This society seems to take a very “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” stance when it comes to children and whether or not you’re going to have them.
If you have children, you’re doing your part to uphold traditional gender roles, raising the next generation, obeying biological imperative -- but your children should be seen and not heard, and preferably not really seen, either. And you shouldn’t expect any help with them, like funds to help educate, feed, and clothe your child. And no matter which parenting technique you use, you will be judged by someone, somewhere. For example, if you don’t or can’t breastfeed, you’re a monster. But if you do breastfeed, you’re gross and shouldn’t do it in public. There is literally no way to win when you are a parent.
If you don’t have children and you appear to be a lady, though, you’re highly suspect. You’re selfish and gross for not wanting to have kids. You’ll change your mind eventually -- assuming you aren’t trapped in tragic spinsterhood forever, never knowing the fulfillment that comes with having children of your very own. You’ll never be a real woman, let alone a real adult, if you don’t have kids, you know.
If everyone could just mind their own damned business when it came to who has kids and who doesn’t, we’d all be happier people. Trust me on this one, people.
NO BABIES, THANKS
Here’s the thing: I’m childfree. I emphatically do not want children and have known this from a very young age. I’m so secure in not wanting children that I had a tubal ligation to ensure that no baby would ever emerge from my body, barring some pretty extreme circumstances. Namely: a statistically low chance of procedure failure PLUS implantation in the uterus and not my fallopian tube PLUS me deciding not to get an abortion, OR a successful tubal reversal and pregnancy. And, of course, getting a tubal doesn’t mean I can’t have kids -- if my life changes radically and I do, I can foster, adopt, or enter a number of different arrangements to be a parent.
But that seems unlikely. I straight up do not want to be a parent. I have tremendous respect for parents; raising kids is HARD, you guys, SERIOUSLY, and parents are awesome. They provide care to sensitive, fragile human beings who need support and nurturing for, like, a long time. I don’t have what it takes to be one -- but I also don’t see the point of calling parents “breeders” and sneering at people who want kids.
Because, hey, your decision to be a parent doesn’t infringe on my decision to not be one, unless you decide to make a big deal out of it, and vice versa. Yes, your kids and my life may intersect at some point, but I don’t need to be a jerk about it. We both want the same thing for children, which is happy, safe lives with access to housing, food, education, love, and support. I want to promote policy that benefits children and support parents, even though I’m not one, and you want to live in a world that welcomes and supports your children. Everybody wins here.
DESPERATELY SEEKING BABY
But not everyone who doesn’t have kids is childfree. Some of us are actually childless and that is an important distinction. There are some people who really want children and can’t have them, for a whole variety of reasons: infertility, unstable relationships, problems with medications, and other factors. For them, not having children is not a matter of rejoicing and happiness, a consciously chosen decision that affirms their desires. It’s heartbreak. It’s tragedy.
And for them, probing questions about why they don’t have children are just as hurtful as they are for us childfree folks, but in different ways. We’re tired of being judged and constantly challenged, backed into corners where we lash out and say ridiculous things because we feel so trapped that we want to say something, anything, to get the conversation to end, even if it’s blatantly not true; so we say something like, “I don’t want kids because I hate children,” just to get people to shut the fuck up already. Childless people, though, are tired of having this wound constantly probed and reopened, tired of being forced to either reveal very personal information or make something up or simply refuse to answer.
These terms, childfree and childless, are not interchangeable, and can’t be used as blanket descriptions for all people without children. For childfree folks, not having children doesn’t represent a lack, a loss, something missing -- it also doesn’t mean we don’t have kids in our lives. In fact, some of us are very involved with kids, we just don’t want our own; I, for example, love hanging out with my partner's awesome foster kid. For childless people, though, not having children isn’t something to celebrate and defiantly proclaim to the world as a choice.
MISS MANNERS SAYS: DON'T ASK RUDE QUESTIONS
Everyone loses when people insist on asking personal questions about why other people do or do not have children. When you strike up a casual conversation in the airport with someone and ask about kids, you have no idea if that person, say, just had her fourth miscarriage. Or is tired of being raked over the coals for not having kids. Or has a whole passel of kids and grandkids and would love nothing more than whipping out her wallet to show you some pictures.
I am, as we know, a huge fan of Miss Manners, and one of the things she really stresses is that privacy actually is a right in social interactions. Having someone approach you with invasive questions doesn’t give you the right to be rude, of course, but you are welcome to pull out a “pardon me” and change the subject -- of course, people should also learn that invasive questions are rude and stop asking them. And especially to stop with the invasive followup.
When you ask, “Hey, do you have kids?” and the answer is a short, “No,” that’s not your cue to ask why, talk about your own children, and demand explanations. You have no idea where that person is coming from, or what that person is going through; and people shouldn’t have to justify their decisions, or lay bare their souls, in order to satisfy your curiosity.
And when someone in your life approaches you to say kids are not in the plans, hey, try respecting that, instead of trying to win over a convert.