DH (Dear Husband) and I have invested so much into the whole infertility process and trying to get pregnant, that we hadn’t approached getting pregnant in the way I’d prefer: having the major financial matters solved or at least tentatively agreed on prior to having a child. Continue reading Daycare: How to People Make it Work?
It has taken 34 years, but I’ve finally – almost – accepted that my parents will never be the loving, empathetic, caring people that I’ve always assume parental types should be. Like any human, they are flawed, but unlike many humans, they are extraordinarily self-centered, giving only financially as a means to feel powerful and in control. Continue reading May the Force Be With You: Bringing a Child into this World
As our “being pregnant-ness” sinks in, hubs and I are starting to discuss childcare – you know, keeping our child alive when we’re at work. My husband plans to be going back to school during our kid’s first year of life, being in class from early morning and not getting home until after 7:30pm. I’ll be working 8-7. We definitely need a plan for baby watching.
At the moment, I plan to take 12 weeks off from work. I believe 4 weeks of that will be fully paid, and another 8 weeks will be covered in some part by short term disability. I’m still not sure how that works. But then once those 12 weeks are up, I’m back to work. Continue reading The Cost of Childcare: Year 1
My feet touched one door and my head barely touched the other as I sprawled out across the backseat of my parent’s car. I was listening to the soundtack of any given trip to any given family gathering. It was a mix of 1950s rock & roll with a recurring intrusion of violent arguing in the form often in the form of my mother complaining about the direction my father would take to the freeway and my father throwing violent temper tantrums in reaction to the criticism. I don’t have many memories of specific instances in my childhood, just all of them merging into this blur of Doo Wop and screaming at various frequencies – my father’s low and unsettling, my mother’s high pitched and with the potential for dog-genocide across the entire Tri-State area.
Sometimes I close my eyes and try to remember my childhood, as I know the little girl me has died a long time ago but still I want her to come back. I want the few memories I have good or bad to live on in my mind even if all I remember are the fights and the chaos and the uncomfortable moments. I remember the waft of chlorine dancing into my lungs the second I walked into the pool cub in the summer, doing hand stands and somersaults underwater and holding my breath as long as I could. I remember going over to my grandparents for thanksgiving with our loud and boisterous family and running off to cause mischief with my next oldest cousin who managed to be even more ADHD than I was. I remember the day I brought my pile of rocks collected from my home landscaping in to show and tell in a Halloween pumpkin from McDonalds and I included the skeleton of a small fish that I ate at my Portuguese neighbor’s house and saved because I was fascinated by the bones inside of a living create as much as I was fascinated by the smoothest and shiniest of rocks. I remember being sent to the principal’s office in second grade because this other kid and I were child-flirting and he pinched me on the arm so I pinched him under the eye because I always have to one-up my competition and he immediately started bawling and I was for the first time in my life in trouble with anyone other than my father. I remember sitting embarrassed in the principal’s office and coming up with a plan to get out of my parent’s finding out. Continue reading On Being a Good Mother
Now that I’m getting around to this whole phase of my life where I will be trying to get pregnant (soon), the actual cost of kids is rolling towards me like a giant boulder chasing after Indiana Jones. Kids. Are. Damn. Expletive. Expensive.
Mr. HECC and myself are in a very good financial state compared to most people our age. We have $0 in college loans thanks to our parents covering our undergraduate tuition in full (I don’t know how we’ll be able to give the same gift to our future children) and we don’t have any other debt. We own our cars (which we bought used) outright and while our rent is not super cheap, we can afford to pay it on one income should one of us lose a job at some point – at least for a little while. And, together, we have about $450k saved up. For newlyweds in our early 30s, we’re doing ok.
Still, the cost of having children almost seems prohibitively expensive. I’ve been reading a lot of forums where they detail the cost of the basics – childcare, food, some activities, et al, and it adds up fast. Apparently pre-school around here costs about $2k a month or more ($24k a year.) Ouch. No wonder many of my friends ended up choosing to leave work, at least temporarily, to raise their kids as stay-at-home moms or part-time workers.
Since my income is much higher than Mr. HECC (and currently I’m the only one with work-provided insurance) it looks like if anyone ends up staying home to take care of our hypothetical future children, it will be him. I think I’m ok with that, but I also know he isn’t the “take care of the house” type so I’ll still have to at least be the main cleaner (which isn’t my forte.) He’ll cook so at least we have that covered. I’d be the full time worker, house cleaner and financial lead of our household. I’m pretty sure that my stress levels – which aren’t that low right now – will be through the roof should I have kids. The numbers just don’t make sense.
Clearly, lots of people have kids. Lots of people with a lot more debt than we do have kids. Lots of people who will never be able to take a vacation or enjoy a night out have kids. People have kids. Or they don’t. But it’s rare that a couple really analyzes the cost of children and then decides to have them because it’s a smart financial decision. It costs about $250k to raise a kid BEFORE college costs are involved. So it’s about $500k just to raise a kid if you’re going to pay for their undergraduate education, give or take $100k. Mr. HECC rolls his eyes at those figures – he grew up in a pretty modest household and their family trips were going camping in national parks and he never owned new clothes, so he doesn’t have the same kind of expectations that I do for our children. That said, I also now acknowledge that the amount of new toys I had as a child was ridiculous and I didn’t need to spend thousands of dollars on trendy clothes each year at the mall. There’s definitely somewhere in between our childhoods that we can settle on. No matter what, it’s going to be very expensive.
I feel that I’m now on the edge of this cliff looking at the abyss of a very frugal life, and back at my life so far where, despite ups and downs in my career, I’ve had quite a few luxuries and still have been able to save a substantial amount. I think about the “DINK” lifestyle – dual income, no kids – and wonder if maybe that’s the way to go. I don’t have that long to decide… if I want kids, I have to have them soon. It may come to having to spend tens of thousands of dollars on fertility treatments to have a kid, which adds to the cost of actually having them.
I’m not complaining about the costs, just trying to be realistic with if this makes any sense, or if I should stop and think a lot harder on whether or not it makes sense to have kids given my inability to keep a stable job and my husband’s lack of motivation to increase his earning potential. We’re both doing quite fine without children, but with kids – even one kid – things will change. And it’s not something you can take back once you have them, so you better be damn sure you want them before you do.
I AM sure I want kids, however. I want two children and Mr. HECC and I have already named them. I don’t know if I can have them, and I’m not quite sure yet if I’d be devastated if I’m unable to have kids, but I know that if I can have them I want them. It makes absolutely no sense yet that’s pretty much all I can think about these days. I don’t have any fairytales about having kids being easy either. I see my friend’s kids and they are all pains in the asses, even the ones that are relatively calm and charming. But – I have so much love in me it’s bursting at the seams, and I’m tired of living life for work. I want to live life for family and build a strong and stable and hopefully happy family and lots of memories before I kick the bucket.
So then the question becomes WHEN to have kids. I’ll be 33 this fall, which is old in baby-making years, especially for a first child when your goal is to have two – it’s very unlikely at this point I’ll have my first kid before I’m 34. I’ve always wanted to have my second by 36. I like the idea of having two kids close in age but at the same time having kids that close together is really, really, really hard – especially if the woman is the primary breadwinner of the household. I just don’t know how it all works. No matter how I picture it, everything breaks down. Either I quit my job, we move somewhere more cheaper, or both, and, still, that doesn’t help matters much. My savings that I’ve worked so hard to acquire slowly gets depleted until we’re in debt and can’t dig ourselves out. We have one medical emergency after another and we can’t afford good medical care and we end up on food stamps and we can’t help our children with their own issues so they end up in a vicious cycle of poverty.
Ok, so this is an exaggeration of what could happen, but I don’t see how anyone affords kids!?!
The majority of my friends are popping out their first children or well on their way to their second child by now. My Facebook feed, filled with folks I went to school with, mostly lesser educated yet clearly happy people, showcases families now of three or four kids. At nearly 33, I remain childless. I don’t FEEL old, yet it terms of childbearing years I’m getting up there. If I can get pregnant easily (which is unlikely) then I would have my first child before 35 – which is fine. However, I don’t want my second child to feel rushed as I know how much work having one child is, and I want time to enjoy being a mother of one before rushing on to try for my second.
Although I’ve thought a lot about the logistics of getting pregnant and childbirth before, the reality of the situation has never felt quite so pressing. Now that I’ve checked the marriage box there really is nothing holding me back from getting pregnant – except maybe an overdue international honeymoon which I was unable to take after the wedding for a variety of reasons (call me silly to put off getting pregnant until a honeymoon but I’d like to be able to enjoy this trip as much as possible and not feel sick on it, and I’d like to try regional cuisine including wine/sake depending on where we end up going.) But – I’m also at the point where I’m sincerely concerned about my ability to get pregnant and although I keep telling myself life will go on should I not be able to actually procreate, I feel like everyday we don’t try is another day I might eventually regret.
Before you say I’m being ridiculous, let me remind you at the ripe young age of 15 my gynecologist told me that my irregular periods were not to be of concern (and did not mention PCOS) but that as long as I have my kids before 30 I’ll be fine. That comments haunts me to this day. I am terrified that because I didn’t heed her advice, I’ll blame myself when we are stuck in cycles of IVF, I’m taking dozens of unpaid leave days from work and ultimately losing my job because I’m massively depressed over all of the emotional drama that goes along with infertility treatments and getting used to failures and picking back up and trying again and watching our bank accounts drain at what amounts to playing fertility roulette.
Mr. HECC is the type that doesn’t worry about the future. Generally, this is a good thing. He lives in the moment and I admire that. He doesn’t really have plans and while he wants kids he isn’t getting himself into a tizzy over how hard it might be for us to make them. He figures we’ll deal with it when it’s time to deal with it and if we can’t have any then we might adopt. I’m not sure about adoption (I have very mixed feelings about it and that’s something I won’t think about until I really have to) – but in the mean time I feel like this is pretty important and there are so many things that effect my ability to get pregnant and be pregnant and have children that require proper planning for a what may amount to a non-occurance and in this case I think I’m in the right to be a bit concerned about what this future of ours looks like which may or may not include offspring.
Work isn’t exactly stable right now. My company has no written maternity leave policy and because they have under 50 people they have no legal requirements to provide time off. Basically, how they treat maternity leave would depend on how much they want to keep me around. They can’t fire me if I get pregnant, but they certainly can make it not the easiest to stay. And, honestly, with the amount of responsibility I have I can’t say I’d be the best employee with such distractions. I’d never admit that to my employer, as that might set all of women back hundreds of years, but it’s kind of an unspoken truth – especially in the case for someone like myself with very clear mental illness who has already proven herself incapable of handling personal stressors and maintaining quality, consistent work at all times. The thing is – I WANT to have a few good years of focusing on work with no distractions. Even if I am uncertain of my career, I do like doing good work. I have been so distracted with the wedding (which was just a frivolous, inconsequential life event beyond actually getting married) that I can’t imagine what I’ll be like when I’m rushing off to IVF treatments (should they be needed) and waiting to see if one of them happen to take. Even just trying to get pregnant the good old fashioned way can be extremely stressful – as can be the potential of miscarriage, which is, according to some reports, 30% to 50% more likely in women with PCOS.
The amount of emotional stress that will go into getting and staying pregnant with my condition is above and beyond the normal challenges faced by pregnant women who work. Two of my good friends had horrible first trimesters where they were constantly nauseous and sick, and if such illness struck me I honestly don’t know what I’d do with having to work and not having time off to take. I’m already in a not-so-great situation in my current company where my company isn’t sold on my value, but if I leave and go to another company it would be even harder to ask for time off should I need it to deal with infertility treatments or standard morning sickness. Larger companies are probably better overall in handling the challenges that come with getting pregnant (in most startups I’ve worked for the majority of employees are men and the women in the company are typically younger / not of childbearing age. Executives are rarely female and if they are they are often childfree by choice. My last company was the exception with one highly-valued exec who was pregnant and had a child – and she barely took any time off to do so.) I dislike that at this point in my career not only am I trying to sort out my career but I also really do need to think about how this will effect my ability to have a child and remain gainfully employed. As I’ve noted many times before, I make more than double what my husband makes, so I really can’t stop working. I don’t want to stop working either – but I am worried about the sheer biological and emotional challenges which I cannot avoid once I start trying to get pregnant.
As is, I have about 15 PTO days per year (no “sick” days) – which is actually really good for a US company – and I’ve used nearly all of the ones I’ve accumulated so far on getting married. If I do take the extended honeymoon I’ve dreamed of since forever (Mr. HECC and I have never traveled internationally together in our 10+ years of dating), then I’ll wipe out the remainder of my PTO once I have enough to actually leave for two weeks. It will take seven months with absolutely no days off (no sick days, no vacation) to collect enough time off to actually take a two week vacation. Unfortunately I’m taking a day this July for a funeral so that means my accrual of days starts in August. That means it won’t be until March that I can take the time off to travel for a real honeymoon (well I can maybe negotiate some unpaid days earlier but I’d prefer not to lose income – the amount it costs me to miss a day of work isn’t worth it.) Meanwhile, I have friend’s weddings which require travel and I’d like to take some PTO for them this fall, but I can’t because I want to save up for the trip…
The bigger problem is that once I do take a honeymoon I’ll be left with zero PTO days just when it’s important for me to start immediately trying to have a child. It’s an easy conversation to tell your (male) boss you are pregnant, but highly uncomfortable to discuss how you are trying and have PCOS and need to go see multiple doctors and you don’t know exactly what the process is going to look like or how long it will take or if you can get pregnant but you are going to try really hard and you need some time to go to the doctor and you don’t know how much and you just used up all your PTO on your vacation but besides the fact you want to stay at your job and keep your job you also need your health benefits so you HAVE to stay at your job…
And as this is all so soon, I feel like I should be thinking about it and planning. It’s not just typical HECC anxiety/neuroticism, it is my life, my career, my income, my stability, and my future. I can just wait and deal with it as it comes, but I see exactly how this plays out and it isn’t pretty.
My current plan is to stay at my job at least until December and then maybe take a few weeks unpaid between starting a new job, ideally at a larger company that has a maternity leave policy and that supports pregnant mothers. I don’t know if I can get a job at one of these companies, but at this point in my life that is probably the most important benefit I can seek out (other than good health insurance.) If I was thriving in the startup world I’d fight harder to stay, but my successes are few and far between, and I think life is point me towards some kind of change. Mr. HECC may go back to school for teaching in a year, and with that I hope he’ll have a stable (albeit low-paid) job which enables him to maintain a level of happiness and take care of our “who knows if they will ever happen” children while I continue to do whatever it is I end up doing professionally. While I don’t see how we can afford to stay living in this area, his plan is to have his mother live on the same property we do and help with the down payment (my thoughts on that are for another post at another time.) In any case, life is complicated as always. I am happy to be married, but thought I’d be a bit more stable in other aspects of life by now. It will certainly be an interesting ride over the next few years of adulthood. I think the only thing I know is that I want kids, so I somehow need to manage a life around making that happen… even if financially it isn’t the smartest and logistically it isn’t the easiest.
In California, if you qualify for paid family leave (PFL) you can receive up to six weeks’ worth of wages at a reduced level. You are eligible for about 55% of our average weekly income during this base period. The maximum weekly benefit is $1067. Both parents, as well as same sex domestic partners, can qualify for this leave.
Also the FMLA (family medical leave act) says that you can take 12 weeks of unpaid time and you have to be offered the same job or a similar role when you come back.
That’s a great benefit to living in the state of California. But there’s a catch – your company must employ at least 50 employees within a 75 mile radius in order to qualify for both of these.
When deciding on a job opportunity, I don’t want my potential future childbearing situation to be part of the decision. Maybe that’s naive, but I don’t even know if I can have a child or how long it will take to do so. I might get pregnant the second I start trying or it can take many, many years – and by that time I could have been employed at a smaller company with great success.
Granted, my story reaps of privilege – my income level makes it possible to save (if I continue to rent an apartment anyway) and be able to have gaps in employment without resorting to food stamps. That said, I am a woman who is looking at two job opportunities and I know one will have to give me six weeks off with 55% of my income if I do have a kid at some point while working there, whereas I’d be shit-out-of-luck at the other.
In short, they say wait until you get pregnant and then deal with it.
While smaller companies aren’t focused on parental leave policies, larger companies in Silicon Valley are making inroads for maternity and paternity leave.
Let’s remember that the U.S. is the only developed country in the world that does not require some kind of paid leave for new mothers. According to the Department of Labor, only 12 percent of private-sector workers have access to it.
In Silicon Valley, small startups offer nothing (or, at best, it’s a case-by-case basis that you can’t predict) while larger tech companies offer significant improvements to enhance their culture, talent acquisition and retention.
Facebook gives 4 months PTO, Google gives 18 paid weeks for moms and 12 for dads, and plenty other well-known firms are coming out at supporters of new parents (Adobe and Netflix have gotten some good PR buzz lately from their policies, certainly helping their recruiting efforts of top talent. Netflix, with it’s buzz-worthy ‘unlimited time off’ policy for paternity leave, is only offering it for the company’s highly-competitive streaming division – which isn’t getting as much buzz but important to point out.)
To be fair to a small startup, losing one employee for a substantial amount of time can be a much bigger challenge when they cannot be replaced temporarily. And life is a balancing act where you’re never fully balanced. You have to make hard choices and sometimes that means giving up a job opportunity for more stability and parental leave or just sucking it up and dealing with losing your job should you need to take a significant amount of time to recover from childbirth and bond with your new child. That’s life, right?
But when you look at the lack of women in tech startups, you should ask yourself if that has something to do with the fact that dudes are running the show and not thinking about what would attract female talent. In a survey of 101 women in Silicon Valley, 61% said they wouldn’t work for a startup or tech company that didn’t have a maternity policy. That pretty much means 61% of women wouldn’t work for a Series A or B startup for this reason alone.
Of 97 tech companies polled, one-quarter offered less than a month of paid leave for new mothers.
One CEO talked to 716 women who left the tech industry about their reason for leaving. Women who successfully negotiated unpaid time off at smaller companies were still expected to work, albeit remotely. I saw this first-hand when a very senior-level executive at my last startup went through her own pregnancy. She’s a rockstar and can hold it together with a lot of competing priorities, but I know she was working at least for part of her maternity leave, and probably a lot more than I even know. And the company was very flexible with her because everyone would agree she’s irreplaceable (or it would be just very challenging to replace her and not worth pushing her out.) What about everyone else who can be replaced?
Of those 716 women surveyed, 465 are not working today. 251 are employed in non-tech jobs and 45 are running their own companies. 625 of those women say they have no plan to return to tech.
And we wonder why there are so few women in tech leadership roles. You can say it’s a choice – and to some extent, it is. But a man doesn’t have to make the choice. A man doesn’t have his body taken over by a child for nine months, and then have to feed that child from his body for many months after that. And as long as startup CEOs don’t acknowledge the need for parental leave, or deal with it on a case-by-case, depends how much we like you basis, women in tech – esp in senior leadership roles – will be few and far between.
Shit. I’m less than 6 months to 32. That’s not quite old but it certainly not young. And while I’ve saved up a decently sizable portfolio of investments over the course of my 31 and a half years, every day I freak out more regarding how I’m quickly watching the opportunity to have children disappear before my eyes. Yes, women can have kids later and later these days, but with my PCOS-crapified ovaries I know getting and staying pregnant is going to be a total bitch and damn expensive if not impossible.
There is no way in hell that I could work in a job like the one I have now and deal with getting pregnant. At least when you have kids they’re these physical creatures you can talk about with others and offer as a reason to work from home on occasion in order to deal with the whole biological needs of being a mother with infants. When you’re trying to get pregnant and not having any organic luck, then you have to deal with tons of doctors appointments and the crazy of hormone injections and such that mess with your mind. Yes, people do this all the time but I’m sure working for a startup makes it a heck of a lot harder. And I don’t think I’d ever see an occasion where I’d feel comfortable explaining to my current boss that I need to take some time during the day to go to a series of doctors appointments in order to get knocked up. That’s personal, and I would want it to stay personal.
While I’m not looking to get pregnant today, the reality is that I DO want to be married by next June (12 months) and very shortly thereafter want to begin the process of trying to have kids. I’ll be 32-and-a-half (holy shit) and in order to have my first kid by 34, well, that doesn’t leave a heck of a lot of time. Mr. HECC needs to hurry up and propose to me (hoping that’s happening in next 30 days because now we’re at the 9 year mark and we’ve generally both agreed on the get-married-and-have-kids timeline) and we just need to move on with our lives. I’m perplexed at how I can be 31 with a job making over $150k a year and a networth approaching $350k and I still feel so terribly lost and behind. I have a job, not a career, no matter what it looks like from the outside – and a boyfriend who might as well be my husband but who isn’t – because I’ve been so preoccupied with not being like those girls who just get married in their 20s because that’s what they think they ought to do.
And on top of all this, I am seriously considering grad school now more than ever – because this whole situation of just taking jobs that I can get versus jobs that I’m actually capable of being good at is absolutely draining every ounce of my being. I’m learning a shit ton and there are many aspects of my role that I like too, but it’s just not for me over the long term. I’m so grateful that the few people I have on my team are rockstars and helping me stay somewhat sane, but nonetheless that isn’t a career I can maintain even for a few more years. I need to make changes and I need to make changes fast in order to at least make a significant attempt at having a family, which at the end of the day is way more important to me than becoming a millionaire in my 40s.
So now that I have that straight, it definitely changes my priorities and plans. What kind of career can I have where I can – instead of being at the office 10 hours a day not including commute – spend time at home and be able to be a part of my potential future children’s lives? What job can I do where I can live a somewhat standard middle class life and be able to afford a house with a porch and a backyard… one that I can watch my children run around in? If my 20s were the years where I just wandered blindly and tried my best to save and save some more, my 30s are a time to open my eyes and just accept that being in the upper middle class, like I was as a child, isn’t necessarily the only option or a real route to happiness. So what if I’m squarely in the middle class? Did endless trips to the suburban shopping malls actually make me a happier person? Did my parents putting me through a private college for four years set me up for more success then I would have had if I went to a state school on scholarship and loans? Yes, it made it possible for me to take more risks then I might have if I didn’t have the cushion, but maybe those risks were bad ones to begin with. Maybe those risks are the ones that got me to almost 32, unwed and looking at a likely barren future.
Of all the things I freak out about, having kids and being able to have kids is something that I think I have a right to worry about. There is a such thing as a biological clock and time is FLYING by. I’m grateful to at least have the man who I see being the father to my children in my life, and for that to be an extremely stable relationship – but who cares if I’m going to be a 33-year-old newly wed and facing years of expensive, painful, and otherwise inconvenient infertility treatments? Being a woman IS different than being a guy – especially one in their late 20s / early 30s. Guys don’t have to rush into having kids – and guys don’t have to stab themselves with hormones in order to attempt to get pregnant, going to the doctor for many appointments in order to conceive and then engage in an entirely new series of doctors visits for ensuring the baby is born healthy and all… not to mention all that stuff that comes with being a mother once you give birth. And if you want more than one kid — well, so long to career progression in your 30s.
But do I really care? I don’t exactly have my heart set on becoming CMO – and what that entails. Is the American Dream working so hard until the day you retire that you don’t see your kids grow up, or have time to enjoy any hobbies or other moments in life that don’t involve soothing client worries or generating more business? I hate admitting that part of me wishes I were born at a time when these choices were made for me. What a terrible feminist. But it’s hard to be everything. Well, it’s not possible to be everything. And I am really, honestly, over dramatically and extremely terrified of believing time wouldn’t progress quite so rapidly if I chose to ignore it – and that my own ability to be a functioning woman wouldn’t be sidetracked by attempting to get ahead in a career where I’m yet another broken cog in an otherwise malfunctioning machine that will spin on and on and on whether or not I happen to be there to fill my little place in it.
The term “childfree” is all the rage these days. A new book “Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed – Sixteen Writers on the Decision NOT to Have Kids” is getting its spin in the spotlight. Not surprisingly, everyone – and their mother – had an opinion on whether or not any woman should become a mother. If you don’t have kids, as the book’s name suggests, you are called various derogatory terms, as if somehow the choice not to bring another human being into the already overpopulated, resource-strained world is the most selfish thing a person can do. I for one acknowledge that the choice to be childfree is anything but.
That said, I do want children. I don’t think there is a logical reason why beyond biology; I’m absolutely terrified of my ability to be a good mother – judging by my management skills and hatred of confrontation and overall disorganization and poor time management ability, one could easily make the case why I should not be a mother. I’m 31.5 and it would be just as easy to spend the next eight-and-a-half years of my life doing what I’m doing now, until it’s too late, at least naturally, to have a kid or a litter. I could just say, you know what, I don’t want kids, and I’m not going to have any (my parents are expecting me to say this any day, especially since I’ve been in a relationship for nine years and have not yet so much as gotten engaged.)
I don’t know if there’s every a good reason to have kids or to not have kids. If you live a non-religious life, as I do, there’s no god from above throwing shade at me and my partner for not popping out the maximum number of new psyches one body can produce. There are people out there who love kids and people out there who loathe kids in equal parts, and some who love kids never have them by choice or by default and some who hate them have a gaggle to their own dismay. Some who love kids have them and then secretly hate them, and some who secretly hate them, have them, and realize that the meaning of life is seeing the world through their child’s eyes.
Perhaps if I had some sort of outstanding career where I was happy jet-setting around the world, creating art or performing on broadway or directing films or writing novels which leave no time to be distracted by little brats screaming bloody murder in the background, I’d think that a childfree life would be the way to go. But I’ve gotten to this strange point of limbo in life. At 31, with nearly $350k in savings (on paper, anyway), and a career that, while sucking up the majority of my waking life, inspires me less than a calculus class, I know that I am fortunate to have options that few have, but I there is something horrifyingly missing from my life today. It isn’t a big fancy house or even a big fancy job. It’s family.
Family, of course, can mean many things. I grew up with a large extended family – myself being the oldest cousin – with just one sister and two parents, but well over 15 attendees to any holiday family gathering, my childhood was filled with the dramatics of a family mixed with Tri-State Jews, Italians, and Cubans, which was lively to say the least. Of course as a child I never really appreciated this, it was just the way life was. It was yet another holiday, another family event to go to, and as I transformed from the only child of the whole family, cute and the center of attention, to the oldest cousin who was meant to behave and help entertain the young ones or be bragged about relentlessly by her narcissistic parents who would overstate her accomplishments, I didn’t have what one would call a healthy relationship with that family. Still, it was family – a family I’m sorely lacking today.
Even though I doubt my maternal instincts and abilities, I also feel inspired to build a strong, solid family filled with love and care. One where perfection is not the expectation and flaws are equally rewarded and cherished. My boyfriend and likely future husband is such a quiet, calm, introverted individual, I fear our family will be so small, mellow, and quiet without the organic melding of a localized large extended family. I’ve considered moving back to the east coast just to be near family — my parents are having a portion of our giant clan over for seder tonight, and I will yet again miss it — but I don’t know if that would really help or hurt my desire to set up a healthy family dynamic sans the consistent crazy of my own parents.
When I think about my life, you know, the next year or ten years or thirty or eighty of it, I no longer have this crazy desire to be the next Idina Menzel or Ellen Degeneres. All my life I thought what I wanted was fame, to just be someone who people knew and loved and would be willing to talk to, someone who wasn’t this oddball in the corner hoping for her shot to be not only accepted by lauded for her esteemed personality and thoughts. I thought that was core to who I am, something that would never change. I dedicated my early 20s to auditioning for local productions, sacrificing potential jobs which conflicted with evenings off for rehearsal, not because I thought I’d get the lead or because I really believed I had the talent to ever succeed in the performing arts, but because the drive was there. It was gnawing, visceral, relentless and the only iota of a self-propelled intention I knew to be true. Even that, the one thing I thought I knew about myself, it seems, is fleeting.
I wouldn’t mind being known for doing something great – writing a best selling novel or, heck, one day the grande reveal of this blog once it becomes more than just a never-ending self-absorbed tale of depression, anxiety and poor career choices (I’m surprised anyone actually reads this thing, but if you are reading, hello) – but what I really want to do, what I really want more than anything in the world, is to be able to go to the park with my kids and watch them run around and laugh and fall down and get up all over again. I want to have teenagers who I can relate to deeply due to my extended, perhaps pervasive adolescence, and help them grow into their own. I want to raise children who learn that they can do anything they want, that it doesn’t have to be something worthy of bragging about. That their destiny is their own. You know, I’ll never be a great employee. I’m not built to be an award-winning corporate, execution-oriented, results-driven robot. I think I might be built to be a mother. Well, I guess you can say, of course I am.
No one has perfect parents, and by 30-something you’re supposed to be well adjusted enough to forgive and forget any of their misgivings. I don’t know why I’m still holding out for the day my parents learn how to care about anyone other than themselves, yet that faith consistently proves futile.
When my father was diagnosed with cancer seven years ago and told he had one to two years to live, I spent an evening collapsed on the floor with my friend holding my hand and praying to Jesus for me – which despite my being an atheist Jew was somewhat comforting. Despite growing up as the child of narcissists, and despite being quite self absorbed myself, somehow I’ve managed to learn how to care about others. I’m not very good at expressing this, and I certainly don’t know how to manage these feelings within the context of my family, but I’m learning.
Dad is still alive and kicking. While I had hoped that somehow the stars would align for him to both kick the terminal disease and for having a terminal illness to turn him into a man far less self-centered, I’ve realized this will never happen. The more amount of time I spend away from my parents, the more I can observe their great narcissism. To be fair, they financially took care of me throughout my childhood and then some, and I had a very comfortable childhood, at least on paper.
But that comfortable childhood was spent listening to hours upon hours of my father telling my mother she’s an idiot, throwing curse words at her, screaming and berating her, while my mother nagged about one thing or another, setting him off over and over again. My parents, in many ways, are perfect for each other. There is no satisfying their narcissistic supply, and it would surely drain anyone who actually cared to please the other when such pleasing was impossible.
I may be the type to over dramatize a lot of things in my life, but my parent’s crazy is not one of them. The definition of narcissistic personality disorder defines my father perfectly. My friend from childhood came to visit today and said she was not looking forward to coming over to the house because of my father, as he was never kind to her. She was a bit of a troublemaker as a child, but that was due to her parents both working and leaving her home alone from a young age, alongside her father’s alcoholism and abuse (which I did not know about at the time.) We both had crazy situations at home which is why we bonded, but my father always made it very clear that he looked down on her and her family. Today when she came over, he didn’t greet her in anyway. Yet, when my boyfriend comes over and doesn’t say hi to him, it’s the absolute worst possible disrespect. In short, my father is a great hypocrite, proven time and again, as he constantly cuts others down for faults that if he’d only look in a mirror for once he’d see so clearly in himself.
My father is the more violent type of crazy. He’s what I’d call a bad person. He has no care about how his actions make others feel. It is true that my mother has no care about how her actions make others feel, but typically his actions make others feel unsafe while hers are just annoying or embarrassing at worst. Wouldn’t it be nice for my father to, at least for the short time I’m home to visit, make an effort to make the household hospitable? No, in just 24 hours I’ve listened to him spurt more variations of “Fuck you” and “You’re an Idiot” at my mother than I’d care to count.
Thank goodness my mother has no heart inside of her to care. It’s just same old, same old with her. He seems to no longer physically shove her or grab her anymore, largely due to her calling the cops on him finally years back. Of course, after the police came to pick him up and take him to the station she had to go down and pick him up once he was released. That was the day I was terrified my father might actually kill my mother. She’s always been petite and weak, he’s always been obese and strong – which is a bad combination with a man who has no ability to control his temper and a woman who has no ability to realize she ought to not nag – or suggest any of her own ideas – in order to keep peace in the household.
My mother is no angel. She doesn’t have an ounce of mothering spirit in her body. A friend of hers came over tonight, a woman who was my Hebrew School teacher long ago, and as she asked how I’m doing I explained to her my concerns about having a child and maintaining a high-powered executive job, she briefly stroked my hair in a very motherly sort of way — this was completely off-putting to me, but the motherly-ness of it was kind of nice. She does call my mother out at her self-centeredness from time to time, not that my mother actually internalizes any of this feedback, but sometimes it’s nice to have a third party’s opinion organically in the mix. Makes me feel a bit less crazy.
Then there’s my sister, who, just graduated from college, is thank goodness a good person, yet broken as much as I am from growing up in an abusive household. While my seventeen jarring years at home pushed me towards my bipolar medley, she has also sought help for her depression. She has also been, just recently, leading quite the promiscuous life, because she has no sense of what a healthy relationship is, or how to respect herself or her body. And I feel horrible as her bigger sister not being able to provide any guidance to teach her that she deserves to be loved, and what that means. The fact is both of us have been formally diagnosed with depression, and I’m confident that the root cause of this was more nurture than nature. Who can come out of a household filled with so much selfishness and hatred and lead a healthy, normal, successful life – at least without being heavily medicated?
The Beatles said it best – all you need is love – and for the first 20 years of my life I had no such thing. During my 20s I struggled to learn how to love with a very patient, mild mannered, soothing boyfriend who came from his own broken background. His neglect and my physical and emotional abuse seemed to create two fractured creatures made somewhat whole together. There are days when I look around at other people in society who are perhaps more “normal” or socially able and I wonder what it would be like to be a person who can go out to events and socialize, but then I have to remind myself how completely awkward and abnormal I am, and why we’re the perfect fit for each other, till death do us part. And I remind myself that the only thing I really need to be happy is the love I never had as a child, the forgiving, relentless, eternal love that manages to find equal parts beauty and annoyance in even my many faults.
When I began my career, I had no one. I had never experienced love, I never valued myself enough to be in a healthy relationship with another person I fully respected or who respected me. Sure, I had a few relationships, but these were short lived – a girlfriend who, despite being kind and giving, was far too simpleminded to be a long-term match; a boyfriend who, a risk-loving midwestern guy with a horde of giant dogs and bad jokes and no emotional depth, was no fit for my sensitive side; and another boyfriend, a professional who, despite at the time earning a hundred thousand dollars more than my intern salary, and having been dating for nearly two years, made it clear that I would be paying for everything on every date, down to a $7 movie ticket, and then I’d be sleeping on the living room two-person couch for the night. I was so hungry for love and looking for it in all the wrong places because I had absolutely no respect for myself. I didn’t know how to be loved, or how to be worth being loved.
This is why I threw myself into my career. I wasn’t great at everything I did at work, but I had nothing else to focus on, even when my relationship with my current boyfriend begun, as I was unable to let him in. I found myself, typical as a child of abuse, trying to start fights at every turn, not feeling comfortable just existing in love. I needed the chaos, the ups and downs, the rush of the pain I was so used to. I pushed him away harder than one should be able to push a man and yet he stayed. He stuck he out. He knew I was hurting and lost and we both knew we were perfect for each other even though I tried so hard to break us apart.
Now I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve grown up a bit. I still have a lot of aging to do with wisdom to gain. But now all I need to find happiness is to be hugged tightly in his arms. I don’t need money or a fancy house or nice clothes or a new car or even to travel the world (though I enjoy traveling) because I could spend the rest of my life in a room with him and it would be ok. Suddenly, all of my motivation to focus on my career at the cost of avoiding my broken self shifted to my desire to be able to create a healthy, positive family with him. The years began to fly by and suddenly I was in my late 20s and then 30s. We didn’t get married or have kids, we just kept on watching the years go by, having fun together, but making little progress in terms of starting that family I began to see clearer and clearer.
I know having children is going to be a massive challenge due to my PCOS, and I don’t know how I’m going to manage to maintain my job and go through infertility treatments when the time comes. I’m going to have to make a lot of sacrifices and I will have to be strong enough to do this, not on my own, but as a team of two, us against the world. I’m quite frankly terrified because I don’t want to have kids and be a bad mother – I know I can be a horrible boss sometimes and while that’s not good either, at least with work you don’t always have the same employees throughout your career. One wrong move as a parent and it haunts you and your child for the rest of your life.
My teen self never dreamt of becoming a mother. Now, there’s nothing else in my life that seems more desirable or real. I’m afraid of what happens when I have children and introduce them to my parents, especially to my father’s rage, and how to explain to them that he thinks he’s right all the time even though he isn’t. Then I remember that chances are he won’t even be around when they’re born, or old enough to understand anything. Then I get sad over that, because I do want them to meet their grandfather, even with all of his volcanic anger constantly erupting. And I want them to meet my mother, as she far better plays the role of crazy grandmother than mother, taking pictures of her grandchildren and buying them presents to later be photographed with as well.
I can’t believe how fast time is flying — I’m nearly 32 and I’m not even married yet. I don’t feel behind mentally yet I know biologically the door to have a family is rapidly closing. Between that and the challenge and cost of going through the procedures needed to even children while also maintaining my high-pressure job is frightening. I’ll need to make some big choices about giving up massive savings potential in order to have a family. But at the end of the day, what is the point of saving if you never have a family to share that with (if that’s what you want to do, that is.)