Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Piece of Advice #49: Get some experience with children

When I was a teenager I spent hundreds of hours taking care of other people's kids.  I volunteered at church in the nursery and babysat practically every weekend (at $1.25/hr, can you believe it?).  The summer I was sixteen I worked full time as a babysitter, whiling away the long summer hours entertaining an eight year old.  By the time I was twenty, I was seriously down with kids - babies, toddlers, elementary school kids, tweens - I'd logged the time and I was reasonably adept at caretaking, entertaining, diverting, and maintaining order.  If you'd sat me down at a table with a shy or sulky three year old, I'd have picked a spoon and asked her to tell me if her reflection was right side up or upside down and then flipped it and asked again.  Flip, flip. Concave, convex.  Magic.

Because I had this experience when I went to work as an English teacher in Russia, I did not panic when they gave me a schedule full of different age children: 1st grade, 3rd grade, 6th grade, 9th grade, 11th grade.  It was a challenge coming up with suitable lesson plans for all those different ages, but I wasn't totally unfamiliar with what was developmentally appropriate or what worked with what age.  Later I found a job as a children's librarian and had no problem switching gears from preschool to teen interaction at a moment's notice.

Now, not everyone wants to work with kids, and that's fine.  But this background meant that when I finally became a mother, it wasn't nearly so overwhelming as it is for many new mothers.  Sure, I consulted reference books about developmental milestones, and I called my mom if my son got a strange rash or ran a high fever, but I had no problem becoming comfortable with my kid because I was comfortable in general with kids.  I knew how to play tickle and peek-a-boo and I had a whole repertoire of silly songs including some I made up myself.

It seems strange to me that we as a society are proud of producing women who don't know how to change diapers or talk to babies or distract a toddler from the tantrum he's about to throw.  Or, even worse, producing women who don't want to have children at all.  I don't think it's odd for women not to relish the idea of diapers or midnight feedings, but what kind of self-loathers do we have to be as a culture to be programming our daughters to believe that motherhood is drudgery or "detrimental."  Motherhood is the de facto state of women and has been for thousands of years.  It's why we're here: to produce and raise the next generation successfully so that they can produce and raise the next generation successfully.  Sure, it's hard work and can be relentless and thankless, but what job isn't?  And I've never had a cheetos fight, made up dragon stories, or exchanged PB&J smeared kisses with any of my other bosses or coworkers.

Getting that experience may be more challenging for you than it was for me.  I realize that girls do not babysit now the way they babysat when I was a teen, and families are smaller than ever, so you probably won't get it at home.  But volunteering is still an option, as is babysitting for friends.  Not all kids are pleasant to be around, but if you spend enough time with children, you may find that your perspective on the world changes.  It's harder to be a brutal cynic when you're with someone who finds blowing bubbles rapturous and fart jokes endlessly funny.  You may even start to want some of your own.  My advice is to start earlier rather than later on that.  Don't feel like you are wasting all your opportunities if you decide to be a mother early.  Motherhood is an opportunity and a learning experience, and there will still be time for outside aspirations when your kids get to be a little older.

6 comments:

  1. You're like the female Roissy. I need to send your blog to girls I know.

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  2. This a huge plus for LTRs, in fact, it's a necessity for LTRs. If a girl isn't good with kids, she automatically fails the LTR test.

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  3. Honestly, I never really enjoyed being around babies in my young lady years. I was certainly not the girl who walked into a room, spotted the baby, and held it the entire time of a visit. I was in my own world of dreams. I did babysit older children (in addition to being home all day with my younger brothers and keeping house) and found it entertaining and not too much of a challenge; but quite frankly, babies scared me.

    I always knew I'd be good with my own baby (and I was), and now that the barrier has been broken, I love babies at any age or stage.

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  4. roosh - Well, there's a small difference in that I've only had one lover, and I married him, but other than that... ;) Welcome, by the way; thanks for commenting. And your female friends are also welcome to drop by. Any time.

    Vincent - I suppose it depends on the man. If he doesn't want children either, you don't have much of a problem. But it he does want children, he should probably weed out the girls who are all about Prada bags and acrylic nails.

    Jenny - Welcome to you, too. I'm not a tiny baby person myself. I really prefer them when they start getting personality, around say 9 months, and I love it when they start putting their own thoughts together and come up with stuff outside the usual stream of thought. But if I'm just borrowing, I won't pass up the opportunity to hold a little one and ooh and aah a bit.

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  5. I don't think it's all that awful that somebody (male or female) wouldn't want to be a parent. There are many humans in the world. Most people want kids. There will be enough people born in the next generation to carry on civilization.

    What harm does it do a woman if both she and her husband don't want children? It doesn't hurt their marriage if they're on the same page. What harm does it do anybody else?

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  6. Anonymous - I think it's fine for individuals to decide to forego kids. If your heart isn't in it, it's probably a good call. But if on a societal level you have all sorts of women opting out or viewing motherhood as a disagreeable chore at best, you've got a society that values the comfort of the individual over the continuation of its culture, and that is in a very serious way self-loathing. The future is bleak if the only people who are reproducing are the ones who are unable to count the cost.

    Also, comfort - as comfortable as it is - produces very little wisdom or growth.

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