No Kids: What Am I Missing?

8 years ago

Since Sassymonkey sent a link yesterday morning to a post called "Child-free movement: You say 'childfree,' I say 'childless'" by Kim Hays of the Orlando Sentinel Moms at Work blog, I've been trying to figure out why it bothered me to the point that I felt the need to call the author out on Twitter. (I am allergic to conflict and am therefore so not a Twitter caller-outer. I'm a Twitter converser, no rage included on a regular basis.)

First, of Hays's point, a recap:

She has unnamed, unspecified commenters on her blog who prefer to be called "childfree" and not "childless" who "corrected" her (quotes not mine) related to the use of these terms. And maybe, I don't know, she woke up thinking about that the other day (which must have been a slow parenting news day, I'm just saying) and also thought, wow, I'll throw a little bit of contextless background in here about people who are nasty in their childfreeness and make a list of the things they're missing out on that I - as a mother - am not. And then she wrote a mostly warm and fuzzy list with a side dish of excessive quotations, bold font, and snide asides.

Just so I know, when I have nieces and nephews, that is not the same as having my own children, she'd have me know, which totally ruins my plan to pass those kids off as my own. And also there goes their inheritance.

I am sounding nasty to my own ears and I don't like it, but I am so tired of this discussion that I know I can't abandon. And let me state for the record that I usually would not take the time to dicker around with a premise as unclear as I find Hays's to be in this piece. I think certain things are written with the fallout in mind, and those are the ones I try to avoid. But something about the tone here, about the baiting, about the divisiveness in an era where I hear a lot about how there's room for everyone, how there is no reason we all can't get along, really got to me. 

I am tired of people being drawn into strange camps based on parenting status. Parenting choices and circumstances are among the most personal in our lives, at the same time the most obvious and the most difficult to explain. They're inextricable from our biology and our chemistry and our cultural identity, a point I'll argue all day long, because as a single, childless woman in this country I know things. Scary things. Upsetting things.

Walk with me to my office a few years ago, when the married with children colleague who knew my stance full well on all of this leaned in my doorway next to a pile of work she'd dumped on me and said, "Oh, I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have people to go home to who gave my life meaning." True story. Continue on to Austin this March where a dad blogger told me in a terribly mean way that my opinion didn't count, that I would always be a child until I'd had children, a conclusion I'm guessing he was basing on his cohort that includes, exaggeratedly both real and fictional, John Edwards, the late Michael Jackson, Homer Simpson AND Peter Griffin, Tommy Lee (who I hesitate to call out because, well, we have a history, but still) and that guy I knew in grad school whose child never had decent shoes but he always had a dime bag.

And talk about evenings for which the old "bottle of red in a brown paper bag" image was invented. I mean, seriously. People say some really effective things when they're screwing with you sometimes.

So, whereas I am tired of having to state the following, I'm afraid people who can relate don't feel able to often enough because it's not fun to admit:

I will be 40 years old in a little more than a year. The only thing left that I haven't done that I wish to do in my life - the only huge thing, because I have a jillion other things on my to-do list, some of which even give me the will to get out of bed in the morning - is to be a parent. Sometimes this makes me sad. The end.

I call myself accidentally childless, when pressed. And I state this truth to the Internet in large part due to my fear that all people without children will continue to be judged on the same scale as people who join organizations with names like No Kidding and call children "rugrats" (I hate that term, sorry) and parents breeders, because in my world the Breeders were a band and I've never said it in any other context. 

I am not not a parent because of my career. I am not not a parent because I dislike children. I am not not a parent because I am selfish (at least I don't think so.) I am not not a parent because I can't imagine adjusting my schedule or my life or my nonexistent spur of the moment trips to Paris (hahaha) to accomodate the needs of another, smaller human being who depends on me.

I am not a parent because sometimes life doesn't give us what we want, sometimes the path is unclear and uncooperative and no matter what Mick says I'm not entirely sure we always get what we need either. (Now THERE'S a dad blog I'd read.)

This life is making me more joyful and more cynical at the same time.

Hays tried to clarify in response to my tweet and others, and to the 70 or so comments from other people that she was not speaking to people who could not have children or who did not due to life circumstances of the more grayish variety. She was going after the - again, unspecified - "judgy child free", as she responded in a tweet to Sassymonkey. Her comments, to my ear, sounded harsher in most cases than the original post. Case in point: "The child free have proven my point with their comments," although the majority did not come out as her intended audience of child-hating militants, in fact quite the opposite, and "I just want to make the point that there are certain intangible benefits that come with being a parent that someone without children cannot fully understand."

I understand. I understand super hard. I read thousands of words every month and see hundreds of pictures that tell the story. I see my amazing parent friends with their great kids. I so get it. (and here is where Kim Hays would probably tell me I don't get it and I'd have to take her at her word that in addition to lacking offspring I lack insight and empathy.) It's off the charts powerful. Parents see it from the inside, and no I can't feel it, but seeing it from the outside is pretty effective too.

Saying, as Hays is, that you're speaking to one faction of childfree people ignores the people who will read "Giggles, giggles and more giggles," and "Little arms reaching up and a plaintive voice pleading, 'hold you, mama,'" and get seriously bummed out because dude, when you're talking to those judgy people who would rather see snakes on a plane than your toddler in the seat next to them, you are also talking to me. And I'm the bleeding heart who will feel guilty the whole way for any judgmental thought that pops into my head about your child even though he's yelling in my ear for hours. You're talking to people who haven't been able to physically have children who stumble across this from a link from wherever. You're talking to people whose second adoption fell through last week.

And I'm not being dramatic, not at all. And call me crazy but if a person has gone to the trouble of pointing out that they're childfree, perhaps this list won't apply. If they don't like kids, how likely are they to find "tiny kisses on your nose while you're napping" to be a draw? I know some parents who wouldn't be down with that, quite frankly. Traffic aside, why do you need to address these people at all?

I support Kim Hays's right to say whatever she wants to because I love the First Amendment that much, and under a smaller umbrella I support her right to list off what she loves about being a parent. I probably would too, if I were one (although in a very different way, probably not numbered and everything, and also bagging the passive-aggressive part, but those are just style points.)

But putting the cute shoe on my other cute foot, I would not dream of sitting down and making a list of the ten reasons why my life is so much better than yours, for any reason, using any criteria, unless I had a solid reason but I can't imagine what that would be. There but for the grace of whomever go all of us, and some stuff just doesn't need to be listed to make me feel better about myself or to make you feel worse.

I feel like there's no conclusion here. I really wish for more highly-trafficked posts on the Internet that reflect conversations that I have with friends and family members who have no point to prove, who know my heart as well as I can know theirs, who can talk about their kids in a way that does not make me feel less-than, who can acknowledge what they've got and show some compassion for what I feel I lack. This seems the most humane approach to take, you know?

The conversation continued:

Sassymonkey wrote her own post in response, On Being Child-Free By Choice, wherein she makes her points and Kim Hays shows up again in the comments to say that she wrote her initial post for moms, not the people without children she was originally addressing, so we should just be quiet anyway. Paraphrasing, of coures. I am trying to focus here. It's difficult.

Sweetsalty Kate and Liz Gumbinner among others contributed comments to the original post. Read Kate's story. I try to, all the time, because of the way she tells it. Liz speaks to all of us, moms and non, always has, in my experience, and this is one of the reasons I so appreciate her.

I hear myself obnoxiously stating for the record lately that some of my best friends are mom bloggers (because some of them are, it's true.) and these ladies are examples of allies and proof that - guess what - we don't have to share parenting status in common to find common ground as human beings and women. This shouldn't feel like a revolutionary statement. I'm glad they popped up somewhere in this discussion.

Melissa Ford was one of my role models for the written and spoken word long before she read her piece at this year's BlogHer community keynote but that three or so minutes clinched it. She wrote How Talking About Childfree or Childless Made My Head Explode yesterday.

To answer her question, as a mother, I would tell the child-free that I'm grateful that they write their blogs
so I can walk in their shoes and try to understand their world because
it is a person's unique life that makes the world a beautiful and
interesting space and I am just thankful that everyone else has not
conformed their life to match my own. And that my heart goes out to
those who are unable to build their families and I will always support
you and take your lead in how you are resolving your infertility and
continuing to live life.

You will find many, many more great blogs in the comments on Sassymonkey's and Melissa's posts. Please check them out. It's good when we talk to each other and at least try to understand.

Laurie White writes at LaurieWrites.

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