My parents were pretty old school back in the day, and they brought me up to believe I would get married, have kids, and be a stay-at-home mom like my own mom was (at least until my dad left when I was a teenager). I didn’t question it. I never had any career ambition when I was growing up, and the thought of staying at home was so appealing I never imagined anything different. Sometimes other people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I would say writer, just to have something to say. It was not entirely untrue, as I did write as a hobby and had no reason to think that would cease when I was an adult. But I wasn’t really thinking about it in terms of having a career.
When I was 11, my parents made me take a Red Cross Babysitting Course and started hiring me out as a babysitter in the neighbourhood and amongst the people at church. They thought I should gain experience with children as practice for when I would one day become a mom. They never said this, but perhaps they were concerned because I’d never shown any interest in playing with baby dolls and I didn’t gush over cute babies.
I became a popular babysitter because I was unusually responsible and dependable for my age, but the truth was I was not good with children. Fortunately, most of the time it wasn’t an issue because my jobs were in the evening when the children were already in bed, but the rare times they weren’t, I was completely unable to have any kind of control over them. They did what they wanted while I nearly cowered in fear of them. The parents never saw this side of me and the kids were hardly going to rat me out, as doing so would have revealed their own unruliness.
I also wasn’t good at playing with them. I didn’t really know how to, much like with my peers when I’d been a younger child myself. The only kids I could interact well with were the unusually calm, quiet, intelligent ones, and in those cases it was a delight just having conversations with them. But those were extremely rare occurrences.
When I was 15, I had one particularly bad experience. My youth group leader had recommended me as a babysitter to someone I’d never met before. There were five children and the job was during the day on a Saturday. As soon as the mother left, the children ran outside, jumped on their bikes, and rode off in different directions. I was consumed with anxiety. I’d been hired to watch these children and I didn’t even know where they were! I was alone in the house wondering how I was going to explain things to their mother when she got home. This was before cell phones, and I had no way to reach her in the meantime. So I called my own mother.
She showed up and went throughout the neighbourhood, knocking on doors, talking to people, finding out where the kids were, rounding them up, and ordering them back to the house. I don’t even know how she did it. I wouldn’t have even known where to start. They were livid at having their freedom curtailed. The rest of the afternoon was very awkward and unpleasant.
Finally the mother returned, and the kids started telling her how unfairly they’d been treated. I then quietly explained things from my perspective. The mother took the kids’ side, saying that they should have been allowed to play in the neighbourhood. She was not pleased with me. She did not employ me again.
After that, I feared babysitting more than ever. I dreaded being around children, and despite all my experience with them, I never got any better at dealing with them. But I still thought I would have my own one day. People told me, “It’s different when they’re your own,” and I believed them.
By my late teens and early twenties, I was thinking about having kids a lot. I remember feeling like I had so much love to give, not necessary to children specifically, but just in general. I felt like I was bursting with love to give somebody, anybody, and that could and should include children. I even thought about marrying young so I’d have enough time to have a whole brood of them. But as it turned out, no one wanted to marry me when I was young.
To be continued in Thoughts on Having Kids, Part Two.