When do you feel truly ready to give up your old life and break your heart wide open?
While listening to an Ezra Klein podcast recently, I laughed out loud with sheer delight, feeling so seen. I mentally bookmarked his statement so I could go back and look up the transcript later to send to my best friend. Perhaps my feelings about parenting were not so bad, a secret to be hidden. Other people felt this way too.
Klein said it better than I could paraphrase, so I will quote him here:
“I always knew I wanted to have kids, but it was a kind of wanting powered by FOMO. It wasn’t so much that I wanted kids than that I didn’t not want to have kids. I used to tell this joke. Do you want to have kids? Definitely. When? Never. And the reason was that parenting itself didn’t look particularly good to me. I knew I’d love my kids. Everyone else seemed to. But I worried I’d find the whole enterprise kind of dull… It seemed like years and years before kids would have interesting political opinions, and what did you do to fill the time until then?”Ezra Klein Show, “Relationships Are Hard. This Unusual Parenting Theory Can Help.” February 15, 2022
Perhaps it is easier for dads to admit this than moms. My husband has no trouble admitting that he’s eager for the kids to get to middle school when they’ll be more fun, even while he pours his energy into playing pretend *again* with our daughter’s miniature animals and cars.
Moms, though — moms are the ones who are supposed to enjoy pregnancy and take luscious maternity photos with full bellies. Moms are supposed to catch “baby fever” and wish for more newborn snuggles. Moms are supposed to inherently enjoy the various aspects of raising small humans: whether it’s incessant nursing or constant holding or snuggles in bed. “It’s evolution, it’s nature’s way,” various books, blogs, and Instagram accounts crow, for a mom to crave constant contact with her baby.
I’ve stopped reading those articles because they only serve to make me feel guilty. Maybe my evolution went off-kilter, because I love things like preparing my meals with two hands, getting in some exercise that doesn’t involve bouncing a baby, sleeping how I want to in my own bed, and laying my baby down for his naps so I can do things like type this article. A little absence makes my heart grow fonder with my babies. I’m happy to hand the newborn off to someone else to hold if they want a chance. (Unless he gets upset. Then Mama Bear is out in full force to protect him and keep him safe from harm.)
In some moments when it feels like I won’t have a chance to do any of the above things because both of my kids are hungry, tired, and/or crying, I am mentally counting down the days until we are out of the swamp that is the early years of raising kids. Why does anyone do this? I am tempted to think.
Then by some magic, maybe they both fall asleep, or if they don’t, we somehow all survive until the next hour, and my two-year-old daughter does a thing that brings me such surprise and delight because of her sweet observational powers, and the one-month-old eventually melts onto my chest in a way that is so precious that I can forgive him for the early morning waking.
I love my daughter fiercely and would do anything for her, but like Ezra Klein acknowledges, the daily stuff can be so dull. Playing pretend on the floor with miniatures is not-torture for about one minute and then I’m looking for an escape. I enjoy preparing food together and engaging her in my house chores (which she is young enough to consider a very fun time), but I feel bad that I’m not a fun, pretend-play, arts-and-crafts, sensory-activity mom. Not by a long shot. Sorry, kiddo.
Before she was born, I was excited, but mostly I was nervous, maybe even terrified. I’m a person who likes her alone time – lots of it – and finds spending a lot of time with little kids both over-stimulating (Loud! Mess! So many needs!) and under-stimulating (is my brain melting into a pile of mush that only thinks about diapers, nap schedules, and feedings??).
I knew my daughter would completely rock my world when she arrived and grow me from someone basically self-centered, able to center my own needs, to an adult who had to center someone else’s needs. That was scary.
But I chose this path, willingly and deliberately. Do you want children? Definitely. When? I guess…now?
In my son’s early weeks, my husband had gone back to work, my mom had left town, and my days (and nights) with a toddler and a fussy 6-week-old were very, very long. I was struggling. I made it worse on myself though by telling myself that “all the other moms” surely loved this motherhood thing more. I was a bad mom for struggling with his crying and him not wanting to be put down. Other moms had it way harder and here I was, falling apart over normal baby things. Terrible mother. Terrible mother.
Ezra Klein was talking more about his feelings anticipating kids than how he felt with actual kids (though there’s a bit of that too), but it opened up a little bit of space for me to feel okay with my feelings about children. Of course I love them and I would do anything for them. But it’s also often hard, and boring, and unending, and a lot of one-way transactions from you to them. It’s okay to be honest about that. Perhaps my honesty lets you be honest, too.
It turns out, even though it’s hard, the rewards are pretty great too. Even when they’re too young to have interesting political opinions. My toddler figuring out how to string words into sentences, or the way she easily completes a puzzle she couldn’t do a couple months ago. My son learning how to give me the biggest toothless smiles after he came out of the long newborn haze with little interpersonal return on investment.
Then of course, I have been watching all the news recently about the Ukraine crisis. All the images and videos of moms fleeing their country with their children, leaving their male partners behind to fight in a war. The row of strollers at the train station in Poland donated by moms for Ukrainian moms. Moms sleeping on mattresses and cots in the subway underground, cuddling their children close to their body, protecting them as best they are able to in the worst of times.
I see all of this and it brings tears to my eyes – I know you see it too and experience similar reactions. And now there is enough wisdom in me to know that it’s okay to struggle with my newborn in unique ways in my own privileged life, and also to know that if it were me in the circumstances of the Ukrainian mother, I would rise to the occasion. So little would matter beyond loving and keeping safe my children.
Because when a parent is born, you figure out how to rise to the occasion you are given. Parenting is hard regardless of where, when, and how you do it. We are all heroes, connected by this strange, shared experience.
2 thoughts on “Do you want children? Definitely. When? Never.”
This would have been very helpful for me to read when I was a young mom with young children. Thank you for this very brave article Christine! I hope that other moms will feel comforted that they are not alone with their ambivalent thoughts and feelings about motherhood.
Thank you, Jennifer!! I have to say, when times are especially challenging in this mom job, I have to “therapist” myself so hard and part of that is allowing myself to feel all the ambivalent feelings and just hoping I’m not alone!