A few years ago, I wrote a post called “You’ll seeeee” for Offbeat Bride, but half of it was about the fear-mongering around pregnancy and parenthood:
It seems as though, during wedding planning (and, as I’m learning, childbearing — and as I suspect most big life transitions) we tell each other a lot of scary stories.
I mean, of course people want to share their experiences with each other. But all too often this storytelling slips into fear mongering. It’s sort of a pre-emptive commiseration — an anticipatory sing-song of Oh, you’ll seeeee…. It’s our way of telling each other, “I had this experience, and I’m assuming my experience is universal and you’ll have the exact same one. And mine was like this, so yours will be too — and then we can roll our eyes and bond over how awful it was together.” We all love a common enemy, and all too often in pursuit of this shared experience, we project our challenges onto others.
They whisper about cheating and boredom and bed death. And certainly these things can happen if you fall asleep on your life and just start going through the motions. But if you pay attention and go into with a lot of intent and questioning your own assumptions about why you’re supposed to do anything … it just doesn’t have to be that way.
I’m learning this about another phase with the fear mongering around pregnancy, childbearing, and babies. I’ve never heard more sing-songy You’ll seeeeee!s than I have when talking to people about becoming a mother.
The truths of this post snapped into even clearer focus for me when I recently found an old personal blog post I’d written when I was pregnant in 2009. I never finished it, but I think you can see where I was going with the idea…
As the waves of “Oh you’re pregnant!” baby and lifestyle advice start to wash over me, I find myself increasingly fascinated by the tales of woe that many parents have. I’ve dealt with lots of fear-mongering around sleep deprivation, but I’m continuing to get ongoing feedback of terror from lots of people … and I’m trying to figure out what are true generalities vs. what may be true for us.
Example 1: You lose all independence
This is of course in large part true … BUT. There seems to be a huge discrepancy between what people with family in town say vs. what people without family in town say about this one … so much so that I feel like I have to calibrate many “truths” with proximity to extended family.
Example 2: You need a house in the suburbs
There are also a lot of assumptions and presumptions about family and suburbs. People keep asking me about how we’ll manage without a yard, to which I say, “We used to have a yard, but it didn’t have a wading pool, 45 acres of lawn, or a conservatory — all of which our neighborhood park does.”
Example 3: You’ll stop loving your dog
Because evidently, there’s only room in my heart for one small creature.
Example 4: Your house will fill with plastic toys/baby crap
Because somehow, small bunnies who poop plastic toys will sneak into my house and start pooping Legos and Mr. Potato Heads everywhere without my consent.
Three years later, looking back at the fear mongering people did with me, I see that much of it really ISN’T true — primarily because I’ve made conscious decisions to avoid them.
- As I knew it would, of course my independence has shifted to include a strong component of family identity, but you know what? Being a mother still isn’t my most interesting feature. I’ve prioritized living near my extended family so that there’s support there. I chose a partner who was interested in egalitarian parenting. All these choices were made before I had a child, because maintaining my independence was important to me. As a result, I’ve maintained it.
- Needing a house in the suburbs? Nope.
- Stop loving my dog? Absolutely 100% not. In fact, the dog’s life has improved, since now someone is almost always at home to hang out with her, there’s a never-ending rainstorm of food scraps falling from the toddler’s plate, and she’s got an additional set of human hands to beg attention from.
- House filled with plastic crap? Nope. When something comes in, something goes out — our livingroom gets filled with toys, but at the end of the day they all go back in their baskets in the cabinet and (gasp!) it feels like grown-ups live here.
Again, I’m not saying that any of these (or any other number of stereotypical parent things) WON’T happen after you have a child. I’m just saying that it’s up to you to prioritize what changes, and how it changes. Absolutely some things are out of your control, but if something’s important to you before you become a parent, it is completely in your power to retain that priority after you become a parent. Will it be as easy? Will it come naturally? Probably not — but there are no inevitabilities with parenthood.
More importantly, the fear-mongering just doesn’t help. In many of the instances, I didn’t see the inevitable you’ll seeeeees come true. Even in the instances where the you’ll seeeeees are just truth (newborn sleep challenges, for instance) fear mongering simply isn’t useful.
As I said on Offbeat Bride:
It seem that in our effort to find shared experiences, we turn to each other and tell awful stories about how hard it all is. And you know what? Sometimes it IS hard. Sometimes the wedding plans fall apart and relationships fall apart and it feels like our life is falling apart.
But rather than tell the horror stories, why not share the lessons? Learn as much as you can and share the positivity of what you learned, rather than the shared grumping about didn’t work.
The next time you want to warn a pregnant woman that “she’ll seeeeee,” try reframing the conversation as a way to offer helpful tips instead of waggling eyebrows and fear-mongering.
For instance, instead of “Get your sleep while you can — you’ll never sleep again after your baby is born! HA HA HA!” Try something like, “If you guys have issues with sleeping after the baby gets here, totally just let me know. I have some books that were super helpful for us, and I’d be totally happy to swing by and hang out with your kiddo while you take a nap.”