Friday, April 20, 2012

Bucket lists and family life: not mutually exclusive

Today's blog is about a belief that I often hear repeated in US culture, a belief that was recently re-affirmed by Honda CR-V commercials like this one.

The premise is this: Once you get married or have a baby, that's it. Your bucket list is basically dead. So make sure to pack it all in before you take the plunge. Also, buy a CR-V to help accomplish it all.

A fabulous high school friend who is a mom of two pointed out the absurdity of these commercials on Facebook and it really struck me. Nothing against the CR-V, but what a terrible message, that marriage or parenthood changes your life so much that you no longer get to do the things you dreamed of beforehand!

Add to this the recent viral video parody, "We're Not Young", which mourns the loss of the younger, vibrant days when we had goals and enthusiasm for life.

This makes me sad because I believe that marriage, or even having kids, is no death sentence for adventure or accomplishing your dreams. Of course there are many things that are easier when you're still single, and quite a few that become pretty challenging with young people in the picture. But in general, if you're passionate about certain pursuits, then hopefully you are marrying someone who shares those values, because if they do, then you'll actually be gaining a partner in accomplishing those goals. Even if they aren't 100% on board with everything, they can still support you in your desire to accomplish them. That's what marriage is, right?

And parenthood? Another awesome friend, this one from my early childhood, posted on Facebook a fascinating book review on French author Elisabeth Badinter's The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women. I haven't read the book, but the premise is apparently that in modern culture, "L'enfant Roi" has taken over, King Child. That parents are so obsessed with the well-being of their children, they sacrifice their own happiness and desires, their relationships, careers, and ambitions.  (By the way, I dislike when people comment on books they haven't read, and here I am doing this very thing, but it just happens to fit in with this post that has been sitting in my draft box for months and I'd be saying these things anyway...) I agree with a few of these allegations -- living in another country has really emphasized how aggressive typical American parents are in protecting their kids from everything and providing absolutely everything they could need or even want. But on so many other counts, I disagree with Badinter's claims.

Parenthood has not stifled my ambition; if anything it has spurred me to become more of the person I want to be, to teach my son that we have to work hard to accomplish our goals. It hasn't watered down my passions; now more than ever, it's essential for me to define my beliefs and values and live them out because all of this is on display for my son and I am leaving a legacy for him. Parenthood has helped me become more of a complete person, rather than putting the single, childless "me" on a leash. There are so many things I was before becoming a mom, so many layers that built my identity: violinist, soccer enthusiast, language-learner, teacher, traveler, then wife. Those didn't go away when I became a mom, I just got a new, very important layer. Although my biggest priority is now raising a healthy, happy, polite, inquisitive, well-adjusted little boy who loves God, this doesn't mean that I've had to put all my other interests on the back burner. Some things seem less important now (it turns out that knowing the entire current FIFA ranking is not so fulfilling anymore). So in a way, motherhood did change that, but I think it just highlighted the things that are important to me in the long term, and helped me focus my energies there.

So how have my interests flourished as a wife and mom? While a newlywed, I learned some Catalan and Italian together with Carlos, as we were both enthusiastic about these languages and the cities where they were spoken. Later, I learned French (verified by test scores!) in 6 months, when Lucas was 2 years old. Eventually he was repeating after Rosetta Stone right alongside me. My husband's soccer leagues have opened up a fascinating world of people from many different countries, Lucas loves coming to games and getting free food from other team supporters, and as a bonus, it gets us traveling all over Seoul. The violin is currently on the back burner only because I wasn't able to cram it in with all the luggage during our move to Korea. Obviously travel hasn't suffered - I traveled more once I had a husband to share the adventure with me, and Lucas had stamps in his passport from three different countries before his third birthday. Being a wife and mom has given me a built-in team to enjoy my pursuits with, or support to explore those that only interest me.

Badinter apparently feels that many increasingly common aspects of parenting, such as breastfeeding, natural birth, etc. are pressuring moms into duties that make them miserable and hinder their lives. I'll be honest: nursing an infant was not enjoyable for me and it was absolutely not compatible with teaching, especially substitute teaching, but that didn't stop me from pushing through it. Somewhere in there it became less of a duty, and more of a privilege. We ended up keeping at it until Lucas lost interest around 27 months. As much as I initially dreaded it, it was so much more convenient for a mom and baby traveling internationally, it made nights much more bearable, and around the time I finally got to stop pumping at work, it became a chance to connect and snuggle at home with my otherwise-busy toddler. Looking back, I feel like those early months of motherhood were easier to survive because of it. Yes, parenthood does involve sacrifice. But so does anything worth having. You sacrifice a lot of your prospective future salary when you take out a student loan to get through school. You sacrifice a lot of freedom and a huge chunk of the aforementioned salary when you buy a home or even a car. But all of these things make your life more meaningful. In comparison, the investments of nursing and giving birth without medication, for those who choose them, are very temporary sacrifices with lifelong memories and equally important benefits. Note: I also want to take a second to recognize that not all moms have the privilege or ability to do these things, and this in no way impacts their awesomeness as a mom!

There are some public people who are showing the world that parenting and passion for other pursuits are not mutually exclusive. Being an active mom and a politician is a very public part of Licia Ronzelli's career in the European Parliament, as evidenced by this photo and another famous one in which she wears her newborn in a sling while participating in a parliament session.

Actress Mayim Bialik of TV's Blossom (back in the day) and Big Bang Theory (now) had a baby and a child at home while obtaining her PhD in neuroscience, and recently authored a book on "Attached Parenting"  alongside her work on the show.

And there are everyday people all around us who pursue all kinds of challenging things with little ones alongside: they go back to school and finish degrees, they become lawyers and doctors, they train for 5Ks or even marathons, they start businesses. Parenthood often makes us more efficient. For those of us who spend our days working both outside the home and inside of it, we often find ourselves getting tasks done faster at outside-work, making prime use of our time there, so we can hurry back to our blessings and (often more rewarding) tasks at home.

Most of us begin our adult years with a long list of dreams and goals. This doesn't mean that to be satisfied adults, we have to cram in all those experiences before embarking on the serious business of starting a family. I argue that the freedom and adventure my family is experiencing together now, in our young and semi-sprightly years, is worth even more than an investment in a home or car.

So no thanks, Honda. I'm not buying into the idea that I missed out on so many dreams when I got married or had Lucas. My bucket list keeps getting accomplished and still growing, even without the CR-V!



One of my favorite posts. I agree there are tons of things you can't do as easily with kids but after kids it's a whole new adventure. I'm holding off on kids for the obvious immigration issues, but after kids we'll keep fishing, camping, hiking, and doing all the stuff we love with a kid in tow and the cute baby gear to go with it.

I love reading the fire parenthood has lit/relit/lit even higher because of the inspiration of leaving it as a legacy to Lucas. I can't wait for that!

TheCrunchyGemini said...

(Hey this is Tasksgirl)

Wow so much to say where do I begin!!!

Omg I had noo idea we had this much more in common! I didn't know you were an extended breastfeeder or a Mayim Bialik fan! I've had her book in my Amazon shopping cart for a while now and can't wait to read it. We should chat more because I feel very alone in my parenting style sometimes. Do you consider yourself "crunchy" or "AP" at all?

Both of those commercials have also made me feel a little bit bad when they come on TV. But thank you for reminding me of the things I had said all along!

You literally pulled the words from my mind.. Before I had Mia and knew I was ready to TTC I knew that having kids would not stop me from pursuing my passions/dreams (for me it's wanting to have my own business.. it keeps changing from professional organizer to mommy blogger to green living consultant and I'm not sure how it will pan out - maybe all 3 will happen - but I *KNOW* it will happen somehow) I've always been SUPER ambitious and each year has held some sort of project for me. I got very close to starting my organizing business while I was TTC but when I got pregnant it got put on hold. I have always said that starting my family wouldn't stop me - it may delay me a bit but it will help me focus more on what I truly want - as you said. I am very lucky right now to have a flexible career that lets me work from home 3x a week and a SUPER understanding boss who is always a new mommy - but my goal and dream has always been to stay at home - possibly homeschool or unschool at least for a few years - and work out of the house for myself at the same time.

I've found myself becoming very AP and I think it is actually easier. It's true that you focus more on the child but because we don't have a schedule and because we co-sleep it makes it easier to go out and do things. Other families put their kids to bed at 6pm and try to force them to STTN but instead we are hanging out as a family, going out for ice cream or to get groceries in the evening and she's generally very happy to go wherever we go. Most nights though she dozes off nursing while we sit on the couch and watch TV as a family. It's much less stressful than preparing for a bedtime battle every single night. I think it makes it alot easier on our family emotionally also because our days are pretty laid back and there's not alot of stress about schedules. She has her fussy days but usually will play well by herself next to me on the bed or couch while I work.

I really love being a mom and I knew ever since I was 17 that it's what I really wanted. I never cared about going out and drinking or partying. I have always wanted - and still want - a big family - at LEAST 3 kids but honestly I want like 6 or 7 ;) spread out though!! I love celebrating every little Holiday, making Easter egg baskets and egg hunts, and Valentines Day cards and going on little outings to the zoo and the park and the beach. I love it! When I moved in with Luis and his family his siblings were 7 and 11 and I have made them a Christmas stocking every year since then. I would go to the 7 year olds parent-teacher nights when his mom was busy. I made them Easter egg hunts and took them on family outings. I would volunteer to take them back-to-school shopping. They were basically my "practice kids" haha It's funny that I was doing all that at 18 instead of partying. I guess I just always knew where my priorities were!

Ok I'm done writing a novel now ;)

Jessica said...

Somehow a click from my blog came in from your blog, so I clicked over here and I am so glad I did. I have spent all morning reading through your sad but inspiring story. I especially love what you have said here-parenting definitely doesn't mean you have to give up on your dreams. You said it so well! I am off to read some more.

Laura said...

Great post Amy! I couldn't agree more.I love the "Child King" concept - I was first exposed to this concept in Mexico by my daughter's pediatrician, that a couple should *not* put their child first all the time. How can parents show their children what a loving and healthy relationship between a man and a woman is if they are focused on the children the majority of the time? And it's not about neglecting your children by any means, but rather not making the world revolve around them...personally I think that is a very healthy thing.

Amy G said...

Jaqui, I love thinking about you with kids! You’ll be awesome parents!

Tasksgirl, I’m pretty crunchy actually, and I keep getting more so as time goes by. I’m not sure I fit the whole AP philosophy, but I’m pretty close to it. Most of the stuff I’ve done/am doing with Lucas could qualify as AP but I just call it “doing what feels natural to us”. And I’m glad you guys have settled into parenting so nicely!

Jessica, thanks for visiting and sending along those encouraging words!

And Laura, I really agree. I think it’s important for kids to grow up in a healthy environment where everyone’s needs are being met, or at least where making an effort to meet all those needs is a clear priority. Sometimes we lose sight of what our kids need vs. what they want. Trying to find that balance is hard…

La Familia Garcia said...

I've enjoyed reading your blog and your story! I found your blog through the immigration forum, so we have a lot in common that way. My daughter and I just got back from a trip to Seoul, where my brother is teaching at a private school. Maybe once you are there and have connections in the country, you will find options for your son. I know they really value education and have some great schools! Good luck to you and your family!

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