Having a Family Is Not an Excuse for “No”
Photo by Lorna Tedder, copyrighted.
One of my colleagues, when she was 8 months pregnant, was asked with great disdain why she would consider having a child and didn’t she know that having a family life would hurt her career as a contract negotiator? I wanted to think we’d come a lot farther in women’s equality, especially since I’ve never in 20 years in this career field heard a colleague ask the same of a man. Here we are in 2009, not 1989.
I used to hear the same thing when I was first starting a family, not just with career but with anything and everything. It was as if, okay, you’re having a family and so your life is on hold for 18 years. In fact, the morning I found out I was pregnant with Shannon, I tamped down the morning sickness and headed to work, where I queasily boarded an elevator with an up-and-coming businessman. He noted I was driving a new convertible and then that I must not plan to have children. That was in 1989, and some of my favorite moments with the girls were top-down days with them in the backseat with hands in the air, pretending Mommy was driving a rollercoaster. Those are moments I’m glad I didn’t put on hold.
Before we started our family, my ex and I used to say that if we had kids, we couldn’t just take off and head to the mountains for the weekend or stay out dancing all night. We had other married friends who spent every weekend on a new adventure. They didn’t have kids either. But then, we never just took off for the mountains on the weekend and we never stayed out dancing all night. Babies weren’t stopping us—we were.
I’ve grown weary over the years of hearing what you can or can’t do because you have a family, particularly when it comes to fulfilling your own dreams, travel, and lifestyle. I love stories of couples who pack up their little kids and live in Peru for six months, then in Costa Rica for 3 months, and then in Thailand for two months as they travel the world in their mobile careers and give their kids a different kind of education that immerses them in other cultures (too bad WifeSwap’s infamous snob, Stephen Fowler, didn’t take such opportunities to learn compassion for others by learning how other people really live, both in and out of the U.S., but that’s another story). My point is, you choose your lifestyle and you can bring the kids along for the ride or you can decide that no, I can’t do anything adventurous because “I have kids.” My best Christmas ever was climbing Mayan pyramids with my daughters in Mexico.
Then there’s the other side of the coin. One of my colleagues used to tell me that she just knew I couldn’t wait for my girls to leave home because then I could finally do what I wanted to do—travel, write, take classes, whatever. What she didn’t seem to notice during that time was that I wrote millions of words (many of them published), finished my Master’s degree and several major certifications, and visited foreign countries 5 times. Okay, so I did have to forgo a trip to Israel because of the kids—I was 6 months pregnant with Aislinn and kept going to the emergency room in premature labor. Okay, so she had me there!
I talked at one point about having another child in my 40’s, and she overheard and balked. She lectured me on how I didn’t need any more children, on how my daughters were close to leaving home and I could finally do all these things I’d been wanting to do. Of course, these were all things that SHE had wanted to do—travel, write, take classes, have some adventures. She, at about a dozen years my senior, had long since pushed her kids out the door and now sees her grandchildren a couple of times a year. She and her husband are financially independent but she still works full-time. Yet, I realized today, that all these years she’s told me how my kids were stopping me from living a “full life” and having time to travel, learn, and experience new things, she’s been free of child-raising responsibilities and able to travel the world, able to quit her day job and take courses in new languages or types of art, and have the full life she’s lectured me about.
All these years of feeling trapped every time she opened her mouth to tell me how oppressive motherhood is, and only today did I realize that free from its “burden,” she’s not made any motion toward these things. She’s never practiced what she preached relentlessly.
The adventures I’ve had in my life have been mostly while I’ve had children at home, and it wasn’t the kids who stopped me from some of the adventures I had with my ex and with various friends. It was the people around me. When I found people who were willing to choose a different lifestyle and incorporate adventure rather than find excuses for not being able to do anything but sit at home with the kids and the TV, then I began to enjoy a lot more of my own dreams for adventure than I’d been giving myself credit for.