June 20, 2017

Why I left my children

Woman in Motion by andorpro, on Flickr
Woman in Motion by andorpro, on Flickr

“My problem was not with my children,” author Rahna Reiko Rizzuto explains, “but with how we think about motherhood.” Her poignant, smartly crafted essay, Why I left my children, is part of Salon.com‘s Real Families series. Her unflinching candor is especially powerful coming from the perspective of a woman, a mother, a wife. It’s an unfamiliar perspective, one that is easily and habitually vilified as she hastens to acknowledge. The redemptive arc of her essay softens the jagged edge of realizing — as a married mother of a three and a five year old — that she hadn’t wanted to be a mother in the first place.

I had no idea what to do with these bouncing balls of energy. Even feeding them, finding them a bathroom, was a challenge. It raised a little issue for me that I have neglected to mention: I never wanted to be a mother. I was afraid of being swallowed up, of being exhausted, of opening my eyes one day, 20 (or 30!) years after they were born, and realizing I had lost myself and my life was over.

She loses her marriage but regains her children and discovers her motherhood. It’s a tidy conclusion with a happily ever after vibe, but the essay concludes without returning to the mother-phobia hiccup. I suspect that I’ll need to read her novel, Why She Left Us, to learn more. Her fear that motherhood would/could exhaust her, swallow her up and erase her sense of self strike me as relevant and important (even critical) concerns.

I’m not a mother. Nor will I ever be a mother. I’m a happily married childfree husband. I’m a dog owner, storyteller, adventurer and unabashed flâneur. I’m a DINK. And yet Rizzuto’s perception that parenting has the potential to swallow up the self feels familiar, like it was conjured up out of my own twenty-something anxiety cauldron. A decade and change later, the ingredients are still there. How do I know? Because friends — parents, mothers, fathers — confirm and reaffirm the woes of parenting. They are exhausted. Swallowed up. Lost.

I know, that’s only part of the equation. “Having children is the best decision we ever made,” they always hasten to add. But it tends to come as an apologetic parenthetical after a laundry list of laments, regrets and frustrations. I don’t mean to diminish the splendors of parenting. They doubtless trump the petty concerns I’ve mentioned, and yet I’m not convinced. Frankly, I don’t want to be convinced. I’m okay with exhaustion, but swallowed up? No thanks!

About virtualDavis

G.G. Davis, Jr. (aka virtualDavis) is a writer, storyteller, unabashed flâneur and eager-beaver uncle. Despite two whiz-bang nieces, two superstar nephews, and rewarding teaching/coaching stints at the American School of Paris and Santa Fe Preparatory School, he remains willingly, enthusiastically and happily childfree. His WNK posts are part of an ongoing attempt to understand why. Rosslyn Redux, a transmedia chronicle about rehabilitating an historic property in the Adirondacks, offers a more ironic twist on his childfree adventure. He also blogs at virtualDavis.com and EssexonLakeChamplain.com. Connect with G.G. Davis, Jr. via Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

Comments

  1. @karlsprague says:

    Wow. Virtualdavis – you don’t go for the timid or the safe, do you? As a proud and happy parent of two, I’m the first to acknowledge that parenting isn’t a one size – fits all proposition. It does define who I am and I’m good with that. Back in college I had the chance to read the journal of a mother who had been swallowed by the role of mother, wife and “family cog.” It was a lament and it was poignant. I read it after she passed away and I suspect her regret was never reconciled. You reveal little glimpses into your soul when you write and cause us all to linger a bit when we look in the mirror. Keep up the good work.

  2. Karl, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I’m intrigued by the tale you tell of the woman’s journal. Was it a published book or a personal artifact that you had access to? I’m curious because if it’s the former I’d be interested in going through it. Though it sounds somber and unredeeming. As for your glimpse in the mirror, I’m not surprised that you saw the happy, proud parent you describe. Some are better suited to the parenting than others. Your children are lucky, Karl. Cheers!

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