Monday, May 12, 2008

In the Thick of It

Yesterday, on our way home from a much-needed vacation, hubby and I had several hours to kill before we needed to catch our flight so we paid a visit to one of his closest friends, Brian. He lives several states away from us, so we don't get to see him that often. It's a real treat when we get to spend time with him. In the past five years he has gotten married to a woman who has a child from a previous marriage and they also now have 2 of their own - one is a year old, the other is 3.

This was the first time meeting Brian's wife, Helena and their children. I was looking forward to meeting them, especially because Helena has been very thoughtful over the past few years about sending letters and photos and her letters always have this really friendly, upbeat tone. I expected we would hit it off fabulously (because, you may be surprised to learn, I am a pretty upbeat person myself).

Well, meeting the children was a delight (they are all adorable), but I can't say the same for Helena. We spent about 7 hours visiting them and I am not exaggerating when I tell you that for 7 hours straight Helena bitched and complained about every minute aspect of being a mother and about what a slouch Brian is with parenting and around the house. I thought this was an odd and inappropriate way to behave around someone she was just meeting. She was constantly rolling her eyes and sighing, nitpicking at the children, criticizing and demeaning Brian. She and I sat and talked for awhile and among other things, she complained about how she has no life anymore - her entire being revolves around endless caretaking of the kids, how exhausted she is all the time - how she would kill for just one full night's sleep, how she has no social life anymore or adult interaction, how they never go out anywhere (neither of their parents are interested in babysitting), how they have no money, how she has asked herself many times, "is this all there is?". I observed her closely as she interacted with the children to try to detect any moments of joy on her face and honestly, in the 7 hours we were there I saw about 3 fleeting smiles at the kids. The rest of the time she was miserable and complaining. The 1 year old was crawling around picking stuff off the floor and eating it (God knows what it was she was eating) and Helena snorted "yeah, I'm so OVER it. A little dirt and germs won't kill her."

I felt uncomfortable there because I felt we were putting her out. I got the feeling she would rather be napping instead of being with us. In fact, she kept complaining so much about how tired she was, I told her to go ahead and take a nap - that we wouldn't be offended, so she did. Unfortunately, she woke up from her nap just as miserable as ever.

After about the 6th hour of listening to her bitch and moan, I decided to try out my famous question on her - you know, the "knowing what you know now about parenthood, if you came back in another life would you choose it again?" she answered an emphatic YES. I was so stunned, I was speechless. I definitely expected a "no way" from this one. Looking back, I wish I hadn't been speechless and would have asked her to elaborate.

Here's what is interesting to me: if parenthood is so wonderful, why are scenarios like this so common and why is it so rare to encounter mothers who look truly joyful with their children and appear to enjoy motherhood? Also, wouldn't it be reasonable to expect that the amount of talk concerning the joys of motherhood would far outweigh the bitching and complaining? This woman did not say ONE SINGLE POSITIVE THING about her children or about being a mother the entire 7 hours we were there. If being a mother is so rewarding and so great, shouldn't a mother look happy and joyful, at least SOME of the time? If all the sacrifice and burden of motherhood pales in comparison to the joy and rewards of parenthood, shouldn't we be able to see even a GLIMMER of that joy and reward when we watch mothers interact with their children? Believe me, I am watching for it because as you know, this is an endless source of fascination to me. I am constantly looking to prove myself wrong, but the mothers I meet do not allow me to do that. They simply confirm every observation I post in this blog...that the institution of motherhood is not the wellspring of joy and bliss it is promoted to be - it is a deceitful pool of quicksand.


Stepher said...

It sounds to me as if Helena is brainwashed about parenthood. She let her true feelings come through for hours on end and then, when confronted w/the question, she fell back into drink-the-Kool-Aid-mode b/c everyone loves and wants children.

Kudos for you for not killing her.

Phoena said...

You did the right thing by cornering her with the "would you do it all over again" question.

BUT, after she said she would have kids all over again, you should have either:

a) chuckled a bit and said, "uh-huh" like you didn't believe her and knew she was just being politically correct or

b) said, "Well, it must not be that bad, then, huh?"

That should shut them up.

CFVixen said...

Great post, Sassy. Some women just refuse to admit it, don't they?

Tina C said...

Excellent post. I also know mothers exactly like the one you've described. The entire visit consists of mom telling me how hard it is, how much life has changed and not for the better. Then when faced with the reality that it's not all bliss and sunshine, mom says, "But I wouldn't change a thing." Really? Hmmm.

firefly said...

There is an interesting news item on Child-Free News, Kids, Marriage, Happiness, about this very subject.

From the Sydney Morning Herald, Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert:

"The fact that parenthood crowds out all other things in life could explain why we consider children as our greatest source of joy, he said.

"Parents tell me all the time that: 'My child is my greatest source of joy'," he said.

"My reply is that: 'Yes, when you have one source of joy, it's bound to be your greatest'."

My favorite bit, though, was the line about Armani socks.

As I am so fond of saying to my bf when he raves about some purchase, "You HAVE to like it. You bought it."

jdmxrain said...

but for some mothers it is, my mom says she loves being a mother of course she struggled a lot being a single mom and all but she really does love me, I'm so thankful I had a mom like her. She's an amazing and strong woman. I'm glad to have been born BUT

I am proudly CF even though I come from a woman who really loves children and motherhood was something she always wanted. I such wish society wasn't pushy about it.

Just because my mom loved it doesn't mean that I have to love it. I love my mom but I'm not her. I really think your convo with Helena shows that in privacy we will admit our true feelings.

That's why true mom confessions is such a popular site, there are moms on there that admit they hate motherhood. So that validates the fact that its not the end all be all of the human experience.

oh and btw my mom wanted two kids, a boy and a girl but she quit when she saw that she couldn't support two kids and that each child required time with each parent, this was before my parents got divorced...and she couldn't go through with having another kid so she didn't.

So I don't get why people like Helena have more than 1. IF they want kids so badly, have 1, see how it goes then have more if you can.

I think sometimes people get carried away and see Brad and Angelina having a camp of kids and think its all glossy...well yea, Brad and Angelina are each on their own multimillionaires that can afford 24/7 child care, and disposable income on their kids, and time alone when they need to.

Its hard for some people to realize that they will never be like Brad and Angie, but they still get carried away. Everything always looks easy but it hardly ever is easy.