Saturday, July 26, 2014

Woman without Kids: Why You Don’t Understand What it Means to be a Mother

By Terri Lively

On I read a great article called, “10 Things Parents Shouldn’t Say to Non-Parents.” She writes that she loves her dogs like kids and doesn’t understand why her friends don’t ever go out with her anymore. She also gets a little judgmental about the punctuality of her friends with kids.

I, like every other mother who read this, took offense to some of these items. After that initial reaction had passed, however, I recognized a little of my former self in her words. I started to write a long response to her, which then turned into this post:

Dear Helene in Between,

I read your article last night, shivering on a towel at Movies In the Park that was showing one of the worst kids movies of all time, “The Lego Movie,” which I have now had the pleasure of seeing twice even though I have yet to see the Tom Cruise movie that I really wanted to see that came out two months ago.

After I packed up all our stuff, with one hand because my 3-year-old was asleep on my shoulder and waited ten minutes to use a gross smelling park bathroom with my other two kids still holding the sleeping toddler because they simply couldn’t wait until we got home, although we would have been home already in the ten minutes we waited, I was still thinking about it.

After I shuffled the two awake children through a shortened version of the bedtime routine, meaning teeth and potty (yes, again), trudged in to load the last of the dinner dishes and set the dishwasher to wash because I had to hurry my dinner cleanup routine so we didn’t miss a minute of the cinematic masterpiece in the park, and moved a load of laundry over from the washer to the dryer so it would be ready for me to fold at 6am, which is when for good or ill my children will rise even on a Saturday, I was still thinking about it.

After rising at 6am and feeding cereal to my kids and caving in already about letting them have the iPad even though I am HYPER aware of how much screen time they get and try to put it off as long as possible, I decided I would respond.

I like your article. I probably would have written this list, too, before I had kids. I do remember how you feel. When your friends say you don’t understand, however, I have to agree. We say that you don't understand because you don't, simply put.

But don't feel bad. I didn't. Your friends didn't. Your own mother didn't.

That's probably a good thing because the change is so transformational that it comes with a lot of difficult emotions that many of us have a hard time processing (hence the mommy blogs). I don't think I knew how much I would give up to be a mom before I became one. It's not easy, especially when you have a pretty developed sense of self as I did.

I had a friend at work who was a man, and we decided to get our significant others together for dinner. I met his wife, who was great, too, but quickly learned that all she talked about was her kids. I thought, "Good grief! Don't you have anything else to talk about?" Now I know that she might not have.

There is a line you cross when you have kids where all of sudden you are not the most important thing anymore. You take all the things that are important to you and put them second to what your children need. In a lot of cases, you give up things entirely.

And while it sounds INSANE to you right now, your dogs whom you love dearly would get put up for adoption if the doctor told you that your kid was having an allergic reaction to them and was having trouble breathing.

I had a dog that I loved like my kids. I took her on two walks a day. I bought her special, expensive dog food. I read books on how to communicate with her. I paid thousands of dollars to the Vet to take care of her hurt paw and poop issues. I planned my vacations around where I could bring her along. When I couldn’t bring her on trips for business, I missed her, and when I came home, I got excited down in the pit of my stomach because I was going to see her again.

When I was pregnant with my oldest child, people I knew told me that I would feel different about my dog when I had kids. They told me that she would become a dog. I smiled and laughed politely, but deep down inside I thought, “Maybe that’s how it went with your dog, you heartless creeps, but I love my dog.”

After I had my child, I forgot to feed my dog for two days.

I tell you this so that you can have those same judgmental feelings that I had for my friends when they told me stories like this. It’s important that you have them so that if you do choose to have children down the road you will understand that you are not a heartless creep for doing things like this. It’s just part and parcel of the parenthood journey.

Before kids, I was a lot less vulnerable and way more in control of my life. Now I have to push the anxiety away daily that I am not doing this right, that I can't keep them safe enough, or that I'm not living up to my responsibility to my children. It's difficult to live a life with doubt and anxiety as your constant companion but if you have read any of the aforementioned mommy blogs, then you understand that they are every mothers constant companion.

You should know that I also agree with you. Your friends do need to go out with you more. They need to find a babysitter for the rare occasions when you don’t want children at the event. It’s not only respectful of you, but it is critically important to them.

It’s way too easy to put ourselves second and never accept the invitations of our friends because it’s a hassle for us. I would argue, however that these moments where we are forced to be a person on our own instead of so-in-so’s mother remind us of the women we used to be. She had many great qualities as well and sometimes we really miss her. So it’s nice to see her again, even if it’s just for an evening.

And it’s also nice to let an f-bomb fly without an immediate guilty glance around for little ears. 

It’s important for you to know that when we say our lives were unfulfilling before we had kids, it’s not a judgment of your life or choices. What we are trying to tell you was that before we had kids we didn’t understand the absolutely crushing, overwhelming, and humbling love that we feel for these little people that we are charged with raising.

Not one mother I know would hesitate to jump in front of a speeding car to push their child out of the way or think twice about donating a kidney to save their life.

There are moments in our day that are so heart-warming and pure that we tear up with joy—which before I had kids was a rare occurrence unless I was at a musical.

But I also think it's important for those of us with kids to remember how when we say these things that we can come off as obnoxious. But I promise you that we don't mean to be. We still love you and want to be your friend, even if you don’t understand what it means to have kids. 

Thanks for the perspective today-