Potential (noun):Latent qualities or abilities that may be developed and lead to future success or usefulness
When parents say “having a child is the best thing I’ve ever done!” I’ve always wanted to ask “what’s the second best thing?”, but apparently that’s considered rude (even though making that comment to a childless person, isn’t).
The reason I want to ask, is because the statement feels pretty exclusive. It’s a bit of a “you don’t know what you’re missing!” type jab. It falls into the classic patronising “you’ll understand when you’re a parent” camp. Perhaps I will, perhaps I won’t.
I want to know what the second best thing is, so that I can consider what you’re comparing it to. Because when you simply dangle procreation as an achievement, in the face of the childless, trust me, it’s going to irk.
I sort of feel it’s the type of thing you should say at the end of your life, not during. You know, if you’ve actually raised a good human being – then that’s a worthy brag: “having a child is the best thing I’ve ever done!”
I’m just wondering what I think about that statement now that I’ve had a glimpse of a child, with Summer. I’ve already said, that on my deathbed, I’d like Summer to be the last thing I see, but I’m reluctant to say she’s the best thing I’ve ever done. She is one of the people I’ve loved the most, certainly. She is someone I’ve learnt a lot from, definitely. But I can’t bring myself to say she’s the best thing we ever did, mainly, of course, because we didn’t get to explore that fully, in the same way that ‘normal’ parents do.
I understand that parenthood brings a lot of joy, that you’re proud and in complete awe of your children. I imagine it’s very fulfilling. But perpetuating the idea that another person defines you, I’m personally less on board with. I think the best thing you’ve ever done, should be about YOU. The achievements you can list TO your children, outside of them. Living and experiencing as yourself, not vicariously through your offspring. (I actually also think it’s probably healthy a) not to tell your child that everything is about them and b) not to put an expectation on them to find a mate and make babies – not everyone gets the fairy-tale ending, remember).
Obviously I’m biased. I want (need) to believe that there are meaningful achievements outside of children, because of my situation and also to justify my decisions – after all, we waited until our 30’s to try for them, despite getting together with James when I was 20. Similarly, parents want to believe that all their continuing sacrifices (time, money, experiences) have been worthwhile. It’s the classic clash of “you don’t know what you’re missing!” the childless enjoying their ‘carefree’ life of ‘freedom’ (just using the stereotypes here), meanwhile the parents are raising their ‘perfect’ offspring in domestic instagrammable bliss. Both have committed to their lifestyle, so both want to remind themselves (and often others) that their decision was correct: “hey, my grass is greener! Come and have a chew!” – while both still being absolute cows about it, of course.
Part of delaying our decision to have children, was to achieve something for myself first, to test/use my potential (which reminds me, in James’ one blog, he referred to Summer as ‘potential’- which I adored). Had Summer lived, we would have wanted to help her achieve her dreams and explore her potential, both inside and outside of motherhood. If you want that for your child, you should want that for yourself too.
I’ve always had this notion of “silly mummy” in my head. I’ve always known that it’s difficult to have it all: a fulfilling career and fulfilled children – there are only so many hours in the day. And knowing my personality (wanting to give my all to my priorities), I’ve always thought, that one day, I might become a full-time mum and so my children wouldn’t know me as anything, other than their mum. Perhaps at some moment they would turn to their dad for their answers about careers or work stuff, after all, what does “silly mummy” know? (Apologies if this offends, it’s just my own personal experiences / hang ups). And so one day, I might potentially be seen as silly mummy, but in that moment, I would like to have the confidence to know that I am more than that. I would like to be able to say “do you know what silly mummy used to do? Silly mummy achieved XYZ in her career, education, life” and to feel proud of those things, achieved for myself, outside of children. Content to have explored options, but also content to have given them up, if that’s what I had chosen to do. I have some pretty awesome things on that list. I never need to tell them to my children, but it’s something I’ve wanted to be able to tell myself: that I have explored my potential, not put it on hold (and that’s not to say that it can’t be explored as a parent, either).
During an online book club this week, the author dialled in and we asked her some questions, she spoke about having two dreams: one was to start an NGO, the other was to write a book (she has done both – awesome lady!), but what I particularly loved, is that she didn’t mention children. That may well be a dream of hers, but she listed personal, achievement based goals, outside of them. Because – if you think about it – being childless or having children, isn’t always a choice, it’s a privilege.
I genuinely believe that raising (and teaching) a child, is the most important job a person can do. If you do anything well, make being a parent IT. But if you do put all your eggs into your child’s basket, don’t forget that one day, they’ll fly the nest. So I would also encourage you to do things for yourself too. This might sound preachy, it’s not intended to. I’ve genuinely just sat down to write to see where it goes (classic pantsing, once a pantser, always a pantser) and it’s (hopefully) a reminder for my future self too.
Bruthfully I’m only writing this, as I want to believe I’m not living a second-best life. In reality though, I really don’t think I am. We want children, because of what we can share and teach and give to them. We don’t want them to make us whole. We are complete individuals, we are a complete family of two. Yes, we’d like that to expand, but even if it doesn’t, there are still lots of things left for us to see, do, experience and achieve. And I tell you now, this woman’s work is not done. Far from it. The best thing I’ve ever done, may well be yet to come.
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