Several years back, I…

Several years back, I wrote a journal entry about calling yourself a writer. It came out of a Natalie Goldberg piece, about how other writers can give you permission to call yourself a writer, and in the end, I argue that what you really need is to a) do the work, and then b) give yourself permission to call yourself a writer. Which I think maps surprisingly well onto parenthood.

Kavya is three months old today. In three months, she's accomplished a variety of things. She's learned to smile, and coo, and is just now starting to reach for objects. Soon she'll be grabbing them, and I'll have to put my earrings away for a while. She eats well, and grows steadily, and is a warm, snuggly bundle of love. She is a very good baby -- sweet and peaceful and only hollers when she actually wants something, which is almost always something we can actually provide: companionship, snuggles, food, someone or something to play with. We've been very lucky.

But more than what she's learned, I've been thinking about what we've learned.

It's no secret, I think, that Kevin was very hesitant about having a child. It took me years to talk him into it, and by the end, I was promising him quite solemnly and seriously that I would do all the work. One of his main concerns was that the baby would be so much work that he wouldn't be able to get any math done, (or have any fun) which he would resent. I'm quite sure he didn't believe that I would actually end up doing all the work if we had a baby, but it's also true that the basic deal was that if one of us had to sacrifice career and/or fun to care for the child, it would end up being me. That's fine -- that's what I signed up for, and it seemed only fair, given that I was the one arguing so strenuously for the project. I was willing to do the bulk of the necessary work.

But how do you decide what work is necessary? We have fairly different parenting styles, as it turns out, which seems to come down to how we handle the work of parenting. My approach is to do whatever I think Kavi actually needs, plus a bit more, but the latter mostly as and when it seems reasonable and enjoyable. So far, the time and effort of parenting her has been pretty much what I've expected (aside from the breastfeeding difficulties, and you have to expect a few unexpected roadblocks in any project). More and more lately I've been able to find time to do other things, from keeping the house clean to relaxing with good books to writing. This surprised Kevin, and distressed him a little, at first. We were talking about it all a few nights ago, and he said, "When you agreed to do all the work, I imagined you doing all the work of parenting the way I would do it." Which, of course, I don't.

Kevin expected parenting to be much more work, more of an full-time job, that precluded other work and fun. That we'd need to be more actively engaged with her at every minute. But of course, as an infant, she sleeps an awful lot. And even when she's awake, we choose to put her in her swing or on her playmat to entertain herself some of the time. I expected that, and he didn't, which is part of why he was so reluctant to take on parenting in the first place. I think he's quietly relieved at how (relatively) easy it's been.

Of course, if raising Kavi were entirely Kevin's own responsibility, I think he'd feel compelled to be much more actively engaged with her all the time, but as it is, my slacker ways are rubbing off on him. I'm convinced that a little time in the swing or the play mat won't actually hurt her -- plus, mommy staying sane is worth quite a lot to baby's health and well-being. Some people might think that makes me a bad mommy, and there's enough guilt in this process that there are times when I worry about that myself. But mostly, I think I'm doing enough for her. Kevin still works a bit harder than I do at raising her (aside from the breastfeeding) -- he pays a lot more attention than I do, just by his nature -- but we're finding a good balance, I think. A place where we can both be comfortable with each others' parenting.

Now, I know that there'll be times when parenting will be a full-time job for at least one of us, if not both. When she's sick, or teething, or turns into a toddler getting into everything and demanding lots of attention right now! But mostly, I think my natural instinct is to be fairly laid-back about it all, and I think it's working. I really believe that we'll both be able to get our work done, and have fun, and have a life -- all in addition to raising a happy, healthy child. Maybe even two. And a puppy. Or two. We're still very new to parenting (puppies and babies), but we're starting to see the shape of what kind of parents we'll be, and how much work this project will entail, and what our lives will look like with children in it.

We've gotten so much advice over the last year, ever since I got pregnant. Most of it very good advice, and I'm sure we'll be looking for more advice in the future, as new parenting issues emerge. Every writer needs feedback, and most of us need workshops and editors and compatriots in the daily struggle to get good writing done. Parenting seems much the same. But they're also the same in this: although you may want the approval of your parents, your in-laws, your friends who are parents themselves -- in the end, only you can give yourself permission to call yourself a parent. You have to decide that even if you aren't a good parent by someone else's definition, you're a good enough parent for you. And that's where we are.

Three months in, we're not waiting anymore for someone else to give us permission to call ourselves parents. We're Kavi's parents. (We're parents! Eep!) And we're so happy to have her in our lives.

Happy three-month birthday, baby. Your mommy and daddy love you.

2 thoughts on “Several years back, I…”

  1. I’m excited you’re calling yourself parents now. 🙂

    I think the ability to entertain oneself is a very important skill and one that is vastly underrated by today’s parents. Somehow you’re supposed to “stimulate your child’s development” all day long. How about the child find ways to develop themselves? Based on my results so far I think this approach has worked well with both my kids. I do also entertain them as well. But I truly think a person who can’t entertain themselves is seriously lacking a basic skill.

    I think I was trying to tell you about different parenting styles before you guys started. That perhaps Kevin had a more involved idea of parenting than you did. I also forgot to ask you if Kevin can multi-task.

    C can’t really multi-task. Therefore he is constantly amazed at how much I get done with the kids. I kept a log once for a few days. With his parenting style he would just play with the kids all day long and that’s pretty much what he does when he’s alone with them on the weekends. For a long time he assumed that’s what I did. No I have fifty things to do and also parent. I always knew that parenting involved a lot of multi-tasking. What I didn’t realize is how its lack makes parenting and doing anything else much harder.

    I think while writing this I have checked in with the kids hrm twice. Each time I have been 100% there with them. Now I’m half listening to Little T getting something from the fridge. Now I go and help him with strawberries then clean up the mess and prevent him from spreading strawberries into the living room. Several other things have also happened while I was writing this including a couple phone calls. And I’m done with this reply.

  2. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Heh. Kevin doesn’t multi-task so much, no, although he has been known to play a video game while giving the baby her bottle. That’s about his limit, though.

    To be fair, I only sort-of multi-task. I can sometimes do several things at once, but I don’t do well with interruptions for certain kinds of tasks — for those, I get very focused, and if I’m interrupted, it really throws me off and I get cranky. Something to work on, as I suspect children are just one interruption after another. 🙂

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