A conversation yesterday got me thinking about why my marriage and kids mean so much to me – a suitable subject considering that Thursday is Valentine’s Day.
She told me: “I can see myself being that single unmarried lady for the rest of my life. I don’t even know if I want kids!”
Ouch. “Why not?” As a young mother, it’s always a bit startling to hear someone say they don’t want kids. Does my life look that awful to her?
“I don’t have the patience. I’m too selfish. I hated working as a nanny.”
Fair enough, but I still trot out the usual response: “It’s just different with your own kids.”
She’s got a point, though. Parenting – and marriage, for that matter – requires gargantuan amounts of patience, endless generosity and sacrifice, and long, boring hours of exhausting labour in the form of childcare. “I see no reason why friendships can’t fulfill the human need for companionship.”
“Yes,” I say, “but what about those Sunday nights when everyone is at home with their families and you wish there was someone to sit with in silence or talk to about your day? It’s satisfying just to hear someone else breathing in the house.”
The fact is, I had no idea marriage and kids were so amazing until I had both. There are huge rewards to be reaped from huge amounts of work. Sheer volume of time + total commitment + hard work = the most rewarding relationships I’ve ever had. Yes, I have wonderful friends who make me happy, but those friendships don’t even come close to fulfilling me the way my husband and two little boys do. Maybe it’s simply because I haven’t invested the same amount of work into them. Sure, I suppose I could spend more time with my friends, but unless we lived together (and even then there are private boundaries), they wouldn’t see me at all hours of the day and night, in all states of mind. One attains a deeper level of human understanding by raising a child through blood, sweat, and tears, and by dedicating one’s life to a relationship with another person.
It’s sort of like learning to play an instrument. It takes countless hours of rigorous practicing to get to a level where you can perform and move an audience to tears with the beauty of the music. Is all that practicing fun? No. Do you like being a slave to that instrument? No. Is it worth it in the end? Hell, yeah! It’s by doing that we become good at things and enjoy them, whether learning an instrument or being married or raising kids.
I’m not claiming to be good at what I do, but I love my family life. No matter how angry my kids make me throughout the day, I feel nothing but fuzzy, warm love bubbling up inside once they’re asleep at night. Jason and I laugh at the adorable things they said and did throughout the day, prompting us to remember other funny moments that fill us with total delight. They’re worth all the sleepless nights, the early mornings, the frustrating lack of privacy and time and silence and space.
The choice to be alone is one that I respect, even if I can’t understand it. Like a career path that wouldn’t be a good fit for me, a single life was never an option for me. I crave constant company, conversation, and background noise. I struggled during university, even with housemates around, because that energizing family vibe was lacking. It just wouldn’t work for me. It’s true that being committed to singlehood would give her more freedom than I have to travel, pick up and go whenever she pleases, pursue an impressive professional career, and date lots of interesting people – and there are elements of that lifestyle that are enviable – but I believe that my truest form of contentment is to be found within the four walls of my house. If that doesn’t work for her, fine, but may she find fulfillment along whatever path she chooses.