Notes From A Future Shitbag Mother
On the last day of August in 2014, following an especially harrowing phone conversation, I typed, “I want to stop hating my mom” into Google. There were 63.5 million results.
This is a mere fraction of the 209 million results for “I love my mom,” but it is a result that gives me pause. At 29, I have landed solidly in that period of adulthood where choosing a partner might be largely informed by mutual interest in procreating. Friends have told me that the question of whether or not a date wants children has been a dealbreaker in a way that seemed unheard of even two years ago. The Internet seems to be awash in articles from women who are adamant that they will remain child-free and the chorus of commenters who applaud and share their decisions. Such articles seem to have materialized just as the question of children has become more real in my own life, as is their custom.
I have not encountered women who, like me, want desperately to be mothers but live in fear that they are not at all well-suited for motherhood. I am, I know, a future shitbag mother who intends to procreate despite a deep and nagging sense that my children might, one day, join the throngs of Google-searchers attempting to stop hating their mother for the harm she has done them.
To be clear, I do not fear falling into the irresponsible motherhood of allowing a rotten brood to wield jam-hands in public with impunity. I do not anticipate the ambitious motherhood of constant sporting events and the bloodcurdling shrieks of daily violin practice by a third grader. It certainly won’t be the universally detestable motherhood of preschool beauty pageants. All of that seems like pedestrian cruelty when I think about what can happen to children in the face of ill-equipped parents.
I fear a motherhood of such deceptive and undetectable failure as to drive the child mad with a lingering doubt that I ever did anything wrong at all. A magnum opus could be written by my hypothetical offspring about the harm such subtle wickedness did to them if said child was not going to be so thoroughly convinced that they were too oppressively ordinary for a career in the expressive arts. It would be a motherhood characterized not by malevolence toward the child but by boredom with him. And because the familiar artifacts of bad parenting might never materialize, the child might feel merely ungrateful for what, by all accounts, was hard work on my part. In the absence of wire hangers and benzo residue on his childhood books, what really is a lifetime of feeling that you’ve disappointed your mother in countless ways and at every turn? Of course, that is a lifetime of self-doubt and resentment that a Google search is unlikely to remedy. As I grow more certain that I do want to have children of my own at some future date, I fear becoming the source of that vicious ambivalence for my own children.
On The Huffington Post, there are three pages worth of articles tagged “childfree,” wherein bloggers weigh in on the decision not to have children. It is common in these articles and others that scatter the web for the writers to claim they’ll make excellent godmothers and aunts but that motherhood is just not for them. These women often claim that society continues to tell them they must procreate to find meaning in their wretched lives. When they use this word I always imagine the ghost of Dorothy Parker saying something clever about getting old without a procreative plan, but I assume that they actually mean their friends, partners, and potential mothers-in-law. I am fortunate to have no external pressure to procreate from such influences, but it makes it feel that much less excusable that I am considering the option in light of my serious doubts about my adequacy for the job.
For myself, aunthood and godmother-ing are decidedly grim prospects. I want to be someone’s mother. Not just the mother of a baby, but the mother of a child, an adolescent, and eventually an adult. I naively want to participate in the molding of a generation with values that might slow the deteriotation of the planet and build ethics that might make the world a softer place to live. But I fear I have neither the genetics nor the predisposition to participate in this largely volunteer army.
I feel this mostly because what I share with the women so committed to living a life free of motherhood is a peculiar history of distaste for motherhood. When my friends introduced pregnancy plots into our Barbie games, I thwarted their plans with unceremonious abortions soon after my human babysitters were replaced by an HBO subscription. I once convinced a friend via Ouija Board that her Felicity American Girl Doll was possessed by a young girl murdered by her father, having gone mad in the guerrilla warfare of the Revolutionary War. While babysitting two darling moppets under five during my early 20s, I claimed that the floor would fall out from under them if they got out of bed when they begged for yet another bedtime story. The Tudors was on and I had no reliable access to Showtime elsewhere. I had no choice, I reasoned then. I have visibly eye-rolled at children underperforming at school projects that they recite on the subway. The accumulated list of these witch-like behaviors makes it evident that I should not have children.
But I cannot deny that I am physically and emotionally transformed by the prospect of motherhood. When I hold a baby, I can actually feel a rush of protective hormones course through my body; a sense that I am holding a small, delicate thing who deserves the utmost care and affection. In these moments, I feel as though there is nothing more important in the world than the development of healthy babies and moral children. How dare a woman that once chose Showtime over a fifth bedtime story consider becoming the guardian of so vulnerable a person?
On a recent walk I happened upon four small pairs of shoes set nearly around a tree on Ocean Parkway. I was four hours into this particular walk and even though my legs begged me to power through the mile home before they would collapse, I stopped to look at the neatly organized pairs set in a circle. I thought to myself that if there were an inquisitive child nearby, I might tell them that the four proprietors had gathered round this tree, said a particular spell, and had then been transported to a magical world free of the dangers of bare footedness, among other more exciting novelties. I thought of children who might have put the shoes out there themselves as part of a game, resulting in the ire of their parents who feared the shoes would be lost just before school started again. I then thought of an older child explaining that the shoes were just wet and set out to dry by neighbors that would return, and not from somewhere special. I thought of many ways that the delicate magic of children’s lives might be disturbed by the practicalities and cruelties of everyday living. And this was all just the neurosis of encountering eight little shoes.
Childhood is a Choose Your Adventure Own Adventure book where the choices are made almost exclusively by the parents, leaving children at the mercy of deeply flawed and selfish adults. I see a world of unhappy children and the kind of adults they become and cannot help but think that the risk of me having child is not one worth taking when the end results have such potential for heartbreak. It is a tired cliché that insults the childfree to say that parenting is the most important job in the world, but it is the most permanent one. I am paralyzed by the fear that my inadequate handling of the job will spill across generations, poisoning lives that never even had to be. I must consider how willing I am to leave behind traces of myself in a world that I feel I have already disappointed quite sufficiently.
But then I return again to the warmth at the idea that a person in my care might become good and strong and even happy. Despite being occasionally compelled to seek remedies against hatred for my mother, she is also the most reliable source of love I’ve ever encountered. I search Google for the phrase, “My mother is a human being.” It returns 147 million results. It is a solid point between hatred and love. And for the moment, I can feel that it is a good start.
Alana Massey is a writer and disappointment in New York. She likes Serbian fiction, Lady Twitter, and your approval.