Is It Really Different When It’s Your Own Child?
After spending time with my friends’ needy, clingy children, I am having second thoughts about parenthood. Will I really feel that differently about my own baby?
I’ve been trying to get pregnant with my first child for over 18 months, and am just tipping over into the whirlpool of interventions. As I hover on the brink, two things are making me hesitate: first, I am so tired of trying, and it’s only getting worse. Second – and the reason I’m writing to you – I’ve just spent a week at a friend’s and his kids are really making me reconsider.
Friend and partner have two kids, a 3 year-old and an 18-month old. And I feel like a heel for saying it, but I don’t think I want kids if they’re like these two. The younger one will not let go of Mom for an instant and objects loudly to necessary evils such as bath, food, bed. The day started with a 20-minute scream because Dad held her while Mom had a (not even daily) shower, and is ending with another screamathon because, again, Mom had to, you know, do something else for a piece. Frivolous unreasonable things, like eat dinner, pee…
Older Child reacts to Younger’s screaming by screaming, whining or whimpering (usually a put-on cry without tears, what I think of as a dry cry – not that I’m saying there’s no reason for Older to be upset, hell, I’d join in if I thought it would help) and getting just as clingy as Younger. So there’s been a lot of noise, even without the natural emotional mood swings, shoves, fights and bumps which produce regular shrieks, crying and bawling throughout the day.
Plus, neither of them sleep, which means no one sleeps, both of them are fussy eaters and… and… I appreciate that kids go through phases, but the screaming, not sleeping and not eating have been a go since day 1. Friend still updates Facebook every time they get a whole night’s sleep. It’s not often.
So I’m facing a decision: do I try really hard, spend my savings, work extra hours hard, to have a baby of my own and hope like hell it will be different? or is this just how it is, and maybe infertility is a chance to reconsider what I really want?
Lucky escape or evil curse?
Is it really different when it’s your “own” child? Yes. And no. It’s complicated.
Look, I’m not going to B.S. you here. Having kids is amazing, life-changing, frustrating, draining, exhausting and humbling. It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. It’s every cliche you’ve ever heard.
Babies are small giant sucking vortexes of need and responsibility. They come into the world completely helpless, completely dependent on you. YOU. You you you you. You, with the boobs and the body they just possibly thoroughly WRECKED while making their grand entrance into the world. They will cry and cling and wail while you repeatedly bend to the endless whims of this…well, this small strange alien-like meatloaf who poops in their pants and refuses to sleep.
And you will love them. You will love them so hard it will terrify you a little bit. You knew YOUR world would change once you had a baby but you didn’t know THE world would also change. THE world suddenly becomes a scary place, full of awful things that are now your responsibility to keep at bay, to shield your helpless squalling meatloaf from, because if something happened… If anything happened….
And that’s all in like, the first two hours.
There are ages you’ll like and ages you’ll diplomatically say are “not your favorite.” For some, it’s the newborn days. Or toddlerhood. I’m personally really good with babies but not really excelling at 7-and-a-half, to be honest, as it feels like the stakes have been raised even higher, because it COUNTS now, because he’s going to REMEMBER my exasperation, my lack of patience, and all the times I didn’t have the right answers to his questions about Mean Kids At School or What Happens When We Die or I’m Scared About Growing Up. Also, man, do they ever get mouthy sometimes.
You start out as the sun and moon and stars of their little world and the responsibility can sometimes feel like an overwhelming burden, but then as they grow it is basically your job to make yourself obsolete, to fade away. To do your best and to “succeed” means they will break away from you, move away from you, to become the completely separate, independent person they always were. But you’ll remember what it felt like when they were small and seemed more like a natural extension of yourself, a tiny person you created and grew and loved with every fiber of your being. Who was walking around with your heart and skin and the weight of your entire world. Who you loved even when you didn’t necessarily like them. Who is now out there navigating a world that’s bigger than you. And you will feel proud and sad and worried and you will feel all these things even when you’re like, oh man, I am really super excited about not chauffeuring children to 17 different extracurricular activities every week and spending a fortune on groceries.
They are expensive and selfish and they are not you. They exist to shatter any and all pre-existing ideas you had about what “your” child will be like, what “your” child would or would not do. Because you don’t know. You can’t know. “Your” child could be a boy or a girl or a bad sleeper or or picky eater or clingy or hate sports or special needs or brilliant or average or any combination of all of those things. And “your” child may come to you as a surprise or planned or from fertility treatments or adoption or from a blending of families. It’s an adventure. It’s a crapshoot.
And of course, it’s entirely possible to have a rich, full and wonderfully meaningful life without them. Goodness gracious, the places I’d go and the people I’d see! The money I’d have and the freedom I’d probably completely not appreciate. And yes, there are people who most certainly are simply not cut out for parenthood. But I’m not entirely sure there’s a super-great connection between those people and people who are on the fence about kids, like you. There are very wanted children out there with just plain terrible parents, and plenty of parents who weren’t sure (or who were just plain surprised and thrown into the ring) and are doing a great job and raising terrific kids. Life finds a way, like the raptors in Jurassic Park. Who come to think of it, remind me of some children I’ve met.
Your friends’ kids sound…yeah, pretty normal. There are kids like that. There are phases like that. There’s probably nothing about their parenting that “caused” any of it, though sure, the bookstores probably have seven shelves dedicated to various, conflicting books that all promise solutions to Toddlers Being Toddlers. Having two so close in age certainly amps up the drama, but I’d be lying if I told you that just having one would necessarily be all that different. “Your” baby might be easier…or not. See: crapshoot.
Your friends probably get annoyed too. Your friends also probably know this is temporary and one day — one day so soon, too soon — they’ll be slamming doors on them because GOD MOM LEAVE ME ALONE. Your friends probably love those little clingy balls of temperamental need like nothing else on earth and can’t even imagine what life would be like without all that noise and chaos.
Maybe it’s all tied to biology and evolution and our primitive drive to continue our species and not abandon our obnoxious, helpless young. Or maybe it’s just different, when it’s your own.