with Hannah Garland

  • Hannah Garland

Are children a hindrance or a blessing?

In a culture that values children less than ever and places a premium on “doing it all,” it can be hard to prioritize parenthood and see the blessings that children bring.

“Isn’t it hard?”

“You must be so tired.”

“Just won’t be able to do anything you want for 18 years.”

These are just a couple of things that people said to me when I first had my son, Calvin. Warnings that I’d never have time for myself again, of sleepless nights, and of warped priorities came from every direction. If you listened to the popular opinion, you could easily believe that children are a hindrance - that they prevent you from living the life you were supposed to live. Questions of how I will manage my career, who will watch the baby, and admonitions that my life will look completely different (not in a good way) filled conversations.

When you are having a baby, often people assume that your priorities will be a certain way, that you will want a certain life, and they will use these presuppositions as lead-ins to negative conversations. I detest the focus on the negative in the conversation about children though. To me, children hinder nothing - nothing important, anyway. If the conversation starts with a negative presupposition, what follows will continue to be negative. In response, I’d have to admit “Well, yeah, it’s hard but…” in an attempt to shift the conversation toward how amazing and wonderful parenthood is 90% of the time.

Our cultural narrative has similarly become one where we treat children like a hindrance to our lifestyle and needs. As the average number of children per family drops lower and the emphasis on parents “doing it all” rises, it seems our culture sees children as people we have to manage while they temporarily distract us from other priorities. They’re less of a blessing and more of a duty. Since becoming pregnant, I have more often heard about children hampering my career aspirations than I have heard about the blessings children can bring to my life.

Even the phrase “get your body back,” regarding the notion that a woman should fit back into her skinny jeans before having another baby, can be toxic. While health is important, I refuse to prioritize how I look over parenthood. Looks do not equal health. I’m also sensitive to people assuming that my priority and desire is to have my body back. I am in my third pregnancy and started it 10 pounds heavier than my pre-pregnancy weight because I got pregnant at six months postpartum. I am still healthy. It is safe for me to have babies this close together, and my body is my body. It’s not “back” to what it was and it may never be. It’s completely different now. It’s my mom bod, it is giving me children, and I love it. I exercise, eat well, and treat it well, but an extra 10 pounds isn’t a reason (for me - this is a very personal choice) to wait to bear another blessing.

(Insert link to this week’s podcast) This week’s podcast is about feeling comfortable in your own skin, specifically if you’ve been pregnant or experience weight fluctuations for other reasons.

In an attempt to bring balance to the narrative, I want to explain how children have changed my life in every way and why that’s a fantastic thing. I’ve been pregnant 3 times in 3 years. The first ended in miscarriage after 10 weeks. The ensuing mental and physical struggle forced me to quit my job. I spent 4 months listening to sermons, reading, working in the yard, and recovering, because my health was more important than my career. In order to be a good mom for my future children, I needed to be well. I went back to the same job with no hiccups in my career and with improved health the same week I found out I was pregnant again.

The second pregnancy brought me my wonderful son, Calvin, who is 9 months old. I no longer work and have no regrets. However, I did try to work for 5 weeks after my maternity leave ended. I wasn’t planning to, but the pandemic made full time remote work possible so I decided to try my hand at working from home. The job was lucrative and I could work while in my bed wearing sweats. I couldn’t see a good reason not to work given the circumstances. This decision consumed my thoughts for weeks though, as I was uncertain if I could handle the competing priorities. I wasn’t sure if I could be - or should be - a working mom and, in the absence of a clear understanding of my priorities, moved forward with working.

When I started working after having Calvin, I said that I would do so as long as I could still be an effective mother. I was pumping around the clock, raising an infant who only napped 45 minutes at a time, and attending meetings all day long. My work was understanding and flexible, but there was a limit. At around 5 months old, Calvin had a few episodes where he needed me but I couldn’t respond. He’s not a needy or clingy child but suddenly he was screaming for no explainable reason. I needed to hold him while he calmed down and finally fell asleep in my arms. This happened more than once and caused me to miss important meetings at work. In addition to a few blowouts that required emergency baths, it no longer became feasible for me to work with a child who needed me at unpredictable moments. It was never my desire to hire childcare so I quit my job since keeping it would make me neither an effective mother nor an effective employee.

After I chose to officially become a stay-at-home mom, the naysayers were back, telling me things like:

“I give it 6 months before you’re dying to go back to work.”

“I’d go crazy being at home with a baby all day.”

As though the pursuit of motherhood is mind-numbing, dull, and pales in comparison to the pursuit of career. Why is the norm of parents “doing it all” favored over parents doing one thing well?

Now that I’m pregnant for the third time, I have zero concerns or regrets about leaving my career. Leaving work has freed up my mind to be creative - the moment I stopped working, I decided to start this podcast. It freed up my energy to focus on my home - I make healthy meals and can prioritize what I need to at home without worrying about a competing priority from work. It freed up my time to spend with my son and I wouldn’t exchange that for any paycheck.

There are days that I think of how nice it would be to spontaneously embark on an all-day hike. With a child, I’d have to plan in advance and ensure someone could watch him. Sometimes I think of how nice it would be to travel with ease or go out to eat in the evening. Pandemic aside, these things are more challenging with a baby (though not impossible). However, would I exchange any time I have had with my son for a life of spontaneity? Absolutely not.

Sometimes I even miss working but then I ask myself why I miss working. I don’t miss doing my day-to-day job. There was nothing specifically fulfilling about the work itself. Talking to adults at the office is nice but I wouldn’t trade water cooler conversation for talking to a squealing 9-month-old. I do not miss working for any reason other than the validation of a paycheck and praise for a job well done but I don’t rate that as a great reason for me to return to work. My career was originally a priority that tried to compete with Calvin and now, there is nothing that could compete with him.

These fleeting thoughts of missing out on spontaneity, a career, or a different lifestyle are just that: fleeting. They are overwhelmed by the assurance that having a child is the best thing that could have ever happened to me. I’m no longer confused about what the right direction is for my life. Calvin shifted my perspective from a selfish and individualistic one to one that is oriented around caring for another person. When I realize that many of the things I used to value - the things that culture says I should still value - were selfish pursuits that pale in comparison to raising a human, I know that I’m doing the right thing by solely focusing on the family life and not allowing myself to be distracted. The gift of a baby that forced me to be less selfish was the greatest gift I could receive.

I have nothing against people who choose to be working parents - or people who have to. I understand why people make choices like these. However, I know that, if I can choose not to work, then not working is what’s best for me. For me, Calvin wasn’t a distraction from my career; my career was a distraction from Calvin. I couldn’t hold both priorities and do them well simultaneously.

Since having a baby, my priorities have become crystal clear. I’m no longer feeling tossed in the wind, wondering how much I should invest in a hobby or a job. I know that, after my relationship with God and my husband, comes my children. Of course I have other interests, but they always come next in terms of my time, my focus, and my energy. It’s as though I finally understand the kind of life I was intended to lead.

This, to me, is what the phrase “babies are a blessing” means. God uses them to bless your soul and shape your character. By God’s grace, I am looking forward to having as many babies as I can. If, by having more children, God will allow me to continue to understand what kind of life I should lead, then I’m on board. If, by having more children, I can give my current children the gift of selflessness as they share an upbringing with siblings, then I want that blessing.

Hi, there! I go deeper into topics in my podcasts. Each are 20-30 minutes long and they drop weekly on Thursdays. Please check one out here!