Over the years I've heard that the best time to write is when you're in the middle of feeling something fierce about the subject matter at hand. And friend, for me that time is now because I'm about furious. So if you're not interested in reading a heavy-handed, unapologetic rant, then quit reading now. You've been warned.
I never wanted kids. I never wanted kids at all, like ever, couldn't stand them, thought they sucked. I was completely happy with the thought of spending the rest of life at my leisure, doing whatever I wanted to do on any particular day. I called the shots and felt pretty sorry for the suckers who had fallen into what I saw as the parenting trap. And once I read the book All Joy and No Fun that I heard about on NPR, I felt absolutely justified in my choices. After all, I wanted joy and fun, and obviously, kids didn't produce much of the latter.
But somehow Fate intervened in a way my selfish self didn't deserve, but goodness how glad and thankful I am for it now. Chris came (back) into my life, and for whatever reason, I knew he would make the most amazing dad. I wanted to have a kid with him. And we did, and we do, and she's wonderful.
So over the last year of her life, I've been contemplating my pre-Chris self and the Millenial generation as a whole, because we've definitely been fed some very wrong, very misguided information. I see a lot of women lamenting the fact that they didn’t have kids when they should have, but only realizing it when it's too late for their wombs to conceive a human being. And you know what? I almost tear up because I know how close that was to being me.
The truth of the matter is that kids are a breathtakingly beautiful gift from whatever form of a god there is. Little R has turned my black-and-white life into a technicolor glory that every day I get to live out in real-time. The most mundane tasks take on a new meaning with her around, and something basic like sitting in the grass becomes the coolest thing ever as she explores the dirt and grass like it's another planet. I'm not glossing over my life here with a phony sheen of perfection- I'm being as honest as I possibly can. Mine and Chris's life is forever a billion times more fun and more satisfying than it ever was before our daughter.
And yet, I increasingly see women talking about the burden of motherhood and the regret they feel for having kids, and I want to scream. I don't cuss a whole lot- but what the actual fuck, guys? Why is this even a thing? How is it even a thing? Since when did we think it ok to spew these kinds of harmful, negative ideas out into the world?
I’ll say this: At some point our culture took a long, deep dive into the shallow end of the pool where all the self-centered, Instagram-loving victims of society hang out. The people that see life as something done to them, something that gets in the way of their next selfie, something that needs to be dealt with rather than savored.
I mean listen to this for Pete's sake: The other day I was reading a blog post where the writer actually admits that she goes into a full-blown panic when she thinks about the fact that she won't have a vacation sans kids for the next 18 years. If that doesn't disgust you, I don't know what will. It makes me want to gag.
The startling and disturbing thing is the level of self-centeredness that people aren't even trying to hide anymore. At least we used to suck it up and go on with our days. Now we see it as brave to air out the terrible things we think. There's such a thing as Stoicism that I think we need to embrace because it turns out pulling our selves together and walking with our heads high despite how we might feel isn't such a bad thing after all.
You want to know why this deliberate disdain for children and parenting and motherhood yanks my stomach around? It's thinking of the children that are at the receiving end of all of this. They didn't know that we love to wake late on the weekends, slowly read the newspaper, take a nice drive in the morning sun. They didn't know that we use to wear our freedom like a badge of honor and that we took pride in nothing holding us down.
They didn't know because they were a nothing and didn't have any say in the creation of themselves, and then they were born into a world that is so magical and new that they can't help but wake up before the sunlight ever touches the horizon, or that they are so helpless that they depend on you for literally everything, or that they love you so much they don't want you to leave their sight even for a second.
And then here we sit, wrapped up in our grown-up bullshit wishing for the good old days when we could lounge around on the sandy beach tanning our asses. I mean yeah, how could we ever think that nurturing a human being who sees the world as pure magic and laughter, wakes up smiling, farts randomly in public, and loves nothing more than sticking their fingers up your nostrils could top the superiority of a carefully-curated, spotlessly child-free, Ikea-furnished universe?
One of my favorite Youtube channels called the School of Life has this one video about relationships that talks about the problem with expecting partners to accept us as we are. Alan says that when we're in a comfortable relationship our flaws float to the surface and no one is better equipped to point them out and help us better ourselves than our dear partners. But I think the same principle can be applied to motherhood and our children. When we become moms our limitations and issues are suddenly magnified by tiny new humans that demand everything from us. How we handle that defines who we are, and if we handle it poorly, then that says something about us, not our kids.
We've also drifted so far away from anything spiritual that we no longer look at challenges as opportunities for growth. Everyone from the Buddha to Eckhart Tolle to Pema Chodron to the Dalai Lama warns against letting the mind be in control. That thoughts are just thoughts. To not do the habitual thing. That leaning into the sharp points is where the growth happens. That chaos, and discomfort, are actually really good things. And that looking beyond ourselves and serving others is the path to enlightenment.
So what are we doing when we talk about regrets and wallow in how hard our lives have become? I by no means think that motherhood is a gentle stroll through the park. I've never consistently lived with so much broken sleep, nor have I ever lived in service 24 hours a day to anything until I became a mom. But this work of motherhood is deeply fulfilling and satisfying and grounding in a way that nothing else is. Like I've said before, there's a reason that monastic life has been a thing for centuries. There's something about service and work and monotony that opens a window to the holy.
And here's my last point: it doesn't even matter if motherhood sucks for you. It just doesn't. It's irrelevant and an attitude that should rightly be shunned by society, because here's the thing: you chose to get pregnant and have the kid. Sorry if you hate it and wish you were free. Fortunately for you, you get to suck it up and work to be the best version of you possible because of your kids. They're counting on you to lean into the sharp points and bad feelings and regrets and to let them be what they are. They're counting on you to wake up in the morning, paint your face with a smile, and love them fiercely.
There's a scene from the 1997 Italian movie Life is Beautiful that has always stuck with me. It's about a little boy and his family during the Holocaust, and at one point the dad gets caught by a soldier and is being led to his death. He sees his son watching him, and in an incredibly heroic and brave final act, he winks and starts to march in a funny way so that his son won't be afraid or understand what's happening. He protects his son's innocence until the end, even though what's happening is the most tragic thing imaginable.
We need to do the exact same thing. No matter how we're feeling or what’s going on in our adult worlds, we need to keep it from our kids. We need to protect them from our overwhelming, big, and often negative adult emotions and drama that we seem to cycle through constantly. We need to let them be kids for as long as we can because we know too well that adulthood comes too soon, and the innocence of childhood is precious thing.
On a practical note, if motherhood is feeling hard and burdensome, then it’s time to look at your life and make the necessary changes. Life itself is actually quite simple and quiet once we strip away the excess and unnecessary noise. Believe me, if you’re living a life which leaves you feeling pulled in every possible direction or drained of any last bit of inspiration or happiness, that isn’t the way things have to be. That’s the normal, modern-day rat-trap for sure, but there’s an escape hatch in the back and Simplicity is the key that will open the door.
So, how can I tie this up with a nice, pretty bow? Well, I can’t. Because the truth is that If you’re feeling like motherhood sucks, that’s your problem and you’ve got to address it, fast. If your feeling overwhelmed and burdened, get up off your butt and start simplifying your life because your kids are counting on you to do so. If you’re feeling sorry for yourself, pull it together and read some Seneca or Marcus Aurelius and get on with your life already without the pity-party.
And go build a fort in the living room with your kids. Bake some cupcakes and have a food-fight. Just have some fun. Make yourself celebrate the moments while you still can, because at the end of your life on your death bed, whenever that may be, those are the only things that you’re going to be thinking about. And if you wasted away your motherhood on regret and negativity, imagine how sorry you’re going to feel then.
Just think about that the next time you feel like throwing in the towel.