When I finally felt ready to have a child I was 38 years old. (Which sounds almost young to me now, given recent statistics.) The experience of having ‘just one’ was plenty satisfying to me. I also knew in my bones that going into ‘production’ at 38 was not part of my Life Path. Turns out, the one child I had was challenge enough, especially in the 18-21 years.
My family was thrilled when I chose to get pregnant, and openly disappointed when I announced I was “one and done”. They understood how important my career still was to me (I wasn’t anywhere near the apex), but they lectured (guilted) me about the perils of having an ‘only child’. From my vantage point, multiple children in a household didn’t necessarily make for an ideal atmosphere. There was the ongoing lesson about ‘sharing’; and the one that got repeated during long road trips (trying to stakeout your exclusive personal space in the backseat of a station wagon, with two siblings and a dog) that usually meant a lot of yelling from adults and children. Having one child felt do-able to me.
As my son grew older and his friendships expanded, my instincts felt confirmed. More than once he made comments about how ‘easy’ his life was, compared to his friends’ families (more kids in the household). Whatever the opportunity or resource (including love and attention) was, my son saw it as a ‘plus’- to not have any competition. I believed then, and still do, that for a woman who chooses to have only one child, there are advantages. There’s also a little more effort required to make sure your ‘only’ gets dosed with essential social skills. (We used summer camp, travel with cousins, and lots sleepovers). But the point of this story isn’t about raising a well-adjusted only-child, if that’s the choice made. It’s about how you get to that choice. It’s about Cooperation, Compromise and Consensus, and how willing we are to engage in them.
When I was a young woman in a management role, the above 3 C’s (as I learned to call them) were drilled into my brain by my mentors. Through formal training and a lot of trial-and-error, I became a master (mistress?) team-builder and negotiator. In fact, this was my forté for the majority of my career. Over time, however, a quote from a friend and colleague who was a mental health professional (therapist) began to loop in my brain. Observing me in my office one day, in a state of complete exhaustion, she said, “Never work harder than your client.” The proverbial ‘light’ went on in my head: this was exactly what I’d been doing. In my earnest desire to get my team to see the personal /organizational value in cooperation, compromise and consensus, I’d dicounted the fact that human beings are not sled-dogs. Some enjoy pulling together; some will do it, grudgingly; and some want and need to craft their own roles, and define their own degree of commitment.
My son’s now approaching 30 and we often talk about how millennials are thoughtfully considering key life choices. “People aren’t having kids so much anymore – they’re getting dogs; it’s just easier “, he says. That actually makes a little bit of sense to me, but I need time to adjust to the idea of grand-dogs vs. grand-kids. More to the point is this question: are careers, relationships, marriage, babies, and mortgages coming to represent the antithesis of a value-add ? Is the thinking now, that Cooperation, Compromise and Consensus are activities that only unimaginative, Non-Woke people engage in?
From an older, wiser perspective, the answer is, Yes, and No. Careers, marriages, babies and mortgages often feel fulfilling and constricting, at the same time. Too much focus on what other people want can also jeopardize inner peace and happiness. There’s no single formula for a happy life, and, all choices involve some kind of trade-off, whether or not “the ask” is immediately apparent. The key, I think, is to pursue what’s heartfelt, and to keep growing (regardless of your age at the moment!), trying not to hurt anyone along the way.
When it feels good and correct to cooperate and compromise in a situation, I believe that this is a solid prompt to make adjustments to your own Non-Negotiables. When reaching agreement on a super-important topic, especially with a person you care for, consensus can make your inner light glow brighter, like an All is Well neon heart. The process is circular (read: ‘never-ending’) however, and has to be re-visited and repeated as people and circumstances change.