“Shits? SHIT? Shits?!”
My child says this word, meaning "This?" He points eagerly to the juicer he loves to take apart and fit back together, on a top shelf.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what you want. Can you tell me?” I ask him, hoping that he’ll use his words a bit more. He’s just learning to talk, and it’s like watching a dog learn to play the banjo: equal parts brilliant and precious.
He cocks an eyebrow, and clasps his hands together. “Leaves shit, Mama.” he manages, after much trepidation. His current “please” isn’t the best, but I’m delighted anyways. Such manners!
My childless friend on the couch isn’t as impressed.
“Can he read yet?”
Most of my friends don’t have kids. Which is fine, we have other things in common than kids, and I like it that way. I don’t need to talk incessantly about bowel movements and slight advances in motor skills.
Having a child is life-changing, in the same way that getting a puppy is life-changing, but a lot more intense. You’re now responsible for the health and happiness of a tiny cute thing that doesn’t know any better, and constantly expresses it -- both by crapping indiscriminately and making too much noise. Your puppy is cute! I want to hold it, but I really don’t care if you’re getting it vaccinated or not -- even the story of how you picked it out is boring. Let’s just enjoy this puppy, as it is, and not talk about it like it’s a social experiment, hmm?
I’ve always liked taking care of things -- animals, people, feeding them and petting them and making sure they are happy. It’s not for everyone, and even people who enjoy that sort of thing need a break sometimes. Dealing with unpredictable little humans takes a lot of patience and flexibility, and not everyone has that in spades.
However, I assure you, that woman who is letting her toddler scream in the store? You’ll thank her later when that toddler isn’t a full-grown asshole that thinks yelling at and hitting people are acceptable behaviour modification techniques.
So what I’m asking, is this: can we just dial back the open disdain for children and motherhood? Whether you like kids or not, they are part of life, and so like other natural forces such as gravity and climate, a reasonable amount of adaptation and acceptance is required. Hating on kids and the women who choose to have them doesn’t make you a good feminist. It doesn’t make you environmentally conscious. Hating kids, an entire group of people who are facing challenges you can’t really understand -- that legitimately makes you a bad person.
Having children isn’t for everyone. Some people’s hatred of kids is really just a hatred of the idea of having their own kids--understandable. The idea of such a tremendous responsibility or loss of freedom can really be scary. But being a total dick to them because you see them as less of a person? Do you hate old people too, because they need to be cared for? Would you groan and roll your eyes if someone with a disability made a scene in a grocery store?
Culturally in the U.S., the general public is encouraged to chastise parents and children for their completely understandable behaviour. Parents CHOSE to have children and be in public, so we are basically asking for it. We’re both fascinated and disgusted by people with too many kids -- TLC has a pile of shows about giant families. Most 24-hour ‘news entertainment’ channels have entire segments dedicated to passing judgment on parents.
Sometimes the criticism is totally legitimate, like the woman who locked her 5-year-old alone in a room for a few days. I can attest to shaking my head in disbelief that there are people that terrible, much less that they have managed to inflict themselves on kids.
But it seems like all too often, the parents weren’t guilty of any egregious neglect, but rather were being parents, while their kids were being kids, and sometimes bad things happen. The Kaufmans were a sailing family that called for help in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, requiring a costly rescue. People were outraged they had to pay for the rescue of a sick baby. Do these same people get their knickers in a twist over every other stupid fiscal misstep in our country?
The U.S. isn’t a great place to be a parent or a kid, turns out. Having a child means entering some level of economic hardship for most families in the U.S. -- be it day care or lost wages. Parents deserve a bit of sympathy here. Markups for baby supplies like formula and diapers is disproportionately gouging. Even our social safety nets fall short: over 4.1 million single-mother households are living below the poverty line, and 2.3 million kids have unemployed parents. But they shouldn’t have had kids, right? Using that logic, people shouldn’t need abortions either. Because that makes sense.
Our culture both champions children and punishes parents for having them. Our government cuts school funding and increases military spending. Women’s choice of whether or not to have children is hotly debated by old men, but the United States is one of only four countries in the world that have no paid parental leave -- along with Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and Lesotho.
So maybe hating children and parents IS okay -- in fact, it’s downright American. Criticizing other people’s choices and actions while knowing nothing of them or their situation is easily a human pastime, but one that maybe we can outgrow.
So please, have a little compassion for kids; they are little people whose brains are still forming. And have some for parents -- maybe they didn’t make the same choices as you, but chances are they are working just as hard as you at life.