I am 30 years old, and I do not have any children. And we are not trying yet, either.
This is the point at which RJ would normally interject and say, “Whoa whoa whoa, let’s just make this clear. We are ALWAYS trying. We just aren’t producing.”
Don’t get me wrong. I really do love children. I love holding babies, I love smiling and making ridiculous faces at infants, I love tickling them, I love playing with children (though after about 30 minutes, I run out of ideas…so good thing they never do!), I love encouraging children and building them up in good positive behaviors. I really do love all of these things.
But the thought of having my own just freaks the heck out of me. And for a number of reasons.
For starters, my childhood was not the most pleasant. It seemed like having your own children was an incredible burden to yourself as a parent and a hindrance to your own personal freedom, and these were things that as children we were constantly reminded of. This is an attitude that I just loathe, and yet at the same time, I often wonder if I have adopted towards having my own children. And for me to bring a child into the world just to make them feel like a burden and hindrance…well, I would rather play it safe and not risk doing so.
The thought of having a human life completely dependent on RJ and I for the first few years of its’ life…well, that just scares me too. What if I just want to be ALONE?? What if I hate feeling like I am just perpetually connected to the well-being of my child?? Or worse, what if I just don’t like my kid and don’t want to be around them??
As the firstborn in an Asian family, there was a lot of excess and over-focused anxiety projected onto me specifically. There typically is more anxiety with the firstborn and that is perfectly normal, and then there’s the OCD kind that really drives you nuts, leading to self-doubt and later, resentment. And I see my own OCD-like over-anxiety come out sometimes even with RJ and how it makes him frustrated. Do I want to risk the chance that I might project my own excess anxieties onto my children, who won’t have the capacity to process my anxiety in the same way that an adult can? Who just internalize until they are adults that there is something greatly wrong with them, at which point self-doubt has already taken its’ toll and resentment kicks in? Do I want to bring a child into the world just to do this to them??
My family has hit a couple of rough patches in the past decade, and specifically, my parents have had to tune-up their relationship. We all do at some point in our marriages. When we talk about when their marital issues first began, it always goes back to the point at which I was born into the family. My mom could no longer finish her PhD and contribute to the family income, creating financial stress on the family and causing resentment and less respect towards my mom. And of course I know that I wasn’t the reason for their relational issues in the past decade and that it was the result of many small choices along the way. But you know, I just love my life with RJ and Daisy now. I love my marriage, and I love my relationship with my husband. And one of my irrational fears is that having children will result in the demise of my marriage in a couple of decades. And why risk losing something that I just love so much??
And then there is the irrational and selfish belief that my life will end when I have kids. My budding career will be over. My body will suck. My social life will be over. My contribution to the world will be over. And I will just disappear into myself. Because this is what I saw and this is what I remember about my mother when we were children. She just disappeared into herself. She lost herself. And I don’t want the same thing to happen to me, to become a shell of who I once was.
When I first got married, I had grand plans of having 4-6 kids. But the closer we got to child-bearing age, the more antsy and anxious I became, to the point at which RJ one day asked, “I notice that lately, you’ve been a little more hesitant and anxious about having kids. Is everything okay?” And he wasn’t being accusatory when he asked me this, but I responded defensively at first because it hit a nerve.
But this opened the door for God to begin a new work in my heart.
In Gestalt therapy, the main goal for therapy is awareness, because it is only through awareness that you can make new choices that lead to change. And up until this point, I wasn’t consciously aware of all of these fears swimming around in my head about having children. All I knew was my felt anxiety when the topic was broached.
For the past year and a half, I have been bringing my fears before God with regards to having children, and He has been so patient, tender, and loving towards me. And so has RJ. Because RJ has been ready for kids since yesterday! (A new American colloquialism I just learned! Or maybe I just botched it…hahaha) He is going to be a wonderful daddy, and I hate that because of my fears, I am keeping him from living it out now. But he has never made me feel guilty, and he has never tried to convince me or force me to have children. He is truly better to me than I deserve. (And cue the tears!)
A huge part of healing for me (and I am still in the midst of this process) has been acknowledging these fears and bringing these fears before God, as I mentioned, but also allowing Him to speak deeply into these fears with truth.
For instance, my parents were not Christians for the first 20 years of my life. This has many implications for a lot of what I fear in becoming a parent. My parents didn’t have the incredible community and support of other Christians and parents that RJ and I currently do. They had to figure it out on their own, based on their own experiences with their parents, which was based off of old-school traditional Taiwanese parenting. And while there are good principles in old-school Asian parenting, a lot just doesn’t apply to raising children in the United States.
My parents also didn’t have Biblical principles to base parenting off of, and so they just fell into what worked for them. In fact, they didn’t have ready access to any parenting resources in Mandarin as newly-emigrated graduate students in Connecticut.
My parents didn’t know God, so they couldn’t entrust the well-being and future of their children to Him. When they were parenting young children, they probably believed that the well-being of their children all literally depended on them. And for that reason, I can see why they were overly anxious with us. At that time, my mother also had a low sense of value and self-worth, and not having God to find value, worth and purpose in probably led to the “disappearing into herself” that I noticed in her growing up. God has truly done a great work in my own life in helping me find my own value, worth, and purpose in Him, which I know will remain the same, whether I have children or not. And amazingly, He has gone back and done the same with my mother. She is more vibrant, alive, and passionate than I ever saw her growing up, with an unwavering sense of worth from God. And I am so thankful that she has come to find herself and love herself.
One of the most refreshing and freeing truths God has spoken to me is that RJ and I are not my mom and dad, and our relationship is not the same as my mom and dad’s, especially when they were our age. We are not doomed to repeat the same generational mistakes that the generations before have made, and that is truly freeing and relieving for me. RJ and I value openness and honesty in our relationship, and I know that he will speak the hard truths to me in love, for my own good and for the good of our children.
We also have a shared sense of responsibility and respect for one another that is often not present in old-school Asian families. Because of this, I know that I won’t be on my own in parenting, but that I have a partner in him.
Finally, I know and truly love that he really values the ways in which God has gifted me, and will shoulder more child-rearing responsibilities in order to lift me up and help me develop my giftings, which is something that isn’t as valued or widely accepted in not only Asian culture, but I think sometimes Christian culture as well.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in change in heart came with the birth of my niece, E. After E was born, my heart just grew in new ways that I never knew it could to love this precious creature, who hasn’t even done a thing to deserve my love. When I’m around her, I can’t stop looking at her. I want to hold her all the time. I just want to smother her with kisses. I find every small and insignificant accomplishment (i.e. holding up her head) the most AMAZING thing in the world. And strangely enough, I’ve become attached to the point to where the thought of leaving her behind to go home makes me sad because I don’t want to miss out on any milestones.
And because of these reasons, I am truly hopeful and am beginning to truly believe that the love and attachment I will feel towards my own children will be even greater, which is hard to imagine because I already love and am attached to E so much!
Back in my single, “pre-RJ”, idealistic days, God gave me a few verses which I love and have claimed as promises for my own children. From Jeremiah 32:38-41, God says, “And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.”
Even back in my mid-20’s, I knew that as the first believers in our family line, that our generation (Jenny, Timmy, and I) would be the ones to change the course of generations to come for good. But praise God, that He is faithful and gracious enough to even go back a generation and save my parents, going so far as to redeeming the relationships in our immediate family.
As I have been praying these verses for the coming generations for the past 7 years, I have been clinging to the hope in these promises from God, and all the more fervently as I approach child-bearing. And you know, these promises aren’t just to remind God to be good to me. They are reminders to me that God is the one who builds and establishes our house, that He is the one who began this work in our family for generations to come, and that He will never stop being good to us.
Like I mentioned before, I am still in the process of working through these issues. But because of these reminders in Jeremiah 32:38-41 and the ways God has been meeting me in my fears, I can move forward in child-bearing and child-rearing with courage and faith, knowing that the One who made these promises will be the One who sees them through to completion.