Whether or not to have children is probably the most important choice in a man’s life. Just think about it: If you marry the wrong person, you can get a divorce. If you go into the wrong career, you can retool and try something else. If you move to the wrong neighborhood, you can pack up and relocate. But a child is your responsibility for the next eighteen years, and on some levels for the rest of your life.
Yet many men don’t step back and ask themselves if fatherhood is the right path for them until they have to jump into the role -- whether they really want to or not.
Instead of leaving your life to fate, why not consider these questions about fatherhood and how it would be for you?
1) Do you enjoy spending time with children and being in places that are child-friendly? Children don’t live in a bubble—they go to birthday parties and play soccer, and they like to have friends come over for play-dates. So, if you’re going to be a dad, you’d better think these activities are fun, because you’re going to be overseeing a lot of them!
2) Do you have an easy-going temperament, and do you not mind clutter? Children cry in inappropriate places, have medical emergencies, and create clutter. It’s critical that a parent is flexible, patient, and able to change plans readily. Kids can be noisy and messy, and dinnertime in most homes is not an adult sanctuary! Having a child means giving up quiet, tidy meals and cleaning up spilled milk on a routine basis.
3) Do you like the idea of teaching and setting limits with children, and do you think that learning how to do this -- even with a challenging kid -- would be rewarding for you? Your child will need constant guidance and boundaries. And you cannot predict if you’ll have a child with special needs, requiring even greater levels of parenting. Remember, parenting is not being a best buddy. You’re there to raise your child so that he can go out into the world as a responsible, independent adult.
4) When you imagine your life ten years from now, do you see yourself as a father? Are you relishing -- rather than resenting -- this role? Keep in mind that raising a child to age 21 costs $241,000—and it takes on average eight hours a day to raise two kids to the age of eighteen. So if you’re going that route, you’d better think it’s well worth the expense, both in time and money! Does the idea of getting up in the night to take care of a sick child raise your blood pressure? Remember that parenting means being a doctor, nurse, social planner, math tutor, chauffer, bail bondsman, chaperone, and etiquette instructor to a small human who can be obnoxious and disrespectful.
Also consider that you may have to sacrifice your expensive and time-consuming recreational pursuits for fatherhood. If you’re not willing to do so, then it’s is probably not for you.
Don’t forget that parenting is an option (unless you’ve already had a child). Once you’re there, you can’t back out. As I discuss in my book, Complete Without Kids: An Insider's Guide to Childfree Living by Choice or by Chance, many young people today are making the decision to not become parents, and to instead focus their time and energy on other pursuits. Childfree adults, for the most part, describe their lives as rich and full. Meanwhile, being a parent is no walk in the park; it’s a serious and challenging job. More and more parents are admitting that they wish they’d thought it through more carefully because now they feel unfilled and frustrated in parenthood.
So carefully consider the questions above -- and look before you leap!