One of my best friends is on the fence about having children, but I'm not: I told her not to. My advice isn't because I regret becoming a mother, or that I think she'd be a bad one -- on the contrary. I know she'd be a wonderful mother and I've never for one millisecond regretted having my children. My advice is based on what I believe it would do to her because I know what it's done to me.
My friend and I, we are the exact same age, almost to the day. We are Pisces. We have been friends for over 25 years and for more reasons than shared decades and zodiac signs, we are like family. We met when we were eight and for the first seven years, we lived a few blocks away from one another. As a result of working, busy, or preoccupied parents, we were part-feral children. Also, the 80's were a different era for kids. Back then we were given a couple of dollars for McDonald's and an entire day by ourselves to ride bikes, provided we showed up when the street lights came on. We abused and enjoyed the freedom.
We grew up together in every sense of the phrase; we went to the same schools, had the same friends, cheered on the same squad and liked the same boys. We even drove the same kind of car. I know her family and she knows mine. I know all her stories and most her secrets. I know her better than she knows herself sometimes, and it is for this reason that I tell her not to have children.
We Wild Child's of the 80s, we were independent by default. I was the youngest of three and she was an only child, and for our own reasons, we learned self-preservation skills for survival. We were hell-bent on figuring out life on our own terms and we made many of the same mistakes along the way. We're stubborn, passionate, empathetic and selfish fish.
Today, I am three years into the lesson on motherhood and like a good friend, I don't want to see her falter like I have. Knowing what I know about this role, and knowing her like I do, I want her to know the things no one tells you before jumping off this cliff. I want her to know exactly what this shape-shifting role will do to her.
Even as I write that I know she won't listen, not really. Own terms.
Friend: No one tells you when you become a mother about the overwhelming nature of the sacrifice. The effect children have on marriage, your time, body, identity and circadian rhythm are all alluded to with trite remarks like, "your life is about to change" and, "better get your sleep now." They are true, and none of them explains enough.
No one tells you that what you will give will be all you have -- that the Giving Well will run dry but the only answer will be to dig deeper -- all the way to China -- and even then, it will never be enough. No one tells you that the amount of selfishness you have going into motherhood is conversely proportional to the degree of difficulty. I suppose those things aren't easy to communicate. Cakes made out of diapers and platitudes on pastel cards are simpler.
No one tells you that the wreckage of your unreconciled past will come bubbling to the surface all over again in places you never thought to look, such as pictures of the first day of preschool, first family dinners, or stumbling over how to answer a toddler's question about when you were a little girl.
No one tells you that your own mother-issues echo endlessly in your ears like storm waves crashing on cliff sides because as it turns out, mother-issues are as endless and relentless as waves crashing on rocks. No one tells you that having children forces you into that surf again and again... forever. Those are things you should know, Friend.
But every time, right after I tell her not to jump off that cliff into the abyss, I follow it up with... "but you'll never regret it."
The truth is Friend -- and I know you know this is true -- I am a better person because I became a mother. Yes, I am beaten down in many ways. Yes, I am sucked dry and left empty more times than I want or is fair. Yes, I am overwhelmed to breathlessness. But what I've found in the process is something people only allude to in platitudes on pastel cards that never tell you enough. What I've found sifting through this unreconciled mess are pieces of forgiveness, shards of understanding, piles of patience, and reams of capabilities for weathering so much more than I ever thought I could.
Yes, there is more fear, more doubt, and the nerves are more raw, forevermore... but I am also less stubborn, less adamant, less sure of anything and that has made more sure of everything.
I tell her not to have kids because I don't want to see her at the bottom of this cliff, afraid and forced to be brave in tsunami of wreckage that will resurface from her ocean floor. My empathetic fish's heart will hurt watching her gasp for air like I have, because I know her -- she's a lot like me. I suppose in a way my advice is me being a selfish fish.
But she is too.
And the two of us, we swim very, very well... even in the roughest waters.
Shannon Lell is a fallen corporate ladder climber (okay so she was pushed, but whatever). She's now following her dreams of becoming a writer and spending precious time with her two small children before they stop calling her Mommy. She lives in Seattle, WA and you can find more of her writing at www.shannonlell.com.
Photo Credit: criminalintent.
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