Yesterday I was listening to an NPR program on mothers. One of the essayists talked about how hard it is to be a modern mother – how she has to balance work and friends and taking care of her kids, etc. I thought “Oh, that’s so true. If/when I do have kids, I’ll be busy and tired all the time and sad because I won’t be getting any intellectual stimulation and lonely because I won’t have enough in common with either academics or stay-at-home moms.” (Whether or not I should work after I have kids is a subject of mild debate between my mother and me. I think I’ll be OK just staying at home; she thinks I’ll be bored and unhappy if I’m not working at least part time. This is, of course, a moot point at present. I’m currently a full-time student and won’t be anything else in the foreseeable future.)
Anyway, my thoughtless agreement with this woman suddenly made me realize how very pessimistic I can be, even in areas where I don’t actually have experience. I feel somewhat justified in a pessimistic attitude towards life, love, health, school and work – at least there I feel like I know whereof I speak. But I am somewhat surprised to notice that I am the most pessimistic about marriage and motherhood – two areas where I don’t have firsthand experience.
I find myself giving undue weight to negative comments and dismissing positive comments for a number of reasons, I suppose. First, I think there are simply more negative comments than positive ones. People are more inclined to speak up when something is going wrong than when something is going right, so there are more complaints about how hard it is to be a wife and mother than there are positive observations.
Second, I dismiss people who I suspect are still on some kind of hormonal high. Yes, I know you just got married and it’s been the best two weeks of your life. Come back when real life has settled in a bit. (I suppose that new mothers don’t necessarily have this problem – childbirth, postpartum depression and sleepless nights might be enough of a reality check for anyone.)
Third, there are the people who just have had easy lives. The ones whose parents always paid for everything, who married equally beautiful people with similar pedigrees, who may have had a tight couple of years while the hubby went through grad school, but who are sitting pretty since he landed a high-profile job. I am perfectly aware that such people exist, and I’m sure that they enjoy being wives and mothers to boot. I fail to see how their lives have anything to do with mine.
Fourth, there’s just general pessimism. I have seen too many times how doing all the right things leads to happy results for others, but not for me. I have little reason to believe that I should end up happy, even if I do all the things that are supposed to make me happy.
I was talking to my Mom on Sunday, and she told me about having my 9-year-old cousin, C., over to do some gardening. (My Mom didn’t think that my 17-year-old hulking man-child of a “little” brother would be willing to do two hours of manual labor for $5.) They had a lovely afternoon of it, talking about things like what happens to an earthworm if you cut it in half, and they even got a fair amount of work done.
Of course, the unanticipated consequence of this event was that 7-year-old A., C.’s next younger brother, was very jealous of C., and he wanted to go work at Aunt L.’s house and earn $5. A. was too little to work in the garden, but my Mom thought of some cleaning that he could do, and so he came over, too. Enter, 4-year-old E., the next in line. Now my Mom was trying very hard to think of a paying job for a 4-year-old that genuinely needed doing. She finally remembered that she has a giant tub of my brother’s old Legos that need sorting. (She wants to be able to let kids play with the standard blocks without losing the specialty blocks.) So she figures that she can probably have E. come over some time to sort Legos for $1, and maybe they’ll watch a movie, too. (Hopefully the next youngest, 2-year-old Z., will be too young to notice or much a fuss.)
In telling me the story, my Mom also said she’d forgotten how fun it was to have “little people” around the house. It’s been a while since the Hulking Man-child was anything like “little,” and she doesn’t have any grandkids. (This is the point when a mother would stereotypically start giving her unmarried daughter hints about getting hitched and settling down. It is to my mother’s great credit that she never bugs me about such things, she just vaguely said that she’ll “probably have grandkids” in four or five years. And if I’m still not married in five years, I imagine she’ll just push the “deadline” out that much farther. Or the Hulking Man-child will have kids by then.)
So maybe having kids won’t be all about being tired and lonely. Maybe it could also be about the fun of having little people around. That could be OK.