Any given choice we make is a matter of swings and roundabouts (or, if my children had their way, slides and climbing frames) – we’re all different and no-one has the key to a perfect life. Having said that, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the parenting journey over the years and wondered, for a while, whether I was just another stupid idiot who had foolishly succumbed to that irritating ticking – you know: the biological clock.
You may read a lot of wonderful reports about the ‘overwhelming love’ that children bring into your life* but then again you may read tales of woe centred around any number of challenges that parenthood throws up on an almost daily basis. They bring us to our knees some days. I haven’t seen the light at the end of the tunnel but I have seen the end of my tether. Regularly.
I think it is fairly common for each of us, at some point, to have a little ‘sliding doors’ daydream of what might have been if we had remained child-free (without regrets – just idle supposition). It’s so easy to have a ‘spa day’ pang, or a ‘spontaneous night out’ pang or just a ‘five minutes peace with a hot cuppa’ pang, but what about the great things that only parenthood can provide in your life?
For me, the unexpected upsides of having children have been
1) Friends. I have pre-child friends of course – the girls who I grew up with, came of age with, lived with, worked with, laughed with and shared everything with back in the days when we were helping shape each other’s lives. But distance, work, busy lives and relationships have made those day to day interactions which involve sharing the ongoing thoughts, feelings, emotions, challenges and experiences of life – as it happens – a thing of the past. I regularly forget to send birthday cards – I know I am at fault and I miss those friends but I also know that the handful of people who I count as ‘forever’ friends are the kind of people who I can re-connect with effortlessly at any given time. My early 30s were a time of floundering, trying hard to meet new people and make friends who would be a part of my day to day life but it just never happened and I was lonely. Having children has allowed me to get to know people – it’s the biggest ice-breaker and the most bonding experience you can have in life and I’m happy to say that some of my best friends now are people who I have met in the course of the past 6 years. Having children has also strengthened friendships with the other mums I work with – it was almost like being admitted into the fold where before I was standing on the outside looking in.
2) Becoming part of the parent blogger community – which is in itself another way in which I have made friends. Admittedly being a parent, and a blogger, does not instantly mean we will click but over a relatively short period of time in the blogosphere it becomes clear who you will gravitate towards and vice versa – it’s so much easier to get to know what a person is really like when you are regularly treated to their deepest thoughts spelled out on the page in front of you than making small talk in person, trying to gauge how others really feel about you and whether or not they are open to a ‘full disclosure’ kind of friendship. And blogging within as general a niche as ‘parenting and lifestyle’ is not just about making friends but also an amazing place to get advice, feedback, support with writing projects or just some great tips for life in general.
3) Work/life balance. This may be something which I am fortunate to have right now and obviously it isn’t automatically a part of parenthood but having a reason to work part time is a huge blessing. Yes, my pension has been decimated and I haven’t been able to travel abroad for over five years but being someone who never really managed to cultivate a career, I remember well that feeling of being stuck in the rat race five days a week, the never-ending pattern of each work day, facing those early dark mornings and a commute which seems to get more and more crowded year in year out. ‘Working for half the week takes the sting out of those less pleasant aspects of wage slavery, whilst still maintaining variety in the pattern of day to day life.
4) Developing as a human being. Obviously I always knew that having a child would be ‘a new challenge’ in life, but parenthood is such a multi-faceted role to play and goodness knows I’m not always getting it right but it is the impetus to be wise, be a good role model, develop a nurturing side, be a teacher, a moral guide and a fun companion.
5) A chance to experience the magic of childhood again – albeit from the other side of the coin. Christmas, Easter, fireworks, the fun bits of school life, pantos, theme parks, treasure hunts, book fairs, fairy doors – you get the idea. I think this one is definitely a grower too – the early years stuff can be kind of un-exciting but I know that the next few years hold a lot of fun experiences for us as a family which would not be part of my life had I not taken the plunge and had children.
So there you have it. It may not compare with the opportunity of taking a spontaneous cultural tour of Florence on a whim but at least I have the option of microwaving my cuppa.
*Disclaimer: this list is in no way meant to imply that any one of these things trumps my actual children, the love, laughter and feeling of privelege to be mummy to two healthy, happy, funny little boys – those are obviously the things you do expect when you get knocked up…