[Warning label: A friend suggested that I refrain from blogging about this topic because it isn’t a “Chrome Phase-y” subject. I think it is, though, because for better or worse, it defines me. I think said friend was also afraid that it might offend people, but when has that ever stopped me?]
As soon as I graduated college, I was transferred from one demographic (student) to another very different demographic (single woman without a husband or children). There was no transition period. I had to learn how to field the questions immediately, on the fly. “Why don’t you have a boyfriend?” “Don’t you want to have kids?” “You should date so-and-so, don’t you think he’d make a great husband?” “Don’t you hate going home to an empty apartment every day?” And my personal favorite, “Are you a lesbian?” (Yes, I guess my lack of a boyfriend and the fact that I had a female roommate when I was 23 years old made people assume I was gay. In retrospect, it probably would have been a better idea than hanging out with all the cocky pricks that worked at Exchange Place.)
I’ve been answering these questions ever since. I’ve learned all the stereotypes out there about me, and I am quite skilled at owning up to them. I even have a variety of answers to the same question depending on the person who is asking. Sincere vs. snotty vs. judgmental vs. just-making-conversation vs. genuinely curious. My bandolier is loaded; I’m ready to fire when attacked.
Recently, I posted an article on Facebook (not written by me) that was directed at parents who do not discipline their children, and why unchecked behavior problems are not acceptable in public. I took this to be a modern commentary on basic good manners and respect for others, and as you probably already know, I am a total stickler for those things. I was shocked by how much anger, hate, and retaliation it generated! In a 24 hour time span I saw all of my stereotypes get thrown around in such an aggressive manner. Some people understood the point of the article, but so many others saw it as an outburst from a thoughtless, self-absorbed ignoramus who hates kids. Some readers dismissed my opinion entirely, simply because I don’t have kids. I was seriously hurt that people who know me would think of me like that. It made me realize that I’m a legitimate minority: People assume things about me that aren’t true, and then they judge me based on those assumptions. So, to set the record straight once and for all, I am writing this blog to share with the world (or at least with my 12 faithful readers) what people have been assuming about me for 15 years regarding the topic of kids and parenthood, and what the truth really is.
Assumption #1: “She hates children.” That’s definitely not true. I love kids, and I’m very good with them. I enjoy spending time with my friends’ kids, and the best job I ever had was this past winter when I was babysitting Matthew. I’d jump in front of a bullet for that child, and his parents knew that they could trust me implicitly. Hating children is much different from not wanting to have them, and they often do not go hand in hand. Yes, there are childless folks out there who really do hate children, and they’re entitled to hate. I’m not a hater. I just don’t have any kids by choice… for reasons that aren’t anyone’s business but my own.
Assumption #2: “She is selfish.” That may be true, but that’s an American trait, not just a trait of childless people. I do not have children because it has always been in my best interests not to have them. Likewise, a person who has kids made that decision because it was in their best interests to do so. I think it’s fair to conclude that we’re all equally selfish.
Assumption #3: “She thinks she’s better than everyone else because she doesn’t have kids.” That’s not true. I’m not better or worse than anyone. I’m just different. People who think they’re better than others are that way for reasons that have nothing to do with children.
Assumption #4: “She, and others like her, are the problem with society today.” I don’t think that’s true, although I’m sure there are some non-parents out there who are drug dealers, thieves, or wife beaters. Granted, I’m certainly not Mother Theresa, but I think I’m a pretty good person overall. I always think of Nazi Germany when I think of this particular stereotype, because the Nazis singled out one specific group of people based on a demographic and decided that they were a menace. Then they merrily went about their business of exterminating them. So, really, someone who is judging me based on my childless status could just call me a stupid Jew and it would basically be the same thing.
Assumption #5: “She should avoid crowded places and then she wouldn’t have to worry about kids being around.” That’s excellent advice. Why didn’t I think of that? I never have to go to the grocery store or Target for anything. And thank goodness they also assumed that I don’t want to see children out in public, because that’s reasonable and realistic, and a great thing to do to raise socially well-adjusted kids.
[Sorry for the extreme sarcasm without warning. I just can’t relate to that one intelligently.]
Assumption #6: “She doesn’t have kids, so she has no idea what she’s talking about.” I don’t have a husband either, but I still think it’s wrong for husbands to abuse their wives. It makes me wonder how a parent would react if another parent approached them in a restaurant bar and told them that their kids should surrender their seats so the adults could enjoy some drinks. “OH! Of course! You have kids too! What a great idea. You are so smart, and I’m so embarrassed that I didn’t think of that before! Here’s my number, text me sometime and you can give me more great ideas!” (Nope, I’m not buying it either.)
Assumption #7: “She thinks she knows the best way for me to raise my kids.” I don’t know anything about raising kids, and neither did anybody before they actually started doing it. Parents learn as they go, and I can only hope that they’re remembering along the way to teach their children to be respectful of others.
Assumption #8: “She will appreciate my reminding her that her biological clock is ticking and that she’ll die sad and alone if she doesn’t start having kids soon.” Um, no I won’t appreciate that. But if they seem like they are really trying to help me, I will gently remind them that I don’t need advice on how to live my life any more than a parent needs advice on how to raise their kids. If they were trying to be funny, I don’t laugh, ‘cause it’s not funny anyway.
Assumption #9: “She doesn’t understand that parenting is the hardest job in the world.” Actually, I do understand that it’s a hard job, and definitely not a job I want to do, which is why I am choosing not to do it. Someone who chose that job has my respect, but not my sympathy, because it was a choice. As for it being the hardest job in the world, I don’t know about that. I’m pretty sure that many people who took the parent job wouldn’t stand a chance of getting hired as aerospace engineers or brain surgeons. I wouldn’t either, so I'm in the same boat. Equality, again.
Assumption #10: "People who don't have kids may be in the minority, but they're not ignorant. They are active and important contributors to this society and to the world, and I should respect them just as they respect me." This is one I haven't heard yet, but I can't wait for the day that I do.