Friday, September 18, 2015

Yes, You Can!

Or Maybe You Shouldn't

One of the responses I hear with some frequency when I tell people I am a stay-at-home parent is, "oh, I could never do that."  Or less frequently, but still on occasion, "my spouse (typically husband) could never do that."  When I hear these comments, I usually respond with a lighthearted chuckle knowing that their statement is an excessive exaggeration likely aimed at trying to make me feel better about my current job title on my LinkedIn profile (or lack thereof).  Even our pediatrician once commented to me that she couldn't be a stay-at-home parent, which was a blatant lie.  I would let her stay at our home with our kids any day.

Sure, being a stay-at-home parent can have its fair share of challenges; it requires excessive amounts of patience and a healthy dose of self deprecation to keep you from snapping.  But it's not rocket-science or brain surgery.  Remember that, outside of needing the necessary anatomy and physiology for reproduction, there are no other required prerequisites to having and raising offspring, even though there maybe should be.  While you might not be as good maneuvering in the Grand Caravan as I am, if you are currently a parent or thinking about becoming a parent, I'm pretty certain you could do what I do on a daily basis.*

At least I really hope so.  After hearing the remark from people about their, likely exaggerated, inability to be a stay-at-home parent, I started to wonder if some people actually believed that statement to be true for themselves.  That was when I began to get a little worried, especially considering the number of current parents who made that comment to me.  I've decided that if you truly don't think, under any circumstances, you could ever be a stay-at-home parent, you're not ready to be a parent period.  A few weeks ago, I was asked by a couple who has contemplated starting a family when I felt I was ready to have kids, and I didn't have a good answer for them - especially considering how we started our own family somewhat unexpectedly.  This notion has given me a definitive answer on when I think people are ready.

Not that I think everyone should be a stay-at-home parent or even feel "called" to be a stay-at-home parent.  There are certainly households that function better and are probably happier with the parents working and kids going to a high quality daycare.  I felt as though that was our situation before we added number three.  But life has a tendency of throwing you more curveballs than Tim Lincecum, and at some point, the circumstances of your life might necessitate, or just make more sense, for you to be a stay-at-home parent.  This can be the case for a whole host of reasons - child illness, job layoff, relocation, something, good or bad, affecting your spouse, etc.  If, even under those situations likely out of your control, you could never see yourself being a stay-at-home parent, even temporarily, I don't think you're ready to be a parent.

Becoming a parent doesn't mean that you need to put all other aspects of your life on hold or give up everything you've worked so hard to achieve from a career standpoint to focus solely on the adorable little monster you've created.  Yes, work-life balance can become even more challenging with children, but millions of people figure out how to make it work.  However, when starting a family and adding other human beings to the mix, you inevitably increase the likelihood that something beyond your control will come up that will have a significant impact on your life.  Becoming a parent means that you have to be ready to put all other aspects of your life on hold should the circumstances warrant it - mother or father.  To drop everything and deal with any shit that has hit the fan - usually figuratively, sometimes literally.

Andrew Moravcsik, a political science professor at Princeton University, contributed a great article for the October edition of The Atlantic, entitled "Why I Put My Wife's Career First".  It his article, which was a follow-up to an (also great) article his wife, a former State Department official, wrote a few years ago, Dr. Moravcsik cites research that given the "nearly impossible expectations....for ambitious young people planning two-career marriages" and increasing number of young professionals are opting to not have children all together. That is certainly one way to go, and sometimes it is those people who decide not to have children who would make terrific parents, stay-at-home or working.

Personally, I see this first hand with my sister and brother-in-law.  They have made a conscious decision, despite the fact that I think they would both be phenomenal parents, to not have children.  They haven't necessarily done this to pursue high-powered careers, as both of their professions are very family-friendly, or because they are kid averse, as they love spending time with their nieces and nephews.  They've decided that the life they've created is what they want it to be and expanding their immediate family is not of interest to them.  Certainly some people see this as a selfish move, but I actually feel it is the opposite.  Because starting a family and having kids is the prevailing norm in our society, I believe it takes more thought and more self actualization to realize that not having kids won't leave you feeling unfulfilled.  While the actual operation of parenting is much tougher (to say nothing of the labor and delivery for the female), I see making the decision to not be a parent as a more challenging one.    

So when people tell me that they "couldn't be a stay-at-home parent", I feel the urge to respond with, "Yes, you can!"  But if you don't already have kids, and honestly don't think you could ever be a stay-at-home parent, I wouldn't recommend becoming a parent to begin with.  If you do already have kids, and honestly don't think you could ever, under any circumstances, be a stay-at-home parent, I hope your spouse vehemently disagrees.

"Yeah, you don't know how it feels."

It can get a little taxing when you're
carrying around some additional weight.  

Seriously though, it's not that tough.

*I actually have significant prior experience with a Grand Caravan, as I drove one for the better part of my Senior Year of high school.  Don't get discouraged, practice makes perfect.      

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