A few weeks ago we had some friends over for dinner. These are friends that we love dearly, that have been together for a long time and that we don't get to see very often but when we do it's always refreshing. After a very thrown together meal, we got around to talking about having kids. Let me start by saying that this conversation is not usually something I intentionally bring up with any of our non-parent friends. I just don't. I might wonder about it privately, but in recent years I have learned to have much more sensitivity towards conversations that assume or are playful about couples "getting a move on" or joking that "you guys must be next". We just don't know what people are going through.
With these friends though, it kind of just came up - and we had a really eye-opening discussion about making the decision to become parents that left me with much food for thought. You see, much of their hesitation in deciding to try and begin a family has come, not from a lack of desire, but often from the negative press from other parents in their lives.
It seems that whilst 20/30 years ago it was pretty normal that any difficulties in parenting (or anything else for that matter) were not surfaced or shared because of personal privacy and stiff upper lips, this generation of parents have found their voices, and we are wading around in the other extreme with so many platforms to talk about the hardships of parenting. There are countless books, memes, articles and blogs all detailing the underbelly of real-life parenting and I wonder, for our own good, and the good of our not-yet-parent friends, if there isn't a middle ground to be unearthed.
It made me really sad to hear that our friends felt like all they had really heard or seen of parenting had been the difficult, messy, exhausting stuff. It made me reevaluate how we talk about our family life to others as well and I have a few random thoughts on why this area might be difficult for us as a demographic of young parents:
- We default to sarcasm. Sarcasm and banter is the language of our generation. We can thank the script-writers of Friends for that. So, when we can't be blatantly honest about the reality of how we are feeling about the responsibility of parenting (I'm finding this really overwhelming. I feel like I'm losing myself. I miss how easy it was to just take care of me) for fear of sounding completely selfish, we bundle up those feelings into sarcastic conversation, witty remarks and facebook posts about "...how fun it is to be woken up to clean a freshly peed in bed at 4am! EXCEPT THE OPPOSITE OF THAT." It's easier to talk about the incidents in jest rather than confront the deeper feelings. GUILTY.
- We don't want to come off as smug. Most of us know people who struggle with the fact that they can't or don't have children and maybe our reluctance to celebrate the incredible joy there is in being a parent is our way of trying to protect the eyes and ears of those we love that long for the same. Nobody wants to be the constant subject of an eye-roll. GUILTY.
- We think we are just keeping it real. Keeping it real is about as critical to our generation as fresh air and we seek it out and aspire towards it and with parenting, it's only when we hit the road on the parenting journey do we really value the honesty of other parents. Our search for solidarity and finding someone else that sticks their hand up and says "ME TOO" can be like reaching water on a hot day. I think our determination to be genuine about the ups and downs has maybe been a bit too heavy on the downs. GUILTY.
Even today, as I sat and listened to Levi's teacher give me glowing feedback on how he was doing in class and what a pleasure he was to teach, I felt the urge to make a sarcastic remark, roll my eyes or retort about 'how I wished it was all as good as this at home' - but for what?! He is a good kid at home. Why did I feel the need to downplay the lovely comments someone was making about my son? It's crazy! I adore this little guy and I was so proud of the kind words his teacher had to say.
The reality is, we shouldn't be afraid to enjoy and celebrate our children and our family. The world has enough brokenness, with families even on our own doorsteps are facing so much proper despair - why would we add our voices to that when we could inject something positive? Maybe we could all do with resolving to take the conversation up a level - sharing the more difficult moments with a more select audience, saving the deeper stuff with our most trusted supporters. Not because we shouldn't be vulnerable, but because our vulnerability is precious. We don't have to sanitise but we should be sensitive.
What do you think? Have we swayed too much into too much negative talk about parenting? Is there a way to be real and honest without tipping the balance? How can we delight in our kids or in this season without coming across as smug or self-righteous? I would LOVE to hear your thoughts.