8 Things I Want You To Know Before You Have Children
1. Traveling may not be fun for awhile.
There are windows for traveling with children. From birth until they can walk, usually it is relatively easy to bring a baby on even a long-haul trip. When they’re really tiny, they just sleep and eat and have no idea where they are anyway, and up until they can walk, they are often happy to nap in a carrier or on the floor at your feet, play with the in-flight magazine, and stare at your face in captivated awe. Then comes the chunk of time between starting to walk and when they’re old enough to concentrate on a tablet full of video games. My daughter is very active and likes to walk and run as much as possible; needless to say, sitting still in an airplane seat does not work for her. When something does not work for her, she explains why. With screaming. She also gets too excited by travel to nap, and a toddler who hasn’t napped is a toddler whose parents want to abandon them in an airport bathroom. I have loved traveling for as long as I can remember, and have visited every continent except Antarctica. I have taken 25 hour train trips through Thai countryside, and ridden on the top of a bus in the Sahara desert, and swung in a hammock over a river in Lao. But at the moment, I’d rather stay home forever than go on a 6 hour plane-trip with my daughter, because I just know it’s going to be full of screaming and exhaustion. I always said I would never let a child of mine watch TV, but I honestly can’t wait until her attention span is long enough for us to pass her an iPad.
2. Kids are really funny.
I was at the park the other day and saw a boy watching his mom blow bubbles. He very carefully leaned forward and put the whole wand in his mouth, and then made “bleah” face and pulled back in great consternation, while foaming at the mouth. A few days ago, an ambulance drove past, sirens blaring, and my daughter pointed and said, “Uh-oh beep beeps!” A friend’s 5 year old leapt out at her from behind a door and yelled, “Surprise, motherf*cker!” It’s amazing to watch someone learn how to understand the world from the ground up (literally) and kids are unique people with their own brains quietly working away and coming to occasionally surprising conclusions. Their lack of social awareness means they are frequently unintentionally hilarious, and sometimes they just have great senses of humour. I saw a Sandra Shamus comedy performance once where she talks about fireplaces being TV before there was TV…kids are cheap commercial-free entertainment, especially once they are old enough to bring you a beer out of the fridge (one friend assures us this is around age 2).
3. Your life both changes a lot and almost not at all.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what changes; obviously, you need to get a babysitter if you want to pop out to the movies, and you may have to consider whether or not you want to go to an afternoon party if it happens during naptime. But you’re still you: you still like the same things and can see your friends and enjoy talking about things that have nothing to do with babies. Just like you have, say, Ultimate Frisbee friends who love discussing the finer points of the game, and your opera friends, who can’t wait to share a set of glasses and delve into the plot of La Traviata…parenting just become another facet of who you are. Unlike your other hobbies and interests, it’s kind of irrevocable: you can’t decide you’re tired of being a parent and go do something else (well, I guess you can, but you shouldn’t). But you now have a new and interesting hobby to occupy your time (raising a human being) and something to talk about with other people that share the same interest. You added a whole new person to your life; of course, your life will never be the same. But you can say that about every major event: your life was never the same after you graduated from high school, either…or ate your first burrito. Everything changes, and babies are pretty interesting.
4. Sometimes people get really mad that children exist.
This seems mostly to be a problem with North America, honestly; I’ve never seen such an anti-child culture. Kids are okay in public in North America…as long as they are either in restaurants designated as kid-friendly, or utterly silent. God forbid your child screams on a plane or knocks over a water glass in a cafe, or you dare to ask whether bringing a child to a place that serves alcohol is okay. The answer will always be no: no, we don’t consent to having our space invaded by your tiny loud human and you made the choice to have a kid, so you’d better deal with it by hiring a babysitter or staying home until they are worthy to appear in public. Childfree people make a big deal about choice, and how they shouldn’t be responsible for your choice to have a child. Just ignore cranky folks who stare at you when your kid cries on an airplane. You and your child have as much right to be there as anybody else, no matter what they might say.
5. You won’t love them all the time.
I was not swept with all-consuming, life-absorbing love for my daughter as soon as she was born. I was focused on trying to keep the little slug alive — surprisingly difficult, given that babies are born with zero sense of self-preservation – and of course I loved her, but it got pushed out of the way by worry and exhaustion and confusion. As she got older, I had more emotional strength to love her…but toddlers can sometimes be jerks. Sometimes, when she woke up screaming every hour only to hit me in the face and laugh when I came to check if she was all right, I wanted to leave her in the crib and just walk out the front door. Kids can be frustrating and irritating; it is harder for adults to let go of clashes they have with children, because they are old enough to take things personally and remember being mistreated. The child screaming “I hate you!” will forget those words a few minutes later, but they leave a scar on an adult psyche. We find it hard to deal with someone we love hitting us, yelling at us, deliberately doing things to mock or annoy us, and it can be very hard to let go of those feelings even when you know with your gut that your kid doesn’t mean them. Children are neurologically self-centered; a recent study showed that kids behave selfishly until they are about 7 or 8 years old. As much as you love them in general, hanging around a tiny narcissistic dictator can make you experience moments when love in the specific is hard to conjure up.
6. You can opt out of the mommy wars.
Don’t read BabyCenter. Don’t comment on any articles about breastfeeding, cosleeping, daycare, or sleep training…don’t read the comments on those articles. Do what works for you and your family and your child. Don’t cater to an industry that wants parents to feel off-balance so they will buy more products to help them feel like better parents. We’ve ended up terribly isolated and lacking a strong community to help us raise our kids; even if you have a great friends group that will babysit til the cows come home, it doesn’t change the fact that most people in the Western world haven’t spent that much time around babies until they have one. I’d never seen a woman in labour, or an hours-old newborn, or actually watched someone nursing to see how the baby’s lips were supposed to go, before I had a kid of my own. Women in particular end up under fire in these “wars”, as they try to determine which way of raising a kid is “right”, which one will give their kid the best possible life, because we don’t have the benefit of a wealth of communal experience to pull from. We’re all flying blind. Guess what? Everything works some of the time — some kids respond beautifully to “cry it out” and some don’t, some kids drink formula, and there are some native cultures where kids get strapped into backboards for a year or so: you don’t need to be concerned that your kid is only getting 5 minutes of “tummy time” a day instead of ten.
7. If you’re an artist, and activist or a radical, there won’t really be space for you.
Fantastic parenting zine Rad Dad talks about the difficulty of being a politically-engaged activist or punk rock when all the Food Not Bombs meetings happen after bedtime, and there is rarely childcare at radical events. This article from Mutha Magazine (http://muthamagazine.com/2015/04/whose-burden-by-sara-zia-ebrahimi/) perfectly outlines the problem: the world seems to divide you into parents or “something else”. You can go to art spaces or radical events, express your personal voice at poetry slams, or make hand-lettered zines, but those spaces are unwelcoming for parents or children. The layout of the queer bookfair in Montreal last year, for example, was inaccessible to strollers and offered childcare close to an open door to the street…but at least it HAD childcare. Your only other option is to attend “parent” meetups, where you may have nothing in common with other attendees except having brought a tiny human into the world. Suggesting that events offer options for parents often subjects you to harassment and objection from people saying you CHOSE to have a child, so you need to accept the consequences…which apparently includes total isolation. There are a few artsy events that are child friendly (Burning Man regional event Critical Northwest was one of the most welcoming-of-kids events I’ve ever seen), but generally, you’re likely going to feel isolated from your creative life through no fault of your own.
8. It’s okay to get pissy with all the people who tell you you’ll never sleep again.
After my pregnancy started to show, my husband was about ready to stab anyone who told us we’d be awake for the next three presidential administrations. First: WE KNOW that babies sleep on different schedules from adults. You’re not telling us some new and exciting information. Second: some babies sleep better than others, for whatever reason. Our daughter, after about 6 rough months, skidded into a sleep routine. Third: if you say this to parents whose kid is a bad sleeper, they will likely be filled with all-consuming rage and guilt and helplessness. Sleep deprivation can make you literally crazy. Reminding a parent who is struggling with this every day of their terrible situation – a kid who will only sleep for 45 minutes at a time, or a kid who will only sleep if he’s on someone’s chest — will just make them feel worse. If someone says this to you, you have my permission to throw a drink in their face. It doesn’t even have to be your drink; the closest one will do.