For possibly the first time in human history, people are able to ask themselves if they want to be a parent. Think about that. For thousands of years you had children for reasons out of your control. Your culture, your parents, your place within society dictated whether or not you became a parent. For millions of people, that is still true to this day. But for millions of others, there is a clear choice to be made.
To Parent or not to Parent, that is the question. And good God what if you make the wrong decision? There is a wrenching, painfully honest thread on Quora that asks the question, “What is it like to regret having children?” I think it is important to allow people a place to be honest about their experience of parenting, especially when it doesn’t match up with what the wider culture tells us. Would there be as much resentment and regret if we were to give parents a break from the constant requirement that we adore every aspect of our parenting life?
Also, stop having an opinion about whether other people have children. You made your choice, let other people make theirs. Just because being a parent made you less of an asshole doesn’t mean the same will be true of your friend/sister/cousin/co-worker. Leave people alone. Read that Quora thread and you will likely never express an opinion regarding whether someone should spawn. Go home and cuddle your kid(s) and be grateful you actually enjoy being a parent.
I became a parent when I was 22. I was single, I lived in my cousin’s unfinished (rodent infested) basement and I had dropped out of junior college at the age of 19. The only thing that would have made me a worse candidate for parenthood was if I’d owned a machine gun. I think back to where I was and I can’t believe people didn’t laugh in my face when I told them I was planning on becoming a parent. My son was born in 1995. I drove a 1984 Honda Civic that lacked both A/C and insurance. I drove him home from the hospital in it. I lived in an apartment that registered 90 degrees inside by the end of July and just pretty much stayed there until the end of September. The furniture was hot to the touch.
To parent or not to parent? Did I make the right choice? I think I did. Despite everything we didn’t have going for us, we survived. Does that mean other people in the same situation should make the choice I made.
And fuck anyone for using situations like mine as an argument for maintaining pregnancies they don’t want or feel certain they can’t handle. I wanted my son. He was unplanned but he was never unwanted. There is a very important distinction between unplanned and unwanted and no one gets to make it but the pregnant person.
My second son was born when I was 39. I had been married since 1997, my car had air conditioning and was insured. I was a homeowner (there were rodents in the detached garage). I had a college degree. I had some idea of what I was in for. Was having my second son an easier, better choice?
Parenting doesn’t work that way. Maybe it did once but not anymore. You can be wealthy beyond measure and have an absolutely nightmarish parenting experience. Money helps. I won’t lie about that. It was wonderful to have enough money to afford air conditioning and not be hot all the time. Aside from that (and being able to buy a bag of tacos for dinner when I couldn’t remember how to make chili) money doesn’t change the fundamental aspect of parenting. Metamorphosis.
You are not a parent and then you are and that change is ongoing and never ending. It isn’t as if someone plops a baby on you and the heavens open and suddenly you know exactly what to do. Maybe for some people this happens and I have to say I am jealous. I have been stumbling and bumbling my way through parenthood for 25 years and the only solid advice I have is, “Be gentle with yourself.” You should be gentle with your children but also with yourself.
What does it mean to be gentle with yourself? I think it means treading lightly across your weak points. Not a morning person? Give up the dream of cooking everyone a big breakfast. You aren’t making anyone happy. There is no french toast and you feel bad about yourself. I also think being gentle with yourself means going big on your strengths. Were you a theatre major in college? Make your bedtime reading a show! Play the guitar? Reading is fun but a bedtime sing-along is a thing of joy (we used to enrage our crazy neighbor with them). What if you are a stodgy bore who favors three piece suits and leaving off the vest is how you join in for casual Friday? Teach your kids how to dress for success. RuPaul says that if you want to make money, wear a suit. No one argues with RuPaul when it comes to appearances.
You have gifts, abilities and joys your children will benefit from. Share them. This is your journey, not your mom’s or your neighbor’s or anyone else’s. If every child is different, it follows that every parent is different. Celebrate what you specifically bring to each of your children. And that might be different for each child. Maybe that is the thing about parenting that feels both beautiful and impossible; there is no destination, only journey. That can feel exhausting.
And that is okay. If you are in pursuit of perfection you might want to pass on becoming a parent. Perfection and parenting do not go together. It’s like oil and water or worse, toothpaste and orange juice. I could not tell you the purpose of parenting beyond making humans who go on to make more humans who then make cake that the rest of the humans get to enjoy. I should have paid closer attention in biology class. I have enjoyed being a parent. I like reading kid books and playing endless games of Uno. Going to bed at 9PM seven days a week brings me joy. Spontaneity, in my opinion, is just a fancy way of saying you don’t want to make plans for fear of something better coming along. And ‘going with the flow’ means you are the type of person who goes on vacation with the idea that you will roll into any city or town in the world and magically find a clean, comfortable, safe place to sleep. That is how people get murdered.
What I am trying to say is that many aspects of parenting match with my boring personality. Maybe yours doesn’t. You can still be an excellent parent. Just make hotel reservations in advance, okay?
Please. For me.