How do you know when you're ready to have kids?

Ariel wonders if there's ever really a "right time" to start a family

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Last month, one of my best friends turned 30. We’re all around the same age — many of us are getting married, settling into our cities and our careers, and buying houses. (“Settling down,” I think, is the preferred cliché for this phase of our freshly oh-so-grown-up lives.) We’re beginning to think more about what the next decade holds. And for many of us, the answer is that we’re probably going to spend our 30s having and raising kids.

In the lead-up to her birthday, my friend seemed a little quiet, maybe even despondent. But it wasn’t the stress of passing the big three-oh milestone, or a general fear of getting older, that really bothered her. She confessed that her birthday was, more than anything, making her fret about when to start a family. And I don’t think a ticking biological clock is to blame. It’s more that she feels locked into that traditional progression she had always envisioned: first comes marriage, then home ownership, and then — around age 30 — procreating. She’s done the first two on her list, right on schedule. But she just doesn’t feel ready yet to be a mom.

My friend is the most nurturing, generous person I know — it’s why I love her. She brings me soup when I’m sick, she knits and sews, and she cooks elegant homemade meals. She’ll make a wonderful mother. But, she explains, she really loves her life the way it is right now, as a newlywed. She and her husband love to entertain for friends and family and they travel often. They’re in the middle of furnishing their new, very sleek, concrete-floor condo. “I know I’m supposed to want to have a baby soon,” she says, “but I just don’t want things to change yet. Truthfully, I don’t know if I will ever feel ready.” She feels a little guilty, or selfish somehow, for waiting.

I told her, that’s okay. You shouldn’t have kids just because you’re supposed to. And 30 is young! When and if she’s ready, she’ll know. But I don’t actually know if I’m right. Will there be there some kind of sign from the universe she should watch for? A gut feeling, or some kind of Oprah-esque “ah-ha” moment?

How did you know you were ready to have kids? Does anyone ever know for sure, or is it always a leap of faith? One particularly frank friend told me that a really bad hangover (!) was what actually made her decide to start a family. She didn’t want her social calendar and her job to be the two most important things in her life, and she was fed up with herself for spending so much of her time recovering from whatever she’d done the night before. She wanted her days to be about something bigger and more important: her children. (She now has two happy and healthy kids, plus a full-time job — and of course she still has a healthy social life.)

Now that I work at a parenting magazine (I’m the new senior editor here), I think about when to have kids multiple times a day. I’m not quite 30, but I’m getting married in June, and my fiancé and I are shopping for a house — with at least one extra bedroom. At the office, I’m totally immersed in parenting debates and childrearing challenges, which, half the time, is almost the best birth control there is. But the other half of the time, all the mom-talk makes me a little sad, because I don’t get to reap any of the rewards of being a mom — all the fun time spent with your own child, watching him learn and grow, building a loving relationship, and watching a wonderfully funny and unique little personality develop.

So, what do you think? Is there ever a “right time” to have kids? Will all of your ducks ever be in a row? Or do you just …do it?

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