The Great Mommy Dilemma


Why, hello, 3:00 a.m., I never thought we should be so well acquainted.  I worked the past three nights & apparently my body is still stuck on night-shift mode which happens occasionally.  Honestly, I’m not sure why most of the world so resents being awake at 3:00 a.m.  It’s really a very nice time of night, though I suppose less so if you’re stuck in the dreaded 9-5 world.

Anyway, tonight I woke up just before 1:00 a.m. & haven’t been able to go back to sleep since then.  Naturally my mind is whirling with questions about life because that’s basically what my brain does any time it’s awake, regardless of what time the clock reads.  Tonight’s topic was inspired by a recent conversation at work in which a new coworker asked me if I had kids.  My response of course was no & I’m not sure if/when I ever want them.  This of course was met with the typical raised eyebrows & quizzical glances which it always inspires, particularly from other women.  I’m used to the reaction but it still bothers me a bit.  In the twenty-first century, is it really still so odd to imagine that a woman could have a uterus, yet have no real intention or desire to use it?  I know, I know, everyone says I’ll change my mind someday.  And I very well may.  But supposing I don’t . . . Is there really something WRONG with me for not wanting to have children? 

childless-by-choice-260x182

From a biological perspective, I suppose it IS a rather odd choice.  After all you don’t see very many childless females in the animal kingdom.  (I’m sure there are some obscure examples, but for the most part females in the animal kingdom, mammals anyway, are rarely childless.)  The biological imperative is to procreate to ensure the propagation of the species.  And yet I seem to have been born without a particular urge to do so.  As a woman, the world views this with a certain amount of suspicion.  Perhaps they are justified in doing so.  But I must say it’s rather unpleasant to be on the receiving end of this suspicion sometimes.

Trust me, I don’t fear having children because I don’t want to give up partying & drinking at all hours of the night.  I’ve never been one to participate in such “pleasures.”  It’s giving up my freedom to write blog posts at 3:00 a.m. & work 40 hours a week without having to come home to anyone who needs to me to take care of them 24/7 that I don’t want to give up.

I came from where

Regarding parenting challenges, it’s not the difficult conversations about death or sex or the essence of morality that scare me.  To all of that, I say bring it on.  I can’t wait to teach my children to be critical thinkers & skeptics like me!  It’s the tedious processes of breastfeeding & toilet-training & other such endeavors that scare me senseless.  Everyone says (& there is probably research to back this up) that the first few years of a child’s life are absolutely essential in bonding with the parent & forming a relationship that will last a lifetime.  Well, since I don’t particularly like children under about age five, if I have any kids I worry they’ll be screwed for life . . . And I already value any children I may have far too highly to risk scarring them so badly . . . Why can’t kids pop out at age five or six, toilet-trained, eating solid food, & ready to take on the world?  You may laugh, but I am serious!

Even on the days when I do feel more inclined to be a mom, I’m met with the veritable dilemma over how to balance children & career.  I was raised in the generation of women who were told we could “have it all.”  But many of us are finding that the world isn’t so utopian as all that.  When I look at the world around me, I’m presented with plenty of evidence that trying to juggle raising a family (young children anyway) & a full-time job is about as easy & as fun as facing a lion, a tiger, a bear, a wolf, & a shark, all at the same time, without any sort of weapon at all.  In other words, it’s hell.

modern motherhood

Perhaps I’m exaggerating a bit, but I think there are legitimate reasons why many women leave behind even the best careers to be “stay-at-home” moms.  First of all, maternity leave in America is a joke.  And second of all childcare is expensive, even for the more well-to-do among us.  Additionally there are the emotional rewards of raising your own children on a day-to-day basis . . . something that’s clearly impossible to quantify but also impossible to ignore.  How many times do I see women facing the agony of leaving their new baby behind after just six precious weeks at home?  It’s not easy to watch.

And yet I know I’m not the only woman who finds the prospect of staying at home all day feeding, bathing, & soothing a crying baby or entertaining a whining toddler far from appetizing.  In fact, it sounds downright miserable to me.  I know, I know, this probably makes me a horrible person, but I can’t be the only woman who doesn’t find babies & toddlers as ridiculously adorable as everyone else does.  Trust me, there are days when I see my friends’ pictures of their children on Facebook & my heart melts & I dream of the day when I too will share that scared title of mother.  But then reality sets in & I remember that most of the actual work of being a mom is far from glamorous.  I don’t know how many blog posts I’ve read lately from women who say “No one told me parenting would be this hard!”  I on the other hand can’t stop thinking about how hard it sounds & wondering if the rewards could possibly make all the stress worth it for me.  Trust me, I sincerely believe that most people truly do find parenting rewarding.  And I sincerely hope that someday I too will find the strength to believe the same will be true for me. 

motherhood grocery store

I often find myself wishing companies were more friendly to mothers (& fathers) of young children, & yet the logical part of me isn’t sure how practical that is.  After all, if every employee had a plethora of children, there is no way companies could afford to provide insurance for all of them.  (Of course not having our health insurance tied to our jobs would be a great start, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.)  And as much as I wish maternity leave were FAR longer, I also realize that expecting a company to pay a woman (or even just hold her job) for three to six months or more while she is NOT actually working for them is perhaps a bit much to ask.  Particularly if a woman has multiple children within a few years of each other.  Not to mention her fellow employees have to take on the burden of fulfilling her roles without any additional pay or benefits.  However, I also think it’s ludicrous to suggest that six weeks is enough time to fully recover, both physically & mentally, from having a baby, much less to actually get a firm grip on balancing the demands of said child.  Basically I see both sides of the coin & neither of them is very pretty.

motherhood not for sissiesTrust me, I am glad I live in a day & age & a society in which I have the choice to have a career or be a mom or try to do both.  Not having those choices would be a far greater torture.  I don’t really know what I hope to accomplish by writing all of this because I know there are no solid answers to the questions I’m asking.  If there are any good answers, they are certainly different for every woman.  I just wonder if anyone else is thinking about all of these things.  Very few of my college friends have kids so far, but at least half, if not three-quarters, of my high school graduating class are parents.  And most people in my family were parents at or well before 25 (my current age).  Did any of these people think about all of these things?  If not, were they better off because of it?  To all those who say I should just stop thinking about all of this so much, you might as well tell me to stop breathing.  If I had been a man in Ancient Greece, I would have been a philosopher.  For better or worse, it’s just who I am, the very essence of my being.

In the end I can’t imagine having children & sending them to daycare, at least not at a very young age.  But I also can’t imagine staying at home with them all day & giving up my career.  I suppose the answer lies somewhere in between, but gambling on trying to find the perfect balance is a risk I’m not sure I’m willing to take.

At least not yet.

 

The Burden of a Daughter


I’ve had this conversation dozens of time & it always goes something like this:

Other person: “If you could only have a son or a daughter, which would you prefer?”

Me: “A daughter”

Other person: “But girls are so much more trouble.  And they’re so expensive!”

One of the most common themes I hear parents discuss is how much more difficult & expensive it is to raise girls as compared to boys.  I for one have always taken issue with this argument, probably largely because I am a girl.  Even as a kid I remember hearing people say this & finding it offensive.  I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank both of my parents for never once making such comments around me.  I am so grateful that neither of my parents ever intentionally or unintentionally made me feel like a burden to them, particularly on the basis of something so fundamental as gender which is obviously something none of us gets to choose anyway.  In fact I specifically remember my mom always responding to comments such as these by saying “Girls don’t HAVE to be more difficult or expensive.  It’s all about how you raise them.”  I firmly believe she was 100% correct in saying this.  Now I know I am not yet a parent & there is a possibility I may eat these words someday, & in some people’s opinions I’m sure I’m not even qualified to speak on this subject at all because of that.  But I’m going to speak on it anyway because it’s an issue that I believe has a lot of unintended consequences & reveals some serious issues our society needs to confront.  So let’s examine some of the reasons people say raising girls is “more trouble” than raising boys.

daughter quote

First, a lot of people complain that girls are more expensive.  Well, I’m going to side with my mother here & argue that they don’t have to be.  For example, you don’t HAVE to spend $300 on your daughter’s prom dress.  No one is forcing you to do that.  Is it possible your teenage daughter might be annoyed if you are the “only mom” who isn’t willing to shell out hundreds of dollars on this one-night event?  Maybe.  But if more moms were willing to say no to this ridiculous debacle, maybe there wouldn’t be such an expectation for it.  I’m not saying not to let your daughter go to prom.  But find ways to make it less expensive.  Buy a dress during an off-season or go to a thrift store.  Borrow one from a slightly older friend.  No one needs their hair or makeup professionally done for a high school prom.  Do it yourself or have your daughter do it with her friends.  Not only will you save money but you will make good memories together.  These are all things my mom did to save money & guess what: I had a great time at prom both years.  And I was never mad at her for “cutting corners” on such things.  This is just one example of how the common argument that girls are more expensive does not have to be true.

Then there’s the issue of clothes.  Nowadays in particular parents worry about girls wanting to wear all kinds of provocative clothing, even at a very young age.  This is a real concern & I’m not about to say it isn’t a big deal.  However, I for one am tired of certain segments of the population using this issue as a way to hold all the responsibility for sex over girls’ heads.  For example, I distinctly remember that every spring at my church growing up the pastor’s wife would take all the teen girls aside as a group & remind us not to dress in a way that might tempt the boys.  At a Christian summer camp our youth group used to attend, girls were forced to abide by an insanely strict dress-code including shorts that had to reach the knees (hello, we were all wearing boys’ shorts in order to meet this requirement).  I distinctly remember one of the parent chaperones getting “in trouble” because her t-shirt when wet became just the tiniest bit “see-through” & God forbid some man might be tempted by glimpsing that one-piece bathing suit she had on underneath it.  (Of course we were only allowed to swim with other girls anyway which makes the entire situation even more ludicrous.)

In & of themselves these things might all seem harmless, but what message does all of this send?  “If a boy looks at you & thinks something dirty, it’s your fault.  If he touches you inappropriately, you made him do it because you tempted him by wearing that ungodly outfit.”  Furthermore, I have even read accounts of Christian colleges such as Patrick Henry College & Bob Jones University discouraging female students from reporting rape & providing “counseling” to rape/sexual assault victims that included teaching them how to be more modest . . . again implying that whatever horrible thing happened to them was their fault.  (If you don’t believe me, read this:  http://www.newrepublic.com/article/116623/sexual-assault-patrick-henry-college-gods-harvard.)

I am by no means encouraging little girls or teenagers to wear obviously revealing or overtly sexy clothing.  Absolutely not.  If you don’t want to be treated like a sex object, don’t dress like one, although context of course is always very key on this subject.  But the point is that even if a girl is dressed in a provocative manner, we should be raising our boys to know that they still have to show that girl respect.  Besides, there is no such thing as girls “asking for rape” because of how they are dressed.  Even hormonal teenage boys are not uncivilized animals who cannot show a little self-control.  End of story.

This leads into my last point.  I strongly believe that the greatest reason people think daughters are more trouble is because they worry about them getting pregnant.  I’m not stupid so I realize this is a legitimate concern.  Therefore, why don’t we raise girls with an awareness of actual birth control including how to use it & where to get it?  Additionally, why not hold boys accountable for such things too?  Why is it that the onus for the prevention of pregnancy always falls on JUST the girls?  I’ve got a crazy idea: why don’t we raise boys with the understanding that they should never, ever have sex with a girl unless at the BARE MINIMUM they are using a condom (unless of course both parties are absolutely prepared to be parents which, frankly, teens are not)?  Radical, I know, but really this is a simple concept.  Over & over studies have shown that teens who are provided with true comprehensive sex education actually have sex at a LATER age.  Conservatives eschew this information but facts are facts.  Frankly it makes sense.  The more kids know about something, the less likely they’re going to “do it” just to “see what it’s like.”  And if they do decide to have sex, they’re more likely to actually use appropriate birth control (& to use it correctly).  The statistics have borne this out time & time again.

teen-pregnancy-rate

Of course the problem here is that most parents aren’t comfortable talking to their kids, regardless of their age, about sex.  I know.  It must be difficult.  But if your kids don’t learn about sex from you, you can be sure they will learn about it everywhere else: movies, TV, the internet, their friends, school, etc, many of which are far from reliable sources of information.  I’ve written before about the strange paradox in American culture in which we are constantly bombarded with sexual imagery & yet in real life most Americans are not comfortable actually talking about sex.  (I’ve even read articles that suggest ways to be more comfortable talking about sex WITH YOUR PARTNER.  This never ceases to amaze me.  If you’re comfortable enough to have sex with someone, how can you not be comfortable enough to talk about it?)  But we have to get over this if we want to make headway on such serious issues as teen pregnancy.

A couple years ago I watched a documentary by James Houston entitled Let’s Talk About Sex.  The film explored some of the reasons why teen pregnancy & STI rates in the US are far greater than in basically every other “developed” nation, particularly those in Western Europe (here’s just one of many websites that touch on these shocking statistics: http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/publications-a-z/419-adolescent-sexual-health-in-europe-and-the-us) .  One segment of the film showed interviews in which teens, both guys & girls, were asked what they would think about someone of the opposite gender if they knew that person carried condoms on a regular basis.  The answers weren’t too shocking but are very revealing about some of the problems we face in our society.  Almost without fail the Americans, both guys & girls, responded by saying “Oh, that sends a bad message.  That means he’s only out for sex” or “She must be a slut.  Carrying condoms makes a girl seem easy.”  On the other hand, teens in other countries often responded by saying “That shows me he/she is responsible & planning ahead & cares enough about me to want to be safe.”  I have actually heard real life conversations very much like these.  I have heard guys say they are afraid to carry condoms around for fear that girls will think they’re only after sex & I’ve heard girls say they are afraid to carry condoms for fear of looking “too easy.”  What this inevitably leads to of course is people having unprotected sex because they weren’t prepared.  How absurd.  Is it any wonder our teenage pregnancy rate (& abortion rate for that matter) are much higher than those in basically every other developed country?

The film additionally explored the phenomenon that many teenage girls in the US are raised with the idea that being on birth control makes them “slutty.”  No one explicitly teaches them this of course, but it’s implied quite often.  The idea is that if you’re on birth control you must be PLANNING to have sex & therefore you’re slutty.  But if you aren’t on birth control & just “end up” having sex with someone & then consequently get pregnant . . . well, it “just happened.”  You weren’t planning on it, so you’re not really a slut.  Having grown up in a small, conservative, religious town I can bear witness that this phenomenon is very real.  What’s sad is that so many girls end up as teen moms because of it.  [Of course the religious right would rather that happen than girls be “liberated” and actually take birth control. God forbid we should not suffer the consequences of our “sins” (pre-marital sex).]

What I’m trying to get at here is that if parents taught their children, both boys & girls, how to be safe & responsible with sex, maybe we wouldn’t have to worry so much about our daughters getting pregnant.

The reason I care so much about people viewing daughters as more difficult than sons is that I truly believe when girls hear such messages growing up it can affect the way they view themselves.  Low self-esteem has actually been linked to earlier initiation of sex for girls & thus higher risk of teen pregnancy.  When you tell girls they’re more work than boys, you’re clearly letting their self-esteem take a hit, thus making them more likely to look for “confirmation” elsewhere.  The world isn’t an easy place to grow up in for either gender.  But let’s not make it more difficult than it has to be.  There are still countries in the world where female babies are routinely aborted simply for being the “wrong gender.”  This is heart-breaking to me.  But how can we call ourselves more civilized when we still hold the attitude that boys are in some way better or at least easier to raise?  Please, people, let’s be real.  No child is ever easy to raise.  But they are all immeasurably valuable so let’s not compromise that value by telling our precious daughters that they’re essentially a burden.    

What do you guys think?  Am I “making a mountain out of a molehill?”  (If it turns out that’s a countrified phrase & some of you don’t know it, it means making a big deal out of nothing.)  Or am I onto something here?

Three Reasons Why I Won’t Be a Good Mom


**DISCLAIMER. I AM NOT PREGNANT, NOR AM I TRYING TO BECOME PREGNANT, NOR DO I PLAN TO TRY TO BECOME PREGNANT ANY TIME IN THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE (AKA, NEXT 1-2 YRS).  Just wanted to put that out there before anyone gets too excited & reads way too much into this post.

As I have mentioned in a few previous posts, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about having kids over the past year or so.  It’s not something I want to do RIGHT NOW; it’s just something I THINK about often which is a huge step considering just two years ago I was pretty sure I never wanted children (though on some deeper level I think I always knew I would someday; I just thought that someday would be much further in the future).  In any case, the recurring theme in my mind seems to be that despite my new-found desire to be a mom I’m not sure I’m really suited for parenthood.  Here’s why.

1. First of all, I am truly an introvert at heart.  I value my alone time very highly.  Trust me, the idea of actually living alone scares me because I do crave human interaction, but at the same time I really value having alone time to listen to music, play my flute, read books & blogs, & generally just relax.  It’s this alone time doing these types of activities that allows me to rest & recharge.  Being an introvert does not necessarily mean that I’m shy or don’t like social interactions.  It simply means that my ENERGY comes from my alone time, not from my time spent with others.  Well, one of the most common themes I hear about motherhood is that you will NEVER BE ALONE AGAIN.  Let me be clear & say that the idea of having a toddler follow me to the bathroom bothers me very little.  But the idea that I might not regularly be able to allot a few hours of time to spend by myself reading & catching up on the things that keep me sane?  That’s scary.  I don’t know if I can handle that.  I truly believe that in order to be an effective parent you have to keep your own sanity which means taking care of yourself as much as you take care of others.  For me that means I need a certain amount of alone time every week . . . But how is that going to happen when I have children, especially since I don’t have any family in the immediate area?  It will be a daunting challenge to put it mildly.  Additionally there is the challenge of never again having alone time with my husband.  That scares me greatly because it’s our alone time together that keeps our relationship strong  .  .  .

2. Secondly, I’m not sure that I’ll ever be suited to being a mom because there is so much about life that I don’t know & that I’m quite sure I’ll never know.  I’ve always had this idea that parents need to have a very firm set of beliefs to give to their children & I know that I will never have that to give to my childrenThere are just too many things in life that can never be fully answered.  The world isn’t black & white, no matter how much we might sometimes want it to be because we (wrongly) think that would make life easier.  Deep down I know that I do have a lot of values that I will try to instill in my children, values that are not based on strict rules or regulations but rather in the simple knowledge of doing what is right in this world.  But the world is full of shades of grey & parents are tasked with teaching their children how to navigate such a terrifying yet wonderful place.  And I am just not sure that I am up to the task.

3. Perhaps I should have started with this point but lastly I have never really liked babies & young children that much.  I often hear moms say “I just wish they’d stay little forever” & I have to resist the urge to laugh & ask them if they are insane.  You mean you LIKE the fact that your kids are completely dependent on you & don’t allow you even two seconds to think peacefully on your own?  How is that fun?!  When I think about having kids, I think about taking them on trips, going to the beach, hiking in the mountains, showing them how to cook, teaching them about life by analyzing everything from movies & TV shows to books & music, & most importantly of course showing them how much I love them every day.  I think about how much fun it will be to watch my kids play sports or participate in band or graduate from college & find an exciting career.  And the joy of becoming a grandparent someday.  Basically most of the things that I think sound fun about parenting all involve kids who are at least 5, if not closer to 10.  Indeed I’ve often said if kids could just arrive at age 5, that would suit me just fine.  But the idea of having an infant who is completely & utterly dependent on me for EVERYTHING for every second of its existence?  Wow, that is just incomprehensibly scary.  I know most women look at babies & just see a bundle of joy.  I see that too but I also see all the WORK that goes into those little bundles of joy: the long nights without sleep, the pain of trying to breastfeed, the upset tummies, the dirty diapers, & the never-ending fatigue from dealing with all of that.  Sometimes I wish I weren’t so capable of visualizing the REALITY of motherhood because then maybe I’d doubt my ability to handle it a lot less.  On the other hand, maybe realizing how difficult motherhood really is will make me less resentful of it when the day finally comes.  I don’t know.  I just know that I’ve never been one of those women who picks up a baby or a toddler & just knows exactly how to interact with them.  I’ve always felt completely clueless & like I must be missing some “nurturing mommy” trait that other girls clearly inherited & I didn’t.  I’m reassured when some moms tell me that they’ve never been particularly thrilled with other people’s children but they love their own to death.  I believe them.  I really do.  Additionally,  when I hear about someone else being pregnant, I fully believe that the moment they hold their child for the first time, their heart will be so full of love & suddenly they will find the strength to raise that child, no matter how scared they are.  But then I see myself in that same situation & suddenly I am full of nothing but doubts & I find myself facing the horrible fear that I might give birth to a child & not feel that inherent connection that mothers are supposed to feel.  That if I don’t know how to relate to other people’s children, I won’t know how to relate to my own either.  Why do I have faith for other people but not for myself?  Arghhhhh.

I don’t know why I’m writing all of this.  I guess I’m just trying to vent my frustrations & make some sense out of what is obviously a very complicated topic.  The reason these thoughts bother me so much is that when I have kids I really want to love them with every fiber of my being.  I want to be the absolute best mom I can be.  I am fully aware of the fact that this does NOT mean having a perfectly organized house all the time but rather spending TIME with my children & showing them love every day of their life.  I know that being the best mom I can be does not mean my children will always have perfectly coordinated outfits or even perfectly CLEAN outfits every day of the week.  Rather it means never forgetting to say “I love you,” always being there to kiss & hug them after a hard day, building up their self-confidence, & experiencing that love between mother & child that is like nothing else on Earth.  In my heart I know that having the maturity to understand these things probably means I actually WILL be a good mom.  But my heart is still full of so many doubts.

I feel like most girls grow up strongly visualizing themselves as mothers someday.  But I just never thought of myself that way.  So I have no idea if it’s normal to be full of so many doubts & questions regarding the subject of motherhood.  If there are any moms out there reading this, I would be very appreciative to hear your thoughts.