Take it from a social worker: Why you need to consider this before having babies …

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As a thirty something year old woman, I am often assumed to want to have babies and that this will be part of my life goals. And I too, have incorrectly made that assumption about others – oops! 😛 As I have never made a decision without thinking about it almost obsessively, I have also never regretted my decisions. Yay! So, this won’t be any different. 🙂 🙂 Your decision shouldn’t be made without asking the tough questions either.

If we know parenting is such a difficult feat (and rewarding for many) why do we assume everyone would and should be a parent? I think we should encourage people to think about this decision. When a person says i don’t want to have kids and the response is ‘are you sure’, it should be equally if not more relevant and acceptable to have the same question posed to people who do want kids. Its not an insult, you should be sure, prepared as much as possible.

As a social worker/child and adolescent therapist for the last seven years, I have heard many many stories of loving parents not having the resources or knowledge or even emotional management skills to really manage raising a child that can feel secure and happy. Attachment theory will tell you why that is so important.  And then there are the parents that for many reasons were never prepared or fit to be parents – and that always breaks my heart – the pain in the hearts of these children is so grave and damaging – and I have seen that be present even for people that don’t have a history of abuse/neglect – usually due to attachment related difficulties. A good book is called “The Attachment Connection” and I encourage anyone thinking about babies to read this.  

Yes, there is hope and help available for children who have suffered accidentally – but reversing the damage is no easy feat – and sometimes these children die before they can heal. That is the worst part of my job, somehow overcoming the pain that this individual was in so much pain that they ended their life through suicide or accidental overdose. 😥 Please do not underestimate the impact emotional abuse has on a child! I see more clients who have experienced emotional abuse than sexual abuse, yet the impact on them is the same. How? Because abuse is abuse, it is qualified as such for a reason!! (More info here). Whether physical, sexual, financial or emotional, abuse causes grave damage – and they cannot be rated on a scale of “not so bad” to “disgusting”, as people often want to do. Yelling is emotional abuse, even if a mild form. Your job as a parent is to manage your emotions even if your child is frustrating you to no end. If you don’t do this, you will damage your child’s sense of self worth, which is one of the most difficult things to change. Self esteem and self worth are not the same. If you want to know more click here.

When we hear something this depressing its easy to assume that won’t be my child or anyone’s child in my circle of friends – and the idealistic and optimistic part of my soul whole heartedly believes that too. But having children and raising them well is very very far from easy. So wouldn’t it make sense to be as prepared as you can be to make the biggest commitment of your life? Unfortunately, no one gets training in even the basics when it comes to parenting in ways to keep the child’s emotional well being in tact. If you found a way to access this knowledge – I applaud you!!!! I think it is necessary and vital that  we get comfortable talking about how parenting even with good intentions and love could damage children, so that we can prevent it from happening as often.

But even around child bearing and parenting we have a culture of silence. Don’t tell another person how to raise their kid! I’m honestly going to ask why not? What if I know something you don’t – what if what I say might help your kid? Do I have to be a parent to have a viable opinion? Do I have to be a doctor? What if its not an opinion but fact? Everyone has been a child and knows how their parents strengths and weaknesses impacted them. As long as you are empathetic and respectful, I think everyone should share their feedback regardless of their parental status. What I have learned from my seven years as a social worker/therapist, is that the best way to be the best parent you can be, is to do the emotional work before you have the child, make an informed decision about pregnancy, be open to support even if you don’t think you need it as a parent and don’t isolate people from giving you feedback just because they are not a parent or a professional

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What I am saying may sound judgemental, I can assure you I am not judging parents. I understand and see the complexities of raising a child everyday in my job. I help parents see these too as I work with them. To be able to do this, I empathize with their struggles and help them improve. And even at home, I go through feelings of sadness and frustration because I see that this is not easy on the parents or the children. Unfortunately we live in a world that doesn’t make parenting easy on multiple levels, including socio-economic status, the increasing gap between rich and poor, the stagnant wages,  work stress and burnout, aging parents, bullying at school, managing living expenses, the strain on marriages, isolation …. I could go on and on.  It is hard enough to meet the child’s physical needs and provide for them and secure their future! And as much as I truly empathize with this, it is all the more reason to consider how you are going to meet your child’s emotional needs through all these challenges: because let’s face it – more and more youth are going to therapy, and rates of youth suicide are increasing. These are consistent stats across North America.

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NOW THAT I HAVE STRESSED YOU OUT, HERE IS SOME HOPE!  😛

  1. They say it takes a village to raise a child. So embrace that village!! There are many articles and supportive websites to help parents. But also, let people into your village that don’t have children. You may be surprised at what they objectively can notice and share with you, because they are not struggling with the fear and guilt parents struggle with. They can be a very important support as well as other loving parents.
  2. Don’t leave it at, well this is how my parents did it and I turned out fine. Remember the times when you hated your parents? You may have forgiven them, but I bet there is something you wish they did differently. Be a better parent, don’t aim to be adequate, because what you think is adequate, may not be. Your child is not growing up in the same world you did, it is not the same, don’t forget that.
  3. Reflect, reflect, reflect! What ever method works for you, you need to have time to reflect on your emotions and work through them. Otherwise, you will work them out on your children. Its not because you are a bad person, its because its human nature. There is such a thing as the subconscious – you cannot be aware of everything you are thinking and feeling without hard core, regular reflection.
  4. Prepare yourself financially and emotionally for this child. Discuss difficult questions with your partner before you go off birth control. For example, how will you manage the increased stress in your life that comes with a child? How will you continue to nurture your relationship and communicate with each other when you are feeling neglected or disconnected? How will you support each other in doing self-care? How will you reach out and ask for help when you are struggling? How will you improve your current emotional struggles/weaknesses and remain committed to this work for the next 20 years?
  5. DO NOT DRINK ALCOHOL DURING PREGNANCY. Often, your doctor will not tell you that alcohol causes brain damage, because once you have already done it, stressing you out won’t do any good. They will just tell you not to do it again. Do the research, you will see that there is no consensus on a ‘safe’ amount or time to drink alcohol, but there is consensus that alcohol causes brain damage. And the most damaging time is often before people realize they are pregnant due to the rapid growth of the baby. However, some articles also suggest the first two weeks may be all or nothing.  Also, keep in mind, many learning disabilities and autism spectrum disorder have unknown causes. Yet, the rates are increasing in children. So, why take the risk?  (More info here on FASD). If you are trying to get pregnant, you should not be drinking alcohol. Make an appointment with your doctor before you begin trying.
  6. Have friends/supports in place where you can share your struggles freely. If you believe in “keeping it in the family”, you may be doing harm to your child, because it will be very difficult to be 100% honest about your feelings. You need to have support, you need to have a safe place to gain validation and constructive criticism. You may also have to budget for therapy at some point in the 20 plus years you are supporting your children. That only makes you a stronger role model and parent for your child.
  7. Don’t stop doing research on parenting and child development. Yes, its hard to find the time. But with today’s technology – you have a lot of resources. There are a lot of audiobooks available that you can listen to, free workshops in communities. Also, balance this with a plan so that you can manage your fears.
  8. Celebrate your successes!! No matter how small, don’t forget to practice gratitude and celebrate your accomplishments and hard work. If you have made it to the end of this article, you are already doing an awesome job!!! Give yourself a round of applause and reward yourself, because you have done more than most parents. Keep it up!!!!
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