Thursday, December 29, 2005

Can You Complain Now?

I had a pivotal moment with my now-husband's family a few years ago when we were on vacation together. Until that time, I had never been comfortable enough to voice my real feelings, especially negative feelings, with my husband's family.

We were sitting outside our condo in Virginia Beach the night we had arrived. My future sister-in-law and her partner showed up with their children. They had been in North Carolina with his family until that day and had driven up.

We were all sitting outside enjoying the weather and fresh seafood. My nephews were running around and whining. They were awful. My sister-in-law and significant other kept threatening all sorts of punishments that everyone knew would never happen. Finally I said, "why don't you just make them go to bed? You keep threatening it."

My now brother-in-law said that I did not have children so I did not understand. I said, "that's a cop-out, and they're annoying the adults."

At the time I was furious. Come to think of it, the whole situation still makes me furious. Now that I have a baby of my own, I am a little more sympathetic, but to the children not the adults. They were exhausted because they were in the car for 10 hours and then saw tons of family they did not see often. Then they ran around, played on the beach, and gorged on the feast we were having. This conversation happened at about 10 o'clock at night.

The problem is that their parents do not watch their children. They view parenting as an inconvenience, and neither of them wanted to get up to put the kids to bed. The boys were exhausted! They were little!

Now that I have a baby, I often wonder if I can say, "yeah, remember that? I understand now, and I still think you were wrong." I wonder if other new parents feel the same way. There is so much in American culture geared toward parenthood being a new part of life, as if you should suddenly become a different person if you have children. You have to sell your cute car, buy a mini-van, and start wearing appliques on your clothing.

I do not buy it. Now I know that my style of parenting is vastly different from any of my own family or my husband's family. For starters, we work hard to remember that our son is a person. He is a little person, but he is a person nonetheless. He has feelings. Things hurt him. He gets hungry. He gets tired of being cooped up in the car seat on long trips. There are many things about being a baby that are not so easy. We try to remember that.

We also realize that we can maintain our own identities and ideas and still take responsibility for our son. In another memorable moment, I was making fun of a woman arguing with her son in a store. The funny part was not the argument but that the child's logic was more sound than the mother's logic. My mother-in-law said that you have to have children to understand that you can lose your mind. You do things that are completely illogical and then defend them.

Perhaps having a baby is not a big enough dose of parenting to understand, but I cannot imagine continuing to defend an indefensible position just to prove to my child that I am right. I do not need to show that I am all-powerful or that I can win arguments with my five-year-old. Now I want to say to my mother-in-law that I still cannot imagine being crazy and continuing on an illogical path just for the sake of continuing.

I want to tell so many people who have said that when I have a baby I will understand that I still do not. I still have different thoughts and ideas, and I believe that my baby will be better off for it. He will know that his mom and dad try to be sensible and that we are big enough people to recognize and admit when we have made decisions that were not so sound.

Am I alone among new parents?

By Julia Mercer

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