A Collective Letter To Janine Kovac And An ApologyBy Meredith Landry, Managing Editor, Role/Reboot
January 28, 2013
Last week, I chose to run Janine Kovac’s “Maybe You Are Ready For Kids, You’re Just Not Paying Attention.” I realize that I offended many of you with a piece that felt condescending, and at odds with Role/Reboot’s goal of being a supportive place for folks to navigate life decisions often based on outdated gender expectations—like the decision about when, or if, to have children. For that, I’m truly sorry.
The response to Kovac’s piece was overwhelming, and many of you submitted your own letters addressing the Janines of the world. Initially, I chose to publish only one response because I didn’t want to give the original piece any more traction by prolonging this particular debate. But since moving past something means first moving through it—and because I want you, our readers, to know that your voices are being heard—I’ve since reconsidered and decided to run a few more responses.
Here are three...
Maybe Your Friend Knows What’s Best, And You Just Really Want Her To Have A Baby
By Sarah MacLaughlin
As a woman who waited quite a long time to “be ready” to start a family, I think I might know a little about how your friend “Doris” may feel. Not only did I do the math, I also dedicated my early adult life to the nurturing of Other People’s Children, first as an early childhood educator and then as a nanny. I spent my prime childbearing years changing the diapers and wiping the snot of someone else’s babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. I truly loved my job, but it did not assuage my ambivalence about having a baby of my own, if anything, it may have increased it.
I heard the loud biological clock as a cross-country move, the unexpected death of my father-in-law, and a house-building project delayed our ideal timing on a planned pregnancy. After two frustrating years of trying to conceive, I almost gave up on the idea. Perhaps this was just my own continued hesitation. At 35, post every-fertility-test-known-to-modern-science, there was no “reason” for our inability to make a baby. There I was, finally “ready” to have a child of my own, and it just wasn’t happening. Sitting at a crossroad, I made a conscious choice to not pursue any medical help to kick start a pregnancy. And we decided to shelve the potential decision to adopt for a later date.
Ultimately, I made peace with the idea of remaining childless. I moved on with my life: full-time job, part-time school, and plans to travel in my later years. I decided—gasp!—that I could be fulfilled without motherhood. I tossed the $150 ovulation predictor, mixed myself a strong margarita, and toasted my (potential) early retirement.
And then, of course, I got pregnant.
Just like Doris, I waited and wondered, and it could have easily been “too late” for me. You may be right about Doris—maybe she is inattentive to her life, but what does that have to do with being a parent? Plenty of unconscious people choose to have children, and plenty of conscious people do. Yes, parenting is joyful, ego-shattering (in a good way), and awe-inspiring. But parenting is not the only endorphin-oxytocin-dopamine natural high out there. And it’s certainly not the only way for a woman to reach her highest potential—do you hold the same rite of passage to fatherhood as wholly necessary for a man? People everywhere soar high and engage in meaningful, excellent, and fulfilling lives without children (or dogs for that matter).
Also, a little something you failed to paint a clear picture of: the flip side of that broadened horizon and prideful swollen heart. You alluded to it when you referred to parenthood as “boot camp.”
Um, have you seen An Officer and a Gentleman? Perhaps I’m dating myself there, what about G.I. Jane? Pick any movie that shows the blood, sweat, and tears. Hello? Boot camp is brutal! It’s physical and emotional hell with a healthy dose of mental anguish on top; it’s torture.
Having never been to actual boot camp, I can only speak to the sleep-deprived, raw-nerved parent version, and I have to say, despite all the perks of a sweet-smelling baby and now an adorable, bright little boy, some of it downright sucks. Maybe Doris is aware of this and a teensy bit concerned for herself, or her relationship, if she is in one, which surely (you will concede?), could take a hit. I’m guessing that it is very likely that Doris, as a grown woman of some substance, can decide what is best for herself. No one can possibly know another’s capacity for the hard work and stress that is raising up another human being—even under the best of circumstances.
Which brings me to another thought: Despite the great strides that our feminist foremothers have made, and even though we have come a long way, baby; things are not, ahem, perfect. Plainly stated: Our culture does not support parents or families. Parenting is regarded more as a sport really. As in, “have a go of it and we’ll provide public education from kindergarten through 12th grade, but that’s about it.” You’re pretty much on your own for the rest. Didn’t you see the Time article about family size and costs? Heads-up: The cost of raising one child is $286,050—not including college. Maybe Doris read that and it gave her pause.
Our country’s family-unfriendly policies: lack of paid parental leave, unguaranteed jobs after 12 weeks “disability” (if you’re lucky), and no subsidized child-care spring to mind as several variables that Doris may be considering.
Janine, had you been talking about me and not Doris, you would have had me pegged: I read What to Expect and saw the Ricki Lake movie. I’m a proponent of Attachment Parenting. I bought an Ergo and I teach emotional intelligence. I am a good mom. I signed up for the rollercoaster ride. I am aware of what I gave up, what I gained, and I’m happy with my life. But I’m also unwilling to foist it upon anyone else. It seems, for lack of a better term, unwise. When it comes to the life-long commitment of raising human beings, one should tread lightly, and with the utmost respect.
When I gave birth to my son, I had already spent 12 years caretaking the children of others. I was in a pretty good position to know what I was getting myself into. Even with the foundational bonus of a rock-solid, 10-year-old marriage, nothing could have prepared me for motherhood—nothing.
The highs and lows are unfathomable despite any skills you may have pre-double blue line. Parenting pushes you and tests you, and forces you to move beyond yourself. I get that that’s a good thing. I don’t regret doing it, but I sure as hell am not going to do it again. At this point, I’d prefer to keep what’s left of my perineum and savings account intact, thankyouverymuch.
People in general, but women in particular, should definitely take stock before stepping off the cliff into the abyss that is parenting. Second thoughts are appropriate here, even if you’re provided with a parachute and told the view is beautiful, and the fall exhilarating.
I’m 'Doris,' And I Do Want Kids, But Not Now
By Ashley Lauren Samsa
I am 100% sure I want to have kids. I am also 100% sure I don’t want to have them now.
Unfortunately, many women only hear the first part of that statement. Then they launch into a lecture about how I shouldn’t wait: “You’re not getting any younger. Wouldn’t you be sad if your husband didn’t get to be a dad? You’re never 100% ready, so why wait?”
Honestly, I’ve had these conversations in person so many times, I wasn’t surprised to read a similar sentiment on Role/Reboot, one of my favorite websites. In fact, I have friends and people I barely even know who take every opportunity in the conversation (and sometimes make their own opportunities) to ask me when I’m going to get pregnant, probably like Janine Kovac does to her friend, “Doris.” When this happens, I just smile and come up with another reason I hope will end that thread of conversation and mentally take note of how many times I’ve been asked this very question. My husband and I joke that, for every time someone asks us when we’re having kids, we add on another month. At this rate, we won’t even start trying until June of 2026.
In this day and age, when women are waiting longer to have children, “You’re never 100% ready” is a popular mantra. After all, it’s true. I absolutely agree that there is no 100% ready. But I do think that you can definitely approach 90%, and when I’m sitting at 50%, that’s not close enough. I’m no mathematician, but I am a teacher, and I know that 50% is most definitely failing. One of the best things anyone has ever told me was that you aren’t ever really ready, but having a baby is taxing on every single part of your life—from your relationship with your husband to the way your shoes fit after pregnancy—so you might as well be as ready as you feel you can be. Another woman told me that the readiness and the desire need to match up because one without the other won’t cut it when it comes to caring for a child. Interestingly enough, both of these women are mothers.
To be fair, the concerns that Kovac and many other women have are valid. Let’s address a few, shall we?
First and foremost, I’m not getting any younger. The clock is ticking. Before I know it, it might be too late. I realize that these things are said out of concern for my well-being. After all, wouldn’t it be just awful if I waited until the ripe old age of 35, or even 40, to start trying to have a kid and then found out that I was well past my prime and unable to reproduce?
Actually, contrary to the societal narrative, this would not be the end of the world. In fact, I’m not even sure this would approach a tragedy for me. I know these women are just trying to inform me of the harsh realities of the world but, trust me, I’m already well informed. In fact, I think you’d have to be living under a rock not to know that women’s fertility starts to decline after 30, at which time the risks for certain birth defects also increase. By this logic, though, we should all start having kids in our teens at the peak of our fertility. I can introduce you to a few teenage mothers who would disagree with that. On this point, I am going into my “old age” with eyes wide open. If we can’t have kids when we’re older, that’s OK. In the meantime, we’ll have built up other important things in our lives. There’s also that three-month European cruise we’ll take as a consolation prize because we can definitely afford it without kids. I think we’ll be just fine.
The next point that people love to remind me of is that my dogs are not like children. My husband and I have two adopted dogs, a terrier named Penny and a beagle named Bailey. Next to my husband, these two furballs are the loves of my life. I come home from work every day and all of my problems and stress melt away when I see their smiling faces and wagging tails. At night, we snuggle up on the couch with a big, fuzzy blanket and as they sleep on top of me, I feel so at peace. I look around me and smile and think that there is not one thing in the world that could make this life more perfect. Of course, that feeling only lasts for an hour at most before Bailey pees on something and Penny gets up and starts trying to open the cabinet door to get her toys out. We jump to correct their behavior firmly because we want to raise polite, well-rounded dogs. We love them even more, though, when they look at us with their big eyes full of apologies, and then we get back to our snuggles on the couch. Tell me again how this is different from having a child?
Most importantly, people like to laugh a little bit about the fact that my job is more important to me now than the prospect of having kids. “That’ll change,” they chuckle, implying that I shouldn’t try so hard now because I won’t want to after I have kids. There’s only one thing I can say to that, which is that I am a high school teacher. Every day, I am given the task of helping to raise someone else’s kids. I nag them for their homework. I make them clean up after themselves and always say “please” and “thank you.” I give them tissues when they are crying in the hallway. I hand a boy an apple from my lunch bag when he tells me he didn’t have enough money for lunch. I notice when one of the girls wears long sleeves even in the heat of August, and when I refer her to the counselor, he tells me she’s been cutting herself and it’s good I caught it when I did.
Yes, the more important job is to be somebody’s mom, but when someone else’s kids walk in my classroom door, I treat them like my own. I hope that my child’s teacher will do the same someday, for there is nothing more important than a child.
To all the Ms. Kovacs out there, I may be a “Doris,” and even though Connor, Travis, and Wilson are definitely names on my list of future child names, I’m leaning more toward Collin. If I have a daughter, I’m leaning toward Emily, and I’ll raise her to believe in herself and do what she most passionately wants out of life. If she wants kids, I’ll support that wholeheartedly. After all, what’s better than grandchildren? If she doesn’t, I’ll give her a few ideas of things she can say when people ask her when she’ll get pregnant. And then I’ll tell her the story about how I waited forever to have her, and I couldn’t have been happier.
Why Is It Still Her vs. Me?
By Cindy Brown Ash
There’s a lot women can’t agree on. Kids or no kids? Stay home or work? The conversation between Janine Kovac and Kerry Cohen is just the most recent installment of Her versus Me.
Disclosure: I stay home with my three kids. Unlike Kerry Cohen, there was no particular drama in conceiving, birthing, or raising my children. Note that when I say no particular drama that doesn’t mean no drama. Every person to enter your life will change you. Any level of parenting will change you, sometimes in the most indescribable ways, from the unintended pregnancy that didn’t go to term to the lifelong relationship that ends when your child sees you into the grave.
Parenting is tough and no one should attempt it other than whole-heartedly, if they possibly can. So, Doris, if you don’t decide you’re ready until you’re 46, that’s OK. You may not get to experience pregnancy, but that is only one tiny, optional step in the parenting journey, and it’s not necessarily the most enjoyable part of that journey.
And Kerry, I’m with you, too. I thought I was ready and then, even with everything as smooth as new parenting can possibly go, I discovered that there’s no such thing as “ready for kids.” It’s gigantic. I had no idea what it would entail, and I couldn’t share it with my younger siblings as they started their families, either; even seeing my husband and me in action with our three children, they had no idea “it would be like this.” It’s humbling. I have grown in ways I never imagined I would have had those three crazy, uncivilized people not become my children.
Which means that I’m also OK with forfeiting the ways I would have grown had I taken the paths they cost me. But I still know that, just like you, I’m not ready. I’m not ready for the challenges of middle school and high school, for dating and college applications. I’m not ready for these children, who I’m teaching and nurturing as best I can, to grow up and hold their own beliefs and values that have nothing to do with what I thought I was giving them. Good thing I have time to grow into those experiences, too.
But really, the heart of the matter isn’t whether or not Doris should have kids, or whether anyone has the right to tell her what she should do. It’s this: Why does this debate have to touch so closely on our sense of self-worth? Why do we even ask whether society values mothers or women with careers more highly? Why do we still concern ourselves about whether each individual choice is the “right” one?
We need to stop blaming “society” for valuing one group over another. We need to look at ourselves and how vitriolic we get when we step on one another’s toes. As a stay-at-home mom who is constantly told that my experience would be valueless in the workplace—no matter how hard I work at managing our family, participating in my children’s education by working huge fundraisers, researching nutrition, or advocating for them in other ways that don’t involve spreading peanut butter or diaper rash cream—it’s hard to believe that “society” values mothers for anything more than nostalgia. I’m designated “just a mom.” But when I remember the way I was shunned by young moms in the early years of my marriage before we had kids—well, let’s just say that 10 years on, I still feel a lot of resentment. “Society” didn’t do that to me. Other women did.
All of which begs the question: What case can we make for our value as women if we can’t even agree on it among ourselves? There’s a lot wrong with how our culture sees a woman’s place in the world. But we have the power to change it. We don’t have to argue about whether or not we all have to be moms or whether we have an obligation to the next generation of young women to be professionals, whether we should stay home with our children or have an outside career, or any of the countless other arguments that boil down to a one-size-fits-all life path. So why do we perpetuate a mindset that women before us fought so hard to overcome?
Other women are among the greatest blessings of my life. I could not be the woman I am, including in my roles as wife and mother, without other women to challenge me, stimulate me, nurture me. And to need me back. They fill me in ways nothing else can. Perhaps Janine wrote her letter to Doris because they have gotten to a place in their friendship where the kids are standing between them. Kids can do that; it’s the essence of what makes them such a life-changing force. Maybe Janine is encouraging Doris to have kids so a valued friendship can be recharged with a shared experience. I don’t know.
I do know that we should stop judging each other. Instead, challenge your assumptions. Say yes to the world. Say yes to changing your life if you need to. Say yes to having children, or not, as you choose. But also, say yes to friendship with women who aren’t just like you. Reach out to the woman who gets your sense of humor, or loves the same books as you, regardless of whether or not you both share the mom designation. In that way, we can change the world.
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