I was chatting with a coworker about children. She was in her late 20s, married, out of college, in a good job, and buying a house. “I just don’t feel ready to have a child,” she said. “But my husband wants one.”
She paused for a moment. Then she said, “I just want to be ready.”
She must have said that two or three times during our conversation. It felt like she was trying describe some unseen place that she know exists, she’s seen pictures of it, but has never been there.
“You are as ready as you’ll ever be,” I said. “With children, there is no being ready.”
She gave me a wide-eyed look. I don’t think she liked my answer.
Mel and I were 24 when we had Tristan, our first son. We’d been married for two years. I was in college, two years from graduation, and waiting tables. Mel was working at a hardware store. We were renting an older two-bedroom house. We had bad health insurance. I was scared, and Mel was excited. When I read that description, it doesn’t look like we were ready to have children.
But when I think back on that moment, I was as ready I’d ever be. In fact, I have three kids now, and with each of them, I didn’t feel ready. With each one I thought, “Two kids… I don’t know if I’m ready for that.” And with three kids, I thought, “That sounds scary. They will outnumber us.” In fact, every day, I am faced with a new challenge as a parent. And every day I am surprised by how amazing my children are. Everyday I am happy to see my children, and everyday they drive me crazy. Parenting is all consuming and totally wonderful in ways I could’ve never predicted or ever prepared myself for.
When Mel said she wanted to have a baby the first time, I had a million excuses. We didn’t have enough money. I needed to finish school. I wasn’t mature enough. Probably the biggest one was that I felt under qualified because my father wasn’t around as a child. “I don’t know how I can be a good father when I never really had one of my own.” I told her. “I feel like I’m getting in over my head.”
Mel gave me a twisted lip look, the same one she always gives me when trying to get me to take leaps forward in my life.
“I had a good mom,” Mel said, “And I’m still not sure what to do. But I don’t know if parenting is about knowing what to do. I think it’s about loving your kids and figuring things out as we go.”
At the time, what she said didn’t grant me a lot of comfort. But thinking back, there was some real wisdom to it.
I don’t know what could’ve prepare me to be ready for sleepless frustrating nights that are also strangely satisfying. I don’t know what could’ve prepared me to get so frustrated by a child that I want to pull my hair out, and yet, once I figured out the problem, felt like I’d just got an A+ on a calculus exam. Parenting is the most frustrating and most satisfying thing I’ve ever done.
Like Mel said, we’re figuring it out as we go.
Mel and I have been faced with unexpected bills for everything from doctor visits to soccer uniforms, and although we looked at our budget, and we knew it was in the red, we figured out how to make it work. As much as I like to think that parenting is about planning and preparation, it’s really about shooting from the hip. There’s no manual. There are millions of books and ideas out there, but none of them ever fit my unique situation exactly. Each child is different. My son is an attention whore while my first daughter is a snarky introvert. Our baby, I don’t know what she’s going to be like, but what I do know is that right now, she’s a different baby than all three. Much quieter, and sneakier than the other two.
I’ve been a father for 10 years now, and I have never got it all the way right, and I have never got it all the way wrong. In so many ways, I feel under qualified and under prepared, and yet, my kids seem happy. They smile and laugh all the time. I apologize a lot, and I say, “I love you” about a dozen times a day. I may be doing this all wrong. I don’t know. But what I do know is that I still don’t feel ready for children, and I have them, and I can’t help but wonder if by the time I do feel ready, my children will have moved out. Parenting is funny that way. Every time I feel like I’ve got something down, the game changes.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t put some serious thought into having children. And there are a few things that can make it much easier. Having a stable and loving partner, for example. But being fully prepared? Being fully ready? That will never happen.
You would also enjoy, Up In The Night And Checking For Breath
Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.