I have kids. They are twins. They are boys. They are eighteen months old. Here they are.
It’s the most cliched statement in the world to say that having kids changes you. It’s a true statement. But it’s also an obnoxious statement. It’s often implied that when you change, you change for the better. Even as we contemplated starting a family, I bristled at the idea that having kids was going to change me. In my mind, there was nothing fucking wrong with me, and I was happy to stay the way I was, thankyouverymuch.
The hinted implication of this “change,” is that parenthood is an evolution in your personhood. For one, the center of the universe is knocked from “you” as the axis, to your kids. This sounds like a good thing, right? Like a virtuous, selfless act? Have you ever heard the criticism, especially of women, that NOT having kids is selfish?
Are you fucking kidding me? This idea baffled me before, and now that I’ve crossed over to parenthood, it still baffles me. It more than baffles me, it makes me ragey. I can’t wrap my head around the convention of exhausted, empty-eyed parents chastising childfree couples who are “missing out.” Really? Need validation of your choices much?
I’ve known a number of brilliant, thoughtful, wonderful people who’ve decided they aren’t going to have kids. Without question, they’d be great parents. It feels like the world needs more intelligent, thoughtful people to procreate. That’s the societal pressure. Convention. Clucking would-be grandmothers. Need moar babieeees!!!
I know the childfree don’t need to hear this from me, but holy shit, the decision to not have kids is TOTALLY LEGIT.
Because, newsflash, parenthood DOES change you. Or rather, it feels like the world changes around you. I would have pegged myself as a fairly empathetic person before having kids. Now I have babies, and I feel downright fragile. The world got sharper, meaner, and more ruthless.
Not long after the boys were born, I was waiting for coffee in a cafe. As I waited, I looked over the New York Times headlines from a stack of newspapers. With just a glance, I read a few sentences about an African nation in civil conflict. And in just the quickest, tiny moment, read about horrendous atrocities that people were inflicting on each another. I sucked in my breath and closed my eyes against it. But it was there. It existed in the world.
It was one of the first times, post kids, that I unexpectedly felt ripped apart by “the world.” I had read these headlines before. Before I had kids. Humans have always been barbaric. There has always been horrific things going on in the world.
But standing in a cafe, reading those few sentences in the New York Times, the first thing I thought about was my babies. I couldn’t retreat fast enough. I cursed the NYT for not having a graphic warning before I started reading. It haunted me for days.
I can’t. I can’t read any headlines like that anymore. I just can’t be engaged. Especially anything regarding children. I seize up and withdraw. My own babies’ faces flash before my eyes, and I feel more fragile than they are. I am a wispy thin bubble of glass. My babies are inside. The world rages outside.
There’s that joke, right? Think of the childrennn! Holy shit. I sort of get that now.
So parenthood has changed me. Is it a change for the better? The world hurts, hurts, hurts so much more now.
But the world has also gotten brighter. Would I have thought it was funny to see a baby poke a piece of french toast on his finger and point at me? Maybe not. When my own kid does it? HILARIOUS. Would I care so much if a kid learns to “pet the kitty nice”? When my own kid does it, I feel like I won the lottery.
I can’t say if becoming a parent has changed me for the better. Though I can say this: You will never hear me asking anyone if, or when, they plan on having kids. All the more so now. Have kids. Or not. Either choice is legitimate.