Although I certainly still agree that having children is not something to take lightly, I look back on that pre-parent version of myself with much compassion and a little embarrassment. Man, was I hung up. I can still remember how weighty it felt to try comprehending the immense responsibilities that I saw came with parenthood. The money involved! The time! The ultimate accountability of the moral development of another human being! Not to mention the unwavering task of protecting such a fragile creature’s health and physical development. And there I was, still trying to figure out what I was going to be when I grew up. How could I even think about having a child? I could barely tell my right from my left, how in the hell was I going to be a parent? We had our lives just balanced enough to be able to pay the mortgage, keep the lights and heat on, and still see a movie every now and then. I really couldn’t imagine myself being a good enough parent to justify having a baby.
At some point, obviously, I grew out of that. I suppose there are people who choose to remain forever childless out of the fear that they would be terrible parents. But given how many people do eventually choose to have children, there must be some kind of faith that develops in adults that convinces us we might actually be able to do this kind of thing. That’s what happened to me. I was still unsure during the time we tried to get pregnant, and I grew even more unsure during the pregnancy. Somewhere underneath it, though, was the nagging hope that we weren’t completely irresponsible and insane. After all, among our peers, we were on the later end of the spectrum for having children, even though we’d been on the early end for getting married. I mean, if parenthood really is the impossibly overwhelming task I was convinced it was, why were so many other people choosing to do it? And then, if not succeeding outright, managing it pretty well? I could honestly quote you some names of people that my spouse was able to say to me, “If So-and-So can be decent parents, then we sure ought to be able to do it.” And that was actually pretty convincing. Nothing like the prospect of a little competition to convince me to toss in my bid. (Seriously, don’t pretend like you haven’t looked at some other relatively happy family and thought, “I am / could be a better parent than those two.”)
However, despite this nagging hope that parenthood could work out okay for me, I was still overwhelmed by a sense of being inadequate for the task. I’ll put it in psychoanalytic terms using the transactional analysis theory of Thomas Harris: I was stuck in the I’M NOT OK – YOU’RE OK position. Dr. Harris asserts that every child finds his way into this position, discovering himself to be needy, dependent, and powerless (not OK) and his parents to be the ones in control who can provide the support and nurturance the child needs (OK). This doesn’t rule out a happy childhood; it’s the natural position for a helpless child to unconsciously take. The work of the adult, then, is to choose to take the position I’M OK – YOU’RE OK position, taking responsibility for one’s own needs and feelings while also learning to rely appropriately on the support and nurturance of others.
Now, I am one of these people who had a happy childhood. I had loving, supportive parents who to this day serve as good models to me for what I want to be as a parent. But, like all children, I learned my own way that I was not OK. I have my own struggles with self-esteem and self-worth, just like anyone, and I wrestle with issues of inadequacy and shame. This makes me special only in that I have my own unique ways of feeling these things – and even then, someone might still identify were I to confess to their depths. I worry about whether I’m good at my job, I worry about whether I’m a good Christian, and sometimes I worry about whether I’m a good husband, despite the encouragement I get from my wife. And, as the statement of the position suggests, I usually assume other people are better at something than I am. I’m far more charitable and sympathetic to other people than I am to myself.
So I worried: would I ever be good at being a parent? And this isn’t a role that should be done half-assed. It’s one thing to phone it in at work or even take a lazy attitude towards my role as a husband. I can trust that my co-workers and my spouse will be forgiving of me on occasions. But a baby? You can’t phone that one in; it’s just too important. So I was afraid of bringing another life into this world and then ultimately failing her. After all, I knew the pains of being in a NOT OK position; why would I want to run the risk of creating another human being and failing her, dooming her to her own NOT OK position?
Of course, the rub here – and where I plan to explore in the next two posts – is how the inevitability of this position spelled not doom for me but rather freedom. And that freedom is ultimately what helped me move into an I’M OK – YOU’RE OK position with the world. Reconciling myself as an adult and a parent with the joys of the unknown adventure of having a child came almost suddenly to me when I finally held my beautiful little girl in my arms and looked into the eyes of the mystery of this new, exciting relationship. It dawned on me several weeks after she was born that I was no longer worried about whether or not I was a good parent. I was quite assured within myself that I was, indeed, good enough.
But, more of that to come later…
 Really, that’s more like a pre-pre-parent version, since I overcame it enough to decide to start trying to have children. The pre-parent stage, I suppose, would be the time when we decided to become parents but hadn’t yet.
 Harris, Thomas A. I’M OK – YOU’RE OK: A Practical Guide to Transactional Analysis. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1967.
 Harris also posits the I’M NOT OK – YOU’RE NOT OK position for the neglected child and the I’M OK – YOU’RE NOT OK position for the abused child, but he believes these to be tragic extremes.
 Harris calls this “stroking,” but for God’s sake, even in the late 60’s, didn’t he know the sexual connotations of that term? So I’m not going to say, “the stroking I get from my wife.” Because who could resist that?
 Not to be confused with Harris’ Parent-Adult-Child transactional states. I do find these concepts helpful, particularly in terms of the Adult whose superego Parent keeps him from being able to creatively enjoy the emotional freedom of being the Child.
 I implore the reader to have patience with my footnotes as both referential and self-referential.