Will Being Parents Make you or Break You

Children don’t make you happy. Studies prove it. Since our children arrived, my partner and I have had very little sleep, a lot of conflict ~ with them, with our values and with each other ~ as well as a lot less time for each other. It has been detrimental in many ways to our relationship. And yet we planned for it. We wanted it. And yet if someone had asked us – do you want to damage your relationship – we would have said categorically… No.

Many people don’t think it through before they have kids. Indeed such a level of forethought is not possible. And besides, having kids is something you do usually as a matter of course in our society. Its part of the relationship escalator.

Having kids when you don’t want them is not productive for anyone.

Having kids for them to be extensions to your own life is abusive.

Having kids according to predefined expectations can turn out to be a terrible error of judgment.

Because I’ll say it again. Having children doesn’t bring happiness. No, it brings something else entirely.

What children bring to the mix–like other big experiences–is meaning. There’s a whole lot of meaning to life when you have kids. Your experience of life is expanded in all its joy and all its pain. That’s a lot of joy and a lot of pain. It doesn’t compensate though. The pain is not traded off for the joy because that’s not how it works. You feel the joy. But the pain is not lessened in anyway because of it. And people really aren’t prepared for it. Child rearing can become a burden…despite the joy.

‘I hope you have kids,’ my mother said. ‘Then you’ll know the pain you put me through.’

I was a burden on my mother. And this has had various impacts in my adult life. One of them is that I question my social value; why does anyone want to spend time with me? What value do I possibly bring to this dynamic?

It’s no surprise really that I was at best ambivalent about children. But already at 30, I knew that I didn’t not want them. One part innate curiosity. I had a womb. What could this thing do? Why have children? Because I can.

Another part of me longed for them. Some deep sense of healing and desire to love.

And yet another told me that it would be a massive chore. Not the best way to enter parenthood.

What I did know was that I couldn’t do it alone. I needed a partner who was 100% about wanting kids. I found him and fell in love with him.

Then I fell in love with my kids. Fortunate really, because he wasn’t so interested in the baby part. It was only once they became children around about the age 2, that they became interesting. Unfortunately at this age they also developed a will of their own. One that he couldn’t understand.

‘Why does he always cry?’ he said exasperated.

Because he’s learned that this is the way he gets what he wants. I said, ‘You’d ignore him if he were happy all the time. It’s human nature. Children are individuals with minds of their own. Their minds seek to dominate and control because they are hardwired to survive, just as you are.’

‘So why is she so naughty?’  He asked. ‘Surely that isn’t about control.’

‘Of course it is,’ I said. ‘It’s because she wants your attention. Attention, even negative attention is better than nothing.’

Of course my partner does give attention, but he gives attention according to his beliefs, his role and his fundamental makeup. He’s a father and an all round easy going guy. It’s one of the things I love about him.

Biologically, a mother produces a  child which takes everything it needs from her body going so far as to deplete her resources as and when it chooses. The mother sacrifices herself and her body for her child. For the first year the mother might be almost the only source of nourishment if all goes according to plan. In the general scheme of things, mothers are designed to put our children first. We are unable to maintain a conversation if our child is crying. What we are not usually, is easy going.

After birth, my anxiety was firing on all cylinders. He knew that the first cry would have me on my feet. And if he even tried to comfort the child, that I would probably push him out of the way. Besides, my child needed his mother… That much was obvious to both of us. I had breasts, I could comfort. He could not. We expected that it would change once I finished breast feeding.

But over time he got used to not giving the attention. He enjoyed fatherhood without being in charge. It was easier for us both because he didn’t give the type of attention that I was hardwired to give. If I was in the room, I was in charge by default. Which meant that I was always in charge. We went to friends’ houses. He checked out. Sat and had coffee. Watched whilst I made sure my kids didn’t eat the sheep poo and didn’t fall down the rocks. Our big discussions centered on the fact that I needed to learn to relax.

‘You have an unhealthy relationship with the kids,’ he said. ‘I read this meme on facebook the other day. It said. Let your kids be bored. Otherwise they won’t be creative.’

‘It’s a balance,’ I said. ‘The bond of motherhood is difficult to handle. How much do they need me and how much do I force them to grow? It’s different day to day. It’s different child to child. I would like to relax, but I can’t trust you to give them the attention I think they need.’

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘But I don’t think they need all the attention you give them. You smother them. Let them fall. It’s the only way they’ll grow.’

‘How many times would you let them fall?’ I said.

It’s not a question of right or wrong. My partner and I have created a polarized dynamic just by being the people we are. It’s not even about being mother and father although these are stereotypes for a reason. He is laid back and easy going. I am an anxious overachiever. Being an anxious overachiever who puts her children first has had direct impacts on my health that I am only now realizing.

Neither of us find parenting easy. We do not enjoy our time parenting together even if we enjoy being parents. We do not enjoy our relationship together as parents. We love each other but parenting is our toughest challenge yet. It has had impacts on our sex life because quite frankly the thing we do most together, is the thing we enjoy doing together least.

Of course I also wonder about the impact this has on our kids. Reddit furnishes snippets such as

Seriously, if you don’t want kids with your entire heart, do not have them. They will know…It’s not fair to us, the children who are taught their life was a mistake.

But having kids is not a mistake. Without them we had a great relationship. But with them we have meaning like I’ve never known. Because there is more to children than pain or even joy. A child experiences life directly in the now without any concept of time. Children are a fresh embodiment of the self unconfined by the structures and limits that erode our life. They are magical. They remind us time and again, that life is experience of joyful highs. But also terrible lows.

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