I broke up with my girlfriend, of three years, because she wanted children and I didn't. Used to be I was a teenager, and the idea of being a parent was so out of whack it barely crossed my mind. Then I was in my early twenties, and although I started to realise I'd have to consider it one day, having a kid was still a long, long way off.
Now I'm pushing twenty-five – I'm crossing over from early twenties to the much more ominous sounding "mid-twenties." And with everything that's happened, and everything I can see now coming, very imminently, I'm starting to wonder - properly wonder - what it will be like to have children. Will it be good? Bad? Will I give them a good life, or screw them up? Should I even have children? Do I even want children?
The parents I speak to – most of them friends, who have grown up quicker than I have – give me conflicting reports. They all adore their kids, obviously, but raising them is never made to sound easy. And then I know plenty of people who are 30, 40, even 50 years old and don't have children, and some of them seem happy, and some of them seem unfulfilled. I guess there is no easy answer – I guess the compulsion and joy of having children, though uniformly biological, varies from person to person. But I need some kind of direction.
There are three things I worry about. If you're a similar age to me, maybe some of this goes through your head as well.
First, the aforementioned concern about my being able to provide a child with a good life. Although I didn't think about it much, the idea of being a parent, when I was teenager, was a no-brainer. "Why wouldn't I want somebody else to enjoy all this?! All we do is drink and party and knock about all day – life is so fun!"
But now I'm older. I know the world is bad a lot of the time. And I don't mean that in that Grumpy Old Men, Guardian columnist, "isn't it annoying, those people who listen to music on the tube?" kind of way. I mean genuinely, thoroughly, extremely, the world is bad. I'm 24 and I've been addicted to alcohol, consistently self-harmed a lot of my life and attempted twice to commit suicide. I have friends who have been bullied, attacked, raped. I flick on the news and see... well, this is a news site, just look in the sidebar. Get what I'm saying?
The worry about giving my kid a good life isn't rooted in the finicky, pretty-much-nominal stuff they'll encounter – I'm not worried my kid won't be able to handle adolescence, or noisy restaurants, or bad films. I'm worried about when my kid will be old enough to comprehend and be affected by the masses of terrible – truly terrible – things that happen on a daily basis, not just to them or their friends, but to the world in general.
We try to pretend it's not a burden, but it is. I don't know if I want to drag another person into this fight.
The second thing that puts me off having kids is my self-doubt – my crippling self-doubt – about my suitability as a parent. I'm sure everyone feels this, and I'm sure that, when the kid is born, nature, to some extent, kind of takes over, and you intrinsically "get" how to look after him or her.
But that's just the basic stuff, right? That's just what you need to do to keep the child alive. I have no idea what kind of lessons I'd like to impart to my kid – I have no idea how I'd like to contextualise and arrange the world for them. I think I'd be okay. I think I'd raise a kid who was liberal and conscientious and altruistic, a kid who'd go on to do well. But I'm sure my parents, and my parent's parents, and everyone else's parents all thought the same, and every one of them ended up raising kids who were emotionally very damaged.
Damned if I do - or damned if I don't
Should I be a disciplinarian towards my children? A friend? Something in between? I don't know. And I don't think nature simply handles all of that stuff for you. Maybe you just have to roll the dice and learn as you go on. But that seems to me even worse than not trying at all, like never having children and never screwing them up is better than playing fast and loose with their emotions, their development. I'd rather be damned if I don't, is what I'm saying. Perhaps that's a dumb impulse.
The last thing that keeps me from having children, quite frankly, is the impact it'll have on my life. I like having my own time. I like doing whatever I want to do. I like not being tethered to anything, or anyone. And surely, when your first child is born, all of that is gone, right? It's not your life any more. You're sharing it from then on with another person, another person who is – for a large part of their life - dependent on you.
Maybe I'm still too young. Maybe it's telling, in and of itself, that the thought of relinquishing the time I spend playing videogames to looking after a baby scares the hell out of me. But when does that stop? Can anyone tell me? When does it become that you don't want to fulfil your own desires, and want instead to care for a baby? When? When is that coming? Are those things mutually exclusive?
I don't know. But I'm not that far from 30, now, and as mature as I often feel, I can't envision swapping me-time for parent-time at any point, ever.
And then, I guess, as a fourth point, there's the experience I had with my parents. It was rough. They were rough. What if I turn out like them? What if, through circumstance or by mistake, I end up doing the same to them as they did to my sister and me? How do I look at myself after that?
I came into this week's column hoping to find some answers. What I have are more questions. I hate that worrying about becoming a dad ruined my relationship. At the same time, I'd rather be single and unhappy than married, with a kid, and equally unhappy.
I think we all feel like this, us twenty-somethings. I think when it comes to having children, we all feel like we could use an adult.
Ed Smith writes about games, films and culture for IBTimes UK. He has also written for The Observer, Vice, New Statesman and Edge magazine. Find him on Twitter @mostsincerelyed