Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Letter to My Former Self (Who Was Afraid to Become a Parent)

By Shannon Stewart.

It was the fifth Facebook status like it I had seen that day. It read something like, “Naptime. All four kids awake. Poop in my hair.”

To me, happy in my third year of marriage, it made me feel sick inside. I wanted babies—but I didn’t want to “lose my mind,” as many Facebook statuses seemed to suggest I would. I have a Master’s degree in English Literature. I like my mind just the way it is, thank you very much.

So I was scared. And it wasn’t just because of Facebook statuses. I loved my life, my marriage, and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” right? I didn’t see how adding another human to our household could make my wonderful life anything but worse.

I know there are others like me who struggle with the same fears. There is little out there to encourage us. There are mommy blogs that talk about how hard it is, mommy blogs that practically have little hearts floating out of the screens as they revel in how much they adore parenthood (barf), mommy blogs whose sole purpose it is to scare you out of vaccines or co-sleeping… But there was nothing helpful for me, tentatively wanting to be a parent but discouraged at how all these mommy blogs made parenting seem either all-consuming or stressful—or both.

So now that I have a 15 month old and another due this year, I wanted to write a post to my past self (and anyone else like her). Not to tell me how blind I was, not to play the parenting expert, not to coo about how parenting is awesome (though it actually is)—I wanted to write the post I wish my past self had been able to read. In this post, I’d like to address the rhetoric that encourages those fears. Next week (or soon thereafter), I’d like to share how my life has actually improved because I had a kid.

Without further ado, here’s my response to the ideas circulating that, intentional or not, make people like me afraid to parent.

1. Reach for the Stars

The first problem with parenting rhetoric is High Standards. Don’t do this, don’t watch this, only eat organic, use Pinterest to make every day an adventure—or YOUR CHILDREN WILL BE RUINED. My first advice regarding this is to stop reading parenting magazines; most I’ve read run on a mixture of guilt, fear, and consumerism. My second advice is to read this article, this article, and “A Cruel Kindergarchy” in Kevin DeYoung’s fantastic book Crazy Busy.

Essentially, my summary of these authors’ thoughts is this: American parenting today holds itself to too high a standard. Other cultures, and even American culture a century ago, didn’t have all these requirements. There are simply other ways to parent than the ways you see and fear (have you read that second article yet? Go! Go read it!). Think about your own childhood. Did your parent spend every day of your toddler years making your life magical? No. My mom didn’t have the Internet to research, second-guess, and publicly champion every parenting decision she made. And I’m not ruined (at least, I don’t think I am). So parenting doesn’t have to be quite as consuming as the Internet makes it out to be.

2. Woe is We

The second major problem with parenting rhetoric is Complainy Moms. My theory about complainy moms is that they are the kind of people who complain about whatever is going on in their lives. They were the ones who complained about homework during college, about work when they were out of college. Now their favorite subject happens to be their kids. Just hide them from your newsfeed and ignore them like you did in school.

3. False Causes

The third problem with parenting rhetoric isn’t actually the rhetoric; it’s how I chose to interpret what I saw. For example: a harried, upset mom yelling at her three crying kids in Walmart. I looked at that and thought, “I don’t want that in my life. I don’t want to be a parent.” To use fancy terminology, this is the logical fallacy called false cause. This lady was having a bad day. I immediately assumed it was because of her crying kids. Well, maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t. When I see a childless lady in a business suit in Walmart and she’s acting like a jerk to the clerk, I don’t assume it’s because she’s a businesswoman that she’s acting that way. Sometimes businesswomen have bad days. Sometimes moms and kids have bad days. It’s not necessarily because of their jobs that bad days happen.

On the flip side, I also fearfully observed the Mom Who Won’t Shut Up About Her Kids Syndrome. It seemed like whenever I got around my friends who had babies, all they would talk about was the babies, leaving me out of the loop. It also seemed like every third mom I knew would post a picture EVERY 30 MINUTES of her child on Facebook. So I thought, “Motherhood must make you unable to think of anything but children. I would much rather think about book ideas or philosophize about the ultimate futility of Livia’s attempts to control power in Ancient Rome.”

This was silly for two reasons. First: almost no other woman ever wanted to talk with me about Livia before they were moms, either. So again, false cause: it was unfair to believe that they weren’t “on my level” just because they had kids. Maybe I am just a weirdo.

Second: When I enjoy something a lot, I talk about it a lot. That’s why my classes now groan every time I mention The Legend of Zelda. The possible need for self-restraint aside, maybe these moms post about their kids so much because they like having kids!

I will say, now that I have a child, that I don’t only talk about Elanor. My students still come up to me after class to discuss the latest Christopher Nolan movie; Cap and I discuss quiet times and book ideas on dates. I still light up when Legend of Zelda is mentioned (oh my goodness that new gameplay footage of the 2015 game…).

But I do enjoy talking about Elanor. I appreciate having an “in” with other moms, from the grannies at the grocery store to the girls at church with whom I have nothing else in common. Kids are a great conversation starter, and more often than not I’ll leave with some great new idea or encouragement for parenting. Not a bad deal.

So, past self (and all selves like her), there’s my handy guide for dealing with the stuff out there that encourages parenting fear. Next week I’ll talk about how my life has actually improved because I had kids.

photo credit: Wondermonkey2k via photopin cc

2 comments:

Cap Stewart said...

It was the fifth Facebook status like it I had seen that day. It read something like, “Naptime. All four kids awake. Poop in my hair.” To me, happy in my third year of marriage, it made me feel sick inside. I wanted babies—but I didn’t want to “lose my mind,” as many Facebook statuses seemed to suggest I would. I have a Master’s degree in English Literature. I like my mind just the way it is, thank you very much.

[This obligatory comment is designed to make Facebook recognize my article’s content. Thanks for your understanding.]

Unknown said...

Loved your blog Shannon and also liked reading the other "articles" you referenced. Good insight!

Glad to know I didn't "ruin" my kids when I was firm with them and didn't give in to their constant requests. Didn't try to make their life "magical" but did plan special parties and activities. One of the most magical times for me now and then is just watching my kids/grandkids play and explore on their own. Discovery is magical in the eyes of a child!