Adam and I thought very carefully before we decided to have a child. I’ve already written about how we originally didn’t think we wanted a child at all, and how we ended up changing our minds. But even then, we wanted to be very concrete and specific about our reasons and our goals in taking this biggest of all leaps into the unknown.
I can’t remember how we came up with the idea, but we decided to write what we call our Children Vows. We even wrote a little introduction into the vows, so I don’t need to do anything more to set the context. Here is what we wrote, unedited:
We have decided to have a child. To us, this means that we need to decide how this major endeavor will fit into our existing lives and values. To that end, we have decided to commit to our “children vows.” These vows are a set of principles that we promise to adhere to, along with some more specific suggestions.
Adam and Amy pledge to each other:
- Each of us agrees that our value hierarchy is career, marriage, then child.
- This means that we should set aside time to spend together. We promise to make it a priority to spend time together, whether it be by a date night, a babysitter, or just romantic time that is set aside.
- Each of us promises not to sacrifice his/her career for the child. It may be necessary to cut back on work to raise the child, but our overall career goals should always be kept in mind. Raising the child “perfectly” is not more important than a satisfying career.
- Almost immediately following the value of the child comes travel. We promise to always be on the lookout for travel opportunities, and we pledge that we will take our honeymoon to Italy within 10 years.
- Each of us agrees that our child will never become an excuse for the lack of pursuit of other values. If we want to pursue a value (such as a trip) we will always make the effort to find out if we can do it in our circumstances, as opposed to automatically thinking that it is out of reach.
- This means that we need to work at incorporating our child into our plans. Always think by default that we can do it, but how do we do it with the child?
- We are having this child for selfish reasons. We want to enjoy the experience of parenthood. This means that we will never go into self-sacrifice-mode. The child has free-will. We will not do things that make us miserable that we think will help the child. Remember, with rational people, there is no conflict of interests, so what is good for us is generally good for the child.
- Do not spoil the child
- Do not insulate the child.
- Do not live the child’s live for him/her.
- We will not let particular bad experiences define the general nature of our family. We will always remember the metaphysical value that our child represents.
- We will maintain a healthy life style, and our child will not be an excuse for becoming slugs.
I must say, reading over the vows for the first time in years, I’m struck by a couple of things. First, we were so utterly clueless! I find it funny how we focused so much on travel. We’ve had no problem with travel. The whole thing seems a bit random and not principled. But given that everyone is clueless going into parenthood, I think we did hit some good points. Staying focused on our marriage was a good one, as was noting that we were having the child for selfish reasons.
We’ve probably fallen down on the job in the exercise department. As I wrote recently, neither of us are big on exercise, but we do want to maintain our health. The thing is, I think all the moving around we did over the last 2 years hurt us in that department even more than having a child. The fact that we are starting to think about exercise again is a good sign that we haven’t let go of that value.
I had to ask Adam what point 4 meant because I had no memory of that part. He said it was our commitment to the benevolent universe premise. I suppose we were thinking that if our child had problems or made some bad choices, that we wouldn’t allow that to alter our world-view. That sounds good, but it’s not holding much power for me right now, maybe because we haven’t been tested in that regard.
When we wrote this, I never imagined that I would want to change my career from, well, whatever it would have been (I was in the middle of a career change) to being a professional parent. It’s been really hard to make that transition, given that I pledged to myself and my husband that I would not let the child become my entire life. Sometimes it feels like I’ve done exactly that, in choosing to stay home with my daughter. When I was young I was taught, mostly implicitly, that parenting was not real work. And even now, at least with only one child, I don’t feel that it is enough for me. But the interesting part is that since I’ve quit the regular workforce I’ve developed a much clearer idea of what I do love to do. Writing this blog and homeschooling seem to be filling in the gaps as a creative outlet for now, and I have plans for future endeavors. I think I’ve been able to focus on “career” more than ever since I had a child.
Overall, integrating a child into our lives has been fairly easy in all the ways we considered in the Children Vows, but very difficult in other ways. I haven’t been tempted to live my life through her, sacrifice, or give up on anything. I have been challenged much more with issues like my fractured time and dealing with chaos. Adam and I do have to focus on maintaining our own relationship, but since we already had the mindset that relationships require work, it wasn’t a fundamental change, just something we have to work harder on.
The one thing we intended to do but never did was to frame these vows. Having it written is a good step, but we need to get these words out of the electronic ether and onto a piece of paper. I vow to do that within a week!