Christine Park

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Complete Without Kids?

Does a life without children give your marriage a better chance of surviving? This author, Ellen Walker in "Complete Without Kids," touts the benefits of living life as an adult, not a parent, enjoying the financial, health and personal benefits associated with childfree living. Could I even imagine a life without my kids? How would it be different? At the risk of sounding like a terrible, ungrateful mother... would you indulge me, just for the sake of exploring this author's argument?

What a whirlwind month September has been for me and my family. We've undergone a major schedule change, for the first time in six years, I am working normal hours. It's taken some adjustment... for my kids' entire lives, I've been waking at 2:30am and leaving my sleeping family behind. Mommy's never been there to wash the sleep from their eyes, comb their bed hair, tickle the the grumpiness away, take them to school. The schedule wasn't easy. In fact, it was brutal. I justified it by telling myself and anyone that asked that it was the most family friendly arrangement. As if I only worked part time, because half my shift they were sleeping anyway. So I wasn't missing out as much even as a full-time working mom. Every morning, whether battling my own morning sickness or sheer exhaustion after a night up with a sick child, I told myself: afternoons and evenings at home make everything worth it. But how good is a mother and wife who is tired, irritable, and mentally/physically unavailable? As the years on mornings took their toll, I could no longer say with confidence, that it was all for the best. In fact, I thought, there's no way I would still be doing this... IF I didn't have kids.

So... if I didn't have kids, I would have moved to another job or changed shifts years ago. Pursued my dream to reach network news. Gene and I would have moved to a bigger city... SF? LA? San Diego? We would have traveled more. Spain...Cancun... Tahiti... places we talk about wistfully now... someday... maybe for our ten-year anniversary. Imagine all the disposable income! Instead of spending $2,000 month on childcare, we would have developed time consuming expensive hobbies. Golf? Tennis? For sure more shopping. Wine and dined our way through our favorite Top Chefs' restaurants across the country. EVERY night could be date night.

But we do have kids. And so we sucked it up and did the best we could. We stayed in Fresno because my parents are in town and could help care for the kids. So when the opportunity arose for a shift change, I didn't hesitate. Normality! Sleep! Nights with my husband! Time to watch our favorite TV shows like Glee and Modern Family live, not on Tivo. Maybe I should have paused. Maybe I should have really considered how much less time I would have with my children. Three hours a night max. Rushing to pick them up, rushed dinners, and rushing to shuttle them to dance class or to the gym before bed time. But this was a decision I had to make for me and my husband. A combination of the two munchkins and the crazy schedule was not conducive to a strong marital relationship. We were becoming strangers who never spent quality time together... which is a dangerous road for a marriage to head down. In that respect, the author's argument rings true. Kids can challenge and change a relationship to the point where you can lose yourselves to being parents first, a couple second. But at no point, did we blame them for any of our grownup problems.

Would life have been different without kids? ABSOLUTELY. More spontaneous. More fun. More adventurous. More about ourselves. But more complete? I would argue otherwise. See, that's the thing about having children. They come with a life-changing lesson on selflessness and responsibility you can't learn any other way. And it's a damn hard lesson to learn. They bring out the best and worst in you, challenge you, test you, and make life about so much more than self-fulfillment. They have shaped me, molded me, made me into the woman, wife, friend, sister, daughter, and coworker that I am today. A stronger yet gentler, smarter yet humbler, happier and more grateful version of myself. In a word, I am complete... with kids.