This article is the third in a series of guest posts. I have invited a few select friends and family members to contribute to my blog. I have chosen them based on two things: 1) I personally go to them for help; and 2) I am fascinated by their unique parenting challenges, because I want to hear how they make “okayest” work for them.
Allow me to introduce you to one of my best friends, Sarah. We met at the small (and I mean small) school where Mr. Okayest and I also met. She knows all the nitty-gritty details about me and still loves me. Our lives have taken different paths: she went for a career, and I went for, um, a career, and then infertility, and then dog-walking, and then adoption, and then IVF, and then being a stay-at-home mom. Anyway, I am excited to hear from Sarah, my first non-mother guest writer on a blog about motherhood.
“You’ll change your mind,” is the response I inevitably receive when I tell someone that I am not planning to have children. Perhaps I will change my mind some day or perhaps a child will choose me. After all, unexpected pregnancies run in my family; that’s how I came into the world. I’m pretty sure I would be a good mother. I think that I have what it takes to nurture a child. But the honest truth is that I do not want to. Being a mother is not the path that will lead to fulfillment for me. I turn 35 this year and I finally feel like I know myself pretty well.
I do not begrudge any woman for choosing motherhood. I have known Mr. and Mrs. Okayest since I was 15. In fact, I have known them as long as they have known each other. Mrs. Okayest has always wanted children. It is a fundamental part of who she is and she is an amazing mother. I frequently feel immense disappointment when my friends become parents. I know that parenthood will likely consume them. They will become Mommy and Daddy and that will define them completely. But Mr. and Mrs. Okayest are the rare breed of parent who still maintain their pre-children individuality. I know this because in a recent photo of Mrs. Okayest, she is wearing knee-high converse just like she would have when we were teenagers (had knee-high chuck taylors been around then – we had to settle for the traditional high tops).
Some parents like to pretend that parenthood is transcendent and perfect, but Mrs. Okayest is completely candid about how challenging and at times soul-sucking it can be (you’ve been reading her blog, right?). On a recent trip to Virginia, I spent the day with her. Late in the afternoon after the three children were down for naps, we went out for an hour to have some “adult” time. When we returned to her house, Mrs. Okayest didn’t get out of the car immediately. “I don’t want to go back inside,” she said. I loved her immensely in that moment.
I’ve encountered a lot of annoying parents. In fact, Facebook is rife with them. They are the Stepford parents who seem to believe that their children crap rainbows and are the center of the universe. Mrs. and Mr. Okayest are nothing like this. They still prioritize each other over their children. They do not hover or fawn. They do not allow their children to run rampant. They do not brag about how much their kids like esoteric foods or are already fluent in French at 3 years old. Mrs. Okayest has never uttered to words “you wouldn’t understand, you aren’t a parent.” This phrase is up there with “you’ll change your mind” to someone who has made a conscious decision not to pursue parenthood.
If I were a parent, I would want to be like Mr. and Mrs. Okayest. But let me get back to why I do not want to be a parent.
Reason #1: I really like my life the way it is. I am unmarried and live alone with several cats. In popular culture, this is the trope for a sad pathetic unlovable woman and I am the first to make fun of myself for this. I joke that I’ll choke to death on a ravioli and my cats will eat me. But in reality, I’m perfectly happy with my life. I’m not sad or lonely. I have my friends and my family (and my cats). I have my career and my hobbies. I have a full life. I do not feel like there is something missing. There is no child-sized cavity that I crave to fill.
Reason #2: I’m a selfish introvert. I don’t even want another adult in my space, let alone a child who will destroy my things and torment my cats and be generally annoying. As an only child and an introvert, I need a lot of space. I mean A LOT. I joke that if I ever get married, my husband can live in the house next door. This goes back to the whole “knowing myself” thing. This need for space and alone time is an indelible part of my personality. It’s not going to change.
Reason #3: My career as a software engineer at a large tech company in Silicon Valley is highly demanding. It is also incredibly important to me. I do not believe that I could be a good mother and also adequately handle the demands of my job. Warning: I’m about to say some incredibly unpopular things about working mothers in the tech industry. Women are not super-frickin-human and, at least in tech, I don’t think we can “have it all”. I probably just had my feminist license revoked, but whatever. I do believe that woman are equal to men. I’ve spent my entire career in a male-dominated field trying to prove this.
I recently read Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In.” Many of the things she said about being a woman in tech really resonated with me. The part that didn’t resonate with me is her belief that you can be a good mother and have a high-powered career (she is COO of Facebook). I call BS. She posits that all you really need is to believe in yourself, be assertive in asking you employer for what you need as a parent, and have a partner who shares 50% of the parenting responsibilities. To her credit, she openly admits that she enjoys a lot of privileges that many working mothers do not, but still, I think that she is describing a unicorn. An unrealistic myth. In tech, as in many other professions, hours are unpredictable, expectations are high and the pressure is unrelenting. It is sadly a young single person’s game. I’m not saying it’s right. Perhaps there is room for change. But in our highly competitive global economy, these types of jobs are demanding out of necessity. Asserting that a woman (or a man) can be fully present as a parent and also meet the demands of this kind of job is setting unrealistic expectations. Marissa Meyer (CEO of Yahoo!) was reportedly checking her work email just hours after giving birth. I completely get it, but I’m not sure this mentality is compatible with being a good parent.
As for a 50/50 partnership… Again, in most cases, I just don’t see this being a reality. Fathers are more involved in child-rearing than ever before and this is awesome (Mr. Okayest is a prime example). But culturally, we’re just not there yet. I could espouse some more unpopular opinions on this topic, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll restrain myself.
Reason #4: My final reason for not wanting to be a parent is a very personal one and is difficult for me to talk about, but I want to be honest so here it goes. I have struggled with mental illness my entire life. In my late twenties, I was finally diagnosed as depressed and minorly bipolar (if I ever have a band, I’m totally calling it “minorly bipolar”). It is a physiological (and hereditary) chemical imbalance which I manage with a cocktail of mind-altering medications and bi-weekly therapy. If I were to get pregnant, I would have to stop taking my medication and I’m pretty sure that the combination of pregnancy hormones and no medication would be the end of me. Also, I would never want to expose a child to one of my depressive or manic episodes; I don’t think that a good mother should spend days in bed shutting out the world or indulging in self-destructive binges of bad behavior (I’ll leave that one to your imagination). Finally, I know that these illnesses are frequently passed on to the subsequent generation and I wouldn’t want anyone to struggle the way I have.
So this girl plans to stay child-free. My biological clock ain’t tickin’ and, to loosely quote a friend of mine, “this oven don’t bake no buns.” Maybe I’ll change my mind. But more likely, I won’t. For now, I’ll just enjoy my friends’ children and admire my friends for taking the plunge I choose not to take.
Note from Mrs. Okayest: Sarah also showed up in my post about How a Good Girl Accidentally Got a Tattoo and Shaved Her Head One Time.