Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Growing tired of disclaimers...

I need this to stop. The addition of the phrase "who knows, we could change our minds eventually" or "maybe in a few years we'll be ready" is beginning to make me sick. The more I say it, the more it nauseates me, because it's a lie.

We're not having children. We are comfortable with this decision. Please stop trying to convince me that I'll regret it.

This is not because:
We hate children. We don't. Yes, we have a low misbehaving tolerance, but we adore our nieces, nephews and the younglings of friends. It gives us great pride to be called Auntie and Uncle. I'm honored when people assume that, for example, my niece is my own child, because I know what a great kid she is. We love the kids in our lives. What we like even more is giving them back at the end of the hour/day/whathaveyou.

We fear losing our independence. I'd be lying if I said this was 100%, but we know that it's possible to live a fun, social life while raising kids. We have friends that do it. We know the birth of a child isn't the social death sentence that it was for our parents. The parents we know get a babysitter or have company at their house, raising their children with half a dozen honorary Aunts and Uncles. I think that's pretty special and helps create a rich environment for a child, filled with role models and, of course, enthusiastic babysitters.

My parents never had friends when my brother and I were growing up. The only time we'd have a babysitter was New Year's Eve, when my mom and dad would go out with their siblings. I know my mom loves me, my brother, and my 6-year-old niece, but she has openly told me she wishes she could hit the do-over button and find out what her life would be like without kids, without my dad. I do not take offense to this because I know it is an issue completely separate from her love for me.

We think we'd make terrible parents. On the contrary. We'd make fantastic parents. We'd read to our kids every night, and give them a life rich with social and educational experiences. We'd take them camping with us and teach them how to fish; we'd take them to historical and cultural places as well as DisneyWorld and the local playgroup. We'd learn all about disciplining our kids and sure, we'd maybe lose our tempers once in awhile, get irritated during the "why" stages, etc. but we could make it through it. We just have no desire to.

There are a thousand reasons that we are making this choice. I am leary to list these reasons, though, for fear of those with kids and the many who want kids accusing me of making generalizations. This is, after all, a public forum and I'm opening myself up to the criticism that I face constantly at work when I show disinterest in the baby stories of strangers (not the people I work closely with -- I like their stories), or when I don't want to hold the baby that's been brought in for show and tell. "SHE doesn't want kids," a co-worker will say in a tone that cannot possibly be conveyed in type but is much like an eight-year-old tattling on her classmate, opening the classmate up for immediate ridicule. The conversation inevitably shifts, usually to trying to talk me out of the decision by bringing up one of the three aforementioned points.

"It's the toughest job you'll ever love," Eddie, the man going through the nasty divorce tells me. This same man who readily admits that his marriage began going downhill upon the birth of their twins, bringing the grand total to three kids. He resents his wife for insisting on putting her career as an international flight attendant before the kids, putting him last in line for her attention and affection. After the twins were born, he tells me, she took more flights than ever and she'd be gone several days a week. It was as if, he says, she was running from their family. I don't think there are any "as ifs" about it.

"You have such nice things," said my fiancé's stepsister. "You'll have to get rid of it all when you have children." She told this to me without a hint of humor. "I can't have nice things anymore. I traded all that for my kids." Her kids are three holy hellion boys. No, I take that back. Her firstborn is actually a nice kid. It's his little brother -- the middle one -- who's the troublemaker. He gets his attention the hard way -- he breaks things, or he just screams. The third and youngest child seems to be following, of course, in the middle boy's evil little footsteps.

Is this a parenting issue? Of course it is. But when I saw her in this rare moment without her children, speaking openly about how exhausted she always was, how tired she was of yelling all the time, how impossible these boys are to control and how this wasn't what she signed up for when she became a mother, I feel sorry for her. When she says "I never looked past that little baby, and how beautiful having that little baby would be. I never thought it would be this much work," she's not talking me out of having children, but she is reinforcing one of the big reasons why I've made this decision: I already have a job. I love what I do. I want to keep doing it. She is miserable since she quit her career to be a stay-at-home mom because financially it was more expensive, with three children, for her to work than to stay home. Some people are wired to be stay-at-home moms and I respect and envy their temperament. She is not one of these women. Neither am I. But at least I know that now before jumping into having kids.

"You guys have so much fun together," says Mike, my coworker who has two children, one of whom has severe ADHD. "That's because you don't have children." He whines about how we see all the good movies yet he, a huge sci-fi buff, only this weekend finally saw Revenge of the Sith. "You two so need to have children," he says enthusiastically. "You'd be the coolest parents ever." He says this immediately after a story about how his hyperactive daughter's overcommitted schedule eliminates all time for fun in their household. This past weekend, Madeleine's ice skating instructor is on vacation, which left him a rare moment to catch the film. Usually he'll come in on Monday, exhausted, talking of the two birthday parties, flute lessons and four hours of ice-skating preliminaries that he did in one weekend. "That sounds great," I'll tell him. "We're going to have kids right now." I do this because he's the worst of them, the ones who insist I'll be the best mom ever. It used to be cute, a funny game between us and I usually don't mind that particular tactic. I'm usually flattered by it. His tone has changed, though, putting a little too much emphasis on "accidents happen!" and "you two are doing the world a disservice by not breeding" (his actual words), and so too must mine. Listen to me very carefully, Michael. THAT IS NOT WHAT WE WANT.

"I want my life back," my friend Lisa has said a number of times. She was much like me two years or so ago, upwardly mobile in her career with a clear vision of her future that didn't involve children. She was in the middle of planning her wedding when she found out she was pregnant. They moved up the wedding date so she wouldn't be showing too much on her wedding day, and eventually came a gorgeous little girl. First she was forced to give up a sales position that involved quite a bit of traveling for a local one -- one she didn't want. Determined not to let motherhood get in the way of her career, she enrolled her 2-month-old daughter in daycare. "It's a no-win situation," she tells me. "Either I stay home and become miserable because I'm not working, or I put her in day care and I'm home all the time because she's sick." Her daughter spent the winter in a constant state of illness, going back to daycare for a day only to come home two later with another cold. She and her new husband had to cancel their delayed honeymoon because they used all their vacation time over the winter staying home for a sick little girl whom daycare wouldn't allow through the door. Lisa and her husband got sick too, a result of the lack of sleep caused by a sick, collicky baby. "I love her, I really do," she'll say. All she ever wanted was to meet the man of her dreams and marry him. "I just want to enjoy my life now, and enjoy my husband. I feel like a terrible mom and a worse wife." I don't doubt that she loves her daughter. She lights up when she talks about her, about her milestones, and when she shares her latest pictures. But Lisa might be the only parent I know who discourages me, for the sake of, at the very least, my career, from having children.

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I like when people tell me about their kids. I love stories about how cute they are, and I'm empathetic when the stories turn to how rough a job being a good parent is. I genuinely care about people, about their relationships and their children. It hurts my feelings when people assume we're childhaters and anti-family. When I first met my fiancé, he said he wanted four kids. Seeing how Joy's family has changed since our relationship began has been a huge motivator in changing his mind, especially hearing her talk so frankly about how hard it is, and how hard it's been on her relationship with her husband. Of course there may be three happy marriages for every one that's changed for the worse with the addition of children. Of course many of you are thrilled about the idea of starting your families or enjoying your children you already have. WE BOTH KNOW THIS.

I would love to discuss this with people. Tell me how much you love your families, tell me how happy you are and how your life has changed since you've had children -- I want to hear it. But tell me because you want to share your joy, not because you want to convince me I'm making a grave mistake. And please, for god's sake, don't ask me what I'm going to do when I'm 45 and childless and wishing I'd had kids. (this is what brought on this post). I have strong feeling I'll have no regrets.

Now I just need to practice declaring my upcoming marriage a childfree one to parents-in-law convinced that we must carry on the family name. And I need to learn to deal with the tears, and with hearing the same things I always hear: "It's the toughest job you'll ever love." Thanks, but, as a good friend is fond of saying, if I want a tough job to love, I'll join the Peace Corps.

2 comments:

BritGirl said...

Wonderful post! You make many excellent points here, but the one I'm going to remark on is this... I consider myself very fortunate to know some parents who are honest about how having children has changed their lives, and not necessarily in ways they envisaged. I find that many parents, mothers especially, go to great effort to hide the truth and go out of their way to convince women without children that parenting is the most wonderful job in the world. It's very very hard, and one of the reasons I didn't want to take it on. There is a real conspiracy of silence.

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