Pressured into Parenthood- A Guest Post

Friends I am pleased to offer the first ever guest post here at The Shack. Ambivalent Imma is the author of the post below. It is tangentially related to an old post here called Does Having Children Prevent an Active Sex Life.

I think that she makes some good points and that it is definitely worth reading.

Maybe you weren’t sure that you really wanted a child. Or maybe you were sure that you really didn’t want a child. But everyone was insistent—your parents, in-laws, family, friends, co-workers, the Jewish community as a whole, which considers it the solemn responsibility of every married Jewish couple to help rebuild the Jewish population after its decimation in the Holocaust. So here you are, responsible for providing a child (or more than one) with the love and care to which every child has a right. How do you feel, considering that you weren’t sure you wanted a kid in the first place?

I admit it: I’m selfish.

We had a delightful marriage. We did whatever we wanted whenever we wanted, within the limitations of our budget, work schedules, etc. Why would I want to have a baby and turn my life upside down?

Sigh.

First, I lost my place at the center of my husband’s world to this charmer who couldn’t even let me get a decent night’s sleep.

To make matters worse, our parents lived out of town, and our siblings weren’t available either, so we had absolutely no family support system whatsoever.

The result was that, while some of our friends could leave their kids with their parents or siblings and take some much-needed time away, we had to sharply curtail our “outside” activities for well over a decade because of the cost of babysitters.

And, to boot, it turned out that our kid had social, emotional, and learning challenges.

So while one of my girlfriends could brag about how her darling toddler sat quietly in a Chinese restaurant contentedly gumming bits of steak, our own child not only wouldn’t eat, but wouldn’t sit down or stay still, either. For several years, we could only take our kid to fast-food restaurants. Seriously, where can you go with a child who’s still throwing lying-on-the-floor-kicking-and-screaming temper tantrums well into elementary school?

Until our child was old enough to stay home alone, I honestly felt like a prisoner of my own kid.

And while one of my girlfriends used to go on and on about how well her little genius was doing in school, ours spent years in special-ed.

The teenage years were terrible, of course. Teenagers are generally a royal pain in the butt, and ours was no different. But, for me, that lack of difference was not entirely a bad thing. Already in early elementary school, our kid was a defiant know-it-all who honestly believed that I had little to teach her/him because he/she knew everything. It wasn’t until our child became an adolescent that I was finally able to say, in all honesty, that our kid’s behavior was typical of a child of that age.

I once told my therapist—back when we could afford one—that, while my kid and I certainly had our moments, for me, motherhood was an enormous amount of work for very little reward. There are some things that you can’t say even to your best friends—and that was certainly one of those things. Before the days of the Internet, the only way you could actually say some things without fear of repercussions was either to write them in a diary and pray that the person about whom you were writing would never find it, or literally to pay someone who was professionally obligated to keep your words confidential.

My particular sympathies go to ambivalent parents who ended up having a kid with disabilities. Parenthood is already a challenge, even for enthusiastic parents, some of whom have been known to have an additional child, or more than one, even after having a kid with special needs. But adding the difficulties of caring for a child with disabilities to the question of whether you wanted a kid to begin with is a recipe for extra frustration. Top that with the insistence of some that you go ahead and have another child anyway, and you get—in my case, anyway—one angry mom.

Everybody says it: “Enjoy it while it lasts. Kids grow up so fast.”

For me personally, the opposite was true. As far as I was concerned, my kid wasn’t growing up nearly quickly enough. I couldn’t wait for my child to move out, so that I could finally have my life back.

Not even among other mothers of kids with disabilities did I ever hear anyone admit to anything that radical.

Our kid is now an independent adult. I’m happy to say that we managed to have some good times together as she/he got older. I’m also relieved to inform you that, somehow, he/she has managed to flourish despite my dubious parenting. We’re very proud of our kid’s accomplishments.

Even so, I can’t help but feel that I lost over a decade of my life.

Back when I was in the throes of heavy-duty parenting, I would have given my right arm to have had a place to vent anonymously and get feedback from others going through similar situations. Having passed that stage of parenthood already, I’m not a good person for the job, but if some other soul who’s currently in a situation similar to the one I described would like to start a blog for parents in this position, I think it would be a real public service.

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Comments

  1. Ambivalent Imma says

    Anon. 8/10/2007, sorry about the delayed response.

    It does make a marriage somewhat challenging when one partner wants children and the other is, at best, ambivalent. Even if he wants six kids and you want only two, having four will leave both of you unhappy. When it comes to parenthood, you really can’t compromise.

    Then, of course, there’s the roll-of-the-dice factor: One never knows what kind of kid one is going to get, and one has to raise whatever kid(s) he or she ends up with. That can be challenging, sometimes, as you and I know well. Best of luck.

  2. Ambivalent Imma says

    Mother in Israel, if the blogger wishes to talk about a sibling, that’s one thing, but I’m not comfortable doing the identifying. I should probably have mentioned, though, that the blogger himself/herself called the authorities to report the sibling’s neglect of the child. Sadly, nothing whatsoever has been done by the authorities to date, to the best of my knowledge, and the child remains neglected.

  3. I also had children that I didn’t want. I had three of them! My exhusband(he was my husband then) drove me crazy about how badly he wanted children. I used birthcontrol on the sly for 3 years. He was upset that I wasn’t pregnant. I went to 2 different gynecologists to appease him that I was doing something. I couldn’t get away with it forever. I had my first child after 4 years of marriage. I was living in a small apartment. I moved to a different neighborhood to a larger one. I gave up my old neighborhood, my old friends, my job that I loved, everything for this kid that I didn’t want. He turned out to be a psychopath like his father. I had two more children after that. One is very good, the other has some problems. I would give anything to have been able to pick and choose and only have had the one good one.

  4. mother in israel says

    ambivalent–which blogger? To say that the child should have been removed from the home is a pretty strong statement, but I don’t know the circumstances.

  5. Ambivalent Imma says

    “It’s far worse to have one, then go about your merry way as if they are nothing more than another annoyance to be bothered with.” Indeed, it’s better not to have a child than to neglect the child that you have.

    Probably one of the more distressing stories I’ve read in the Jewish blogosphere is that of a blogger and the blogger’s sibling. Each has a child with disabilities. But, while the blogger has fought long and hard to get an appropriate education for his/her child, the blogger’s sibling won’t even admit that her/his child has disabilities. More’s the pity that the authorities haven’t removed the child from the household and put the child into foster care (not to mention arrested the parents for child neglect).

    I spent several years trying to get my kid into a special ed. program that would meet my child’s needs. (Finding the right educational match for a child with disabilities is not always easy.) A parent has an ethical obligation to care for his/her child–you can’t change your mind after the kid is born either because you were ambivalent about having the child and/or just because the kid doesn’t meet your “specifications.”

    As for the expenses, don’t ask. Even “mainstream” kids cost money–there may be, heaven forbid, medical emergencies to pay for, such as the perfectly healthy child who gets injured and/or the child who needs surgery. If the child has a disability and/or permanent health condition, the government may or may not pay for medication, wheelchairs, guide dogs for the blind, hearing aids, special equipment/assistive technology (such as a computer that “speaks”), etc. Anyone who thinks he/she can raise a child on the cheap is deluded.

    “We Need to Talk about Kevin,” by Lionel Shriver sounds like a book worth reading. Thanks for the tip, Tamiri.

  6. Read the book We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver. A disturbing book about a mother who had a kid she didn’t want…. The point is what the kid turned into, but it’s interesting to read about that woman having a child the mom wasn’t interested in.
    I applaud people who choose not to have children if they feel they don’t want them. It’s a huge commitment, huge responsibility and can, often enough, turn out to be a thankless job. While they may be viewed as selfish and ego centric – so what? It’s their business, not ours. It’s far worse to have one, then go about your merry way as if they are nothing more than another annoyance to be bothered with. Which is happening a LOT these days.
    Oh – and the expenses involved… you really have to love them if you are going to have them…

  7. Ambivalent Imma says

    Esther, I was told numerous times not to worry about having a second child, because the second one was bound to be fine. I saw no reason to believe them, and am glad I decided not to take a chance. It can be tough, though, to make such a decision in a community in which large families are the norm.

    I can only hope and pray that you have a better support system, in terms of your family, friends, and community, than we had. Most of our support came from other special-ed parents.

    I wish you all the best.

  8. Ambivalent Imma –

    I truly applaud you for your fantastic post. I was very ambivalent about having my first child, and I waited (with the disapproval of my husband ) for a long time until I felt pressured into having one. When she was born, she was the most wonderful child, and I felt happy with our decision. She was a beautiful child, although a bit difficult at time, but we adored her.

    Then, a few years into it, we began to realize that there was something very wrong with her. A terrible diagnosis later, I found myself pregnant again. I was actually happy to have another child, and felt that lightning couldn’t strike twice. It did.

    Now, a once working professional, I’ve had to quit my job and raise two special ed children. I love my children, but sometimes I wish I never had them. It’s a terrible thing to say, but when you witness the pain your children go through on a daily basis to survive, and you wonder at the possibility of their future, and you look at the demolition of all your own hopes and dreams, well. . . You begin to weight the pain of never having children with the pain you currently go through.

    I try to concentrate on the joy my children bring every day. On the positive things, instead of the negative ones. It helps a lot, but I have my dark moments. If I wasn’t living in an orthodox jewish community, I might not have felt the pressure to have a second child. But just having one child in our community? It’s unheard of.

  9. Ambivalent Imma says

    Mother in Israel said, “I think we need to separate the post into two issues: one, lack of support for parents who desperately need it, and two, pressure to have children.”

    That thought did occur to me as I was writing this.

    “I am troubled because it sounds as if you lay some “blame” on the community for “hiding the truth” and pressuring you into having a child when you weren’t ready. When parents choose to have a child, they need to take responsibility for that decision.” Guilty as charged. Since I, too, felt responsible for helping to “replace” the six million Shoah victims–as if such a thing were possible :(–the pressure was partly internal.

    “If you had not gotten pregnant, everything might not have been sunshine and light. You might have gotten bored with your career. You might have decided to have a baby later and had fertility issues. Maybe your marriage would not have continued to be as satisfying–who can say?”

    Also true. I got pregnant when I did because I had medical reasons to make me worry that I might not be able to have a child if I waited any longer. And since my husband really wanted a child, he would have been very disappoint if we hadn’t had one, which would probably have affected our marriage.

    Don’t worry–you haven’t offended me. I expected this to be a controversial post. Thanks for keeping me honest be forcing me to confess the pressure that I put on *myself.*

    “I don’t think the story is over yet; in ten or twenty or thirty years you may have an entirely different perspective on this issue.”

    Maybe so.

    “I hope your son will be a comfort to you in your old age and “repay” you for the anguish his difficult upbringing has caused you.” Yes, I hope so. Thanks for the kind thought.

  10. mother in israel says

    Ambivalent Imma, no one bargains on having a child with disabilities, and it’s a long, tough road. I agree that there is not enough support for parents having a hard time. I’ve written about some of this on my blog (see label challenges or parenting). I am a bit younger than you, but I think that there were always sources of support out there. But they are not always easy to find, and I know what it’s like not to have family around.

    I think we need to separate the post into two issues: one, lack of support for parents who desperately need it, and two, pressure to have children.

    There is enormous pressure to have children within the Jewish community. Still, I am troubled because it sounds as if you lay some “blame” on the community for “hiding the truth” and pressuring you into having a child when you weren’t ready. When parents choose to have a child, they need to take responsibility for that decision. I see that you did and invested in your son. Still, you seem to have a lot of resentment (and it’s been what, over twenty years now?) toward those people whom you feel sugarcoated the wonders of parenting (and continue to do so).

    By the way, I am probably one of the bloggers who writes about the joys of parenting, although I try not to sugarcoat it. I don’t feel that a blog is private enough to write about my most difficult challenges. Besides, my teens read my blog occasionally. FOrtunately I do have other parents I can turn to when things get really bad.

    I feel that I went into this business with my eyes open. True, I never believed that my children would hit others, wet the bed, or cry all night long, (and worse) but when they did I knew it was normal (at least some of it), because I had seen these things, and I adjusted. I sought outside help when needed.

    Many parents experience an unplanned pregnancy and go on to raise the child lovingly. Focusing on “what might have been” is not a healthy attitude.

    If you had not gotten pregnant, everything might not have been sunshine and light. You might have gotten bored with your career. You might have decided to have a baby later and had fertility issues. Maybe your marriage would not have continued to be as satisfying–who can say?

    Life throws us all kinds of curve balls, and we have to adjust.

    Ambivalent, I hope I haven’t offended you; I just want to give a different perspective. I admire you for doing your best with your son. I don’t think the story is over yet; in ten or twenty or thirty years you may have an entirely different perspective on this issue. I hope your son will be a comfort to you in your old age and “repay” you for the anguish his difficult upbringing has caused you.

  11. Ambivalent Imma says

    G.T. said, “Even if you wanted children and are good at it- the challenges, especially in todays society where we have less community support, can take a person down for the count.” Sadly, that’s all too true. The lack of community support really hurt. I got far more flack than support from my shul, my neighbors, etc., which made raising a challenged child even more challenging. There’s very little support for kids with behavior problems, and even less for their parents.

    “When the people in the school office know the child comes from a single mother household, the child suffers discrimination.
    G.T.”

    Wow, is it really that bad? I know that our kid was in special ed. with some kids from single-mom families, and I couldn’t imagine how they managed. I had a tough enough time raising my kid *with* a husband. I didn’t know that single mom’s kids faced discrimination, too. 🙁 People really go out of their way to make single motherhood as difficult as possible? My reaction is unprintable on a family blog.

    “I have some very dear friends who have chosen not to be parents. I am quite proud of them for recognizing that it is not for them.” Good for them for resisting the nagging. Not everyone is strong enough to withstand the pressure.

  12. Jack's Shack says

    nor is it telling it like it is when we read the countless blog entries, articles, etc. that wash over problems and end every paragraph with a comment akin to “oh the joy of parenting”.

    That is fair. I try not to make comments like “telling it like it is” because it is such a subjective thing.

    I don’t know if you read my blog on a regular basis but I often have blogged about my children being my greatest joy. It is not an exaggeration.

    However, there is no doubt that if I didn’t have children there would be an immense reduction in stress. I wouldn’t worry about many things.

    As I said earlier I do not believe that everyone should be a parent. It is too hard a job for some people. And to be clear, that is not an indictment or a slur upon those folks.

    I have some very dear friends who have chosen not to be parents. I am quite proud of them for recognizing that it is not for them.

  13. Anonymous says

    “the mother almost always bears the brunt of the blame when a child misbehaves.”
    Single mothers and their children get worse, unfair treatment at school.
    When a father shows up for the child in the school office, the child is going to have a better chance. When the people in the school office know the child comes from a single mother household, the child suffers discrimination.
    G.T.

  14. Anonymous says

    “That being said I am not sure that it is fair to characterize the post as telling it like it is.”

    nor is it telling it like it is when we read the countless blog entries, articles, etc. that wash over problems and end every paragraph with a comment akin to “oh the joy of parenting”.

    I’m a pretty good parent (or so I’m told) and it is still horrid often enough that it would be nice to be able to speak honestly about it.

    Child free women ought to hear the truth in a more fair and balanced way. Even if you wanted children and are good at it- the challenges, especially in todays society where we have less community support, can take a person down for the count.

    I appreciate the candid post. It’s a rarity on the subject that most like to view thru rose colored glasses.

    G.T.

  15. Juggling Frogs says

    I just posted a link to this post in the comments of Shalom Bayit. I think this post and that blog should meet.

  16. Ambivalent Imma says

    AT, I think that just about everyone finds parenthood challenging, but some find the reward greater than others do. If, by saying that you found parenthood to be more than you bargained for, you mean that your experience thus far has been similar to mine, I wish you the best. It’s a tough job, and often thankless. Do the best you can–you owe it to your kid. I hope all goes well in the long run.

    Regarding that blog that I mentioned at the end of my post, would *you* like to start a blog for ambivalent parents? As I said, it would be a real public service. Folks in that boat–including you, if you’re in that boat–need a safe place to vent. (As I said, I’m not the best candidate for the job, being beyond the child-rearing stage, at this point.) You have my permission to call the new blog “Pressured into Parenthood” or “Ambivalent Parent.”

  17. Assistive technology says

    Good heavens I’m glad to see that I wasn’t the only one who felt that parenthood ended up being more than I bargained for.

  18. Ambivalent Imma says

    Anonymous 11:49, this isn’t “telling it like it actually is,” for *everyone,* but it’s certainly “no sugar coat promotional campaign.” I think it’s important for people to understand that there are some who are simply not cut out for parenting.

    Anonymous 3:45, I’m certainly wish that this weren’t “the first time I have seen this issue raised and for once in an honest manner.” Sadly, too many people think that they not only *must* become a parent, but that they will love every minute of being one, too.

    Both Anons, thanks for your kudos, which I’m ego-centric enough to appreciate even though I’m not sure I deserve them. I’m just telling the truth about what parenting was like for *me.*

    Bill, and any other reader who’s contemplating parenthood, I think the most important thing to understand before deciding whether or not to have a child is that babies do not come with guaranties, nor can you return them for “one that fits me better.” If your child has challenges and/or is challenging, you’re still responsible for raising her/him to the best of your ability, and for giving him/her the love to which every child is entitled. If you’re not willing to take a chance, don’t have a child.

    Kol Ra’ash Gadol and Jill, I think you’re absolutely right in saying that everyone has “one of those days” sometimes. The pressure to pretend that raising a child is always wonderful is a real pain. (Circumstances having been what they were, I didn’t have the option of pretending that my child was always perfect, but I imagine that gets to be a bit much, too.) And yes, I very much missed being with adults and having adult conversations. How many times can you read your baby the the same “board” book without getting bored out of your mind?

    There’s one more thing that I think really needs to be said about parenting: When it comes to raising children, sexism is alive and well. This may be most relevant in the case of a child with behavior problems, but my personal experience was that the mother almost always bears the brunt of the blame when a child misbehaves. Sadly, I got taken to task for poor parenting far more often than my husband did. Nobody ever accused my husband, loudly enough to ensure that he heard it, of raising a future criminal, as they did with me. (No, I am absolutely *not* kidding!)

    As Jack said, parenting is a tough job that’s wonderful for some people, but not for others. Don’t accept the assignment unless you’re sure it’s what you want.

  19. kol ra’ash gadol, you took the words out of my mouth! I love, love, love being a mom… but you show me a mother who says she’s never had “one of those days” and I’ll show you a liar! Overall, this post made me sad more than anything. I guess there’s not much else I can say, never having walked in her shoes!

  20. Kol Ra'ash Gadol says

    It’s unfortunate that we have to not only pretend tht having kids is all sweetness light and fulfilment. I have a kid who I wanted, and love very much, but I wouldn’t even begin to say that I never think of what my life used to be like or think about how different my life would be if I didn’t have one now.
    Even in the best of circumstances kids are hard work that never ends, with not much glory to it. On top of it, there’s huge amounts of cultural pressure, especially on women, to be the perfect mother – and never God forbid, say that you’re tired of parenting, or that you’d rather be at work with adults and not trying to deal with yet another screaming tantrum – and generally perfect in every other way too. God forbid that you can’t hold it all together, earn money, and be a (sorry for the lewdness) MILF as well, while smiling with perfect happiness while your child demonstrates what a prodigy they are.
    I have to say, I’m pretty darn happy having a kid, but I know lots of women that aren’t – but have to pretend to be.

  21. Anonymous says

    I read a fair amount of blogs (probably too many) and this the first time I have seen this issue raised and for once in an honest manner. Thank You.

  22. Jack's Shack says

    Bill,

    I know what you mean.

    Anonymous,

    I think that becoming a parent is a huge decision and that there is no simple yes or no answer. I do not think that everyone should be a parent.

    That being said I am not sure that it is fair to characterize the post as telling it like it is.

    That is how it is for some people but not everyone. It is too hard a job for people to go into it unless they really want to.

  23. Anonymous says

    finally. Someone telling it like it actually is, no sugar coat promotional campaign here- bravo!

  24. Jack

    Today has been one of those days when you think that there is a greater mind at work in your life plan. I just finished commenting on Mary P’s “It’s not all Mary Poppins” blog on this very topic and then surf over here to find this article. As I said to Mary P. There is a plot in cyberspace to keep me thinking about having a family.

    Good food for thought here.

    http://daycaredaze.wordpress.com/2007/07/16/the-survey-says/#comment-16554

  25. Ambivalent Imma says

    Please don’t be surprised or upset if I don’t respond quickly to comments. I wouldn’t dare comment on this post from the office.

  26. Ambivalent Imma says

    Miriam, thanks for your kind words.

    Years ago, I was asking to persuade a married woman to have a baby. I declined the “honor,” not wishing to participate in the kind of arm-twisting that I’d gone through.

  27. Wow. That’s a pretty intense post. Certainly we readers are in no position to judge this woman. My heart goes out to her; having a disabled child is terribly difficult. It is sad that motherhood was not a good experience for her. I guess the lesson is that we should not pressure our friends & family to have children before they are ready to have them.

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