Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Rules (repost)

Originally posted in 2006, I felt this one was worth bringing back. I've added a few more that have come up over the years as well.
A Mom friend recently posted a list in her journal about non-parent etiquette toward other people's kids after an unfortunate confrontation with her mother and little brother who recently moved down the street from them after living hours away, causing all sorts of boundary issues. What got me, though, was that while it was designed toward her parents, she said it was for non-parents. I found this interesting, but I can't tell her that.

So instead, I'm going to express my irritation in this journal by posting a list of my own:

or, "Things you cannot say to me if I can't tell you 'I don't know how you do it' without you getting bent out of shape and thinking I'm insulting you."

1. "You don't know what life is until you have children." Also, "life isn't worth living without children," and "children are the reason we're all here." You're not doing anything but insulting me, telling me my life is worthless. Do you know how it feels to be told your life is worthless? We are happy, we are happy with each other and in our lives.

2. "You don't know what LOVE is until you have children." or "You can't appreciate your parents until you have children." This has been said to me countless times, ironically by women in loveless marriages to men with whom they no longer have anything in common. I know what love is dammit. I'm in it and I've been in it for five years. Another favorite, when people see my husband and I being cutesy and lovey: "Oh, that won't last. Wait 'til you have kids." Not a chance in hell.

3. "I didn't think I wanted kids either, until I had my own." I think I speak for much of the childfree community when I say that we believe that if you don't want kids, you have no business having them. It is irresponsible to risk that you might not like it once you have the children, and it's unfair to the children. Not every woman can be a mom. Not every woman wants to be a mom. Deal with it. Oh, and ditto on "it's different when they're you're own kids."

4. "I used to hate kids too." In many cases, we don't hate kids. We may have a lower tolerance for their habits than the parents who deal with the quirks, noises and behaviors day in and day out. But by and large, we don't hate your children. It's time people see this for the passive-aggressive jab that it is.

5. "Isn't that kind of selfish?" The ridiculousness of this statement has been handled countless times. Is it selfish to crave a baby of your own flesh and blood that you'll pay thousands upon thousands of dollars while there are countless children who do not have good homes? Is it selfish to bring a baby into a relationship as a means of saving it just because you want a kid and fear this is your only shot? I've known people who've made these decisions and I would never dare insinuate this to them unprovoked, yet people find it appropriate to tell me that I'm being selfish because I don't think I'm well-suited to be a mom. And for gods sake please, lay off the guilt trips. And stop talking about how we're denying our parents grandchildren. I understand their desire for this, but their love should not be contingent upon our ability or desire to procreate.

6. "What about all the women who want children and can't?" I have great sympathy for women going through fertility problems, as far too many of my friends have, but it's not my fault. It has absolutely nothing to do with me. Having my own children won't help them get pregnant.

7. "You're going against God's plan!" This one is up there with the "why did you get married in the first place" commentary. I won't even go into all the reasons this is inappropriate, whatever religion you subscribe to.

8. "But you'd have such beautiful/smart/creative kids!" "You're doing a disservice by NOT procreating!" Children are not an accessory. I won't even go into how this cuts into the "selfish" argument. This is a topic that can be safe if handled correctly (especially since it's often meant as a big compliment) but please tread lightly.

9. "The divorce rate is higher for people without children." Before saying this, consider whether a couple who stays together is always happy. How many of these couples are staying together, miserably, simply BECAUSE of the children. I can think of several couples in my life who, tragically, would be much happier apart and pursuing their separate lives, but choose to stay together for the kids. Some have actually said to me "if it weren't for the kid(s), I'd never have put up with this crap for so long."

10. As a general rule, if it would be considered inappropriate for me to ask you the same question rephrased to judge your choice to become a parent, it's probably rude to say it to me. In a nutshell, comments like "you'll change your mind", "you'll regret it later", and "you don't know what you're missing" are also off-limits. And remember, "who's going to take care of you when you're older" can easily be turned into "what if your kid is a giant fuck-up who can't take care of you when you're older?"

Ask me questions, be open-minded, open a dialogue with me. I want to talk about it with you, to help you understand my side of the story. Some of the above topics, if in the right context as a dialogue and not a lecture, are even okay. But if you enter that conversation with the intention of changing my mind or convincing me that I'm making a horrible mistake, we'll never get anywhere. Understand that this is horribly disrespectful to me. This is a decision that in many ways has not been easy. I realize that I'm exchanging one set of life experiences for another. But I can't have both, and I choose this life.

In return I promise to never try to convince you that having children was the wrong decision, that you made a huge mistake, or that one day you'll end up regretting your life and wishing you could go back in time and do it over without the kids. I promise not to flaunt my lifestyle to you in a way that says "look what you're missing out on!" I promise not to badger you about why you're choosing to have only one child, or why you're adding a third to your family. I promise never to talk about overpopulation in a way that makes you a scapegoat, and I promise not to presume to you that I know how to raise your kids better than you do.

We both reserve the right to quietly have our own prejudices and understand that we just need to agree to disagree on this matter. We are free to our own opinions, in your blog, in my blog, in conversations with others like us, our safe havens. But to each other, we must be respectful of each other's choices. We must not take each other's choices as a personal affront to our own lifestyles. It's only fair.

Open a dialogue. Don't lecture. Don't judge.

That's all I ask.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Bad Mom

I take terrible care of my animals.
There, I said it.

Oh, it's not that bad. They're not ill, unclean, or unhappy. Maybe I don't clean the cat's box as often as I should. Maybe I procrastinate on cleaning the fishtank because, well, he's a betta and bettas don't care anyway. Maybe I forget to change the cat's water or decide that it's clean "enough", or I neglect to cut the cat's claws because it's a pain in the ass. I'm a lazy mom, it's true.

I also shove the cat off me when it's inconvenient, get so annoyed I lock the cat out of the room and let him whine.

Where on EARTH do people get the idea that I'd be a great mom? Maybe it comes from being a highly sensitive person (HSP), but I get SO irritated at little things. The cat meowing incessantly when he wants something HIS WAY, or finding the time to clean the catbox and gods forbid the fishtank. My nephews irritate me to the point that I'm not sure I like them much at all, and even my beloved niece grates on my nerves after not much time.

I've probably talked about this before, but it was on my mind today as I contemplated the neglected postcard from the vet's office that says the cat was due for his checkup like 3 months ago. Even if my body got to the point where it wanted to convince my brain to have a baby, I know that it is not something that I would be suited to, and that's ok.

I would be a miserable mother. Not just neglecting the child so I could watch my tv shows, play on the computer, snuggle alone with my husband or even cook a healthy meal or work out. I would simply be miserable, the mother that begs silently for her life back day after day.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Just Say No

After much discussion, my husband and I decided against offering a up a room in our hypothetical house to our friends. While the extra money is extremely appealing, the extra stress is not.

We grew out of having a roommate a long time ago, and anything other than a short-term arrangement is just not reasonable. We're not having kids because we love our privacy, our intimacy, our marriage. Adding a person in there competing constantly for space, attention, resources, affection even.... it's just not okay.

So for now the house is on hold. We're going to remain hopeful that I find a new job before this house is off the market, but until we can afford this house without any other help, we simply can't move. It kind of breaks my heart, but I know we're making the right decision.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Borrowing a Teenager

In the midst of my employment uncertainty, my husband and I are looking to buy a home. The market just outside Chicago proper, where we live, has taken a nosedive and we want to get in while the prices are low. The affordability of these homes is still a little questionable while my husband is a full-time student, so we've considered taking a roommate. The roommate would probably be one of two friends of ours, both extremely similar. Both are in their late 20s but look much younger, are a bit stunted socially and have obsessions with anime (one far worse than the other).

My husband and I talked about what it would mean if we rented out one of the bedrooms (there are three and a half bedrooms in the place -- the half room, the "nursery", is poised to be a workout room if we get this house. We listed the potential issues. Friends would come over that we may or may not like, we'd have to share the kitchen, the rec room, etc. We think we'd be okay with that, but there's the reality of this: If she was paying rent, she would no longer be a "guest" in our home. It would be her home too. And that implies a level of control over the place that's potentially unsettling.

And then we realized that having one of these friends move in with us would basically be like having a teenager, albeit one that brought money INTO the home instead of siphoning it out. But the money isn't the big deal here. It's the omnipresence.

We've had friends live with us for up to a month at a time (Christi, one of these girls stayed with us for nearly a month early last year). It was mostly fine, but we never felt like ourselves. We're very cute, very cuddly in the kinds of ways you don't share with friends. And sex? Hello awkward!! We just could not get comfortable to the point where we could be intimate, sexually or otherwise, with another person there.

It would seriously be like having a teenager.
Except for when Christi got a boyfriend and brought him home. When she lived with us and brought her MUCH younger boyfriend home (which seems to be the trend among the anime girls we know), he treated us like we were her parents. It was the weirdest thing ever. Then I think wow, her friends are almost ALL in their very early 20s, if that. We are ANCIENT to them, and I'm not sure I can tolerate their immaturity in my home.

And then it stops seeming like it would be worth it, even if it would make or break the deal of us getting this particular home, which is pretty much our dreamhouse.

I look at this in contrast with some other other stuff I'm feeling lately and it messes with my head.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Fresh Starts

It's interesting to hear people in different phases of their lives talk about how the layoffs at my company are affecting them. We're in the sort of unique situation of knowing our fate months in advance, so the place is abuzz with networking, sharing of strategies, wishing of luck. It's a fascinating dynamic.

My situation is this: My husband is in college as a full-time student, due to graduate in June of 2009. We can't afford for him to have a setback -- he needs to finish. So I need to make enough money to support us both. I'm fortunate to have followed a fairly straight career path, have marketable skills, great references and, perhaps most importantly, a good idea of where I want to go and what I want to do.

A group of younger people here, in their early 20s, were talking today in the lunchroom about moving someplace exciting. They're going to couch-surf with friends in San Francisco, in New Orleans, in Tampa, and they're going to start building a life down there. Many people are exploring what they want to do with their lives, if they are secure in their careers or whether they want to change careers. What's most interesting to me about this whole layoff is that while there's so much variety in everyone's personal story, the parents seem to all be doing the same things.

1. Reluctantly preparing to move their families from Chicago to rural Wisconsin, where the office is moving and complaining that they're not going to be able to sell their homes in this market.
2. Reluctantly pleading with other branches of the company in the area to take them in while complaining at what a crap company it is and wishing they had more options.

Even though I'm the breadwinner right now, I have a great deal of options. If I can't find a new job, we can downsize. We can move to different areas of the city, we can eventually leave the city if it comes down to it. I can take a lower-paying job if I must and still only have to worry about feeding and clothing the two of us. Of course I feel pressure and often more than a little scared at the uncertainty of the situation, but I'm nowhere near as scared as those who are the sole breadwinner for a partner AND kids.

It's in the eyes of these people -- moreso than the single people with no second income, moreso than my gay coworkers whose partners rely on the domestic partner insurance offered by my company, and moreso than the women who are just a couple years short of retirement and probably won't find another similar job -- that I see fear, and that makes me sad. It also makes me feel fortunate.

Financial stability is a big motivator in our decision not to have children. I know the reason we're going to be okay with this layoff has little if anything to do with our parenting status. But watching the way in which the parents I work with deal with the situation as opposed to those of us who have different circumstances has intrigued me this week.