For a long time, I thought it was unlikely I would have children.
Not because I felt strongly that I didn’t want to but because I am not sure if I want to give myself so completely to others that I lose sight of my own well-being. Or rather if I am even capable of doing so.
Growing up, my mum has always tended to everyone else in the family before herself. Because of us, she never thought twice about putting aside her own dreams and loves and fears to be the mum that was always there and always had a solution. Somehow, choosing motherhood relinquished the woman she was before. While not all mothers find themselves in the same predicament, those who do seem to live in a reality dictated by everyone else’s needs.
Even then, my mum never doubted she wanted to be a mum and started a family young. She did as her mother had done, and what most of her friends were doing at the time. “I never really pre-thought it. It was a normal thing,” she says.
But, as a millennial who grew up in an age where we are empowered and encouraged to seek answers, I often wonder – Should we have children? Why should we have children? What rights do children who are going to be brought into the world have? Are we really doing them a favour by bringing them the ‘joy of existence’? Is it selfish to want to bring another human being to this world simply because we want to experience what parenthood is like? Especially when the world is suffering from a climate crisis and holding dystopian views of where it will go in the future. There could be wars over limited resources, collapsing civilisation, failing agriculture, rising seas, melting glaciers – all within the range of possibilities, if not necessarily the most likely outcome.
So while I love children and have absolutely no qualms babysitting my two nephews, my concerns about a warming, divisive world and the need to step away from a lifestyle I enjoy always bring me to a 50/50 stalemate. Not to mention the defiant instincts against well-meaning but careless remarks like ‘You will regret not having kids when you’re old.’ that occasionally turn it into a 60/40.
With these thoughts lingering at the back of my mind through the years of early adulthood, I was reminded that the gift of making hard choices is that they can be self-reinforcing when I chanced upon this TED talk video on ‘How to make hard choices?’ by Ruth Chang, a lawyer turned philosopher whose academic research revolves around choice and decision making, on a routine LinkedIn scroll.
Essentially, Ruth’s advice on making hard decisions boils down to a simple principle: When it comes to big life decisions, choices are often hard because neither option is better than the other. But we have the power to make an option better and more appealing for ourselves.
The key is to just go for a choice and commit to it. By doing so, it becomes the better choice because we work hard to instil it with value. By committing, we can make something the right choice for us.
In her exact words, she said, “This response in hard choices is a rational response, but it’s not dictated by reasons given to us. Rather, it’s supported by reasons created by us. When we create reasons for ourselves to become this kind of person rather than that, we wholeheartedly become the people that we are. You might say that we become the authors of our own lives.”
Ruth’s speech probed me to think beyond the “should I or shouldn’t I” question and changed my perspective from having to make the right choice to just deciding and making it right.
With that, I started looking deeper into other areas that can better help me commit to a decision, my decision to have children. For instance, where and when do I want children, what do I need to get done first, what kind of mum do I want to be and how I can minimise my ecological footprint to play a part in protecting the environment – all so that I can perhaps reconcile my concerns with having children eventually.
Shortly after, I found myself speaking to my partner, my family and Chris (my direct supervisor at work) about an elaborate travel plan, something I have been meaning to do and further fortified as part of my ‘pre-preconception game plan’. Besides the desire to experience the pure joy of adventure, I was in search for a larger sense of freedom. My rationale is that I need an opportunity to spend money and time thinking only for myself, to fully immerse in quiet, free time and spontaneous travel with pockets of non-obligation. It is a time where I can still afford to make selfish decisions without it being a bad thing. After all, it would no longer just be about me once I become a mum.
Before I know it, I have been remote working in Melbourne for a month now. For the past month, I could walk the city’s streets for hours and hide in galleries all day. I could have breakfast at 3pm and eat Coco Pops for dinner. I could wake up on a Thursday morning and decide to rent a car over the weekend for a day trip out because I saw a beautifully taken picture of the Werribee Gorge (probably heavily photoshopped) on Melbourne’s TimeOut. I could take all the time I want snapping pictures of llamas grazing the grass by the country road. I could work by the beach with sand between my toes and pick seashells when I need a break.
Once in a while, I do feel a pang of guilt for leaving my newlywed husband back in Singapore to take a professional exam and my 22 month old nephew who would still occasionally open my room door to check if I am back before he heads to school. But to borrow an overused old adage, absence made my heart grow fonder and even more grateful.
Embarking on this trip has definitely not been all smiles and gerberas, something I hope to share more in my next article, but I already know it would be worth it because it mentally prepares me for the potential insecurities I know I would have of my life choices if this trip did not happen.
This is an original article written by Nataly Ong, Lead of Brand Management at Providend, Singapore’s First Fee-Only Wealth Advisory Firm.
For more related resources, check out:
1. Story of Mei Kuen: Balancing a Career and Her Extraordinary Motherhood Journey
2. Client Case Study: Pursuing A Work Optional Life
3. Why I Quit Architecture School
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