Not all of us enter adulthood knowing innately that we want to have children. Many people struggle to acknowledge to themselves — let alone others — their uncertainty about what is often assumed to be the most logical step of adulthood. How do you know if you really want to be a father?
Ann Davidman has worked for 30 years to change that. A family therapist by trade, Davidman is one of a growing number of consultants who help would-be mothers and fathers answer one of the toughest questions they’ll ever ask themselves: to be a parent, or not? Davidman’s program, which she created with another family therapist, Denise L. Carlini, is called Motherhood – Is it for Me?, and the two co-authored a book based on the course, Motherhood. Is it for Me? Your Step by Step Guide to Clarity, that guides readers through the clarity course, going far beyond the perceived pros and cons of parenthood and instead turning attention inward to better know their desires and motivations. Davidman says the book is just as much for fathers, and she has long offered a less-advertised Fatherhood Clarity Course, as well, that offers the same services but aimed at men.
So how does Davidman help men cut through the noise and decide whether or not they actually do want to be fathers? Fatherly spoke to Davidman about her program, the difference between desire and decision, and why, in order to know what we truly want for the future, you have to look backwards.
How does the Fatherhood Clarity Course work?
When I work with men one-on-one, it’s a 12-to-14-week course, where it’s structured and ordered and I take them through a series of exercises and writing assignments to really take an inward journey into helping them discover the clarity of their desire, which has nothing to do with their decision.
So the premise is that in order to be able to make a decision, you have to step back and put the decision aside so that you can first figure out what you want and why and what drives it from the inside out so you’re not in reaction to something outside of you. And when you have clarity of that then you can look at a decision, but when you look at them at the same time then you end up in a gridlock or a stuck place. And so, it’s very directive, it isn’t open-ended, it isn’t just what are the pros and cons because that doesn’t really help in trying to figure out what it is you want.
What are some of the differences in how you counsel men versus women?
Well part of it is, if someone wants to have a biological child, there’s a timeframe on that for women, where there isn’t so much for men. There are differences, so when I do my groups I only do them with women and I don’t do groups for men, because there aren’t enough men to have a group, even though I work with men all the time. It’s harder for men to come together to do this work. I think that’s just societal, and how men are raised in this society, it’s just harder. But it’s certainly subtly changing, because some of the classic fears you think men might have, women have also.
What are some of those fears?
‘My time isn’t my own,’, ‘Will I be able to still do all the things that I want to do,’ ‘Am I going to be a good enough parent?’ and ‘If I’m going to do this, I want to do it well,’ and ‘Is there going to be enough money?’ Most people’s fears are the fear of regret, like ‘If I do this or don’t do it, will I regret it down the road?’
Do you find sometimes that men are being spurred to make this decision earlier than they might have because their partners are concerned that their biological clocks are ticking away?
Yeah, if they’re with a female partner and she’s saying ‘I need to do this within the next couple of years,’ they have to look at it. But I also work a lot with men who want children, and women who don’t. Actually, what happens even more than that is that I’ll work with men who contact me because another relationship ended over this issue because they didn’t have clarity, and they want clarity so that they know who to date. Because someone said, ‘Look, yes or no.’ And they’re saying ‘I don’t know,’ so the relationship ends, seemingly, over this issue. And so men will call me and say ‘I really need to know what I want here,’ or, ‘My partner doesn’t want children, and I’m not sure how I feel about that, and so I want to get clarity to see if I can be in the no camp, or in the child-free camp, and feel good about that.’
This goes deeper than pros and cons, as you’ve said. So what do men need to know, to consider or to discover, if they’re unsure about having a child, or even a second or third child?
Pros and cons comes into play when you’re making a decision, but you can’t make a decision unless you’re clear about what you want, and why you want it. So my role is helping people discover what they want and why they want it. When they’re clear there, the decision-making process isn’t actually that difficult. But when you’re not clear on what you want, doing a pros and cons list isn’t going to get you closer. The only people that call me are people that are already tortured, and don’t know why they can’t decide, or don’t understand why it’s difficult. Or, they are going to be a father, the decision’s made, but they aren’t as thrilled about it as they’d like to be.
If someone’s made the decision but isn’t as thrilled about it as they’d like to be, doesn’t…
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