This seems like a good time to write this post. On the one hand, I’ve barely slept in two days because we’ve had a disgusting heat wave and my little sputnik will not sleep when it’s hot. On the OTHER hand, I have recently reacquired the ability to drink coffee. Well, it’s a weak, watery beverage that wants to be coffee when it grows up one day, but it’s still basically coffee. So right now I am in a semi-neutral dream state and feel perfectly objective about all things in the universe.
[Before we continue: if anybody is about to jump in crying about the coffee, I didn’t have any yesterday and he still didn’t sleep. It’s the heat.]
I have a lovely group of friends who often run the gamut of opinions on all things in existence. This naturally includes the topic of children, a topic which is SO FRAUGHT WITH OPINIONS it will draw full-grown men across a grocery store to give strangers advice on how to raise their children (I’m looking at you, Mr. “You have to speak a foreign language to your child between 6 and 9 months”).
Have you ever been on the Internet? The Internet simultaneously loves and loathes children. There are approximately 1.5 billion articles about whether or not to have children (I counted), and most of them fall into one of two camps:
- Children are angelic blessings sent directly from God and if you don’t have children you are the saddest and/or most selfish person on the planet, seriously why even live.
- Children are time vampires sent from hell to ruin their parents’ lives, overpopulate the earth, and make a ruckus in public when decent people are just trying to have lunch.
- BONUS camp: My pets are my babies.
And both sides are furiously determined to be smug about their choice and feel pity for the fools on the other side who clearly don’t know what they’re missing.
Newsflash: babies will ruin your life! If you want a child, the pros will outweigh the cons! If you don’t want a child, you will be miserable and make that kid’s childhood miserable as well! I don’t know why it’s so hard to acknowledge that this experience, like so many others, falls along a spectrum and there isn’t one correct decision. You don’t have to justify your life by proving other people are wrong.
(I do understand that there is a more complicated back-and-forth than that. The “Married > House > Children” life path was such an expectation in the previous generation that a growing chunk of the current generation must defensively explain their disinterest in kids… which leads to lots of parents feeling belittled and obliged to defensively insist that kids are the best thing that ever happened to them. I have more sympathy for the childfree camp, because you shouldn’t have kids if you don’t want to and you shouldn’t have to explain why. But, you know, you don’t have to pity parents to feel secure about that.)
The word ‘ruin’ has negative connotations, so we could just as easily use ‘transform.’ But if you birth/adopt/foster a child and continue to raise that child, say goodbye to your old routine. I mean ‘ruin’ in the sense that your prior life ceases to exist, and is replaced with a new one. Depending on how much you enjoyed your old ways, and depending on how well you handle change, this may be a new adventure or it may be utter ruination.
I’m not going to bother explaining why I wanted a baby, because these explanations inevitably reek of judgment no matter how you word them. Suffice to say, I knew what I was getting into and I don’t regret it. No lie, it’s a chore to juggle work and life and feel like I’m still there for everything at home. There isn’t really a way around that unless the only thing you ever wanted to do was stay home with a baby, and now you get to stay home with a baby (in which case, kudos on having it all).
At the same time, I feel like my life has gone through a magnifying glass and narrowed down to a streamlined point, and I’m increasingly on board with this. I used to over-commit like crazy (three jobs and an Etsy shop and several sets of friends to keep up with and also writing a book?) but the baby has given me a socially acceptable and mandatory-for-sanity reason to whittle out the fluff. Faced with the very limited nature of my time, and the very time-consuming nature of the baby, I had to decide what the most important bits in my life were, because the rest was going bye-bye.
I stripped back to one part-time job (sidenote: yes, I was in a privileged position to be able to do this in the first place). I limit most of my social activity to big family events, plus a monthly Book Club with one group of friends and a monthly Dinner Club with the others. And I kicked all of my hobbies except reading and writing. No arts and crafts, no big theme parties requiring massive preparation, no popping out to happy hours left and right, and (gasp) minimal web surfing.
And you know what? It has been incredibly liberating. I have become so efficient with the personal time I do carve out of the day, that despite my responsibilities I’ve been more productive in the writing arena this year than in the last several, and I’ve certainly read more books. It is so calming for me to look at my schedule for my days off and realize: I’m not going anywhere. When the baby takes a nap I’m going to write for a while, and maybe I’ll read a bit before bed.
This probably sounds horrifying to other socially active folks, and I am surprised and relieved to have adapted so far. Obviously I chafe now and then and feel left out when I don’t attend a party or manage to see a movie before it leaves theaters, but I also don’t feel guilty at the end of the day because I went to a party or the movies instead of working toward my personal writing goals.
Which is a very long way of saying: your mileage may vary. And that’s okay.