Being able to make an active decision to have or not have kids is an enormous privilege. It can also be one of the most difficult decisions you make. Ann Davidson is a marriage and family therapist who works as a “Motherhood Clarity Mentor” for people struggling with this choice, and she shared some of her tips on the process with Lifehacker.
The Washington Post recently interviewed Davidson and other therapists working in the same arena, a well as clients who felt that they made peace with their decision after seeking therapy.
Davidson has an extensive process she takes clients through, and the book she co-authored with therapist Denise L. Carlini called Motherhood — Is It for Me? Your Step-By-Step Guide to Clarity, leads readers through 12 weeks of exercises.
In an email to Lifehacker, Davidson warns that the decision is never simple, and the exercises she’s designed are meant to build on one another. But she has a few tips for how people begin to approach their choice for anyone who has begun to ask themselves if having kids is right for them.
Break the loop
A lot of people struggling with indecision around having or not having kids are caught in a feedback loop, according to Davidson. All the questions and anxiety just swirl around and around, from fear of how a baby will affect everything from their sleep to their relationship, to grander fears about climate change and this big scary world. The first thing Davidson does is ask people to try and stop this inner monologue:
The first place to start is taking a step back and choosing not to know and let that be ok. And take a breather from the indecision loop that gets you nowhere fast.
She told the Washington Post that she has patients write down all these anxiety-producing questions, then hide them for a bit:
“You put them all away in an envelope,” Davidman says. “These are really important issues, but we just don’t want to talk about them right now. When you’re considering all those external factors prematurely without knowing what you want and why you want it, they just get in the way.”
Fear and anxiety is not the place to make a life-changing decision from.
Separate desire from action
Deciding to have a kid has many different components, but often people are trying to solve the two biggest issues in tandem: do you want kids and how would you make having them happen. The latter question is about logistics; the former is about desire. Davidson says you need to look at them separately:
The biggest issue is trying to figure out what you want and what you’re going to do at the same time. The two have to be separated. The decision has to be put on hold while you spend time discovering your desire. So the first place to begin is to take a step back and do some writing to identify what one might need to put aside temporarily in order to get clear on what they want.
This is also a loop, in a way. if you’re not in a committed relationship, or you’re worried about money, or you have a five-year plan, you might get caught up in thinking about the difficulties of having a baby before asking yourself clearly if you want one. That will only feed the anxieties Davidson warns about.
How to make the distinction
One exercise Davidson leads people through is meant to discover which concerns are really more about the plan around having a baby, so you can try to set them aside for a while as you explore your desire.
1) I’ve always thought that by now my life would look like….
Then read what you wrote and write about how it feels to look at what you wrote.
2) My biggest fear in making a decision is ……
3) Then list the externals in your life that you keep rehashing.
4) Then take all of that and put it aside.
5) Then spend time letting yourself not know without judgment and without trying to make something happen and without trying to figure something out.
In a blog post for her website, Davidson writes that “putting away the externals” is scary; it feels unnatural to not obsess over the practical implications of having a kid. More than that, it forces us to look internally at ourselves, which is something a lot of people are reluctant to do.
Making a firm choice won’t make all those issues magically go away, but it will help you understand which anxieties about children come from a problem that can be solved, and which come from a true reluctance to have kids at all. Clarity always helps to light the way.