What Does Having a Child Mean to You?

Photo of a chocolate birthday cake with lit candle shaped like a zero.

Oops, I forgot, infants can’t eat solid food. What now?

By the way, drive two toothpicks into one of those candles to make it almost hover above the cake.

Update: I used your responses to the question posed in this article to select a judge in the Win a Conceivex Conception Kit contest.
Dawn Detweiler, aka PsychMamma, will be a judge in the contest. She
will select one of the three winning essays in the contest. Thank you
everyone for sharing your thoughts. Comments on this article are now closed, but please do ponder the important question posed.

Our family returned from the hospital yesterday afternoon, two days after our son’s birth. Our 3-year-old daughter spent much of the time at home with her grandma.

My wife, wiped out from a tough pregnancy and 12-hour labor, topped off the experience with a tubal ligation. We initially were going to do it in the event of a C-section, but when things worked out the natural way, we decided… aww, what the heck. And by wiped out, I mean "help me lift my foot into the car" wiped out, and that was before the birth.

So with the recovery starting and a needy infant beckoning and a 3-year-old to keep busy and a messy house to unmessify and my normal (from-home) workday to resume today… and… of course, coming home to discover our cat sick and limping… our lives are in upheaval.

It makes me wonder… Why did we sign on for this?

But, I’m not fishing for "hang in there" sentiments. Life is a roller coaster for everyone. I want to ask you a slightly different question.

I crafted the remainder of this article last week. It’s a two-parter…

Please think back before you had your first baby. Why did you want a child? Now that you have one (or more!), how has your life changed for the better?

In short, what does having a child in your life mean for your life?

Answering that open-ended question is my special request for you. Please share responses in the comment form below. Why it is a "special request" I won’t divulge yet, but rest assured there is a "part 2" to this post coming next week.


32 Responses to “What Does Having a Child Mean to You?”

  1. Chief Family Officer says:

    It has meant more innocence, patience and joy than I could have ever imagined. While I wasn’t prepared for just how time-consuming parenting would be (that’s the hardest adjustment for me), I wouldn’t change a thing. I know that these early years will seem all too short when they’re past so I am trying to enjoy them.

    And nothing can compare to a child’s delighted smile or the sight of my kids playing together and making each other laugh. As I said, there’s more joy in my life now than ever before.

    Having kids means a lot in my life – interrupted sleep, little time for myself, dealing with rejection (e.g., “I want Daddy” or “I don’t like what you made for dinner, Mommy. I hate it!” before he even tries what I’ve cooked), not to mention some added strife with the grandparents. But I guess most of all it means a joy I never knew before, and more of it than I would have ever thought possible.

    March 24th, 2008 at 5:37 am

  2. thordora says:

    We didn’t want children. Ever. We don’t really like kids, or at least, I don’t.

    But having my first daughter, and then my second, opened my world up, my heart, and turned me from a kid playing dress up to an adult, a responsible person who needs to own up and act it.

    Having my daughters in my life gives me all the more reason for creating things, for writing and painting and singing and making the shelving just so. Because their lives are formed by my successes and my mistakes.

    And yeah, the first few weeks of Wilson’s life will be some of the hardest you’ve had. But it does work out pretty damn cool-listening the the giggling yesterday morning as my girls found their eggs, hidden all through their toys….makes the long days worth so very much.

    March 24th, 2008 at 5:50 am

  3. Julia says:

    Wow- Having a child for me meant, hopefully, bringing a positive influence into this somewhat negative world. A child is a chance for a new perspective, a fresh influence, and yes, all the sleeplessness and difficulties as well. I have three kids (ages 3, 2 and 5 months) and though we have our trials, I would not change my life for anything. They are fun little people who have totally changed my focus and given me hope.

    March 24th, 2008 at 5:55 am

  4. Kathleen says:

    Having a child was more or less a natural progression of our relationship. I am amazed how naive we were. Case in point…I remember us sitting around thinking “wow, what should we do today??? Well, at least when the baby comes we’ll have something to do.”
    Now that our first son is 3 and our second is cooking I find that we appreciate life more. We also have loads more patience than we used to as well as mad reasoning skills. I feel more joy in the everyday things. Especially when the rest of the family and little ones are around…..it just feels like we did something right

    March 24th, 2008 at 6:12 am

  5. Donna says:

    I think the most positive part about having children that we feel right now is the closeness it has brought us to our families and friends. I imagine the all-about-us, world-traveling, never run out of money lifestyle that we would have lived without our kids may have distanced us from the people we love to hang out with now. We now have a common love, a common concern, a reason to revolve around one another. We share the same stories, albeit distanced in years. We share the same headaches and heartaches. But in the end, we share the joy of the lives we’re creating and watching grow. And at the same time, our relationships with our families and friends are doing the same thing!

    March 24th, 2008 at 6:21 am

  6. Jessica G. says:

    We live in an overwhelmingly negative era where we are told that everyone is getting divorced and “who would want to bring a child in to this messed up world?”

    Getting married is an act of hope.

    I think having a child (or adopting) is the greatest act of hope. It means you have not bought in to a culture of fear and you think the world might be a better place with your child in it.

    I did not want to have kids and then when I turned 29 I decided it needed to happen IMMEDIATELY. Biological clock I guess! Now, at 34 I have 2 beautiful girls. I will not be having any more children but I am open to adoption in the future.

    My girls have completely changed my life, how I view myself, how I view my family and how I view the world around me. It turns out that I am a great mom (my cats always attested to this but nobody listened). They are a continual source and reminder of one thing: Hope.

    March 24th, 2008 at 6:37 am

  7. Sherri Edman says:

    Having children opened my eyes regarding just how much it is possible for one human being to love another.

    Having children has made me, a selfish and lazy person if there ever was one, into a somewhat less selfish and lazy person. I tell people that getting married was unselfishness boot camp, and that having a child puts you on the front lines of the war.

    Having children has made me recognize my need for grace– I cannot possibly give these children everything they need or deserve. For that to happen, I have had to rid myself of my delusions of self-sufficiency and depend on the goodness and generosity of family and friends and God.

    Having children has made me encounter everything differently, even scholarly pursuits. The first night after my first son’s birth, I kept recalling a particular conversation between Ivan and Alyosha Karamazov and weeping over it, because it was so much more real to me than ever it had been before.

    Not least, having children has improve my sense of humour, and made me so much tougher. Dealing with this much poop on a daily basis will either kill you or teach you to laugh at anything!

    March 24th, 2008 at 7:58 am

  8. Joan says:

    My husband and I were both career focused individuals pre-kids — and our weekends became time to kick back and recharge our batteries.

    Now, with two girls (3 & 1) — the weekends are just as busy, if not busier, than the rest of the week. However, “recharging” has taken on new meaning. It isn’t sleeping in or curling up with a book. It’s getting the 3 year old to laugh in the midst of a bad mood, it’s watching the girls dance around the room together and it’s laughing with my husband at 2AM when the 3 year old tries another stealth maneuver to try and get into our bed to sleep.

    Despite not having a full night of sleep in nearly two years, I wouldn’t change a thing. These two little girls bring me more joy and energy than I would have ever thought possible.

    March 24th, 2008 at 8:39 am

  9. Kimberly says:

    I’d say having our baby has only enhanced our meaningful life. I was already amazed at how much love I could possess when I met and married my husband. Corny, I know. I truly feel I was made to have this baby. My arms better holding him.
    I am normally a bit impatient and our baby is helping me become more patient. So many things are not in my control anymore. It’s an adjustment, but a good one. I was expecting to miss my old pre-baby life, but instead I hardly remember it..it’s like our son has always been here… more cheesiness, but it is true.

    March 24th, 2008 at 8:57 am

  10. Christy says:

    Having a child in my life means:

    -sacrificing more than I ever thought I had in return for more than I ever thought possible to receive;
    -feeling a pain like no other with every tear and a love so deep it hurts with every smile;
    -truly knowing unconditional love;
    -striving to be the best person and parent I can be;
    -realizing my limitations and accepting my flaws;
    -having an even better reason to get up every morning;
    -and believing that the world truly is a great place to be.

    March 24th, 2008 at 9:25 am

  11. Katie says:

    Our first baby is only a month old and already I am astonished by how much joy and happiness it brings. It’s hard, but so much more worth it then I even imagined.

    March 24th, 2008 at 9:49 am

  12. Nicole G says:

    I always wanted children, but never thought I would be a good mother. I just don’t have a lot of patience. Imagine my surprise when my first daughter was born. I found reserves that I didn’t know I had and my focus shifted off of myself and what I was doing that was so ding-donged important and onto the little girl who needed me. Now I have 3 children and of course I lose patience and have selfish times (who doesn’t), but still I find that my kids (for the most part) bring out the best parts of me that I didn’t even know were there. Now if they could just bring out a restful night’s sleep once in a while . . . :)

    March 24th, 2008 at 9:51 am

  13. PsychMamma says:

    We didn’t think that we could have kids, and then….Surprise! 2 years ago, our daughter was born. She was born with an intestinal birth defect and lung problems and was in the NICU for the first 3 months of her life. Having a child has taught me what truly unconditional love is. We talk about it with spouses and partners, but I don’t think we TRULY experience it until we have children. I am more patient than ever, I have better problem solving skills, I live in the moment more and experience more joy and happiness as I see her discovering the world, I’ve become much less selfish and “Type-A” by necessity, I eat healthier and am more concerned about the environment and world because I want to be a good example and because I think about the future for her, I drive more safely/slowly, and I have much more respect for and a better relationship with my own parents – - especially my mom. I never really understood everything I put her through and what it was like for her until now. Finally, I think especially because our bundle of joy has ongoing health issues, I have discovered a reserve of inner strength and stamina that I didn’t know I had. I’m loving every minute of the journey!

    March 24th, 2008 at 11:33 am

  14. Stacey says:

    In short, what does having a child in your life mean for your life?

    Giving of myself constantly because it’s all about them and no longer just about me.

    I waited a very long time to have children and would not want my life to be any other way :o)

    March 24th, 2008 at 11:35 am

  15. Wire says:

    Before: I thought raising a kid would be a meaningful way to spend one’s time and energy. So much of my job seemed so meaningless (software programmer).

    After: It’s surprisingly exhausting, often frustrating… but I never feel my day was a waste. I never think “What am I dong with my life?” I’m raising this little person… and it’s as fulfilling as I thought it would be.

    March 24th, 2008 at 2:08 pm

  16. Allison (CodeCrafter) says:

    Before I had my son I knew that it was going to be a life changing experience to have a child. That is would be hard but it would also have rewards. I had all sorts of theories about how motherhood would change me and what my life with a child would be like. Most of those ideas were wrong! So naive….

    The truth has been so much better and harder then I could have imagined. I do feel that it has made me into a person who I like even more then my former self. I have learned so much about myself and my husband and every single day we get to learn something new from and about our son.

    March 24th, 2008 at 3:03 pm

  17. Mama Peach says:

    Wow I don’t think that is a question I could answer if I had a million years to.

    The initial desire for a child was purely selfish of course.

    She makes me a better person. She makes me stop and experience pure joy at all of the little things in life. She makes me slow down and take grandma steps. I marvel at how much she loves me, no matter how imperfect I am. And my heart swells with pride and amazement at each little newborn I see, what they will one day become.

    I guess children just truly are a gift to us, to the world, one that we are truly blessed to receive.

    March 24th, 2008 at 3:19 pm

  18. Darby says:

    My obvious answer is LOVE. I have been lucky enough to have lived and felt love for my parents, love for my brothers, love for my pets, love for my friends, love for the earth, and love for my husband. But nothing compares to the immense love I feel for my children, and nothing ever will.

    My less obvious answer is LETTING GO. I’m a control freak, and the entire process of trying to conceive, being pregnant, giving birth and raising my dear children has been an invaluable experience of relinquishing control to the Universe and accepting that I have none, and really, probably never did.

    March 24th, 2008 at 6:23 pm

  19. Carla Prock says:

    I find it interesting why no one asked why you put your wife through a surgery after all she’d been through vs you making a quick outpatient visit to your local urologist :).

    March 24th, 2008 at 7:26 pm

  20. AJ says:

    Carla, vasectomies have been effectively marketed as a “quick outpatient visit” for birth control campaigns, but it’s still surgery. In my dad’s case, he had purple legs for a week.

    We originally warmed to a tubal because it’s a minor addition if my wife is already in for a C-section. That notion then shifted to, well, we’ll already be staying in the hospital for a few days. The tubal is a 30 minute surgery and 60 minute post-op observation, followed by pain medication (just like with a vasectomy).

    One big difference is the tubal uses general anesthetic.

    Another big difference is that our insurance covers all of the tubal, while the outpatient vasectomy is only partially covered because it’s not performed by the hospital (my wife works at the hospital). We may (?) end up paying for the anesthetic, but it will be less than we’d pay for a vasectomy.

    In my own defense, the whole thing was my wife’s idea. But in everyone’s defense, a couple’s reproductive choices are a complex and usually private matter. I hope the prevailing pro-vasectomy information “out there” doesn’t dissuade women from taking their reproductive future into their own hands.

    In any case, here’s an interesting perspective from Dad Gone Mad…


    March 24th, 2008 at 8:17 pm

  21. lisa says:

    For me, becoming a parent has meant experiencing a degree of love that I never previously understood (even though I thought I did…)

    It has meant watching all of my hopes, fears, desires and daydreams become fact.

    It has meant the opportunity to watch the day by day emergence and development of a human consciousness. What a trip!

    It has meant the chance for me to mature in a way I never really believed I could. I am a new person now, a person called “Mama”, and I am better than the person I used to be.

    March 24th, 2008 at 9:21 pm

  22. Kelly says:

    Why did you want a child?

    I never grew up and wanted other kids to play with. No, seriously… My parents had a lot of fun with my brother and I. Selfishly, I wanted that experience for myself. What better than a kid to give you the excuse to: paint, sing, dance, laugh, learn, love, hug, grow, smile, giggle, read, draw, build, knock things down, play in puddles… on and and on and on… the list is never ending. I’d like to say love, but until I had my first child I didn’t have any idea of the depth of that word.

    Now that you have one (or more!), how has your life changed for the better?

    We (DH and I) quit drinking and smoking and are IMO far happier than before. Our lives changed from a constant search for entertainment to a continuous state of entertainment coupled with a search for relaxation.

    In short, what does having a child in your life mean for your life?

    A new way of living… living with my children is like living in color when before it was all Black and White. Everything is filtered differently. Each day is filled with small joys… and intimate conversations outsiders would never appreciate… “Did you hear Joe say poop?! Really, he did!” Only a parent knows the joy of seeing their children hug for the first time, without being nudged into it… the joy of coming home and having two little hellions start dancing and singing and shouting “Momma’s home! Mommyyy mommy mommy! Mommas home!!!” just breaking open with joy to see me.. stunning really, unbelievable. It has brought such an amazing insight into the wonderful person my husband is… just THE most amazing father… there are so many shared joys and wonders … I’m all choked up now thinking about it.

    March 25th, 2008 at 1:16 am

  23. My Boaz's Ruth says:

    It means being a mommy. It means new fears, and new joys. It means learning new things about the world, and new ways to depend on God. I always knew I wanted to be a mommy (I wanted a dozen kids growing up!). But the actuality — is both more work and more joy than I ever expected. It means that my husband’s family will go forward one more generation (perhaps even to the end of the world).

    March 25th, 2008 at 12:19 pm

  24. Tiffany says:

    Before: my husband and I had been married five years, and were in our mid-thirties. If we were ever going to do it, it was time. We wanted a child, essentially, to be able to teach it- to able to show it how to read, watch the birds in the sky, pet the dog, run around the yard- all the classic “kid stuff” that we all remember from our (retrospectively) idyllic childhoods.
    After: Our son just turned two- and we’re done with one, as we say. We love our son, and have determined that this is the right size for our family. Every family has its own perfect size- even if it does mean us answering well-meaning strangers when they ask when we’re having another one– “we’re not”. Our son is wonderful, and our lives have changed for the even better- we have to discuss issues, be more patient, think not only of ourselves and each other, but the family as the whole.
    And it’s all wonderful when our son roars like a tiger, begs to go to the zoo to see the penguins, draws with chalk on everything in the back yard, and cuddles up for hours of reading every day. How many times can you read Dr. Seuss’ “I can lick 30 tigers today”? At least a few thousand…. a week! We’re so lucky to have our little tiger…

    March 25th, 2008 at 7:32 pm

  25. Christina says:

    Having kids meant passing on my wit and sarcasm, something the world can never have enough of.
    It also meant that I get to be silly and sing out loud and do little boogie dances and there is always someone there to think that I am amusing. Heck, I am the funniest person in the world.
    Also, I had kids so I could hear people say how polite my kids are because there are not enough people who say please and thank you and my kids were darn skippy going to have manners if nothing else.
    After my daughter was born my husband and I would just grin at each other and say “This is so worth it.” And we would tell people that yeah, it is hard but it’s also the most rewarding venture in the world. There is nothing greater than the smiles, the laughs, the milestones. I love hearing our daughter tell a knock knock joke or seeing our baby boy start to reach for his toys. Oh man, that’s so awesome.
    I still like being able to be the funniest person around. My husband just doesn’t appreciate my silly songs.

    March 26th, 2008 at 6:16 am

  26. Cindi says:

    I have learned that those tiny little people do not come with a how-to manual! The love that I have for my sons is like no other. I love my parents, and 2 siblings and my husband and his family, but no one better mess with my boys. I do believe there are different bonds between fathers/daughter and mothers/sons. I am partly in the empty nest syndrome and it is not fun or easy for me! Cindi

    March 26th, 2008 at 1:57 pm

  27. thordora says:

    @ Carla-my tubal was a day surgery-yes, I was put under, but I was woken up and hustled out the door a hour afterwards. I don’t see a ton of difference between that and a vasectomy. I don’t know why people always make it seem like the tubal keeps you in hospital for days…

    March 26th, 2008 at 5:20 pm

  28. Heather says:

    We knew we wanted kids because we wanted a “FAMILY” together and to recreate all the fun we had when we were kids. I’m pregnant with #4 and our oldest is 5 yrs. We’re not Catholic (or anything like that) we just LOVE how our kids turn out and it will be very hard for me to stop at 4 (but 5 would be too much, I know my limit!!!). The kids have made us enjoy everything more and challenge us to be better people. This is definitely the craziest and the best time of my life and I don’t mind that it isn’t easy.

    March 27th, 2008 at 10:19 am

  29. Alan says:

    Induction isn’t natural.

    March 27th, 2008 at 8:42 pm

  30. AJ says:

    I hate to break it to you Alan, but midwives and birth attendants have, for centuries, used a variety of means to induce labor. Where do you think the notion of nipple stimulation came from?

    March 27th, 2008 at 9:09 pm

  31. Claudi_MM says:

    For as long as I could remember my ultimate goal in life was to finish school and when I had finally finished college it suddenly came to me that I would be turning 30 quite soon. This is when my timeclock went cooo-cooo, coooo-cooo and all I could think about or want was a baby. My husband and I agreed it was time for us to embark on this new adventure before it was too late.

    It has been the best and most worthwhile experience of our lives! My son has softened my heart and brought me to living life one day at a time to the fullest. Even though I am not at a job that has anything to do with my education, I could really care less because we feel fulfilled and happy!

    We are in love, happier than ever before and contemplating Baby#2 pretty soon.

    March 28th, 2008 at 11:19 am

  32. Alan says:

    AJ: Of course–lots of things help. But in common parlance today, “induction” usually means PIT and all that entails.

    March 30th, 2008 at 9:06 pm