Monday, April 6, 2009

The argument for reproducing: Is it different when it's your own kids?

empty swingsI found an article on Babble by Lauren Hoffman titled: "A Preschool Teacher's Confession: I love kids, but I'd hate being a parent."

That makes the third teacher of young children I've encountered who's sworn off children.

Now, on the flip side, I know several who do want or have had their own kids, but I think it's interesting that people might love being around young'uns but not want their own. Because, see, I'm in the other boat: I don't really like interacting with kids all that much, and yet here I have reproduced. (Am I allowed to admit that on a parenting blog?)

Writes Hoffman:

"A harried parent once said to me at drop-off, apropos of nothing, 'So. You signed on to hang out with a bunch of two-year-olds. Voluntarily.' To raise a child is to be exhausted and, frequently, to look it. The parents I know all say it's worth it, and that it's just different with your own kids. I know that of course it would be different. I just don't think it would be different enough."

My mother frequently spouted that line to me when I wondered aloud whether I could handle the strain and tedium of being in charge of a kid All Day Long, usually after a bout of babysitting or hanging around cousins. "It will be different when it's your own."

Sam and I nannied a friend's baby for several months, and we kept hoping that that saying meant we could benignly neglect our own kid more than our babysitting charge, whom we felt compelled to entertain the whole time since we were being paid for it. Even our four-hour shifts exhausted us.

So, I can take stock now. Is it different with your own kids? Yes. Is it different enough? I don't know.

And I can't really answer that for Ms. Hoffman. I do think, however, that if her gut tells her no, her gut's probably right.

"What changed my mind for good against procreating is the need that assails me all day long. My children have an absolute right to their legion, constant needs; what makes a child a child is their dependence on the adults around them. But at five o'clock each day, I'm able to walk away from the onslaught, and I'm relieved. I can't imagine not getting to go home from children."

She recounts the way children take away your personal space, your right to your body, and your dignity. I was peed on four times yesterday. That's the unsung beauty of not having or being around kids: not having to change your clothes multiple times a day due to bodily fluids not your own.

I had to send Mikko out with Sam so I could write this, because today Mikko is whiny and exhausted and clingy but won't take a nap. There comes a point where I wish I could "go home from children."

I do wonder why I had kids, why anyone does.

     The world has enough people. We're not in danger of running out anytime soon.
     As I've said, I'm not overly fond of kids. I don't dislike them, but I was never the person who rushed to fill every hour with babysitting jobs, or the person angling to have new babies handed off to her for a cuddle. I guess I'm not a very good allomother, am I? I don't want to overemphasize this, as if I'm some sort of baby hater. I just mean that (perhaps as is expected from most males?), children have never been an obsession for me.
     I really liked the idea and the experience of being pregnant. That seems like a stupid reason, though. I've even considered surrogacy, for the joy of pregnancy without the horrors of caring for a newborn afterward!
     I don't subscribe to any particular theological dictate to multiply.
     I don't have any expectation of being cared for in my old age by my offspring, which Hoffman cites as a stupid reason (I agree).
     I look at my own parents and see that here I am, living across the country from them, keeping in touch sporadically. Is that the wished for end result of procreation? We're on good terms, at least. Are my parents satisfied with how all their work in raising me turned out?

In the end, I had some sort of drive to have children. Maybe it was biological. Maybe it was curiosity. Maybe it was my interest in parenting as a subject and a wish to experiment on my own little guinea pigs. I know Sam has some sort of desires along similar lines in terms of raising children to be spiritually mature.

I don't know if any of those are good reasons, or if anyone needs good reasons. All I know is I determined that, if I looked back at my life as an old woman, I would regret not ever having had kids.

Which meant accepting the risk of having them.

"And while my kids reflect the love and care they're given in simple ways, a relationship with a child is not fully reciprocal. To give to kids all day long is often to throw love into a vacuum. As much as I believe in the importance of the work that I do, it often depletes me. I wince at the edge in my voice at the end of a particularly challenging day. How much sharper would it get if a child's needs came at me twenty-four hours a day instead of thirty-odd hours a week? I don't care to find out."

I am finding out. Apparently, it means I have to send him off once in awhile for a nice long walk with his father.

The problem with being a mother, in particular, is necessarily having to be, as Hoffman puts it, "The One, the axis on which a child's world orbits." That is, to her as to me, terrifying. I don't deserve to have anyone need me that much, and I'm not sure on a daily basis whether I can pull it off.

It's interesting that adults who choose not to have children are often considered selfish, but that most reasons for having children are selfish as well: wanting to put something forth into the world that carries on your genes, your nature, your name, your calling, your viewpoint. Certainly, raising children demands a certain amount of selflessness, but the choice to reproduce starts beforehand. Very few people see clearly how difficult raising children will be, wish they could be spared, and then have them anyway, just to build their own character.

I once went looking online to see how many parents out there regret having had kids. It was hard to find, which I guess is good. There were a few, though, who said that if they had to do it over, they'd remain childless. I don't think it was a hatred of their kids, a wish that they specifically had never been born, but just a general exhaustion and an acknowledgment of paths not taken and dreams deferred.

I realize there are parents out there who have no idea what I'm talking about, who bear and raise their children with uncomplicated joy and can't imagine any other way. And that's fine. It's just that I can see both sides: the pros and the cons of reproducing. The fun of being just a married couple (in our case), enjoying the city we live in and all the activities we can now no longer do. Like showering without having a toddler twist himself around in the curtain so that water sprays everywhere and you become freezing cold. You know, the little things.

Do I regret having kids? No. Not today, at least. Even with the whininess. I needed to know how it would be, and I chose, and I can't imagine going back to a Mikko-less time. I mean, I can imagine it, but it's in the past, and I've started a new life with him.

And, not to harp on the same old subject, but I think the decision to have kids or not could be much simplified if we did have a network of people helping us raise our kids instead of knowing from the start that we'd be going it alone.

I think that's fundamentally what makes people like Lauren Hoffman enjoy her job and yet, every payday, "sack away a little money in the tubal ligation fund."

Photo courtesy Dan Shirley


c. zimmerly said...

it is totally different. i have never been one who loves other's babies or kids. i just would rather not keep their company. but now i have my own baby and i love it. i wouldn't trade with teachers for anything.

Lauren Wayne said...

I totally agree with you on the not trading part! I can't imagine being that energetic all day.

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