2 Nov 2011

I Get That I Don't Get It, So Get Off It

Recently there was an article posted on Jezebel titled, "Oops, I Must Have Been Too Busy Bitching About Not Getting Any Sleep to Mention How Great My Kid Is." by Tracy Moore. The piece (which is conversational, light-hearted and an easy read, so go munch on it for a minute) is largely a response to a conversation she had with a childless co-worker, who, upon listening to the writer complain about some truly heinous child-related sleep deprivation, commented, "Whoa man, you make it sound like your baby ruined your life."

The article goes on to explain that she wishes all of us childless people could simply grasp the awesomeness of parenthood and how, while it's not always a ray of sunshine - in fact, far from it on some days -, that there's something just so marshmagically delicious about babies and being the proud maker of one, that we just can't possibly "get it" if we've never had a child of our own.


Uggghhhh.

You know, I get it. I get it that I don't get it.

I can quite plainly observe friends and family members who find their social lives radically altered, are elbow-deep in the grossest of bodily fluids (some of which aren't even their own!), who come over for a little break and end up sitting on my couch uncontrollably crying (and that's the dads!), who are on the verge of losing their minds over a kid who refuses to sleep more than an hour at a time, who see money spraying out of their bank accounts - like the projectile vomit they have become so accustomed to - on new furniture, clothes and daycare, and who have confided in me that they have moments where they just want to lock their toddler in the room, leave the house, and get wasted in the middle of the afternoon.

But you know what I also observe? That many these same people go and have another baby! Or light up when they see a picture of their kid. Or sit there with a truly enamoured smile long after they've finished telling you a story about their child.

So even though I am an ignorant, childless heifer (though I prefer "childfree" heifer), I understand that there's something - something huge and verging on magical - that counters all the shitty, horrible things about having a kid. It is the "it". "It" is the thing that is more powerful than logic or memory. "It" is individual with each child, "it" is hard to describe, and for most parents, "it" is the best thing that has ever happened to them.

I get it, even if I've never personally experienced "it". You don't have to sell me on "it".

From Jezebel:

For us, it's not about whether a baby is "special" enough to take on all the shit that comes with parenting, it's about whether we are willing to deal with all that specialness, especially since we really like how our lives are now. Why the author thinks people who "get fucked up a lot" would make ideal parents is beyond me, but whatever. Do those people want kids? Because we're personally unsure. Call us "Team Undecided But Sorta Leaning Toward No". Neither of us has felt a big yearning for kids that wasn't fleeting, so to just go ahead and have a child in the hopes that we'd experience "it" and "it" would be worth the risk, is a big leap of faith for us. And since I'm an agnostic and he's an atheist, "faith" isn't exactly our forte.

What's irritating, is that articles like the one on Jezebel presume that everyone who has a child experiences "it", guaranteed, that "it" is what's missing in their lives, that "it" outweighs all other perks of a childfree lifestyle, and that once you experience "it", all those worries about whether you want a kid / would make a good parent / can stick with it until you're dead, will melt away.

And that's something I just don't buy.

I know, without a doubt, that there are people who regret having children. It's hard for them to say this out loud because it goes against, oh, everything, and people somehow derive great pleasure in pointing that out. Many of these people get called every name in the book for admitting what a "real parent" is never supposed to feel. But whether you like it or not, they're proof that "it" isn't universally appreciated. They're selfish monsters adults who discover that they'd be happier without kids - and I don't mean hypothetical children, but their actual kids - healthy, well-behaved little people with faces and names that they have feelings for. Children they believe are more burdens than blessings when it comes to achieving happiness in life.

And there's another nagging regret to the issue; the fear of "but what if I figure out I want kids and it's too late!" It's something articles poke at, although subtly. If we're too ignorant to "get" the obvious amazingness that is being a parent, surely we're also incapable of knowing how we'll feel about this in the future. How could we possibly know we'll be ok with a decision to not have kids in five, ten, or twenty years from now if we're too [stupid, self-absorbed, immature, goofy] to realize how crazyballs fantastic it is to make a small human being who loves you unconditionally?

Articles on this topic weren't always as cutely presented as the one on Jezebel. From an article by a woman simply referred to as "The Country Contributor" in the April 1911 Ladies' Home Journal (100 years ago!), this awesome opinion was splayed out:

In case you can't read that, the snippet says (to be read aloud in a ridiculously regal voice that I like to call "Lady Boddemboddem"):
No Woman Should Ever Marry Unless She is Willing to have a child or children. If you are not willing to institute a family you should remain single. It not immoral to refrain from having a larger family than you can support, or from subjecting a wife to child-bearing until her strength is exhausted; but on general principles it is immoral to marry with the positive intention of having no children, and it is very vulgar, too, as you will certainly understand some day when you awake to the plain realities of life.

Epic, no?

But beyond the part about being vulgar, isn't the message that "you will certainly understand [it] some day when you awake to the plain realities of life" all that different from "sigh. It's hard to explain till it happens to you directly."?

I think Tracy Moore's article is fine and cheerfully-natured, but I wonder if she realizes that it comes across a touch belittling. What's funny about all this, is that no real person in my life has ever tried to press me on the fact that I don't have a deep understanding of what it means to be a parent, nor the idea that having a child might not be for me. So maybe that's why I find it funny that articles like these keep getting churned out.

Do people really talk like that to one another, or did I win the friend lottery?

27 comments:

bethany 4:48 pm, November 02, 2011  

Your last paragraph gets it right down the center for me. People on the internet are 100% more defensive and condescending about their personal life choices than anybody I know in person. I mean, I've seen some things on facebook I'm tempted to send to STFUparents, but I have a lot more experience being interested and excited about my friend's kids. Maybe, just like with babies, parenting and non-parenting make more sense when you think about a specific person, and not the hypothetical.

Sarah A.T.J. 4:54 pm, November 02, 2011  

Love this! As a mama of a 1 year old, I fall in the "It's the most wonderful and awful thing I've ever experienced in my life" category. I love my kid more than anything in this world.

HOWEVER:

It's a huge ass job. Amazing. But giant. And not to be undertaken unless someone TRULY wants the job.

If you don't, what's so bad about that? Nothing in my opinion. Know your boundaries and what you want in life? Sounds pretty wise to me.

Just promise me you'll cherish all that sleep you're getting and I promise I'll cherish all the baby giggles I get! And then we'll smile at each other and leave other alone :)

father of the monkey,  5:04 pm, November 02, 2011  

Here's the thing - Don't think of them as YOUR children. Think of them as MY Grandchildren.

That better?

Just messing with you, but that is whole other vector in all this pressure to self replicate computation. Pressure from peers and from society in general is one thing but from those to whom you owe your very existence? We could drive you to drink if we really tried.

Interesting blog.

Alison 5:14 pm, November 02, 2011  

Oh, this. This times one million. Thank you for this. How many times have I been made to feel as though I am somehow lacking in some essential nutrient that makes a woman, a woman? Ugh. Why can't we all just have kids if we want them, not have them if we don't, and move on?

Anonymous,  5:14 pm, November 02, 2011  

Yes! A million times yes! I read the same article and was just BUGGED afterwards. Thank you for so beautifully articulating the issue.

Karen 5:53 pm, November 02, 2011  

You are so right on. And that 1911 article! OMG. I swear that articles are just written to get page views and to get people riled up, when in reality, most people respect each others' choices (I hope so anyway!). Remember Tiger Mom? Gah.

Unapologetically Mundane 5:58 pm, November 02, 2011  

There was a similar article in New York magazine that was all, "Kids are awful and make you miserable." And I was like, "Yay, further confirming my suspicions!"

But then it ended with, "If you don't have them, you will never understand why everyone else is having them. Also, you will die sad and alone with no one to take care of you."

So I'm confused again.

I know everyone says you miraculously change once the kids are born, but there are also a lot of really terrible parents out there, so obviously not everyone changes. What if I'm one of the selfish 1%?

Lady Rose 6:05 pm, November 02, 2011  

I didn't actually read that line with the same interpretation (it's hard to explain until it happens to you). I mean isn't that just like anything in life? Nobody really understands something until they live through it. Which is why we humans keep making the same dumb mistakes over and over.

But I thought that what she was trying to say was that her coworker noted that her complaining made it sound like the baby ruined her life. And when you list off the complaints that come with a baby, honestly, it does sound pretty terrible. But it's equally pretty impossible to describe what the "it" IS.

What exactly is it about having children that makes it all worth it. Is it the smiles? The giggles? The love? I think there's something very intangible, really it's like trying to describe to someone what love FEELS like. You can describe the symptoms but how do you describe the feeling of love?

My cynical side suggests that parents who are pushy about other people becoming parents do so the same way people try to justify all their decisions. You should buy a Civic because I have a Civic and it's great. You should go on vacation in Mexico because we go every year and it's so fun. Other people making the same decision makes a person feel better about their own decision.

My less cynical side (it's in there somewhere) says that when parents try to sell you on "it" they are doing so because they don't want you to miss out. It's coming from a place of love, not a place of judgement. Is it possible to look at their breeding encouragement as something positive?

I don't know if I made my point clearly, but hopefully you get the gist of what I'm trying to say.

Ann 6:10 pm, November 02, 2011  

I get the 1911 article, but there's no excuse for a similar mindset in the modern era. If every parent found their job such a source of bliss, there would be a lot fewer dead babies (Andrea Yates, anyone?).

The fact of the matter is that you don't really know what you're getting into when you decide to become a parent. You might get the next Nobel Peace Prize recipient or you might get the next school shooter. You might get a kind, beautiful and intelligent person who shares your values or you might get a rebel you'd rather disown. You might have a child so severely disabled that they require specialized care and every nickel you can earn or beg for the next several decades.

If you're not ready to gracefully accept whatever you get, don't go there.

Oh, and I'm beyond fed up with articles that characterize the childfree as mindless partiers. We grow up just like everyone else, except that unlike many parents, we grow out of the party phase because it's time and not because we found ourselves with a little stranger to care for.

Anonymous,  6:37 pm, November 02, 2011  

I can really relate to this post. Just as childfree people can never really understand what it's like have kids, I don't think a lot of parents can understand what it's like to be so unsure / to have no desire to have children. Live and let live! I don't get why that author on Jezebel would be encouraging her "fucked up" friends to have babies !?!?!

joanna,  6:57 pm, November 02, 2011  

I'm another woman who is married but childfree-by-choice, and I'm totally on your side.

I've never wanted kids, nor has my husband of 17 yrs.

Parent's let's make a deal: I won't brag about how much money & free time I have if you will stop complaining about how broke & tired you are.

P. S. your dad really freaked me out with his post... that was creepy, dad.

Q 7:10 pm, November 02, 2011  

Being childfree -- and marriage-free -- I'm used to people (mostly co-workers) looking down their noses at me because of my choices. One woman at work said to me, when I said I wasn't familiar with today's baby toys, "Well. Not all of us have taken the opportunity."

So I've heard a lot of crap from people, and I'm sure I would've heard more if I'd gotten married and stayed childfree, but really the only thing that stuck out to me about her article is hinting that people who don't have kids get "fucked up" all the time. I have a lot of responsibilities; my life is very full right now. Somehow I manage to refrain from being "fucked up" all day, despite not having a child to bring me to my senses.

Keeley 7:21 pm, November 02, 2011  

I'm married. No kids. I'm with the commenters who are insulted that someone would even think that our lives are full of getting "f*cked up" and partying. Yeah right.

Whether I'm childfree by choice or by circumstance is my business. I'm tired of people asking me about it.

Not everyone wants or needs to parent. I respect peoples' decisions either way.

Keri 7:32 pm, November 02, 2011  

You should try having two kids and then spending the next decade explaining to strangers and family members why you don't have six. Why does everyone have to be so down on others? We are adults! We can make our own decisions! Whether you decide to have zero kids or 20, that's your choice.

Inder-ific 7:47 pm, November 02, 2011  

Hi! I've been enjoying your blog!

I avoid telling all of my childless friends that my son is the cutest, most amazing, most beautiful, best thing since sliced bread, because I don't want to seem like "that friend" to my friends. You know, the friend who only talks about her kid? Plus, I'm kind of sarcastic by nature, and not one to gush. So I what I say and what I really feel may not be the same. Gosh, hope my childless friends know this? Maybe not?

I don't think anyone who doesn't want to have children should have children. It's really hard work for those of us who want children. Ass kicking. Great too, of course - lots of great things are ass-kicking.

I do think there is something about it that is hard to describe - the major life change that happens. But it's like a prior poster says. Surely, there's nothing radical about saying that you don't really "get" a major life event until it happens to you. Until I became an adult, I didn't really get it when adults would say, "I still feel like a kid!" Now I do. Now I say, "Aha! I feel like a kid! I totally get it!" :-)

But not "getting" something isn't always a criticism. There are lots of things I will never get. I will never "get" what it feels like to be a man, for instance. Or a woman of color, or a lesbian. I can only try to empathize, but it will never be the same, right?

Where folks go wrong is in saying that because you don't "get" it, you should thus automatically do it! I think it's more accurate to say that having kids is really hard work, it's life changing, most people really love their babies, but it's not for everyone. Not a problem. :-)

MMM,  8:59 pm, November 02, 2011  

Oh man. Yes. I don't have kids (yet? ever?) and like you, I "get" that there's something indescribably great about having children. I don't need someone with kids continually telling me about something they JUST! Can'T! DeSCRIBE! I wish they'd get that I get that! Do THEY get that?

Susan 11:30 pm, November 02, 2011  

What I personally think is great is that in our current online culture we are able to see what happens when someone very similar to ourselves, chooses differently. What happens? What challenges are there and what benefits?

In this world, people can tell how things are working for them as a result of THEIR choices. I love that!

Want (or don't think you do but get one anyway) kids? Great! Live that life! Don't want them? Great, too! Tell the world about it! But know that there are people who chose the opposite and that is just as great... it's just different. If that makes any sense at all.

Great post,Jen!(And your dad didn't sound creepy to me, I thought he was funny.)

kelly,  11:37 pm, November 02, 2011  

i was going to comment on something else and then i saw the father of the monkey comment. i can see where you get your sense of humor!!!! i actually laughed out loud.

Anonymous,  2:06 pm, November 03, 2011  

The last part of the 1911 article cracked me up, because clearly Lady Boddemboddem doesn't want to come out and say it but can you IMAGINE the vulgarity of married people just DOING IT all the time? Just sexing it up all over the house and not even because they are trying to procreate? Vulgar, indeed.

Jen 4:05 pm, November 04, 2011  

Thanks for commenting, everyone!

I agree, I don't think anything needs to be an us vs. them when it comes to families with kids and families without kids.

Ha - dad - you got a BIG laugh out of us.

I don't think the author of the original post meant any harm / judgement ... it just read a little funny to me. But yay for discussions!

blakeroo,  2:22 pm, November 05, 2011  

I've got two kids, and have been that beyond-sleep-deprived crazy mom. I love my kids, but also treasure my child-free friends because they give me a break from kid-related shop talk, and a window into other parts of the grown-up world. I'll get back there again someday.

The Internet is full of sanctimonious complainers (see personal choices related to, but not limited to: food, health, parenting, guns, religion, politics, environment).

Read with a grain of salt, and find a down-to-earth tribe of virtual peeps.

And finally, I recommend two books of excellent Canadian essays on the subject of non-parenting: Nobody's Mother, and Nobody's Father. Intriguing, thoughtful reads, both.

Great post, Jenn.

Inder-ific 2:27 pm, November 05, 2011  

@blakeroo, "The Internet is full of sanctimonious complainers"! Indeed! HA!

One thing that DOES bug me is when people ascribe the whiny views of one or two sanctimious complainers to, you know, "all parents," or "all childless people." I can see how these generalizations make for a controversial article that will get a lot of attention, but that doesn't make them right, or any less stupid. :-)

Marsha,  1:29 am, November 06, 2011  

Color me clueless, but as someone who can usually translate the writings of past decades, this leave me clueless...

and it is very vulgar, too, as you will certainly understand some day when you awake to the plain realities of life.

What precisely is Lady B. referring to? Rudimentary birth control? Sexing the house up?

I have a 1928 guide to sexual education that I haven't gotten around to reading yet- maybe that will help me understand the vulgarity of it all. :)

Meghan,  12:02 am, November 07, 2011  

As someone in a happy DINK (double income, no kids!) marriage, I get it. OHHHH, I definitely get it. Misery loves company! ; )

I never have been told that I should have kids directly, but I get told a lot "You'd be a great mom!". It bothers the hell out of me because it's such obvious projection. I'm really glad that my family hasn't even hinted at it being odd that we are child free, though who knows what they are saying when we aren't around. Probably that we're bearding for each other or something.

Anonymous,  2:18 pm, November 08, 2011  

Well, on the 1911 article...I'm going to cut the author some slack. There really weren't reliable or safe birth control methods back then, and knowledge of them was mostly restricted to prostitutes.

In 1911, for a woman of childbearing age to marry with the intention of NEVER having children was to marry just for sex and/or money.

Notice that she does say that considerations of health and how you would support said children should play into family planning.

doctor T 2:09 am, November 16, 2011  

Re: Anon. above me: Very few women could marry for "sex" in 1911. A widow, maybe, but otherwise, no. Not having children wasn't a choice for a lot of women for many years. Marital rape used to be legal, after all.

I have a kid. Just having a kid isn't an accomplishment, just as having a wedding isn't. Raising a good person is an accomplishment, but that's not what procreation-obsessed culture cares about -- and that's sad.

I love my kid. I love every stage he goes through. But I don't go crazy for other people's babies, and I sure as fuck don't expect everyone to go all agog over my kid.

I just wish people would let other people be, no matter how large they decide to make their family.

SkippyMom 12:34 pm, September 20, 2014  

Okay, remember I said I wasn't going to comment anymore because the stalker/you won't read these anyway thing?

Yeah..that last two posts.

I feel SO strongly about this, I have to say. . .

I am a Mom of 5. Count the snot rags, FIVE KIDS. I am also a woman who never wanted kids. Was shocked by my first pregnancy - cried for . . .well, until graduation. But?

I do love my kids and I can't imagine life without them, BUT?

I won't shove them down anyone's throat, I don't think everyone HAS to have kids and I will trip the sh*t out of anyone who says "Why don't you have kids?" to any of my friends who don't want, nor can have kids, in my hearing range. I have a cane, [and a wheelchair on occasion] and I will run their butt down.

I HATE, hatehatehate people who think everyone OMGOMGOMG HAS TO HAVE A KID to experience life. Like it is some magical life changing force and you are going to Hell if you don't.

Yes, yes, yes, kids are a gift. For me. For that mother and dad over there and him, her, them and others. But I respect and admire people who consciously choose not to do it. It fries my toast that people think your life is incomplete without them.

The only thing worse than those people? Are the women who just HAVE to share what their labor and delivery are like. And want to show you the video.

Okay? Now, want to know how I really feel? giggle

I do love my kids, and I share their accomplishments and failures on my blog [but I sort of cuss too much to be considered a Mommy blogger Thank god] but it IS the life I lead.

If I go out for dinner with friends? The best they are getting is "The kids are great." It's SKIPPYTIME. :)

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Need words? I'm a Toronto-based freelance writer who injects great ones into blogs, websites, magazines, ads and more. So many services, one lovely Jen (with one 'n').

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