Friday, March 25, 2011

Just Say No

Right now I am sitting in my office biting my tongue because a bunch of women are carrying on in Manic Maternal Mode in the hallway outside my office, trying to convince a young "on the fence" co-worker that motherhood is her destiny.

The young woman in question, Cindy, who is 29 years old, has been fairly open with all of us that she's not sure she ever wants to have kids. I've had personal conversations with her about the issue (she knows I am childfree by choice) and my assessment is that she really doesn't want kids, but is afraid to commit to that stance because everyone tells her she will change her mind, she's supposed to want to have kids, eventually the biological clock will start ticking, she may eventually regret it if she doesn't have kids, her Jewish (and very family-oriented) parents would be really disappointed in her, and all the other hundreds of reasons that have to do with outside pressures and very little to do with the desires of the person herself. It makes me wonder what percentage of people walking on this earth were born of parents who actually wanted to have them, versus popped them out because they caved in to societal and family pressure.

Cindy just became an aunt and returned to work today after taking a couple of days off to be with her brother and family. Her brother's wife gave birth 2 days ago and Cindy is just swooning over the new baby. I overheard her tell the Manic Maternals, "there's just something about this baby. When I held her, I swear - I felt my biological clock start ticking". And that was all they needed to hear. Immediately, the other hens began to cluck - "Seee! We told you it would happen. It just happens on its own. You can't help it. You pick up that baby and your heart melts. It's completely natural. Ah, the smell of a baby! I swear, when I pick up a baby and breathe in the smell, it is intoxicating and almost puts me to sleep." I mean, these hens were really laying it on thick - doing everything in their power to recruit Cindy into the Mommy Brigade.

You are probably wondering why old Firecracker Mandy, the Champion of Childfreedom, didn't jump in and set the hens straight? Well, believe me I considered it. But Cindy already knows my stance, as does everyone else in the office. I make no secret about being happily childfree and have spoken very directly with Cindy about dealing with outside pressures. In fact, just a week or two ago I gave her the exact same speech I posted here - that her life is hers to live and nobody else's, that nobody else knows what is best for her or what will make her life the most happy or fulfilling, that it's far better to be true to yourself and live the life you really want to live then to compromise yourself just to conform and be accepted - the whole nine yards. I even forwarded her some articles about how having children negatively impacts peoples' happiness and marriages. I decided that bursting in on the hens like an erupting thunder cloud at the very moment Cindy was expressing her adoration for her new niece would probably be counterproductive so I left them alone.

What I would have liked to have said to Cindy and the hens is that having those feelings of maternal bliss when holding a baby doesn't necessitate becoming a parent or indicate that a woman is destined to be a mommy. I can speak to this first-hand as I too have had those feelings, and still do from time to time, when a family member or friend has a baby. I feel that warm rush of maternal love flood over me when I hold a baby against me. I love to put my nose against his fuzzy head and breathe in the warm sweetness. I love to kiss and cuddle a baby and stroke his rose petal cheeks. It's okay. I can savor that moment and enjoy it for what it is, while still keeping my wits about me and retaining the full comprehension of just what lies beneath the veneer of baby cuteness: a life sentence of unending sacrifice, strain, struggle, worry and responsibility. For the average woman, though, there is something about a cooing baby that completely precludes her from having a rational comprehension of motherhood. She is only capable of living in that present moment of maternal ecstacy, like an addict who has just injected herself, instantly putting every rational thought completely out of mind.

Whether fleeting infant cuteness is a siren song, an addictive drug or something else altogether, it has powers that seem to render most women completely defenseless. It's only the strongest and most discerning among us that can Just. Say. No.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Care to be (Childfree)

Lately my posts have been focusing on the downside of parenthood. Frankly, that's because there have so been many articles, research and discussions coming out about that topic in recent weeks that I have been jumping on them right away. The downside of parenthood has been kept hush-hush for far too long and I am just happy to see it finally getting the long overdue spotlight it deserves.

Today, however, I wanted to swing the pendulum in the opposite direction and talk about one of my favorite things about being childfree - being able to be a devoted, giving friend and family member.

Now, most people like to think they are caring, giving and devoted to the people they love, however, it should be pointed out that the childfree have a distinct advantage over parents in this regard. Let's face it - once people have kids, their love, devotion and attention get almost fully diverted to the new being they produced and away from the friends and loved ones who were there first. As childfree adults, we've probably all experienced the feelings of loss and mourning when our friends and family members become parents and we get left in the dust.

But the childfree person, by nature of being free of the constraints of childrearing, is able to remain a steadfast and devoted friend and loved one throughout life, which flies in the face of the critical judgements that parents like to hurl around about the childfree - that our lives are "all about ourselves"; that we're selfish and self-centered; that we don't know what love is. The fact is, we do know what love is and demonstrate it by being there and being truly present for our loved ones. I'm the daughter who takes my mom out for a "girls' day out" on a regular basis (do you think I could do this if I had kids?). I'm the best friend who opens up my guest bedroom so a friend can have somewhere to live for three months when she's going through a divorce and trying to reestablish herself (I wouldn't even have a guest bedroom if I had kids!) and years later opens up her home to this same friend's cat because she can no longer keep her, thanks to her allergic child. I am beloved by my friends' kids who call me Aunt Mandy and tell their mother she should buy the same perfume as me so she will smell like me. I am the aunt who dotes on her nieces and nephews with camping trips, day trips, craft days and cookie bakes (they wouldn't get any one-on-one time with me if I was busy with my own kids). I am the companion to 3 furry felines who get kissed and petted and loved to their little hearts' delight (maybe more than they even want). Most importantly, I'm the wife whose husband is number one in her life and whose position of importance will never be downgraded or compromised.

The fact is, my life is not all about me and never has been. It's about my husband. It's about my parents. It's about my siblings. It's about my nieces and nephews. It's about my friends and the children of my friends. It's about the people I work for. It's about my 3 moggies. It's about the childfree community I reach out to every day through this blog and other supportive means. I do not exist in a bubble. My life is intricate with social tentacles reaching out in many directions and in every direction I go I try to be thoughtful, caring and giving of myself. And I am sure you, my childfree reader, are similarly engaged in caring, doting relationships with all of the people in your life.

So when parents try to stereotype and dismiss us as materialistic, selfish, cold, uncaring, self-absorbed, misguided, sad, pathetic childless wretches, don't get hurt or angry. Smile, because you know who you really are and so do the people in your life who benefit from the attention you shower on them. And know that those critical judgements aren't about you, they are about them - expressions of the hurt they feel when they come face to face with someone who flat out rejects the very life path they have undertaken and enjoys a fuller, freer, more vibrant and giving existence because of it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Hate Being a Mom - Part 2

As CF Vixen pointed out to me, the "Hate Being a Mom" thread on the Secret Confessions web site (from which I have posted quotes before), is still going strong with mothers coming out of the woodwork in droves to complain about how much it sucks to be a mom.

Check out this post from a poster named Natalie who must have spent at least two hours detailing the drudgery of a mom's existence.

"Listen, I will be totally honest with you:

The main reason being a mother is difficult is because of all the expectations, pressure and myths out there.

Our grandmothers or great-grandmothers didn’t worry about their careers, preschool or emotional scars, organic foods, vaccinations or getting their kids into exclusive schools the way we do.

And our mothers were aware of Dr. Spock and Dr. Sears, but otherwise were OK with “old school” methods, such as expecting kids to only speak if spoken to, do as they are told, do their chores, fear the belt or the whupping, and being forced to sit at the table until they finished their meal, etc. They also usually had more help and were not expected to work full or part-time.

Nowadays, mothers have to do EVERYTHING and do it the RIGHT WAY.

We are expected to get a full education.

We must have a career or at least a decent job.

We are supposed to look like supermodels and be thin/fit at all costs.

We are expected to have easy pregnancies and recover quickly afterwards.

We endure the most humiliating exams and questioning during and after pregnancy.

We push a baby out of our vajayjay or have it pulled out of a c-section, both of which are brutal and nearly impossible to endure.

We are supposed to feed our families home-made organic, local food; with meals featuring the healthiest options we know of (except, this changes constantly – low carb, low cholesterol, vegetarian, vegan, raw, high protein, low fat, low salt, whole foods, 6 small meals a day, no snacks, no dairy, no peanuts, no…I’m exhausted thinking about it.)

We are supposed to be frugal and thrifty yet have beautiful clothes, homes, cars and go on nice vacations to Disneyland and Yosemite.

We are supposed to be dynamite in bed, but also get up and take care of everyone. Sleep deprivation is a badge of honor.

We are supposed to care for our parents and other family members who are ailing or broke.

We must have the right insurances: health, car, life, home; and retirement funds and investments.

We have to be creative and fun, throw fabulous dinner parties (thanks, Martha Stewart) and adorable kids events, and still make every meal special.

We must teach our young children to achieve, and excel, and speak Mandarin.

We have to dress our kids in trendy, high-end clothes and they must look groomed and clean at all times.

We have to take them to chiropractors, naturopaths, dentists, orthodontists, doctors, therapists, counselors, etc.

Our kids should be playing sports, taking instrument lessons, performing in plays and musicals and we need to make those things happen.

We hand-feed our babies/toddlers for a year or so. Every. Single. Bite.

Our husbands want our full attention and the playful gal they fell in love with.

We have to coordinate all family activities, buy all the presents, and plan everything.

We have to take care of the finances, pay all the bills, deal with all the utility guys and nowadays cell phones, internet service, netflix, etc.

We have to manage the house: rent or mortgage, landscaping and yard work, hiring handymen or coordinating services.

We do all the budgeting, using strategic methods involving coupons and looking for specials.

We have to stock up the house and make sure everything is in working order (appliances, printers, alarm clocks, etc.)

We do the majority of the dishes, laundry, vacuuming, ironing (though that’s rare nowadays) and we drop off/pick up drycleaning.

We are the primary nurturers.

We groom our infants/toddlers/preschoolers/kids: baths, dental care, haircare, manicures and pedicures, etc.

We deal with issues like lice and bed bug scares.

We nurse and pump (up to 12 hours throughout a day). The first few months we don’t sleep more than a couple of hours at time between feedings. This is grueling and nearly torturous. It also hurts a lot at first.

We get up at night with the infant, the toddler, the preschooler, the gradeschooler and stay up late waiting for the highschooler and the college kid home for the summer.

We chauffer everyone around.

We hire, vet and manage the help: housekeepers, nannys, babysitters, cooks, nurses, tutors, gardeners, etc.

We help with most schoolwork and projects.

We take the kids to soccer matches and sew costumes and bake stuff for bake sales.
We volunteer at events and spend time at PTA meetings.

We change most of the diapers (10,000 is the average count) and potty train the toddlers (which can take years).

We collect the recycling and the trash and nag to get it taken out.

We email, text, call and IM our spouses and kids repeatedly to make sure appointments, meetings and events are attended, and tasks and reminders are clear.

We shop for all the toys and educational materials and clothes and sports equipment and costumes.

We bake the birthday cakes and cook the holiday meals.

We decorate the house and set up the festivities.

We make sure everyone is healthy and safe.

We read articles, books, and blogs, and converse with other moms, doctors, our families, friends, neighbors, teachers, advisors, colleagues and acquaintances and then do the research to make sure we are doing the very best we can for our family’s health, happiness, education, financial well-being and success.

We get the car cleaned inside and out and schedule the oil changes and tune-ups.
We fill up the diaper bag and make sure we have all the supplies we need at home, on the road and when traveling: diapers, wipes, pads, formula, milk, juice, fruit, diaper balm, bathsoap, Qtips, medicine, toiletries, paper goods, etc.

We make sure we have all the crucial protective gear: hats, gloves, sunglasses, sunscreen, bug spray, netting, rain shields, boots, coats, etc.

We change the filters, batteries, light bulbs, etc.

We remind everyone about birthdays and holidays.

We arrange vacations (hotels, airfare, rentals, etc.)

We take care of everyone when they are sick. This means snot patrol, taking temperatures, researching conditions and calling doctors, taking everyone to the doctor as needed, getting prescriptions and managing them, making soup and forcing liquids, entertaining, and doing extra cleaning and laundry.

We monitor what our kids are doing, watching, listening to, and who they are spending time with.

We do what we can to avoid fighting with our spouses and prevent straying.

We set up playdates for our little ones and endure hundreds and hundreds of hours running after them or managing them at parks, museums, play areas, preschool, gyms, playfields, Chuck. E. Cheeses, kids concerts, carnivals, street fairs, kid-friendly restaurants, kid’s bookstore sections, libraries, beaches, etc.

We have mind-numbing conversations about our kids and other kids. We spend time with parents we don’t like and children we don’t warm up to.

We see, hear and experience some really gross stuff.

We re-read the same 3 kid’s books for years at a time. We listen to the same grating childrens’ songs and programs for about 5 years solid.

We teach our kids to walk, talk, eat, groom, read, dress and manage their emotions.

We get kicked, scratched and our ears are blown out from endless hysterical tantrums.

We change the bedding thousands of times, and prepare thousands of untouched meals.
We wipe up and pick up and sweep and mop and wipe down and scrub and gather stuff up so often that we think we may go crazy.

We pick up toys and clothes and things so often it seems ludicrous to even bother.

We have to childproof the house and car and yard and anywhere we go with our little ones, and then cope with the obstacles, often avoiding doing something because unlocking some cabinet is nearly impossible.

We learn CPR and other survival techniques and label everything in a frantic attempt to prevent dangerous things from happening.

We choose the best vitamins, medicines and medical equipment and store and manage everything properly.

We keep records of everyone’s medical and dental histories and vaccinations.

We process the mail and file everything and prepare the taxes.

We cut coupons, articles and ideas out from magazines or print them out for meals, events and activities.

We do almost ALL the shopping: food, toiletries, household items, supplies, etc. and we put it all away.

We keep the fridge clean and fresh, tossing away old food.

We read up on kids nutrition and shop/cook the best we can to sneak veggies into them.

We create a library for our kids and read to them as often as we can.

We set up art supplies, arts and crafts and activities to keep them occupied, learning and from getting bored.

We clean up major messes: markers on the wall, milk on the rug, overflowing toilets, peanut butter in hair, blowouts, etc.

We clean the house: sanitize the bathroom, wash the kitchen floors, scrub the sink and stovetop, etc.

We buy videos and look for educational programming and fret that the kids are watching too much Sesame Street and Saturday morning cartoons.

We prepare everything we need to take our kids out in public and then try to control them when they inevitably lose it.

We research and buy the cribs, beds, strollers, carseats, swings, play yards and the stuff that goes with them (sheets, cupholders, safety mats, etc.) We get our spouses to help put them all together if we are lucky.

We buy clothes and shoes endlessly. We sort mini socks for 5 years straight.

We go through everything and sell whatever we don’t use any longer or store it or give it away on an ongoing basis.

We worry about the worst things: abduction, molestation, major accidents, etc.
We look to experts to guide us in disciplining our children and do all we can to avoid mistakes.

We must be fully involved in our kids’ development, social lives, recreation and school careers, in order to guide them and avoid terrifying realities such as drug and alcohol addiction, as well as teen pregnancy, illness and accidents, etc.
We feel guilt, despair, and frustration 99% of the time.

We take thousands of photos, videos and keep blogs and create holiday cards and printouts for friends and family.

We arrange visits from family and friends and cope with the inevitable distances. Our support networks have diminished significantly.

We endure incredible pain: pregnancy, childbirth, post-childbirth recovery, breastfeeding, severe sleep deprivation, emotional upheaval, fear and anxiety, the horror of accidents and birth defects, serious relationship issues, recovering our bodies, and hormones gone wild.

Some of the more daunting issues we may deal with include – god forbid – serious damage to our kids during childbirth or from accidents, the (can barely write this) death of our children, mental and emotional disorders, learning disabilities, illness such as cancer or meningitis, autism, retardation, etc. These can be LIFELONG and unbelievably overwhelming, life-changing conditions. We are vulnerable and responsible.

We suffer financially from our diminished careers.

We have physical repercussions: some serious, such as scarring, infections, fistula, collapsed pelvises or hysterectomies, and some just hard to cope with: saggy breasts, fallen arches, flabby belly, awful stretchmarks, incontinence, diabetes or thyroid issues.

We cry, yell and scream in the shower. A lot."

The most refreshing thing about this post? No "...BUT IT'S SO WORTH IT" at the end, like we usually get from moms.

Click here to read the original post, or here to start from the beginning to read the whole thread. You may find yourself feeling an array of emotions as you read through the heartbreaking posts, ranging from sadness to utter relief that you avoided the same fate.

If you'd like to read more from regretful parents, click here.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Parental Delusion: Throwing Good Money After Bad

Thank you to my reader Zarina, who forwarded me a link to an interesting article in Healthland (Time) entitled Kid Crazy: Why we Exaggerate the Joys of Parenthood, by John Cloud. Cloud discusses new research published in the journal Psychological Science which found that parents - faced with the draining financial and emotional expense of raising children - convince/delude themselves that parenthood is rewarding. It's a coping mechanism designed to alleviate the cognitive dissonance they experience when their negative experience of child-raising butts up against the over-glorified myths of parental bliss that permeate our culture.

My readers know I have been making the same argument all along - that the Stepford Wives mantra of "parenthood is the most fulfilling role in life and the root of true happiness" is nothing more than parents trying to make themselves feel better because they know, deep inside, they are faced with a lifelong prison sentence for which there is no escape (see my posts The Bitch & Backpedal; Beneath the Surface: A Two-Pronged Theory and Having a Child is So Worth It! - which officially make me a broken record on the issue). And now scientific research is bearing me out. I love when that happens :)

Although it doesn't surprise me that parents continue to delude themselves this way - after all, they have to ease their psychological pain somehow - I continue to be fascinated by the fact that more people don't recognize the drudgery that is parenthood and avoid it at all costs. Why are people so ready and willing to buy into the parenthood myth when their own observations about the reality of parenthood should tell them to run for the hills? All of us were children at some point and from that vantage point, had a direct view of how happy (or unhappy) our parents were. And then as we mature and become adults, parents surround us everywhere - our friends and family members start having kids and our view of what parenthood is expanded even further. We can see very clearly that parenthood is 98% stress, strain and drudgery and yet 90% of the population chooses to believe the "parenthood is the root of ultimate fulfillment and happiness" myth instead of believing what they see before their very eyes.

Now THIS would be an interesting area for scientific research.