Having Kids: the Dominating Fear

When I left off, I was talking about my Dominating Fear of ending up in the suburbs.  This Dominating Fear is the main reason why I am afraid of having kids.

I don’t even remember when I first developed the Dominating Fear.  Maybe it’s always been a part of me.  I don’t think about it all the time; it’s not like I drive into suburbia and get a panic attack.  I think that’s part of why it’s such a Dominating Fear.  It’s an uneasiness, really: a deep-rooted sensation that one day I will wake up and realize that my greatest fear was substantiated long ago.

I am absolutely terrified of ending up in the suburbs with a minivan, being “just like everyone else.”  Not knowing who I am.  Not REMEMBERING who I am.  For a long time, I’ve thought that these fears were just about Suburbia.  I really thought that I just didn’t want to end up in Suburbia. Well, that’s easy enough to avoid, right?!  Just don’t move to Lincoln*.

So why do I still have that panic every once in awhile?

I still have the panic because I was wrong.  The fear has very little to do with Suburbia, and everything to do with children.

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This is not like a fear of heights, where you know you’re climbing higher and higher with every new rung on a ladder.  This kind of thing happens a little bit at time, over the course of many years, and then ONE DAY you just realize it: Oh crap, I let it happen.

A few years ago, I was watching a sitcom where one guy said to another guy, “Marriage is the death of all things fun.”  He was pushing a grocery cart filled with two difficult children and a lot of groceries. I remember thinking, “I’m pretty sure that the marriage isn’t what made this guy so miserable: it’s the kids.”

Kids are the death of freedom.

They mean that you can’t live in a tiny apartment in the city.  You can’t decide that you’re bored of your current apartment and move.  You can’t realize that you’ve always wanted to live in New York for a year and do it.  You can’t go out to dinner at a nice restaurant on a whim’s notice.  You have to plan everything in advance, because you’ve got to figure out what to do with the kids.

You also can’t decide to take a sick day from work and hang out with your partner.  You can’t lay in bed all day and order a pizza for dinner because you just didn’t feel like doing anything.  For the next eighteen+ years, you will always have something to do.

Kids mean sacrifice. You don’t get to do what you want to do. You have to do what needs to be done.  This is why people give up their sports cars for minivans: because the kids can’t fit in your mini cooper, and you’ve gotta take one for the team.

But I think the scariest thing to me is that kids change the way you think.  Suddenly, all you think about is your kids.  In the beginning, you’re fascinated by little socks and tiny hats.  The decision between cloth diapers versus disposables is very important.  Then, before you know it, you’re enjoying things that you once considered a form of torture, like kid’s soccer games. The kids are the most interesting thing in your life, and they’re all you have to talk about. Before you know it, even your answering machine message has been dominated by little kids.

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And that’s when it happens.  That’s when you wake up and realize that your whole entire life revolves around your kids.  You know what they like.  You know what they need at any given time of day.  You know where they need to be, because that’s where you need to be.  You don’t ever think about what you want and need anymore.  And then you suddenly realize that you don’t even know what you want and need. Because you stopped thinking about you years ago.

This is what I’m afraid of: I’m afraid of looking in the mirror and realizing that I was so busy taking care of my kids that I let my life get away from me.  It’s not even about being one of the moms who “let go” and are in desperate need of an Oprah makeover (although that doesn’t help). It’s about having no more me.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I do think that children are a great thing to contribute to the world (so long as you don’t raise Ann Coulter or Bill O’Reilly), and I totally agree with Oprah: stay-at-home-moms have the hardest jobs in the world.  I’ve realized that I’m just not cut out for it–I don’t think I can make that kind of sacrifice, and I am terrified that I’d feel a major sense of isolation.  I get depressed somewhat easily, and I really don’t think I could cope.  It’s just not my path.  I need other things.  Maybe not only other things, but at least other things too.

It’s not like I’m contributing anything major to the world right now.  But I have a feeling that I will, one day.  I have a feeling that I’ll start some major company that will recycle hazardous waste, or I’ll institute some sort of plan to make a big difference somewhere.  The Dominating Fear is that I will forget about all of that.

As kids, we have Big Dreams about what we want to do with our lives.  When you start having childen, you put those dreams on the backburner, saying you’ll come back to them when you have time.  And then, 20 years later, you realize that you never had time, because everyday life is a bit of a struggle and the years pass quickly. It’s hard enough to accomplish Big Dreams.  I’m scared that, if I have kids, I’ll look back on my life and think, “Crap.  I really love my kids, but I didn’t accomplish my Big Dreams.”

I’ve come to realize that the Dominating Fear has a lot of truth to it, but that it’s not a given.  Just because you have kids does not mean that you’re definitely going to end up a “shell of a person.”   It’s not guaranteed that your whole entire life will revolve around diapers and soccer games.  Not every mom goes to soccer games, after all.

But more on that tomorrow.

*I grew up near Lincoln.  It used to be a tiny, tiny town, but it’s grown exponentially in recent years due to HUGE subdivisions full of houses that all look the same.  This is where people from the Bay Area seem to go when they want a big house with a big garage and don’t care about being close to the city anymore.

9 thoughts on “Having Kids: the Dominating Fear

  1. Bri says:

    Ditto everything, all of it; well-said. Suburbia isn’t a location, it is a mentality that sucks you into this stifling conforming portal. And like you said, before you know it, you’re THAT lady that tells everyone “Little Johnny did the FUNNIEST thing yesterday…” [and it isn’t even funny at all]. What happened?

    Although the Dominating Fear is not a given, you have to fight incredibly hard not to become a shell. I don’t know any women with kids that hasn’t changed completely as the kids have grown. And, it is fair to say, as the women herself has grown with the children. Being a good mother requires all of that self-sacrifice. It is totally possible to maintain Thirsty Thursdays or 80’s Night Fridays, but that is where the whole “good” or “responsible” parent has to enter the picture. Perhaps becoming a shell ensures a more well-balanced bebe -> more stable adult? If that is the case, it stinks you have to lose at least part of yourself to make your children more secure.

    Very eager to hear your thoughts tomorrow; thank you!

  2. Ashley says:

    I agree with a lot of what you’ve said, but I also think that a lot of it is really focused on all of the scary parts about having kids. I’m not certain yet if I’ll have kids or not, but I think it is also important to consider some of the great things about having children.

    Of course there is some sacrific to having kids, there is a sacrfice to most of the choices that we make in life. The same fears of loosing yourself and having to give up on some of your dreams could be expressed (and frankly, often are by my guy friends) when people talk of getting married. When you get married you have to give up a little bit of your freedom, some of your ability to simply do as you please all the time. Yet, you do that because you married someone you love with all your heart and that you enjoy spending time with and that you want to build a life with. Giving up a little bit of freedom is worth the security of being with that person. Heck, getting a full-time job in my career field required sacrifice which required me to “loose” a little of myself. I can’t just decide to run off to Europe on vacation if I want (10 vacation days don’t go too far!) but it is in a field I love and that is worth the sacrifice (and the constant paycheck isn’t bad either). Obivously kids are a much bigger change, and come with a LOT more work than a marriage, but the change also comes with a lot of rewards and that is what you need to weigh.

    As I said, I haven’t really decided about kids yet, but I have decided that if I do have kids, I refuse to be the person that loses myself in them. We grew up in a generation that was 100% obssessed with their kids. I can’t say that my parents were (they both did some of their own hobbies and stuff, and often missed out on some of the stuff that I did.) and I am thankful for that. I did things in middle school and high school that I enjoyed. If my parents wanted to watch, so be it, if they didn’t, oh well. I didn’t think they loved me any less just because they didn’t show up. They had lives to live too. I’d like to think that my kids will feel the same way.

    I have a career and I don’t have any intention of not having one in the future. If I do have kids, maybe I’ll take a few years off when they are super little, but I plan to continue my life after they are in school. I think if you want to have your own life and have kids, it is a doable proposition.

    Please also don’t forget that kids can be supper fun too! I remember fondly days as a kid where we spend the whole day in pajamas and just lounged around with my family. Sometimes we’d have pizza for dinner because my parents were lazy (what kid doesn’t want pizza!?). My parents went out on a date every friday night and we stayed with a babysitter and got McDonald’s for dinner (which, at the time, was like heaven!). So maybe you couldn’t always go to a nice dinner on a whim, but you could always wait to plan a Friday night date with that in mind.

  3. Zoe says:

    I’ve been reading your last 2 posts and Ellie’s (over at Elliquent) childfree series and I totally feel a lot of the same way. My mom would probably have a cow if I didn’t have kids, but I’m currently still very undecided. 😛 There seem to be so many reasons NOT to have kids. However, as you titled the first post “Why I Will *Probably* Have Kids,” I can’t wait to hear how you came to that conclusion. 🙂

  4. RenaissanceTrophyWife says:

    Great points– I completely agree! I absolutely could not have kids at a time in my life that would require me to sacrifice something major. The current goal is to get my career to a place where I’ll stay challenged and interested, but won’t have to make any major moves… and at that point, I’d feel comfortable starting to think about kids. Even though I’m perfectly capable of supporting a family financially, emotionally I’m not quite there yet, and it’s not fair to me or my future kids to rush into such an important decision.

  5. MsPurple24 says:

    I understand how you feel and we’ve talked about Suburbia before… and I also realize that you and I feel very differently about a lot of the topics you’ve discussed here. But I still feel the need to say this: it’s all about FLEXIBILITY.

    Some of the things that you think are impossible once you have kids are only impossible if you let yourself believe they are. Yes, you CAN live in a tiny apartment in the city with kids- many people do. Yes, you CAN go out to dinner on a whim even if you have kids- many people do. Yes, you CAN live in New York for a year with kids- many people do. Who is telling you these things? Who has the right to tell you that you can’t do… anything at all? Do you think that no one has EVER relocated to a new apartment with children? That no one has EVER just picked up and gone off on a weekend trip, just because they felt like it, because they had kids?

    The answer to this is that YOU get to decide what kind of life you want to have. Not the current moms, not the parenting books, not the media, no one. YOU get to decide to be a hip mom and keep your individuality. Because when a person has a child, there isn’t someone at your door, collecting your spirit and replacing it with a minivan. Cram those kids into a Mini Cooper- it HAS been done.

  6. mhb says:

    I know you’re going to write more, but I had to laugh at:

    “You can’t realize that you’ve always wanted to live in New York for a year and do it.”

    Two friends of mine, who have an 18-month-old, actually are moving to New York this week to live there for the next two years, because it’s something they’ve always wanted to do. I agree that kids are a monumental responsibility and require craploads of planning, but if you want to do it, you can do it, even with kids. Parents are the adults. Kids – though they have needs, of course – are largely along for the ride. That’s the attitude I’m hoping to keep cultivating when we have kids. My husband’s family dragged him along when his dad’s job took him to Japan and England, and those experiences were formative and fun. And his folks are happy they got to live in amazing different places, even with kids. Lots of planning, sure, but very rewarding for everyone involved.

  7. Stinkerpants says:

    @Bri: YES. YES YES YES. Your first paragraph is EXACTLY what I mean. No one cares about Little Johnny except for his mommy. I don’t want to bore people by always talking about my kids all the time. I’m not sure that you necessarily have to be super self-sacrificing to be a good mom. In fact, I think you might be a better mom if you AREN’T self-sacrificing, especially to a daughter–you show them that women are strong, independent and have lives.

    @Ashley: I 100% agree with you. I think that parents who don’t give everything up for their kids raise more well-rounded kids in the end. I also agree that you can include your kids in your pizza nights, and you can take your date nights. All of this, I think, comes when you have kids when you’re truly ready to have them.

    @Zoe: better late than never–it’s coming tomorrow! Sorry for being such a slacker!

    @RenaissanceTrophyWife: This is exactly where I am right now, too. I don’t feel like I’ve emotionally matured enough to be ready. But I think that, at some point, I will.

    @Purple: VERY true. Very true. You’re absolutely right. Y and I would never sacrifice our core values for kids–so I really don’t see us moving to Lincoln and buying a giant house we can’t afford. It’s just not something we’d DO. I need to remind myself of that periodically. That being said, I totally won’t blame you if you want to make fun of me if we meet for lunch and I have a hell of a time getting my kid into the car seat that’s jammed in the back of my mini cooper, while you’ve had your kid buckled in to your minivan with the electric door for 20 minutes. I totally won’t blame you.

    @mhb: that is awesome. Very awesome. You are totally right, and I am periodically going to come back and read your comment in the future. Thanks. 🙂

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