I have found myself in the last year or two having the great “to-have-or-have-not” debate about children with many many friends and doing a lousy job of listening instead of talking. Most of my acquaintances are on the cusp, choosing if and when. Few have taken the plunge. I’m not the first pioneering example for most of my friends. But I’m happy, I’m chatty. And I used to despise children more than you. Trust me.
I suspect this is about to be one of a series of posts about the decision to procreate, preparing for it, the asinine assumptions (positive and negative) connected with it. It’s just possible if I post about it here when I see you all in person I will listen instead of talk. You may drink if you choose from the firehose of my opionions here — and ignore them otherwise. And on the rare ocassions I sneak out to drink beer when the kids are in bed, we can talk about something else. Honest.
For most of my life before the age of about 28, I swore I didn’t want children. In a rageful way I thought that having children would be the end of my life. Of course, on many levels I was completely correct. If, instead of “life” you interject the word “lifestyle” it’s a completely true statement. I had assessed the dangers of poor spousal communication, inadequate funds and identity confusion and they was all too much for me. I didn’t know what I would have left that I could understand. The number of places I saw the possibility for the ecology of my life to break down were too many to count. The rage was provoked (and still is) by those who acted as though I were somehow immature for my very valid concerns.
So, I am now two years into mostly-blissed-out parenthood. And something like six years out from the day my dead set terror on the subject began to thaw. What changed? Well, for the dismissive who will still to this day be ripped limb from limb, the dangers did not change. They are still real and to make light of them still makes me angry. My life and my circumstances are what altered. I married a man I’ve got more than 10 years of trust and great communications with. My finances grew more steady. I started to be able to think more about the future than making a barely functional present happen. Each of the most individual problems of parenthood became something I could break down, internalize and restructure in a solvable way.
Does that mean I grew up? I don’t think so. I was a rational, considered adult before. I am still a rational considered adult only with more settled circumstances and a dramatically different life style. More settled circumstances do not, I’m sorry, signify to me that I am an adult. And for christ sake, if anyone else ever tells me that becoming a parent made me an adult I will punch them in the face. There are so many people with children out there who are irresponsible idiots that it should be obvious that procreation is an unspeakably LOW standard for adulthood.
Adulthood is an approach to living that considers long term objectives as well as the short term. Adulthood is dealing decently with your partners. Your friends. Your self. Adulthood is something I don’t think we all acheive every day. Maybe not even most days. Adulthood is judicious, kind, and calm.
So what is parenthood? Parenthood is a complete and utter lifestyle and priority shift. Possibly more, but certainly nothing less. From the female point of view, if you’ve born the kid yourself, the moment you become a parent you can’t even use your own body without reference to how it impacts someone else’s future. I think of parenthood almost on par in life experiences with becoming suddenly disabled – blind or deaf or legless. Not because I consider it a bad thing like the disability, but our main societal interfaces are really not child friendly. Or blind person friendly. Or deaf person friendly. All of these things can strongly impact your income, your social and transportation options. The very hours you can wake and sleep. Your experience of the grocery store, the mall and the restaurant. How you dress yourself, the food you have time and energy to eat. It’s all of these things.
If the disability metaphor pains you, let me put it another way. Parenthood changes — or more specifically complicates — the logistics of every daily act in the first few years of the child’s life. Of course, some of those logistics get easier with time. Much easier. And pretty quickly. I get a full night’s sleep now. I no longer have to plot, as I did in my daughter’s first months, how and when I might achieve a shower. But a trip to the grocery store requires consideration of the time of day, when Betsy ate or slept last, how much stuff I need and so on. When ALL the stars align, I will do something other than a commando run for a few ingredients. I sincerely dislike going without my husband. A toddler can only be fed grapes and amused by helping mommy find things for so long before she begs to get out of the cart. And the answer NO yields public and annoying meltdowns that have to be born stoically if they’re ever going to end.
Anyhow, there will be more on the subject of the logistics. Planning for it. Breaking it down. The fear the most well meaning friends will try to instill in you of doing The Wrong Thing. How Preparation for Birth Is Not Preparation for Parenting. But that’s later. I’ve gone on too long as is.