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Adulting 101: I didn’t want children. Now I have 2

SINGAPORE — My university boyfriend was shocked when I told him quite candidly I wasn’t keen on having children. “Why wouldn’t you?” he asked.

Ms Bryna Sim, social media editor with TODAY, is seen here with her daughter Danellna-preet and her son Hesekkya-preet.

Ms Bryna Sim, social media editor with TODAY, is seen here with her daughter Danellna-preet and her son Hesekkya-preet.

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Adulthood is an invigorating stage of life as young people join the workforce, take on more responsibilities and set their sights on the future. But its many facets — from managing finances and buying a home to achieving work-life balance — can be overwhelming.

In this series, TODAY’s journalists help young Singaporeans navigate this stage of their lives and learn something themselves in the process.

 

SINGAPORE — My university boyfriend was shocked when I told him quite candidly I wasn’t keen on having children. “Why wouldn’t you?” he asked.

That boyfriend is now my husband. We got married when I was 26 and he was 29.

After surviving the first year of marriage, the topic of having children arose and I was forced to confront all the reasons why I was saying no.

For starters, seeing babies or children did not make my ovaries even tingle.

I was living a well-balanced and meaningful life. I had time, money and space for myself, my spouse, my friends, and personal commitments.

Pro-family government handouts did not particularly entice me.

Was it selfishness that was holding me back? Or was it a desire to not upset my happily compartmentalised life? Or something else? I dug deeper.

Everything stems from something. I realised the position I held had sprouted from personal experience as a child observing flawed parents, and further took root after spending years mentoring teenagers.

I observed that every family is broken in some way. Parents hurt their children.

Ms Bryna Sim, seen here with her husband Harpreet Singh, 38, daughter Danellna-preet, aged five, and son Hesekkya-preet, aged two. Photo: Harpreet Singh It was scary, even just mulling over the weight of the responsibility of having children. What if I damage my own kids? There is already so much brokenness in the world; how about I work on bringing healing on that front instead, I reasoned.

Furthermore, what if, despite my best efforts, my child turned out to be an absolute terror and a menace to society, and brought my heart and days great pain and bitterness? Why bring into the world a being whose destiny I can only hope to shape, but cannot be the master of?

CONFRONTING THE FEARS

Marriage and family experts I spoke to said that I was not alone in my thinking. Many young people today are not keen to have children because of they mull over the many “what ifs”.

Mr Sam Roberts, centre director at Olive Branch Psychology and Counselling Services, said that the what-ifs are connected to fear.

“Fear is the bottomline emotion,” he said. “There’s fear of responsibility, commitment, financial burden, losing freedom, and unpredictability.”

Such fears are not unfounded. Ms Michelle Png, assistant senior counsellor at Care Corner Singapore's counselling centre, said that raising a child may be one of life's most physically, emotionally, psychologically and financially challenging endeavours.

"Parenting is mostly about self-giving and the willingness to place your children's best interests ahead of your own comforts and convenience," she said.

Ms Foo Cirong, counsellor at psychological consultancy Mind what Matters, said that giving up one’s current lifestyle for another that involves significant commitment and sacrifice is not something that some people are prepared to do.

What is helpful, she said, is when partners are able to share and understand each other’s fears and views, and find a way to work things out together.

PATIENCE AND UNDERSTANDING

In cases like mine, where one partner holds an opposing position, it is particularly important for the other partner to be patient and understanding.

“Some people may be avoidant, while others may struggle to connect with or verbalise their feelings. Try to explore and understand how your partner feels from a curious, rather than judgemental ‘What’s wrong with you?’ stance,” Ms Foo said.

“When you are critical, that stops the conversation.”

The experts underscore the importance of knowing each other’s position on having children before entering into marriage.

Mr Roberts said: “Having a child is not a one-person decision. Lack of clarity on this could lead towards bitter misunderstandings, resentment and divorce.” 

He also cautioned against having a child to “fulfil” the desires of oneself, one’s parents or grandparents.

Ms Foo added that a couple ought to examine the quality of their marriage and ensure that it is healthy before thinking about moving on to parenting.

And when the parenting conversations take place, it is important to ask: Do I have the capacity to have a child? Am I financially stable? Can I commit to having a child?

Being a parent to two young children has helped Ms Bryna Sim become more confident and efficient as a person. Photo: Harpreet Singh

Back to my experience. My husband understood my fears and gave me time. Good man. That’s why I married him.

But more seriously, in the next year, as I pondered over my position, many things happened.

Friends confided in me about their desire to have children. Their inability to have children. The babies that died in them. The grief. The sadness. The loss. The trying again. The frustration. The tears.

Then there were those who were raising children with special needs and physical challenges. Still others were going to great lengths to adopt children.

Some friends tell me that hearing such experiences drives them even further away from considering having kids. So scary, they say. I don’t want that to be me. That’s too much adulting for my liking.

But I saw in these painful experiences courage, risk-taking, resilience and sacrifice.

One friend’s comment particularly shook me: The life that you are afraid to have, someone else out there desperately desires.

‘I EXPERIENCED CONVERSION’

That’s right, I realised. My reasons were really rationalisations and justifications.

In reality, I was fearful to even try.

Gradually, as I opened my heart and mind, my perspectives changed. I experienced conversion.

I moved from someone who did not want to be a mother to someone who began to truly believe that a baby’s birth is a precious, wonderful happening, and then to someone who says: I’m going to try to have a baby.

In September 2015, my first child, a daughter, was born.

Life has never been the same.

For the first year after I had my first child, I couldn’t fathom the possibility of even having another. I was so triggered every time someone asked me: So how, when will you have number two?

But when I was done seething over such questions, I did wonder: Would I be able to know if I should have another child?

Many of my friends are at one and done, and I totally understand their position.

Hauling yourself through the whole process again — from trying to conceive to gestation to birth and the subsequent months of breastfeeding and sleepless nights when you’re older and already have one kid to worry about — is not for the faint-hearted.

Ms Foo’s advice is to ask yourself: “Do you feel physically adequate to cope with one more child? Do you feel that you can commit the same amount of time and energy to be available and present for this next child?”

‘READINESS IS NOT KNOWLEDGE’

Mr Roberts said that you can never know when you are ready for a child, much less the next one.

“Readiness is not knowledge. It’s confidence. That confidence stems from a desire and preparation,” he said. “How do you know that you will win a race or pass an exam? You don’t.”

I could not understand Mr Roberts’ remark when ploughing through the trenches of the first year of parenthood. It was all about survival.

But in the second year, we moved from surviving to thriving — my child and me. We were learning together, growing together, and enjoying each other's company.

In hindsight, when that took place, Mr Roberts is right — a confidence bloomed in me.

And with that confidence came the desire to try again.

In June 2018, my second child, a son, was born.

Having two children doesn’t mean my fears are gone. My fears are multiplied.

For each child brings to the table his and her own needs, wants and challenges.

The experts said — and those who are parents know this, too — that there is no parenting manual.

It’s all about trying our best and rolling with the punches with your partner alongside.

This piece is not sponsored, but I believe the proverbial saying is true: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I thought I’d lose a lot from having children, and that is true to some extent. But I have gained so much more.

If I was brave before, I am even more courageous now. If I was efficient before, I am even more adept at multitasking now. If I was tenacious before, I am even more resilient now.

I have also found that for all the fun, adventurous, meaningful things I used to enjoy doing as a single, I now have two little friends and my husband with whom to share these experiences.

The decision to have children is a highly personal, individual one. My story is not your story.

But for those of you perched on the fence and looking for answers, I’d say: Count the cost, and take the plunge if you can. You’ll be thrown into the deep end, but you’ll gain so much more than if you only stood at the top of the diving board and wondered about the waters below.

I’ve done two deep dives into parenting now and I’m still learning how to swim every day. Some days, the waves overwhelm. Some days, I sputter and choke.

But oh, what an undeniably glorious adventure it has been.

ABOUT THE WRITER:

Bryna Sim, 34, is TODAY’s social media editor. Recently, her two children have been role-playing families, where they pretend to be older siblings to plastic dolls. Does this mean they are ready for number three?

Related topics

Adulting 101 motherhood parenting children

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