Do I really need to be afraid to admit that I find my childhood best friend’s baby super adorable? Must I feel like I’m breaking some sort of code when I want to squish her enormous cheeks (she gets them from Mommy) or rub her soft little head, when I want to love her completely?
People seem to have a hard time parsing the fact that I adore the babies and kids that I care about (as opposed to the complete lack of anything for the babies of strangers, much like my feeling about people I pass on the street on the walk to work) with the fact that I don’t want kids of my own. “Childfree” is inextricably connected to “child-hating”, and there seems to be this impression (whether intentional or subconscious) that my affection for their kids MUST mean that this whole childfree thing is just a rouse, a plea for attention, trying to be cool. Because the alternative is that I really do dislike their kids and am just putting on an act for them.
Am I being melodramatic? When I’m with these kids, I feel this haze of skeptic energy. It could all be in my head, I’ll admit that, but it’s what I feel nonetheless. I feel it when my best friend over-apologizes for her kids’ clinginess, or their desire for attention, or even their annoying little habits. I feel it when I’m making goofy faces or interacting with another’s new baby, coming from over my shoulder. The halfhearted “oh, you don’t have to”s, the occasionally patronizing glances when I say I can watch the kid(s) for a few while they get something done or whathaveyou.
What causes this? Is it because their child’s inability to convince me to be a mom somehow a negative reflection on the kid’s inherent adorableness? Is it because they are so overwhelmed they can see why I might choose NOT to go the mom route and they’re overcompensating with “see? See how great being a mom is?!!!?!!” Is it self-conscious on her end because she believes I think less of her now that she’s a mother? Is it just me being neurotic, pure and simple? It’s a mystery.
It reminds me of a tale a friend who dealt with infertility told about her fear of holding the babies of women who knew she was having problems. She felt all the eyes on her when she held the baby, as if the moms were watching to see if a look of hunger, desire, jealousy came over her, proof that her motivation was suspect, that her desire to hold the baby was pure selfishness. I feel like I’m being watched to see if they can catch the secret look of disgust or horror, the moment my smile breaks and my REAL feelings about their baby come rushing past so they can say “I knew it! You really DON’T love my baby!” I don’t know how to get past this.
Part of the joy of being childfree is the no-strings-attached enjoyment of the kids in our lives. It’s like there’s this cloud hanging over every interaction, though, a self-consciousness on my part, perceived or actual judgment on theirs. It’s a combination of both, surely, and I just wish it was an accepted thing, that those who don’t want to raise children of their own might actually still like the kids in our life. I don’t want my motives to be suspect.