Thursday, September 06, 2007

To parent or not to parent

I've been reading this collection of essays titled "Maybe Baby" this week. The essays are divided into three sections: the writers who chose to not have children, those who have or are wavering, and those who decided to take the plunge. It's been a good read so far.

The essays written by the parents are the ones that resonate the most with me now, but perhaps not for the most obvious reason. Some of the writers chose to have children but worried a lot about it. Would they be good parents, would they make mistakes, would they love their children? I knew that I wanted to have William, absolutely, but I can't lie and say that I didn't worry about what kind of a parent I'd be to him. I figured that I'd have to learn along the way, which is more or less what I've been doing for the past sixteen months. But as I've said before, I wasn't one of those women who had their future children's names picked out for decades and were just waiting on the prospective father to come along. I wasn't convinced that I'd be the perfect instinctive mama. So it was very nice to read the essays by people who really considered why they wanted to become parents--and ultimately why they did take the leap of faith. And why they have never regretted it.

But I was also struck by some of the essays in the "no, thanks" category. I would never ever presume that everyone wants to have children or should have them. Nor would I ever tell someone without children that they'll change their mind someday. Everyone has to make their own path, certainly. And I really do believe that some people aren't destined to be parents because they just don't want to BE parents. All they need to say, honestly, is "I just didn't want to have children," and I'm perfectly okay with that. They should be, too. One writer wrote that she didn't want to pass along her genes because her family has a history of mental illness that she didn't want to pass along. That's fine, too.

But at least two of the writers used a version of this as one of their reasons: "I don't like ugly primary-colored plastic toys, and I don't want them spread all over my living room for years on end." I feel like that's just disingenuous. You don't want to be a mother or father. Just say it. Don't blame Fisher Price for your decision. That would be like someone saying "Well, I would get married, but you know, I hate bridesmaid dresses/altar flowers/monogrammed napkins so I'm just not going to bother." Besides, you don't have to sacrifice your living room to shape sorters/plastic blocks/toys that moo or quack. You can corral them in your child's room if you truly hate the sight of them. Or stack them in neat wooden baskets that coordinate with the furniture(which is what we've tried to do in our new living room). Or you can choose to only purchase handcrafted wooden toys. Or, when he's old enough, you can teach your child to clean up the toys and put them away.

OR you know what? You can say "I love my child. My child loves this toy. I'm not going to get all worked over the fact that it's in my living room. He's eventually going to outgrow it anyway, and it will get shunted off to the basement or Goodwill. Is it really worth expending major angst over the fact that it's occasionally lying in front of the coffee table?" It's okay to not want to have children. It's okay to want to have them. But I think people should be honest about those reasons, at least to themselves.

And yeah, I sometimes grumble when I pick up the little rubbery animals from the Noah's Ark toy for the four millionth time. Sure, it'd be nice to have a beautifully appointed house that looks like a Pottery Barn catalogue at all times. But I think that it's more than fair for what I get back in return: a giggly little boy who adores me and his daddy and who can't get enough of us. Who smells like Johnson & Johnson baby wash after his bath. Who pulls up his shirt from his round little belly and points to his bellybutton and crows "Bel bo!" Who nestles his head up against me and says, "Ma ma ma."

But maybe society does expect people to have a long list of reasons for why they chose to remain childless (and I've only been referring to people for whom it's a deliberate choice). Maybe people do feel pressured to defend a list of reasons, like a dissertation. I hope I've never producted that reaction in anyone. I hope I never turn into a mommy evangelist. But my gosh, I'm glad that I have my son. I'm glad glad glad.

(Even if he does insist on throwing food off his high chair tray.)


Anonymous said...

Very nice thoughts! Love, Moma Judi

Alethea said...

Those anti-Fisher Price people? I haven't read the essays, but I wonder if the complete aversion to those things isn't a symptom of something more. Like, if you have such an aversion, then it's possible you are too high-strung/perfectionist/rigid (choose your adjective) to have children in the first place.