An Open Letter to All Non-Parents from a Parent
When I was in my early 20′s, I worked in an office with several women who had children or were having children. One woman in particular was referred to as “Earth Mother” and was a frequent butt of jokes and resentment because she would bring her baby to the office, breastfeed him in the empty conference room, work special hours, and from time to time ask us to pick up the slack on group projects – none of which endeared her to us. She was also brilliant, hard-working, and a time management czar.
When Earth Mother resigned (and the reason was unclear), she started a consulting business that taught manners. Again, we all laughed because we thought she was the one that didn’t treat us graciously when in fact, we didn’t treat her with the understanding she deserved. I didn’t think much about Earth Mother again until I had my own baby nearly 15 years later.
In the 16 years since I gave birth to my daughter, I’ve learned to never say never. Most people will become parents and be in difficult situations they never thought possible. When I was 20 years old, my summer job was to watch four kids which prompted me to think about getting my tubes tied. The doctor laughed at my request and told me I would change my mind when I was 30. She was right. My Porsche loving husband never thought he would move from his penthouse bachelor pad, get married, have a dog (and a cat), a child, drive a station wagon, or live in a neighborhood. Twenty-six years later and he’s done all of the above and his friends still tease him about his “never” proclamations.
Parenthood is the most unselfish journey you will ever take. Becoming a parent makes you think about someone else beside yourself and probably for the first time in your life, someone else’s happiness will be more important than your own. You will feel an overriding sense of unconditional love that will give a whole new meaning to vulnerability when you have a child.
There is no such thing as finding a balance between work and home. Parents struggle with this every single day of their lives. Step back and consider the childless person from years past who is now a mother: she still has integrity and a desire to do a good job but is being pulled in many directions and doing the best she can. Your best is not her best. More than likely, you will be a parent one day and hopefully your friends and co-workers won’t be harsh on you . You may be able to “have it all” in your childless 20′s or 30′s but you won’t as a parent in your 30′s, 40′s, or 50′s. Life as a parent means that someone is always feeling shortchanged and at the end of the day, a parent’s needs will be at the bottom of the list.
No one wants to be fat and boring. All too often people criticize friends that have not lost the baby weight (i.e. she’s become a member of the “I Let Myself Go Club”) or whose conversations revolve around their offspring. Losing weight is tough and if you haven’t experienced this struggle, know that one day you will as I don’t know anyone who hasn’t struggled with weight as they age. Watching a child grow is miraculous so if your dear friend talks a bit too much about junior’s accomplishments, be a good friend and listen. Remember she listened to you after countless emotional breakups. Friends listen to friends; it’s not an equal opportunity earfest every time you both get together.
Babies and kids have bad days, just as adults do and everyone should remember this. Don’t be judgmental and write the kid off as a brat or the parents as inept. No one is more judgmental about raising kids than those who don’t have them. Until you’ve walked the walk, and even when you have, cut the kid and parents some slack. More than likely, you don’t know what’s contributing to the tough situation (i.e. teething, hunger, exhaustion,frustration). A house guest once asked me if I ever considered feeding my daughter three meals a day instead of on-demand. He knew the answer to his question (an emphatic NO) before he asked but felt compelled to let me know what he thought of my parenting by asking the stupid question of the day. His pompous approach and criticism didn’t inspire me to abandon feeding on demand. Don’t tell your friends how to raise their kids. Different routines work for different families.
Know that kids aren’t perfect and that wise parents pick their battles because they can’t win them all or the child will be destroyed emotionally. Children are not just developing physically but socially and emotionally. They do things they are not supposed to do and say things they shouldn’t. Children really do learn by making mistakes and the process is painful at times for both the parent and the child. So, take a deep breath and remember you were once a child. Show some understanding, maintain a healthy sense of humor and above all, respect everyone’s right to choose their path.