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Do I Have to Lose Myself to Be a Mother?

I am trying to understand why my old, cool friends have gotten so high strung and opinionated after becoming parents. In fact they actually seem to be shells of their past selves. With no energy to do yoga, or write or think about creativity or their dreams because now they are intent on micro-managing their child's every interaction. Am I destined to do the same thing?
Newborn baby sleeping on a green blanket
Newborn baby sleeping on a green blanket

The first thing I will say is I do not have kids. So, if you have kids and you read this you may hate me a bit and I'm sorry in advance. The second thing is that I am three months pregnant, so I am noticing how people parent a lot right now. The third thing I want to say is I hope none of my friends who do have kids read this because I'm going to lay some shit on the table and it's probably going to hurt some feelings.

Here we go...

I travel to my badass best friend's house to meet her six-month old baby for the first time and when I get there I realize that everything has changed.

My friend used to smoke like a chimney and drink like a fish and hawl on blunts like she was bloody Rita Marley. Now, she is just anxious and lame.

"We are teaching him his ABC's" she tells me. "He is a very bright baby. Alamar, focus on the cards." She snaps her fingers in front of his drooling face. "Alamar, A is for...focus Al! He's not so quick right now because he ate a bit of dairy this morning..."

Alamar falls asleep in his bumby chair or whatever they are called.

She then worries aloud for the rest of the evening if the air conditioning is too cold.

If so, should she peek in on him? And finally when the baby monitor squeaked a few times with him rolling over in his sleep she rushed downstairs, grateful to have a reason to check on him.

I understand that the love you feel for your child is more immense than I can fathom.

I understand being sleep deprived.

I understand the weight of responsibility of another life in your hands.

Or, I guess I don't understand at all and that is what's causing all this tension.

The buzzwords run through my head: Helicopter parenting. Attachment parenting. Instinctive Parenting. Non-parenting.

And parents seem to really harsh out on each other's styles.

Here are some quotes I overheard from parents on the playground:

"I totally lost respect for (insert name here) when I found out they were a cry it out family."

"Attachment parents fry my soul."

"Kids who don't breastfeed get sick much more often than kids who do breastfeed."

"Sugar causes autism."

"Hospital births are violence against babies."

Holy shit.

I'm not trying to be an asshole here people. I am trying to understand why my old, cool friends have gotten so high strung and opinionated.

Am I destined to do the same thing?

I'm noticing a pattern in my generation (aged 34-42) who are just now becoming parents. Everything has to be triple-Googled, read about, discussed with their midwife, homeopath and doctor.

Do we give a soother?

Do we immunize?

Do we dress him in hemp or organic cotton?

There are so many decisions to make and I imagine it's very stressful but 25 years ago there were not so many decisions to make and 50 years ago there were even fewer decisions to make and all these decisions that are being made don't seem to be making any smarter or nicer kids than before so really, what the hell is going on here?

These little babes in arms are ruling the world and I don't think it's a good thing.

I'm at my friend's house for the weekend and she has some kids.

"Ohhhh, did you bring the two different types of toothpaste to help them brush their teeth?" she asks me.

"No. I have just this one tube. Why?"

"You have to go get the other tube, too. They'll freak out if they don't get their preferred flavour." I look at the two tubes. One reads "bubblegum", the other reads "mild bubblegum." Really? I cannot abide by that shit.

Brush your freakin' teeth. Your mom is tired. Leave her alone. Go to bed.

I truly don't understand.

I remember growing up and having to adapt to what my parents were doing. If Mom had to work a 12-hour night shift, I was left at the babysitters. Did I like it? No. But there was no choice and I dealt. If my dad wanted to visit friends and I was bored with the adult talk, did we leave? No. He told me to go make friends with the weird neighbour kid who was frying ants on the sidewalk.

Now when I visit my friends, after about 45 minutes the four-year-old looks up at me and says "You should go now. Mommy, I want her to leave." And Mommy smiles at her daughter's self-confidence and our visit is over.

I know I am judging (just like the parents in the park did two paragraphs ago) but I feel like this "superhero style" needs to be called out. Just like I would do to a dear friend who has been working a shitty job for too long and does too much overtime for a mean boss.

"Stop! The bar is set high enough! Let everyone else suck a bit. Please!"

And I cannot talk about any of this candidly to my new parent friends. They're untouchable now. They have the trump card because...

I don't understand what it is like. I won't get it until I have my own. I have no idea how hard it is.

And they're right.

But what I see scares me.

From what I can tell this generation of parents are putting a lot of emphasis on teaching their children how special they are. And inherent in that is teaching them that they are more special than other kids and that they are more special than their parents.

I'm not sure the world needs more people thinking they are more special.

Do you know who Honey Boo Boo is?

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Gwyneth's Parenting Advice

To me Honey Boo Boo is an example of child-centric parenting gone whack. Now I actually have a huge soft spot for this child. I think it is incredible that someone can have such an unfaltering sense of self. There is a part of me that wants to celebrate her confidence but this child actually believes that she is a princess and in a few years she is going to have a long and hard fall.

When I was Honey Boo Boo's age my dad threw me a birthday party. He invited every kid in town over. That meant there were about 12 of us there. His girlfriend spun me a raw silk dress. She did my hair in French braids. As I walked up the steps to the main floor where my guests were waiting, my father announced "Clap for the princess. Clap for my princess!" And they did. They all clapped for me as I ascended. And I waved. And I felt so special. And that moment honestly shaped who I am today. My inherent princess mentality was solidified, as was my belief that I should be clapped for. This is now one of the reasons I make theatre for a living. So I get specialness and I see the value in teaching it to our kids. But they next day I was mucking out the chicken stall while my Dad built an addition onto the trailer. I had balance.

If I saw examples of "children at the centre of the universe" parenting empowering families I might jump on the bandwagon but when watching these parents from afar they are not doing a very good sell job.

They do not look fulfilled.

In fact they actually seem to be shells of their past selves. With no energy to do yoga, or write or think about creativity or their dreams because now they are intent on micro-managing their child's every interaction.

Overheard conversation at a parent friendly cafe:

"Maybe you and Santosha can share the, you don't want to share?...Mommy understands you don't want to share, sharing is hard...I love are such a good boy. How 'bout this, I'll buy you a steamed organic milk if you share? Steamed chocolate milk? Okay my little politician. You are Mommy's best little boy!"

This sounds exhausting to me.

So instead of succumbing to the terror of what lies ahead I'm asking the question: when I am a mother can I remain intact?

Can I hold on to my purpose in life? Can I continue to do what I am called to do?

I know some folks are happy dedicating themselves completely to being parents. I am impressed by that.

But I have a really hard time believing it when you say "All I want to do is be a mom, this is my purpose in life."

Does that mean the last 30 odd years before you became a parent were meaningless? And what if the unthinkable happens? Who are you then?

I believe that parenthood is a creative outlet. I imagine the job is so encompassing that it asks you to be your highest self in the deepest way possible. I look forward to that.

It feeds you and eats you at the same time.

I respect the role and I honour every person that has taken on the task.

But if you have something else you love to do and you are not doing it because you are too busy parenting I don't think that is a good enough excuse.

"The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of the parents." -- Jung

Isn't our own power and creative fulfillment the most important thing to try to hold on to, for our kid's sake?

To me, remaining engaged in "my" life is more important than teaching my child how to baby sign or remembering their friend's multiple dietary preferences or keeping the house clean. It is more important than money.

It is everything.

Because when I don't do my thing I am miserable to be around. Not doing my thing makes me hate everyone who is doing it, makes me uncomfortable to live inside my own skin, makes me lash out and blame the people I love.

That is not good parenting.

And what about single parents, Emelia? Sometimes folks don't get the choice. To those people- this article is not about you.

I am talking to the folks who have resources to stretch. Probably not the ones with newborns, probably not people with special needs kids. I am talking about people who put their child's life in front of their own because they are scared of living on their own personal edge.

Because it is easier to be overwhelmed with Brix's home school art project than sit down and write yourself.

I recently heard an interview with a man who was hiking up a mountain. There was an accident and the lower half of his body became trapped under a 3-tonne boulder in a stream bed. He almost drowned as the rain made the stream rise. He had to watch as fish ate his feet. Fire ants were stinging his chest, ears and face continuously. He waited 48 hours alone until help arrived. Both of his legs were amputated to the top thigh. Ten months later he succeeded in climbing (in a wheelchair he designed) Mount Kilimanjaro.

If he can do that, I can find 30 minutes to do what I love once a day. And if I truly want my child to know that they are unique snowflakes then I better do what I love doing around them -- a lot. My child will find what out they love to do by watching me do what I love to do.

Maybe I'll get a rude awakening. Maybe I will be reduced to ashes.

But when I am a mother I want to continue to follow my dreams even if it means being selfish at times, even if it means not rushing to their every pee-pee call, even if it means paying for childcare, even if it means sometimes letting them cry.

Because I'm special too.

We all are.

I want my kids to know that.

Motherhood I am beholden to you. I lay myself at your feet.

Please take your time with me.

Let me enjoy the ride.

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