Can I have the life I want and also have kids?
December 7, 2012 1:39 PM   Subscribe

If I become a parent, I don't want to be a typical one. I also don't want to be anything like my own parents. How do you maintain your own life? What are some movies/TV shows/books/memoirs can help me get a feel for how non-stereotypical-suburban-American people treat their kids?

Kind of a weird question, but I hope you can help.

My parents are not role models -- very long story, but I know I don't want to be anything like them.

None of my friends are parents.

I don't want to live the typical American suburban minivan and Disney lifestyle.

I'm trying to get a feel for what are real limitations imposed by the fact that there's this small person for whom you are totally responsible, and what are cultural artifacts of the cult of American parenting and not necessary.

I want to start a new career and travel and generally still live like an adult person as much as I can, if that is possible. I want to live in a city. I don't want to be a stereotypical soccer mom. I also want to be a good parent, if I decide to go that route.

So... if you manage to maintain an intellectual and social life, travel, have a career, and still be a cool person while having a family, I'd love to hear more about what it's like for you.

What makes it possible? Are there particular parenting philosophies that make sense to you or describe what you do? Is it different at different life stages of your child?

I'm also wondering if there are any characters in TV shows/films/novels/memoirs etc. that ring true for you. What should I be watching to give me some idea of what this could look like?

If this is a really bad idea, I'd like to hear that too.
posted by 3491again to Human Relations (51 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
IANAP, but I don't think many people have much control over the parents that they become, because they don't have a lot of control over the kids they get. If your child has special needs, that becomes your life. Stuff like that.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:44 PM on December 7, 2012 [9 favorites]

The short answer is that soccer moms and minivans and trips to Disneyland = good parents. I don't know the answers, but the only thing I've read that comes close describing parenthood is "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein. That's all you need to know right there.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:45 PM on December 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

Resources make it possible. If you can afford to hire people or have family/friends willing to step up and take over the day to day tasks of parenting while you are traveling, focusing on a career or socializing without your children then you will be fine.

Most parents integrate their children into those aspects of their lives; my children attend conventions/work meeting with me, we travel together, we socialise by getting together with friends and the kids to off and do them own thing. It is up to you how much you want to integrate the two spheres of you life and which one you prioritise (if your child is sick do you still go to work?)
posted by saucysault at 1:48 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

typical American suburban minivan and Disney lifestyle

I have no idea what that means. I know all sorts of people who drive minivans (I don't) and who love Disneyland (I do). Rather than twist yourself up in knots about what you don't want to be--why not paint a picture of what you do want?
Do you want your kids to speak more than 1 language? Mine do, thanks to a Guatamalan nanny and AFS.
Do you want your kids to play team sports?
Do you want your kids to know how how to do stuff--cook, ride horses, fix cars, paddle canoes, paint pictures, play the piano?

I think that most people have some sort of vague idea as to what matters to them about their ideal family, start working towards that vision, and then modify those plans when the kids are actually on the scene. It's all very well to think you're going to go backpacking as a family, but if your kid needs a wheelchair--then you have to figure out how that's going to work. Or if your kid sneezes when outdoors--maybe you get into terrariums instead.

Stereotypes abound--Park Slope mom, Tiger Mom, Soccer Mom--rather than panic about what label others might slap on you--figure out what's important for you and your family and make it up as you go along.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:50 PM on December 7, 2012 [10 favorites]

You might get some useful pointers from Almost Fearless, a blog written by a couple, Christine and Drew, about what happened when they quit their jobs and went to travel around the world with their baby son.

From what I've seen, a big part of what you describe comes down to the ability to ignore when other people call you a "bad parent." Do your own thing, and if it means living in the city and traveling often, then go right ahead. Choosing to homeschool and having other people around who can take care of your child (for example, if you live with another couple) can help too.
posted by danceswithlight at 1:52 PM on December 7, 2012

Yeah. I think a lot of the minivan/disney parent exists because its easier. The same for all the "stuff" that goes with kids. You don't need it, but as a parent there will be points that you want it.

We travel a lot (by car, soon by plane) with our toddler and it has to be on his terms. Why? Because if I am unhappy I might be grumpy. If the kids are unhappy they will scream until the situation improves. Its not that parenthood means you can't travel overseas, visit museums, read books or go out to restaurants it just becomes harder and that can take some (all) of the fun out of it. Running around after a toddler or soothing a fussy infant means that you just spent a lot of effort and money to see or do something that you are effectively missing. This is where parents (who likely liked their old lifestyle just like you) get the minivan and take the kids to Disney. Its easier to load kids and the gear they need to be happy and take them to a place that they are happy, cause as a parent you are not happy when the kids are not happy.

You can take kids pretty much everywhere it just depends on how much work you are willing to put in.
posted by saradarlin at 1:54 PM on December 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

You become the parent your kids need.

If that happens to require a minivan...oh well. Seriously.

Your kid may get into sports, requiring you to a) attend a butt-load of soccer/softball/baseball/etc. games, and b) schlep the kids' gear to said games. And pick-up other team members on your way. Thus: minivan.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:54 PM on December 7, 2012 [17 favorites]

You're implying that typical parents are bad. That's simply not so -- plenty of people grow up with all the things you describe and are happy, fulfilled children. I'm not sure why you don't want to live that kind of life though it's certainly your prerogative if you don't, but focus more on just doing what's necessary to make sure any children you have are brought up in a safe, healthy home environment that ensures they have access to the things they need like love, stability, consistency, medical care, nutrition, and education. Do not set out to be deliberately contrary; the parent I know who have done that have passed on a lot of baggage and pretentiousness to their kids about being "alternative" and they actually are really shitty parents because of it.

Focus on making sure you have the resources to be happy and healthy, and then realize that having children means giving some of that up in favor of soccer games and trips to Disneyland because guess what: those might be the things your kids love and want and denying them that because that's not who you want to be is selfish.

Be the parent your kids need you to be -- don't make them adapt to you.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:55 PM on December 7, 2012 [19 favorites]

Here's an example of some nontraditional parents: cook book authors Naomi Duguid & Jeffrey Alford. Read this NYer profile of how they dragged their kids all over the world. (Spoiler: they got divorced the year after this profile ran.)
Also, do you know how common it is for parents to say "I swore I'd never do this as a parent..."?
posted by mattbucher at 1:56 PM on December 7, 2012

Also NAP, but I think an unfortunate truth underlying this question, particularly as it pertains to the early years, is how much money you're able to spend on childcare. The costs of daycare, nannies, and babysitters can get to be astronomical, and the costs of city living seem to come to be viewed as an unaffordable luxury by a lot of young parents I know.

Another variable that seems to be very important among my friends is how comfortable the parents are with taking turns for independent activities. For whatever reason, a lot of folks just seem to lock down and both stay home all the time, and only do outside world shit together when they can get a sitter. However, some couples tend to be a lot better about doing stuff separately and trading off childcare responsibilities, which to my mind seems a lot healthier.

Beyond that, what your kids end up getting into is largely going to be a product of what sort of range of activities you present them with and what you model for them. You can't get into soccer without mom taking you to practice, and you're much more likely to enjoy books if you hang out at the bookstore with dad and see him reading all the time.

Good luck- the world needs more parents like you.

Small aside- Patton Oswalt's newest CD has a bit about him dancing to the Pixies with his daughter; maybe this will help you :)
posted by jimmysmits at 1:57 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

We homeschool. It's hard to beat the flexibility and freedom that comes with doing so. For example, we'll be travelling in east Africa for 4-6 weeks this spring with our 6- and 9-year-old kids -- can't imagine how that would work out well if they were in traditional school.
posted by BurntHombre at 1:57 PM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Parents live in cities and in suburbs and elsewhere, and there are some in America and others who aren't, so I'm given to understand.

I'm the father to two boys who are now in their teens. IMO the first ten years are the ones where you have to (ideally both parents have to) give up a lot in terms of mobility and social life. After that, they're much more independent and you can do a lot more withOUT them, but there also seems to be much more to do WITH them, that needs to be done with them. You're not having to wipe their butts for them, but the emotional and social issues become more complex.

The big thing to remember is parents are the most important people in a child's world. You said you have some issues with your parents - usually the problem is the parent failed to recognize that. Criticism hurts more coming from a parent. Praise means more. Presence or absence means a LOT.

Mrs. RKS don't own a mini-van and we've never been to Disney. But we support our kids' activities like band, helping with homework, getting them to friends houses and having their friends over - it's a lot to do. It also results in having fewer gadgets and toys for the same level of income. It doesn't (usually) seem like a struggle to me because we wanted a family, but I would expect that we'd be traveling more, etc. if we didn't have them. We might even be cooler, I dunno. If that's your biggest concern in life, then it's not time to have kids.
posted by randomkeystrike at 1:58 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're looking for a philosophy that gives you a set of instructions for how to be an independent-minded parent.

....I trust you see the paradox.

Rather than getting all tied up in what you aren't going to do, just do what feels like the best thing for you in any situation, and shrug off the haters' opinions.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:59 PM on December 7, 2012 [17 favorites]

There is no typical parent, or perfect parent.

You can only bring into parenting what you already have. If you believe in not using violence against children, you won't spank. If you believe in eating well, you won't buy a housefull of junk food (though it will probably creep in through other avenues). If you believe your kid should learn to think for themselves, you put up with endlessly explaining why one must sleep, or not eat ice cream for every meal, or go outside once in a while. It's exasperating. You will be bored stupid by it sometimes, and sometimes you will lose your temper or be a jerk back to them.

In fact, the problem is that most people picture themselves being perfectly self-controlled, raising kids in a little protected bubble with all influences controlled for. But friends, family, teachers, random people they meet, random TV shows they see, will all influence them for better or worse. You have to love them and also let them run around in the scary world.

So; you make provisions. You teach them that their body belongs only to them. You teach them compassion and helpfulness and how to brush their teeth and chew with their mouth closed. You teach them that fire burns and that you sometimes have to get up and keep going when you bang up your knee. You teach them that they will lose, sometimes and not to let it stop them from playing any more. You let them decide they really don't care about that one thing you love and that they love that thing that drives you batty.

It's endless. No book is going to tell you how to do it right. Some books may help a bit; I always recommend "Operating Instructions" by Anne Lamott, because she was not a perfect mother but she was honest about it.
posted by emjaybee at 2:00 PM on December 7, 2012 [9 favorites]

Personally, my model for parenthood has long been the Murrys. You know, from A Wrinkle in Time? Of course, their careers often threatened the lives of their children, but they got to live in a cool old farmhouse and Mrs. Murry cooked over a Bunsen burner.

You might check out Offbeat Families, too. I'd keep in mind that a lot of what you're talking about is decided by socio-economic differences. In some ways, economic privilege is a big help for things like alternative schooling, living in cool (read: expensive) culturally rich areas, going on exotic vacations. You might feel as if you're defining yourself as different by rejecting these things, but in certain social circles electric cars rather than minivans, waldorf schools instead of public schools, summer art camp instead of soccer are all bog-standard parts of parenting.

Mostly I think you should worry about what makes you happy rather than being concerned with how it all looks. And be open minded. I've met some awesome soccer moms in my time. They're not all as bad as you might think. Besides, what if you end up with a kid who loves soccer? Do you say, "No, Finn, we're going to make you take dance because I don't want to be one of those parents"? Of course not.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:00 PM on December 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Really, look at all the people on Metafilter who are intellectual, social travellers with interesting careers and who are cool people. Read the archives under the relevant tags, about what books and comics and movies to introduce their kids to, or things to do while waiting for the bus or what to build or find. Many of them (us) are parents.

What makes it possible is love, and like. You love your kid, and you like who they are and what they do. And you like life, whatever it brings. Being flexible is the biggest help, because no matter what you read or watch, you don't know how it's going to apply to your kid until you meet your kid. And every minute is different.

Today we went from a fight first thing in the morning about getting up because we had obligations and her taking a fifteen minute shower; then more grumping about my wanting to properly blow-dry her hair after it and we have nothing good for breakfast, and there was much stomping and "I hate being a kid" talk. Then we got food from the dirty clown for lunch and bonded over having to care for her grandfather's house and how we need to euthanize one cat and we cried together and were sorry about the morning. Then we moved on to my being the best mom ever for dropping her off for rock climbing for the afternoon and taking her to the opera tonight. Except that right now she's upstairs in the bedroom I cleaned today with her bestie, and they are ignoring me, and I am here typing and that part is just fine with me too.

Quite honestly, the most "real" show I ever saw on TV was Roseanne. And it looks like your neighbourhood. Go for walk, and look around, and remember you're only ever seeing a moment in time, and you don't really know until you're in the thick of it.

And, this is pretty much the material covered in Mommy blogs. Start with someone like Finslippy, or mimi smartypants, and follow link after link after link down that rabbit hole.
posted by peagood at 2:02 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't have any experience to draw from, but I feel similarly concerned about the changes that child-rearing can bring. Reading Offbeat Families (formerly Offbeat Mama) has been helping to keep the panic at bay.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 2:04 PM on December 7, 2012

Check out "free range parenting." Also, you may (as I do) believe that children have certain rights, and may make certain choices, particularly as they get older. If you do, you may create a relationship that respects such rights.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 2:05 PM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

The short answer is that soccer moms and minivans and trips to Disneyland = good parents.

Um, what? I know people who had/did these things and were pretty darn bad parents. The quality of parenting doesn't relate to what trappings you do or don't have.

I don't have kids but I was raised by parents who did none of this stuff, and very little "normal" stuff at all. It either wouldn't have occurred to them to do it, or they couldn't afford to do it. I think basically, not that they had a philosophy as such, but they did what they knew and what seemed right to them. They weren't at all into sports and so I wasn't; if I had been I suppose they would have driven me to soccer as they drove me to dance, but they wouldn't have been all into the game beyond my involvement in it. They think things like Disney are tacky and not fun, so I do too; if I'd disagreed, I would have had to wait till I was an adult to go there. And so on.

I respect that you want to be different from your parents and do things your own way and not get caught up in a lifestyle that's pushed on you by the media or whoever. But I think it might be easier to live your life in your own way than you think it is. I think you can trust yourself a little more than you are here. If you know your own values, and it sounds like you do, it's pretty hard to go too far against them. At least that's been my experience in general, and I've seen that played out amongst my friends who've had kids as well.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 2:08 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a parent that still maintains an independent life, but it is not as flexible as it once was.

I don't watch tv when I want to. I don't see movies anymore. I travel a lot, but have a family infrastructure that supports it.

I don't have a tremendous social life, but when I do, my spouse is with child.

But - I'm a professor, so I have a ton of flexibility (could watch tv in middle of day), I travel for work, and am paid to read.

I have 1 very well behaved child who is old enough to not need me all the time but not so old that he has sports and stuff.
posted by k8t at 2:12 PM on December 7, 2012

"So... if you manage to maintain an intellectual and social life, travel, have a career, and still be a cool person while having a family, I'd love to hear more about what it's like for you."

I mean -- you just do those things. It helps to have a reasonably well-paying job, and it helps to have a partner (because more adults per child is always helpful), but you prioritize what's important to you and those are the things you do, and the things you teach your kids.

My kids go to a lot of political meetings and community workdays and labor actions and things like that, because those are things that are important to us. We live in a city because that's important to us. We forgo some other things (big house, fancy cars, lots of vacations) that some of our peers find important so that we can prioritize our values. We do bake cookies ... and deliver them to the Occupy camp.

You meet your kids where they are, but there are a lot of ways to do that. If your kid wants to get some fresh air and exercise, you can do that in a suburban backyard, or at an urban playground, or hiking in a state park, or gardening in a community garden, or going urban trekking through New York City. My child is obsessed with trains, so we have some train toys and a couple videos, but we have a lot of books about trains (I'm a reader), and we look at train station architecture (I like architecture), and we take train rides to things I think are interesting. I'm there to facilitate my child's interests, but I can share them in my own way; I don't have to just buy Thomas the Tank Engine stuff. I can share the interest with him in ways that engage my enthusiasm too.

I guess that would be my two key points: Prioritize your values, whatever they are; and share yourself and your interests with your child as much as you engage in their stuff and their interests. You won't be the same as before you had kids, but you can express those same values and interests while being a parent at the same time.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:17 PM on December 7, 2012 [20 favorites]

I know a lot of newish parents right now, many of them pretty far from typical in terms of jobs, transportation options, money, gender presentation, sexuality, politics and social habits.

What strikes me (as someone who has never, ever wanted to have children, much as I like my friends' kids) is that you need a couple of things:

1. A strong sense of self - what is important to you? If you are committed to your art, your politics, etc, make sure that you have kids while you're living somewhere you can participate in these things - even if you're participating infrequently or without as much commitment as you'd like. My own parents - arty, intellectual, introverts, weirdos - moved to a remote and conservative suburb where they had no friends when they had kids, and this was not especially good for them or us, although everything worked out in the end.

2. A committed family, preferably a committed partner. Most of my friends had their male partners run out on them or were in other situations where their partners could not provide much support, and this made things exponentially harder. It's not that you can't be a loving single parent, or give your kid a good life - but it seems much, much harder when you don't have someone to co-parent and to bring in additional money. Living with or near birth or chosen family could probably make up for a lot of this, if those people were really solid about helping you.

3. Enough money, gained by non-miserable means. And health insurance. Now, lots of people raise kids when they are broke as hell and lots of people raise kids without health insurance - and if you truly want kids more than anything, that seems to work out. But if you're on the fence...holy crap, dragging your kids along to the free clinic when you're sick, busing your kids everywhere and transporting all the groceries and kids' stuff by bus because you can't afford a car, having very few options in terms of food and clothing for the kids, spending a LOT of extra time on transit because you have to go lots of places for the kids and you go by bus...Being able to afford an apartment, a car and health insurance are super-important. I have seen lack of living space and lack of transportation just wear people the hell out and put stresses on their relationships and health.

4. Being in a good headspace yourself. Make really sure that you are not trying to "reparent" yourself by parenting your kids perfectly, for example.

5. Being at a stable point in your life otherwise - are you employable in general? Are you in stable health (not so much "good" health, but not in health crisis)? Are you living in a place you like? Are you able to do all your routine stuff without feeling overwhelmed?

Being able to "be yourself" as a parent [EDIT: not "is" but "seems to be", since I am not a parent but only a parent observer] about having enough money and enough support system that you are not constantly insanely harried and depressed and worried about material stuff, and where you can have some version of a like-minded community. Parents who are conservative and materialistic (which I assume is what you're getting at with the mini-van/Disney thing even if it's clumsily phrased) are probably conservative materialistic people anyway rather than people whose core selves have been irretrievably altered by having kids.

I suspect that if you're on the fence about it in this particular way, you are not in a good place to make the decision about having kids.

(Minivans are incredibly useful. If I - a single anarchist living in the city - were getting a vehicle, I would absolutely want a minivan, because you can transport a lot of stuff and people in them and you can get ones with quite good gas mileage. I know several people with enviable minivans.)
posted by Frowner at 2:22 PM on December 7, 2012 [8 favorites]

Wow. Let's start unpacking.

You know how when you're dating someone, you build a life together? As in, there was a you before you partnered with that person, and there's a you while you were together, and there's a you after you're no longer with them. There are some constants through all three, but major differences, too. For better or worse, they're all still you.

A child is yet another entity. You'll build a life with them, too. Unlike people you date, you're pretty much stuck with this one.

Everyone had non-negotiable ideas about the kind of life they would live and the people they would date when they were teenagers. Most everyone has very different ideas after they've lived a little.

Parenting is no different. In all cases - you do have some say in what you want to see happen. But not as much as you think. It's actually really fun, regardless.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 2:24 PM on December 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

You do what you do. We live in a city (on one income - only doable because we used to have two and are skating by on the remnants of that). I'm about to start my PhD. We both did stints as the stay at home parent (me for 12 months, him for two years, me for the next six months). We chose a kindy based on walkability (so we don't need a second car) and educational philosophy (waldorf/montessori leaning). We have a huge amount of economic privilege though, based on our years with a double income and no kids. We are paying a mortgage - we couldn't get one if we were starting out trying to buy now though. We still listen to our music, watch TV, see movies, eat out, and the minimal amount of travel we always did.

The limiting factors are: money, your child's special needs, your special needs and support.

We can see a movie because we have a cheap cinema up the road and relatives living close by to care for our daughter. Our child is relatively easy-going, gets along well with adults and behaves in socially acceptable ways in public. I still need a certain amount of silence/alone time so we have to work that into our days. We have family members and friends who will care for our daughter if the need arises.

But it isn't easy. Sure we go out, but there's a HUGE difference between going out for a meal as an adult and going with a child. Even though our daughter is incredibly well-behaved, loves new food and coffee and cafes, it is nothing like going and having a coffee with a friend. She needs to be part of the conversation, or distracted, and both of those take time and effort that you don't always have. This is a child who has always gone to cafes with me; if you have a child with colic, you probably won't want to be out as much (because of the endless screaming) and then cafe behaviour becomes something you need to teach rather than something absorbed from birth.

To bounce off Eyebrows McGee, the way to maintain your values as a parent is to actually work out what they are. Food is one of my values, as is silence, as is reading and learning. So we go to libraries a lot - I just have to split time between the kid's area and the rest of the library. I'm lucky enough that our daughter enjoys food as well so we cook together and try new foods and go places with food and share it with people; if she were a picky eater, or had lots of food intolerances/allergies that would be harder. I like silence and that is incredibly difficult with a three year old, so it's something that we struggle to make work. Reading and learning is great, but talk to me in three years when she's at school.

But the biggest thing to realise is that most parents are trying to do what they think is best. For them and their kids, be in a minivan and Disney, or trekking and organic food. And jumping in with judgements is never ever helpful to you or to them. The most consumerist parents I know are the ones with seventeen organic baby carriers and the latest designer organic wood chairs and the most expensive montessori schools. The image of 'individual parenting' contains very little substance. You follow YOUR values, and you need to work out what they are independent of 'cool' and 'non-stereotype'.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:27 PM on December 7, 2012 [8 favorites]

You find your own path to parenting depending on who you are and who your kid is (sometimes there's a great match, sometimes there's not, and sometimes the kid is like an alien).

I have a four year-old daughter.

In some ways I am NOT a "typical" parent in the sense you might define it. We live 20 minutes from Disneyland and I've never taken her there (other friends and neighbors have season passes). We are going to the ballet tomorrow. We have about 1,500 illustrated children's books in her bedroom that we are reading constantly. She's never once had a soda (and she only recently had chocolate milk and McDonald's). We watch very little TV.

In other ways I'm a typical parent (although probably not a typical dad). My daughter does dance, gymnastics, swimming, and lots of birthday parties at bouncy house places.

You have a lot of control over your child's life. You choose what she eats, where she goes to school, whether she watches TV and plays video games, where she goes, etc. You don't have to do what "society" or TV or anyone else tells you to do, but your child will want to do a lot of those things and you just have to find the right balance that works for you (if you go too far out of balance, you might end up with a child who feels like her parents are from Mars).

Sure you can still travel. We've already been to seven other states outside California with our daughter. Do we do the same things we would do without her? Partially.

Can you have it all? No. Being a good parent means your kid comes first. But guess what? If you are like most parents, you will have so much joy raising your child that you won't care so much about what you did in your "previous" life because your "new" life will be so much better.
posted by Dansaman at 2:28 PM on December 7, 2012

We never got to go to Disney as kids because we couldn't afford it. That or my parents just didn't want to go. I would rather have gone to Legoland, though, and my parents probably made this happen by giving me Lego at a young age.
posted by mippy at 2:29 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I want to live in a city. I don't want to be a stereotypical soccer mom. I also want to be a good parent, if I decide to go that route.

Not sure how those things are at odds, but ok. You can live in a city, millions of families do, but you will want to look very closely at schools. Where your kids go to school has more of an impact on their development than you can ever imagine. In cities where schools are less than ideal (most), many parents then send their kids to private schools. (This has the effect of making the public schools even crappier and perpetuates the cycle, but I digress.) You need money for private school or for enrichment to make up for the crappiness of the public school.

What makes it possible?

Money. Money makes travel possible, it makes not being a cubicle-slave possible, it makes overcoming the way your parents raised you possible, it makes good schools and hang-gliding lessons and hands-on experiences and etc. etc. etc. possible. Money gives you the freedom to live your life the way you choose to live it.
posted by headnsouth at 2:31 PM on December 7, 2012 [7 favorites]

I kind of think of life after children as list that goes "LIFE ENJOYMENT", "GOOD PARENTING", and "FULFILLMENT OF PERSONAL AMBITIONS", and you can pick any two.

There are a couple of things to unpack in your question. One thing I think you are touching on is the weird consumerism of a lot of modern American family life, where everything has a brand or a product and your child has to match your house. This is not my bag at all, and it has been only mildly challenging to avoid. But that's how I was pre-kid, anyway. I think you are a consumer parent in the way you were a childfree consumer, largely. So this fear need not apply to you at all.

The second thing is parent self vs ego-self and how much control you have over how that unfolds. I think that's much harder and more complex to navigate. I am a parent. I am also a person with a lot of interests separate from motherhood and a rich inner life. And having done it for a couple of years now, I believe that being what I consider to be a really good parent and being "my own person" are fundamentally incompatible, in a very deep way I did not understand before I had a kid.

Now, there are a lot of parenting choices I make that make doing my own stuff more difficult - I hate the phrase "attachment parenting", but I guess that's basically what we do. And a lot of how I mother my child is incompatible with things I liked to do pre-kid, because things I liked to do involved going off somewhere alone, or to a rock show, or working in the middle of the night, or just not talking to someone for an hour about his weird theories about gravity four times a day.

So of course it's kind of seductive to read that and think "Well, if Being Her Own Person is impossible because of the parenting-lifestyle choices she's making, obviously she should just make different choices!", right? But here's the kicker about that:

People have tons and tons theories about how you should parent, and I think almost all of them are... not wrong, exactly, but kind of beside the point. Because what actually happens is that we are all doing a kind of a parenting that's a compromise between what our kid wants and what we can bear to do. So people will say things like "You have to be stern with your baby from birth and do sleep training and leave them with a babysitter overnight right away!" and that works for them, and they feel certain that they are in control and caused their child to be okay with those things.... when really I think that those people have babies who were basically always going to be okay with those things, and so doing them worked out. Whereas if you have a kid who is very high-needs and intense, and you are not able to do sleep training or leaving them with other people, and in response to that you turn into a crazy Mayim Bialik AP hippie, maybe you try to convince yourself that you are doing a whole philosophy and it's objectively better, but really you too are just doing The Minimum The Kid Allows.

You don't really know exactly what kind of parent you will turn out to be until your kid shows up, because your life as a parent will shape itself around that particular person. And maybe it's a breeze, and you can still go to shows and go hiking, and maybe it's really hard for a couple of years. You just don't know. But I think that being a good parent is so deeply tied up in responding to what your particular kid needs that telling yourself in advance that your life needn't change that much is basically laying a trap for yourself.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 2:33 PM on December 7, 2012 [20 favorites]

Once you have a child you will be so busy actually parenting that you will have little time to worry about whether you are too traditional or not.

That said, I was pretty introspective when raising my daughter. I wanted to be a better father than my dad was, so any time I found myself doing or saying something that he might have, it made me pause and rethink. This was usually a good thing. It kept me from acting out of frustration or anger. But there were also times that my "being like my father" was innocuous. because there are traits we share as family, but also as human beings. But there is nothing wrong with actively desiring to be better than your parents were, if they were not good parents.

Keep in mind that my desire to be a better father than my own was for the benefit of my child, not myself. And that should be your focus as a parent: what is best for your child. Reading between the lines of your question, it sounds like you may have concerns about your self-image, or how others will perceive you once you are a parent. Neither of these matter; it's how your child perceives you and how you treat your child that matters most.

It brings to mind some memories I have of my own childhood. I remember thinking that when I grew up I was going to be a "cool" grownup! I was going to stay "with it" and "hip." I wasn't going to be an old fogey at 40 like my mom and dad. Just wait. Keep in mind this was in the 60s and early 70s, so my idea of a cool grownup would have been someone wearing bell bottoms, tie dyed shirts, and love beads. And of course that grown-up would have looked ludicrous to all other grown-ups.

Of course, now that I am an adult, I do consider myself relatively "with it" but if I dressed and acted like teenagers do today, I would look like a fool who was trying too hard.

But guess what? My now-grown daughter has always thought I was a "cool dad," and was always proud to show me off to her friends. Not because I tried to be non-traditional, or eschewed mini-vans, but because I loved her actively and showed interest in her life.
posted by The Deej at 2:41 PM on December 7, 2012

Thanks, everyone! You've given me a lot to think about. I'm also really enjoying Offbeat Families. Please keep your thoughts and suggestions coming!
posted by 3491again at 2:46 PM on December 7, 2012

I joke that while I've done a decent job of not making my parents' mistakes, I'm definitely repeating some of my grandparents'. There's only so much you can control, but you can certainly avoid minivans and Disneyland, travel, and be "yourself", especially if you have fewer children and money.

My kid is only a toddler, but one thing that surprised me is how many of my "I'd nevers" I've done because it was just more convenient at the time. Minivans and Disneyland do not make bad parents; unhappy and unstable people do.
posted by snickerdoodle at 2:47 PM on December 7, 2012

You'll need to be strict. And you'll need to emphasize independence over attachment parenting. For instance, you'll need to teach them to fall asleep without you, spend the night without you etc. if you want to continue going out in the evenings. You'll have to teach the kid to sit still in restaurants and airplanes and walk and talk quietly in art galleries.

This is a challenge I am not up to with my 1,5 year old and so I end up doing kid friendly stuff instead. But I do know people who take tgeir kids along to everything successfully.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:59 PM on December 7, 2012

Also, there are things which will change your lifestyle no matter what: for instance you will have a lot less time. And your home will be a lot messier. And you will wear fancy clothes less often because they will get messed up.
posted by Omnomnom at 3:01 PM on December 7, 2012

The bad news is that it's impossible to be the parent that your non-parent self imagines will be ideal.

The good news is that there is no such thing as a typical parent.

The bad news is that you will inevitably find yourself being like your own parents at times, and you'll curse under your breath and kick yourself and try to do better.

The good news is that, even if you tried, you could not be like your own parents all the time, because the only parent you'll ever be is you.

I live in a suburb with my wife and three kids. We do not own a minivan. Our kids (the older ones) do play soccer, baseball, tae kwon do, and chess, and have piano lessons and various other interests and activities, which we support fully.

I work in an extremely time-intensive, demanding career and both my wife and I have graduate degrees and myriad personal interests and our own lives to the extent that's possible. How do we do that? We compromise on the things that can be compromised. That means never compromising for the kids. It means that when one of the three bands I'm in wants to rehearse, I have to say 'no' a lot of the time. It means when someone comes over to do a recording session in my home studio they have to work around my work and family schedule and we can't start making noise until after the kids are asleep. It means our days of traveling abroad to exotic locales and having crazy, spontaneous, dangerous vacations and adventures are on hold until the kids are big enough to a) enjoy those things, and b) not fall off a cliff or something. It means that when my wife wanted to go on an insane camping trip 1,000 miles from our home this summer and I had to work, she hauled all three kids along with her on the camping trip (so, for her, the secret is basically having super powers of awesomeness). It also means we cannot afford that stuff anyway, since kids are expensive.

Life is expensive and a lot of work. Time and money are generally the biggest issues for having the lifestyle you want. You can sometimes have more of one by sacrificing the other. With kids, I find that I'm a better parent when I devote my time and resources to being a good parent, rather than on my own selfish desires. I'm happier with my life when I'm a good parent with little personal time rather than the other way around.

The reason we live in the suburbs is that the schools are better there. It's where the kids can ride their bikes and play in the yard and sit under a tree and all that stuff, and where there are lots of other kids for them to know and be friends with. We are willing to make sacrifices ourselves as parents for our kids' benefit, but we are not willing to decide, on the kids' behalf, that they will have to make sacrifices for us so that we can have more exciting lives as adults. Fortunately, we live in one of the most amazing, insane cities in the United States, so that provides plenty of excitement and culture right close. We go to Disneyland regularly, and I've gotten over my hatred of that place because I see how much my kids love it - and I love them and love to see them happy, so now I sort of love Disneyland (don't go back in a time machine and tell young me, k?)

This morning, as I was late for work and late getting the two elementary school kids in the car so they could get to school with a gingerbread house and giant poster for the first-grader's presentation on how to make a gingerbread house, I picked up the two-year old to put him in my wife's car so she could take him where she was going. It was hectic, crazy, and stressful, and we had just spent the previous hour trying to get one kid after the other to quit screaming or playing or fighting or disappearing into the other room and get ready for school.

As soon as I picked him up, the two-year-old started crying the saddest, most heartbreaking cry you've ever heard. Frustrated, I carried him to the car and buckled him into his seat. As he sat there looking at me and crying with huge tears streaming down his cheeks, it occurred to me that he just had no idea what was going on in all this craziness and he's just barely learning to talk, so that adds extra frustration. So I leaned over and touched his cheek and whispered to him that it was going to be OK, and I talked to him about what we did yesterday, about the book I read with him, about the toys he was playing with, and about how tired he was when I put him to bed last night. His eyes lit up and he smiled and calmed down.

Then I had to hop in my car with the other two and take them to school, sign them in late in the office, carry the gingerbread house into the first-grade classroom, then hop back in the car and race to work, where the first thing I did was read an e-mail from my bandmates asking about rehearsal tonight - a rehearsal I'm going to miss because I promised I'd take my kids to the Auto Show. I'll make it to rehearsal next week. Because when it's my kids against the world, I'm on my kids' side. Every time. And really, I'm just barely hanging on as a parent - I'm not terrible, but I'm not great. It's rough. It's hard work. I'm not that good at it. But I have my moments.

There are a million ways to be a good parent. But every single one of them includes putting their needs first, because they are children and they cannot fight for themselves. Every single one of them includes self-sacrifice and service. That's the constant.

And the good news is that self-sacrifice, service, and compassion are in short enough supply in the world that I don't think they can ever be called "typical."
posted by The World Famous at 3:02 PM on December 7, 2012 [21 favorites]

The #1 thing that comes as a huge surprise to almost all new parents is just how little control you have over basically anything.

Your children are their own people with their own needs, desires, interests, obsessions, etc.

My 4-year-old loves trains. So weekend activities might involve going to a "Day Out With Thomas" event somewhere.

I haven't been to the MOMA in years, but I've sure spent a *lot* of weekends at the Natural History Museum and the zoo.

What others have said about identifying your priorities is the key. Outings versus quiet activities at home? How often you eat out, expectations for table manners, etc. Then you just find things to do that align with those goals.

But really, everything you tell yourself before kids about how much TV they'll watch, how often they'll get junk food, etc, will go out the window pretty quickly.

As long as they're happy and engaged, that's really all you can ask for.
posted by colin_l at 3:05 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Feynman's Dad did some atypical good things you may want to emulate.
video of one
posted by Sophont at 3:13 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

All I want for my children is for them to feel loved. Minivans, soccer, Disney don't matter that much, but they sure make life more enjoyable!
posted by Sassyfras at 3:33 PM on December 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

For whatever reason, a lot of folks just seem to lock down and both stay home all the time, and only do outside world shit together when they can get a sitter. However, some couples tend to be a lot better about doing stuff separately and trading off childcare responsibilities, which to my mind seems a lot healthier.

Another way to see this is that some people prioritize spending time together with their baby/kid, and others take turns single-parenting so each can pretend the kid thing never happened on alternate weekends. I only say this because I've seen it. The most poorly-attached kids I know belong to a couple who do stuff separately all the time to the point that it's more like they are jobsharing than parenting.

Just an alternate view. There's nothing wrong with keeping your head down for the first little while and realizing that your social life will have to take a midseason hiatus. As in many things, the ideal path is probably the middle one.
posted by arcticwoman at 3:48 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have skimmed most of the answers. I see a lot of people saying "money" buys you freedom to travel. I don't have that association.

I was an award winning student whom everyone expected would have a real career. Instead, I married a career soldier and I have health problems, so I ended up being a homemaker for two decades. I did travel. It is part of the military lifestyle and rather common for immigrant families, money or no money. My mother is an immigrant. When my husband and I lived in Germany, I visited relatives and things like that. It didn't take much money.

I would say keep yourself healthy if possible and make sure your SO has both a career and personality that will support your goals. The military is a throwback to the 1950's nuclear family. It has its good points but it is very hard on the nonmilitary spouse's career. I would also say that choosing a career which gives you flexibility helps a whole lot. Like someone else said, homeschooling also gave me flexibilty to travel, go to college, attend conferences, etc. I did eventually work fulltime -- after the husband was out of the picture. For me, my husband was a bigger obstacle to a career than my children.

Some established female stars, like Madonna and Julie Numar, were able to continue working kind of part time after having kids. They established themselves before having kids and it made it possible to do things more on their terms after having kids. Julie Numar inherited real estate and mostly supported herself that way after having a son with special needs late in life (age 40 or later) but was also able to make cameo appearances, like in the movie "To Wong Fu, thanks for everthing, Julie Numar". I haven't paid close attention to what Madonna is up to these days, but it seems pretty clear she still works but has cut back on touring, filming, etc since having kids.

Lucille Ball and her husband reinvented an industry so she could continue working and also have kids. You could google that or memail me and I can send you the link to what I wrote on the topic.
posted by Michele in California at 4:12 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

A good friend of mine is raising a great kid. They took off to South America when he was 10 and they have been living nomadically ever since: Raising Miro.

If I was a kid, I would want their life. But, basically, I think as long as you have their needs met (food, health, education, socialization, etc.), you can structure your lifestyle however you would like it. I love meeting kids that have grown up with creative (yet responsible) parents. I am always impressed by them.
posted by Vaike at 4:22 PM on December 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

The life you think you want is not relevant because once you have kids you won't want that life anymore. Kids change you in ways you can't imagine. I thought I wanted to be a corporate executive with two kids in Catholic school who eventually go off to college to pursue lucrative technical or science careers after I coached them in Little League, and all that. Instead we ended up atheist homeschoolers that traded in the minivan for a Durango so that I could get up at 4 AM on Saturdays and haul my non-conformist borderline hippie daughter and her horse to horse shows. I did get to coach Little League and basketball for a few years, but my son ultimately decided to focus on fencing. And he is not a budding computer scientist, he is majoring in history with a goal of making a career out of public history. If we judge me based solely on how I met my pre-parenthood plans, I've failed miserably.

Except of course, I haven't. What would have been failure on my part is trying to force my son to study engineering because that was my plan for him. Once you are a parent your plan for life take a backseat for where your kids take you in life. And it's a wonderful trip.

And echoing something said above, Roseanne is probably the most realistic example of family life in the US that I've seen on TV.
posted by COD at 4:48 PM on December 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Just be yourself. We bought a minivan when we found out we were having twins instead of just a second child. But the minivan doesn't define me, just as nothing else defines me but myself.

Just roll with it and be yourself.
posted by zsazsa at 4:57 PM on December 7, 2012

It's certainly possible. I'm not a parent, but I moved to the SF Bay Area about a decade ago and have friends with children who are part of my everyday life, and I continue to be kinda blown away at the way they are still able to have their own lives, in a way that I never thought possible and don't see in the lives of my friends-with-kids back home in eastern North Carolina and in other parts of the country.

This is not to say that life doesn't change post-kid, there's still some pretty big and long-term lifestyle changes and kid stuff still does often take priority over fun social stuff, but my friends still get to be themselves, have careers ranging from startup founder to full-time artist (with plenty of teachers and midlevel IT professionals in between), travel, and generally do the things they like to do--both without and with the kids around. I think a big part of it is that my friends here tend to treat their kids like real humans and incorporate them into much of the fun stuff they like to do instead of thinking of "kid stuff" and "fun adult stuff" as separate things, and a smaller part of it is that many of the friends I'm talking about are in non-traditional relationships or otherwise have living arrangements where the responsibility of childcare gets distributed among more than just one or two people. The result is happy parents who don't feel like their children have stolen their identity, and there's a bonus side effect: kids who are actually fun and interesting to be around and who will probably grow up to be awesome people.

And I don't mean to imply that you have to live in a place like San Francisco or be in an alternative relationship to make this work, I just see it working so well around here because there seem to be so many people willing to run with their own vision of family life and childcare rather than just doing the soccer mom thing (not that some of the folks I'm talking about aren't soccer moms! They're just soccer moms who also travel and still get to party sometimes). Does that make any sense at all?
posted by rhiannonstone at 5:11 PM on December 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

I am new at this parenting thing, so I am not really an expert. What I can say is that parenting is not going to change your basic personality and way of being. You won't all of a sudden become a quirky globetrotter artisanal butcher after you have kids. You will retain your basic patterns and ways of interacting with the world. So for instance, before kids I was a die hard car-free urban bike commuter. When I had my baby, it was natural that I would cart him around from day 1 in a baby carrier all over. On the outside that may look like an alterna-parent thing to do, but it was really just in keeping with my patterns of life, which involve wandering around town and avoiding driving, with or without a baby. Babies change your life for sure, but you stay kind of the same.
posted by yarly at 5:39 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

You absolutely MUST see the movie "Away We Go" - this is exactly what it's about. Not only are they looking for "home", but each of the people they visit have a different situations/jobs/lifestyles/parenting styles etc.

Basically, I think you are STILL YOU - just with a kid. Things might slow down, but you just keep on. If you're not a soccer-mom minivan -type, you're not going to magically become one JUST because of the kid (and I agree with the others that I think you mean "preppy and materialistic"). I know people who have kids who play soccer and station wagons.... and are also quite "alternative" themselves. Also, I think there's a huge difference in ONE kid, TWO kids, and MORE kids. We're having ONE KID, for the reasons you describe. ONE extra plane ticket, ONE extra set of hobbies, etc.

I studied with Todd Hido in college, just before "Roaming" was published. This book happened because he & his wife had twins, he was on "kid duty" and wanted to be out taking pictures but couldn't leave the babies alone in a car. SO he worked with what he had. You get creative... maybe even MORE creative, if that's who you are. ...and yeah, if you saw him in the check out line at the grocery store, you'd think "Soccer Dad + Dilbert". Which brings up another point: don't judge the soccer moms TOO harshly: you have NO IDEA what they're doing in their free time, who they are, or why they've made the choices they have. There are shallow/bland people all over the place. I bet some of the soccer moms you're afraid of are actually pretty amazing people, who are too busy to care whether they're "cool" or not. I wouldn't be surprised if Todd has a minivan. rhiannonstone has an awesome answer.

I think money gives you options, but frugality is part of that: it's about the choices we make. This blog might interest you, as he talks about money/choices/lifestyle/how others view him... he's got a kid.
posted by jrobin276 at 9:30 PM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

"So... if you manage to maintain an intellectual and social life, travel, have a career, and still be a cool person while having a family, I'd love to hear more about what it's like for you."

I can't tell you what it's like as a parent (no kids yet) but I can tell you what it was like as a kid, because this is what my parents did. And I'm eternally grateful for them, particularly my mother, setting me an example of adults who were *people* as well as parents. As to how they did it: while they worked, other people looked after me. I had, variously: family day care where an older lady looked after me at her house; a baby sitter who looked after me at her house with her little boy; my father's old nanny; my grand parents; various day camps on holidays; and when I was old enough (12 or so) myself. My mother worked full time as a teacher and my dad ran his own business, but was out on site and travelled a lot. All the people who looked after me were great. My grandparents particularly were great examples of kind, loving, adult role models.

When they travelled: We all lived overseas for four years from when I was 5-9. We travelled all through Asia, Europe, Canada and the US. I just tagged along with whatever they wanted to do. If it was something more adult (parties, restaurants) they let me bring a book and read quietly. I don't remember doing much kid-specific stuff, mostly museums and galleries and cathedrals and castles!

With sports and 'kid' activities: I did do some sports and they took turns dropping me off and picking me up. I don't remember them ever watching and frankly I would have been mortified if they did.

We did go to Disneyland once and a couple of theme parks here in Australia, but my dad took me with friends and cousins. My mum hated that kind of thing and stayed home and that was cool. I thought she was NUTS not to want to go on the super-gravito-max roller coaster or whatever horror du jour I wanted to ride, but I definitely didn't hold it against her.

With having an intellectual life: they were always always reading. Dad loved films and would go off on his own to movies. This was fine by me. Mum would lie on the sofa and read while I played/read/did whatever. As well as work work, dad volunteered with refugee families, helping people from Vietnam, Eritrea and Iraq settle in Australia.

No minivans were deployed in my upbringing and I turned out fine. They were just... Themselves. It can be done!
posted by t0astie at 2:32 AM on December 8, 2012 [5 favorites]

I don't have kids yet, but I plan to have them downtown and not to move out of my condo if possible. Here are some of my observations of parents I'd like to steal ideas from:

1. Have a decent income. You don't need to be rich but you need to not be scrambling.

2. My partner and I just watched BABIES last night. (On Netflix!) It is a documentary with no narration which follows the first year of 4 babies in San Francisco, Namibia, Mongolia, and Tokyo. Some of these babies have their own room and lots of special toys and programs. Others play with the goats or rocks and all space is communal. Here in North America we generally try to create a safe bubble for babies with baby-specific rooms/clothes/toys/programs/words, but babies adapt to different environments around the world. Look further afield for more examples of parenting styles if you don't want to go with the local default. Most babies live in far smaller homes than we are used to in North America and they are fine.

3. Every baby is different. My parents said they had 3 parenting styles because they had 3 kids. All of my friends with 2+ children have kids with wildly different personalities, and this opens up different options for the parents. It's like planning poker strategy. You've got to wait to see which cards you'll get dealt before completely deciding on your next move.

4. If you are like me, you and your partner moved away from your families to go to school and settled in the city. We have NO extended family here. It's me and him and that's it. So we have been investing a lot of time in our friendships and trying to build new 'family'. We are surrogate aunt/uncle to our friends' kids and we hope that will be reciprocated when the time comes. You need people who can be there for you in a pinch. Our society is at a very strange point where couples have lots of autonomy but have gained this in exchange for a loss of concrete family support (i.e. baby-minding, etc). The nuclear family is a VERY unnatural state of affairs. Create a support network!

5. (Here my Canadian roots are showing: A year of parental leave with Employment Insurance support is legally available to women and men after birth or adoption.) When choosing your or your partner's next career move, take a good hard look at the work culture around parenting. Are the men expected to work 60-80 hour weeks? Paternal parental leave or staying home with a sick child is legally allowed but frowned on? Do any of the men work from home or work alternate schedules so they can co-parent more effectively? One of my partner's former colleagues works 7-3 at his 9-5 job so he can be the Dinner Parent. Some work from home 1-2 days a week. Others are working crazy hours with almost no days off at start-ups where they would be mocked for insisting that they need to be home for dinner/bedtime ("look who's whipped!! the ol' ball and chain, eh?"). If you must choose between a nice pay raise and a work culture that will allow you to spend more time with your family, consider this carefully.
posted by heatherann at 8:24 AM on December 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm concerned that someone covered this in-depth already because I only skimmed the answers but uh, how are you planning to become a parent? If you're planning to become a parent with a partner, choosing a fantastic partner is a huge part of the equation. I would be less interested in becoming a parent if it wasn't for my partner. And while I guess that's a pretty traditional route to parenthood, it makes sense. I mean, parenting sounds hard so if you have a partner, it's just easier, or at least it should be if you pick a good partner.

I live in a city so I know plenty of parents who live in a city. I would like to continue living in a city but access to good schools is important to me and I'm concerned about whether we will have that in this city. Hate to say it but that actually is a deal breaker for future parent me. I don't care if a city literally rolls out a red carpet for me and my future child when we leave the house - if the schools suck, we're out.

I think there are a lot of things parents have to deal with that non-parents just don't appreciate. Like how much daycare costs or how much help you need to raise a kid. I used to think a little less of people who had kids near their parents because it seems so traditional. But now I live an eight hour drive or a short flight from my father so it costs a bit to go home, then it's 2x if I want my husband to come and the cost would go up again with kids. Likewise, I live without a car now but I can definitely see how it would be a lot easier to wrangle a child with a car, even with public transportation.
posted by kat518 at 1:31 PM on December 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been thinking about this a lot, especially since my husband and I will start "going for it" in about a year. I had three other thoughts:

Travel (and definitely watch "Babies"!) - I don't know where you are, but if you can, go to NYC or SF or Berkeley or Chicago etc. and spend a morning at the Saturday farmers market watching all the different families. (Seattle, Portland, Austin, Boston, DC etc... - whatever you can get to). Heck, go in small towns too. I've worked at farmers markets in small towns, and they attract everyone - alternative hipsters, super conservative religous peeps, soccer moms etc.

I put myself through college babysitting and nanny-ing, and got to see - from the inside - a lot of different ways to be a family. Fascinating. And sometimes, really weird. I highly recommend taking up babysitting one night a week for a while. I used Craigslist in SF with great success, but you could also contact an agency, leave fliers at Starbucks, etc.

Blogs - I started with Cage Free Family and Boho Baby Bump and Cup of Jo and just started following links until I found young families doing their thing - and "their thing" was traveling around the world, or living in tipis, or unschooling or whatever seemed interesting at the time... even if it was just that the parents wrote well and seemed like interesting, thoughtful people who were actually thinking about what they were doing. memail me if you want suggestions. I don't have kids yet, but as a couple who've "gone against the grain" quite a bit already, and from other things I've read on Metafilter, I think you kind of have to brace yourself if you're going to be a really alternative kind of parent - going against the grain takes energy, and doing it with a kid takes more. Not that it can't be done... just that it can be hard; it may be that a lot of people don't have the energy to continue prioritiazing it and/or learn to keep it subtle to avoid conflict.
posted by jrobin276 at 4:59 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thank you so much, everyone. So much to read, so much to think about. If you happen across this page and want to comment, I'll keep checking as long as the page is open. :)
posted by 3491again at 10:31 AM on December 11, 2012

I have very strong feelings about this topic. I'm replying before I read the rest of the posts, because I want my reply to not be influenced by what I read. So...

Mother of an 8 month old here. My husband and I are American, but we live in China. At the end of this school year, we're moving to Vietnam. We've made the very deliberate choice to raise our child overseas (she was born in China). We have good careers that make this a feasible reality for us. Part of the reason we live overseas is because as much as we wanted a child, we reject the cult of American parenting that seems to be make the experience so FUCKING miserable.

You don't HAVE to do anything American parenting culture says you have to do. There are no mommy wars unless you choose to take part. You life is not, IS NOT, IS NOT OVER once you have a child unless you LET IT. I know several formerly very cool women who just threw in the towel of life once they had a baby. They don't let themselves have friends or date nights or hobbies or interests or ANYTHING anymore, and then they talk about how miserable they are, but hey, that's just "being a mom, amirite?"


We have traveled with our baby. When she was 5 months old, we flew home to the US for the summer with her. We've taken her to Beijing and Bangkok. We'll be taking her to Shanghai most likely in May. Next year, we'll be traveling around Vietnam with her on our holidays. Our travel these days requires more advance planning, but it is DOABLE. With some forethought and a modicum of effort, it is totally doable.

I reject the notion that a good mother sacrifices her entire identity for her child. That's a quick path to misery. I still go out with my friends. I'm taking a girls' weekend trip with my best friend this summer. My husband and I trade nights so we can go out with our friends.

I reject the notion that having a child means the death of your marriage. We still go on dates. We make time for each other. We talk. It gets easier with every passing month.

Having a baby doesn't change who you are at your core UNLESS YOU LET IT. I didn't want the mom jeans and the keys to the mini-van. For a while, I was afraid it would happen anyway. Turns out, I'm still me.

And you can still be you, too. If you let yourself be. You can be the mother you want to be, and fuck anyone who tries to make you feel guilty for it.
posted by elizamina at 10:59 PM on January 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

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