news item: “Child-Blessed vs. Child-Less”

I live in Portland.  Yes.  Portlandia Portland.  And yes, it’s pretty much spot on.

Here in Portland there are two types of adults (at least the two most vocal types.)

  • The Child Free- OMG don’t you bring your child near me, I hate them, and you are ruining the world by over-populating it with selfish brats (which all children are.)
  • The Crunchy Mamas- OMG don’t bring up the idea of vaccinations, fluoride in the water or disposable diapers. I will feed my children all natural vegan foods, unless the eggs come from our free range backyard chicken and butter from our hormone free pet cow.  No. Seriously.  (I may have exaggerated about the cow, but the chicken is totally accurate.)

When I was younger, I vowed to not be that parent… the one who loses touch with all their child-free friends.  Then I looked at my collection of Facebook friends (because obviously that is the best way to evaluate your real friends… right? /sarcasm.)  Now, I’m surrounded by couples whose child is the center of the universe, or people who just “don’t get” why anyone would have a child.

Somewhere along the line of evolution, women have been led to believe they haven’t achieved their full life’s potential without becoming a mother. We are made to breed, society says. This leads to the clash of beliefs here in Portland, because the strong, independent women think children will diminish their value – or keep them from fulfilling their goals.  Women are asked to balance work and family and to do both amazingly well. An article Josey sent me titled “Childless people are full of sadness and regret’ is something that people that have children say” sang words of truth to me.

Did you hear that, ladies? If you’re really ambitious, you should have a career and children, and a successful life will mean mastering both! And if you don’t have children, well, you can expect that your Mommy friends will bail on you, and you’ll feel totally left out of the riveting conversations about lunch strategies, daycare, how to deal with sick children, and poop!

… Childlessness is a source of sadness and regret. Most of those 43 per cent will have gone through fertility hell, or never met the right guy, or left it too late, or have any number of unhappy stories.

Few would say: ‘I don’t want, and never wanted, children.’

The NYT posted an Article entitled “Can Parents Stay Friends with the Child-Free?”  says:

With fertility treatment widely available, not to mention adoption, even clinically infertile women have more options than ever to become mothers, which increases the possibility that any woman who doesn’t will be judged for her choice.

Which brings me to my question: Do we, as women who are also mothers, judge women who are not? And if we do, do we do it overtly or subconsciously — or just by excluding and including people in our lives based on proximity and similarity without realizing that the path of least resistance is one that, for a parent like me, includes mainly friends who are piloting similar family boats?

If by judgment you mean choosing who to hang out with at a cocktail party, then maybe we, or at least I, do judge. I have child-free friends, but I’m forced to admit that since being a parent became my primary non-work activity, more and more of the friends I’ve made have been parents as well — to the point that I can’t, at the moment, point to a real friend I’ve made within the last five years who doesn’t have children.

Among my friends is one solitary married girl who does not ever plan to have children.  Though she be young, and still might, I’ve never had an issue… nor questioned her desire not to, but she immediately started to explain why… with an extensive list.  When I asked her why she felt she needed to explain, she said “Most people, especially women, just don’t get why I wouldn’t want to.  I just… don’t want kids.”

One day I was at a friend’s daughter’s birthday party.  A single 20-something gal was chatting with some mutual friends.  I over heard her say “I just don’t get it.  It’s SO annoying when people put up so many photos on Facebook of their kids.  Usually it’s 10 photos of the kid doing the same thing, with a slightly different expression.  It’s obnoxious.”  (She then went into a lengthy diatribe about shoes and manicures, which I’m sure I found equally obnoxious.)  And though I promised never to talk about any fluids from my child’s body, nor share nude-y pictures of my son… I hate to admit it, but it’s true. Interestingly enough, a couple months later she became an aunt and posted OHSOMANY photos.  I overheard her later talking about and sharing multiple photos of her nephew… doing the same things, with slightly different expressions.  I may have smirked.  Just a little.

The NYT article goes on to say:

As a parent myself, I don’t read my tendency to gravitate toward fellow mothers as judgment — I read it as practical. Fellow parents are more likely to understand if I bail on dinner because of a sudden teacher conference, and their eyes are less likely to glaze over if my preoccupation at that dinner is more temper tantrums than, say, the right way to temper chocolate (which might once have held my interest for hours). In fact, I’d argue that it’s win-win.

As a full time SAHM (who works outside the house in the evenings) I have little to talk about other than my son, so it’s way easier to have complex conversations of interest with other parents.  They are more than happy to entertain my thoughts of toddler beds vs cribs… or hear my latest rant about nap-time roulette.

The author suspects that the “child-blessed” judge the “childless” about their choices. My response would be that those who are childless *by choice* are having far too much fun running around unencumbered by the demands of children that they hardly care if they’re excluded from “cultural conversation” about the choice they’ve made.

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What do you think?  Do YOU have a lot of child-less friends? Does infertility factor into any of your thoughts on this issue?

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Julia, formerly a molder of young minds, has briefly stepped away from that task to manufacture a child of her own. Along with the standard baby accessories such as hands and lips, she is planning on installing chrome side-pipes, rollbars, and a bitchin’ spoiler. She is fending off accusations that Jesse James is the true father.

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Comments

  1. I still have quite a few child-less friends but just one, my best friend, who has stated for years that she does not want children. I am completely fine with that, of course, but there have definitely been times where I have had to stop myself from questioning it because I have wanted to be a mother for soooo long and now that I am, I love it so much, so it is always a bit hard for me to jump right into the shoes of someone who feels so differently. I am not saying at all that I don’t think it is perfectly fine and normal.. I am just saying I struggle to know how that must feel.. to really not want kids. All that said, this one friend is actually very understanding about ‘parent / kid’ things. We live far apart now but send messages/emails every single day and talk about everything… work, weather, food, and yep, kids and she is totally cool with it because she is totally cool… whereas I have some other friends who are child-less but plan to have children later who aren’t as understanding and don’t get how tough it is to go out and do things the same way we used to. Okay, none of this really has a point but I did want to comment because I think it is interesting and having my best friend in this situation, I feel like I can relate! 🙂

    • I know my life is so enriched by my son, but who’s to say that a child-free family isn’t equally enriched by spending time just on their marriage, or adventures. I don’t get it… especially since I had to do so much to have my son. Why wouldn’t a healthy uterus scream I WANT A KID??? 🙂

      But seriously, good for them. I’d rather have people know they don’t want to be parents, than not be willing parents.

  2. My friend group is a good mix of parents, child-free by choice, and as-of-yet-undecided folks. For the most part, there’s little pressure one way or the other (though once you have a kid, the passive and gentle pressure to have more is certainly there). For our friends struggling with infertility, both the child-free and child-blessed people cheer them on. It’s a nice demonstration of how people can be from different mindsets, but still be supportive, and with a low drama-factor to it all.

  3. Oooh, interesting! I have probably not made any new childfree friends since we had kids…it isn’t intentional, I just gravitate to people in a similar lifestyle I think. We do have a couple childfree friends from our childfree days…I don’t think it is entirely by choice, so I try to be sensitive about it but donnt want to be patronizing either. It really is a huge thing now, this having or not having kids.

  4. I think we have a good mix too. I try my best not to talk to much about Ava with my best friend who is child-free. I try to have her talk more than me when we get together for our coffee time. For me, it is nice to see the other side of the fence. I think it makes me more thankful for having my family vs. the single life. However, we are noticing that we are considered part of the ‘old’ people because we do not want to have the big drunkenfest gatherings anymore, at least not at this point in our lives. 6:30 am cames way too early after drinking all night! 🙂

    I think people are respectful of our decision and vice versa. I have do not feel we have lost friends because of having a child. I also haven’t made too many friends that are childfree lately. I think people that make the same decisions seem to gravitate to each other. There is nothing wrong with it, just human nature.

  5. Esperanza says:

    My sister is only 26 but is sure she doesn’t want to have kids. And frankly, I doubt she will (thought everyone tells her she’ll change her mind, which must be kind of infuriating). I have to admit, that despite ALWAYS wanting to have kids, I can understand that people don’t want to. Having kids is HARD and it requires a lot of sacrifice. I can definitely understand that some people just don’t want to center their lives around another human being.

    I still have quite a few friends that don’t have children yet. Some thing they may some day, some aren’t sure, some really don’t think they will. None of them live close to me anymore so I don’t see them much. When we do get together, we talk about everything, and I’ll mentioned my life as a mother, because it’s kind of impossible not to. But I don’t talk about it too much with them. I kind of like talking about other things, or just listening to other people talk about other things. But maybe I’m in the minority on that. 😉

  6. I have a couple but not by choice not circumstance and haven’t met the right person. IF changed a lot about me so I try hard not to post on fb about Molly apart from some photos every now and then. Sometimes I go crazy and post a few in a week but I’m always conscious that people don’t always want to hear about babies. But now when I’m when friends with child I quite happily morph into a total fertile and talk babies but I still try to have other things that define me. I don’t understand why someone would choose not to have children by choice but I do respect it. Some people just don’t want to I suppose.

  7. My DH has a friend who is not going to have children. When we were going through infertility, I think they thought we might decide to live child-free. I feel judged by THEM because I didn’t automatically shoot rainbows out my ass when I became a mom. It’s a rift in the friendship that I don’t think will heal and even DH is hardly hanging out with the guy now. We were the last ones to have kids and their comments turned to “We have to find new friends now”. It sucked.

    Personally, I don’t ask the question and I try really hard not to judge silently. Just because I’m an open book in regards to infertility doesn’t mean others are and I don’t want to cause anyone pain because I’m trying to make small talk.

    And…I agree that it’s practical to gravitate towards other parents and to lose friends who don’t have children. It’s a normal ebb and flow of people in and out of your inner circle to lose the ones you don’t have much in common with anymore. (or so I tell myself)

  8. I have a few friends (old friends, pre-child friends) who don’t yet have kids. They would like to but life hasn’t afforded them the opportunity yet (no, not infertility.) I also have friends with kids. I feel more comfortable, for the most part, with my friends with kids. I too am a SAHM now, and my interests lie in that direction. That being said, I don’t ever want to be just seen as a mom, I want to have my own interests, goals, etc.. And my childless friends do keep me from just staying in mom-dom. I only have one friend, currently, who never wants to have kids and we don’t hang out a super lot but we never did. It’s cool, I would rather people who didn’t want them didn’t have them!

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