Mixed Messages

A few days ago I was privy to an internet outbreak regarding a concerned “friend” calling out her 30-something friend for not having kids but totally secretly wanting them. I thought the article was a little douche-y, but I was pretty surprised and pleased when the thing sparked a whole slew of comments, response articles, and criticism. Apparently, people don’t like being told that their self-worth depends on reproducing!

It got me thinking a bit about this dialogue we’re having as a society. My generation is currently breeding and as such, there is a huge amount of pressure for my age group to be thinking about and having children. The older I get, and the closer I get to that magic cut off date wherein all birth attempts become medical emergencies, the less I feel I want children. It’s just never been something I’ve connected to.

And sure, there could be a lot of reasons for this. Maybe I’m scared. Maybe I don’t think I’d make a good mother. Maybe I’m happy with the life I have now and don’t see how children would fit into that. Maybe I have too many of my own mental and emotional issues to settle before I can think of raising a healthy child.

But I can think of a pretty compelling reason right here : people give a lot of mixed messages about parenting!

Childbirth was horrible! My pregnancy was awful, I was sick every day! Forget morning sickness, mine was all the time sickness! And the labor, don’t get me started on the labor! I bled and bled and bled and the pain was so bad I couldn’t stand it! I wanted to DIE! Seriously! I said to the doctor, I says, go ahead, just kill me now. But you know what? It was so worth it! Go ahead and do it! The pregnancy and childbirth will be T-E-R-R-I-B-L-E but that little bundle of joy is worth it!!

And

Kids are so much fun. They’re a blast. You look into their little angel eyes and the whole world just melts away. Pure innocence. Pure bliss. And you forget everything in the world but your little child’s face. Until they scream and wail and you know something’s really wrong. You pick them up and realize they’ve exploded their diaper all over the floor. Then they’ve got a rash, so you have to get all the red rashy poopy pus-covered butt cleaned up! Then they start pulling apart the couch, tearing down the curtains, ripping apart your IPad, pooping on everything, running around, tearing into everything, destroying everything. Sick all the time, so much cleaning, won’t eat or sleep when you tell them to! I never sleep anymore! Forget looking into the eyes of an angel; I’m too busy chasing the kid and cleaning/fixing/repairing/healing/damage controlling to feel any enjoyment or bliss of parenthood!

And

When we first got married, we knew something was missing! We wanted a little one to join us soon as possible. So when baby came, we couldn’t be happier. But then all the stresses added up, we got overwhelmed, we didn’t have time for us anymore. Everything just fell apart. I’m so glad I have kids! Because that’s all I’ve got now!

(*These aren’t real quotes; they’re paraphrased sentiments I’ve read from just about every corner of the internet where kids are discussed.)

I’m getting the message here that parenting is tough work, sure. No one said it’d be easy! And yet, amidst all those it’s so worth its and the joys of parenthoods and I wouldn’t give this up for the world, warts and alls is an awful lot of negativity. It’s an odd mixture of cautionary tales and verbal birth control coupled with a plead to join us, we promise you’ll like it! Except you’ll be stressed all the time. Except you won’t have any time for your own health or sanity. Except every moment and every dime goes to the kid. Except your children become not only the first priority, but the only priority, to the exclusion of everything else. Except you can forget about ever having an independent sense of self again.

It’s weird, because it’s like the biggest advocates for having children are the ones complaining so loudly. It’s still pretty socially risky to say “I regret having children” so the ones who do regret it can’t say anything, while the ones who don’t want to regret it proclaim as loudly as possible that being a parent is THE BEST THING EVER while simultaneously warning everyone else to keep away as long as we can with their diatribes about “the joys”! I’m not saying I expect parents to sugarcoat reality and only talk about the good parts. But are children really destroying their lives? And do they expect us to believe them when they describe every way in which this is happening but finish off with a wouldn’t change it for the world while gritting their teeth?

As a fence-sitter on the issue of having children, I always get the same response when I admit my hesitation and concerns with doing so. “Yes, it’s awful, but you’ll see, it’s so worth it!”

But the thing is, you can’t really tell someone what would be worth it to them. You can say getting a PhD in neuroscience was entirely rewarding and entirely worth it (and very hard!) but would you say it’s right for your friend who’s a writer and has no interest in science? Especially while selling it to your friend by telling her how you were so stressed you vomited blood, lost all your hair, and almost got hospitalized several times during the course of getting your degree? Of course not!

If all that pain and hardship is worth it to you, that really doesn’t give you the authority to tell someone that all that pain and hardship would be worth it to them. People don’t all want the same things! They don’t all do well at the same things! So going into grotesque detail about how horrible that thing that’s totally worth it is is not a good way to sell it to others who don’t have your point of reference to begin with!

It’s pretty obvious that those of us who should be having children are those to whom the struggles are worth it. Not simply those with functioning reproductive systems and a “duty” to society.

Addendum: I just had to share this, because I think it goes perfectly in line with what I was trying to say and proves my point exactly: Anxiety Has Turned Moms, Would-be Moms, and Non-Moms Into a Bunch of Self-Immolating Harpies

Addendum addendum: In the interest of fairness, and since this entire post was in part a response to a conversation started by Janine Kovac (linked in the beginning), I wanted to acknowledge her reaction and apology for the original article. I have to say, it is pretty cool when people publicly take responsibility for the effect their words have had, especially when they didn’t intend to come off the way they did. And to be fair, a lot of the negative reactions garnered by the article weren’t a response to that one author so much as a response to the prevailing attitude that we seem to encounter all over: having kids makes us better than you. So again, it’s really gratifying to hear someone say, Wow, I totally didn’t mean to come off that way, and I totally see how that is exactly the way I came off. I’m sorry. That is the way these conversations should be taking place!

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4 thoughts on “Mixed Messages

  1. Hmm, parents do seem awfully interestested in talking others into procreating. Maybe they want to spread the agony, the same way a kid who was bullied grows a bit and bullies others in turn? Maybe they just want to know someone else with kids because they need a sitter so they can get away, or because there is NOTHING ELSE TO TALK ABOUT once you devote your life to kids? I know that after years of me and my best friend saying ‘hell no, kids suck’ she did an about face in a matter of months and now has a six-month-old. And I bet she feels as if she can’t tell me how much it sucks because of all those conversations we had. Not that I’m the type to say ‘I told you so!’ especially when she told herself the same things!

    But, as you point out – she is not me πŸ™‚

    • Spread the agony, exactly, haha! And yeah….I’m never quite sure if I’ll end up having kids and being like, “ohh…I told myself so!”

      I try to have compassion for those who have kids but from what I’ve read of this ongoing internet dialogue it doesn’t seem to go both ways. 😦

  2. At age 14, girls want many children and boys want a pretty wife.
    At age 24, women brag about children and men brag about pretty wife.
    At age 54, women want many grand children and men want a pretty wife.

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