I wasn’t sure that I wanted to start a family.
I did not view myself as someone who had a maternal instinct. I did not exude maternal confidence (whatever that means, or looks like.) I ran in the other direction of babies (I still do… and I’m a mom! This may mean I should never ever consider politics since there may be a lot of baby holding and baby kissing.)
I just never got that “yearning” feeling, or at least it wasn’t strong enough or clear enough for me to recognize it if I did “yearn.”
For a long time I viewed family as a source of unending conflict because people’s biological relationship tied them together and sometimes they are so different that under other circumstances, the same people may never be friends or want to be near each other.
The way we made the decision to start a family was nowhere near romantic, or “politically correct” because we simply did not know whether we wanted to start a family. Nine years into our marriage we asked this question: “If I did not have a child and I am on my death bed will I feel a twinge of regret?” If the answer was remotely “yes” then we would start a family.
(The answer was yes.)
What made me want to start a family? I knew if I didn’t, I would regret not having this part of the human experience.
The positive aspect of wanting a child in this context, is that I actually had little or no expectations of “a typecast” for my child.
Throughout my pregnancy I had a lot of difficulty imagining what my child would look like or grow up to be like or grow up to “do”. I had no unfulfilled dreams that I was looking to my child to fulfill. I had no need to be the center of the child’s universe as a way to feel good about myself. I wasn’t looking for parenthood to give me “a role” — I already had too much to do and many more ambitions to chase. I wasn’t thinking about preschools or prep schools or universities or vocations / professions for this child.
Most of the time I was asking myself, “What kind of human being am I, how will becoming a parent change this, and how will this affect the way I can participate in this new human being’s life?”
Why would someone find family rewarding if they grew up having lousy relationships with their parents? I’m not sure how to adequately answer this without writing a whole book….
Well, I have written a book, but I didn’t set out intending to write about the rewards of being in a family. I intended to write about the pains of being in a dysfunctional family and how it affected me growing up…
But what was unexpected was that in the course of writing a book about my very hostile / dramatic / turbulent / sometimes violent / anger-filled relationship with my family (specifically my parents) — I realized as I was writing — just how desperate my parents were trying to reach me and show me that they loved me however misguided their actions were.
If I hadn’t become a mother and experienced the intimate moments of terror and doubt about how I could possibly be responsible for a little life I held in my arms, I don’t think I would be able to have that realization writing the same book. That book would come across as bitter, hostile, and angry… with a large dose of self-pity and self-victimization.
Here’s what makes being in a family so rewarding for me: it has allowed me to come close to what I expect “Reincarnation” must feel like while I am very much alive, in this life.
It is a feeling of at once “being done to” and “doing to others”. There are several times in the recent years when I had been stopped in my tracks literally — because I was hit by the realization that “this must have been how my mother had felt with me when I was a child.” Then the subsequent question of asking if I will make the same mistakes as my mother or will I make different choices as a mother.
It is learning to accept where I come from (seeing evidence of that in the mirror, especially as I grow older and the same wrinkles etch into the my face that I have long seen on my parents) and at the same time to know that I get to choose what I will do with the gifts and burdens I’m given as my parents’ daughter.
It is understanding that just as I had once fought so hard to be free and have the “right” to walk my own path and make my own mistakes (be hurt on my own terms!), I will one day have to learn how to set my own child free and give him the same “right” to walk his own path and make his own mistakes (and let him be hurt on his own terms, oh my god.) The difference is that now that I have a glimpse of how painful it may have been to my parents when they had to honor my right to be free, just as I can already imagine the intensity of pain I’d feel to set my child free.
My invisible hand is clutching my heart as I type.