Welcome back to Parental Advisory, where I answer all of your social media and IRL parenting etiquette questions. This week, let's talk about parents who chide their child-free relatives for choosing leisurely travel over family time.
My husband and I can't have kids (but also don't really want them either). We travel a lot and I often get snide remarks about traveling. People have literally told us that we travel to fill the hole of not having children. I mean, even if that's true, who cares? There are worse ways to "fill a hole." But my biggest qualm is when it comes to our families. We live within driving distance of our families (almost all siblings of ours have children or are planning to), and we visit them a lot (at least 15 times a year). But no matter how many times we visit them, my siblings and other family members often say that we should choose to visit their kids over traveling somewhere else. We love our nieces and nephews, but they aren't EVERYTHING to us, and we enjoy experiencing life in all kinds of ways, with and without children involved. How can we fend off these remarks without sounding like we hate their children?
Nothing gets me fired up like friends and family who feel the need to criticize non-parents for their choices. Whether rooted in jealousy, judgment or just plain rudeness, it's no one else's business how you and your husband choose to spend your free time or extra income (that you've earned yourselves!), B.
This policy extends to critiques of your relationships with your friends' and relatives' children. No one should ever burden you with the idea that because you don't have kids, you have more time and money to spend on their kids, even if those children are related to you, live next door or are your godchildren. No one should assume you're "free to babysit because you don't have kids," or that you're willing to put your own life on hold in order to spend more time, energy or dollars on other people's children.
Sure, it's nice when the money is there to visit with family. It's great when aunts, uncles and cousins can get together and share meals, create memories and perhaps exchange gifts. But that doesn't mean you owe those things to anyone, nor should you feel compelled to change your lifestyle or plans to accommodate everyone else's. That's not a fun way to go through life, and it's certainly not a healthy way to fill any existing "holes."
The fact is, most of us have a hole (or five) that we're trying to fill. I can't think of a single person I know who doesn't yearn for something they can't have that's out of their control. For some people, that's having children. For others, it's the freedom to be who they really are, securing a job that's out of reach, spending another day with a lost parent or friend, owning a home, etc. We all have these so-called holes, and we're all doing our best to responsibly fill them with things or experiences to make us happier and more complete.
I'm sorry that for so many people, the "consequence" of not having children equates to getting criticized and/or admonished by trusted friends and family, but to those people (and to you, B.), I say this: Screw them. You have to live your life for you, and you know that better than anyone.
The trick is finding ways to effectively communicate that to the people who won't stop commenting on your choices. Granted, there are some people who choose to simply ignore those friends or relatives altogether. Silence speaks louder than words, especially in today's text- and email-driven climate, and some people know how take a hint. They're conscious of other people's feelings and know when they've crossed a line or offended someone, and they're able to recognize the importance of saying they're sorry or at the very least backing off. Other people are willfully ignorant and need to be firmly told that their comments aren't appreciated, and that's who it sounds like you're dealing with, B.
Maybe your relatives are quote-unquote "joking around" when they say you should choose to visit their kids over traveling. Maybe they think they're being funny. Or maybe they're just pissed off that they can't travel as much as you and your husband do, and this is their way of lashing out, by making you feel guilty. There are plenty of parents who also get jealous of other parent friends who can afford lavish trips with their kids that they can't afford to take themselves.
Travel is one of the most enviable hobbies in existence because it (usually) requires planning, money, time and good health. That elusive combination can be difficult for some people/families to patch together once in a decade, much less multiple times per year. I know young families who consistently travel for weeks or months every year, and I know young families who can't afford to take a single trip. Sometimes, it's hard not to feel resentful. But does that mean it's OK to judge other adults whose path in life doesn't include having or raising kids just because they're choosing to travel over spending extra quality time with family? No.
You should tell your relatives that it's not a contest between seeing Rome or attending your nephew's birthday party. The reasons you travel are about you, not them. You want to have new experiences because they make you a better person — maybe even a better aunt, cousin, daughter, sister or friend. You want to share the gift of seeing new places and meeting new people with your husband because nothing fulfills you more than chasing your dreams and making them a reality together. You think your nieces and nephews will benefit from having an aunt and uncle with knowledge of and firsthand experience with other cultures, countries, foods and languages. Who knows? Maybe you can all travel together as a family someday?
Try to turn around the negative perception these relatives have of traveling into something positive. Make them understand that you enjoy the time you spend with their kids, and you carry your love for your family everywhere you go. Remind them that there's no "right" way of living life. They're choosing to live theirs the way they see fit, and you and your husband are doing the same. You're really not so different after all.
As far as smoothing things over or "proving" you care, maybe it could be nice, if you're up for it, to bring back small tokens for the nieces and nephews from your travels. This can be shells on the beach, stones that are native to certain regions or even just paper hats from a local restaurant. The gifts don't need to be expensive, but given with the idea that you're sharing your travels with your family and making them a part of your adventures. Maybe you can FaceTime them from the Eiffel Tower or send more postcards.
If your siblings still gripe at you, then you'll know it's just white-hot jealousy fueling their anger, and there's not much you can do to assuage that. I do think planning a family trip, even if it's only a weekend-long road trip or an overnight camping trip, could be a nice way to incorporate your love of travel with your family get-togethers. But how you choose to spend your time and money shouldn't be of any concern to anyone but you and your husband. And if anyone ever remarks on your love of travel as it pertains to "filling a hole" in your life, I recommend looking them in the eye and saying, "Have you ever been to [insert your favorite tropical location here]? The sunsets are amazing."
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