Please don’t ask me why, but I decided to give one of the characters in the book I’m working on a Dr. Phil obsession. In my extensive research on the man (which has consisted mainly of laughing at his mustache from different photographic angles), I came across what I have to admit is a real gem of a quote:
“Sometimes you make the right decision, and sometimes you have to make the decision right.” ~ Dr. Phil McGraw
Wow. I kind of liked that. A lot. Because the implication there is that sometimes you can’t always make the “right” decision, or that there is no right decision. The more time I spend on this issue and the more Fence-Sitters I talk to, the more I’m convinced that there are a category of people who aren’t destined to be parents, and they aren’t passionately Childfree either. But unfortunately, each of us must make a decision, because at a certain point, even inaction is a decision thanks to ‘ole Ma Nature.
The idea that you don’t have to make the right one is somewhat comforting. But then the onus is on you to make it the right one. At first blush, it almost seems like that’s an easier task for those who choose parenthood. Because quite frankly, they don’t have much of a choice. They now have a tiny someone to mold into a productive adult, and doing it while moaning and moping around just isn’t going to work, and isn’t fair to the kid. Even those who didn’t enter parenthood willingly or enthusiastically usually find a way to find joy in the little things. If they didn’t, there’d be a lot more suicide attempts from top row of the bleachers after being subjected to watching a pack of seven year olds take turns scoring points for their opponents or dribbling the ball off their shoe. And to be perfectly honest, parents just don’t have a whole lot of time on their hands to whip themselves into a What-If tizzy.
So what about making the decision right for the Childfree? Suddenly seems a little harder. Maybe it’s because the Childfree are always being asked to defend their choice. To explain why they needed to keep all their time and money and sanity to themselves. And we feel like we have to have some pretty damn good answers. Needing the freedom to do things like spend more time with the extended family you already have, devoting yourself to a meaningful career, volunteering in the community are all good checklist items…but those To-Do’s seem awfully far off when one finds themselves wasting another Friday night on a cheap sauv blanc and a Netflix Cheers marathon. We should be out doing the more noble, interesting things we said we would. But without anyone hanging over our heads to demand it, who’s gonna be around to make sure we make the decision right?
No one, I guess. But much like those who choose parenthood owe to their kids to make it right, the Childfree owe it to their spouses, their pets, their careers, the world (which does, in fact, need Childfree people), but most importantly themselves, to make it right. They may just have to work a little harder at it.
Dr. Phil, thank you for the stimulating quote. I take back every bad thing I said about you when you’re ridiculous hillbilly accent.
And now, just because I love it, a Dr. Phil’s Take on Men Meme:
At least ten of you have sent me the link to the I Hate Being a Mom – Secret Confessions site by now, and I’ve been avoiding it. Sort of in the same way I’ve been avoiding seeing the Exorcist. Because although I know these horror stories probably wouldn’t happen to me, they’d still scare me to death.
I was right.
If you have the emotional fortitude to read through these stories and be unaffected, then by all means, clear your calendar for an evening and settle down with some sweatpants and a bag of Pirate’s Booty, and really dig in. If you don’t have the time or the Seasonal Affect Disorder lamp required to do so, here are some of the comments I pulled out that really resonated with me for one reason or another:
- I am the mother of a beautiful, funny, intelligent 4 1/2 yr old, and I can’t STAND being around her for more than 5 minutes!
- I find myself tuning them out some days and resenting them for taking away who I was.
- I love my kids but I am exhausted and everyday is like Groundhog’s Day over and over again.
- In the morning I find myself counting the hours to nap time then after nap time I am counting the hours to bedtime!
- I can’t eat, sleep, shower, even go to the bathroom whenever I want, it’s when my baby allows me to, and hey, when you’ve lived your entire life doing the basic things in life whenever you wanted it shocks you, annoys you just a little bit.
- I have absolutely no maternal instincts whatsoever, and even when the kids are hurt I find myself going through the motions without actually caring about them much.
- On the drive to school, she bangs and bangs the top as she asks nonsensical questions. I keep thinking, “Almost there. Two more miles. Just get there.”
- I cannot stand when people cling to me. I feel like I am suffocating.
- I don’t really love my job, I’m just so happy to get out of the house and away from my child and he can be someone else’s problem until 5:00 rolls around.
- I used to look forward to the weekends…now I look forward to Monday.
- I cannot make myself volunteer for one more bake sale, eat lunch at the school, go to Mcdonalds or play outside when I hate being outdoors.
- No one ever told me that the minute she was born, who I was would die.
- I have never been able to identify with this type of behavior (even as a child myself) and expect my daughter to act and REACT as an adult would.
- It’s been so long since I got to indulge a hobby that I don’t really know what I like to do.
I didn’t make it through all 2,000-plus comments on the site. But I read through enough of them to be completely transported back to my babysitting days, with some of these sentiments echoing my own so eerily (particularly those about suffocating and drowning), they made me shudder. I can distinctly remember doing an elaborate dance routine in the shower before every babysitting job in the desperate hopes I would fall and smash my ankle to smithereens and be unable to fulfill my duties. The idea that I would break the shower glass and have to be found naked by my family members à la Meg Ryan in When a Man Loves a Woman never occurred to me, so great was my desperation to avoid babysitting. I don’t, by any means, have an explosive personality, but I’d spend hours in other people’s houses feeling like I was going to scream or break expensive pottery or lose my mind or sprint out the front door and never come back. Though I would never in a million years shake a baby, I could wholeheartedly understand how it happened. In short, I felt exactly like these women on the site. The day I turned 15 and could legally take a job at Burger King was the happiest day of my life. And that’s saying something – those navy pants were terribly unflattering.
I’ve since been told roughly 4,000 times that “it’s different when they’re your own.” And I’m sure that’s true for many people. My mom is one of them. She loves (and always has loved) being a mom of three, but can’t stand to be in the presence of other people’s kids. We’ve ungracefully exited nearly every dining establishment in the greater Indianapolis area at some point or another when kids were found to be within a 100 foot radius of our table. She and many others assure me that these feelings would never apply to my own kids if I had them. But isn’t this site direct proof that for some people, those feelings DO apply? These are just the ones who happened to have stumbled onto the site by Googling something like “I don’t like being a mom” – who knows how many others are out there, feeling the same way, but without even the time to Google, or feeling too guilty to actually type the words!
It’s in our nature to try and classify these women in some way, find some common denominator that can be blamed for their stark unhappiness. But read through just a few pages and you’ll find yourself unable to put your finger on it. Many seem to be quite young, with several kids before 30, but there are others who waited until their mid or late thirties. Quite a few are either divorced or have remarkably unhelpful husbands, but some have great relationships with the dad – or at least had one before the baby. Some are stay-at-home moms who miss the rewards of 8-5 office work, but others are the primary breadwinner or at least have jobs they love. A few have serious financial constraints, while there are others for whom money is no object. Some pregnancies were unintentional (the result of birth control failure or being strong-armed by a partner or family), but others had always dreamed of being a mother and were downright shocked to find how miserable it made them.
So what’s the common denominator here? The predictor of parenthood happiness? Because it seems like you can have a fabulous partner, all the money in the world, a rewarding career, a true desire to have a child, and you might still hate being a mom! Maybe it’s this “mommy gene” that’s been making headlines lately – maybe that’s the one true predictive measure. But until that becomes something we can screen for, how are Fence-Sitters ever going to feel good about taking the leap when we can see how terrifically unhappy it might make us, even with all our ducks in a row? I suppose this is where someone says something like, “There are no guarantees in life.” But these are the same sorts of people who also say, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” If you’re truly happy with your life right now, should you really risk trading it in? Maybe you’d be even happier…but maybe you’d find yourself with carpal tunnel from typing all your manifestos on the Confessions site. Is it worth the gamble?
The Maybe Lady was flying solo last weekend while Drew surprised his brother Eric for his 40th birthday by showing up on his doorstep in Chicago. I’m glad Drew got to go, and I’m actually glad he got to go alone. Though it would have been great for me to see his family (and my own in that neck of the woods), it gave him the chance to have some rare siblings-only bonding, and some good old-fashioned boys-drinking-too-much-whiskey-and-throwing-up-in-the-yard* fun.
But while he was gone, I realized just how long it had been since I’d been on my own overnight. I could have called any one of my friends or done something wildly productive like start a dried insect collection, but I was strangely distracted by how much I missed him and instead watched a crappy Rom Com, ate cereal for dinner and slept with a Santoku knife in my top dresser drawer to fend off potential intruders. It was a brief and terrifying glimpse into Life Without Drew.
My mind couldn’t help but wonder what was going to happen when Drew was gone for good. He’s almost two years older than me, and when you take into account…
- the lifespan differences between men (66 – 82) and women (74 – 86) in the U.S.,
- my gene pool (my 84 year old grandfather kicked my ass in an hour-long walk on the beach last week, and my great Aunt Mable died recently at 104), and
- the scores of Hawaiian pizzas and Hamm’s beers Drew consumed in his bachelor days
…he just ain’t gonna outlast me. Probably by a pretty solid number of years, unfortunately. I used to think I’d be able to handle that with some grace, or at least that it wouldn’t send me into a spiral of regret about not having some kids around to soften the blow. I’d always thought that the fear of dying alone or not having someone to take care of you in your old age was a rather lame reason to have kids. It was something that never even factored into my baby decision for a few reasons:
- I figured I’d be surrounded by other similarly ancient beings in my Del Boca-Whatever community down in Florida, or the assisted living facility. And yes, I’ve heard the nursing home horror stories, but I assumed my Childfree savings account could at least buy me a pretty darn good chance at a nice facility. While the idea of playing Pinochle in twelve hour shifts might seem like a nightmare to some, that’s just Day One of any vacation with my family.
- I have no qualms about taking myself out (like, permanently) if I find myself in one of those nightmare nursing home situations.
- I decided long ago with my best friend Ale (who’s never been sure on the whole kids thing either) that we’d Golden Girls-it with a couple other ladies somewhere warm once our slightly-older-than-us husbands kicked off. I regret to inform you all that I was selected to fill Bea Arthur’s role of Dorothy (I hope it was for my height and acerbic wit rather than my snazzy pantsuits and smoky baritone voice).
While I suppose I always knew in the back of my mind that the Golden Girls dream would never come to fruition, it was only truly hammered home earlier this year when Ale announced her pregnancy. Now it was only me that would need an Estelle, Blanche and Rose to keep me company in my old age. Sure, I have plenty of sassy, slutty and space-cadet friends (respectively) to fill those roles**, but every single one of them already has a kid, is pregnant, or has definitive plans to start having children as soon as they can. Will I truly be the only one of my friends to be left entirely alone at the end?
Before last weekend, I might’ve said, Okay, I can survive that too, and find a way to enjoy the solitude. And of course, I will if I must. But I have to say, if Drew’s brief absence was just a slight hint at the chasm of loneliness that opens up after the death of a spouse when you don’t have children…well, that’s going to suck.
I know this isn’t a good enough reason to have kids. I’d be a real loser if I thought it was. And I know that having a child is no guarantee that they’ll be a good support system later in life, or that they’ll take you in or visit you in the nursing home (in fact, there’s all kinds of evidence to the contrary). But I’ll concede that increasing your chances of having someone around during what might be the loneliest part of your life is at least a notch in the “pros” column for having kids.
Or maybe the next time Drew goes out of town, I should just use the free time to start on my plans to build the People Who Never Had Kids Nursing Home. Applications for co-founders are now being accepted; those with Estelle Getty-sass and a fondness for Pinochle will be given special consideration.
*Lest anyone make a hasty remark about the boozy Childfree lifestyle, I feel I must state for the record that the puker was, in fact, a proud father of one and a half children.
**Just kidding, friends. Except you, Racquel – I meant every word.
Because evidently you’re going to be leaping off the face of the earth. At least, that’s what Honda would have you think. Their latest Leap List campaign has me a little puzzled. If you haven’t seen the commercials, the basic premise is that you should create a list of things you “wanna do before everything you oughta do” (their sad corporate attempt at casual language, not mine). The implication being “you better do it now, cause no way in hell are you doing it after [insert life event] happens.”
I’m ashamed to admit that I had two opposing reactions to this campaign, based on the featured life event:
This one offended me a little. Here’s the scene:
- Guy lamely asks girl to marry him in the street. (No ring, no bended knee – is chivalry dead?)
- Girl says something like “Married?” [Cut away to sad, wistful look] “But there were so many things I was gonna do first. Hike the Appalachian Trail, learn to play the drums, finish my short film…”
I wanted to grab that bimbo, shake her by the shoulders and say, “No wait, getting married’s cool, and not just because of all the expensive cutlery you’ll get as gifts!” I didn’t, because if I had tried, I would have irreparably damaged our flat screen TV, which Drew loves more than me, more than Mr. Cecil’s ribs even.
This one inspired a different reaction:
- Girl springs on unsuspecting guy, “I think I want to have a baby” while out shopping in a busy street. (Good tactic, husband cannot throw public tantrum.)
- Guy looks appropriately crestfallen and says something along the lines of “But I was gonna see the Northern Lights in Alaska, go spelunking with the guys, and build that fighting robot…” (Is it even possible to get down to the baby-making process with this man and his sad hobbies?)
Now of course, I wasn’t offended by this (I too, would panic about when I’m going to get my spelunking in.). But old “meskobe,” disgruntled YouTube viewer, sure was. If you didn’t already click on the video link and see the comment she’d posted, here’s what she had to say:
Whoever came up with this new ad campaign is my least favorite person in the world. I hate the insinuation that getting married or having a baby will immediately end all ability to have fun or do anything. Marriage & children are two of the greatest adventures in life! Why not do all these “leap list” things WITH your spouse and kid(s)??!!
I cackled and did a little “Yeah, right! You can’t do ANYTHING with kids!” and then had the sobering…
Ohhhhhh. Wait a sec…
If I’m sitting here thinking they’ve got it wrong about marriage, isn’t it possible they’ve (and I’VE?) got it wrong about kids too? I don’t think the Honda marketing people are (necessarily) idiots, and the idea for these commercials didn’t just get plucked out of thin air. People – obviously lots of people – really do feel this way. But I’m not one of them when it comes to the sentiments about marriage. There’s nothing I feel I can’t do because I’m married. If anything, it’s made me want to do MORE crazy things and now I have someone to do them with (and be my designated driver).
Is it possible I would feel the same way on the kids issue if I had a couple of my own? Maybe. But…
Kids Are (Way) More Work Than Spouses
And there ARE some facts that simply can’t be ignored:
- It WILL be outrageously expensive to take children on a trip to Europe, whereas it will just be embarrassing to take your husband, who will demand to be taken to a Parisian McDonald’s for a Croque McDo. (Oh yes, it’s real. Oh yes, Drew ordered it.)
- Infants WILL likely bounce right out of that white water raft, whereas husbands only cling tightly to your life vest and scream like ladies.
- Unless you’re Amber Miller, running a marathon while 39 weeks pregnant WILL be rather withering, whereas your husband is likely to hand you refreshing beverages as you run past, like straight vodka disguised as water.
Perhaps the biggest difference of all is that you can easily leave the husband at home for these adventures if necessary, attended by little more than a bag of Zesty Ranch Doritos. But kids require significantly more expensive babysitters.
I don’t know why these commercials have consumed me the past couple of weeks. Maybe it’s that my Leap List before having a baby would take me all the way through menopause to complete. Or maybe it’s because it just seems silly – everyone I know who has had children says that you’ll never truly feel ready and you should just jump in. That used to sound brave. Now I’m wondering if these are just lazy people who wanted an excuse to skip out on their Leap List. [smiley face]
Should I write my own stupid Leap List? And then if I can’t get through it while still in my child-bearing years, I have my answer? Probably not a good idea. I’d probably just load it up with ridiculous things like Co-Star in a Country Western Musical with Elijah Wood & Soleil Moon Frye.
Nevermind, that’s the best idea I’ve had all week.
I bet Pascal never dreamed he’d show up on a baby(ish) blog 350-some years later, but he also probably couldn’t have imagined millions of viewers tuning into to find out if Snooki’s going to wet her pants again in public. But here we are. Let’s chat about him and his wagers.
Regret is a dish best served cold
I was lunching with a lady at work – Amy – before I quit work and became a Lady who Lunched. The subject of babies came up, as it’s wont to due when you’re sitting across from a pregnant person. I mentioned that Drew and I were riding the fence, and Amy said that she and her husband waffled on the issue for years before she had her first kid at 37. I asked her what swung the pendulum, and here’s what she had to say:
Ask yourself two questions:
1. If you had a baby, would you ever regret it?
2. If you didn’t have a baby, would you ever regret it?
Amy’s answer key, and presumably most people’s, is that no. 1 is an emphatic NO, and no. 2 is at least a MAYBE. Unless you have a true demon on your hands (perhaps the children who cameo’ed in last Monday’s entry?), once the kid is there, the odds of you wanting to hand it back to the stork seem relatively low. I do realize that people unprepared for motherhood hand back babies all the time (apparently foundling wheels are coming back into style in Europe! Those crazy Euros.). But I’m talking specifically about people who’ve thought long and hard before deciding to have a baby.
As for number 2 – wow, how are we supposed to answer that? I don’t know, maybe, yes? Are these good enough reasons to take on the enormous responsibility of having a kid?
Pascal Gone Baby Crazy
This whole options grid thing got me thinking about our old pal, Blaise Pascal. Famous not only for his flowing locks, Pascal is the originator of Pascal’s Wager. A highly simplified explanation of this wager is that:
Although God’s existence (or lack thereof) cannot be proved through reason, people should wager that God exists (and live accordingly) because:
- There’s a lot to be gained if you believe (namely, admittance to heaven)
- There’s little to be gained if you don’t (in fact, you might risk going to hell)
The Maybe Lady Baby Wager
Taking Pascal’s grid approach, the baby-regret options might look something like this:
Hmm. So not having a baby is the only opportunity for eternal regret? And having a baby is the most likely way to ensure happiness?
Something’s Missing Here…
Pascal’s been criticized for oversimplifying the issue and neglecting to take a few things into consideration (the ability – or lack thereof – to force a belief; what you’re missing out on by living a purely virtuous life; etc.). The same is probably true of the Maybe Lady Baby Wager.
- The Hidden Costs: If I thought I had the opportunity to own a helicopter with a tiger airbrushed on the side, and I missed it, would I regret that? Probably. But am I willing to work my tail off for the next 30 years to be able to afford that? Possibly, if I loved what I was doing. But if I didn’t truly enjoy it, or it prevented me from doing other things I loved like playing chess in the park with stray dogs? Then no.
- Other Regret: Any time you choose one road, you’re not choosing another. Maybe you would have been a famous NASCAR driver, or 18th century royalty, had you not spent all that time birthing and mothering babies.
Well, Now That That’s Solved!
Okay, anyone else as confused as I am? I suppose this wasn’t a very helpful post. And coming up with that Maybe Lady Baby Wager grid was almost as mentally exhausting as writing a college term paper. Except I was less hungover.
But in case you’re not thoroughly befuddled yet, I’ll leave you with this quote from Arthur Miller:
Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.
Okay, but which ones are those?! *Sigh*