There are times in history and places in the world where being childless was just about the worst thing a woman could be. It was (and still is, in some cultures) thought to be so awful that it was considered to be a curse and all manner of laws and customs developed to allow barren women to claim a child as her own that she might not have to face the shame of not being a mother.
Here in modern day America, I wonder if we’ve gone to the other extreme.
“She’s having another baby?”
“They have how many children?”
“She’s pregnant? But her career was just taking off.”
“A baby? Well, I guess her life is over now.”
I’d be willing to bet that, even if no one said these things to you, you’ve heard them said (or said them yourself) about someone else.
When I met my husband he already had two children from his first marriage. When we found out we were expecting our first baby together the reaction was mixed, at best. For the most part we heard, “How are you going to afford a baby?” One especially supportive relative (sarcasm intended) said, “Oh, great. That’s just what you need.”
The truth is it was a hard time. We were broke. Not “we have to cancel the extended cable movie package,” kind of broke. More like, “I wonder if we’ll be able to buy noodles AND butter tomorrow,” kind of broke. It wasn’t the way we’d planned things (and, yes, we had a plan and had taken “precautions” along those lines) but it was the way things were and we managed. Where there’s a will there’s a way.
Fast forward five years. Sweet Hippie Daughter is in school. Hubby and I are both working. We decided we wanted one more little person in our family because… well… just because. We love our children. We remember how that love grew and multiplied with the birth of our daughter and we want to allow that love to grow again.
We had two miscarriages and, early on, were told that the third pregnancy wouldn’t last either, but he was a determined little bean and he hung in there. Finally, very near the end of my first trimester, we saw a powerful heartbeat on the ultrasound, the bleeding stopped and we were told that, yes, a new Hippie was on the way.
I suppose, as a writer, I should have the words to describe that moment in the ultrasound room but I’m at a total loss. After so much sadness and grief and worry, after weeks of wondering and praying and crying, our tiny baby was right there in a grainy black and white image. It was pure joy!
I wanted to shout to the world!
And so I did.
And the world rolled it’s eyes at us.
“Really? FOUR kids?”
Yes, some folks were happy for us and celebrated with us but far more reacted with skepticism and doubt that such a “large” family could ever possibly be a good idea. Many said, in one way or another, that they thought it was irresponsible because we “couldn’t afford it.” A few thought it was “so sad” that just as I was getting back to work I ruined things with another baby.
It’s true. We were still poor. Our spaghetti had honest to goodness sauce every day, though! And… how much should that matter? Obviously, being able to support your family is important but when do you have “enough” money to have children? According to some estimates no one except the “one percent” would ever be able to raise a kid in this country! Yet, somehow, hundreds of millions of us manage to keep our children fed and clothed.
It’s true. Four kids are a lot of work. Honestly, though, I swear four is easier than three. They love each other (mostly). They entertain each other. And, yes, sometimes I ask the older ones to care for the younger. To the critics I say: No, I do not feel this is unfair. It’s not every day and that’s what families do – they help each other out. I have never felt like one of our children was missing out on some portion of our love because they had siblings. If anything, I feel the exact opposite. Instead two people living with them and loving each of them they each have five people loving them (well… more than that when you count grandparents, etc, but you get the gist).
This isn’t just about me and my family and our circumstances, though. The age of social media gives us a weirdly intimate glimpse into the lives of our friends and acquaintances. I see it all the time:
Person A: We’re having a baby!
Person B: Bummer!
The idea seems to be that now you are saddled with all this responsibility. You’ll never have a great career. You’ll never get to be spontaneous again. There won’t be any more late night parties or long weekends, lounging lazily in the sun. Now you’ll have to trade your cool car for a minivan. You won’t be able to afford designer shoes and every meal for the rest of your life will be chicken nuggets and macaroni. Your uterus has suddenly turned into a black hole that will suck all of the money and fun from your existence.
Most of all, the mother (the rules are different for fathers, of course) has lost all chance of being a productive citizen. After all, you can’t possibly be successful at parenting AND anything else at the same time.
Where did this idea that parenting is a terrible burden come from?
Do we feed the monster by complaining about how HARD parenting is all the time?
When did we lose the notion that children are a blessing and that more children are a bigger blessing?
When did “parent” become a second-rate status?
Is it just me? Are my views skewed? I would love to hear from you!
What do you think? Is parenthood looked down upon in our society?
Are you, too, seeking to save the earth, promote world peace and raise productive citizens without expending too much effort?
If we work on our goals together, they may be a little easier to achieve!