A recent column by Ana Veciana-Suarez piqued my interest as I was skimming the daily news. She drew from her experience to plug a book about the mythical joy of motherhood by Jessica Valenti, entitled Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness
At first I said to myself: “Hey that book sounds like the book I’m writing!” I even asked this same rhetorical question in my book proposal. Wanting a little more insight about Ms. Valenti and her book, I Googled her and found that she writes about feminism, sexuality and social justice. Founder of feministing.com, blogger since 2004, author of three other books, and regular contributor to the Nation.com. Her amazon author page states that she’s the “poster girl for third-wave feminism.”
Somehow I must have missed the memo that we’re deep into third-wave feminists who are fighting against the notion that for women to be relevant they must be mothers. I’d like to think I know a little about feminism. Living in Rochester – home to the champion of woman’s suffrage and equality Susan B. Anthony – you can’t go more than a week or two without hearing or seeing a reference to the advocate, (or the very cool purse collection by Abigail Riggs). Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique – required reading in my women’s studies class at RIT – enlightened me with her exploration of women seeking personal fulfillment outside of their traditional roles. Along the way, I’ve read essays and books by other women advocates. A standout to me is feminist critic of feminism Camille Paglia who marches to her own drum and bugle corps. What these women have done is pave the way for other women who today ask: Why have kids?
Why have kids?
It’s a good question that has nothing to do with whether you’re feminist, masculinist, or martian. If you’re reading this, I’m presuming that either 1) you have kids, or 2) you vaguely remember having kids or 3) you appreciate kids, but prefer dogs (or cats) instead. An anti-parenting book, according to Valenti’s video. There’s nothing perfect about parenting. Everyone has their own answer to the “why” question and the judgmental add-ons. Valenti wants us to feel uncomfortable after reading it. She’s more interested in raising the level of debate around issues of motherhood, feminism, shame, guilt, class, and race. She’s also emphatic that motherhood is not a job, but a relationship.
I can’t completely wrap my peri-menopausal brain around this idea because to me motherhood is a role, and within this role of “mom” there is work. Hard work. Motherhood is harder than giving a speech, or getting rejected by an editor. When you experience raising a child a relationship develops and deepens. You can’t just have a relationship with someone without working at it.
Asking the question – why have kids – is a conundrum we’ll never answer (that’s why they call these questions conundrums). I’m not a new mom, like Ms. Valenti (I am reading her book now.) I don’t have any scientific data to prove my point, nor do I offer up a deep-rooted analysis that our society has created a hostile environment in which women are made to feel inadequate for being unable to live up to an unrealistic image of the uber-mom. What I have is 10 years experience under the watchful eye of my curious child.
Motherhood is hard.
Happiness is hard. Work is hard. In fact, anything worth doing well is hard. There is joy in the doing and figuring out and in the mistakes you make. As a dear friend of mine told me more than once (because I’m a knucklehead): “Junk it! When you decide to give your time to something or someone, do it wholly. Don’t wish you were in some other place or doing another thing. Once there, give up, give in, give it all you’ve got. Get rid of your head trash and think of the time you spend with your child as a gift.
Motherhood, parenting, love, life, happiness, and exploring their resulting conundrums, are topics I write about regularly, and with self-imposed authority here on my Mommy Musings blog. Call me crazy, but I believe that motherhood and happiness can coexist peacefully. The joy of motherhood (and parenthood) is not myth; it’s real. It depends on how you look at it (and whether or not you’re PMS-ing).
As parents we’re on an epic journey of self-discovery when we allow ourselves to see the world through the eyes of our child. Deciding to have a child is a lot like starting a new project; you have to begin from a mindful posture, bring your sense of humor and with it an open mind.
There’s not a single enlightening moment in raising kids, but a series of discovery moments. How we react to these changes, situations, and other life-events shapes our kids. If you listen and watch, you just might learn something from your kids. My hope is that this blog (and eventually my book) will serve as gentle reminders that: Kids are good for you.