The Balancing Act: ‘I’m Not Sure If I Want To Have Children’
Every other week, Sonali Gupta draws on more than 10 years of experience as a clinical psychologist to answer readers’ questions about parenting, family dynamics, relationships, mental health, and more.
Not On The Same Page: I’m not sure if I want to have children. My husband is keen that we have children. However, even when we were dating each other, I was clear that I don’t want children. Do you think I would be able to love the child, if I don’t want it in the first place?
Sonali: To have a child or not have a child is a matter of personal choice. But in India, the pressure to have a child is enormous. Our families and society are still struggling with the idea of women choosing not to have a child. Women are never asked about why they do want to have a child, only why not. Childless by choice is a concept that is new and emerging.
It is crucial that your choice comes from a position of strength, rather than compulsion. Having a child involves a readiness to take responsibility for another human being and also make space, time and energy for the child. If this feels forced or uncomfortable, then it is definitely a red flag that needs to be addressed.
I would suggest that you and your husband honestly communicate about if and how having a baby fits in with your shared meaning as a couple. If you have already tried this, or it proves difficult, reach out to a psychologist. Above all, let your decision not come from a place of guilt and trust your own inner voice.
Can’t Tear Her Away: My niece is 5 years old. She is a very bright girl. However, of late, all she does is watch cartoons on the computer all the time. She doesn’t like going down to play with her friends. She doesn’t like going for her classes and cries to even go to school. She has become quite stubborn and doesn’t listen to anybody. She is very attached to me, but these days she doesn’t want to talk to me and just wants to sit in front of the computer. I don’t want her to lose her bright spark and intelligence at such a young age. What should we do?
Sonali: It sounds to me that she finds a lot of comfort in spending time on the computer. But I feel it is very important to draw boundaries when it comes to the time children staring at screens. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children should watch television not more than 1 to 2 hours every day. Research shows that excessive television viewing can impact ability to learn, attention span and concentration and inhibit social skill development. And children as young as 2 can develop an addictive pattern when it comes to watching television (or videos on the computer). (Read more about gadget addiction in young kids on The Swaddle.)
First, remember your niece is young; it’s possible to reset the course with only a few changes. It’s crucial to remember that children learn these behaviours by modelling parents and other adults in their lives, so be conscious of your own device habits. Second, I would suggest that you don’t use television-/computer-time as a reward or punishment. Try to focus on her interests so that the motivation comes from within.
Third, set boundaries. Sit with your niece and co-create a timetable that balances structured play, unstructured play, hobby classes and (limited) time to watch television/use the computer. And finally, make sure she has alternatives. Introduce her to board games you think she’ll like or organize play dates with her friends. Read together, go book shopping, hike a nature trail or visit the beach. Pretend play with her — this can be lots of fun and a good chance to build your bond with her. Consider enrolling her in a sports or hobby class, which may help structure her time. As she learns to explore, appreciate and value life beyond the screen, she will likely want it less.
If all else fails, take an eco-friendly holiday with no access to television or Wifi. In my experience, children come back realizing how much they can do without devices!