One of the unsung by-products of having your first baby quite young is that you manage to completely avoid the years of pestering by elders. Ya know, that constant nagging about when you’re going to have children that plagues women in their 30s.
Being able to whip out one you made earlier to any and all intrusive baby-related questions is immensely satisfying. However, having the ultimate (living, breathing) clapback to these interrogations hasn’t kept me from being aware of the prevalence of these conversations. The old people harbour a strange fixation on the uteruses of women of childbearing age. They’re broody by proxy. The when, where and how of our plans for reproduction is a hot topic at every funeral, wedding and family gathering.
Often, when it comes to the question of whether to have kids or not to have kids, the response from society is pretty much blanket encouragement, even to the point of disregarding practical concerns. Many times I’ve heard, “There’s no RIGHT time to have children...” when someone voices hesitation over whether reproducing chimes with the current landscape of their life. I get the message here, there is no “perfect” time, but there are definitely times that are not ideal. Also, the whole messaging about how having children is “the best thing you’ll ever do” is bizarre to me. Like, yes, I have three kids and they’re hands down the best thing that ever happened to me but I don’t think it’s outlandish to say that having kids may not be for everyone.
One of my friends doesn’t have kids and, from time to time, upon hearing about my latest vomiting-bug hell plague or sleep drought or anxiety spiral, might say… “this is why I’m not sure about becoming a parent”. His parents have often steamrolled over his misgivings with a brusque: “Go away outta that, sure kids are the best thing you’ll ever do.” And I just don’t know if that’s the most sensible response. Maybe there’s wisdom in saying, “Yeah, if that’s giving you pause, that’s something to look at and consider.”
I’m not saying this to be down on parenthood, but rather to help people come to parenthood with their eyes open about what’s to come! Speaking about parenthood in anything less than ecstatic terms always opens up a bit of a rift in those listening, because invariably it’ll be seen by some as being ungrateful.
I, of course, cannot imagine the pain of not being able to have the family you want — and that is a terrible grief so many people are weathering. But bringing it up in this context feels like a kind of emotional whataboutery. Both groups must be able to be vocal about what they’re coping with without judgment; sharing painful experiences is so valuable and helps others get through their own hard seasons.
Downplaying the difficulties of parenthood is a huge disservice as so many people then feel utterly blindsided when parenthood happens to them. ‘Nobody tells you’ is a lament often heard among new parents who are most likely feeling betrayed at the impression they were given about parenting versus the reality of it. And who can blame them?
It’s absolutely wild to me that before you commit to a pair of jeans you can try them on — but, with all our technological advances, no one’s come up with a way to ‘try on’ parenthood. And I am not talking about the old ‘babysit the nieces and nephews for a weekend’. I am talking about a fully immersive experience designed to replicate some of the harsher conditions of parenthood.
Maybe it could be a version of an escape room — only instead of an afternoon of team-building with friends from work, you go there with your other half and it’s a full week of escaping! There could be a constant soundtrack of crying and repetitive questions, sleeping would be strictly verboten and the whole place would be room after room of low-key drudgeries — tasks like chiselling dried Weetabix off furniture and repeatedly getting nits.
Of course, the problem with my scheme is obvious. It’s possible to recreate the material facts of parenthood but impossible to reproduce the magic and thus give a full picture of life with kids. It’s a life that’s exhausting and exquisite. However, as rewarding as it is, it’s still absolutely not for everyone and that’s something we should be telling people as readily as we tell them “it’s the best thing you’ll ever do”.