WHETHER or not to start a family has never been a simple decision, but it’s more complicated today that it has ever been. If you’re facing this decision, journaling about it can help you gain clarity by sorting out the emotional and practical aspects of what it means for you personally.
When I married at the age of 18, women’s rights and feminist movements were still pretty new. Women were expected to marry young and immediately have children. Between the early seventies and 2010, however, the average age for a woman to get married in the United States increased from age 20 to 25 (the average age for men increased from 24 to 27), and the average age for a first-time mother increased from 21.4 to age 25. Most notably, first births by women age 35 and older increased by more than 50%.*
These changes are due to a number of factors, including an increase in access to higher education, the desire to establish careers and financial security before having children, later marriages, increased life expectancies, medical advances that make later births safer, and changed societal expectations.
So how do you know if having children is the right thing for you at this time in your life? Well, nothing in life is certain, but when we explore feelings, thoughts, and attitudes by journaling about them, we can gain clarity about our general sense of direction and, I believe, make more informed decisions.
Here are a few journaling prompts to get you started:
- What expectations about marriage and family do you feel were placed upon you as you grew up by society and by your family of origin? Did you agree or disagree with those expectations? Has your attitude about them changed over time? And do you feel any conflict between those expectations and your current desires? If so, write about the kinds of feelings and thoughts this conflict engenders.
- Do you and your spouse/partner agree about the right time to have children, or is one of you feeling a greater sense of urgency? Is one putting pressure on the other, or have either of you changed your mind about when to have children? Write about your relationship to your partner with regards to starting a family.
- How many children do you want to have, and what influences have affected that number? Does your partner agree or disagree with you, or have you discussed this number? Have you talked about what that might mean for your future, in terms of career and lifestyle? What would it mean if you waited five years, or ten?
- Write about all your hopes that are associated with starting a family. Now write about all your fears. Look back at what you’ve written. Which area has the longest section written about it — the hopes or the fears? Do your hopes and fears spring from realism or from romanticism, from life experience or other source?
- What conflicts do you have with the idea of having children? Will starting a family stall your career? Do you feel financially secure? Does it matter?
- Make two columns and in one column write down all the reasons you want to have children at this time; in the other column all the reasons you don’t want to have children at this time. Now, assign a weight to each item, where 10 is heavy (important) and 1 is light (not important). Add up the numbers in each column. What do you see? What is your emotional response to the numbers? Write about your response.
Taking the time to journal about your big decisions, to examine your thoughts, attitudes, and feelings can help you to gain real clarity. Sometimes, we come to realize that all the pro’s and con’s and lists of what’s practical and what’s not have no real meaning. We’re ready, and we know it, regardless of our current circumstances. At other times, we find that we have some real issues that we haven’t considered that need to be dealt with before we can make a decision.
Journaling alone, and then sharing your thoughts with each other, can also create a bridge to meaningful communication.
And if you’re new to this idea of writing through life — or simply want additional writing reinforcement — be sure to sign up for my FREE Journaling 101 e-mail course (use the form on the right)* I gathered these statistics from a variety of websites; I can’t vouch for their complete accuracy, but since I found them in multiple instances across social and census sites, I concluded that they were reliable enough for government work the purposes of this article.