Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"Are you done now?": How the "perfect-life" mentality is destroying us.

Upon observing my pregnancy, and my two sons, a perfect stranger felt the need to ask me the question.  The question that seems to be asked by seemingly well-meaning people when families have what seems like an unprecedented amount of children.  The question that seems to loom over moms throughout their childbearing years.  The question that I was genuinely surprised to hear at only three children:

"So, are you done now?"

It wasn't her somewhat subdued tone, or the candy-coated smile on her face that seemed to say "Conspire with me in parental exhaustion. Admit to me that having kids is too taxing to even think of having more.  Please, please, let me know that I'm normal."

It was the fact that this woman, whom I'd met 10 minutes earlier at the public library story-time, felt like she could ask me that.

Looking around at this group though, I realized that the 50 or so children at the story-time were accompanied by about 30 parents and caregivers.  This woman had come with her two children, a boy and a girl.  She was the epitome of normalcy among this crowd.  Only I, and one other woman, holding a sweet baby boy, had three.

My answer to her was non-committal. I didn't go into a monologue about my open-to-life NFP philosophies, or tell her that I think big families are wonderful and fun, or tell her that I think my kids and future kids are the greatest thing God could give me to turn me into saint material.

I simply said, "Maybe."

Because sometimes I'd really like to answer, "Yes." or, "Yes. Definitely."

I'd like to know that in the next three years, I'll get a full night's sleep most of the time.  I'd like to count on sending each of my three off to school and being able to use my communications degree in a part-time (or full-time) job outside the home, where I interact with adults and write about things that are important to adults. I'd like to know for certain that in 4 years, I will no longer be changing diapers, and that not long after that, the "wiping" will all be done by the children themselves.  I'd like a timeline on when my breasts will finally feel like they're only mine, no one elses. I'd really like to make a cup of coffee, then proceed to sit and drink it in 15-20 consecutive minutes.

I'd like to know that my "perfect life" with 3 great kids, to whom I can give lots of opportunities, a finished house, a vacation every summer, a nice vehicle and a decent amount of one-on-one time with each - not to mention a once or twice a week date-night (and possibly a romantic getaway every year) with my husband - is imminent.

The only impediment to this plan?  The possibility of a fourth, fifth, sixth child, or some unforeseen setback or disaster.

I should explain.  I used the phrase "I'd like," a lot for a reason.  Those "I'd likes" sound perfectly reasonable from the average suburban-living woman's standpoint.  To plan your life and try to live it out accordingly, with all the financial amenities and self-indulgences that your hard work and planning have earned you is not inherently wrong, is it?  To try to achieve the ideals that make up your perfect life doesn't make you evil, does it?

My husband and I are practicing Catholics, and what that means for us is that we don't use artificial contraception.  We use Natural Family Planning to track my ovulation to postpone pregnancies. The mentality surrounding that is of constant openness to life in our sexual acts.  NFP allows us to postpone pregnancies and space children according to our needs.  That constant openness to life never, in our minds, allows us to say, "We're done." So, unless for a serious reason, like illness or financial instability, we have committed to welcoming children into our family.  We look at it like this: Even if unplanned, every child of ours is a wanted child. In fact, this mentality, has helped us, without going into too much detail, welcome two children into the world without anything more than spur-of-the-moment "oh-well-babies-are-awesome" planning, who have been sources of our greatest joys.

This doesn't mean we are committed to having a child every two years or less until my childbearing years are done, because at the moment, my health is making pregnancy and parenting difficult, and I feel that during and after this coming child, my focus will be on replenishing my body and being healthy and fit before considering another pregnancy.  My health concerns are/will be a reason to avoid pregnancy for awhile - possibly for years, because a healthy family just needs a healthy mom - plain and simple.

But am I done? The answer is still maybe.  Who knows what will happen in the years to come.

It's a human paradox that we have a desire to approach life, sex, everything with reckless abandon - doing whatever is pleasurable, and yet, are obsessed with our "plans."

Undeniably, some planning is just smart.  Financial and contingency planning, for example. Planning my day so that I do the necessary things for our home to function is not the kind of planning I'm railing against.

It's that "perfect life" idealism, and the idea that education, successful careers, less children and more things will equal happiness.  The idea that "if I can just have this, be this, do this, then I will be happy."  I've visited a few homes in which these achievements have been reached, and have come away with a feeling of emptiness.  Less children have not contributed to a happy home.

I see an overwhelming number of broken families, striving for material happiness, creating over consumption, selfishness, and a hunger and longing that will never be filled unless something changes.

I look at my home, with its free furniture and lack of baseboards, trim, cupboard doors, and think sometimes that maybe all these things would be new and perfect if I'd just waited till my degree was finished and I had had a satisfying journalism career before Patrick and Carter came.  But that thought is fleeting, because what far outweighs it is the memories of growing love that have taken place while Joseph, the kids and I have forged a life together in this unfinished house.

In a way, our house is a bit of a metaphor on life. Parts of it are beautiful. Guests rave about my kitchen floor, which Joseph designed and laid down himself.  Parts of it are unfinished - like the wall that spans the kitchen and living room, half one colour, half another, speckled with white paint from when then 18-month-old Patrick decided to "help" us. We have grand plans for this home of ours, and we may or may not finish them. They may not turn out as we plan. They may turn out better than we'd planned.

Something I've repeated to myself throughout this short family journey is that God's ways and God's timing are not subject to my plans... though I do like to make Him chuckle once and awhile when I tell him what He's supposed to be doing.

So, am I done now? Unlikely. In the grand scheme of things, this young family is just getting started.


  1. Jessica! This was so great! Really, loved it!

  2. I really loved your house being a metaphor for life. Just don't forget that some of us had room for children that never arrived.

    1. That is absolutely true. I hope that nothing about my post seemed to condemn those who are unable to have children or are unable to have more than 1 or 2. It's the attitude that says children are more of a curse than a blessing that breaks my heart.

      I have a few friends who have struggled to become pregnant with even one baby. I sometimes feel like I'm flaunting my babies and fertility in their faces whenever we meet. It's a terrible feeling - guilty for having babies when someone else wants one so much.


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