Sometimes, when I want to take a break from blogging, I read other people’s blogs. And sometimes I just sit back and gaze at my own navel, but let’s talk about the other-people’s-blogs thing. The New York Times has a cleverly-titled parenting blog entitled “Motherlode,” which focuses on the juncture between parenting and life generally. Recently, I was intrigued by a post in which a father wrote in (anonymously) to talk about how much he regrets having become a parent.
“A Father in Florida” writes that he and his wife didn’t get married until they were in their 30s, living la vida loca (or as he describes it, a “jet-set lifestyle”). They now have two kids, 4 and 1.
“No matter how well prepared I thought I was, I was not prepared for the sheer magnitude of changes to my life,” Father writes. He bemoans no longer being the go-to guy at work, no more playing golf or basketball, no more bohemian loft apartment, no more evening classes for his master’s, no more book-writing or marathon training. All gone.
So if I knew then what I know now, I might have only had one child, or zero. I really, really lament the fact that I can’t have any of those (admittedly selfish) things anymore. Instead, my life’s focus is now providing for my kids. I have committed myself to being the best darn father I can be, and I have slowly accepted the fact that all those personal dreams are basically pushed to the side because of that.
Father notes that “a lot of people get very judgmental on this topic,” but says he has “a hard time believing the parents who claim to have absolutely zero regrets, and who love being a parent 100 percent of the time.” For the record, I don’t even know any of those people, so I find it hard to relate to the last part.
The complaints continue. He hasn’t slept more than 4 hours. He hasn’t gone on a vacation with just his wife in 5 years. He’s only gone on three or four dates with his wife this year. “This is quite a change from going out to a fancy dinner with cocktails, etc., every night of the week.”
Father concludes his gloom-and-doom by writing that being a parent means being willing to sacrifice all personal dreams. (I’m guessing his as-yet unwritten book wouldn’t go in the “humor” section.)
Now, the Times blogger writes back to him, saying basically “It gets better.”
“I can tell you that the way you feel about being a parent will change, sometimes several times in a day; and the fact that you feel like this right now doesn’t mean that there won’t be days when you wonder how you ever wanted anything else.”
I don’t really completely agree with either of them. Surely, this is in part because I’ve been hopelessly spoiled by divorce. You say “alternate weekends with their dad,” I say “free babysitting.” You say “too bad you miss out on Father’s Day,” I say “romantic weekend away.” I’m a silver-lining kind of gal. But I think there is a value to adult life as well as to parent life, and have had the luxury of not really having to forego either entirely.
But it’s more my optimism than my divorce that makes me think this Father in Florida is a sad-sack pessimist – and my acknowledgment of reality which makes me know that without the adult element of my life, the parent part of my life would suffer.
Having children is great. There are also crappy days and nights with kids. I know this both as someone who has provided my own parents with ample crappy days, and as a mother who has been trapped in the house with Purell and two little boys with pinkeye. There was the late night when I delivered a monologue about the soul-sucking nature of breastfeeding and motherhood to a gray potholder in my Upper West Side kitchen (now, of course, people can blog about such things). There was the day when I sent the kid to school vaguely pissed that they got mud all over the seats of the car – and then got a call from the nurse that the kid might have a concussion. I raced to the school, heart in throat, realizing that if something really bad happened to my kid, my life would not be worth living. Now that’s fun!
But I also know that having children is also a convenient excuse for falling back on your own insecurities and faults instead of pursuing your dreams. Lazy? “Oh, I had no time to do that – you know, the kids.” I’m sorry, Father in Florida, but you’re taking the easy way out. People have lived through Auschwitz, amputations, cancers and other horrors to write books, win Nobel Prizes, run marathons and move mountains. You see where I believe that it’s possible for you to handle your 4- year-old and 1-year-old. If you build it, they will come. No, seriously – if you want to accomplish something, you make the time and you force yourself and you can do it. Stephen J. Hawking doesn’t sit around because it’s the easiest thing for him to do – and I’m sure it would be. Instead, he writes unintelligible books on levels of brilliance I can barely comprehend.
Basically what I’m saying is, don’t surrender. Live your life. Be the best person you can be, both for your kids and for yourself. Show your children what it is like to be a loving, happy adult – not only because it will be a hell of a lot more fun for you than bitching, but also because then they will have a role model after which to pattern their own loving, happy lives.
Oh, also? Every now and then, I highly recommend getting a sitter. Trust me.