By Anna Ilona Mussmann
maybe you do not see what I see. Maybe she is spitting-up or screaming, and you
aren’t convinced. Or perhaps you have good reasons to believe that parenthood
would be harder for you than for another person. And of course, even if you
wanted a child, there is no guarantee that you would be able to have one--in
our modern conversations about life plans, we often forget the unpredictability
of fertility and adoption. Yet I fear that you don’t fully realize what you are
giving up with that harsh little word of “never.”
You say that you don’t want babies. Not now, not ever. My first impulse is to stammer something about “missing out,” and to hold up my adorable six-month-old so that you can see the pure friendship in her two-tooth-grin. She loves you just because you are human. She has fuzzy hair. She smells like Johnson’s baby soap. Surely you want this in your life?
|(Not that there's anything |
wrong with cats)
After I master the well-meant impulse to thrust my baby in your face, I begin to wonder what kinds of parents you see around you. I admit some people make parenting unappealing. There are the moms who make sure that their friends on social media are cognizant of their suffering, moms who seem to live in a state analogous to that of the chronically ill--weary, unable to accomplish anything, never having fun, dressed in sweats. “My life is harder than yours,” they boast. “One kid is currently smashing my mug collection, one is barfing, and the third says she hates me. I have not bathed or slept in five years. Just wait until you have kids.”
There are the parents who raise entitled, miserable, obnoxious brats. Children who ruin everyone else’s evening at the restaurant. Children who give mosquitoes a run for their money. Children who think the world owes them and that “no” means, “please shout more loudly.” I don’t like to be around those poor kids, either.
I want to say that I hope you know that it doesn’t have to be like that. OK, so maybe I can’t guarantee that your kids--should you have them--will never barf in inappropriate moments. Yet a whole lot of the unpleasantness from which you recoil is the direct result of other people’s parenting choices. It is entirely possible to be a parent without making those choices.
For instance, you can be a mother and still take showers. It might be necessary to do it at weird times of day or require a willingness to let the baby cry for ten minutes--it won’t kill her--but it will still be possible. I’m not judging new moms who would rather hold the baby than wash their hair; I’m just saying that it’s a lie that moms can’t shower.
Furthermore, you can be a mom and preserve your cherished mug collection intact. Well, maybe not the mugs. Now that I think about it, my sisters and I broke an entire set of our parents’ dishes throughout our years of youthful dish-washing. Put the mugs in storage. However, you can teach children not to be brats. You can refuse to allow kids to say, “I hate you!” My parents, and many other families I know, managed this. It helped that we children weren’t allowed to use the word “hate” lightly--we couldn’t say that we hated vegetables when we meant that we disliked them or that they weren’t our favorite, and we certainly were never allowed to apply the verb to human beings. One beauty of being a parent is that, with some parental labor, you can teach your children not to do the specific things that bother you the most while letting go the things that do not much matter. Furthermore, you don’t have to be “good with” all children in order to get along with your own, anymore than you need to be attractive to all men in order to enjoy time with your own man.
You can find families whose kids are generally happy, respectful, and non-entitled, and you can learn from what they do. Don’t write off children themselves because the people around you might not be as good as they could be at parenting or do not have the same parental priorities that you would. Remember that even if you’ve only ever eaten mushy string beans, it doesn’t follow that string beans can’t taste awesome. On second thought, let’s not compare children to string beans.
All of that is what I want to say to you. But, just when I am gearing up to babble on about how our society makes motherhood far more complicated than it needs to be, I realize something. And I stop. My noise about parenting skills is meaningless if you cannot see why anyone would want to put in the effort to civilize children into pleasant and charming human beings.
I wonder about your childhood. I hope that you received all the warmth and security that comes from parents who love and who know how to show their love. I hope so, but I wonder, because you are basically saying that the home and family they created did not inspire you to want one, too.
Do you know what a loving family, full of fuzzy-headed, noisy little kids, can be like? It is something special. We all know how fragile earthly happiness is. We’ve seen how promises can end and how easily people mess up. Yet despite the frailty of human fidelity, a family is built on the promise of faithfulness and on faith in that promise. In the family, the father and mother love each other within the shelter of complete commitment. They will not walk away so long as they both shall live, and they have invoked the records of state and church to hold them accountable to this promise.
Within this family, the children can give their childish, unconditional love without betrayal. They can believe that daddy is the strongest person in the world (except, perhaps, for Ironman). They are able to think that mommy can fix anything. When their baby-blindness is worn away by a growing understanding of life, it will be without much bitterness, because they will see the self-sacrifice of their parents’ love right along with their parents’ human weaknesses. Knowledge of the world will be mixed with knowledge of the forgiveness and grace that make a family possible.
I know it doesn’t always look as good as it sounds. My own household isn’t all baby kisses and bouquets. There are even nights when I go to bed wondering if I’m a failure as a human being, let alone as a wife and mother. Yet the beauty of family love is that it doesn’t depend on my perfection, my husband’s perfection, or our children’s perfection. Instead, it rests on grace. We all take turns extending it as each one fails. In a blessed, self-reinforcing cycle, we are able to learn how to give to each other instead of how to receive.
Perhaps your family bore no resemblance to what I am talking about. Perhaps it was broken by divorce or abuse. I am very sorry. It should not have been that way, and it is little wonder if you hesitate to risk seeing the same thing play out in your own life.
Yet, you know, would you give up driving because you experienced a terrible crash? Would you forswear riding in vehicles because some people drive drunk? The promise that forms the foundation of a family is a hard one, and because of that parenting is risky--as risky as driving an automobile--but it is good. It is possible. I hope that you will not cut it out of your life with the word “never.”
After graduating from Concordia Wisconsin, Anna taught in Lutheran schools for several years and became so enthusiastic about Classical Education that she will talk about it to whomever will listen. She is a big fan of Jane Austen, dark chocolate, and the Oxford comma. Anna and her husband live in Pennsylvania with their two small children. Anna's neglected personal blog is Don't Forget the Avocados and her work can also be found in The Federalist.