No, it's not for the kids: what I want is important, too

January 24 | Guest post by Rodrigues
Aquarium love!

Sitting in the corner where I intended to nurse my second baby, I looked around myself and thought, "The kids sure would love a fish tank here." My older son could watch the fish when I couldn't play with him while nursing. The baby would love the calming gurgle of running water. As an added bonus, I could enjoy the inhabitants during those hours stuck underneath a baby.

Just like that, I was obsessed with creating a Nursing Nook Aquarium. I searched Craigslist daily for a setup. I bought tank chemicals. I researched fish that like to live together. Sorry for the inconvenience, moon, but my kids will be over you when they see this aquarium! Then I went to work convincing my husband that we needed a large container of water in the middle of a carpeted room. He finally obliged; after all, our kids were going to have every kid's dream. All kids love fish. All of them.

I put the aquarium together piece by piece. I found some flat, round rocks by the Rio Grande that had a zen feeling to them. I debated over which plants looked more realistic. I made sure every level of water was covered by an animal: shrimp crawling across the bottom, a goarami who swam throughout the middle, and a pack of danios dashing around the top. I hate to toot my own — okay, that's not true — TOOT… I made my kids the most stupendous 20 gallon aquarium in all of novice aquarist land!

Fast forward two years. The kids have hardly glanced at the aquarium. They like feeding time but only because that is when they are allowed to play with the little trap door next to the light. I no longer crusade to get them to show their friends the tank when they come over, only to watch their I-guess-that's-cool eye glaze. But none of it really matters to me, because every night I sit by the fish tank, watch the creatures enjoying their levels like invisibly divided apartments, and forget about the stress of the day.

One day during this time, my mother-in-law visited and handed my son a booklet of sea-themed stickers. "If your mom doesn't think it will scare the fish," she offered, "You can stick them on your aquarium." I don't know if she saw my eyes blast out of their sockets in horror, but I responded as restrained as I could, "Let's put them in your sticker book, okay?" My son agreed. After all, he couldn't care less about the aquarium.

I went through two days of anger, thinking about how my mother-in-law apparently cared nothing for other people's belongings. Then I remembered that all anyone else knows about the aquarium was my original battle cry: "It's for the kids!" Little did they know that inside my head, I was steaming with, "No one puts stickers on Mama's aquarium! NO ONE!"

Why had I waxed on about the aquarium being "for the kids?" For a while I thought that perhaps I had felt an aquarium "for the kids" was more prudent; more worth the time, effort and money I dumped into that glass vessel like so much chlorine remover. Maybe I thought I wasn't worth an aquarium but the kids were.

What I believe actually happened is this: I thought the aquarium would make more sense to other people if it was for the kids.

Truthfully, my ego is too healthy for that to be the case. What I believe actually happened is this: I thought the aquarium would make more sense to other people if it was for the kids. I suspected my husband wouldn't argue over another pack of animals to clean up after. I probably knew I would seem like I was putting all those resources into enjoyment for my kids instead of enjoyment for me. "Awesome aquarium" would go on my parenting resume while simultaneously satisfying one of my own desires. Sure, I did originally think the kids would enjoy the aquarium, but there are other things I confidently know they'd enjoy much more that I haven't championed. Without thinking about it, I let "for the kids" be my back-door escape from the responsibilities of the aquarium being "for me."

Once I stood up and admitted my false use of "for the kids," I started noticing the other places I'd let it be my bartering chip in my desires, whether vying with other people or my own sensibilities. We needed the bike trailer that helps me get out of the house… for the kids! We needed all the special storage items I bought… for the kids! We need a TV so we can watch movies… kid movies! I've found reasons the kids needed me to buy everything from art to food to clothes they don't get to wear because I'm so afraid they'll wreck them. Every time I cry out, "But it's for the kids!" I write myself a blank check for whatever it is I wanted.

The aquarium is mine. I wanted it, I got it, and that is fine. What isn't fine is my using "for the kids" as a bartering chip to cloud my motives. Not only because my desires are just as valid as everyone else's, but because their input is valid, too. Next time I want something which might require my family to empty loads of carbon and poop, I should make my point about why I want it and evaluate from there. Then, if the kids love the fish, it's a bonus. Then, if someone tries to put stickers on my aquarium, they can help me fit my eyes back into my sockets.

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  1. I LOVE this post. I can definitely relate.

    Also, in my case, my kid kind of became an excuse to take up new hobbies I always wanted to try, because I thought people would find it less silly and give me less crap if I said I was learning photography so I could take better pictures of my daughter, or that I took up collaging and art journaling so I could scrapbook our daily lives, or that I took up knitting so I could make cute things for the girls. Granted, those were all great byproducts of taking up new hobbies, but the truth is, I've always wanted to take up photography and scrapbooking and knitting — I just felt stupid about it.

    Anyway, go you!

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    • YES! I know *someone* in my personal life who forced her kids to take up piano because she'd always wanted to take piano. Just take piano, woman! 🙂

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      • My mum did that :/ There's 3 of us and we all had to take piano. I absolutely hated it as did the second, however the youngest is piano obsessed and wants to be a concert pianist (with the skill for it).. So I guess mum got what she wanted in the end..

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  2. haha I can totally relate. Though my better half saw through it right from the start and immediately used the correct 'moms aquariums' instead of for the kids… Yep, plural, I have 3 and finally admitted to myself that`s all I have the time for ha. One is a terrarium complete with land crabs, fish and lizards which is a huge hit when other kids come to visit. So at least I got that part down. And my 18 month old does seem fascinated by the shrimp tank, watching them swim in circles, pointing and going 'wooooow'. Silly how such small things make us proud.

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  3. We had tons of pets growing up, including scads of guinea pigs. My youngest sister is in college and her guinea pig recently died. My mom decided that she luuurved guinea pigs and finally got one for herself. Just hers! His name is GP, but us kids call him "Little Brother" because we swear she loves him more than us sometimes!

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    • I recently told my husband that I can't wait for my 14 month old to get a guinea pig because I really want an excuse to have one.. or two!

  4. My son is a train addict. We have more trains and track and destinations than most people think any kid should have. And what did I ask for for Valentine's Day from my husband? Track. For me. Sure, our son will love it, but it's my hobby too now, and I'm glad I realized how much joy I get out of building the layouts for him.

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  5. I bought my 4 month old a ukulele yesterday. Watching me play it is going to be AWESOME for her 🙂

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  6. YES!!

    Oh wow, how does this blog hit so close to my heart, so often?
    This is perfect.. I think that every parent needs at least one thing to help make their lives more.. full. Well, that's not the right word at all, but it's well before sun-up <— there's my excuse. Something to curb the insanity that comes with the second straight hour of night nursing.. or the dozenth time of day nursing.. well, that sounds like pure gold to me. I'm still traumatized by a childhood aquarium string of incidents, so I won't be going with that exact one.. but it's time to create my own environment before I start nursing a new little person. Fo sho.

  7. It's fruits and veggies for our daughter at our house! I used to catch myself thinking "these pretty pears are for her" when really they should be for us both. NOW I'm always thinking, "I'll just spend the extra money on these totally out of season but completely gorgeous berries for her" when really they are for ME and I have the nerve to be startled when she wants to eat them!

    1 agrees
    • I do this with food, too… my husband is happy to eat a lot of protein and grains but I am a fruits and veggies person, which is a big part of our grocery bill. So then I find myself making the case that "the kids" need all this produce, when it is really my diet that 75% of it goes to… which is totally fine, but if we're sitting looking at our grocery bill and a huge chunk of it is my produce, then I need to make the case for myself instead of "but the kids neeeeeeed…."

  8. Another great post! I always love your writing and I keep forgetting to tell you. So today I'm not going to forget : thanks!

  9. Great post! I can really empathize, in fact I think a lot of Mums do this, and I wonder if it's because for so long our needs are second to someone else's that we start to forget or hide the fact that we have relevant needs and desires too.
    Once we acknowledge that we have every right to want things for ourselves then it gets easier to evaluate that need logically instead of on a more emotional scale. Furthermore, as Rodrigues wrote, letting the children have their input into something that is ostensibly 'for them'.

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  10. I love it! And I can't wait until my daughter is old enough to help me convince dad that "we" need a cat 😀

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  11. <3 this, especially the bit about not using kids as as a bartering chip. It seems to me like a lot of people use "protecting my child" as an excuse for their own selfish fear, pride, or laziness.

    And I love aquariums too!! Still haven't managed to convince my man we need one tho…

    1 agrees
  12. And it's not just THINGS, I totally talk about taking "alibi kids" to big water playgrounds where you can play with sand and water and all around awesome things! (I don't HAVE any kids to be my aliby though, which is why I regret that there's no such playgrounds for adults!)

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  13. YES YES YES!!! I did it with learning the Guitar! I had tried learning so many times before. To the point my husband (who is obviously awesome because he) bought me a guitar for my 30th birthday! But could never come up with the 15 min a day to practice. Enter baby and WHAM! I need to carve out that 15 min every day because the baby LOVES it and I am helping him develop and so on! I have started to realize it's something I do for myself and finding that little window is so important that I often put it on my "to do" list!

    We have a 76 Gallon Bow Front aquarium in our dining area. Kids love it. When my son was tiny it almost always got us five minuets if we set him in front of it. That five minutes can make a HUGE difference when trying to leave the house or clean up the kitchen! But the fish tank has always been for us and we adore staring at it during meal times.

  14. Heh. I don't even HAVE kids yet and I fall into this trap. I want to take Yoga… so my body is ready for birthing a baby, so I'm healthy enough to care for them, so I have the coping mechanisms in place for meditating and relaxing when the stresses of parenthood get overwhelming (or to keep it from overwhelming me and my anxiety).

    I want to get into better shape and eat properly so that I have the skills and the habits down pat before babies come. Same with keeping the house clean. Get into the habit of that so that when the babies come, we're used to it and can hopefully get back into routine quickly.

    For goodness' sakes! *I* want a clean house because *I* hate a dirty house (OCD aside). *I* want to be in better shape so that *I* feel better. *I* want to color in my coloring book for ME, not because I have a kid who enjoys it. I can play with Legos if I want to.

    I'm very glad that some mothers have the ego and self-esteem to know that they are worth getting an aquarium or having a hobby they like. It gives me hope that I can learn one day to give myself permission to like things for ME and do things for ME and the benefits to my future (or current, by then) children be damned–or at least just an added bonus, rather than my own benefits as the added bonus. It's something I'm working on, to some degree of success.

    • Oh wow, I have been thinking all these things. I am getting in better shape now so I will be fit for pregnancy and childbirth, and I am getting our finances and savings in order to get ready for kids. I haven't thought of it so much as passing the buck onto my future child as motivating factors…. I think both perspectives are legitimate, but it's probably healthiest to think of doing these things (like saving up, getting in better shape and and eating better) for all of us, rather than just for the kid.

      I want to be the best version of me possible, not only for me, but for my children, my husband, my friends and family and the world at large. I can be a better person at large if I take the time to really take care of myself first.

  15. Haven't even given birth yet, and I'm already thinking this way! I need an iPad- the baby can play enrichment games on it!

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