Here’s another thing that scares me about having babies: you never know what you’re going to get. I’m not necessarily talking about “will it be fussy?” versus “will it be content?” I’m talking about its personality. What if you and your kid just plain don’t get along?
I see you out there, rolling your eyes. Come on, you say. If you’re a decent, reasonably self-aware person, this shouldn’t be an issue. You will raise your kid to be intelligent and kind and loving, and to solve problems and take responsibility for themselves, and to remember to put on fresh underwear every morning and wear a coat when it’s chilly outside, and not to bite or kick anyone unless they really had it coming. You will love your kid and your kid will love you and everything will turn out fine. There will be hard and dark times, sure, but they will be balanced by the amazing heart-swelling times; those moments you look at your partner and say, wow, having children was such a fucking good idea and totally not a disaster in the least, let’s high-five on this.
Right? You folks out there who are parents already are nodding along to this, aren’t you? Well, I call shenanigans because I don’t trust you. It’s like you’re in a cult and you’re all simultaneously trying to hand me a cup of the Trust-us-it’s-worth-it-you-should-totally-have-kids-flavored Kool-aid. You’ve been brainwashed to say the exact same things. It’s hard to explain, It’s an amazing experience, He/She is just the best thing ever, You won’t understand until you have your own. WELL FINE THEN. Let me just test your theory by having OH SHIT TOO LATE NOW I’M ONE OF THEM ARRGHHHH!!!!
That was your plan all along, wasn’t it, you sneaky and malicious parents?
But seriously. I’m being serious, now. I put on my serious pants and everything: they have pleats and a button-fly. Taking the long view, what if you go ahead and have a baby and it turns out to be someone you wouldn’t even want to invite over for dinner if not for the bonds of family? Someone you may love but you don’t necessarily like? And then what if you have multiple children and you end up getting along with one more than the other(s)? How do you reconcile the guilt and weirdness?
I think about this a lot because of my in-laws’ relationship with the beau’s younger brother. Now, the beau and his brother were each raised by their parents to be kind, respectful, and responsible people. And indeed they are. Yet personality-wise, the two are complete polar opposites. His brother is difficult to get along with. The beau’s parents genuinely don’t understand their second son, and they don’t quite know what to do with or say to him. I see it on their faces and hear it in the long, awkward pauses at the family table when he’s is in attendance.
And I always think, wow. Wouldn’t it suck to pour all your knowledge, experience, and love into a child; to power through the teething, tantrums, midnight trips to the ER, and sleepless hours when they start going out late with friends; and that kid finally grows up into his or her own person and you can barely figure out how to even talk to this person? All that investment and so little return, if I want to sound like a heartless jerk about a love that’s supposed to transcend all.
I feel like the rising chorus of responses here would be, “Well, if you’re already thinking about it this hard, it couldn’t possibly happen to you.” And again, I call shenanigans. This is the same kind of hippy dippy faith-conjuring that once assured me that since I’m a decent person who values my actual marriage over chair covers and centerpieces, my wedding will just be full to the brim with magic. Well, it didn’t happen like that, okay? Life doesn’t always just work out all nifty-like, no matter how good and clever we are as people. Even the good and clever ones don’t automatically get handed children whose personalities gel with theirs.
I should really write my congresswoman a strongly-worded letter about that.
Part of why I’m so terrified to have a baby is because I’m keenly aware that a baby is also a person, a person who could grow up to disappoint you or break your heart — and vice versa. No matter how hard I try not to let it happen, I know I could end up passing on some of my bad behaviors or negative personality traits on for my kid to deal with.
Maybe that’s the scariest thought of all.
I have no idea why I’m taking this whole thing so seriously. Maybe it’s because we always hear about babies in the context of joy and blessings. Greeting cards depict angels blissfully sleeping in the curve of a crescent moon, storks delivering pink and blue bundles, teddy bears and lambs and tiny booties and all the other markers of innocence and wonder. There are no greeting cards for the inadequacy you feel when you encounter breastfeeding issues, for the confusion and shame you feel when you don’t immediately forge a bond, for the guilt you feel when you drop your baby off at daycare on the way to work, for the derision you sense from others when you quit your job to stay home with the baby, for the irrational anger that comes when you haven’t slept and baby hasn’t stopped screaming in three hours.
Because nobody would buy those cards, I guess.
Children aren’t easy. My lands, no. They’re not ornamental. They’re not accessories. They’re not miniature versions of you. You can’t send them back. You can’t possibly know what you’re in for until it quite literally comes out of you (and rather violently I might add). You’re signing a contract without knowing the terms of the agreement.
Yes. Yes, this is why I think the decision to have babies is, for me, infinitely harder than the decision to get married was. I mean, at least I got to take my partner out for a test drive before I initialed all the forms, amirite?
I made a choice to love the person I’m with. With a kid, there is no choice. You’re bound to each other in ways you can’t necessarily understand. And somehow, this feels a lot more volatile. More vulnerable. More raw.
Maybe that’s the genesis of why I’m putting on the brakes so hard. Maybe it’s why I’m so hesitant to take this leap of faith.
In the end, there’s really nothing I can do but cross my fingers and hope for the best. That’s all we can ever do, is our level best. As a parent I’ll make mistakes. My kid(s) will make mistakes. Hopefully we can all forgive each other and move on together.
And hopefully, in the end, we will manage to share more high-fives than disasters.
I don’t know. Does anyone even have any thoughts to spare about that ridiculous ream of thoughts I just spewed? Any actual card-carrying parents care to weigh in? Are there any other baby-reluctant people out there? And those of you who are currently gripped with babyfever, can you tell me how that even happened? Pharmaceuticals, perhaps?