broadsideblog

Posts Tagged ‘having kids’

When did you finally feel like an adult?

In aging, behavior, culture, domestic life, family, life, love, men, urban life, women on February 11, 2015 at 1:52 am

By Caitlin Kelly

 

 

 Crossing the Atlantic -- thumb firmly in mouth. Adulthood? Nope, not yet!

Crossing the Atlantic — thumb firmly in mouth. Adulthood? Nope, not yet!

It happened to me at 14, when a series of frightening events beyond my control collided within a few days while I was living in Mexico.

My mother became ill and suddenly incapacitated; a friend my age had just arrived from Canada for a two-week visit and, while staying with us — we were then on our own — she burned her eyelashes and eyebrows off while lighting our hot water heater.

We had no phone, few friends and no relatives anywhere nearby.

We figured it out. Mostly because we had to.

I left my mother’s care after that and have never lived with her since. I keep reading blogs by women who talk about being “unmothered.” After 14, that was pretty much my new normal; my step-mother, only 13 years my senior, was not a nurturer.

So I’m always fairly fascinated by discussions of what it means to be(come) mature and responsible.

A recent New York magazine article focused on women in their 30s choosing to freeze their eggs as they have no luck finding a man eager — let alone willing — to take on the responsibilities of marriage, let alone of parenthood:

Before he was a fertility specialist, Dr. Keefe was a psychiatrist…

“There are a lot of options,” he said, “and people have to choose the one that’s right for them. But in order to know what’s right, you have to ask yourself, why are you here?”

“I wasted a lot of time in my last relationship,” I admitted. “I want to make sure that I take care of myself.”

He leaned forward and paused. “There’s something wrong with the men in your generation,” he said. I was stunned. Here was a doctor who had just been talking about the importance of considering statistical significance, and now he was chalking my dating problems up to the broadest of generalizations. But he was articulating two forms of truth: the mathematical and the personal.

“It isn’t you,” he said. “All day long, I see patients like you. You’re smart, beautiful, accomplished, nice. It makes no sense. I go home to my wife and I say, ‘There’s something wrong with the men in this generation. They won’t grow up.’”

People who fetishize parenthood assume that only by getting married and/or having and/or raising children can you truly become an adult.

I don’t buy it.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

I’ve seen too many sloppy, careless brutes wearing wedding rings, running their vows ragged. I’ve also seen too many careless parents.

I do think that caring for others, actively and consistently, is key to maturity and generativity, the desire to give back. It might be a pet or a child or your neighbor or your students.

I recently watched an odd indie film, Obvious Child, in which the main character, a young comic named Donna Stern, gets pregnant after a one-night stand and decides to have an abortion.

I enjoyed the film in some ways, but found her neurotic compulsion to date losers and make lousy life choices in general, even with loving  and solvent parents nearby, depressing and irritating.

Grow up, I wanted to shout at the screen!

I feel the same way (cliche alert!) when I hate-watch the HBO series Girls, which follows the lives of four whiny white girls in their 20s as they try to find jobs, men and friendship in Manhattan. I know many young women lovelovelove the show and its outspoken young creator Lena Dunham.

I just can’t.

We all make terrible choices and we usually get most of them out of the way in our 20s and 30s. (I married the wrong man, moved to NYC with no job in sight, etc.)

When I met the man I’m now married to — 15 years together this spring! — I wondered if he was mature enough to be a husband, which is both a noun and a verb meaning to care for. (Well, actually to manage frugally and carefully, which is close enough for me.)

He ticked all the boxes, as the Brits would say: handsome, great job, funny, snappy dresser, global travel, devout Buddhist. But he felt somehow rooted in single life.

Newlywed!

Newlywed!

My doubts blew away in one powerful action, when we flew out to help my mother after she was found to have a very large benign brain tumor and we had to take care of her home, dog and paperwork with only three days in a foreign country.

He dragged her soiled mattress onto the verandah without a word and started scrubbing it clean. I’d never seen someone so nonchalantly do a nasty job with no drama, foot-dragging or avoidance. It meant a lot to me.

He stepped up.

I now teach college freshmen and am intrigued to see which of them are more mature than others and why. I’ve also met some lovely young people in their early to mid-20s, maybe old souls, who seem able to just get on with it, with grace, style and humor.

I don’t believe you have to be old to be wise nor do I assume that someone young(er) is de facto foolish and unable to make excellent decisions.

But I do fear for the current crop of children and teens whose parents and grandparents hover incessantly over them in a desperate and misguided attempt to protect them from every possible owie.

The world does not arrive with a big pile of bandaids to hand out.

Do you feel like an adult?

What did it for you?

You have/are an only child — selfish, lonely, spoiled. Really?

In aging, behavior, books, children, culture, domestic life, family, life, love, news, parenting, US, women on June 14, 2013 at 12:15 am

By Caitlin Kelly

If you really want to see, or provoke yet another hair-pulling catfight, write a book about any aspect of American motherhood.

I dare you!

Sibling!

Sibling! (Photo credit: Gus Dahlberg)

The latest entry in the spittle-flecked self-righteous-fest known as The Mommy Wars, (wouldn’t Mummy Wars be so much more…Egyptian? But I digress) is this new book, One and Only, about being an only child and choosing to have only one child.

(She also tosses in a fairly astonishing to me — and unattributed statement — that mothers are the women most likely to have an abortion.)

Here’s some thoughts from its author, Lauren Sandler:

If you only have one child, you’re inevitably asked, “Another one
coming soon?” Despite the overwhelming evidence that only children are
no different than those with siblings—not to mention it’s better
environmentally and fiscally—I’ve found that a lot of people only want
to have a second child for the sake of their first child. There’s a
notion that you’re not a good mother if you don’t give your child a
sibling. Why can we debate ad nauseam about tiny minuscule things like
diapers, schools, and organic T-shirts, but not about the number of kids
we have?

To me, U.S. family policy is a failure. We are one of the only
countries on earth that does not have structural family-support system.
This failure is due to our ideological individualism, our lack of a
labor movement addressing parents’ rights as workers’ rights, and the
fact that we’ve never had a population crisis. It’s completely different
in Europe and Asia. In Italy, you can’t even Google “family time”—the
term doesn’t exist. Instead they have an integrated way of living, with
parents and their children mingling with family and friends as a
community—and adults are actually allowed to focus on themselves.

Here’s a radio interview with her.

I grew up as an only child, so this is familiar territory. Onlies are told, all the goddamned time, how spoiled we are. How lonely we must be. How selfishly we behave — everywhere!

I call bullshit.

Here’s some of what was true for me, and still is, as someone raised as an only, (and now with no kids):

You often spend a lot more time around adults than kids with siblings. You get used to actually being listened to attentively, (a nice start in life for little girls, especially), and feeling at ease around people much older than you. You learn young it’s polite to refresh a guest’s drink or pass the hors d’oeuvres. These are valuable life skills, people!

Booooooored?  Deal with it. With no siblings to torture play with, we’re left to our own devices to amuse ourselves. Back in my youth, cave drawings filled up a slow Sunday. Kidding! But even without the Internet or apps, etc., I was fully able to have a lot of fun alone. Trolls, Legos, stuffed animals, books, drawing, sports. Who needed a sib?

— Less competition! Whether Christmas pressies or dessert or adult attention, it’s all yours, baby!

— No odious parental, relatives or teachers’ comparisons to your brothers or sisters. I never had to be “the smart one” (instead of the pretty one). I could just be me.

— Lots of travel. With only one kid to finance, your family can easily pick up and go somewhere, for the day or a month or even a few years. I knew from the very start how damn lucky I was to have visited England, France, Mexico and the Caribbean, all by the age of six.

— Decent social skills. If you have no sibs to hang out with or socialize you, you better figure it out, stat. Once you realize that the world is filled with cool, fun, interesting people to hang out with, you’re ahead of the kids still terrified to talk to anyone in authority post-college. Friends become your family, and often much nicer, too!

Of course, yes, there are downsides. Like:

— No one has your back when things get scary. I used to cower behind the living room curtains when my parents fought, which was often and loudly, before they divorced. I could really have used some back-up.

— In a split family, there’s just not enough of you to go around. Christmas was crazy — divided between my mother, maternal grandmother and father.

— It’s all on you to win the Nobel prize/MacArthur/Pulitzer/cure cancer/create world peace. People with siblings can fob off these absurd expectations/hopes onto someone else and go watch (some more) TV.

— When your parents get sick and old, it’s all on you. Serious issue. A smart, kind spouse or partner helps!

When you get sick and old (and God forbid, broke), and if you have no partner or very close friends, what happens? (Note terrified silence here.)

Are you an only?

How was it?

If you — as several Broadside followers did — had a bunch of kids, what kept you going past one?

No Kids? No Problem

In behavior, parenting, women on November 8, 2010 at 1:08 am
Cover of "I Love You, Mommy (Little Golde...

Cover of I Love You, Mommy (Little Golden Book)

Here’s another salvo in the mommy wars, from writer Erica Jong, in this past weekend’s Wall Street Journal:

Unless you’ve been living on another planet, you know that we have endured an orgy of motherphilia for at least the last two decades. Movie stars proudly display their baby bumps, and the shiny magazines at the checkout counter never tire of describing the joys of celebrity parenthood. Bearing and rearing children has come to be seen as life’s greatest good. Never mind that there are now enough abandoned children on the planet to make breeding unnecessary. Professional narcissists like Angelina Jolie and Madonna want their own little replicas in addition to the African and Asian children that they collect to advertise their open-mindedness. Nannies are seldom photographed in these carefully arranged family scenes. We are to assume that all this baby-minding is painless, easy and cheap.

And a great recent essay on not ever wanting to be a mother, by Nanette Varian, in More magazine:

It’s not as if we “intentionals” are so rare. According to U.S. Census data, the percentage of women ages 40 to 44 who’ve never given birth has doubled over the past 30 years or so, and studies have finally begun to separate the nonparents-by-chance from the nonparents-by-choice, an important acknowledgment that, yes, some of us actually did want it this way. When the National Center for Health Statistics broke out the voluntary non-moms in 2002, it found that among women ages 35 to 44 who had never given birth, 7 percent (1.5 million) had chosen that route. And that 7 percent is making itself heard. In the past few years, there have been many cultural expressions of this choice: books, websites, blogs, newsgroups, Facebook pages, even entertainments like “Breeder Bingo” cards and drinking games (mark a box or down a shot every time someone chides you with a platitude like “It’s different when they’re your own!”).

As I face my progeny-free middle and older age, it’s comforting to see I’m not the only one waving good-bye, dry eyed, as the baby train leaves the station for good. But who are the other women on the platform with me?

I have no kids and, except for a brief period at the point at which the idea was largely moot — without $10,000-a-pop IVF interventions or international adoption — never wavered from that stance.

The insane fetishization of mothering/parenting/mommyhood is such a powerful way to (re)focus attention away from the larger political and economic forces that still make motherhood, for many women, exhausting, expensive and overwhelming. Peer pressure only adds to this.

Have I regretted not having kids? No.

Do I occasionally wish I had someone with my genes and values in the world, someone who would have whispered “I love you, Mommy” and hugged me fiercely? It’s not that simple.

Watching my friends negotiate motherhood has been instructive; for every woman who loves it, another struggles with wildly unequal childcare duties, career conflicts and children who bring as many intense, life-long challenges as joy, whether mild autism or severe mental illness, to name only two.

Many adult kids are now unemployed, some even flat broke and homeless, those who can even now moving back home with their children. The cycle now never ends. Independence is ever more elusive.

Motherhood has become proxy for caring, mentoring, giving of yourself, as if women without kids are incapable of this.

One new friend, a woman in her 40s who lives in Europe, has been called a bitch — to her face! — because she does not have kids (which she had very much hoped for.) Only raising children offers incontrovertible proof to the world (whose business it is because…?) you’re not selfish.

Hah! As if.

I grew up as the only child of a divorcee with chronic health issues and with very few friends in her town. I have never felt free of her needs. As I type this, she is in a hospital bed far away recovering from a broken hip. I’ve flown cross-continent twice for her various cancer surgeries, happily.

But now it never stops….and most of her poor health is self-inflicted.

That’s been quite enough stress for me, thanks.

No kids?

No problem.

Is Being A Parent Truly That Miserable?

In behavior, parenting on July 11, 2010 at 2:37 pm
Sleep Like A Baby

Image by peasap via Flickr

The endless drama of modern urban parenthood continues as the blogosphere dissects a New York magazine article about why so many parents are miserable:

Somewhere along the line, having a baby has stopped being an inevitable part of the life cycle and started to be one of those things-to-do-before-you-die, like climbing Machu Picchu or running a marathon. Basic aspects of the mothering experience, like labor and breast-feeding, took on a spiritual significance. Now, as we prepare to make the many sacrifices necessary to become parents, we anticipate nothing less than enlightenment in return.

But being a parent isn’t about getting a happy ending. There is no ending. As soon as your child is born, the profound truth hits you: this is forever. And yet, if New York magazine is to be believed, modern parents never stop obsessing about whether they’re doing everything they can to make their children the most accomplished little people they can possibly be. It’s as if they’re expecting to cross a finish line any day and be showered with confetti. And in the meantime, they don’t realize that they’re missing out.

If you’re having a baby for reasons of self-gratification, of course you’re going to be miserable. Becoming a parent is less about enriching your life than it is about up-ending it entirely to make room for another human being. And that’s what Senior’s article is missing: the fact that children are people, and having a child is about forging a relationship. Take this quote from a sociologist Senior interviewed about why parents are so disgruntled: “Middle-class parents spend much more time talking to children, answering questions with questions, and treating each child’s thought as a special contribution. And this is very tiring work.” Funny, that doesn’t sound like work; that sounds like having a conversation. The true reward of parenting isn’t looking back with nostalgia, as Senior concludes; it’s getting to watch a baby turn into a fully realized person. It’s hearing the thoughts and opinions of somebody who didn’t exist until you brought them into the world. It’s a humbling, daunting, awesome experience — and it’s hard enough without the added pressure of making every moment enriching and significant.

I chose not to have kids, thereby placing myself — and my partner, who feels the same — into a distinct minority, about 20 percent of the population.

You won’t hear us hand-wringing endlessly about ohmygod, my career. I am so tired! It’s so hard! OMG! Or, the aging, ill distant parents — plus the career/job/school/whatever. A life decently lived is, de facto filled with responsibility to and for the health and happiness of other people, not just getting and spending.

Which can be hard and endless and filled with ambivalence, along with love — for work or your Mom. Not just your offspring.

You want kids? Have ’em. You don’t want them — don’t.

But spare us the endless narcissism of questioning and second-guessing your reproductive choices.

Of course having and raising healthy, responsible children is a shitload of work.

Who told you otherwise?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 14,364 other followers