I’m childfree for now. I’ve got a few more things to accomplish before I venture into parenthood. Maybe by then it will be too late. But please don’t clutch your pearls or wring your hands for me; I know the consequences of pushing this decision off. For me, the risk of having a child before I’m ready far outweighs the risk of not having one.
But that’s a post topic for another day. Today, I wanted to write about the so-called war between the Childfree and Parents. Recently, I read this post. Since I’m fluent in sarcasm, and this writer is usually funny, I thought perhaps I was missing something. But the tone seemed off somehow, like the jokes weren’t really jokey – they were sort of half hearted truths that the author herself believed about the Childfree. The longer I thought about the article, the more peeved I became.
I’ve been silent on this particular topic. Not because it’s uncomfortable for me, but because I haven’t been put in a place where I needed to defend myself too often (which is lucky – lots of lifetime Childfree folks are put in the unfortunate position of justifying their choices.) But after reading that article, I realized: there are things that bother me about this imaginary battle between the Childfree and Parents, and I do want to talk about it.
So, in no particular order, I’d like to unpack the assumptions and downright mean attitudes about the Childfree that bother me most.
The Childfree are selfish/takers/drunk hedonists. As soon as you’re born, you’ve got an invite to the Taker Party. We all consume resources, take up space, demand that others give us attention, feast off the fat of our fellow taxpayers, and are generally consuming a-holes until we’re almost dead. And even beyond. (I’m assuming Heaven has universal healthcare and everyone lives in subsidized housing.)
Very few of us can give back to humanity and the earth as much as we take from it. Your existence is not zero-sum, and it never will be. Unless you cure cancer or destroy the aliens when they come, I’m sorry – you’re more of a drain than you are not. The best you can do is minimize your damage by buying one of those reusable Starbucks cups and not killing baby seals.
So, if the Childfree get an invite to the Taker Party, Parents also get an invite, with a Plus One (or two, or three… or nineteen). Sure, Parents can be selfless, but usually only toward their own children. And sometimes, not even then.
Here’s how to best summarize this argument: We are all selfish. We all have the potential to be altruistic. Sometimes, Parents can be selfless – toward their own children and toward others. Sometimes, the Childfree can be selfless, too.
Here’s how to best summarize this argument in one word: sometimes.
This past month, I started a new job and went on a great vacation. In the past few years, I’ve written a novel and several screenplays. I’m generally motivated and ambitious when it comes to my writing. I make time for my friends. I read thoughtful books. I sleep in on weekends. I live in one of the greatest cities in the world. I have the relative freedom to do whatever I want, whenever.
In short, I’m living the life I would want for my own hypothetical child – filled with fulfillment and personal success. If that’s considered selfish, then I would encourage all of you to be as ish with your self as possible.
“You don’t know what love is until you have a child.” Hoo boy. This one. The answer to this one is always, “Yes, I do.”
But let’s dig a little deeper. For the sake of this argument, I think it’s probably necessary to separate love into two categories: conditional and unconditional.
Conditional love is the type of love between spouses, friends, etc. You are attracted to and continue to maintain relationships with people whose traits you enjoy and whose existences enhance your life. If they stop being a certain way or commit murder, you’re perfectly in your right to stop loving them and not visit them in prison. Or you can still love them and try to bust them out of prison. Whatever you want! The point is that feelings can and will change with conditional love. It is, to some degree, a choice.
Unconditional love, then, is the result of biological imperative, and is usually only found within parent-child or other familial relationships. This is the one where mothers and fathers of little hellions who throw sand in other children’s eyes turn to you and say, “Isn’t he cute?” This is the love that may vary in degree, but it is fairly steadfast. Some Parents do not or cannot give their children this type of love. But many children do receive the benefit of having unconditional love from their parent(s), and many children, though they may not know it, love their parent(s) back with the same ferocity and need.
This latter type of love is the one that Parents bring up when they tell you that you’re missing out on the Greatest Love™. And honestly, though I never say this out loud, it makes me feel sad to know that for some, the love they’ve known up to the point of becoming a parent does not measure up.
I have no doubt that if I ever have a child, I, too, will experience that kind of all-consuming love that is powerful and necessary in order not to kill the little Sleep Robber. But I hope I never dismiss, compare, or negate the love I’ve chosen up to that point. Because I really value the love I’ve chosen – i.e., the conditional love – as a powerful connector to those not related to me. That kind of love has had an impact on my life that I can’t really – and don’t want to – measure.
And I hope I never tell someone else what his or her subjective experience of love is.
The Childfree think Parents are lame. Stop using the word “lame,” firstly. Use “boring, sanctimonious sleep zombies whose strollers take up too much damn space,” OK? Anyway! No, I don’t think this. I promise. I admire Parents and the energy it takes to nurture another human being.
It’s true that when your friends have kids, your relationship may change – and sometimes, not always for the better. Your friends will have less time, and maybe even less interest. The things that were important to her, to you, and to the both of you might shift. Your friendship is based on any number of shared similarities and attractions, and not based on children. Your relationship with her may require more patience when her child screams in the background on the phone, or when she can’t make that wine-and-cheese thingie you organized. You can decide if this is OK with you, and whether it’s worth continuing your friendship.
I’m lucky that none of my relationships with friends with kids have suffered or ended. They’ve changed, for sure. But everything I love about my friends is the same, only now what I love about them has expanded to include the others they love, like spouses and children.
I can’t speak for anyone else. But if anyone looks down upon my friends with kids, then they’re not friends of mine and I’ll write nasty things about them on bathroom stalls.
“You Don’t Know Because You’re Not A Parent!” Syndrome.
The answer to this one is: “I can imagine.”
Let’s play a game for a minute. Imagine that you’re a figure skater. You’re gliding on a pond, the cool breeze flowing through your hair. You do a spin, then an elegant glide into a double jump. Wow! You’re good. But suddenly, your skate catches a dip in the ice and you go down. Hard. You land on your hip area, and you feel the smack! reverberate throughout your entire leg. Uh oh. After the initial impact, you start to feel the cold seep into your leggings, and you sit there a bit, hoping the cold will help your hip. You try to stand. You’re wobbly, a little insecure, but no major damage has been done. You do some strokes, inching forward tentatively. You glide, letting yourself get comfortable again. It’s OK, you think. You’re going to be all right.
How was that? Did you have a good time? That was called using your imagination and having empathy.
Having children is the best thing you can do for humanity.
Here are some people who have not had children: Isaac Newton, Mother Teresa, Susan B. Anthony, Henry David Thoreau, Beethoven, George Washington, Leonardo Da Vinci, T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Gloria Steinem, and Dr. Seuss. (Yeah, Dr. FREAKIN’ Seuss.)
Here are some people who have had children: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Stephen Hawking, Shakespeare, Carl Sagan, Marie Curie, Mozart, Jonas Salk, Alice Walker, Albert Einstein.
What does this prove? Nothing, except: AWESOME PEOPLE WHO CONTRIBUTE TO SOCIETY SOMETIMES DO, AND SOMETIMES DO NOT, HAVE CHILDREN.
To summarize, as our fabulous Katie once said: “Shut up, everybody!”
No! Just kidding. Katie sagely wrote,
“Can’t we just agree to some marketing slogan like, “Kids! Have ‘em if you want ‘em!” and shut up about it? Then we can get back to being participants in our own lives on whatever path we’ve chosen without the time and energy wasted on judging and advising each other needlessly.”
(This is only one of many reasons why we’re friends. She knows what a smackdown should look like.)
We’re all entitled to be champions in our own lives. Live your life the way you want. Be good to your fellow human beings. Try to give more than you take, knowing you can never offset your own existence. Be happy. Have children. Or don’t.
And the winner is… everybody.