Friday, 30 March 2007

having kids

I ventured out to the library today (my first outing since Tuesday!). Since they didn't have Suite Francaise, I got We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver. My book club members mention this book almost every meeting. It was the most loved and most heatedly discussed book they've ever read. It won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2005 and is described on its cover as "Harrowing, tense, and thought-provoking." Here's the blurb: "Shortly before his sixteenth birthday, Kevin Katchadourian kills seven of his fellow high-school students, a cafeteria worker and a teacher. He is visited in prison by his mother, Eva, who narrates in a series of letters to her estranged husband, Franklin, the story of Kevin's upbringing. [A] powerful, shocking novel."

My friends say that this novel changed some of their minds about having kids. (On the other hand, two of them have gotten pregnant since reading the book.) After her late-in-life marriage, Eva didn't want to have children but was looking for a change in her life. When she discovered the love of her husband she wondered what the love of a child would be like as well. She had a long list of reasons not to have kids, though: hassle, less time for her marriage, vanity, boredom, worthless social life, career concerns. In the end she decided to have a child to overcome her fear of it, getting pregnant as a challenge to her phobia. "The very insurmountability of the task, its very unattractiveness, was in the end what attracted me to it."

When I announce that I don't want to have kids (and neither does Ant), I usually get clucking from old ladies, who say, "Oh, my dear, you will in time." They claim that my hormones will click in sooner of later and I'll be gravitationally drawn to infants that I pass on the street, until I feel an undeniable urge to procreate. Is this really true? Eva's deadline for deciding about having kids was her thirty-seventh birthday and she said she still wasn't hormonally led to children by that time. What will happen to me? Perhaps I will change my mind in my thirties. Could it be a proactive change of mind or a more passive biological change?

My biggest reason for not having children is a fear that I won't do a good job at it. I'm afraid of this for two reasons. One is that I don't want to be responsible for a mean, hard-hearted, spiteful person who is not nice to others. The second is that I don't want to live with someone that I dislike. If my child ends up being someone I can't stand, then what will I do? Perhaps it is possible to avoid bringing up someone you find annoying, but sometimes you see parents suffering with children who are controlling, willful, and nasty. How can parents live like that? On the other hand, I can think of lots of parents who have done such a good job (or been blessed with such a nice child) that their youngsters are a joy to be around. I can think of a family in my parents' church with the three cutest and sweetest little girls you could ever hope for. Is this a testament to the skill and integrity of the mum and dad? Sometimes the nicest parents have the meanest children, though. Might God sometimes choose to use children as a trial for us rather than a joy? Then what? I think I prefer to get my pain a different way.

Another reason (often quoted in polite society, in which the first reason seems a bit too honest) is that I work with children as a job. Some people have children as a contribution to society. I feel like I make my contribution day in and out with the two hundred children of varying ages I have personal contact with every week. When a well-meaning parent says something about us making our own mark by having our own children, I reply with a comment about educating and improving everyone else's children. This is sometimes interpreted (perhaps correctly) as a self-righteous comment that implies I try to undo bad parenting at school. Unfortunately, I have the same fear with my job as mentioned above: what if I do it poorly and ruin the children under my care? So I conclude that it's better to become a good teacher than embark on parenting as well. At least there are established ways of becoming a better teacher; parenting seems more like fumbling in the dark.

Another reason is more selfish. I just don't want the hassle of having kids around. They change your life forever. I don't want my house to turn into a primary-coloured hazard trap of toys and clothes. I don't want to trade in my professional lifestyle for picking gum out of hair and dirty handprints on my wall. Children are messy and time-consuming, not to mention expensive. I admit that I like my life the grown-up way it has turned out.

While surfing the (newly rediscovered) internet, I found the blog of a friend of a friend of a friend. There was a picture of the blogger meeting up with four friends. All five were young ladies my age, sitting on a couch with an infant each in their arms. All five was smiling profusely, but I was terrified by such a scene. All those lovely young women with their lives ahead of them, dominated by their screaming babies. God willing, I will not be one of them any time soon.

Well, it seems that the extra time off has allowed me to write an extra long post. Perhaps this will garner some comments from you. Please tell me if you think I am missing the mark. Do you find my feelings or opinions to be misjudged?


Kevin & Sonya said...

Hi Sare. You asked me what made me want to have children and while I cant say for sure what is was exactly; though hormones played apart I am sure. I will say that I never liked children and I hated babysitting. I too was afraid that it would 'ruin my life' and take away my social activities. But at some point I wanted one...and when I could pregnant I was more scared than ever. Without a female role model I too was scared of doing a poor job but I trusted that Kevin would be better - so that helped. And as pregnancy went on - I longed more than any longing I've ever had to know the little critter inside me. Fears faded and turned into joy. Claire is the center of my world. She has made our marriage 1000 times more vibrant and exciting. My social life did change - but I was ready for it - ready to grow up and not party and be out late (so much). I still go out. It is harder - but the truth is when I am out I would rather be home with Claire.
I hope that someday if you want kids you will have them and that if you dont want kids and dont have them that your life will be just as forfillling. Life is different, as you said - but at least for the moment, not that much different.

susan hart said...

hey sarah,
although we don't have kids yet(i can't wait), the beauty of love, is that it's unconditional. It amazes me everyday that as a human, I am a dirty rotten sinner! But what's so amazing about being a believer, is that I have a Heavenly Father who LOVES me despite my humanness, He loves me for who He's made me to be.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that when a couple decides to have children, the unconditional love comes from our "Father", and it's a perfect love.
If you choose not to have kids, so be it..lots of people choose not to have them. But if deep down inside to you, despite your thinking you won't be a good enough mom, remember the difference between having the Lord, and not having Him . You'd be a wonderful mom; I'll be a wonderful mom, not because of who I am, but because who Lives in me!
I miss you, and I hope this makes sense!
email me sometime..

mom said...

I have no idea how you will think about having children in 10 years time, some people change their minds and some don't. Who knows what you'll do. What I do know is that there are three people in the world who are different than everyone else because they are part of me. You have likely heard me talk about how I felt just before you were born. I was on the delivery table when a newborn child cried in the next room. Hearing that I thought that it was so funny that the sound did nothing for me, especially considering where I was and what I was doing. But when I saw you everything changed and I was a different person. You've already done so many things bigger and better than I ever could, so I can imagine both that you'd be the teacher who would significantly influence many kids lives for the better and that you'd be a great mom!
Cheers, mom

Jayme said...

I read the book "We need to Talk about Kevin" and it's enough to scare the bejeeezus out of anyone thinking about having kids. I felt similar to you after reading this book, and I have to admit that I went into reading it with more than a few doubts about having children. That was a few years ago. Now, the prospect seems no less intimidating and the thought of pregnancy still makes me extremely nervous (more so than the raising kids part - I'm such a wimp) and yet I find myself craving a child to share with Donald. I'm blaming hormones, mostly, but I also know that there's something else to it, something that I just can't put into words.

As far as the social life goes, Donald says "Your social life doesn't end, it just changes." Which I think is a great way of putting it. Having a child will open up a whole new network of parents and family social activities and I know we will both love.

The bottom line Sarah, is that everyone must choose their own path, and I if your path does not include children, you will find other ways to "make your own mark" and indeed, you already do. I think it's great that you put so much thought and consideration into the prospect, when so many parents seem to stumble blindly into it, simply because it seems like the next logical step.

Finally, I have no doubt that you'd be a fantastic mother! :-)

sarah said...

Well, thanks for all the comments so far. Each of them have resonated with me. Susan, what you said about God giving us love is so true. I have no doubt that he gives us the grace we need to be parents, and I know that, Mum, you taught me that as well. You are such a model of reliance on the Father.

Both you, Sonya, and you, Jayme, were right about social life, I guess that when all your friends are having babies, your social life changes regardless of whether you have one. I suppose in a way, you, Sonn, are keeping your social life going more than me, since I will not have a baby to use as an accessory! (What a shocking thing to say!) Will I end up childless and lonely? We shall

But surely having a child as an "accessory" is not a good reason to have kids. That seems so selfish, to have kids to improve your own life. But then again if you are doing it to bring joy to yourself and the world, is that a bad reason? You want the best for your child, not just for you. I think that most parents end up altruistic even if they
weren't to begin with.

What if one day I get unexpectedly pregnant? That would be a whole new ball game. I can't deny that if God wants me to have kids I will be a parent. And maybe I will change my mind, as you said Mum. Do you think it's true that hormones really do change your mind for you? Seriously? Is is scientific? Or do we just wear down in the face of societal norms?

I was saying to Sonya recently how great of a mum she's turned out to be, and I can say that when Jayme and Susan have babies I should like to congratulate them heartily. I have an inkling how much you both want to have kids. I am thrilled that you both have made your decision because you are exactly the people who should be having kids.

Kevin & Sonya said...

Hi Sare,
Your post has sparked a coversation for you hasnt it. The posts are very interesting. I hope it is not just hormones. I think it is wort of like if someone asks you, "how did you know you were ready/wanted to get married" -- you just were and you just did. Like marriage it is scarey - but equally fabulous and you late look back (at least for me) wondering how could I have lived without this person - life is so exciting with them here. Maybe you think of a babes as an "accessory" as someone thinks of marriage as a "ball and chain" - but those of us who are in them, find them rather wonderful. And at the same time they are not for everyone.