Saturday, June 6, 2009

Big Red F

Okay, I admit it. Over the past few months I have become a Facebook addict. I never thought it would happen because frankly, when I first heard about Facebook, I didn't understand it and didn't get the appeal. I didn't even get the appeal when I first signed up. But over time, as more and more of my old friends, neighbors, coworkers, band mates and long-lost family members began connecting and interacting with me, I finally got the appeal and now my daily visits to Facebook are not only an addiction, they are a virtual episode of This is Your Life. Very, very fun.

It's interesting being a childfree person on Facebook in a sea of cyberparents. Every day I am greeted with their updates, many of which concern their children, and here's the interesting thing - when people comment about their children, inevitably their comments are negative. For example:

"Mom's Taxi..still up and running at 1:45 am! ugh!! .... No matter how old they get, Mom is still the 1st one they call! (but I wouldnt mind being the 2nd or third once in a while EITHER!) lol"

" selling her encyclopedias...I have a 20 year old that thinks he knows EVERYTHING!!!"

"...poor baby G was screaming and teething all day long."

"...Is wishing everyone would stop needing me! (just for a little while).... needs an escape!!!"

Here's an observation I have often made about parenthood - and it is precisely this observation that was critical to informing my decision not to have children:

If parenthood is so wonderful, if the benefits of having children far outweigh the costs, if all the hardship is so worth it as parents like to claim, why is 80-90% of what we observe coming out of parents concerning parenthood negative?

I observe the people in my life who are parents. I watch them interact with their kids. I listen to them talk about their kids. I read their Facebook updates. I observe the effects of parenthood on them - their physical, spiritual, psychological and emotional health and what do I see? I see exhaustion. I see aggravation. I see stress. I see upset. I see financial strain. I see marital strain. What I do not see is joy, happiness and fulfilment.

A parent's typical answer to this is "yes, it is really hard, but it's so worth it. The good makes up for the bad."

Okay, so for a moment, let's take parents at their word. Let's assume the good of being a parent outweighs the bad. Here's my question. If the good makes up for the bad, and even outweighs the bad - if the cost of being a parent is lower than the rewards, shouldn't we observers see more happiness and joy from said parents than unhappiness and strain? How about a 50/50 split? Even that would be somewhat convincing that the good makes up for the bad. But that's not what I see. When I look around and observe the people in my life who are parents, what I see is primarily strain and unhappiness. I observe closely to witness this overriding joy and happiness they claim makes up for all the strain and unhappiness, but the joy and happiness I see is at most brief and fleeting - the occasional smile, laugh or look of love at a child, followed by a corresponding 12 hours of stressing and straining under the burden of them.

I do realize that the love a person feels for their child is larger than almost anything in life and there's nothing like the feeling of intense love. But at what cost do people pursue this version of love? I have an intensity of love for my husband which is greater than any love I have ever had for any person or any thing and guess what? It doesn't cost me anything. I don't have to struggle, stress and strain to enjoy our love. It flows freely and evenly and there is no cost associated with it. Parents might argue that the love one feels for a child is greater than the love one feels for a spouse. My response is that I don't want to love anyone more than my spouse. Hubby comes first in my life and always will and I like it that way. I love making him my first priority and the object of all the good, the giving, the joy and love I have to offer. I also enjoy coming first in his life too. It's a good deal all-around - a real win-win situation.

When I tell people that I am happily married, they can observe my hubby and me together and their observations will validate my claim. Try applying the same test to parenthood and what do you get?


CFVixen said...

Awesome, awesome, awesome post.

You are so right about this: I definitely don't want to love anybody or anything more than my husband. He was in my life first! I swear that's what's wrong with a lot of family dynamics today. The child(ren) come first and the parents have lost perspective on the importance of their relationship.

In your most recent poll, you asked how many parents of our acquaintance actually appear to be happy. I can think of one. One. Out of several hundred parents in my social/work/family circle. How can I possibly understand the appeal if I observe more "UGH!" than "it's all worth it" Kodak moments?

Re: Facebook....I still don't get it. But I have very few "Friends" on it, and I rarely visit. But one of my "friends" (who I really don't know that well) is a mother, and she posts very regularly. Her posts alone would be enough for anyone to reconsider having children. She has two beautiful, healthy kids. I often wonder if she had a special-needs child if she would be so openly negative? It seems when people have a special-needs or challenged child, they are hell-bent on telling people how blessed they are. Not so much when the child has no such challenges. Here are just a sampling of her posts (from the last three days only!):

________ is on the patio soaking up rays, sipping a margherita by the pool, being fed grapes by a hot cabana boy...crap I just got woken up by two kids.

ok so Im really thinking the wine makes me a much calmer mother ;)

My kids are making me NUTTY!!!!!!!!!

Only 5 more kid free afternoons! Ugh!

Im losing my mind! These kids drive me insane!

________ is trying to figure out how she is going to entertain her kids all day.

They are driving me crazy today. I cant take rainy days in my house.

_____has thrown in the towel and is chillin with a glass of wine. How long until my kids bother me again?

Okay, so this is the same person, who at a party sat down next to me and complained incessantly about her kids. It started off innocently enough with me asking her who was watching her children tonight (this was a neighborhood party and their house is very close-by, but since her husband was at the party with her, I figured they had to get a babysitter). Here is a snippet of the conversation:

"Chuck's" (her husband)"young cousin is watching the monsters tonight. Can you believe she is charging $10 an hour to babysit?! I mean, that seems to be the going rate right now, but give me a break. That's why we hardly ever get to go out anymore. By the time we pay her and drive her home, you can figure that's an additional $50 or so on top of whatever else we spent. Not to mention the fact that it's so hard to schedule a sitter...they are always booked up!"

So, not knowing quite what to say about this, I said, "yeah, childcare is expensive. I know a lot of parents at my work complain about daycare and how much it costs."

With this, she got very animated, "tell me about it! Chuck and I figured out that if I went back to work, I'd actually pay more for the daycare than I would earn. So until these kids get a little more independent, I'm just going to have to stay home and SUFFER!!!"

So tell me:

1. What the hell do you say to something like that?

2. Does that sound like a glowing endorsement for motherhood? No thanks!!!!

marieta said...

When I joined Facebook last fall, what hit me was how very very many people I was getting back in touch with had kids. More often than not, several kids. Several times, it was FOUR kids. And it is the dominant topic for most of those people. I wouldn't say it's interesting being the childfree person in the sea of cyberparents, though... I find it both lonely and frustrating and it always seems to emphasize just how much of a minority I'm in by not wanting children.

It's a very good point you bring up about witnessing so much negativity, though I think many of them would say they regard Facebook as a venting place and it's out of proportion to how they really feel. But yeah... I think what I see most is when kids get sick. Kid A is sick and home from school or daycare, and then Kid B gets sick, and then Husband gets sick, and then they're all almost well enough to go back to school (huzzah!) when Kid A gets sick again. And of course Mom is sick through much of this herself as well as going crazy taking care of everyone else.

Constantly getting sick is not very appealing, thanks.

Gumby said...

I've wondered if you were on FB and wished I could find you! :)

I've also found several old friends that have almost a litter of kids but luckily have also found several who are gay/lesbian now and don't have kids (or only have one old one from an old relationship but hardly ever comment on the kid.

I would also say I could substitute my friends for my husband in the scenarios you mentioned re: having time and energy to enjoy said person.

I just got back from the local Farmer's Market with my best girlfriend where we browsed around sampling various cheeses, dips and other goodies, picked up a couple things and stopped at the nearby independent coffee shop for lunch and an espresso.

Afterwards, my friend dropped me off at home where I continued some cleaning, organizing and laundry while listening to our awesome local alternative public radio station and now am enjoying another espresso while browsing around the internet with two furry beaties at my feet. A pretty damned good (and mellow) day so far! One that would probably be impossible if I had kids!

Admittedly, not how I thought things would turn out, but a pretty great way of life I'm finding! :)

Schrodinger's Kittens said...

This is why I don't have an FB account. My best friend is trying to talk me into getting one with the argument that you can reconnect with high school friends. There are exactly four people I'd be interested in hearing from and we were the oddball bunch who were going to conquer the world. I've done reasonably well, and I hope they've done the same. I guess I'm sticking my head in the sand about putting myself out there on Facebook, because I know how happy I am and how unhappy the parents around me are. I would hate to see them miserable and child-burdened when my memories of them include the high aspirations we had for ourselves.

Phoena said...

Don't start playing facebook games. They will eat up all your time!

I've avoided a lot of the whiney drama on Facebook by only adding people who I was friends with all along, and not people I knew in high school but haven't seen in umpteen years. I did add a couple of distant relatives and one does nothing but whine and bitch about her shitload of kids. "Waa, some kid keeps stealing all the treats from the cabinet and we can't control him!" was one of her latest. Um, lock the cabinet? Or put them too high up for the kid to get them? Or stop buying the treats? Seriously, how hard is it to BE A PARENT?

Okay, I'll stop now. I'd delete that gal but her updates make me laugh at how miserable she is.

Unknown said...

Check out, it's hilarious and it reinforces my desire to NEVER have children.


Maggie said...

Amen, Amen, and AMEN!!!! Great Post!!!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post! I totally understand - there are only so many "i'm baking a 4 year old a b'day cake" updates you can take (friend me up!)

Gumby said...

Oops. I just looked back and realized I meant "beasties", not "beaties".
I think I was pretty loaded up on espresso! Ha! :)

Lady K said...

One possible explanation for the apparent higher frequency of negative comments, is that when we are happy, we tend not to be on facebook (or elsewhere) looking for support. We don't need to tell people how happy we are in order to "deal" with it.

I imagine a parent having a great time with his/her kid wouldn't be thinking "oh I MUST facebook this right away", whereas dealing with a screaming kid would make you think "I just HAVE to vent right now".

Misery loves company...

(That said, I'm still not risking it!)