Maybe it’s just coincidence, or maybe it’s some kind of blog synergy, but lately I’ve come across more commentary from child-free people who seem to be tired of the domination of cultural discourse by parents.
For example, in a recent New York Times Complaint Box post, Karen Segboer writes, “Why, in a country so rich in diversity and differences, in a land where contrasts and distinctions are rejoiced and applauded, do child-free people still have to make excuses, why do we still stand out so much? It’s almost the last remaining prejudice.”
And, in the ever-popular Miss Manners column, a writer complained about parents who insist on bringing babies and toddlers to adult events and then expect other partygoers to assume babysitting duties, or at least to allow the child to be the center of attention and main topic of conversation. Frustratingly, Miss Manners seems to chastise the writer for being ill natured and angry, but regardless of attitude, I sympathize. Adult-only events are arranged for a reason – regardless of popular habit - people do actually need some conversation and interaction away from kids.
And regardless of Miss Manners’ reluctance to support the kid-free partygoer, conversation and commentary on the rudeness of parents to the childfree seems to be more prevalent and open in past months. Perhaps, childfree people are coming out of the closet and becoming more vocal about their presence in the pattern of life. At the same time, childfree people seem bolder and less tolerant of the frequent cross-examinations and slights visited upon them daily.
For example, a women sent me an email complaining that she feels some of our BellaOnline articles take an overly apologetic tone with parents, especially mothers. She thinks we are making excuses for not having kids and trying desperately to justify our lives by offering substitute activities and over-long explanations.
And, to a degree, I think she is right. Segboer implies she is tired of giving detailed explanations to people who inquire when, really, they have no right to inquire at all. So, why do I often feel compelled to explain my life to total strangers or less-than-friendly acquaintances?
Rather than even beginning to answer that ubiquitous annoying question, “So, why don’t you have any kids?” that we always comeback with a simple and equal question of our own, “So, why did you have children?”
Interestingly, in the few conversations I’ve had in which I’ve felt comfortable enough to ask that question, after a moment of surprised silence, parents respond with deceptively simple answers such as, “Why, what else would I do with my life?” or “Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?” or “What on earth would I do with myself if I didn’t have kids?”
Take a minute to really unravel any of these answers and they are far from simple. Yet, generally, the simple version is expected to suffice. On the other hand, when parents ask childfree people why they don’t have kids, the answer is often carefully considered, complex, and not at all straightforward – but, attempts to be honest.
Perhaps career was a priority, or health got in the way of pregnancy, or freedom was a priority, or environmental consciousness caused a questioning of the wisdom of adding more people to the planet, or taking care of small, needy people was just not appealing. In most cases, the truth lies in a combination of these and more reasons. And many childfree folks, myself included, will try in vain to explain this complexity to parents who are demanding an answer to which they are not entitled.
And, in comparing responses from parents to the childfree, the parents’ answer to this most personal and intrusive of questions is often shallow and self-centered - "I’d be lonely without kids," or "Who would take care of me when I get old,” - and so on. Lengthier explanations by childfree people are often thoughtful and well considered and reveal major life choices made with care and compassion.
But, we don’t owe strangers these careful explanations at all. Perhaps the long explanation is, in reality, a form of apology. The most important comeback, and the most subversive, is the simplest. Wait and accept the shocked silence. Weather the looks of hurt reproach. Stand tall and proud and answer, “ I just don’t want any kids. Period.”
Complaint Box | I Don’t Have Kids. Deal With It.
By KAREN SEGBOER