I don’t know about you, but to me, it feels like there’s a growing divide in this country between parents and the “childfree.”
The childfree set are tired of hearing they’re selfish and that’s understandable. For centuries, it’s been assumed that all right-thinking women are desperate to have babies and there must be something terribly wrong with those who don’t.
So maybe a backlash was inevitable. Tired of not being taken seriously, many women tried to rebrand their glorified baby-factory image by distancing themselves from motherhood as much as possible.
But frankly, I think some have taken the backlash way too far.
Beyond choosing not to have kids themselves, many now feel entitled to an entirely childfree existence. They scowl at kids on sight, demanding we ban them from airplanes, restaurants, and public life in general.
Don’t parents, they often ask, understand how unbearable it is to have to put up with their snot-nosed brats?
Sometimes they blame the parents themselves, since they’re clearly too narcissistic and inconsiderate to bring their little monsters to heel. These attitudes were maybe best summed up the viral story about thoughtful parents distributing “I’m sorry” goody bags to their fellow airline passengers (here).
That story was passed around for ages, inevitably followed the kinds of hostile anti-child comments that would easily be considered hate speech if they were spoken against any gender, religion, ethnicity or race.
The crazy thing is, childfree people, I used to more or less think like you do.
After spending my twenties unsure of whether or not I even wanted children, an accidental pregnancy in my thirties catapulted me straight into motherhood.
And since I’ve now been on both sides of this equation, I’d like to share my changed perspective. I’ll start by answering some of the questions I frequently hear bouncing around the childfree set:
1–Why must people assume women who don’t want kids are selfish? Isn’t this an outdated idea? I’m tired of people questioning my life choices!
I completely understand. Beyond all the logical reasons you may not want children, it’s infuriating that society still thinks its abnormal while simultaneously thinking it’s natural for men to focus on their careers.
But you know what? The situation doesn’t improve after you have one, because you’ll then be guilt-tripped about what kind of mother you are. Going back to work means you’re materialistic and selfish, whereas staying at home makes you a lazy sell-out.
No one will call the father selfish, by the way, for going back to work.
You, however, will be judged for breastfeeding or using formula (you’re either making people uncomfortable or not trying hard enough), for what you feed your kids (it’s either elitist or unhealthy) and for how quickly you get back into shape (not fast enough).
And by the way, aren’t you going to try for another baby? Don’t you also want a boy/girl?Why not?
Fact is, haters gonna hate. No matter what you do, there will always be judgmental people shaking their heads at all your life choices. It makes them feel better about their own.
2–Why are parents so obsessed with their children, posting so many pictures and acting like bearing offspring is an incredible feat, even though animals have been doing it since the dawn of time?
Considering how many people post pictures of their lunch across Facebook, do you really have to ask?
And those folks just made a sandwich. We made PEOPLE.
Let me ask you this: Did you ever grow one of those avocado seeds in elementary school? The kind where you stick toothpicks in the seed, put it in a Dixie cup filled with water, then stash the cup in a window?
I bet that little seed in a Dixie cup was the first thing you looked at every day when you walked into the classroom. You noticed every tiny change and got really excited when it started to split after a couple of weeks. It blew your mind when a little green sprout finally popped up, even though you’d already walked past thousands of fully-grown avocados in your lifetime without giving them a second thought.
But this was different, because this was YOUR seed.
Well, parenting is like that. Except instead of jamming toothpicks into a seed and waiting a couple of weeks to see it sprout, you grow the seed inside your own body for almost a year then nearly kill yourself trying to squeeze it out.
And instead of becoming an avocado, this seed is capable of abstract thought, hilarious responses, and imprinting your identity for life. We probably go overboard, but doesn’t everyone?
Because no matter how many kids you’ve seen before, it’s different when it’s YOUR kid. Kind of like how everyone thinks it’s a big deal when they’re in love, getting a promotion, or receiving a compliment, even though these things happen to millions of other people every day.
3–Why don’t parents *do something* about their screaming kids? Don’t they know how grating it is to hear that when you’re trapped in a grocery store/restaurant/on a plane?
Yes. Yes we do.
Because we’re standing right next to them, where it’s even louder.
And believe me, if we knew a surefire way to stop it, we would’ve already tried it. On top of listening to painful screaming, we’re also dealing with everyone’s dirty looks and are embarrassed as hell.
If you don’t see us flinching, it’s probably because that screaming kid woke us up 37 times a night for the past 3 months, and we’re currently approaching life with a thousand-yard stare.
But quieting the kid just isn’t that easy.
Very young children aren’t rational beings. They don’t stop yelling whenever we tell them to. Sometimes, they just keep on screaming even after we’ve fed them, changed them, cuddled them, and done everything we could think of to make them shut up.
And using chloroform is frowned upon. We can’t just grab a parachute and jump off the plane. We can’t always exit the grocery store. As much as non-parents like to talk about how leaving would “teach kids a lesson,” most toddlers don’t actually consider the end of a boring errand that big a threat.
Besides, parents need to eat too. If you don’t want our kids screaming in restaurants, then you’ll have to occasionally hear it in the grocery store.
But perhaps you still think it would be more considerate to leave. Well, my kids always started screaming when they got bored, which meant we’d been at the store long enough to really pile up the shopping cart. Leaving would mean abandoning the cart, so store employees would have to put away all of our groceries and we’d still end up going home without any food.
And there’s only so many frozen pizzas a person can eat.
4–Why are kids nowadays so entitled? Why can’t parents act like parents instead of being their kids’ friends?
Because we’re scared. It’s better to have an obnoxious child than be called “abusive.”
Because back in the golden days of yore, there was more of an it-takes-a-village mentality where children were viewed as a collective good and other adults helped out. Discipline was viewed as a necessary evil, since it was understood that children naturally will test your limits, trying to figure out whether or not to take your authority seriously enough to do things they don’t want to do (which includes anything besides running around naked, screaming, throwing things, eating candy, and grabbing everyone’s stuff).
Now, there’s more of an I-shouldn’t-have-to-deal-with-your-kids mentality, coupled with sky-high expectations and the belief that any parenting tool beyond using a reasonable, quiet voice is damaging.
And while I agree that it’s a good thing we’ve put the days of whipping your kid with a switch behind us, experts now say that raising your voice or putting kids into time-outs is cruel. Because it scares them, or makes your love seem conditional, or triggers abandonment fears, or isn’t nurturing their creativity or, for whatever other reason, is damaging their psyches beyond repair.
So, how would you, as a hypothetical “real” parent, handle your screaming kid on an airplane?
And what do you do when that method doesn’t work?
Because it probably won’t. All your tools for creating consequences have been forbidden until the kid is old enough to have an iPhone to take away.
It doesn’t help that we tend to view parenting in terms of personal sacrifice: you’re supposed to ignore all of your own boundaries and needs to make children happy, or else you’re a horrible person. Kids, on the other hand, should never feel uncomfortable or have to put up with petty annoyances, because that would represent a gross violation of their rights.
Just ask your fellow passengers.
5–If a woman chooses to have a baby, why should I, or my employer, bear the brunt of it? Doesn’t demanding parental benefits only make it harder for women to compete in the workforce?
No, lagging behind the rest of the civilized world makes it harder for women to compete in the workforce.
You see, 50 years ago, most moms stayed at home. Now, most work. The rest of the world seems to get that.
But not us. Despite all of our wealth, the US is the only country in the world besides Papua New Guinea that doesn’t guarantee any paid maternal leave at all. Beyond not allowing moms proper time for recovery and bonding with newborns, this policy also slaps huge financial penalties on families with new kids and pushes many moms out of work.
And if they weren’t pushed out by our lack of maternity leave, ridiculous work hours, and lack of vacation time, the staggering costs of daycare might do the trick. Daycare now costs more than college tuition and is, by the way, highly subsidized in other countries.
Deciding to stay home is fine, but we shouldn’t be forced into it. Wasn’t feminism supposed to be about giving women more choices?
Because while not everyone needs to have kids, someone does (unless we want our species going extinct). We won’t continue having employees and employers unless we do.
Yet instead of viewing this as a collective good, we tell women they should’ve “kept their legs closed” when they start demanding reasonable work/life policies (yes, I’ve actually heard that argument thousands of times).
Many women are forced to take lower-paying, lower-status jobs because they need flexible hours, which contributes heavily to the gender pay gap. Should women really be disproportionately shouldering the economic burdens of childcare like this?
In short, while everyone thinks our society bends over backwards to accommodate children, we actually don’t. It’s a lot of cutesy lip-service drenched in resentment.
And if you don’t think you have to care about this because you don’t have kids, you’re wrong. You may end up having kids one day. Even if you don’t, you’ll still be recognized as female, and therefore as a potential breeder who might inconvenience employers and taxpayers someday. Why invest in you?
And do we really want only non-breeding women to succeed? Or to always have the next generation grow up in relative poverty? Seems evolutionarily irresponsible to me.
I hope I’ve given everyone some things to think about. I welcome any other ideas, comments, and am even happy to throw down with you, if that’s your style.
Except I really don’t think we should stay on opposite teams.