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!