Sunday, March 17, 2013

I Wish I Had Known



Thank you to my friend Matt for forwarding me this article on Lifehacker, 10 Things I Wish I had Known Before Becoming a Parent.  This is yet another mom-penned article outlining in detail all the things that are tough about parenthood, and ending with the requisite bitch and backpedal about how it's all worth it in the end.

The author of the article covers familiar ground:
  • Getting pregnant is not easy
  • The first few months after the kid are born are torture
  • You get no sleep for months
  • Your house gets overrun with baby crap
  • The expenses never stop
  • It's hard to maintain a career, and working at home is not an easy solution
  • You stress out a lot over whether the child is developing on schedule
  • Going out anywhere is a stress fest
  • For better or worse, you and your partner (and your relationship with each other) will never be the same
It always amazes when when parents say they wish they had known these things before they had kids.  I have never had a child and yet I am well aware of the downsides of parenting because:

  1. I have 2 eyes.  At least 70% of the people I know have kids and I can directly observe what their lives are like.  I see they are a shell of their former self.  I see their house is overrun with kiddie crap. I see they are having a hard time staying above water.  I see they are stressed over their kid's every move.  I see them spending $200 a month on diapers. I see the burden it is for them to go anywhere. I see their marriage deteriorating. I see how tired and stressed they are.  How can anyone observe people with kids and not know the truth of what parenting is like?
  2. I have never known a single parent who appeared to be more happy, fulfilled or better off in any way than I am - unless you count their tax breaks and stork parking (which I help myself to anyway).  In fact, many of them seem downright miserable.  And exhausted.  And stressed.  And broke.  And nobody can convince me that some kiddie kisses and "I love you mommy" are going to undo all of that.
  3. Given #1 and #2 above, why would I be surprised to learn that being a parent is hard, full of drugery, no sleep, exhausting, draining, life-sucking and all the rest?  Why do people so easily believe the fairytales about parenthood when their own eyes can tell them the real truth, if only they would open them?
The backpedal at the end of "it's all worth it" is just a way for the complaining mom to redeem herself because we all know it is taboo for a mom to be honest about the suckage that is motherhood. For a woman, to say that it sucks to have kids is the same thing as saying "I am an awful mom", but that can be erased by qualifying all of her complaints with, "it's all worth it" at the end.  Saying "it's all worth it" also has the added benefit of bestowing saintlike martyr qualities on the complaining mom, because god knows the saint/martyr label is one that moms love to wear with pride.  LOOK AT ALL I HAVE SACRIFICED FOR MY CHILDREN! 

(Of course, if she wants to avoid having to keep up the appearance of being a good mom and claiming "it's all worth it",  she can post her bitter complaints about motherhood anonymously on the internet, as many parents are doing these days).

If ending their venting sessions with "it's all worth it" makes it a little easier for moms to endure their lifelong prison sentence and to be honest about the downsides of childrearing, than I guess we can give them a pass - for now.  At least their increasing openness about the realities of parenthood is creating a counter-balance to the overwhelming and unrealistic pronatalist mythology that has a death grip on our culture.  My hope is that as more moms and dads write articles about the harsh realities of parenthood, fewer people will feel compelled to put their pens to paper to scribble out regretful "Things I Wish I had Known Before Becoming a Parent" lists, long after it's too late to turn back.  Instead, they will put to good use the shared experiences of parents and non-parents (and hopefully their own observations) to thoughtfully and intelligently weigh out the costs and benefits before making a monumental and life-altering leap.

23 comments:

Olimpia said...

I wonder if parents just think that the bad will be perhaps a small fraction of parenthood, and that kisses, hugs, and magical moments of love will make up 90% of the experience. Until they get there and realize that the exact opposite is true, that 90% of it is miserable. Otherwise I can't understand it either. But that seems so naive!

Alex said...

This feels very timely for me, having just learned that one of my old friends is pregnant (she's the first of the group, but I'm sure more are coming). This friend would often complain to me about how spending time with her energetic nephews would drain her so much, but now she's having her own kid (you know, the kind you can't just hand back when they stop being cute). She once told me that she was jealous of me because I had a great marriage and wasn't going to have any kids to ruin it. Yet she's having a kid now, less than two years after getting married.

After 30 years of observation, I have concluded that denial is an indispensable ingredient in parenting. The only people I know who seem to know exactly what parenting entails and how much it can (and often will) screw up your life are people who don't want kids. The childfree are the only people I have ever heard admit that yes, having a very sick child could happen to them. That divorce could happen to them. That having a kid they simply don't get along with could happen to them.

The parents and wannabe parents all gloss right over all those things, in every single conversation I've ever had with one on the subjects. They all honestly seem to believe that bad things only happen to other people, or at least that bad things will only happen to you if you think bad thoughts. Ergo, it doesn't matter if every other parent they know is now exhausted, broke, divorced, etc., or at a minimum, no happier than they were before, because the bad things will never happen to THEM! THEY will make it "somehow." That they never are able to articulate why or how "somehow" is, is clearly not at all proof that this line of thought is all wishful thinking bullshit /sarcasm.

I'd also like to note the obvious point that one doesn't have to become a parent to be concerned about nutrition or safety, to be creative, or to appreciate free time (one of the major reasons I'm CF is precisely because I value free time). And parenting is one of the LEAST creative things a person can do. Something is not "creative" if it's the same exact same thing billions before you have done for millennia. That's not creativity, that's walking the well-beaten path, which is pretty much the opposite of creativity. Wanna be creative? Start thinking outside your cultural or religious conditioning. Being childfree is a great place to start.

Alex said...

Also, I'd like to address the "experiencing the love of a child" trope that gets dragged out at the end of every article ever written on parenting. Anyone who thinks children love their parents unconditionally has most certainly never been around children, or has somehow managed to be around them without paying the least bit of attention. The kid that tells you you're their hero will be the same kid five minutes later who is screaming that they hate you because you didn't buy them candy. Also, it's been my observation that kids misbehave around their parents more than around other adults. So much for unconditional love. I read a quote once from a mother who said if her husband treated her as badly as her kids did, she would have divorced him long ago.

And even the things that kids do that look like love--hugs and kisses and smiles--aren't a result of the child thinking "gee, my life is so wonderful and my parents work so hard to raise me. I think I'll reward them with a big smile!" Their shows of affection are on a more reflexive, primitive level than that. They "love" you because you're taking care of their needs and because you're (likely) the only adults they spend much time with. It's not real love, not at the level I get from, say, my husband. Where there is no purposeful give-and-take in a relationship, there cannot be genuine two-way love. And children don't purposefully give. They can't--that takes a level of maturity and emotional self-sufficiency that a five-year-old simply does not have. The nature of the parent-child relationship is that parents give and children take. And I suspect that being smacked upside the head with that reality every day is what causes so many parents to be bitter about the sacrifices they've had to make.

beatlefreak81 said...

Great post! I really believe the key to wanting kids is to not THINK of the bad things and only focus on the good. People who have kids and regret it later never gave it a second thought to begin with. If people were more honest with themselves about what they really want and not be so worried about what others want/thin there would not be lists like this.

Stew said...

"Why would I be surprised to learn that being a parent is hard, full of drudgery, no sleep, exhausting, draining, life-sucking and all the rest?" All that for a 30 sec. splooge...it's like, "ok, we had a few minutes of fun, now here comes the bills, stress, PTA meetings, hospital trips, etc." I guess they get some benefits as Olimpia mentioned, but people should think ahead and choose wisely.

CFVixen said...

Excellent post, and some excellent comments.

When I look at the many parents I know, it's clear that they didn't go into the parenthood state with much thought as to how it would affect their lives. Many of them were the youngest or only kids in their family and/or never babysat. Some wanted to have more family. Being that I came from a different perspective (large family, second to last kid who had to constantly watch my younger sister, babysat nieces/nephews and neighbors' kids), I knew what it was all about.

Still, as was pointed out in the original post, merely observing any parent/child dynamic will give you a clue. It's not all Kodak moments. It's not even 50% Kodak moments. The sheer drudgery, pressure, and stress of raising kids cannot possibly have a high enough reward.

My job lasts 8-10 hours/day. There are fairly set responsibilities, some creative projects, and a little socialization with like-minded, goal-oriented people. On top of that, I get paid. How does this compare to giving your life up for a kid?

RS said...

Bitch-and-backpedal is the absolute worst, because those moms are obviously keeping some sort of personal-fullfillment ledger on their child that the child will never, ever be able to balance. Admit it, b&b moms, you're miserable. Every time I talk to you, it's a litany of woes about how tired and depressed you are. You're fucking up your kids, who will NEVER "understand" how martyred you are and will only become twisted under your mounting resentment.

The parents I know who are much more relaxed about the -realities- of parenthood, and understand that parenthood involves far more crying, screaming, bodily-fluid than it does soft-lens snuggle sessions in the window seat with a coffee in one hand and baby in the other, surprise, are better parents.

Livia Drusilla said...

Yeah, I don't get that 'why didn't anyone tell me it would be like this?' line either. I don't have kids, but I know what it's like having to care for them. How? I had two younger siblings. I babysat a lot when I was at college. And now, most of my friends have children, and I've spent time with them. I know that children NEVER give you a moment to yourself, that the noise, hassle and demands on your time, money and energy are ENDLESS.

Sure, I don't have the intense love which parents have for their children, and which we're told 'makes it all worthwhile' but still I can see that the reality of childcare is in fact 90% drudgery and stress and 10% Kodak moments - at best. So if I could see that, why couldn't they? I suppose they must have just fallen hook, line and sinker for the 'it's so worth it' line. They must have disregarded the evidence before their eyes - unless somehow they had no younger siblings, no friends with children, or have never encountered a screaming two year old and his frazzled mum in the supermarket. They let their hormones do the thinking for them. Never a good idea.

Dave said...

I have been hit with the dumbass "How do you know you don't want kids until you've tried it?" bingo a few times.

My reply to this is, "There are many, many things people including myself know they don't want to do without having tried it out. I know I don't want to ski or collect stamps even though I have never tried either one. Neither interest me and I see no upside to doing either one. It is no different with having kids. For me there are no worthwhile upsides, only downsides. And what few upsides there are by being around kids I can get by other means without having them (such as my volunteer work).

Another huge imbalance in the regret department is the total absence of "true confessions" from childfree people who regret their choice to be childfree, while there are many, many "true confessions" websites devoted to those parents who regret having kids.

Temujin said...

So, if it's all worth it, then what's really the point of a "things I wish I knew before" list?

Think about it. It's a list of things you should know before you do something, because there are lots of downsides to this thing you are about to do.

So, doesn't that suggest the possibility that it was a bad choice to do it? Sounds almost like regret, if only that was acceptable to say.

A list of "things I wish I had known" has value only if this information would lead you to have made some different choices. If by the end the article just reinforces everything you've done, then it's a waste of time.

shell said...

I know - it totally amazes me too when parents say they wish they had known these things before they had kids. I too have never had a child and yet I am well aware of the downsides of parenting because, like you, I have 2 eyes & a BRAIN! I tell people when you choose parenthood you take on a job that will last a minimum of 20 years--a job with no pay, no days off and it's 24/7. And your needs will now come LAST. If people really thought about what they are sacrificing to become parents, most would not do it-!!

Patee333 said...

I'm 35 and child free by choice. Although my husband has a son that visits every other weekend. I still consider myself child free. 
A good friend of mine just had her first baby with her husband of 10+ years. Originally, they had not wanted kids.  But then they were faced with the possibility of truly not being able to reproduce when she had to lose one ovary and then possibly losing the second. 
So they flipped. 
After trying the old fashioned way with no success, they went the invitro route which resulted in paranoia of losing the baby during pregnancy. Which means.......no sex the entire nine months. 
Flash fwd to present day. The baby is healthy, 3 months old and is not fussy. They've lost their sleep and constantly feel exhausted to juggle work and "life". Her breasts are painfully engorged and pumping has become a necessity every 3 hours. Still no sex in the picture after 3 months. I know there was some "tearing" of the "birthing" region so that had to heal. But it's been 3 months, not sure what the hold up is. 
The parents are obsessed with the new baby and can't think of anything else besides her. They have decided that they want to try for a second one at the end of the year. Why? I don't get it. 
During her pregnancy, she raved about how she loved being pregnant. That it's the most wonderful feeling in the world. And the birthing was so miraculous and emotional and intense. There is no other feeling like it in the world.
Another visiting mother became so caught up with the new baby as well and wanted to add a third into her brood. But her husband said no because her last pregnancy was riddled with complications that screwed up her body tremendously. 
Again, I ask why? Why would a women keep doing this to herself? Risk her body, health, sex life and sanity to have another baby. Why have this list of things they wished they had known, but they still continue to have more babies once they do know? It doesn't make sense to me. 

Freelance Feminist said...

I'm glad this topic came up, because I've been waiting to post my thoughts on it.

Usually I'm 100% in agreement with everything Childfreedom proclaims, but for this topic I'm gonna have to be the devil's advocate.

I don't blame people for not knowing what they're getting themselves into when they become parents.

I think people are very, very, good--experts--at hiding their unhappiness. We have the fact that it is socially unacceptable to express anything other than contentment in our culture. And added to that is the pressure most feel to continue to prove how happy having children has made them.

Also, I think most people DO think ahead about how having a child will affect their lives, at least financially. I think potential parents hear just as many stories as the childfree do about the hardships that parenting will put one through. Some of them are simply smug and think these things won't happen to them. But I think a lot of people understand that the realities of parenting will happen to them, or at least the basics (financial strain, 3 a.m. feedings, dirty diapers, etc.). But there IS one piece of the puzzle that's missing. It's the final step one must take before deciding to be childfree.

It's the imbalance realization. It's the final realization that parenting is 95% misery and 5% joy. This realization is actually really, really hard to make. I believe you can only make it with some help. You need something like a blog to point you in this direction.

Roxie Harlow said...

I think that many parents, women especially, don't take the negative aspects of being a parent into consideration. It seems that they mostly think how fun it will be to have a baby to dress up and how cute a little baby is. That's not to say that some people don't go into it with open eyes. I also think that potential parents sometimes see the negative aspects but tell themselves that "MY kid won't be like that/do that!" My boyfriend is this way. We've both agreed to live Childfree, however, when I bring up things like misbehaving children or the fact that my friend's kid spreads his poop everywhere, my boyfriend says that a kid of his would never be like that or do that. He's convinced that he'd discipline them enough to discourage those behaviors.

Temujin said...

"I wish I had known" makes a mistake more forgivable or understandable, because then a mistake sounds like an honest mistake. I didn't know any better, so that makes me almost like a victim, so you should have sympathy for me. No one told me, so I'm the victim of a massive conspiracy, so you have to feel sorry for me.

I'm with Livia on this one. How could anyone honestly have no idea unless they were in deep denial?

There are two different kinds of error: honest mistake and folly. "Folly" is when you know better or you really should know better but you go ahead and do it anyway. It's the worse of the two, because there's no excuse, because it's a product of willful ignorance, denial, arrogance, or human weakness. (We're all guilty of these things occasionally, but having kids because of these things is worse than not having kids because of these things.)

Saying "I wish someone had told me" sounds like people trying to get out of being held responsible for their own folly. It's Robert McNamara after the Viet Nam War saying okay, yes the war was a huge mistake but we didn't know any better, so at least it was an honest mistake. (When, in fact, at the time there was abundant evidence it was going to be a failure and he just ignored that.)

Yes, I'm comparing children with the Vietnam War. Problem? : - )

NoniWork said...

Honestly, I think in some cases we (childfree) immediately go into attack mode. Really, some people just want to be parents, and it's not surprising that people don't know what to expect. There is such a push to have kids that not much else about the experience is talked about.

I sort of view it like marriage. It's not unusual for people to have a drive to get married one day, and it's such a basic cultural thing. But so many people go into that unprepared, too. I know I have sort of an idealistic view of that at times. And I think I would be surprised by the reality of marriage, because knowing and experiencing are two different things. But, to me, the it would all be worth it (I know, I cringe at the phrase too).

I suppose I wish that sometimes childfree boards and sites would be more about exploring the lifestyle than simply saying "Gah, breeders are so stupid and disgusting". And that's coming from a person who was thinking that very thing while listening to screaming kids being ignored by parents at Kohls yesterday.

For people who typically pride themselves on being so much more "clever" and open-minded than other people, we sure do spend a lot of time talking about how we can't possibly understand how anyone could want kids. I think the painful truth is that we are just like everyone else. We all think we're smarter than the other guy, we're all pretty comfortable with making major things seem like black and white decisions, and we all have very little insight into our behavior.

Temujin said...

In response to Freelance Feminist and NoniWork:

I think there are contradictions within the childfree community, or at least some childfree points of view that are not logically consistent with other childfree points of view. (Just as there are contradictions within pronatalism. Just as some people have children for illogical reasons.)

For instance, you'll see childfree people show how parenthood can be a horrible, soul-crushing experience. But, when parents try to take credit for The Hardest Job in The World, some of the same childfree people will point out how *easy* it is to be a parent.

Same thing with this "I wish I had known" issue. On the one hand, society brainwashes people into mindless reproduction. People receive a lot of inaccurate information about having kids. On the other hand, these parents HAD to have known what they were getting into, because the real evidence is really clear. So, they were ignorant, yet they weren't ignorant?

I don't think consistency is actually all that crucial. If I say things that contradict each other, well, then that just means my brain is complicated. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

Bex said...

I sort of want to hug you for this post, especially the whole "I have two eyes" part. EXACTLY. I know a lot of parents who are my age -- half of them admit that having children MIGHT NOT HAVE BEEN THE BEST IDEA EVER and sometimes they REGRET IT, and the other half are the fake-it everything-is-sunshine-and-rainbows-and-we-are-perfect-all-the-time parents with dead eyes. A lot of parents think people who choose to be child-free are selfish for not wanting to bring children into this world, but I think having kids "because it's the next step" and "because we want a continuation of our name/DNA" is selfish, myself. Maybe it's all in the perspective.

Living in hell said...

Thank god for this raw, honest blog. My husband and I wanted a child (the thing to do, I suppose), so I got pregnant, my husband changed into a cold monster almost immediately, I gave birth to our cerebral palsy baby, and 2 years later I am in hell and wish the earth would implode.

rtb159 said...

I do wish I had known that before I spent 35 glorious years of my life, not one of my three children would bother to check on me after being called from the emergency room after a serious car accident by a friend. Their father left me somewhere in 2010. He broke into my house several times. Each time I called the police. The 30 to 35 year old kids objected to me calling the police on their father. And I objected to their objections. A few emails passed here and there, but I have not been able to walk since February. I ask myself, over and over, how am I ever supposed to sit in a room and act normal with my own kids. I do not see it happening. I have a very good friend who has taken care of me. Angels are on earth, sometimes they are just not where we would expect them to come from. As for me, I am tossing it back and forth, but I am betting my glorious days of motherhood are over. . . Reality sits in when you can not even get off the bed to clean and feed yourself for three months. . . I should have saved my money for nurses not getting my kids through school so they could all live in half a million dollar homes. . . did I mention neither my daughter nor my DIL work. . . and my oldest son can work satellite anywhere he wants to. . . So probably adios to the kids I raised . . . and hello to the childfree world for me too. . ..

mamakhadijah said...

you know, i have three kids, and yes, we don't know when we start what we're in for...a soldier who goes to war for the first time understands what he is doing, but does he 'know what he's in for?'.

what is true, is that one little hug and kiss is worth it. so, maybe we are not the only ones being naive.

I have learned to be patient, forbearing, and empathetic through the challenges in my life. In a few years my children will be grown, but the qualities i learned through them will stay with me, and help me, for the rest of my life.

The truth of the matter is, that no matter how bad your life is, at the end of the day kids bring joy.

Elizabeth Teater said...

I have children and only two of the items in the bullet point list at the top are true for me. The quality of the experience depends largely on where you live (in a culture and country where the grandmother sleeps with the baby much of the time, you get some decent sleep; that's probably also a culture where having a child doesn't mean lots of extra junk in your house).

Shandel Bigger said...

I have two daughters, two and six.. My two year old is perfect but my six year old was a mistake. I was too young to have her and now I hate her and wish I would have had an abortion.. She is too much of an attention seeker, she lies, manipulates people etc.