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Jessica Valenti’s ‘Why Have Kids?’


by Meg Keene, Editor-In-Chief

I know Jessica Valenti, one of our generation’s most prominent feminists, in an online sort of way. She read APW when she was planning her wedding, we chat on Twitter often, I read her books. So when she linked to her newest book Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness” target=”_blank”>Why Have Kids? a day after I announced my pregnancy, I asked for a review copy, stat. What follows are my thoughts after reading the book. It’s less a formal review, and more a personal essay (as I do) on a book I think you should go buy. What can I say? I had to stick this in before the end of Kids/No Kids week. It’s also possible that Jessica will show up in the comments, so keep an eye out. 

Jessica Valentis Why Have Kids? | A Practical Wedding

The moment I got pregnant, my personal life turned into a parade of cheer. And I don’t mean that in the most positive way. I was sick, and stressed, and freaked out, and suddenly every other question (often from total strangers) was, “Are you so excited?” “Are you the happiest you’ve ever been?” And I wasn’t, frankly. I was overwhelmed, and the constant messaging that if I wasn’t thrillingly happy, I was broken, was really only making the situation worse. (Side note: this does, actually, seem to improve. In my Very Pregnant third trimester state, people are simply very, very kind to me.)

I was discussing with a friend the pressure I feel, as a pregnant woman, to live in a state of constant bliss, and I was pointed towards the recent New York Times article “America the Anxious.” The piece is written by a Brit, and discusses the American obsession with the pursuit of happiness. Author Ruth Whippaman posits that this is a very American cultural trend, and for the British, “It’s not that we don’t want to be happy, it just seems somehow embarrassing to discuss it, and demeaning to chase it, like calling someone moments after a first date to ask them if they like you.” She comments on the difference between American and British Facebook postings: “Americans post links to inspirational stories, and parenting blogs packed with life lessons. (British parenting blogs tend to be packed with despair and feces.)” Right? So I wasn’t happy all the time. Fine. Normal, probably, given the strain of pregnancy. Excellent. I was going to stop being bullied into feeling happy when I wasn’t.

It’s this happiness expectation that is at the core of Jessica Valenti‘s new book Why Have Kids? The book is a well-researched and thoughtfully articulated feminist discussion of where, exactly, our expectations for parenting went off track. How our expectations of having kids become so exalted that real life could never fully live up?

I like a sharply written and argued book about parenting. I think the idea that we can only speak in whispered tones about how much we love every parenting choice is awful. I want as vigorous a debate around motherhood as I expect around any other major part of my life, and I don’t want that debate to be given the condescending label of “mommy wars.” This is a book that you may spend entire chapters disagreeing with—which I love. Why Have Kids? will join Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions as the parenting book I give to every new mother in my life.

What Valenti explores in these pages, is the crux of what we’ve been discussing all week. How do we separate the cultural fiction and the total hyperbole that has sprung up around our current cult of motherhood, from reality? If American parents are increasingly unhappy, as studies show, is it possible that we’ve simply set our expectations of childrearing to unrealistic levels?

Valenti says, “The problem isn’t our children themselves; it’s the expectation of perfection, or, at the very least, overwhelming happiness. The seductive lie that parenting will fulfill our lives blinds Americans to the reality of having kids.” As someone who spends much of her life online, Valenti perfectly describes the overly perfected parenting I so often read about on blogs: “The expectation of a certain kind of parenthood—one where we’re perfect mothers who have perfect partners, where our biggest worry is whether or not to use cloth diapers—makes the real thing much more difficult to bear.”

No kidding. I spent, I kid you not, at least a month in my early pregnancy worried that I didn’t care very much about cloth diapers. Not actually that we wouldn’t use them (jury is out on that), but that I didn’t care about them. I didn’t want to research them. I didn’t want to read about them. I was sticking to my life long ex-nanny policy that the less time you spent thinking about diapers, the better off you are. The fact that we’ve built a myth of motherhood where it is possible to feel guilty when you realize that you don’t care very much about what diaper you use, what stroller you have, or what your parenting philosophy is (mine: get the baby to stop crying when possible) points to something being out of whack. It points to the myth of motherhood obscuring the reality.

What Valenti talks about goes to the heart of the discussion we had yesterday. What do we expect from motherhood? What was historically required from motherhood? Are our expectations realistic? She points out, “Gone are the days of reproducing to have an extra pair of hands at the farm or family store. Parents expect their children to be their soul mates in the same way they expect of their spouse—they want children to make their lives and families complete. When these sweet little beings who are supposed to be the center of parents’ universe don’t manage to fulfill their lives completely, we come back to the most overwhelming sentiment of mothers across America: guilt.” As one of the wise mothers that I know recently advised me, start with a policy of refusing to feel guilty about anything, then proceed. And if I don’t expect my partner to live up the romantic comedy ideal of love (and I don’t), I need to dispense with the idea that the tiny being living inside me is my soul mate (which is a whole lot to require of a brand new person).

For me, the key part of the book is the feminist discussion of balancing motherhood with our lives. Valenti discusses the current pressures of Total Motherhood, and the way our cultural narrative, combined with a total lack of public policy promoting parental support, pushes mothers into a new and complete identity: All Consuming Motherhood. As she recently discussed in her excellent essay in The Nation, “I’m Not A Mother First,” Valenti says, “We also need a fundamental shift in the way we over-value mothering in women. Because if women continue to believe that the most important thing they can do is raise children—and that their children need to be the center of their universe—then the longer that American women will go unrecognized and undermined in public life, and the more frantic and perfectionist we’ll become in our private and parental lives.” More personal to me, the book revisits the idea that I touched on when I announced my pregnancy, “How insulting is it to suggest that the best thing women can do is raise other people to do incredible things? I’m betting some of those women would like to do great things of their own.”

*****

The first time I read the book, my nagging thought was that I wasn’t sure Valenti had answered the question “Why have kids?” But after yesterday’s comment discussion, I think not answering the question is the right answer. What we’re being sold in society is an idea that pregnancy and motherhood is an absolute. That it will make you happier than you’ve ever been. That it will be the hardest thing that you’ve ever done. That it will change the very essence of who you are, forever. And I’m just not sure that’s (always) true. I’m not sure it’s even a healthy expectation. Over the course of human history, motherhood was something that you did, largely because you didn’t have an option. Have unprotected sex from age eighteen on, and chances are reasonably good that you will end up with a kid, or two, or nine. (And if you didn’t end up with a kid, you often adopted the fifth, or eighth, or eleventh child from a relation’s family, a part of my personal family history.) Now that motherhood is a choice—one we debate heavily, and work to time impeccably, and often struggle with achieving—we want something more from it than just “life, but now with small people to love and care for.”

Why have kids? I’m not sure if there is a perfect answer for that question, one way or the other. And that, I think, is the point.

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. Her first book, A Practical Wedding: Creative Solutions for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration, was published in January 2012, and has been a top three bestseller on the wedding bookshelf ever since. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in Oakland, CA with her husband and son. For more than you ever wanted to know about Meg, you can visit MegKeene.com.

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  • http://greyandshiny.wordpress.com Nina

    Jessica – thank you for writing this book. I am reading it right now and it is such a breath of fresh air, I can’t even tell you.

    I have always been ambivalent about having kids and the closer I get to the age where I feel I have to make the decision, the more anxious I get about the cultural noise about motherhood. My friends’ statements about motherhood swing wildly from “oh my god worstththingeverdontdoit” to “my kids are so wonderful, when are you having one?” in the next breath. Statements like “it’s the hardest job in the world” and “it’s the most rewarding job in the world” don’t mean anything to me. I don’t know how to compare a kid to a job. I don’t want another job, I already have one.

    This book is exactly what I need right now. An honest look at what parenthood is and what it isn’t, without the hyperbole. Thank you.

    • meg

      Where did I read recently someone who said, “I’m pretty sure COAL MINING is the hardest job in the world.” And, word. I have a great-grandfather that was a coal miner, and a great-grandmother who raised six kids with no electricity supported by a husband who was a foreman in the coal mines. I’m pretty sure they’re jobs were harder, and I’m pretty ok with that. They did not want their descendants lives to be that kind of hard, that was the point.

      The current push to Do All The Things and make parenting harder than it is is strange. Guilt fueled, I think.

      • Kristen

        I think Tina Fey made the coal mining comment. :)

    • Lauren

      Valenti talks about this too–it’s not a job, it’s a relationship.

      http://www.babble.com/mom/work-family/motherhood-hardest-job-jessica-valenti/

      She is quickly becoming my motherhood hero–in the best way possible, not the damaging hero worship way. :)

    • Amy

      Parenting reminds me a lot of my experience of pregnancy, in that I was so.damn.relieved when another woman would acknowledge that pregnancy was difficult and kind of sucky at times even though she wanted to be pregnant and have a child. I wanted a kid, but that doesn’t mean rainbows and sunshine shoot out of his bottom or that it doesn’t suck that he doesn’t sleep. Its hard, especially in the first year and I felt like a total outcast for discussing it.
      Oh god – and the worst is the ‘it goes by so fast, just enjoy it!’ comments. Raising kids can be really hard, and silencing any voice of dissent (or reality) in favor of the rosy all the time view doesn’t help.

      • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

        “Cherish every moment!” Every time an kindly older person says that to me, I have to control my face so my eyes don’t roll right out of my face. I mean, I get what they are trying to say, but there is no fucking way I cherished the nights when she would wake up screaming every 2-3 hours, or the diapers, or the endless boogers, or any of the other baby things which are kind of gross and tedious.

      • KC

        I found the Carpe Diem post on Momastery very reassuring.

        Snippet from that post:
        —–
        I think parenting young children (and old ones, I’ve heard) is a little like climbing Mount Everest. Brave, adventurous souls try it because they’ve heard there’s magic in the climb. They try because they believe that finishing, or even attempting the climb are impressive accomplishments. They try because during the climb, if they allow themselves to pause and lift their eyes and minds from the pain and drudgery, the views are breathtaking. They try because even though it hurts and it’s hard, there are moments that make it worth the hard. These moments are so intense and unique that many people who reach the top start planning, almost immediately, to climb again. Even though any climber will tell you that most of the climb is treacherous, exhausting, killer. That they literally cried most of the way up.

        And so I think that if there were people stationed, say, every thirty feet along Mount Everest yelling to the climbers – “ARE YOU ENJOYING YOURSELF!? IF NOT, YOU SHOULD BE! ONE DAY YOU’LL BE SORRY YOU DIDN’T!” TRUST US!! IT’LL BE OVER TOO SOON! CARPE DIEM!” – those well-meaning, nostalgic cheerleaders might be physically thrown from the mountain.
        —–

        • meg

          Oh yeah, this is a great article, it’s been going around various publications. Someone sent it to me on book tour, when everyone was yelling “ARE YOU ENJOYING THIS THE MOST” and I really knew I should be, but I also was exhausted, and needed to shower, and hadn’t seen my husband in weeks. Still, looking back, what an amazing thing, so glad I did it.

          This bit nails it, for anything both hard and worth it, “There are two different types of time. Chronos time is what we live in. It’s regular time, it’s one minute at a time, it’s staring down the clock till bedtime time, it’s ten excruciating minutes in the Target line time, it’s four screaming minutes in time out time, it’s two hours till daddy gets home time. Chronos is the hard, slow passing time we parents often live in. Then there’s Kairos time. Kairos is God’s time. It’s time outside of time. It’s metaphysical time. Kairos is those magical moments in which time stands still. I have a few of those moments each day, and I cherish them.”

          • KC

            Yeah, I thought about not posting it for the “it’s everywhere!” reason, but then realized that if someone hadn’t seen it, then it might be useful to them and hence decided to be potentially uncool/repetitive.

            I also really like the kinds-of-time distinction that you quoted, although it usually works out a bit messier than that for me (overarching joy and gritting-teeth frustration often co-existing, and I don’t even have kids…).

      • http://theroadto92912.blogspot.com Molly

        It’s not dissimilar to an engagement. People kept telling me to enjoy my engagement because it goes by so quickly. I mean, yes, I did cherish the afterglow of the proposal and a lot of the planning because it was fun, but I would’ve happily skipped some of the fights and unnecessary stress of it all.

      • KB

        Definitely to the rainbows and sunshine comment. I think it’s great that there are people who are enthusiastic out there and desperately wanting to do a good job when it comes to parenting, and I don’t want the pendulum to swing the other way to where people are terrified to have children because of the narrative “It totally sucks and your life as you know it will end, so don’t do it or else you’ll regret it.” But I think we can all take it down an effing notch or two with the uber expectations and recognize that just because someone’s having a bad day or acknowledging that their kid has some major similarities to Damien in The Omen when they haven’t napped, that doesn’t make them a bad parent – and it doesn’t mean that having kids is the worst decision ever. It means it’s difficult and, hopefully, that you’ll reap some satisfying rewards from that hard work – and be awake to enjoy them.

  • Anon for this

    I’m so glad we’re having all these discussions about choosing/not choosing to have kids/not have kids this week.

    I’m not sure what I want to say directly relates to this post enough but I want to say it anyway. I’m very excited to read Valenti’s book, and I’m so glad it’s been mentioned because I hadn’t heard of it yet (I am familiar with, and LOVE, Lamott’s book).

    I’ve had almost the opposite experience, in that when I tell people I am pregnant the overwhelming response has been things like, “OMG, are you so nervous? Are you terrified? Your life is going to change so much! Whoa, this is so weird, I can’t even get my head around it! You must be so scared!” When in fact, this is something I wanted very badly, and something that has come after a lot of personal loss, including miscarriage. Maybe I should be more scared of parenthood, but right now I’m so wrapped up in being so grateful that I’m pregnant again and that I get to experience this that it’s hard to start worrying about what will happen when the baby finally comes.

    I’m in academia in the north east, and none of my friends have children yet, so I think that’s part of why I’ve gotten the responses I’ve gotten. I feel like in the mini-culture I live in WANTING children is seen as kind of… gauche, or somehow an indication of a lesser intelligence. It’s ok to get pregnant accidentally, or to have a kid very late in life after one’s career is well established, but choosing to have a kid before one’s career is rock solid, when one is still under the age of 39 – as I am doing – seems to make people immediately assume that I am not that serious about my work. And that has been really hurtful. Because I am just as serious about my work as I was last year, or the year before — I just *also* want to have a baby.

    I realize this is very much NOT the dominant cultural message or the dominant response, and I think nuanced dialog about motherhood is so important, ESPECIALLY the non-blissful parts of motherhod, because that is the conversation that is, for the most part, getting drowned out. I just wanted to add my experience because I have felt so lonely and so judged so far in my pregnancy, which I think must be how a lot of women feel when they get the “OMG you must be sooo happpeeeee!” responses, or the responses that imply their lives will be complete now.

    There’s so much about feminist issues, like marriage and motherhood, that still leave women open to so much judgment and isolation…. So thank you APW for making space for a more nuanced conversation, and for making suggestions about resources like books that might help stem the feelings of loneliness somewhat!

    • meg

      Yes. This is why I think “How are you feeling?” is really the ONLY question that should be asked of pregnant women.

      I’m also in a world where we’re the first to have kids, though luckily that seems to have manifested mostly in people being excited to have someone to make baby things for, and possibly looking at us as a test case: how IS it going to go for them? (We’ll see!)

      But it’s all isolating. Since we are among the first in our close friend group, I put effort into trying to meet other pregnant women, and that was often an epic disaster. The level of judgement was staggering. Sometimes it felt like they were in a club that I didn’t even know the password too. I didn’t know we were supposed to talk in terms of sacrifice and guilt! I couldn’t ‘just call my friends to get their hand-me-downs’! I didn’t know the rules, and the women on women judgement was TOUGH.

      • Amy

        I thank god for the new moms group my pediatrician offered. Led by a certified lactation consultant (awesome) it was a whole group of shell-shocked first time momma just trying to figure out how to shower and get through the day with their kiddos. Seriously seriously sanity saving to have a weekly meeting to hear about what other people were going through and that I wasn’t the only one having a particular issue. It was also especially nice since not a single one of my girlfriends has a kid yet. Moral support is great and all, but sometimes you need advice/commiseration from someone who’s been there.

      • Marcela

        I still feel judged by mothers (and my kids are four) and like I’m by accident in some secret, exclusive club. Hence, I avoid them (no mommy forums for me, thankyouverymuch)

        • http://safarimama.blog.com Manya

          Me too, Marcela.

          I have a friend with a small child who pinned me down, while I was on the exercise bike, and asked over and over if I was sure that the preschool I had chosen was THE BEST one in town (she was getting ready to sign her son up). I kept repeating that I liked it, and that it was the best for us, looking at it holistically. Finally, I said: “Friend? What do you mean by BEST? Most Expensive? Longest Waiting List? Cutest Playground? Nicest Teachers? Is it a proven fast track to Harvard? Do they study for the LSATs? She was 2 for f*ck’s sake!” Believe it or not, my friend was miffed!

          Fast forward 3 months later, and the same friend is asking me if I ever feel like I’m not doing the best thing for my children by working–If I ever felt like I was denying them the supreme importance of my presence. First I was polite, then as she pushed, I lost it: “Um… How nice for you, friend, that you have the luxury of feeling this conflicted. Me? Not working isn’t even on the table. I was a single mom for years. My girls are my sole financial responsibility, and I embrace that. I don’t think about guilt, I think about reality. I also happen to love my work, and somehow have managed to pull it all off and raise two awesome human beings. I’m sorry that you feel conflicted about your impossibly luxurious options, but don’t push your bullshit onto me! Make your choice and own it!”

          Jeesh…! Needless to say, I do not enjoy the playgroups. I enjoy my adults-only “Sundowner club,” and doing crafts and cooking cake pops with my girls on the weekend, and romantic dates with my husband. Play groups?! NO WAY!

      • http://woodentable.blogspot.com Lindsay

        Keep trying, especially after baby. That’s when the support can help so much. In the 9 months since my daughter was born, I’ve met my share of new moms who I would never, ever be friends with — and meeting them was so unfulfilling and icky — but I’ve also met a handful of wonderful women who I now count as friends. It was worth the pain to find a few women to relate to during this life-changing transition (at least for me it was life changing, although I realize it’s not the same experience for all women).

        As for the judgment, I just don’t get it. I feel I have become a lot less judgmental about people than I was before I got pregnant. Like, I finally got it. I got that everyone does things their own way, and no one else has any right to judge another person’s choices. (This realization truly hit when we were coming up with names, and I agonized over what other people would think.)

  • Jessie

    Dear Meg and APW –

    I wanted to let you know that I LOVE your content this week. These conversations are why I continue to read APW long after my wedding. My husband and I are still working through the future kids thing; we’re not ready yet or sure if we want them at all, but we’re exploring the idea. On Monday, I sent him the link to the post and told him he had to read it and all the comments asap so we could talk about it. On Tuesday, I did the same thing. Today, I just did it again! I’m so glad there are people talking about this in a realistic, non-insane way. It makes our own conversations easier and gives us a much more down-to-earth starting point to discuss these issues. Thank you!

  • Amanda L.

    Another great post. As my husband and I are actively trying to conceive, I feel like I need to go get this book STAT. I grew up with guilt (hello Catholicism) and while my mother is an amazing woman, I do not want to make some of the same mistakes she did. I appreciate her self-sacrifice, but I also mourn for the things she could have accomplished if she had put herself first.

    My husband and I get annoyed quickly by those who say ‘get your travelling done now before you have kids’ or ‘you won’t be doing any more races once you have kids.’ We are both very set on living our lives and showing our (as yet unconceived) child/ren what we’re all about by DOING things, not showing them past pictures of us. We’ll travel with them, take them to triathlons and marathons, introduce them to our favorite authors, and sing at the top of our lungs to Barry Manilow (ok, that last one might just be me). In short, we’ll live our lives, and be happy to include the little one/s in it!

    • http://jessicavalenti.com Jessica

      YES to all of this. It’s amazing the expectation that our individual needs and desires should just go out the window once we have children – they can come along for the ride!

      • Amy

        That is what *used* to hold me back from the idea of having children (truth be told, I used to believe marriage did that as well, HA!), but now I realize that kids aren’t (and shouldn’t) mean your life is over, it just means that there is now a new person to share it with.

    • One More Sara

      There is a family in my partner’s (very small) hometown who are seriously athletic. Pretty sure the mom was an Olympic marathon runner. Now? That family goes on family bike rides for hours on weekends and compete in 5ks and 10ks together. Just a couple weeks ago their 10 year old came in 2nd overall in the town-10k, and then went and played soccer that same afternoon. Just because that family had kids didn’t stop them from doing the things they love!

    • http://www.3upadventures.com Beth

      The Why to Have Kids kindle version is on special for $1.99 right now….

      • Amanda L.

        I bought it as soon as I submitted my earlier comment… I know what I’ll be reading this weekend!

    • Laura

      YES TO THIS. My mother is absolutely convinced that all travel (especially international travel) must grind to a halt after having children, and she makes me feel like I’m selfish somehow for not being willing to give that up. Give that up? More like giving my kids an awesome gift as far as I’m concerned. I have worked among multiple families travelling with kids, even raising kids abroad, so I know that although it does require keen organization it can be done.

      But the whole argument seems so self-defeating. If I sacrifice one of my favourite parts of myself just because apparently this is how life with kids is “supposed” to be, it’s the kids who are going to end up with one cranky, resentful mamma.

  • http://jessicavalenti.com Jessica

    Meg, thank you so much for the thoughtful review! (And for all of your great content this week.) I’m thrilled that you liked the book. Writing it was cathartic, actually – I had so much guilt around parenting that being able to write about it was super helpful. It’s also so interesting to read people’s stories like those on the thread because we all experience this in different ways, obviously, but the anxiety still seems to be there for everyone!

  • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

    I got really in to cloth diapers, of all things. While pregnant, I had no desire to research strollers or decorate the nursery or figure out day care or buy baby clothes or clean the house or any of the more common nesting symptoms.

    But diapers? Cute cloth diapers? I devoted all my nesting instinct towards them. Which baffled my husband, because, dude, they’re DIAPERS. I guess, as much as anything, it gave me something manageably large to focus my attention on, to distract me from some of the bigger issues.

    • meg

      Great. If we do them, I’ll email you for all the information and not research a thing. But we may do a compostable service, which is apparently just as green and WAY LAZIER. Achem.

      All my energy went to nesting. But man is that nursery cute and well organized. Just having a nursery feels so absurdly luxurious to me (how is this baby not in a closet again?) But I’ll take comfort where it comes.

      • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

        I’m happy to send it to you, if you want. I wrote up all my feelings in an email for one of David’s cousins, and it’s wordy (a non-surprise).

        I have to say, it’s surprisingly little work. We had to use disposables for a week due to a yeast infection, and I think it’s almost easier to use cloth. I mean, we both hate taking out the garbage. Doing a load of laundry every three days actually felt easier than dealing with stinky disposables. Yes, I would say the difference between cloth and disposables is that small. But I’m cheap, so cloth it is. $1000 up front for fancy diapers, spread over 3 years and 2 (probable) kids? Huge cost savings. Done!

        That said, I couldn’t care less what anyone else does. I like them for us.

        • http://ladybrettashley.wordpress.com lady brett

          or, as we have renamed our garbage: Mount Shitdiaper.

  • http://whitehindu.blogspot.com Carolyn

    I have a friend whose family moved to America from England when she was a child. She told me a few years ago that when she asked her mother,”Do you love me or daddy more?” her mother’s answer was, “I love your father more.”

    I loved that. It wasn’t that she was saying she didn’t love her children (or being entirely serious in the first place), but she had a balance that I think is really admirable. Her husband and her relationship with him was the priority.

    Eventually the children move out and have lives of their own and I think it’s great that this mother stayed focused on her own life instead of trying to micromanage and live through the lives of her daughters.

    • http://theroadto92912.blogspot.com Molly

      I had the privilege of seeing Lou Holtz speak a couple of years ago, and one thing he said that stuck with me was, “The most important thing I ever did for my kids was showing them how much I love their mother.”

    • Mel

      I completely agree. The family as a unit should come first. What is best for the family? A strong united foundation, the parents, working together, for the best of the family. And the kids see that, a loving relationship , a team, that they can look up to and strive for when they have their own family / relationship.
      My mother, though I love her, sacrificed everything for us, which we are grateful for of course, but at the same time, she was so unhappy, and these days that we are grown, she mentions sometimes offhand about how she wishes she had gotten an education, or a better job, and spent a bit more time on herself. My parents never got along (now divorced), and never spent quality time together. No date nights, never making themselves a priority. The example may be oversimplified, as I’m sure there were other reasons, but none the less.
      So what is more important? A child who gets their every whim and oportunity met but has unhappy parents and a disfunctional family life? Or a child that maybe doesn’t get to do 5 activities a week (skating, swimming, piano, guitar, karate etc.etc.) and maybe doesn’t get an iPAD, and maybe is left at home with a babysitter or off to grandma’s once a week, but has two parents who are together and in love and happy because they make time for themselves.

  • http://www.sarahhoppes.com SarahHoppes

    Thanks for the thoughtful, non-judgey content this week, and every week! We are less than a month out from our wedding, and probably 4 years out from serious pregnancy/adoption plans, but it’s so nice to hear bullshit free talk on all sides. It’s content (and community discussion!) like this that will keep me an avid reader well after my own wedding planning is over. Keep up the amazing work!

  • http://weskislow.com Meghan

    Ahhhhh, I just finished it last night and I was juuuust saying this morning to a pregnant colleague that it, Operating Instructions and Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child were my top picks for books one must read as a parent or prospective parent.

    • meg

      Addition as suggested to me by Morgan: Love Works Like This.

      It’s not super uplifting exactly, but it’s GREAT. Hence, it’s not going in my ‘gift’ pile, but it’s going in my ‘suggested reads’ pile.

      • Jessica

        I love all the book suggestions that appear in the comments! It would be amazing to have an APW book index someday so I don’t have to scroll back through all the comments to find books.

        • Katharine

          Another book I have found immensely relieving during pregnancy is Waiting for Birdy. It often made me laugh aloud and was refreshingly honest in a Lammott-ish way. Now that I have a 2 day old (eek!) I think I will be re-reading it to be reassured that I am not the only one who feels “x” way about this strange and exciting journey.

          • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

            Congratulations!

  • Sara

    [ She points out, “Gone are the days of reproducing to have an extra pair of hands at the farm or family store. Parents expect their children to be their soul mates in the same way they expect of their spouse—they want children to make their lives and families complete. When these sweet little beings who are supposed to be the center of parents’ universe don’t manage to fulfill their lives completely, we come back to the most overwhelming sentiment of mothers across America: guilt.” ]

    I think this is an important thought, and honestly one of the biggest points of contention between me and my mother growing up (we’re better now). I’m her only daughter, and she had an overwhelming desire for us to be the best of friends, sharing clothes and secrets, going to things and places together. She actually asked me once why we couldn’t be like Lorelai and Rory from the Gilmore Girls. And while I love her dearly, we’re just not the same person (and frankly not the same size as she’s like six inches taller than me) and can’t have a relationship like that. Once I became old enough to voice my frustrations with this – believe me, teenage years were fun – our roles changed and we relate better as mother and daughter. As my brothers grew up, she got out of the house more and joined neighborhood clubs, got a job and is frankly an easier person to deal with once she found outside venues. She’s still got strong opinions about how I’m not fully living my life, but we can have discussions without me feeling guilty for disappointing her.

    That’s not to say I’m miserable or didn’t enjoy some of the one-on-one shopping trips, or that our family isn’t close. Its just that once we all found our ways outside of the family, we seemed to enjoy our family vacations or dinners more.

    • meg

      My parents used to say, “If you want to be friends with your kids as adults, don’t try to be friends with them as kids. You’re not their friend, you’re their parent.” Wise words.

      One of my favorite moms just had a (hilarious) conversation with her seven year old (who I adore).

      Mom: You can’t treat me like that.
      7 year old: I treat everyone like that!
      M: Then we have a problem. Also, I’m not your friend, and you don’t get to treat me like you treat your friends. I am your mother.

      Seven year old was confused by this at first. But then sorted out. Boundaries, FTW!

      • Anon for This

        Your parents had some serious wisdom there. One of the serious pitfalls in my relationship with my mother is that when I was a teenager she tried so hard to be my friend that it read to me as if she’d completely checked out of actually parenting and now a decade later she’s decided that her role in our relationship is as my mother (which is great) but that I feel like she approaches it as if she’s mothering a 12 year old (which feels not so great).

        • Elle

          I had the exact same experience with my mother! It’s crazy to hear that I’m not alone!

      • KB

        This totally reminds me of when I was like 18 and my mom called me “Baby” as a term of endearment and I replied something along the lines of, “I’m not a baby, MOTHER, I’m a woman now, I can vote, etc.” and she said, “Yeah, well, you may be a woman, but you are also my baby, as in my child – so go get me some coffee, woman-child.”

    • Mandy

      It’s just so much PRESSURE. Even when you really like your parents, and I do, it’s hard – impossible, maybe? – to be their entire world. But of course lots of people feel that way about their kids – I mean, if you have dedicated literally decades of your life entirely to this person and nothing else, you’d hope to get a lifelong pal out of it. Less obsessive parenting means you’ve probably developed yourself and your other relationships a little more thoroughly, so maybe you won’t be so reliant on that kid when they grow up.

      • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

        I used to date a guy whose mother had made her kids her entire existence. It was terrible to watch. Her kids pulled away from her, she’d cling tighter and they’d pull away more. She once called up sobbing because, after seeing us 7 times in 9 days, we went a week without going over to her house for dinner and she felt utterly abandoned.

        I never want to be so enmeshed in my kid’s life that I feel like she did.

        Okay, fine, at 7 months old and on mat leave, by necessity I’m pretty enmeshed. But you know what I mean. Unhealthily enmeshed as the kid grows up.

        • meg

          Oh. Yes. We must have dated the same person. TERRIFYING YOU GUYS.

      • AReaderWhoDoesn’tWantToEmbarassHerLovedOnesByNamingNames

        I feel like both my mom and my partner’s mom did this a bit, and now are really struggling. For my mom, while she worked while I was REALLY young and when I was a teeanger, and has something of a life outside, she put so much into being a mom, and since my parents were separated, although they shared custody, she did WAY more than half the parenting. In many ways, it feels like it was just the three of us (my mom, myself and my sister) for years and years (almost a decade), even though we lived part of that time half at my dad’s. She is really struggling now, because although she has something of a social life, (not a huge one, but definitely more than my dad did), she remarried, retired, and had us both leave the next in 3 years. It’s definitely left her drifting and struggling, because she’s trying to figure out who she is now that she isn’t quite as much of a handson mom, but she doesn’t have a career to throw herself into instead.

        My MIL also, and perhaps more so, had an identity very much defined around mom. She still has kids at home, but still hasn’t totally accepted that my partner won’t be moving back to her home state, that we’ve built a life here, much less that he won’t be moving back into the family home. (He’s 25). She’s never worked, is strongly agrophobic, and besides deteriorating relationships with her siblings, has nothing outside the house and her immediate family: no hobbies, no friends, no social life, no community, no volunteering, no work. Mothering has been one of her ONLY identities for a very long time, and it seems to me, it has made her very unhappy, to not have that outside life besides being a mom. (Or at least, now that she isn’t needed as a hands on mom as much, with one child flown the nest halfway across the country, and one a teeanger, and one a mentally disabled adult. It seems incredibly difficult for her to let go, even a little, of my partner.

    • Hlockhart

      My mother is my friend, but she’s also my mother. It’s a different relationship, and that’s not a problem–it’s a privilege. It’s not that you can only have one mother, but you can have a lot more friends than mothers.

      • meg

        I think the issue is more age. As we become adults, we’re privileged if we can be friends with our mothers. If our mothers are our friends when we’re seven, it’s confusing as hell. They’re supposed to be watching us, guiding us, setting boundaries. Or when we’re 14. But that’s a whole other ball of wax. Such are the teenage years.

    • Mel

      I feel like we are twins! Let’s just say the “Gilmore Girls” made my teenage years worse! haha My mom was also constantly refering to that show and how we should be more like that, and how I should hug her more, and we should be like best friends. I would always respond that she was my mother, not my best friend, and I never understood why she would expect that. Putting this type of pressure on a child is not fair to that child. Guilting a child for not being your best friend is not fair.

      Having a child so that they can live up to the role of best friend, and life completer is not realistic, and kind of selfish.

  • CC

    Thank you for this post and for guiding me to this book! My husband and I have been married for only a few months and we really want kids, in fact, we’ve just started to try to conceive. I don’t have a rock solid career, we live in a much beloved but SMALL coach house in an area we absolutely love, and we may not be able to buy a house for… well, years. But we know we want a baby, now. Cue judgment, ‘knowing’ looks, and warnings about how hard it is, not to mention all the conflicting messages about all the things you MUST HAVE AND DO.

    I am really thankful for the opportunity to hear from so many smart women on APW who can discuss motherhood absent all the cultural bull. It gives me the confidence to stand firm on the things I believe, like kids don’t NEED that much stuff, and that sticking a crib in our spare room/office and not decorating for a baby is perfectly fine for an infant, and that yes, we have a small space, but we have endless places to go and things to see around us, and that no, we don’t believe our lives will end when/if we bring home a wee person. Change? Sure. End? No.

    And I am going to stop feeling like less of an intelligent, educated, strong feminist because I want a baby before I have a rock solid career path.

    • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

      The number of THINGS you need is surprisingly small. The number of things which are worth having is a little bigger but really not that huge. Jess, for example, adored her swing for months and it calmed her down when she had a freak out and it would make her nap and I loved it, for example. Not a need but a great thing for us. But we could totally have done without it, had we not had the space or cash. And we have space for a nursery, and she still slept in a bassinet in our bedroom until she was 7 months old. Babies are very resilient, if you let them become that way. (Why, less, I made sure she learned how to nap anywhere, because I refuse to let my life revolve around nap time…)

    • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

      Also! I think there is something to be said for having a kid before the rock solid career. I mean, we all expect to basically work for 40 years, right? At least? You have lots of time to build a career! The babies window is much smaller than the kick-ass at work window.

      • CC

        Thank you, Morgan! And YES, your comment about working for 40 more years (at least). This is my feeling exactly. I have big plans to pursue a graduate degree and change career paths in the next 5 to 10 years. I am fairly young (27) and I feel like I have so much time ahead of me to find work I am truly passionate about. It’s sometimes a life long journey. So for me, bringing a kid or two (or three) along for the ride just makes it more fun (and yes, maybe a little more complicated, but I am good at figuring out complicated).

    • Magda

      First, I totally agree that having kids doesn’t have to mean splurging on a fancy nursery or expensive clothes (or owning a house!), and that life doesn’t have to be perfect before having kids. Second, I totally feel you on the issue of being made to feel less of a good feminist because of the decision to have kids. This is something I struggle with a lot! I’m on the path to a career in massage therapy, and honestly part of the reason I’m headed this way is because it is a career that will allow me time to be a mother when the time comes (I’m looking at a five year time frame at the moment, being 24 and hoping to have a child before 30).

      Hearing women (including my mother) talk about how important it is to put your own career first and to build a strong, independent identity as a career woman, etc. has at times made me feel like a bad feminist for wanting to build a career that has space in it for motherhood, and for being okay with being partly financially dependent on my soon-to-be husband (though I’ll make decent money doing massage therapy). Of course I have loads of respect for women who prioritize their careers, but I have to keep reminding myself that being a feminist does not preclude being a stay-at-home mother or prioritizing parenthood.

      I agree with Morgan, too, that there will be many years of my life left beyond the time I spend with a baby, and there will be plenty of “me-time” left in my life to pursue all my various interests. There is no reason I have to do all the “important” things in life before having kids, and for me, having kids while it’s still easiest to do so is a very important thing to me, so why not allow that to be something I do sooner rather than later? In the end, I feel like the important thing is that none of us, as feminists, try to shame each other about decisions we make about careers or parenting, because we all come from different places and have different reasons for wanting what we want out of life.

  • http://akc09.livejournal.com Annie in LA

    Omg I think I need this book.

    I was having the same worries about “not caring enough” just like, yesterday! At a bit over 5 months along, I’ve looked at a total of maybe 4 or 5 webpages on diapering and sleeping options (“So wait. What IS a modern bassinet exactly, anyway? Also, mini-cribs are a thing?”). That’s it. We don’t really have the space in our apartment for a separate nursery room, I’m certainly not learning how to knit any tiny hats, and our philosophy so far has been “Ehh, we’ll have the basics ready to go, and then see what else he really needs/wants once he’s here.”

    And so my brain sends the worry-parade around in circles thinking that maybe I’m not, I dunno, taking this seriously enough? But you guys are so right, the standards for being a Good Parent ™ are a little… intense at times, it seems.

    • KC

      I’m wondering if some of the Good Parent guilt might also be compounded out of the fact that we see Person A knitting and Person B decorating the nursery and Person C reading baby books and Person D scrapbooking and Person E researching diapers… and have the same sort of filter as the Wedding Filter, where we take the selection of images as Everyone is doing All of these things and if we don’t do each and every one of the things that everyone else finds meaningful, then we are failing.

      Whereas, as demonstrated in this comment thread, someone did the diaper research – but not so much on the other things. Someone loves the interior decorating – but not the other things. If none of the “details” really make you sing, then don’t worry about it (with weddings, the point is that you get a marriage on the other side; with babies, you get a baby. You don’t have to enjoy thinking about chair covers or diapering options to fully value the marriage/baby).

      It’s good for people to put their extra energy into the things that matter to them, and be just fine leaving the rest of it alone. :-)

      Now if only the general culture would permit that without “What? But you can’t not do [the thing they or their aunt found meaningful]!”, that would be great…

  • Jan

    I can’t tell you how much I love this week’s topic. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU.

    The majority of my friends have been getting pulled into the whole “I have to have a baby because that’s the next step” thing and it’s really been getting me down because it seems as though they think there is no other source of “ultimate” happiness than to have children. While there is no doubt that children bring happiness to peoples’ lives, I struggle seeing my own friends take the leap and then realize that having children, is, in fact, not the only way to be happy.

    Sigh.

    Please continue with these very real, very important topics of discussion. I am so grateful to be a part of this community of smart, educated and open-minded people who CARE. Thanks!!

  • Rasheeda

    I haven’t read the book but I think I need to from the reviews and the comments. But can we just talk about the guilt/shaming thing for a second? If there was anything at all, that would keep me from being a parent, it would be this. The way women treat each other, other mothers, for doing the best they can with what they have (spouse/no spouse, finances in order/not in order, vaginal/c section, etc) is appalling. It literally will make you want to take your ball and go home. But then you are alone. Which sucks more than being shamed sometimes. Catch 22 really. Does the book explain the viciousness? If you birth/raise a child, don’t we all get the same badge, Motherhood. Is that the reason, that people need to feel there are distinctions in their motherhood badge? And doesn’t that just boil right down to self esteem on some basic level. And wouldn’t your self esteem be better if you figured out a way to honor your being first (seeing as how you were here first, before the kiddo, and you are the leader-or should be). I have no answers, just more questions. I’m not sure how I feel about joining a group with such high levels of self-torture for lofty promises of “the best thing you’ve ever done”, “a love like no other”, “giving my life purpose”, . I think this may be one of a salespersons greatest errors, over promising and under delivering. So how do we change the conversation? Without bring ostracized.

    • meg

      Yes to this. Best advice I’ve gotten: find your team. A small good team (even one of parents stretched around the globe, as part of my team is), is better than a big mean team throwing balls at you.

  • Marisa-Andrea

    ” ‘”We also need a fundamental shift in the way we over-value mothering in women. Because if women continue to believe that the most important thing they can do is raise children—and that their children need to be the center of their universe—then the longer that American women will go unrecognized and undermined in public life, and the more frantic and perfectionist we’ll become in our private and parental lives.”

    Hallelujah. I think I heard angels singing in the background. Seriously. This right here is HARD. This right here is EVERYWHERE. I do not have a single female friend who is a mother who does not believe that the most important thing she is doing is raising her children. This jumps out at me because I literally each time I think about something I want to desperately want to do and the time and energy it requires, am nagged by the ever persistent narrative telling me, but no really, nothing is as important as that. There has to be a balance here. Yes, raising children is big and an important task, but if raising our children isn’t the most important thing, then what does that mean? Does it mean we love our children less? Does it mean we will not give our children what they need? Does it mean we are horrible and awful people? What awful thing will happen if we do not personally believe this?

    • Rasheeda

      Yes!! This is what I’m talking about. It’s like you birthed a child and buried yourself all at the same time. To which I say BULLSHIT. There’s just got to be another way. Another less damaging (to parents, and if we are honest here, to kids to because happy parents typically raise happy kids) approach to parenthood.

  • Marisa-Andrea

    Other thoughts I have in no particular order of importance:
    I second the philosophy that parenting is not a job, but a relationship? I don’t call any other relationship in my life a job (marriage, parents, siblings, friends), so why would I call the relationship I have with my baby a job? Yes, with a baby there are numerous tasks involved etc because she’s well, seven months, and can’t feed herself or change her diaper or put herself to sleep. But to me, these are tasks that are just a part of life like doing the dishes, vacuuming, doing the laundry, making my husband dinner, etc. Sometimes I am tired and don’t particularly feel like doing them, other times I don’t mind and there are some tasks I really enjoy. In fact, when I adopted this approach, it freed me in tremendous ways.

    I wasn’t terribly interested in a lot of things baby-wise and after months of being frustrated with myself because I wasn’t, just accepted it and moved on. I simultaneously realized that these things did not matter to me and it was FINE. It did not mean ANYTHING other than I simply did not care (e.g., it did not mean that I wasn’t loving my baby). I’m STILL not interested in a lot of things. I research the stuff I care about and keep it moving.

    I’m not perfect, I will make mistakes and more than likely, my daughter will be just fine.

    • Em

      I wonder if the “parenting as job” trope comes out of a lot of the second wave effort to have parenting recognized as a valuable contribution to society. It seems to have gotten out of hand and backfired in some ways, but we also still have a long way to go where all contributions to the family (money or time) are seen as equal and important. I can’t wait until both parenting and making money are seen valid options for men and women and individual families can find balance based on their own circumstances, not weird expectations.

      • Laura

        This. It’s just too bad that anything has to be seen as a job (ie. something you earn money for) to be validated!

  • http://www.karinajean.com kari

    This parenting/mothering discussion is so engaging to me – I’ve got stepsons, and will not have any biokids of my own. partly because I just can’t handle the potential GUILT. partly because I don’t seem to have any ticking biological time bomb to reproduce. and partly because the whole conversation surrounding American Motherhood so enrages me — even though I’m married to a feminist! who is an amazing father to his existing sons! — that I don’t know I’d be able to do it gracefully.

    I can tell from comments my family give me about what a selfless and caring stepmom I am (I think selfless because I love these kids so much, not because I’m giving up myself for them – it’s outside of the expected cultural norm for a stepmother to love her kids. UGH.) that they all think I’d be a brilliant biomom. but for me, it’s enough to be a brilliant and caring stepmom as best as I can. every kid needs all the love they can get, right? and maybe I’m chickening out of the cultural fight, but making the decision to not have biokids and to focus on my sweet stepboys is a relief. and believe it or not, I still have lots of guilt about how I’m parenting these stepkids, and some even about the decision to not carry biokids. Societal expectations just won’t leave me alone.

    • Laura

      You might like Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Committed” where she talks about how much she loves being a stepmom.

      • http://www.karinajean.com kari

        thanks! I am library queuing it right now.

    • Rebecca

      I love having a stepmom. My mom and my dad co-parented after they got divorced, so she wasn’t filling any holes, but she’s a really great addition to my life. Because she has a different life experience/ background, I was exposed to a whole lot more life options than I would have been with just my parents (my parents are both midwesterners who did very little traveling and almost no international travel until I was a teenager, my stepmom lived in Taiwan for 5 years and speaks fluent Mandarin).

      Also, because our emotional ties to one another were just, well, different, I could talk to her about things that would have freaked my parents out (Me: I’m thinking about studying abroad in India. Her: Awesome!). Extra parents are great!

  • Liz

    LOVE this week’s theme and this article in particular. These topics are so, so important. But I do have a slightly different take on the whole “motherhood as the most important job in the world” topic. For me, that seemed a way to point out how important motherhood is, and I think that’s great in a culture that is forever bashing the choices moms make. Literally the hardest/most important job in the world? Maybe not, but the sentiment acknowledges that it’s tough and underappreciated, I think.

    On the other hand, I agree with those saying motherhood is a relationship, not a job. So…as always, it’s a nuanced thing, I guess.

  • Jessica

    I have to suggest that everyone read “Bringing up Bebe” by Pamela Druckerman. She is an American woman raising kids in France and she has really interesting observations on cultural norms in both countries.

  • http://makingsofanurse.com Kristine

    I recently remarked to a newly pregnant friend that I was nervous to take the plunge myself because I didn’t want being a mother to become the *only* thing that defined me. The idea that “having a baby changes everything” made me a little twitchy because why is it that motherhood becomes that single-defining moment for women, as opposed to our accomplishments or our friendships/marriages/other important relationships? I believe that if Steve and I do decide to have babies (and these days we’re leaning toward “Yes” but not doing anything more than leaning), it will be an incredible relationship that will bring a unique mix of joy and frustration and laughter and sadness, just as every relationship does. But should we not have kids after all, I don’t want to sit around thinking that my life was missing something irreplaceable because I didn’t get to (or choose to) experience motherhood. I choose to believe that my life will be full either way.

    My friend looked at me strangely and said “But it DOES change everything” and we finished our meal in somewhat awkward silence. It’s so hard to talk about this with all of those cultural myths hanging out there, creating idealized visions of pregnancy and motherhood that don’t leave space for real conversation.

    I’m so glad there’s space here.

    • KC

      I wish we had more tools to talk about this stuff. Yikes, that sounds unpleasant.

      Having a baby may change everything, in the way we use “everything” to refer to “most aspects of life”, in the same way that moving to a different country changes everything, or getting cancer changes everything, or becoming famous changes everything, etc. – it feels like everything sometimes, and it does affect *a lot* of aspects of life and perspective, but it doesn’t actually change *everything*. (I personally have a Tolerated Degree of Change, which feels like Everything, after which I want to hide in a closet for a while to regain equilibrium. I am not sure what would happen if we moved to a country with no closets.)

      I bet if you asked your friend “Does having a baby alter which brand of toothpaste you prefer?”, “Does having a baby change which mystery author is your favorite one?” and similar questions, she might start to grasp what you’re talking about. Having a baby can change perspectives on many things, as you now have some priorities relating to a tiny person swirling around in addition to whatever you had before, but even with people who are going “but the baby’s needs are the most important and trump everything else!”, the baby is just plain not going to be relevant in some cases.

      (based on some friends’ experiences, if she’s pregnant, she may be going “and I can’t have alcohol or unpasteurized cheeses and I have to scope out bathrooms everywhere I go and I’m too tired to stay out late right now and I’m hormonal and there will be even more changes when there’s actually a baby here and we have to keep things out of its reach and carry a diaper bag everywhere…”, so it might feel like everything is changing. But it isn’t. Not *everything* everything.)

      • meg

        Oooo! This is smart:

        “Having a baby may change everything, in the way we use “everything” to refer to “most aspects of life”, in the same way that moving to a different country changes everything, or getting cancer changes everything, or becoming famous changes everything, etc. – it feels like everything sometimes, and it does affect *a lot* of aspects of life and perspective, but it doesn’t actually change *everything*.”

        Though interestingly, say, moving from CA to NYC at 18 changed way more for me than getting pregnant did, for sure. Who knows with having a kid, but the older I get, the more stable I feel with *self.* Not that you don’t keep changing and growing, but like you’ve sort of ironed out the fundamentals of who you are, so the big things don’t CHANGE WHO YOU ARE in the same way. They may change the day to day of your life, but the self bit is pretty set (in the always fluid kind of way). Same with this crazy year I’ve had of going on a book tour and being on NPR a lot, and whatever. Had this happened at 22, it would have really changed me. At 32, I just feel like my regular self, doing things that feel less regular. Yes, of course, it changes things, but not the big things like who you are.

        Ramble :)

        • KC

          Thanks! (and I find your rambles extremely interesting!)

          Looking at change-y stuff in my life, I can sort of categorize it into four lumps:
          1. external stuff causing change (moving and grief can be on the “abrupt and dramatic” side as would, I suspect, a baby; the conforming effects of friendship groups and work and cultural stuff can be more on the “gradual change over years” side)
          2. not-deliberate but growing-up-ish change
          3. deliberate change (“Hm. I don’t like that I procrastinate; what can I do about that?”)
          4. things that aren’t actually change exactly, but that are more learning about how I tick (recognizing large-scale patterns, figuring out life balance things and noticing when they get off-track, etc.)

          It does seem like I’m less susceptible to the first kind of change with the increase of time (or maybe it’s stability?); most things throw me less, in a lot of ways, except when hormones/neurochemicals are involved, at least.

          This is selfish, but I’m honestly kind of glad that you did your book tour/NPR/etc. now rather than then. I really like the you that you are! :-) Yes, you’re famous/successful/etc., but you’re defined as *you* more than you’re defined as *famous*, which I think makes you more awesome and which I think is harder to keep in perspective when younger or when it’s sudden?

          • meg

            Liz Gilbert (who is, you know ACTUALLY famous) has this great line about how she’s so glad she found serious success in her 40s, that it would have really fucked her up in her 20s. That by 40, she knew that she was neither as wonderful as her biggest fans thought, or as terrible as her biggest detractors believed. And it’s true. For me, by 32, say what you will, I’m pretty aware I’m just me, and what my strengths and weaknesses are. I have a good differentiation between private self and public self, and private self is pretty much exactly the same. (Though, man, I’m so glad Lena Dunham is getting to share her talent with the world at 26. I less worry about her talent, I mean SHE CAN WRITE SO HARD, and I love it so much… and more worried about how the world is particularly interested in ripping her apart, as a very young, very successful woman, and what that can do to a person. That shit his HARD.)

            But. Back to babies. They are somewhere between an external change (your day to day changes) and a very internal one (literally, the baby is internal to me right now). It’s an interesting mix. And obviously it changes you. But the mom’s I adore the most are the ones who become MORE of themselves.

            Rebecca Wolf, of Girls Gone Child (who is possibly more awesome even in real life than she is in print), who is my age with four kids, has this BRILLANT line that we should all tattoo on our arms. She says, “People talk about loosing yourself in motherhood, but I found motherhood was an amazing place to find myself.”

  • Michelle

    This: “How insulting is it to suggest that the best thing women can do is raise other people to do incredible things? I’m betting some of those women would like to do great things of their own.”

  • http://www.laughterinthelou.com Emma

    This is a tangent, but something you said reminded me. One thing I have been learning about recently (through laughter yoga) is how vastly different/better it can be to go through life learning to cultivate joy, rather than seeking happiness.

    I think even though kids aren’t a material good, we can often lump them into the “just get this and I’ll be happy” or “I need this to be happy” and I think learning to cultivate joy within yourself is a very separate thing indeed (with or without little humans involved).

  • brendalynn

    This! Thishisthis! I’ve been starting to read up on pregnancy and babies, and looking for a blog or two that I could jive with. Something like APW but, you know, babies. Just this weekend I was complaining to the hubs that for some reason all of the pregnancy/birth stories I could find on blogs were blessed-out, joy-filled accounts. And well, that’s great, but starts to strain my incredulity. I even found someone who mentioned obliquely that while there were terrible things that happened, she felt it was really important not to share them so as not to unnecessarily stress out moms-to-be. Ugh! Seriously seeking some APW-style honesty and reflection re: baby-having and rearing. So thankful for this week’s theme. Might anyone have other thoughtful baby/mommy/family blogs that they could recommend for us faithful APWers to add to our reading list?

    • Anu

      My favorite “mummy blog” is http://bluemilk.wordpress.com/ — I love the way she presents issues related to motherhood. Incidentally she featured Valenti’s book recently as well.

    • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

      Amalah.com is pretty great. She also does an advice column at alphamom.com.

    • meg

      Peonies and Polaroids. Girls Gone Child. Lovely Morning. Happy Sighs. (all not totally about motherhood).

      That said, you REALLY do have to steer away from bad birth stories when you’re about to give birth. You need to be educated (birth class for me), but you have to go into it in a good headspace. In fact, they seem to think that the #1 predictor of a good birth experience (meaning, you come out of it feeling like it was a good experience, not that it was a certain way), seems to be knowing someone with a good birth story who was supporting you going into the birth. I’m lucky, I have a passle of those girlfriends. And when a horror story starts, at this point, I walk out of the room. I’m not going there. No panic.

      So in that way, I think weddings and births may be slightly different? I don’t know. I suspect there is a more nuanced answer. I’ll report back later :)

      • meg

        Thinking more about this. Part of the reason for the difference is level of control. Sure, with both weddings and birth you probably should A) prepare as best you can, and B) let go of the idea that you have perfect control. But in weddings there is a lot you can do that directly effects the outcome: a good timeline will do wonders, for example.

        With birth, you get the cards you’re dealt. Reading more about every possible thing that can go wrong isn’t going to help you avoid those things if they are coming at you. It’s just going to make you tense. And as a physical exertion, going into it not tense and in a good headspace helps you roll with whatever nature gives you. Know your options, and then let the fuck go and try to imagine that it can be good. So it’s different like that.

        • brendalynn

          Thanks for the blog recommendations, ladies! And for the further thought on the topic, Meg. I clearly have some reading to catch up on!

          I was thinking that there may be some functional, meaningful, worthwhile reasons for the differences, but I hadn’t heard about the potential serious impact of positive head space for birth. Because I’m not pregnant yet, the info I’m interested I hearing about is very much different than what I imagine I’ll want to read as a pregnant woman or as a mother, etc. And yes, it also makes sense that there’s not much market for a blog that just keeps talking to women who are considering pregnancy (probably a pretty transient group). OK, off to catch up on my APW reading and these new-to-me blogs too. Thanks!

  • Jaime

    The one-upmanship and maternal guilt women are subjected to always strikes me as being an extent of a culture in which there is a constant push towards being “useful” in some way or the constant strive to be the best. Motherhood just feels like another competition women are subjected to in order to prove their usefulness to society.

  • EC

    Why isn’t this one in “Reclaiming Wife”?! I amost missed it!

  • http://cubicalmouse.blogspot.com Stephanie

    I for one do not understand the whole, “I don’t know if I want kids, because then I might feel guilt, and I don’t want to lose myself!” For heaven’s sake, just do what YOU want to do, and who cares who gets miffed?

    For example, I want 8 children. Yes, 8. Maybe 9. I want 4-5 naturally (TTC the first one now), and the rest adopted as the older ones leave home. Why? Because I want to. And I plan to work until I’m 60, so daycare it is! I was homeschooled, my husband went to private Christian school, but we will do public school, which will not harm them. I don’t plan on paying for their entire college education – we will probably pay for two years community college – and I don’t feel a shred of guilt about that. We may be able to contribute some money to their wedding, but maybe we won’t, and I don’t feel guilty about that either. They won’t have their own rooms, expensive toys, or designer clothes, and even though I may buy one or two Kate Spade handbags each year (from the outlets), I don’t feel guilty about that!

    Let the fear of guilt roll away, and don’t look back. Kids are pretty resiliant, cloth diapers or plastic, $150 stroller or $800 stroller, Target clothes or Burberry clothes. :)

  • http://www.thelovelysisters.com LovelyOlivia

    Just my two cents:

    I feel like this all depends on the community of women around you, as well. I’m a teacher, and in my teaching community, everyone shares their honest, dirty, horrible, wonderful, and heartbreaking parenting issues. (I’m not a parent, I just listen!)…everyone is VERY honest with each other…there’s no sugar coating anything, and everyone has such different experiences and stories. So, in my community, I’d feel comfortable saying pretty much anything about parenting, or pregnancy, and I’m lucky in that way. Not all communities of women are like that.

  • http://www.empapers.com Eleanor

    Thanks for this. This book has been on my ‘to read list’ the minute I heard about it.

    Reading these posts over the last couple of days has also reminded me of the GREAT passage in Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Committed’ where she writes about her total lack of desire to have kids and the wildly varying responses she got from her friends when she asked them about there decision to have children. I found it comforting that she found that there was no clear pattern in the responses she got, which confirms to me that there is no RIGHT ANSWER.

    Also: Just throwing this out there, I recently read ‘The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women” by french Feminist Elisabeth Badinter. It’s pretty hardcore, but really it’s an analysis (and attack) on the cult of perfect motherhood and she really goes for the ‘natural parenting’ movement. At first I thought: ‘Jesus, is she going to attack Santy Claus next?’ but by the end I was impressed by how she expanded my thinking and challenged default notions I had about motherhood/parenting/etc.

    She has something like 3 or 4 kids herself, and the book is not an anti-child, anti-kid-having book at all. Rather she’s addressing many of the things discussed here (expectations, beatifying mothers, woman as separate from mother, etc.)

    What I really loved is that the book is very political. She breaks down the different family policies of Germany, Sweden, France, Italy and to some extent Japan, as well as the correlations between birth rates and policies.

    Basically the family leave policies are formed by the pre-existing attitudes in each country about motherhood and have an impact on not only birth rates but women staying in the work force or not. The upshot (to me) was that the French and Swedish (of course!) policies were far superior, but it really shined a light on just how utterly shitty the U.S. is at any kind of family policy. The family leave act is nothing compared to the family support people get in the rest of the industrialized nations. As my fellow expat American friend said after having a baby here in Germany and returning from a trip to NYC, “I don’t know how anyone has a baby in America!”

    The book ‘Perfect Madness : Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety’ by Judith Warner does this from an American perspective, I think.

    Ok, that’s it for today, I’ll stop now.

  • http://ellenmcsweeney.wordpress.com Ellen

    You know, it’s really interesting because losing my mom six months ago (and surviving, barely, the loss) has convinced me that I could, actually, become a parent. Losing my mom DID change who I am forever. And I’m, somehow, fine. I’m crushed and sad and changed but I’m okay. So now my husband and I look at each other and realize that we WILL be changed forever by parenthood, and we’ll also still be ourselves. And fine.

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  • Daisy

    I just found this book for $2.00 Kindle Purchase Price! I can’t wait to start reading it. I fluctuate everyday on whether I want kids or not. My husband wants them and it is something we talked about before we got married so we will have them one day. Although I think I do want them independently of his wants and my promise to him, sometimes I wonder abou the sacrifices that are made and whether they are worth it. Is that a horribly selffish thing to say?