The key to selflessness is having children...yeah, right.

I have often said that parents are the single most judged group in society. I have no statistical analysis to back up my claim, but there has never been a stage of my life where I’ve felt looked down on or held to a certain standard more than since I became pregnant with Brandon.

I think many parents (especially mothers?) feel that way at one point or another. Matt and I have talked about it a lot and decided early on not to get too caught up in comparing what Brandon is doing with other kids. I’ve had those discussions where we all talk about the age our child did something and how they went about it, but that’s rarely purely comparison so much as it’s sharing different experiences. Every child is different, after all.

One discussion I don’t think I’ve ever had with friends is why they had kids. I have no idea how I’d answer that question myself. I’ve always wanted to have children and I can’t tell you why. The desire for a child became overwhelming after I had a miscarriage - a pregnancy that wasn’t “planned”. The topic of when I was going to have kids came up a lot after I miscarried, mostly among people who didn’t know I’d lost a baby.

In one instance, a chauvinist pig coworker decided to ask me when I was planning to have kids. It had been over 18 months since I miscarried, but I was still raw and this guy was the last person I would ever confide in. I lied and told him I didn’t know if I would have any kids. (Well, I guess it wasn’t a complete lie - you never know 100% for sure you can.) He proceeded to ask me why and tell me I really should think about because parenthood is so great.

His persistence on such a personal issue left me without any words other than the sarcastic ones ringing in my head: “Yes, I’ll be sure to let you know just as soon as Matt and I decide on the when. You’ll be the first on my list to tell.” 

After the grilling I received, I vowed never again to ask someone if they want kids or when they will have them. (Well, unless it came up in conversation and there was a natural opening that wouldn’t make me sound like a total busybody. There’s a difference between getting to know someone and being nosy about their decisions.) The main reason? Because it’s none of my business what someone else’s life plans are. 

The expectations that are default in society are being challenged and changed by each new generation. Sometimes in good ways, sometimes in controversial ways. 

Somehow, though, there are still some archaic ideas out there that shock me:

Having children used to be the point of being a pair. It was the great aspiration — along with finding love everlasting — a biological impulse to go forth and multiply and, later, once your babies reached a certain age, to cajole them about the merits and benefits of doing their bit to join the ranks of parenthood while giving Mom and Dad some grandkids.

This is a quote from Joe O’Connor’s recent piece in the National Post (my favorite rag this week), “Trend of couples not having children just plain selfish”. Sure, there’s some truth to what Mr. O’Connor says, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the right reason for “being a pair”. I didn’t marry my husband for his sperm or ability to procreate; I married him because I wanted to spend my life with him - kids or no kids.

I remember a couple telling me years ago that they were too selfish to have children. And you know what? I respect that. Life changed for that couple and they now have a child. They’re great parents who are involved and unselfish. But I certainly wouldn’t fault them if they’d maintained their “selfish” stance and remained childless. I think there is an overburdened foster care system that proves truly self-centered people who refuse to change are not good candidates for parenthood. So, why should anyone be faulted for knowing they don’t want or shouldn’t have kids?

So, while this article focused on the lavish lifestyle of childless couples, which is a suspect claim to say the very least, it completely left off many very legitimate concerns. What about the following situations?

  • Are infertile couples selfish?
  • Are couples with financial troubles selfish?
  • How about adults who grew up with abuse and fear doing the same? Also selfish?
  • And a couple who finds out both carry cistic fibrosis or another life-threatening genetic marker?
  • Or perhaps a couple where one or both have a debilitating disease or disability?
  • The article addresses life partners who choose not to have children, but what about people who choose not to enter a relationship and have children? Are they also selfish? 
  • Am I selfish for having only one child? Because having another isn’t a guarantee.
  • What about couples who make a conscious choice to adopt rather than have their own biological children? (I would say that’s the most unselfish option of all, personally.)

I wonder if Mr. O’Connor and the people who (in the comments) agree with him have stopped to consider that their tunnel vision perspective on this issue is unfair and rather exclusive to what is likely a small minority of people that choose not to have children. And if they genuinely are too selfish, having kids isn’t likely to make them less so. Let’s consider that there are legitimate reasons that have nothing to do with selfishness that drive couples to remain childless. 

Decisions that lead to no choices

What can I say to my son on those days when he doesn’t want to leave home? How do I tell him that I have made decisions in my life - decisions long before he was even a thought in my mind - that mean I have no choice other than to leave him every day?

I never wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. Going to work everyday didn’t bother me when I went back to work after 9 months on maternity leave. Sure, I missed him, but I enjoyed my work and the challenges it gave me and I still do.

But…lately I feel a constant pull in two opposing directions. Since the holidays, when Matt and I were both off for over a week, Brandon has changed. Getting out of the house is a monumental battle at least half the mornings in a good week and all of them in a bad week.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I leave him with a friend. She cares about him and treats him well. I don’t have to leave him with a stranger. When we walk out the door, he is fine. It isn’t that he doesn’t want to go to daycare - he just doesn’t want to leave home. He doesn’t want to leave mommy and daddy.

I hear all the time that women have choices in the world now. We’ve been liberated from our previous generation’s oppressive views. We can stay home with our children and do the work of raising them. Or we can work and “have it all”.

I hate that phrase for the lie that it is. 

I do not have it all. I don’t get to spend those hours with my son. I miss out on an enormous chunk of his life at an age that I will never get back. And I’m starting to feel overwhelming guilt for the choices I made before he was ever born that have led me to this juncture. Hindsight gives me clarity that at several points I could have done things differently. And though it’s possible that an alternate path would have led to the same result, I’m in a place where I can’t help but question my decisions.

Ultimately, I feel like I’ve been failing my son these last few months. While I leave everyday to work in a job that I enjoy, I’m increasingly aware that I leave behind a little boy who seems to grieve when Mommy and Daddy say goodbye. It’s excrutiating.

I want to stay home with him - to give him the time he craves with me. But I can’t. I have to leave.

I have no choice.

Judgmentalism, Intolerance, Exclusion...oh my!

I recently had lunch with a friend of mine - a former co-worker - who is 24 years old and single (in the sense that she is not legally married). We met around 12:00pm and ended up chatting away the afternoon until 4:30, at which time I jumped into action because it was time to pick up Brandon!

We had such a great conversation - topics ranging from politics to religion to technology to friendships and views on relationships in general. It was the type of conversation I used to have quite often back in the days of university when I was sitting around with my best friend, getting positively maudlin over our drinks after work. Part of me misses those talks so much, but I know it wouldn’t be the same now that we’re both married with families. Now, we live too far away from each other and we only get to squeeze in an occasional phone call every few months around family and work.

That was one of the topics that came up with my friend. She made the admission - perhaps slightly reluctantly as I’m sure she didn’t want to hurt my feelings - that she had friends who would criticize her if they knew she was sitting down having lunch with a woman who is a mother under 40. In all honesty, I wasn’t the least bit offended and it didn’t surprise me either. Despite all of the entreaties for tolerance and acceptance, there seem to be more judgmental attitudes out in the world today than ever before. People continue to be judged based on unchangeables - race, gender, ethnicity, ancestry, sexuality, etc., and they are judged based on their life choices.

I don’t know what the average age is for a woman to marry now, but I know it’s probably a fair bit older than 23, which was when I got married. Since I met my husband when I was 20, I don’t have an extensive dating history either. I’m sure many would judge me for that as well - I know I got an earful from some of my co-workers back in Florida when they found out I was getting married so young. But what does it really matter? And how is that anyone’s business other than mine?

I had another interesting talk with someone recently along similar lines. I’ll call him Bob and our discussion involved the gay rights debate. Some things Bob said kind of rubbed me the wrong way, such as, “Name one gay couple that’s stayed together longer than 5 years.” I think I cited about three off the top of my head; one I knew of that had been together for something like 40 years. Talk about a major misconception on his part! Bob then told me about an incident where a gay male had tried to assault him sexually. This was very offensive to Bob. I asked how that is different than a heterosexual man forcing himself on a woman. Are they not both equally wrong? To me, something that people - particularly the conservative right, who are against homosexuality - forget is that there’s a major commonality between heterosexuals and homosexuals: we’re all PEOPLE! People deserve respect and consideration regardless of how you feel about their choices in life.

Back to my lunch with my 24 year old friend. When we were discussing her friends’ potential criticism of her having a friendship with someone like me, I brought up the silos that we often end up in, whether we want to or not. If you’re single/dating, it’s pretty usual that you have mostly single/dating friends. Once you get married, it’s common to lose touch or not be quite as close to your single friends. Then come kids and you find you maintain even fewer single friendships and even those who are married and childless seem to fade - at least until they have kids as well. Somehow these major life status changes seem to generate an inability to relate.


I’ve always liked this quote from Abraham Lincoln - I think I learned it from a Sunday school teacher as a child:
I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.

I haven’t always practiced this myself, and I’m not so naive as to think that everyone in the world has to like each other, but it would be nice if some people would just give it a try rather than making snap judgments.

 

I enjoy my friendships with people who are at different life stages. I learn from them and have fun seeing how their lives are playing out. It enriches my life. So, I feel sorry for people who, because of beliefs or biases, don’t want to know people who are in different life situations. We all have something to offer each other and finding common ground isn’t that difficult if you’re willing to work at it. People need to stop judging each other for differences of opinion, lifestyle, beliefs or unchangeables and start discussing differences rationally and respectfully. Maybe then we’ll finally understand, know and - dare I say it - like each other.

The New Year's resolution was an epic failure...this is my half-year resolution

I had a completely gluttonous day today. There is neither any valid excuse nor is there getting around the fact that I had a total pig out day. This year was supposed to be my year to get down to business and get healthy. This was my New Year's Resolution, which I thought about a great deal:

"to commit to and actively practice a healthy lifestyle"
It wasn't about losing weight per se, but that is certainly a benefit of living a healthy lifestyle. My biggest problem is that I let life circumstances get in the way. I'm easily distracted by work, stress, leisure activities, Internet, my husband, my son and a multitude of other "reasons" why I just don't have time to work out or prep meals or go to the grocery store.

This past week, I posted this video to Facebook (which makes today even worse for me):

I was seriously disturbed by the state of the McDonald's food in this video, despite having watched SuperSize Me years ago. I swore back then that I wasn't going to eat at McD's again, but I forgot the impact that documentary had on me and started eating there again. I have to admit that I don't particularly even like McDonald's food anymore, except for breakfast. My biggest weakness in life is breakfast foods. I have no trouble saying no to McDonald's for lunch or dinner, but breakfast is tempting. I'm really digressing here...back to the video above.

I posted that video on Facebook and had some interesting comments.

One friend wrote:

I believe it...I've got those McD. fries in my car! :) THose things are hard as nails. I wonder what happens if you make your own french fries from real potatoes. I'm betting they don't turn grey like her 3 month old slices of potato and they are made of real food. Fresh slices of potato would, I know but fried? Someone try that.

Another replied:

Yes, she needs to compare the old McD's fries to actual french fries, not cut a cut up potato. But her point still stands.

Here's my response to both of them, because they made very good points:

Morgan Spurlock actually did "age" some chip wagon fries as part of the bonus material in SuperSize Me. They probably aren't that much different than what someone would cook at home and they did decompose pretty much as you would expect.

I think what's more alarming about this video than the fries is the burger and bun. I know bread will mold within days - anyone who's lived in the south has seen how quickly a bag of bread (of any kind) will spoil in the humidity. I can't say I've ever seen cooked ground beef go bad, so I don't know what happens with it, but it doesn't seem right that that patty was doing nothing but turning into petrified meat.

(I ran across this (very short) blog post recently: http://snarkscribe.blogspot.com/2007/02/petrified-meat.html.)


In the link above the comment that really got to me (and why I posted it) was this: "If wild animals or microbes wouldn't touch it, why would you want to eat it?"

After all of that effort reminding myself of the evils of fast food, I had a day where I had fast food and made bad (actually horrible) choices at home. So, it's time to make a change and stick to it. I have pretty good health right now, but if I don't change my current bad habits I won't be so lucky in the future.

I guess this is my half-year resolution - to get my butt in gear and get healthy! :)