July 19, 2004


I was reading Michele Catalano's post on the Amy Richards business (see here and here), and was struck by the following:

When you become a mother, you give up your life whether you have one, three or five children at a time. Motherhood is a selfless thing. Your life belongs to your child. Or children.

To which I say: indeed.

While I suspect many people who do not have kids can intellectually understand Michele's statement, let me tell you: the reality that you are truly on call twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, and that you will be such for likely two-decades per child, is a profoundly life-changing fact. (It is why people who say things like "our pets are like our children" don't know what they are talking about). Indeed, as my Mother has pointed out: even once your kids move out on their own, your sense of responsibility does not evaporate. And how many us have had the gift of being able to call on our parents for help, advice or just emotional support, even well into our adulthood?

I love my three children very much, and they bring a joy to life that is difficult to describe (although Mark Hasty is correct--they can be annoying on a frequent basis as well...;). However, it is true that from the moment you bring that child home from the hospital that your life change and from that point onward you are needed. It doesn't matter if you are fast asleep at 2am and have an important day at work tomorrow or if you have the flu or if you just need to relax, they may need you (and in the truest sense of the word). They are helpless and do not understand the world. It is your job to teach and guide them. It is profond responsibility, and I have oft noted that you don't understand or appreciate what your own parents did for you until you have children of your own. Yes, you can intellectually comprehend it, but trust me, you don't understand until you have kids of your own. (And I don't say that to denigrate anyone without children--I just think it is a fact).

In short: the same way the gravity well of a star affects a solar system, so too do children shape the motion of your daily existence.

I remember a conservation I had back in graduate school almost eight years ago now. I was walking with two female colleagues, one of whom was pregnant, one who was not (and my wife was also pregnant at the time with our first child). We were, not surprisingly, chit-chatting about children when the non-pregnant one opined that having kids was a selfish and egotistical act, because what parents are trying to do is simply recreate themselves. I disagreed with that sentiment then, and I wholly disagree with it now. The selflessness that is required to be a parent far outweighs any desire by any parent to see that child follow in their footsteps. Further, I have seen how while it is true that you pass on a lot of yourself to your children (both good and bad), that you can no more train a child to be your clone that you can wish yourself onto the surface of the moon.

As such: I concur with Michele: parenthood is a selfless act, and motherhood especially so.

Update: This post has been included in today's Beltway Traffic Jam.

Posted by Steven Taylor at July 19, 2004 10:11 AM | TrackBack

Thanks for getting to the heart of the matter. Very well stated.

Posted by: michele at July 19, 2004 10:15 AM

There is sometimes a reaction that wells up in you when it is 3 a.m. and a child is sick and you've got a busy day ahead tomorrow that you think you *can't* rearrange: "Why can't you be sick when it's more convenient?"

And you stuff that reaction and work your way around the schedule, the meetings, etc. to take your child to the doctor or whatever is needed. It's what has to be done.

I think the Amy Richardses of the world apparently found a way around that.

Posted by: bryan at July 19, 2004 10:22 AM

Ha...I love it: "having kids was a selfish and egotistical act, because what parents are trying to do is simply recreate themselves."

I wonder if she ever got her dose of reality. (If not, she's way behind on her meds.)

Posted by: King of Fools at July 19, 2004 05:27 PM

Steven that is an excellent summary of parenthood and its responsabilities. Without trying to be patronising the gulf in understanding between those who have kids and those who do not is immense and I've found it almost impossible at times to convey the sentiments you mention here.

If your friend from grad school hasn't realised the foolishness of her remarks - not only is having kids the most selfless thing you can do, it's the most expensive, stressful and difficult one too. And I wouldn't trade it for all the world.

Posted by: Simon at July 20, 2004 04:55 AM

Forgive the long post, but when our first was born in 1979, a good friend gave us a hand-inked verse from Khalil Ghibran that I think sums up being a parent better than anything else I have ever read:

Your children are not your children
They are the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you,
Yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love,
but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You are the bows from which your children
As living arrows are sent forth

Therefore, life goes not backward
Nor tarries with yesterday.
The archer sees the mark
upon the path of the infinite,
And he bends you with his might
That his arrows might swiftly soar.

Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness:

For even as he loves the arrow that flies,
So he loves also the bow that is strong and secure...

My boys are grown now, but this is the first thing I put up each time we move. I have read it more times than I can count. I love it still.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 20, 2004 06:13 AM
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