Why Have Kids?
At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read this book. I read all sorts of reports and articles about it shortly after having Henry. I was afraid it was going to tell me I’ll never be happy, that I should have stayed child-free, and that all the parenting decisions I was making were incorrect. I was pleasantly surprised when the book turned out to give exactly the opposite message – but it still made me think about a lot of things.
In this slim volume, Jessica Valenti explores the reasons why parents are unhappy, bringing to light some important issues in the process. She argues that parenthood is glorified in our society, so many people expect to see their lives change for the better after their child is born. They’re not prepared for the drudgery that can come from changing diapers, constantly feeding, and being up all night. At the same time, parents are judged harshly for just about every decision they make. In particular, women are still subject to the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t reality of motherhood: if you work, you’re a bad mother; if you don’t work, you’re a bad provider. These “Mommy Wars” and discussions about “having it all” are getting old. We can’t have it all, and we shouldn’t. No one scrutinizes men for their parenthood choices – unless they’ve decided to stay at home.
There’s a lot more packed into this book, but these were the discussions that resonated with me. Henry is only three months old, but I’m tired of defending my parenting choices. Tired of explaining my choice to work, to keep him in his crib from day one, to employ a babysitter, to nurse, to allow his grandparents to watch him occasionally on the weekends. There are reasons for all of these, and all of them have allowed our family life to turn out well. I don’t know where things will go from here, but right now, I have found an excellent balance. Granted, most of it is because Henry is a good sleeper. Also, I am very lucky to have a wonderful network of support – friends, family, co-workers – and a great babysitter. Without those things, I could easily see how I would be miserable.
So why have kids if they’re just going to make you unhappy? Valenti argues that it’s the ideal of being a perfect parent, not the actual act of parenting, that also contributes to our unhappiness. That’s another point I can get on board with. When I decided I wanted to have a child, I knew I would have to become more laid-back. The act of adding a child to your life is a huge emotional upheaval. I had to prepare for it mentally in order to keep sane. I also had to consciously recognize that I would have to make sacrifices, and I made them. (Hence why this blog isn’t updated as often anymore.) But as I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t give up my identity. I didn’t give up me. Valenti doesn’t touch on this, but could it be that some of us are getting so involved in our children’s lives that we’ve lost ourselves? That would make me miserable too. With Henry, it’s like I’m the same person I was before, only there’s a whole extra new part of me that was never there before – and it’s amazing.
I could go on, but it would probably turn into incoherent rambling. So if you are interested in a slightly controversial, but also very enlightening point of view about modern parenting, read this book.