“Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.” ― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
THE WORLD HAS MUCH TO SAY ABOUT CHILDREN AND PARENTING. I can’t even speculate how many thousands of books have been written on the topics of child development, how to care for and communicate with your children, and how to be a good parent. (As an example, a simple Amazon search for “books on parenting” returned over 20,000 results.)
Having children is a “given,” a fact of life for most people, especially women: we are expected to grow up, get married, and have a family. I know that was true for me.
I was the sort of little girl who was half tomboy, half princess. At any time you might find me climbing trees or collecting frogs down by the creek and bringing them home in a coffee can. You would be just as likely to find me playing “house” with my little brother or playing imaginary games with my many dolls. I grew up in a large family and didn’t question my assumed adult roles as wife and mother. Consequently, I married at age eighteen. I had my first child at twenty-one and my fourth at age 40. And even then, I never questioned my choice.
According to Kate Figes, having children means “…being swept away by something larger and more important than oneself.” Children give life purpose and the work you do as a parent affects generations to come. It’s a life’s work.
But what about those who don’t fit this mold for whatever reason? Those who are unable to or those who choose not to have children? What about those who regret having children?
Those who choose not to have children (or regret having them) are usually judged as selfish and hedonistic.
But deciding whether to have children or not is more complicated than selfishness or selflessness. Some people choose not to have children because they feel they would not be good parents or because they are concerned about the human population and its effects on the environment. Are these selfless or selfish motivations?
And where do you fit in this spectrum of being or not being a parent?
The following journaling prompts are designed to help us dig deeply into the topic of children — into the choices we have made and why we made them, our attitudes and belief systems about children and parenting and, if we have children, our relationships with them.
Whether you do or do not have children, the topics of children and parenting are rich for journaling and self-exploration. Take some time with these prompts. Spread them out over a few days or even a couple of weeks, and see where they take you.
- Was having or not having children a conscious choice, or was it something that simply did or didn’t happen?
- If it was a choice, what were the reasons for the choice you made and what obstacles did you encounter? If it was not a choice, how did you respond to your situation?
- What are the greatest joys you’ve experienced as a result of having or not having children?
- What is the greatest grief you’ve experienced a result of having or not having children?
- If you could do life over again, would you choose differently? Why or why not?
- How important do you think having children is to having a fulfilled life?
- Choose one of the following quotes and free-write for 10 minutes in response:
“That’s the nature of being a parent, Sabine has discovered. You’ll love your children far more than you ever loved your parents, and — in the recognition that your own children cannot fathom the depth of your love — you come to understand the tragic, unrequited love of your own parents.” ― Ursula Hegi
“All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair.” ― Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven
- What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned from children (yours or someone else’s)?
- Which do you believe is more important to how children “turn out” — nature or nurture? And how much influence do parents have over the “results”? What influences these beliefs?
- If you have children, what have you done (or do you do) to meet your own needs and nurture yourself?
- Describe your relationship with each of your children. What is one action you could take to improve your relationship or bring you closer to that child (including adult children)?
- Read over your responses to the previous prompts. What emotions, themes, or images surprise you? Freewrite for ten minutes exploring the reasons they surprised you.