Feb 23, 2016

To the Teenage Girl Who Says She Doesn't Ever Want to Have Children

By Anna Ilona Mussmann

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)
But 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.”

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.

Image source.

11 comments:

  1. Thank you for writing this. As a new mom myself, it is easy to be discouraged by the moms I observe who seem to be depressed in their vocations. As much as I love every minute of mommyhood now, I keep wondering if this is the inevitable direction my new job will take. It's always good to be reminded that parenthood can be and remain enjoyable when we live in grace. Thank you!!

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    1. Judging from my observations of older moms, I think it can, because it is GOOD. That doesn't mean it's always easy. There is no shame in struggling or in suffering--sometimes life is hard. Yet in some circles, at least, there seems to be a culture of focusing only on the challenges of motherhood, as if enjoyment of one's children is unobtainable. I pray that I'll enjoy these marvelous, adorable munchkins of mine all the way through their upbringing!

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  2. Our daughter went through a phase during her teens where she would yell "I hate you!" at me. I shrugged it off and replied, "I'm just doing my job." By the time she was no longer a teen she apologized for her past outbursts and told me how grateful she was that I was her mother. I was grateful for older siblings who walked the parental trail before me, and helped me understand what's fairly normal in raising children. It helps to see successful parents go through the "ugly" stages and emerge intact.

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    1. It does! Seeing other parents weather challenges (and seeing the results) is huge.

      In some families, kids do say "I hate you," and the parents handle it well, and it all works out. That's fine.

      Yet I do like to point out that we don't have to accept adolescent insults as inevitable. I would never have dreamed of saying those words to my mother (nor would any of my siblings). My mom wasn't scary or oppressive--yelling insults just wasn't how things were done in our home.

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    2. I guess the big picture is that there will be conflict between parents and kids (and parents will have to make their kids unhappy, sometimes) but that, as you say, dealing with that conflict is part of a mother's job.

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    3. Anna, I should have explained that she didn't actually get away with it. Her father, my husband, took her to task about being disrespectful to her mother. He always has expected the children to be respectful of me and I expect them to be respectful of him. I didn't punish her because I knew (and she came to know) that Dad would! Usually I would say to her, "That's okay, I still love you."

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    4. Parental teamwork is awesome. I remember being on the receiving end of it, and even then, it's incredibly reassuring.

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    5. I was the teenage girl who was positive that I did not want children. I am now almost 40 and I am positive that I have never wanted children ... and I was raised in a stable, loving home. In fact, next month my parents celebrate their 50th anniversary! Not only have I never felt like I have missed out on anything, I am constantly reassured that my life and my status as a woman (and not a mother) is exactly how it should be. For me. Not for you, and not perhaps for many. But for me. Do you know what is the most common thing I hear when someone asks me if I have kids and I say "no"? They almost always ask, "Why?". But you know what? I've never once heard someone be asked, "Why?" when they just said they have two kids. The mothers and fathers I know who are committed to raising their children in the admonition of the Lord are some of the people I respect the most. But just as Paul would say that there are many members in one body and that not all have the same function, I believe each of us have different gifts, different callings, and different ministries. Should I tell a sister that she's missing out if she is not pursuing the calling to which I am called? May it never be! Nor should she convince me that my life is unfulfilled if I do not pursue her calling. "So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly..." (Romans 12)

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    6. Hi Karyn,

      Thanks for commenting and sharing your experience. Just to clarify, I am not not attempting to say (and do not believe) that a woman is "lesser" if she does not have children.

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  3. Thank you for writing this article. As a new mom, and having recently quit my job of seven years, I think I was not fully prepared for the drastic change of what day-to-day life would actually be like. I have often struggled with feelings of "things are impossible" or "life used to be so much easier." I am gradually learning to better manage my time and day while caring for an infant, and to actually enjoy life and my baby, but your words were good for me to hear.

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