I was put to work before my first memories even started. I changed diapers - cloth ones with pins, bathed kids, spoon fed them, gave them bottles, burped them, cleaned up baby vomit AND kid vomit (so much fun!), stopped tantrums - I could go on and on. By the age of 8 years old, I was allowed to care for newborns. I was the oldest girl of eight kids - four in my family and four cousins across the street that were all younger. My cousin Alex was born when I was eight. I had so much child-care experience by then, my mom and aunt felt comfortable with me taking care of Alex.
Most people now won’t even let their 8 year old pack a bag for a trip! I was ALLOWED TO TAKE CARE OF A NEWBORN.
I’ve mentioned before that in my early years in New York City, I met two women from a large, religious Jewish family in Brooklyn. They were in their twenties, I was in my early thirties. I still hadn’t figured out why everyone around me wanted to get married so badly. I found the idea so unappealing and thought there was something wrong with me.
These two women were the oldest of nine children. They'd brought their youngest sister. She was basically their daughter, they admitted. That’s what happens in large families. The oldest children - THE GIRLS OF COURSE - end up raising the youngest. This is especially in cases where there isn't a lot of financial wealth (like in my childhood).
Both women said they had no interest in having children of their own. The oldest was 26 years old and attending college for the first time. They were lucky, they said. Their mom was very open-minded and encouraged them to get an education. And their dad agreed to let them.
Otherwise, they would have been married at 18 and pregnant as soon as possible.
I’m reading the history of Wonder Woman which is FASCINATING. The creator, William Marston was a hardcore feminist - he believed women should be in charge of running the world! He was involved with Margaret Sanger’s niece so I’m learning about the Movement regarding women’s reproductive rights in the early 1900s.
Margaret Sanger was a passionate advocate for birth control. Which sounds very quaint to many women now. Because they don’t know the history.
Women with eight, nine, ten children would line up around the block to get Sanger’s pamphlets on birth control.
These same women would die in back-street alley abortions because they either couldn’t physically or mentally handle another child - or simply didn’t have the resources to feed one more child. Or, they’d die in childbirth.
Or, they’d just die young, their bodies wrung out from all the baby-making.
These women - not THAT long ago - had no choice. They often could no get jobs. They could not control how many children they had. Oldest girls had no choices either! They were treated like servants in their own home.
Instructed to care for the younger children.
There is good reason why I’m so good at managing groups of children and helping raise kids.
I’ve been called the baby whisperer. I can get a group of misbehaving children to sit quietly within seconds. I understand how to communicate with teenagers.
I’ve been at it for forty years.
I don’t know how to take care of myself first. I was never taught how to do that.
I don’t know how to prioritize my own needs. I was never taught how to do that.
I don't know how to just *be* without working. I was never taught how to do that.
I struggle with asking for help. I was never taught how to do that.
I have to learn all this now. In therapy. In my forties.
Just a few months ago, right before the disability hearing, my dad asked me when I was going to get a job. While I was hunched over in the kitchen giving myself fluids and eating chicken broth.
I took a deep breath and explained to him that I still have value in this family EVEN IF I AM NOT CONTRIBUTING financially or through child-rearing.
For the record, I was given permission to share this by my mom. She said that it’s my truth and if I want to share it, then I should. So much of my life's story is intertwined with this piece so I appreciate her blessing. I would not have moved forward without it.
I have no disrespect for those that choose to have children.
I just wish there was more honesty about the reality of it.
If people want to have kids GREAT. Let’s just be honest about the actual workload and the struggle to co-parent with someone that has different values and/or parenting styles.
If people want to have kids LOVELY. Let’s celebrate their decision without shaming those that decide to pursue a different lifestyle.
There is no shame in having kids and loving it.
There is no shame in having kids, hating the parenting part while loving the kids.
There is no shame in having zero interest in being around children.
I’ve watched so many people follow a path that they don’t even want, simply because of family and societal pressure.
Fuck that. Choose whatever life you want. Whoever you decide to be. Whoever you decide to raise or not raise, go for it.
Thanks for listening.
Much love, Jules
NOTE: I get that everyone is doing the best they can. And that this was kind of the sign of the times, so common in different ways for different generations. I just want to share *my* particular experience - to heal - and also, hopefully encourage other people to share what has been challenging for them to make peace with. I want so badly for us to heal as a country and find a way forward to create a healthier world. I figure finding ways to be healthier in our heart, mind and soul is worth a shot. It can't hurt....this was a really hard one to release...whew.
P.S. I'm down to 7 more stories for the Women Series! Then I'll get a tattoo and start my Disability Series! Nervous but ready.
[This photo is from 1976 which means I was 5 years old dressing my brother. For a long time, I didn't understand why I looked so serious as a kid in photos. In this one, I look like an irritated parent!]