Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Lionel Shriver

So I read an article yesterday in which Lionel Shriver, the author of We Need to Talk About Kevin, argued that parents are not honest about the fact that having children ruins your life. Her point was that there's a taboo against saying anything negative about having children and that it's a whitewash of the way things really are.

So....does having children ruin your life? Yes and no. Yes, life the way you lived it before kids is gone. But what takes its place is something new and not entirely bad. You can still do virtually all of the things you did before children, but now you have a little person along to care for or else you have to arrange for childcare. There are some things that are irreparably damaged by having children, though, most notably peace and quiet. If you are a quiet calm person who likes to curl up on the couch with a good book (like, say, me), then you are sorely out of luck. However, in place of my beloved peace and quiet, I have the joyous voice of my daughter as she rampages through the house and the sight of the swath of destruction in her wake.

It seems to me that parental emotions run the entire emotional spectrum. Sometimes all within one day. Sometimes you love your kids so much that you're not sure how you can stand it. Other times, you want to pick them up and strangle them. And a lot of the time, you're somewhere in between. There's a quote I love from the movie Marvin's Room. Meryl Streep's character is talking to her son and she says, "My feelings for you are like a bowl of fish hooks. I can't pick up one without getting a bunch of others." I think that is how most parents feel most of the time. And when someone asks, it's too hard to explain all the subtleties, so parents just mouth some platitudes to get by. Plus, doesn't it sound awful to say, "Well, little Johnny has been such a shit lately that I can't stand him. I'm thinking of moving him out to the dog's pen or selling him to the circus." Because we all have times like that. But some people, especially people without children, don't understand that. So, is there a whitewash on the way things are? Yes, I think there is. Mainly because people don't want to talk about how hard it is to raise kids. People don't want to sound like bad, angry parents about to lose it on their kids. So they talk only about the good things. Because there are plenty of them, too. I think in order to get an accurate description of parenthood, you would have to sit and talk to a parent for hours upon hours. You would have to be able to hear the good and the bad without judgement, without thinking that you need to call child protective services. And you would need to convey that lack of judgement to the parent so that he or she would feel comfortable enough to speak freely.

So, Ms. Shriver, having children does not ruin your life. It changes it, much like many other things do. Things like growing up, going to college, taking a job, getting married. And it changes it in many complex ways, not all of them easily summed up or suitable for cocktail party chatter.

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