I recently read a great post by Jade at http://www.labspaces.net/blog/1304/Why_I_am_not_a_SciMom
It made me think. And it made me write. Not very well, but what can we do. I wish I could have done honor to Jade's post. But I tried my best. And I really want to have this somewhere.
So here is my reply to her post:
mmm. It seems that your experience with your mother has clearly colored your perception about parenthood, Jade. I am very sorry about that.
I think that the fact that you wrote this post shows that you have thought about this, and you are baring your feelings to us.
So I will return the favor. Nothing personal, as I don't know you. But also everything personal, because I do have children. And I love them so hard that it hurts.
Here I go.
The thing is...you DON'T have to be perfect. You WILL want to throw your kids through the window. Sometimes.
Because, well, they are little selfish monsters. Sometimes.
And because you (and I) are big selfish monsters. Sometimes.
But most of the times, they and you will be...humans. Resilient and weak, sentimental and rational, stupid and genial. In a world...Complex.
The excuse of being afraid that you will affect their lives because you do x or y and that will affect them for the rest of their lives is exactly that. An excuse. And a very self important one.
If you extended that reasoning, you would have to live your life in a cocoon, because you would be to scared to offend someone, or butt-in someones way. You could affect their whole life!
But in real life you do that. You are not perfect. You cut in line in the supermarket. You honk in a hospital zone. You vote without having read about the candidate. You are petty to your coworkers. You curse the delivery guy because your pizza is cold. You ignore the guy asking for money in the corner of the street. And society goes by.
Your kids will do (mostly) fine, because even if you are their parent, in this day and age, you are NOT their whole world. They will interact with other members of your family, with the daycare teacher and the other kids there. With the weird cartoons on TV. And if they don't do fine, most probably you were not the total cause for that.
Can you be a complete monster and scar your kids for life? Of course you can. But most probably you won't. You will just be a fallible, out of style, mumbling and bumbling parent, that will never reach the idealistic goals that you thought you were going to attain before you had your kids. But also you will never be the terrible monster that your worse nightmares seemed to imply you were. Because yes, you are a special unique snowflake. But you are most probably very similar to all of us. Human. And not really that important in the grand scheme of things.
Most of the times, when people that don't have a biological reason not to have kids tell me that they don't want kids, I realize that the issue is NOT with the (theoretical) kids. The problem is with the people themselves. With either their self image or the image that they have about the world. They want to be perfect. Or to have a perfect world. And they are scared as hell that having a kid is going to screw that up. So they make all these nice rationalizing argument not to have kids. And you know what? All their arguments are completely and absolutely right.
There is no rational reason to have kids anymore, unless you live in an agricultural society. Children take your resources and time, they don't give back any income to the family, they don't let you pursue your dreams, etc. Let somebody else have kids.
But you know what?
There is no rational reason to be a scientist. It is much easier to have a bunch of other professions with better return on investment for your time. Let somebody else be a scientist.
There is no rational reason to start an artistic carreer. Statistically speaking, the chances of being successfull are very low. Let somebody else be an artist.
There is no rational reason to be, as an individual, altruistic. Statistically speaking, as long as there are other around you that are altruistic, you can be as selfish as you want, and you will do better than them. Let somebody else be altruistic.
But we do all these completely irrational things, because we are irrational. Thankfully. Because human rationality is bounded, and there is no way we can predict all the good/bad things that will develop from our decisions. So we just jump. And when we don't jump...well we give ourselves excuses (the water was TOO cold today!, I'll ask that girl out another day, Kids are really expensive, etc). I am not condoning making completely illogical decisions, but there are some decisions that you can't be completely rational about them, because you don't have the information to do so. So most of the time the statistically/heuristically answer is the correct one. Obviously an artist always will say it better than me so I would recommend you (maybe you have heard it already) to listen to Jonathan Coulton. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-8hrKb8SAQ . Much better than anything I could say.
"I don't judge at all because I know that the parent is stressed out. They are doing the best they can in that moment. I know they don't realize how impactful their words are on that little mind, how absorbent children are to painful words and actions. How lasting it will be. Oh sure, the child will forget- this time. Maybe the next time. But at some point it starts to change their self-perception and feelings of self-worth. They get the message that they are a burden and that love is based on conditions. I'll love you as long as you do as I say, behave, be quiet, stop crying, etc.
No parent can escape having a few episodes of this kind, I am sure. No one is perfect. And many people think that parents are too soft or too easy on kids today."
Therefore everybody in the world is a screwup and we all are the worse possible human beings they can be. You don't judge the parents? Of course you do. Read your own words. And one of the problems is that YOU don't want to be judged. Because you will do all those things. Like all of us.
"How lasting it will be" you said. Yes, as you know perfectly well, the world is not made of fluffy colored pillows and rainbows. We get hit, but still we persevere. We are great, and terrible. We are Shakespeare and Gandhi. We are Watson and Crick. We are Hitler and Stalin. We are sons and parents. We hurt each other, but we also give strength to each other.
"But I am glad I won't ever have to be in that position. I'll never have to punish, spank, yell at, or threaten a child. This is a big relief to me. I don't envy the job of parents". I have no way to know what is in you head. But just by reading this it gives me the feeling that your relief is that you don't have to put yourself in the risk of being flawed. Not that you are afraid of doing those things, but that you are afraid of what YOU will think of yourself when you do them. You prefer not to confront that side of you, so you can be perfect in that aspect. So you don't have to be like your mother.
But that is also part of growing as a human being. Like it or not. Of course you can learn most of these things by other situations in life. But being a parent makes you realize WHO you are more than anything else in life, or at least it did that to me. Because you can't hide your warts. Because the other side(your kids) has no social skills to avoid telling you that, well...the emperor has no clothes. And there you stand naked. In front of yourself. Without a way to escape from the evidence of your imperfection. You won't have the "relief" of avoiding the realization that you are a horribly and terribly flawed human. Just like everybody else. Oh, yes, you can see your defects in other aspects of life. But only with kids you have to pay the consequences of them, and learn to live with them.
When I finished reading your post, I had the feeling that this sentence "What is it like to want to be a parent? I guess that is emotion I am missing- I don't even know what that feels like." is complete BS. Obviously I have my biased glasses on. But the emotion that I felt you transmitted in this post is not ignorance. The emotion is longing.
For the road not taken.
Thanks for writing this post.
After I wrote this post I started thinking about why Jade's provoked such reaction in me.
From the rational standpoint, I remember that some studies have shown that parents tend to overestimate the pleasure/benefits of having kids while downplaying the side effects/problems. This makes sense to me, as it is pure cognitive dissonance to have kids. We don't realize that as much as we want to be hoity-toity rational beings, we are at the root of our existence, biological entities with instincts of reproduction. As we don't want to be reduced to only that, we make up reasonings for why to have kids, to resolve the dissonance. But the error in the reasoning is that we can be the biologically determined machines, controlled by our instincts, but this in no way impedes that we have other layers to us (partner, worker, hobbyist, etc), that makes us more complex. It's like saying that having a motor that pushes a boat forward implies that the boat can't turn in circles.
Loved to see myself being triggered like that. And loved the self examination afterwards. Although it's hard. The advantage is that I have an even stronger sense of my love for my daughters.
Which is helpful when they break something at home!