatter on about… Read more »

Olivia
Guest
Olivia

Amy, this is beautiful.

Autumn
Guest
Autumn

I find I have so much more patience with my own kid than other people’s kids.  i’m pretty sure biology has something to do with that.  Granted, some of it is the kids, and there is a parenting component to it (um, never really a good long term plan to let your toddler run laps during dinner at a restaurant. . .). More specifically to your situation, since you are anticipating a major financial investment to have your own children.  Take a break from trying to get pregnant.  This advice comes from a dear friend who struggled with infertility for… Read more »

Caroline
Guest
Caroline

Thing is, there is a little bit of what you describe in having a child – any child, so yes, it is totally legitimate to feel freaked out at the notion. But here’s the thing; a lot of what happens is what is allowed to happen. It’s not actually law to accede to the demands on a moment by moment basis. My kids -there are 2 of them – slept through by 4-5 months. Why? Because I ensured that it happened, not through vicious cruelty, but through prioritising discipline and not being a martyr with no needs of my own.… Read more »

Jen
Guest

The other thing that’s ‘different when it’s your own’ is that parenting is done on your terms.  You get to decide how you deal with your own kid’s challenges and quirks (eating, sleeping, general mayhem), and you get to decide when enough is enough in terms of behaviour you want to curb/guide in a different direction. To be fair, there are times your kid will just be an absolute monster, no matter what (especially around 2-3), but overall, you and your husband will be 2/3 of your family dynamic, and that has a great impact on how your family unit… Read more »

Melissa@Mama Never Sleeps
Guest

On the sleep thing: We had three beautiful sleepers precisely because of maintaining that sleep was hard and fast priority in our house. That is, until baby #4 came. And then #5. And whoa. Turns out it probably wasn’t so much US as it was their own personality. These last two DO NOT sleep normally and haven’t since day one. Our efforts have reduced the issues to a point, but they exist. I’m writing this at 2am, just having gotten the little one back to sleep. Again. We’ve been quite humbled on this aspect. They still are bright, amazing, wonderful… Read more »

Diane
Guest
Diane

Oh, Amy! Maybe I’ve gotten weepy since having my own baby but this was so beautiful and spot-on and perfect. It’s completely true, all of it. And for the record, it IS different when it’s your own.

Carolyn
Guest
Carolyn

During the period prior to my first pregnancy when hubby and I were waffling about having kids at all, I happened to read this wonderful piece on The Rumpus.   The final paragraph in particular gets me every time.  *sniffle*

http://therumpus.net/2011/04/dear-sugar-the-rumpus-advice-column-71-the-ghost-ship-that-didnt-carry-us/

Julie
Guest
Julie

Carolyn, that piece is brilliant and wonderful! Thank you for sharing.

Kate
Guest
Kate

As a formerly VERY impatient and irritable person, I can understand your anxiety about this. When I got pregnant I texted my one and only friend with children at the time, lamenting how I would ever find patience to deal with all of the things you’ve mentioned above. You will find the patience. You will dig deep and find patience and love in quantities you didn’t know possible. And all the bullshit…let me just put it this way. Every day I walk in his room and my heart beats through my chest because I love him so much. I break… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

Didn’t mean to submit yet!

Anyway, that is why it’s different with your own kids. That kind of love only comes from your own children, in my humble opinion.

Matti
Guest
Matti

Just to reiterate what others have said… Yes, it is different when it is your own. I never considered myself “maternal” and was never set on having children, but leaned a little more toward having them than not having them. Once we decided to go for it, it was much harder than we thought and we faced fertility issues. We have a little guy now and he really is the best thing ever. I still have little to no patience for other people’s kids especially when you can see that the kids have more control than the parents. But here’s… Read more »

mm
Guest
mm

beautiful post Amy, beautifully written. to the OP: I am 35 with a boy aged 2 who was a surprise and a girl aged 9 months who was planned. About 4 years ago, still single, I had no thought of having kids yet and I distinctly remember saying to my aunt, ‘Being stuck at home with 2 small children everyday would be my idea of hell’. And now here I am! Life laughing at me… Anyway you know what? I WOULD NOT CHANGE IT. Not for one second. Even though it is total chaos much of the time and yes… Read more »

Oh, Crap
Guest
Oh, Crap

I haven’t read all of the other comments on this post, but since I’ve been helped by the comments when I’ve written in with questions (most recently about my baby name wars situation) I thought I’d chime in. My daughter was born 6 weeks ago, and if it helps, the newborn phase has been infinitely less hard than I’d expected, and significantly easier than people told me it would be.  Is it always like this? No, but I just wanted to point out that the hard that people tell you to expect is not that hard. When people told me… Read more »

leslie
Guest
leslie

I’m a bit late in responding to this, but I feel compelled to respond anyway in hopes that the OP will maybe see it. Do it!!! The fact that you’ve tried for this long tells me that you aren’t really on the fence. In my experience, people who do not want to have children know it for a certainty. The rest are just people that are anxious about the prospect (like me. I never knew “for sure” I wanted kids, but that was mostly b/c I was scared of giving up my freedom, not b/c I actually didn’t want kids).… Read more »

newmom
Guest
newmom

I was on the fence a very long time and ended up in therapy as I didn’t want time to make the decision for me. I decided that I really wanted to have a baby, but at many points I think it could have gone the other way. I was really happy with my life as it was.  I just had my baby in March and although I heard “it’s different if it’s your baby” and a variety of other cliches throughout my pregnancy, I remained skeptical. I hoped to hell it was true (as the OP says), but really,… Read more »

Zivka
Guest

Giving birth is a natural act, procreation is a fundamental law of nature. Expecting baby should be a time of joy. Unfortunately, in Western civilization, baby expectations is filled with series of complicated procedures and fear of the future. Therefore the nations where the birth is still a natural process, are going to conquer the world.

betttina
Guest

My whole life, I’ve LOVED kids. There are pictures of me at age 2, crawling around on the floor with a neighbor’s baby and trying to give her a bottle. At social gatherings, even as a kid, I would always gravitate toward the littler kids and babies. I babysat constantly from age 11 til I moved away for college. I LOVE BABIES.

Then I finally had one after years of trying…and I don’t really like other people’s babies anymore. I’d rather be with my kid than any other.

Call Me Jo
Guest
Call Me Jo

This! So much of this. I babysat so many kids. I nannied for two different families. I was the go-to babysitter for all my friends. Until I had my own. Now I want nothing to do with other people’s kids. Part of that is that I already have a day filled, sometimes overflowing, with kids and their fluids, and needs, and holy time suck Batman! But also, my kids are clearly better than other people’s kids LOL.

Marissa
Guest
Marissa

Disclaimer: you may not love your baby within the first two hours of its birth. I sure as hell didn’t. Took me at least a few weeks. It takes some parents longer. Don’t worry if you don’t love the kid right away.

Billie
Guest
Billie

Oh my goodness yes!!! I always thought I wanted children but the older I was getting the more I was becoming unsure that I really did want them. I’m not gonna lie kids got on my nerves all the time. My mom kept telling me, “it’ll be different with your own kids”. I wasn’t sure if I truly believed that but my fiance wanted children and after a lot of thought I decided I was ready. Now after having my first I can honestly say my mom was right!! I could not imagine not having her and……I’m ready for more… Read more »

Alexa
Guest
Alexa

Beautifully put, Amy. The way I see it, there are wonderful times and there are terrible times and there are boring times and scary times and silly times because parenting is LIFE above all else. Nothing else in life is simple and one-dimensional, so why should parenting be? If it makes sense, it is the “lifeyest” part of my life that I have lived so far :). And I love it, most of the time, but I love my little boys ALL of the time.