Why Did You Have Children?

...mother's day is particularly strange for me...each year it gets harder and harder to find a card that properly expresses my feelings...in general, i avoid all sappines--i don't get warm fuzzies when i think of my mother and i'm not one of those "my mom's my best friend and has always 'been there for me'" women...i'm the type who sends her mother a card that reads "they say the nut doesn't fall far from the tree...and that scares the hell out of me" (which is the one i chose this year, and i'm pretty sure i've given her some variation of it since i was a teenager)

...grandma--the woman who raised me and was for all intents and purposes both my mother and father--has been dead for seven years and when i stand in front of the cards at my local target, i can't help picking up one or two labelled for grandmas and thinking of her and all her faults...these are the sappy cards that profess years of love and understanding and wisdom...inevitably, i tear up because whether i like it or not she was a terrible parent who actually managed to be an amazing parent...her faults set an early example of what i didn't want out of life, and her joys--gardening and antiques and musicals and love stories and color-coordination--were things i'd eventually treasure...every card i picked up seemed to thank her for these things and this year, because my hormones are on overdrive from the twins' pregnancy, i nearly burst out bawling under the fluorescents...

...i also came across a massive number of cards that would have been mean to give to my mother...like the one my husband chose for his mother..."mom," it read on the outside, "there were times growing up that running away would've been the easiest thing to do"...on the inside it read, "i'm glad you didn't"...another card read, "it's not your fault i'm the way i am...50% is dad's fault too"...

...what these cards say to me is that there's a standard of motherhood out there--who sets it, who follows it, and whether or not it's a reality aside--that can take this humor in stride...there are families who welcome levity, treating mother's day like a celebrity roast...women who get these cards never run (though they probably wanted to at times), and are either still married to the man who sired their kids and don't mind sharing the humor (and probably blame those men, on occasion, for their children's questionable behavior) or are divorced and enjoy getting off the hook 50% of the time...

...these cards make me ask myself the question no mother is supposed to admit to asking (at least, asking in an earnest way): why did you have children?

***

...on mother's day, a writer i respect and admire, a woman who i'm not ashamed to admit is one of those writers who makes be believe that i, too, will eventually have my books published, posted a short message on her facebook page addressing all of the women in her life (including herself) who "elected"
not to have children...she went on to say that they're all "fabulous" and that mean remarks they've endured because they've not had children are untrue, and that children do not make a woman happy, complete, or better than women without children...

...i didn't have my children to make me feel fabulous, happy, complete, or better than anyone else...i didn't have them so that i could eventually be an "i'm always there for you" mom or an "i'm your best friend" mom...maybe i'll eventually earn a sappy card, but that wasn't the aim of motherhood for me...nor was motherhood a mission or a goal or a milestone i held from a young age...i didn't have children so i could make shitty comments toward women who've "elected" not to have kids (adam said this decision is sometimes just as selfish as women who have children to fulfill themselves, but i don't buy it)...or so that i could pity women who want children but can't conceive (something i'd actually been told in my twenties)...i honestly don't care who does or doesn't have kids...it's not a factor that makes me say "i can't respect/like/dislike/admire her"...i don't begin conversations with women asking how many children they have...

...i'm sure these distinctions stem from the fact that grandma was insanely fallible...that she often said things like, "i could've had a life if it wasn't for you"...that she criticized mothers who worked, who lived on food stamps, or who turned their children into "mealy-mouthed cry babies who couldn't step two feet away from their mammies"...she criticized women with husbands and small broods of kids, saying, "he's five seconds away from leaving her fat ass"...or if a woman was a single mother she'd whip out, "she couldn't keep a man because she treats those kids like the center of the world"...

...clearly, grandma was an equal opportunity discriminator, which definitely forged my attitude to most everything: if you're not hurting me with what you're doing, i couldn't care less...so i don't care whether or not a woman "elects" to have a child, just like i don't care if she elects to drive a certain car, eat meat, vacation in the summer...her life choices are not my business...

...but what bothers me is the nearly militant "i'm a real woman because i don't have kids" voice that seems to permeate feminist culture and polarizes the issue of motherhood...i'm no less of a feminist because i have kids...nor has motherhood caused me to lose a certain number of brain cells that would somehow make me reproach women who don't have children...what i've come to see, through the lens of apprehensive motherhood, is that american culture is nearly anti-mother...sure, the cards come out once a year, the sappy platitudes, and we proclaim ourselves a country based on "family values" (what that actually means i have yet to understand), but i've experienced more prejudice against me in the workplace, in social settings, and at restaurants because i have a child...nasty things have been done and said to me by mothers and non-mothers alike making me realize that as hostile as my culture has been to women, it's even more hostile to women with children...specifically, young children...

...a while back, another friend of mine posted that she regularly parks in "stork parking" because she doesn't think women with children or pregnant women deserve preferential treatment...she doesn't consider pregnancy a handicap or a reason to dole out common courtesy...when i dissented and told her that i just flat disagreed, an entire slew of women and men jumped down my throat, accusing me of being lazy, raising lazy children who think they should be given special treatment, of being on welfare, of thinking the world owed me something...seriously?...it's polite to give up a seat on a bus for an elderly person, but i suppose these folks would demand we  just make the geriatrics stand since old age is just another part of life, nothing to be treated with exception...i used to work with a woman who thought this way...in the five years since i've had my first child she has become increasing hostile to people with children that she's been known to openly badmouth kids simply because they are kids...she's invented a  new low when it comes to ageism and forged it with sexism against her own gender...and i've yet to hear anyone in her close circle--women with children--challenge her views...as if having children is a fault, something that can't be defended, shouldn't be defended, lest the militants accuse a mother of creating "mealy-mouthed cry babies"...

***

...i do think that women who are mothers tend to understand other mothers better than women who do not have children, though there are exceptions to this rule too...there are lessons that motherhood teaches some women--and i'm one of them--about love, sacrifice and selflessness that women without children won't understand...but there are shitty mothers out there too who--because of age, or circumstance, or mental illness, or whatever--are immune to these lessons and wouldn't relate to me just like i don't relate to the "my child is the center of the universe" mother...and there are lessons that women without children will experience that will teach love, sacrifice and selflessness, lessons that i won't experience because my life is different from theirs...but this doesn't anger me...doesn't make me feel like i have to point out on a federal holiday (or the other 364 days a year that don't celebrate motherhood) that i'm fabulous and worthy...it just reminds me that we all have different lives...and an assumption about what i've "elected" to do in my life is just as annoying as assumptions about what people have "elected" not to do...

...i suppose it makes me a "bad mother" to admit that i've had no plan when it comes to having children, and have worked overtime (and after the birth of my first child) to study up on how i actually want to raise my kids...i suppose i'm someone who will never experience all of the "joys of motherhood" completely...i'm perhaps even just a shadow of a mother to those women who've been planning families and baby names since their first baby dolls...

...i like being a mom...i love cuddling with my daughter and giving her lip-smacking kisses...i love that she loves these things too, that her little heart seems so happy to have me for her mother...i fail all of the time, but part of me likes to think that my short-comings have taught her that i'm human like everyone else...i'm not perfect because i'm a mom...and like her i'm fallible...

...and now here i am with two more ready to unwind their little lives from mine and i still don't know why i "elected" to have children...i'm a bit wiser when it comes to the physical and emotional needs of children (my first kid was a great guinea pig)...but i have no clue why i chose this role...

...to love them?

...to fall in love?

...because it happened and i wanted them as soon as i knew they were there?

...i'm not sure there's a way to answer "why did you have children?"

...perhaps like it's opposite, "why don't you have kids?" it's not one that necessitates an answer...

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