One of the great things about parenting for almost a decade is that all of the stuff that used to get under your skin, especially the types of things that end up on “10 Things you should never say to a mom who [insert literally anything here]” lists, start rolling off your back instead. Plus, people move on to other, fresher moms to harass, so that’s a plus.
There’s still one thing, though, that keeps coming up; the whingey, inaccurate nosy bit of nonsense that I’m getting more and more of as I near birthday number 30: “Don’t you think your kid deserves a sibling?”
What hangs in the air unsaid — “before it’s too late and your ovaries turn to dust” — actually doesn’t bother me as much as the other implication. And the thing about that is this: Of all of the things that I am obligated to give my child (from my withered shell of a gross old person body, no less!) because she — and this is important — “deserves” it, a living, breathing person is not one of them.
I have heard this sentiment from a beloved pediatrician, a few relatives who know a surprising amount about my life despite only seeing me twice a decade, and strangers of both the well-meaning and nightmarishly passive-aggressive variety. They are all so wrong it hurts.
The way I see it, the things my child — with whom I am particularly well acquainted, believe it or not — deserves fall into three categories: basic needs, obligatory touchy-feelsy–type junk, and rewards for good behavior.
For instance, my child, like all children, deserves a home, food, hygienic facilities, clean water, healthcare and access to a decent education, both primary and secondary. Children are very much like hamsters that way, except hamsters don’t really need to learn anything. To wit: They’re hamsters.
These are all things that if my pediatrician recommended to me in lieu of a sibling, perhaps by saying, “Your daughter deserves to have her daily caloric needs met and also a toilet, probably,” I would be all over.
Then there’s the touchy-feelsy junk. My child, like all children, deserves a caretaker or two who supports her, is emotionally accessible, patient, kind and an all-around stand-up gal or guy. Her dad and I have that pretty well covered, though like all parents, we have areas that we could be better at. No parent is perfect because no person is.
So if Great Aunt Greta was all, “I think your kid deserves to have a mother who listens to her and looks out for her emotional well-being, and it’s a good idea to not develop a drug habit while you’re at it,” that would also be cool with me.
Finally, there are rewards for good behavior. And yes, I truly believe that children should be rewarded when they do awesome stuff, because how else would we housetrain them and keep them off the couch? My child deserves all kinds of rewards ranging from me not taking electronics away because she empties the dishwasher on time to an ice cream cone when she slays at the science fair.
So if a well-meaning or otherwise stranger came up to me and said, “Wow, straight A’s! This kid deserves a reasonably priced treat!” I would agree, but maybe wonder where they got access to her grades.
A sibling, otherwise known as a whole other person completely independent of the one I’m already raising; that I would have to gestate alcohol-free for almost a year; and who will one day be an autonomous, expensive bigger human falls into exactly zero categories.
A baby is not a basic need, and while I suppose it could fall under touchy-feelsy–type junk, it seems like it would be sort of a stretch to say a screaming baby would meet some kind of emotional need for my daughter, who has OK’d a sibling as long as it comes out of my womb the same freaking age as her. She would prefer a twin, actually. “That’s impossible!” you might be thinking.
Yeah, she knows.
Which brings us to rewards. If I “rewarded” my daughter with a baby, it would be akin to “rewarding” her with her least favorite meal and a marathon showing of Ben-Hur. Not an unbearable experience, and one she would probably tolerate without being too awful about it, but also one that would demonstrate how little I know about my kid.
That’s not to say she doesn’t like babies. She loves them, and plans to have 12, all conceived in vitro from anonymous donors and delivered via C-section — a decision she made when we recently covered the very fun and not-horrifying-at-all topic of puberty and sex and how babies get out of there.
She’s a great helper with friends’ kids, kind and generous and patient to an extent even I can’t sustain; but like most sane people, that’s because she knows that thing is going right back where it came from. A baby as a gift is the dumbest, worst idea ever, and it’s not like they can be returned, even if it’s within 30 days and you’re really nice to the manager and you even have your $10,000 receipt.
So when my pediatrician, Great Aunt Greta and weird psychic strangers at the grocery store tell me my kid “deserves” a sibling, I don’t nod along.
Instead, I do this thing where I just sort of stare at them with a vague smile that doesn’t reach my eyes, and start breathing really heavily until they’re super uncomfortable, and that’s usually enough to shut them up.
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