I remember the nights of getting up with the babies or the torture of potty training (I’d go through childbirth again twice over if I could avoid potty training) but I didn’t appreciate what it was teaching me. Patience, organization, humility, perseverance . . . all things more valuable to my life than a degree or certificate but I tended to constantly think about how great things would be once I was onto something new.
But all that wiping and cleaning and teaching gives life a great deal of purpose–in fact, when people ask that question, “Why do so many bad things happen in the world?” I tend to think it’s simply to give us all something to clean up. If everything was smooth-sailing we’d all be very bored. Trust me on this one.
When I was expecting my second child and felt as attractive and mobile as an air-craft carrier Andrew was going through law school (as in completely absent) and I was managing two 30-unit apartment buildings. I cleaned the empties and rented them out, managed the tenants, collected rent and generally did whatever it took to keep us afloat (again there’s that boat metaphor). As my due date approached I decided to quit the job “because I couldn’t possibly handle two children and a job.”
And now I just laugh at that. Seriously . . . two kids and a job would seem like a vacation compared to what I was able to handle later on but parenthood is like any muscle: the more you exercise it the better and stronger it becomes until you’re amazed at what you’re able to handle.
What I’m trying to say is that it’s perhaps unwise to base your decision on the size of your family on how you might feel at a particular given moment. I mean, if I based my decision on how many kids to have in those 15 minutes after delivering a child I’d have got my tubes tied right then and there. Think in the big picture, taking in the whole scene of what you want your complete life to be rather than during a particularly trying and hard day where you say, “I’m never having another because I can’t handle any more.” You may feel differently as your abilities (and your children) grow and you might find that you’d wished you’d prolonged your motherhood experience when it’s too late.
Of course this is a very personal decision between you and your spouse and unique to every situation but human beings are pretty amazing creatures and most likely you’re pretty amazing too and can handle more than you think you can.
There were lots of times when I dealt with household or children’s issues and got a little resentful of my husband. After all, why wasn’t he getting up with the babies at 2 am or having to deal with the messes I did? I was easy to look at whatever it was he was doing and expect him to do more of what I was doing but that wasn’t at all fair.
Because we’d chosen the divide-and-conquer technique for family management where he supplied the income and I kept the house running I was wrong to expect him to pick up the slack on my job simply because he was home. Now don’t get me wrong, he’s a great guy whose philosophy is “let’s all work until the job is done” but there were plenty of times when he’d come home exhausted from a long day at work and I’d inwardly resent him for not jumping up to take care of something I didn’t want to do myself as if I were the only one working.
The honest reality is that our work was different and therefore our work hours were different. I might have had to get up with the babies in the middle of the night but then I also got long “lunch breaks” in the afternoons when kids were napping or at school. I might have had to be on the job until all the kids were asleep but then I could often grab quiet minutes here and there when he was still grinding away at the wheel in his office, desperate for a break. The older the kids got the more luxuries I had that he didn’t get so to try and compare our jobs and demand that things be equal was completely unrealistic.
So here I am, 40 years old and facing retirement. My career as a mother (and again, I say “intensive mothering” because you’re never absolved from your job as a mom) only has a few more years before I need to decide on a second career while he’s got another 20 years of providing for the family and doing whatever it takes to keep the money coming while I can look at doing whatever it is my heart desires most. Of course this is all different if you’re both responsible for income and the house but according to the way our family divided the labor it was impossible to try to make things completely equal and I wish I’d been less selfish here and there.
And this all just goes to make me wonder what lessons I’ll have picked up by the time I’m 70?