Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Parenting: Once You're a Parent, It's Not a Choice.

Millie writes:

Lately, I've seen an increase in the number of media articles about women who have made the decision to step out of their children's day-to-day lives. These are not women who are dealing with long-term debilitating illness or incarceration. These are not women who have made the excruciating decision to send their children away from their families to get them out of a war zone.

These are women who found parenthood to be more work than they'd expected. In a word, they got bored.

Consider Rebekah Spicuglia, who got pregnant at 17 with her son Oscar. When she got the opportunity to attend a college at the other end of the state, she left Oscar with her by-then-ex husband – and the “freedom” so exhilarated her that she never looked back. In her words, it's still “so hard to talk about. But secretly, inside, it was the most exciting thing. If he was living with his father, I would be free to do what I wanted to do."

Or consider the headline at the top of the Yahoo! news page earlier this week: “Parents who hate parenting: The latest trend?” The article is a collection of “expert” opinions about why raising children is hazardous to your physical, emotional and financial health. Time magazine is quoted as saying, “Having kids is an economic and emotional drain. It should make those who have kids feel worse.” The author opines that women who wait until they're older and more established to have children “know exactly what they're giving up when Junior arrives. And they miss it.”

My advice to these people? Grow up.

Once you have given birth, you forfeit the right to have life be all about you. It is now mostly about your child. No matter how wonderful you are, you have to take a back seat for the next two decades.

This is why your parents/teachers/religious leaders spent so many hours trying to drill it into your head that, yes, sex is fun; but no, you shouldn't have it unless you're ready to deal with the consequences. You were thinking (if you thought at all) that you covered every consequence that affected the all-important You, right? The most important side-effect of sex isn't “will he respect me in the morning” or “do you believe in Friends With Benefits” or even why it burns when you pee. The most important side-effect of sex isn't really about you at all.

Sometimes, when you have sex, you make a new human being.

You can't do that provisionally.

Having a child is not like adopting a pet with the idea that you can take it back to the shelter when it stops being fun. If you take on this responsibility, you take it on for life. Yes, it can be messy and dangerous and heart-rending. A lot of it is tedious and menial and boring. You may have to skip a vacation or miss your favorite TV show. You probably won't be able to take every opportunity that comes your way.


If you want to live your life on your own terms – if you want to be free to travel on the spur of the moment, pursue your art or your passion to the exclusion of all else, or spend all your money on yourself – don't have children. It's not mandatory. What is mandatory is that you take responsibility for the human beings you bring into the world and raise them to the best of your ability until they are old enough to take care of themselves.

Even if that means – and it probably will – that you have to postpone that graduate program or world cruise or Tupperware party.

I find parenthood to have a much higher fun-to-drudgery ratio than any of the other “jobs” I've held. Some people don't. I find that there are numerous opportunities for creativity, learning and making deeper connections. Again, some people don't. I find it to be an endless cycle of mind-numbing tasks, repetition and plain hard work. I think everyone would agree with me on this one.

Don't fool yourself that your child will be “just fine” without you. Other people can do your job but no one else can fill your role. You have a child, and you need to raise him.

You may wish you'd made different choices.

You may not think it's fun.

You may not find it “fulfilling.”

Get over it.


  1. I love parenting my child. It's a joy even when the fact that I am a mother means that I put myself on hold for years and years. This "putting on hold" isn't a sacrifice. It's a privilege. I am privileged to parent this beautiful, young, artistic woman. She's the best thing I've ever done, and nothing, nothing, nothing I will do from here on out will be as splendid. But, then, I chose to have her, wanted her, waited. I don't miss what I had before she was born.

    Preaching to the choir.

  2. Amen to that, Elizabeth, a thousand times amen.


    One of my very good friends, whom I met years ago in the babycenter chat room dedicated to women spending the majority of their days obsessing about whether or not they had got pregnant that month now cannot stand the majority of these same women. These very same women who cried and struggled and gave up everything down to their last dime and some of them their marriages, now cannot stand their own little sweeties. They complain about spring break because now they have to spend all day every day with their kids, whom they now can't stand.

    It's disgusting. I can't stand them.

  4. Forget days it's not fun - there are days it's excruciating! And I have yet to find diaper changing, laundry washing, mac and cheese making, fight settling, disciplining, or discovering things I loved broken into a dozen or more bits rewarding. There are days where I don't want to do one bit of it. There are days all I want is for someone else to do it all.

    As if that wasn't bad enough, I used to beat myself up because it wasn't rewarding, because it WAS work. Uh, why didn't someone tell me that IT WAS WORK?! All those damn books and movies showing the bliss that is motherhood - I call BS. I'm sorry, scrubbing diaper contents off of walls is NOT fun, no matter how cute your nursery might be. It just isn't!

    It took a few years before I realized that's exactly how they know we love them. No one in their right mind would do this for someone without serious compensation unless held at gun point or unless they loved that someone beyond reason. (You doubt beyond reason? What childbirth necessitates alone defies reason. Nothing that big should come out of a hole that small, but we do it anyway.) That's when I realized that I am a GREAT mother, a great parent, precisely because I do those things I don't find rewarding or satisfying or fun, because I rise above MYSELF day in and day out (and have since age 19) and I do it because I LOVE THEM. THAT is what makes a good parent. Putting your children before yourself. Not if you enjoy the work, not if you can smile while scrubbing dinner off the white ceiling. If you DO it because you LOVE them.

    Can I sympathize with the 17 year old who went to college? Oh, you better believe it. I get excited having a few hours to myself! I can't blame her for feeling that way, either - I've been there. It's a natural thing to feel, honestly. I still do, almost a decade later. (Oh, to pee in peace! I can only dream!) Who I do want to point out? HER parents. Knowing what I know now, I'd make sure to inform MY child of what they are giving up, what they never get back - and why I did it anyway. Gory details and all.

    So... hell no, the work is not rewarding. But what you learn about yourself and the kind of person you are and can be in the process of becoming a parent sure as all hell IS.

    And it's a process. One I swear never ends. ;)

  5. EXACTLY! You do it because you love them, even if you're furious at them at the moment. You do it because that's part of the gig.

    I can't think of ANY job that's just super-fascinating and wildly entertaining every single second of every single day. There are parts of every job that are boring and hateful. It's true there are no sick days and few days off in the Parenting Universe, and it's sure no 9 to 5 job. However, neither can I think of a job where the stakes are higher, the potential reward greater, than raising an undifferentiated blob of cells to be a good, adult human being.

    I have to admit, though, that if we had a union I'd consider striking for solitary pee breaks.

  6. The occasional hot bath with the door closed is also on my list!

  7. Getting to keep my own favorite sweaters would be good, too.

  8. Funny you should post this today. I'd just been thinking "Know what would make being a stay at home, homeschooling mama's job easier? A housekeeper and cook." I mentioned this to my IT husband, who was most unsympathetic with a reply of "Yeah, and if I could send an IT monkey in to do my job, so I could stay home, it'd be easier too." --he wasn't talking about making MY job easier, just to clarify. :P


  9. I think what has been left out of this blog discussion is that many families have 2 parents, and it isn't always the mother who is the better parent or better suited to parent.

    Some mothers have great careers and better earning potential than their spouses; and some men are more patient and nurturing than some women.

    An unhappy parent is not in any child's best interest. What makes a family work as a functioning unit is for all members to have the opportunity to contribute what best suits each members' particular talents, personality, temperment, etc.

    That is what is in any child's best interests. Some mothers are not suited to be stay at home Moms, no matter how much we love our children;
    and our choosing to work, to travel, to have a rewarding career is not any kind of moral or ethical deficiency, as every single woman I have known who chose this path, did so AND put their childrens' interests first.

    Some had stay at home spouses, some shared parenting responsibilities on an equal basis with their spouses, and some couple made use of very excellant daycare and shared parenting responsibilities. I have never known a single working Mom, who was as unhappy parenting as some of you have described.

    It isn't alwasy easy. In our home chores were divided such that I did the laundry, my husband did most cooking and we had a maid to do the cleaning. Well sometimes I was too busy with my job to do the laundry and I recall running into the president of the company I worked for at the mall in a Men's underwear department, during lunch during a very busy time at our company. We were both grabbing at packages of new underwear, he, for himself and his son, and me for my husband and son. I simply hadn't had time to do the white clothes that week.

    On the way back to the office he confided that in his home, HE did the laundry....and HE didn't have time that week to do it.

    A month later, the company hired a valet service to take laundry to and from a cleaner, or do shopping for employees that were too busy with work.

    There are many ways to have a decent life and get that education or dream job and also be a loving nurturing parent. Just about everyone I know did it.

  10. Mimi,

    You may be thinking of a different discussion. Nowhere in this one has anyone suggested that a woman must choose to be a full-time stay-at-home mom, or even the primary caregiver.

    Nor have any of US suggested that we are "unhappy parenting;" simply that, like any job, it does entail a certain amount of drudgery, tedium and mess.

    I agree with you that there are many ways to divide the labor, and every family must find its own balance. The question, though, is not whether it works for the adults - the question is whether it works for the child.

    As a parent, you know that having a child usually involves giving up a certain amount of freedom of choice. The jet-setting corporate mom in your example may give up a weekend hobby that she loves in order to spend uninterrupted time with her child. She may turn down promotions that would require her to work longer hours while her children are small. If her children feel secure in her love for them, if they feel that their mother is THERE for them when they really need her, it doesn't really matter a damn who does their laundry.

    She may - and I hope she does - have the best daycare provider in the world. She may have a team of valets to buy fresh underpants every week. She and her domestic partner may - and I hope they do - have the most equitable, enlightened relationship under the sun.

    If she (or he) dumps the child completely on someone else to raise because she (or he) feels the kid is cramping her style . . .

    If she (or he) decides that being free to "find herself" (or himself) and pursue her (or his)own whims without being encumbered by the responsibilities inherent in procreating . . .

    If she thinks that her "right to be happy and fulfilled" is as important as her kids' right to be supported and loved . . .

    . . . she's wrong.

  11. My point, dear Millie, is that what one person may perceive as "If she (or he) dumps the child completely on someone else to raise because she (or he) feels the kid is cramping her style . . . " may look like something else entirely within that family's internal workings.

    IMHO, happy and fullfilled parents are those best equipped to support and love their children, as well as to set good examples for them.

    Nothing "wrong" about that.

  12. What about all those “baby daddies” out there who don’t care about their children or the mothers? Is there any excuse for that? And let’s not excuse women here, who are just as capable of doing the same, as we saw in the article.

    And I’m not talking about couples who just couldn’t make it work and break up but still share custody and spend time being parents. I’m talking about men/women who don’t CARE about the children. That is what this article is talking about. The woman who could leave her child with the father and then say “Well, this is much better” is abandoning her responsibilities for her own selfish desires.

    As has been said, these are women who are just not caring about their children. That woman doesn’t care anymore. She’s passed on the responsibility to someone else and won’t give it another thought.

    And what does that do to that woman’s child? Aren’t they going to wonder at some point why Mommy abandoned them? Didn’t she love them? Aren’t they good enough? How is that going to affect their future relationships? Abandonment issues come to mind, for one thing. They might not deal well with being alone or being dumped. And, taking this to the worst case scenario, may ultimately hurt someone or themselves. Is that mother really doing the best thing for them?

    Parents should never leave their children unless they have no other choice. If it is of their own free will, it is always selfishness, even if it does ultimately benefit the child. There is no doubt that a child who is adopted from a teenage mother is much better off with the loving parents, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that the teenager is selfish. She doesn’t want to give up her future. That’s the root of it and there is no escaping that.

  13. Dear Anonymous,
    I agree... and disagree. Giving up your child for adoption has GOT to be one of the hardest things to do. It could be argued that keeping the baby to struggle alongside the teen mom (assuming she has little to no support system) would be the selfish thing.

    Knowing that that baby will be better off without you (again, assuming the baby is adopted into a loving family) is the mature, ADULT response to a bad situation.

    I believe all babies are blessings. Kudos to the teenage moms who struggled and made it through. And if you were one without a good support system and kept that baby anyway? Well, I can't say as I blame you--I've got four kids of my own and it would kill me to have given any of 'em up.


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