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.


GottabeMe said...

GREAT list!

Maybe your friend meant that the list was meant for parents interacting with kids who aren'thier kids?

Stasha said...

My friend and I actually had a talk about it back when she initially made her list, and she acknowledged that it was toward both her grandparents and at friend who didn't have kids.

Apparently, she believes that when you say "I don't know how you do it" you're saying that her kids are so impossible, so awful, that you can't even imagine caring for them. I know I am guilty of using that phrase, especially when she has a trying day, and getting her to realize that there wasn't an ounce of judgment on her kids was really, really difficult.

Ashley the Historian said...

Awesome post. And I love your point about not trying to convince the childed that they made the wrong decision. It's all too easy to slip a little "Oh, I just love sleeping in on weekends/not having to spend my Saturdays at soccer games/having time to pursue an expensive or involved hobby/eating gourmet food in a peaceful setting/other childfree pleasure" into a snide conversation with a self-satisfied breeder.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully and elegantly put! Well said. Bravo!


Anonymous said...

I really like number 5 the most. You hit the nail on the head entirely.

Anonymous said...

I am going to print this out and post it in an easy to see spot in my house and when one of the points come up I'm going to just say "please see # 5- end of discussion." I'm been reading your blog forever and you are great. Sometimes it's like reading my own thoughts. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

"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."

YES! That, RIGHT THERE, is what I don't understand how people can't comprehend. Everyone should have the right to choose how to live their life, regardless of whether that choice involves offspring.

Excellent post! I found this site this evening and have been reading for quite a while now. Great stuff!

Anonymous said...

Great post! I really hope that you keep updating your blog. It's refreshing to see this since I always have to deal with being judged for my choice, but having to hold my tongue in the interest of avoiding conflict. Your blog makes me think that maybe sometimes it's worth standing up for my choice.

Anonymous said...

When I say 'I don't know how you do it' to my friend, I mean that it looks exhausting and I'm impressed she managed to even put mascara on. Or was that just cuz I was coming over? idk

I mean, I don't know how you do it without having anxiety attacks and needing an antidepressant.

Cuz I'm sure I'd handle it poorly.

I don't mean it as an insult. I'm just saying that I recognize all the drudgery and hard work involved.