Last year, my wife told me she was pregnant. I was beyond happy and looked forward to the challenges. Then a little later, she told me we were going to take some maternity classes, and I was a little less happy. A class? I thought I was done with those. I get that preparing for a kid is not something you want to improvise, but I didn’t think attending an interactive lecture with desks and nametags was necessary for developing a brand new human being. Research, yes. Classes, no.
However, my wife is an RN at a prestigious medical center and she really knows her stuff. It was her urging that led me to take infant CPR classes, and that time was well spent. With her expertise in mind, we committed to take the 6-week course. Every Wednesday night we drove to Chapel Hill and spent three agonizing hours listening to medical professionals repeatedly tell us that our lives were about to change forever.
“No, seriously, listen. Your life will not be the same. You will probably lose all hope of returning to pre-child sanity. You will not have time to do anything except stare at your offspring for hours, because if you don’t they will probably choke on something and die, you horrible, selfish fool.” ~Dramatization
Okay, it’s not actually a bad experience. No one is calling anyone a horrible person.
It’s actually quite a professional and supportive environment. However, while attending these classes I couldn’t help but feel they were meant for some other type of couple, a couple that wasn’t ready for kids, or were irresponsible in some major way.
In one exercise, we were given a pie chart of various everyday activities like sleeping, hygiene, eating, working, watching TV, browsing the internet, and so forth. We were then given 24 plastic beads and told to arrange them on the pie chart according to how many hours we spent on those activities every day. For the big reveal, the instructors told us to, get this, remove half the beads! It was as if they were telling us “hey, you think you don’t have the time for anything now? You know nothing! You will have no friends! No time to work on your novel! No energy to even limp into the shower and fumble meekly at the knob! Your child will consume nearly every waking hour! Quiver in fear at this radical change, and be humbled by it!”
Meanwhile, all I could think about was whether or not watching Youtube videos counted as “Internet Browsing” or “Watching TV.” Both? Neither? Does a 45-minute video of Youtubers failing spectacularly at Super Mario Maker levels count as a full hour? Eh, whatever.
In another exercise, the instructor asked us questions like “how much do you trust your doctor’s experience?” and “how responsible is your partner?” We were asked to express our answers by standing up and moving around the room so everyone could see who thought their significant other was lazy. Peer pressure brings us all closer, right?
Now, perhaps the instructors wanted to start a dialogue between partners about necessary questions that needed answering before the momma-to-be started pushing out the kid in the middle of a Starbucks. However, the same result could have been achieved by not entering Red Rover into the equation. I suppose a simple “ask your partner how they expect to pay for the hospital visit if insurance doesn’t cover all of it” won’t kick-start the type of responsible mindset they’re trying to instill.
The hours were filled with similar exercises. To be fair there were a couple I appreciated, like when we tried out different birthing positions to see what made my wife most comfortable. It was nice that they had a bouncy ball to sit on, but I could stand to gain back the other seventeen hours I lost listening to people telling me not to freak out at the sudden changes that were about to occur. I was repeatedly told that a lot of the weirder things we might experience were in the range of normal and that we would totally be fine, but Survivalist classes say almost the same thing. At least with a Survivalist class, you’ll learn how to build a fire.
I didn’t learn nearly as much as I had hoped. But then, maybe the point was not to feed our brains like a chemistry class, but to support new parents and help them adjust to a major change in their lives. What I find interesting about that attitude is that in an information-based era of human history, we feel the need to spend more and more time reassuring each other of our decisions instead of just dealing with them. Although having kids is far different than not having kids, our culture tends to prop up children on a marble pedestal like they are the most important thing ever in the history of all things. After all, we do everything for the children, right?
Haha, no. Kids are important, but so is having social connections, and doing something that pays the bills, and maintaining your relationship with your significant other (or others), and being healthy enough to not drop dead in the middle of a conversation. Bringing a kid into your life adds new dimensions to your mix, but it doesn’t eliminate the different dimensions you had before. In fact, it adds new importance to them.
Refuting or ignoring them in the name of your child’s well-being can build resentment and misery over time in both you and your kid. Placing children above yourself and the community is unhealthy for everyone. Finding the balance between them all is key, and you can’t balance out anything if one thing is heavier than all the rest.
Human beings have been dealing with pregnancy and child-rearing a whole lot longer than there have been bouncy balls and lectures with plastic beads, and I think we’ve done okay so far. Placing more and more weight on the importance of protecting children from even the slightest bump in the road leads to unfortunate, backwards events like parents being arrested for letting kids play in the front yard unattended, or teachers telling a middle-schooler that she can’t use the restroom because the principal thinks letting kids walk around the halls by themselves is too much of a risk. We get outraged at these things in one breath, and in the next claim that our kids are the center of our world. If everyone’s kid is the center of the world, then should we really be surprised when some authority figure or another takes it too far? Maternity classes like the ones I took are guilty of projecting this sacrificial attitude, but then, so too is the majority of the culture we live in. It needs to stop.
In reality, kids are thinking, feeling, learning organisms. What do you think they’re going to learn if we treat them like precious gems? We’re doing ourselves a disservice if we listen to every piece of well-meaning advice that approaches child raising as something that requires you to radically change yourself to do right. There is no “right” way. How our lives change when kids emerge is up to us. How they grow up is just as much our doing as it is theirs, or their school’s, or their friends. Making kids the center of the world only handicaps them in ways we don’t see until it’s far too late.
Let’s start a new trend. Let’s tell new parents, and everyone else who might care, to treat kids like they’re ordinary.
Because they are, every one of them, until they become something more. Our kids might build nonprofits or fly to Venus, but not because they have some special undefinable quality that automatically puts them ahead of their peers. Let’s let them want to strive for more. Let’s let them become extraordinary on their own merits. We parents, teachers, friends, loved ones and even perfect strangers owe it to each other to lead by example, to help when someone needs help, to support when the need arises, to fight for rights, to strike down bigotry, and much more. Kids are a small piece to the puzzle of human endurance, not the entire reason for it. Let’s do good not for them, but for all of us.
Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to descend from my soap box and sit down to watch Youtube videos with my little girl. That’s browsing the internet, watching TV, and spending quality time with my daughter in one fell swoop. That’ll show those stupid plastic beads.