I fantasize about the life my wife and I would have if we were free to travel wherever we wanted. If we were free to go out to dinner together, see a movie, go to museums without worrying about who is watching our children and feeling guilty for leaving. The time we would have to actually talk, share our lives, getting to know each other all over again. I imagine we would be doing so many fun and interesting things together rather than arguing over how we will figure out where to live and how to afford it while sending our kids to school for the first time. The stress of having children, trying to do what’s best for them, providing for them is a dominating force in our relationship. Without that, I can only imagine what our relationship would be like. Becoming a parent really has changed everything and there are times when I’m left wondering about all that I am missing.
But life is all about choices, about taking a certain path rather than standing at the fork unsure of what to do. To have my life different than it is now would have some benefits, but it would result in some terrible losses as well. But this is what prospective parents—especially men, I believe—have a difficult time understanding. Before and during my wife’s pregnancy, all I could see about having children was the cost, the negative impact on our marriage and the lack of freedom it would inflict on our lives. They have all come true. But my wife seemed to understand many of the positive aspects of having children, which I was clueless about. That made it very difficult for me to imagine why we would want to do this and that I could ever be ready for it.
But since my children were born, since I’ve been able to hold them in my arms, since I’ve been able to interact with them, I have come to realize so many of the good things about having children. I am experiencing the benefits, the positive side of having children, of having a family and I would never go back—even if I could.
I can close my eyes, even on this train, and hear my children laugh. That is one of the most beautiful sounds I have ever heard—especially if they are laughing because of something I did. The sound is the expression of pure joy, unadulterated, unencumbered, unfiltered, different than the way most of life’s joys are. It is so powerful that I feel joyous; I feel love—something that was often lacking from my childhood experience.
I marvel at how much my children learn and grow on a daily basis. Watching them experience something for the first time is awe inspiring. The way they each try to take in the new environment, try to absorb their surroundings, the way they react to a new place is thoroughly enjoyable. Then seeing how they integrate it with the other things they know is fascinating. Children’s brains grow at such a rapid rate that it challenges us to just keep up with them. But a good kind of challenge, a very fun and exciting one.
Experiencing them show their affection and love to me is nothing like I have ever known. When my daughter caresses my face, I almost always tear up. My heart swells when Elijah puts his hand on my shoulder while we are reading at bedtime. They are learning love and how to love from my wife and I and a loving family is the best feeling in the world. I had no idea I could feel such intense joy, happiness, or love from being with my children. I didn’t get that part, didn’t understand, and couldn’t see how this could be possible before they were born—I only saw the stress and overwhelming responsibility. I thought I would have to give and give and give to them. But they give back in their own way—especially if I am open to receiving.
I think about my wife, about how she is the most loving person I have ever known. How she has worked so hard to be there for our children every single day for the past three years—often by herself, with not enough sleep. I think that while we have to work so much harder to keep our relationship strong, I wouldn’t want to share this experience with anyone else in the entire world. We are stronger because of our children, because we are bigger than ourselves. We are a family now, the loving, caring family we always wanted.
When I didn’t have children, I would try to envision my life with children and my stomach would get tense and upset. I would get anxious thinking of all I would lose, all I didn’t know. But since I’ve had children, our children, my children, I hear songs or watch shows where the divorced father only sees his children every other weekend and it hurts, genuinely causes me pain to think I could be without my children. I can’t envision my life without them. Being a father has become such a huge part of who I am, I can’t imagine my life any other way. I may have given up a lot to take this path, but I have gained so much just from the journey alone.
Jeremy Schneider is a fatherhood expert, syndicated columnist, and therapist specializing in parenting, relationships and helping people overcome depression. He has been interviewed, published and quoted in media throughout the United States and the rest of the world. For more information or to contact him directly, please visit www.jgs.net.