Several of the women I interviewed spoke of relief after becoming an aunt, because it provided their parents (or in-laws) with grandchildren and took some of the pressure off of the women themselves to provide more grandchildren.
As aunts, we have children in our lives we can adore, spoil, teach, play with and watch grow into who they will become as adults. Aunthood also gives us a closer insight into how children change a marriage.
The advice: The best and worst thing
One of the women I interviewed, Bette*, told me about a conversation her husband Caleb had with his boss – who also happened to be a close friend and the father of grown twins – when Bette and Caleb were trying to decide whether to have children.
Caleb asked, “What advice would you give to somebody who’s trying to make this decision?” His boss told him that having children is both the best and worst thing that could ever happen, simultaneously.
He said it’s the best thing because your capacity to love is multiplied, and you love these children more than you ever thought you could, and it enriches your life. On the other hand, it also completely changes your life. Your marriage changes. You don’t have time for former pursuits. Your priorities are different. When you’re in it, you’re glad your priorities are these children, but everything else suffers because of your shift in priorities. He finished by saying, “I’m not saying it’s not a worthwhile priority. Again, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me, but it’s also the worst thing.”
Bette said she and Caleb thought about that statement, “It’s the best and worst thing,” and turned it around and said perhaps not having children is also the best and the worst thing that would ever happen to them.
For them, it is the best because they have time and energy to focus on each other and their marriage. They travel extensively, and do plenty of other things they wouldn’t consider if they had children. Plus, they are able to be more involved in the lives of their extended family than they might otherwise be.
In this case, you really can’t have it all
Bette admits, though, that she just won’t ever fully know. She says she feels like she gets a glimpse of the best part of having children because of how much she loves her nieces and nephews, but she knows she’ll never know exactly what she has missed out on.
She says, “You can’t always have it all, and I have come to the realization in my life that I have the best of both worlds. If I didn’t have nieces and nephews, maybe I would feel differently. Maybe I would feel like there was something else that I was missing. But to hear a parent say that having children is simultaneously the best and worst thing that has ever happened was a turning point for us. I flip that idea around and think, ‘Maybe that’s me, too, just from a different perspective.’ ”
Whether you have children or not, I’d love to know what you think of this perspective: that either way – having children or not having children – it’s simultaneously the best and the worst thing that can happen.
* To protect the privacy of the women I interviewed, I have changed all names.