Deep Thoughts: Parenting
Time for Deep Thoughts again, Internet.
I know, right?
So, I had been hearing some noise about this New York Magazine article (charmingly entitled “All Joy and No Fun: Why parents hate parenting”), and when the truly awesome and cute-baby-havin’ Lawyerish linked to it in her latest post, I took the opportunity to read it. My feelings about the article in general can be summed up in Lawyerish’s words:
“I think the fact that our society, including the highest echelons of academia, has become crazed with studying, measuring and analyzing happiness is, in itself, rather bizarre and sort of amusing and also so very distinctly American.”
I suppose I could just leave well enough alone and dismiss the entire article as kind of insane because YEAH, the fact that we are now attempting to measure happiness like it’s a fucking cup of sugar or something is just…well, it’s not the most scientific thing in the world. But why leave well enough alone when I have a blog on which to blather away about my own point of view? EXACTLY.
First off: I want it to be understood that I fully acknowledge the following things about myself:
- I only have one child.
- She is only 15 months old.
- Therefore, I do not know what it is like to raise multiple children and/or older children.
- I can only, of course, speak about marriage as it relates to my own experience, which has been a very positive one.
- These are merely my opinions. Opinions = assholes = everyone has them, they all stink, some people do that weird bleaching thing, etc.
- Wait. Forget that very last part.
That being said, I’ll also take this opportunity to remind you that I spent the first 30 years of my life staunchly opposed to the idea of having children. That stance changed, obviously, but back when we were trying (and failing) to conceive us a young’un, I remember telling Brad that if for some reason we weren’t able to do this whole baby thing, I was perfectly fulfilled with our lives as they were. Now, who knows how I would have felt if Sadie had never been born, but all I can say is that back then — despite all of our monthly disappointments — I was confident that we could be happy even if we never became parents. And I think we would have been. Of course, I’m SO SO SO SO SO glad that I never had to find out for sure, but I know that having children is not the only way (and certainly not a surefire way) to be happy.
When I was first pregnant and feeling kind of assy and hormonal and weird, I felt really guilty most of the time because I was having all these thoughts of “WHAT HAVE I DONE?! Our lives were perfectly fine and now there’s this irreversible life-changing event going on and OMG BABIES EPISIOTOMIES POTTY TRAINING where’s the booze oh wait I can’t have booze SONOFABITCH. I know now that this is a pretty normal reaction after the initial giddiness of the positive pregnancy test wears off, but I felt like such a massive, enormous, ungrateful whore. Who gagged at the thought of lemon hard candies.
Once those first trimester crazies wore off, I was left with my normal, underlying crazy, which was comprised mostly of “What if I don’t like motherhood or my baby and make Joan Crawford look like June Cleaver by comparison?” So I spent a lot of my pregnancy generally unconvinced that I’d be maternal worth a damn, and sort of expecting being a parent to suck really, really hard in a lot of ways, and to be insanely, mind-blowingly difficult on top of it all. I was worried that I’d feel trapped and frustrated. I was worried what it would do to our marriage. I was worried about this poor kid inheriting my bad eyesight and anxious tendencies and OMG she’s going to be terrible at math just like me, I know it, FUUUUCK.
I think we can all look at this and call my fears justified, no?
I had a friend who was pregnant (also with her first) around the same time as me, and she was pretty much my polar opposite as far as anticipating motherhood was concerned. She couldn’t fucking WAIT to dive into that shit, and had been wanting kids for as long as she could remember. This first baby was just the beginning of a whole brood of shorties she and her husband planned to have, and her enthusiasm for becoming a parent made me feel a little less insecure. “This is going to be SO AWESOME!” I remember her saying. And I thought, yeah, maybe, I guess. I hope so.
Cut to: five months later. We both have our babies. Guess who loves this whole parenting gig. Guess who really kind of hates it.
Let’s take a minute right here so I can be clear about what I’m NOT saying in telling you this little tale:
- That I am somehow an awesome person and awesome parent because I was a doubtful, anxious pregnant lady;
- That my friend is somehow a lesser parent because she was having a hard time adjusting;
- That I wasn’t right about parenting being really fucking hard.
What I AM saying, however, is:
- That going into ANY situation with expectations that high is pretty disastrous, especially when that situation begins with A PERSON COMING OUT YOUR BREWSTER.
- That I would like to ask some of the parents in this NY Mag article WHAT EXACTLY THE FUCK they thought they were getting into when they decided to add a person to their household whose main job is to scream, poop, bogart your attention, break your things, try your patience, and — later on — royally piss you off. (I am speaking mostly to the first paragraph of the article, in which the author seems somehow surprised and disappointed that her 2 1/2 year old son is acting…like he’s 2 1/2 years old.) Is the fact that kids are demanding 100% of the time somehow hidden from a large part of the population? Have these people never witnessed a toddler meltdown in Target? And if not, can they please tell me which Target they patronize, because I would like to start shopping there now, please.
- That we need to stop treating the act of having children as some sort of rite of passage, status-symbol-y thing you do because you’re bored and all your friends have kids. Having children is not a requirement. You do not have to give up that career you dearly love to get pregnant and have a baby. You do not have to turn your life upside down for 18 years plus if you don’t feel like it. You do not have contractual obligations to provide your parents with grandchildren (at least, I hope you don’t, good lord). But if you decide to do it, then sack up and stop acting put-out whenever raising kids isn’t motherfucking Pleasuretown 24/7, because you know who suffers the most from both those scenarios (being born “just because” and/or being viewed as this massive CRAMP IN MY STYLE, OMG)? The kids.
Who — as she will gladly tell you in her teen years — didn’t ASK to be born, Mom, GOD!
I freely admit that parenting is really hard, and that’s coming from someone who has it relatively easy (happy, healthy baby, supportive husband). I remember changing Sadie’s diaper in the middle of the night during her first week at home, and as she lay there screaming bloody murder at my bloated, sleep-deprived face, I thought to myself “THIS IS MY LIFE NOW.” And I may have panicked a bit. Because babies do not ease themselves into your life, my friends. It is some serious shellshocking shit. And it is very easy for your life to become unrecognizable very quickly, and maybe for a very long time. I do not think there is any shame in having a hard time adjusting to parenthood, and if you claim that it was a breeze and you didn’t have AT LEAST one moment of Calgon, take me away (and by “Calgon” I mean “tequila,” and by “away” I mean “to the furthest reaches of the globe for a month or five”), I will not believe you for a second. And I certainly don’t think that we should make any secret of the sucky parts of parenting. I’m a firm believer in the lowered expectations, remember (or at least well-tempered-with-reality expectations), and I think knowing about the tough parts going in is immensely helpful and important for people preparing to dive into the abyss themselves.
But. BUT. This is where I get frustrated with the article. While I absolutely, positively DO NOT DENY that being a parent is hard in so many ways, I call total fucking BULLSHIT on the whole “kids have destroyed my happiness” point of view. Because there is one — ONE — person who is responsible for your happiness, or lack thereof. Know who that is?
(Not literally, of course. What I mean to say is “YOU.” I was just trying to be cute with puns and such. Although it would be kind of refreshing to just blame everything on this poor fucking sheep in a field somewhere. Stupid fucking sheep! Why can’t you ever let me be happy, DAMN!)
I don’t really believe the NY Mag article is actively arguing that people aren’t responsible for their individual happiness(-es?), but that’s the tone I get, and it’s cockassed fucking horseshit. Yeah, it’s a challenge whenever my day starts out with a cranky toddler who delivers a barrage of sharp kicks to my gut when I’m trying to kiss her goodbye, and who slams an entire plate of lovingly-prepared scrambled eggs to the floor without taking a single bite. And yeah, my life sure was a lot more peaceful when my evenings did not consist of a whirlwind routine of PICK UP BABY! FEED BABY! BATHE BABY! PUT BABY TO BED! OH FUCK NOW IT’S 10PM AND I HAVEN’T EATEN AND POSSESS NO CLEAN UNDERWEAR FOR TOMORROW! But I can either choose to be a miserable fucking cuntbag about it, or I can choose to accept that this is what life (a life I chose!) looks like FOR RIGHT NOW, and be happy about it.
Because, after all, this is also what life looks like right now.
A few years from now, life will look totally different. And a few years after that, it will look eerily similar to a few years ago, because Sadie will be grown and gone and it will be just me and Brad again, deciding on a whim to go to happy hour after work or spending a Saturday afternoon at the (R-rated) movies. And I don’t know about you, but going to the movies is much more enjoyable when I can be confident in the fact that I didn’t choose to be a giant, raging bitch of a black cloud during the bulk of my daughter’s childhood.
Choosing to be happy isn’t easy, of course, and I’m not saying I’m a ray of Mary fucking Poppins sunshine all the time (and there are many inanimate objects that have been hurled across the room during these past 15 months who would back me up on that). But I fucking work at it. I make a damn effort. And that’s a sentiment I don’t see anywhere in the article.
And you know, the whole idea that parenthood is this unending slog punctuated with very rare (and short-lived) moments of happiness is kind of laughable to me. Because, uh, isn’t that kind of what LIFE is, kids or not? My life pre-Sadie wasn’t some fucking 32-year-long orgasm of unending parties and fabulous globe-trotting vacations. I still went to work every day. I still got the flu. I still had bad days and paid taxes and had to do the laundry. But now I do all those things AND I have a really awesome moment at 5:30pm every weekday when a little girl cries “Mama!” and flings herself into my arms like she’s been waiting ten years to see me. So IN YOUR FACE, life! You may think you’ve shit on me by making me a parent, but the laugh’s on you.
And while we’re (sort-of) talking about pre-kid life, I have to tell you I really hate the whole pretense of a baby “changing” who you are. This paragraph had me rolling my eyes from beginning to end:
“While children deepen your emotional life, they shrink your outer world to the size of a teacup, at least for a while. (‘All joy and no fun,’ as an old friend with two young kids likes to say.) Lori Leibovich, the executive editor of Babble and the anthology Maybe Baby, a collection of 28 essays by writers debating whether to have children, says she was particularly struck by the female contributors who’d made the deliberate choice to remain childless. It enabled them to travel or live abroad for their work; to take physical risks; to, in the case of a novelist, inhabit her fictional characters without being pulled away by the demands of a real one. ‘There was a richness and texture to their work lives that was so, so enviable,’ she says. (Leibovich has two children.)”
Well, it seems that the nurses in my postpartum world totally forgot to shrink my world to the size of a teacup when I was discharged from the hospital, because I don’t know WHAT the fuck that means. A teacup? Really? Granted, you weren’t going to find me on a flight to Japan when Sadie was 3 weeks old, but BITCH, PLEASE. I think the operative term in this entire paragraph is “AT LEAST FOR A WHILE.” Babies grow up, motherfuckers. Quickly. If you’re so sad about having to give up taking “physical risks” for a few years, then get another fucking Nuvaring and clam the fuck up. And the insinuation that having a baby would have caused the novelist to become a less effectual writer? FUCK THAT SHIT. I can’t stand the pretense that having a baby means you have to morph into this entirely different, talentless robot. People who think that are the same people who tell you that getting married will change you. No. No, it won’t. You’re still you. Just married. Or with a baby. If you find yourself changing into this person you don’t recognize UR DOIN IT RONG.
I admit, however, that the article makes some good points about the effects of having children on a couple’s relationship. Babies are hard on relationships (and do not even get me started on the bone-headed notion that having a baby will somehow “fix” a struggling union). I think the toughest non-anticipated struggle of parenthood that I experienced was just how much time Brad and I end up spending apart now that there’s a shorty in the mix. If chores need done or errands need run during waking hours, one of us has to be on Sadie duty while the other completes the task in question. If there’s something fun and non-baby-friendly we want to do (but not exactly worth the hassle & expense of finding a sitter), we have to do it in shifts (or maybe forgo doing it at altogether). If one of us is in a show, the other is home with the baby. This can be lonely. And for all my doomsday anticipations, I didn’t foresee all this time apart, which is hard for the attached-at-the-hip couple we were before the baby. It takes time (and, again, MAKING A GODDAMN EFFORT) to find your rhythm again as a couple once you become parents. And as the baby changes, the effect she has on your relationship changes (sometimes for the better, sometimes not), so it’s a constant process of adjusting and re-adjusting. And then if you have MORE kids — well, as I said, I don’t know what THAT would be like, but it certainly does give me pause when I ponder having another baby. I’m pretty sure it would mean even more time apart for me and Brad, and I might need him to start wearing picture ID around the house lest I wonder who that strange man making coffee in the kitchen is.
The article makes some other interesting points — especially about the shift in how parents view children in the current day vs. in the past, and the “concerted cultivation” of middle- and upper-class children — and it is helpful to explore how putting off having children creates such monumental expectations whenever the long-awaited babies finally arrive. But you know what’s not helpful? Quotes like this: “[Children are] a huge source of joy, but they turn every other source of joy to shit.”
Uh, thanks, Dad!
(And if you’re childless and reading this blog, allow me to tell you that the sentiment above is entirely untrue. Because when I was contemplating having a baby, I believed miserable assholes when they said things like that, and in hindsight, I am SO ANGRY to have been scared and manipulated by people who clearly just wanted to shock me or fuck with my head.)
OK. I think I’m done now. I just had to get all that out. Feel free to agree or disagree as you see fit in the comments — I’m certainly not claiming to be any kind of parenting expert.*
*Is there really any such thing as a parenting expert, when we talk about how to raise individual children? I’m pretty sure the only expert when it comes to Sadie is ME, motherfuckers. I didn’t see her slide out of your vagina, Dr. Sears. And I’m pretty sure it was me getting up with her multiple times a night for several months and figuring out how she likes to eat, nap, sleep, poop, take baths, and just about everything else.
Oh, and of course Brad is an expert on Sadie too. OMG I FORGOT BRAD. This article is right! Having a (naked, banjo-strummin’) baby is ruining our marriage!!1!!11!!!
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