Monday, December 09, 2013

Talking About Identity

I spent much of the weekend with girlfriends who are moms, but among the more understanding moms I know. That's why it was so weird to me when, during a conversation about female characters in literature and film, I froze when my friend asked me this:

If a character was more like you, what would she be like?

I froze. Like an idiot I froze. The real answer? I don't have a maternal instinct. I don't see children in my future, and that changes what a love story looks like. It's something that's never addressed.

I gave that answer, but was surprised to hear her give one of the stock mom responses: "I didn't think I could do it either."

It was hard not to just sigh, but the conversation sort of stalled awkwardly there.

But this isn't about what she said. It's about how I felt. I felt uncomfortable, guarded, scared of offending her like I'd offended so many mom friends in the past. It's always easiest when it doesn't come up in conversation, or if I start discussing my niece or goddaughter to bring myself back into a conversation that's left me behind to talk about children and child development.

I was scared. And what happened was exactly what I worried would happen. Things got awkward, the conversation died.

Being childfree is a huge part of my identity, and I've learned over the years that it really bothers a lot of parents, including super liberal, supportive friends. "I don't understand why you have to call it something," one father of a toddler says in reaction to someone's post that mentions childfreedom. "I don't get why it has to be a thing when it's the absence of something."

But that reminds me of the people who squirm uncomfortably when a celebrity comes out as gay and says "why do they need to tell me that? I don't want to know that."  Because it's a part of who we are, and it's something that heavily influences life every day.

Others look at those of us who do talk openly about our decision and accuse us for overcompensating. This is another variation of "why are you telling me this when it makes me uncomfortable," as far as I can tell, and that bothers me. It says "keep quiet, you're making too big of a deal about this", and it invalidates my feelings.

But it's hard to open up to parents who are friends, especially after feeling a lot of judgment and hurt in the past. Immediately followed by "I didn't think I could do it either" was a flashing and shrieking alarm that said "this is not a safe place." That's a really unpleasant thing to feel when you're with someone you care about deeply. And that's why we clam up, why we don't speak up.

How do you talk to your parent friends? Do you have this problem, when you can get along well as long as the childfree issue doesn't come up but conversation comes to a huge halt when it becomes more than a surface comment or two?


Olimpia said...

I've also learned to just avoid bringing it up if possible. One of my best friends has two small sons and is a stay at home mom. That to me is my worst nightmare, but she lives and breathes for her lifestyle. Another friend I have is in the same boat, and while she gives me really great advice about life in general, it always includes something like "you have to get your masters out of the way now, because it's impossible to finish with children."

Being a little younger than them both I get that a lot, that I have to plan around the kids that I'll eventually have that will make MY dreams much harder to pursue. But what can you say? If you admit you don't want kids they either don't take me seriously or they think I'll outgrow it. And if I persist, the conversation shuts down, as now they're both personally offended.

It's a tough spot for us to be in, certainly. For whatever reason it's a personal stance that seems to be really offensive to people. So it's better not to say anything at all to keep friends.

Stasha said...

It sucks that is has to be that way, doesn't it? But as much as I'd like to be as open about my choice, about how it affects my feelings and the way I experience the world, I also know I make concessions with other things I believe in based on my company. Just as I can't talk religion or politics with some people, with some, this issue is off-limits. Even though I still believe they respect my decision and respect me, it still makes them uncomfortable. I save it for this blog, or for talking with my childfree friends.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad to see a new post from you. My very best friend just had a baby and I have been feeling in extra need of some support and wisdom from fellow childfree women. Not because I don't wish my friend had a baby - it is her life's dream to be a mother and I am so glad that she has realized it, plus I get to be a godmother again and have another child in my life to care about and love. But I've been feeing antsy because it really feels like now, I don't know *anybody* is 40, female, and childfree by choice, you know?

I'm blessed and lucky that my friends who are parents have never brought up this question to me, of why I don't have kids. My father has, but not my friends. My best friend (when I went to help her out with the baby for a week) said that my husband and I are "Hart to Hart," that carefree couple from the 80s television show who were also childfree. I thought that was so sweet - she chose to frame my choice to not have children as a real positive, offering up some positive fictional character role models for us, and in doing so she indicated she totally accepts my childfreedom.

But I wonder sometimes if *I* totally accept it. Not because I want kids, but because maybe I don't want to be so alone, the "only non-mom" among all of my friends. *sigh*

Otoh, my husband and I have a lot of fun with our friends who are not childfree-by-choice, but who are definitely childfree (because they are single, because they don't have kids *yet*), and with our gay guy friends who are childfree-by-choice (but aren't women, and so are less "analogous" to me I guess). So I am so lucky to have so many great friends around us, parents and non-parents, plenty of company whenever we want out, lots of love and laughter. But I cannot help feeling like, "I'm the only one - the only woman my age - who isn't choosing this path...."

Anonymous said...

Off the top, your blog is amazing! I am so glad I came across this blog. I am a young 26 year old married woman who has a career path under way and a loving supportive husband who also has his career path under way.

We both cant see our lives being flipped upside down by having kids. We are devoted to our own passions and we want to focus on them. In return, one of our passions is dogs. We have two of our own and we foster as well. My husband and I are both very happy with what we do and with the choice of being childfree.

I have lots of friends who are moms now and they tell me all the time that I am missing out. I dont know how I can be missing out if I never had a child to begin with. You only miss something if you initially had it. In return, they state that having a dog is more costly and harder than a kid. I highly highly beg to differ on that one. For the most part, my mom friends understand where I am coming from but I always feel this deep dark second thought in the back of my mind, specially when the topic is brought up.

Should I be doing this cause society says too? Should I have a child cause all my other single friends are now moms? Should I do this to fulfill a part of my husband that he once thought he'd have?

Then I read your blog. It reassured me that I am not alone. So I cant say Thank you enough for being brave enough to post such a controversial topic online. I know this topic can go either way and can get very heated.

Keep blogging as I will turn to your blog for reassurance!

Anonymous said...

I totally get what you mean. I've only said outloud three times in my life that I'm seriously thinking about never having kids, and two out of three times I was met with resistance that ended the conversation right there.

First time was with my best friend after she told me she was pregnant with her second kid:
Me: "I'm not sure I'm ever having children."
Her: (said reassuringly) "Oh don't worry! You WILL have kids someday!"
Me: (Confused silence...also a sense of dread)

Second time, with a coworker who was younger than me and not even a mom:
Me: "I'm researching parenting, and I'm thinking about never having children."
Her: (Looks deeply sad, then struggles for words) "But...they have...such cute noses."
Me: (Not sure how to respond...also trying not to laugh)

Finally, I had a talk with my mom:
Me: "(After rambling about money/stress related to child raising) and that's why I don't think I want to have kids."
Mom: "Good for you! I'm glad you're seriously thinking about what you want to do with your life. Most people never do that."
Me: "Really? That's good, cause...I was afraid you would be disappointed that I wouldn't give you grandchildren."
Mom: (Looks shocked) "No! You should only have children because you really WANT them! You should NEVER have children just to please other people!"

I guess one out of three is better than no support at all, right?XD

Anonymous said...

Most childfree people who spend endless amounts of time obsessing about that status, or various perceived slights received from people with children, seem to be clueless that they have a whole lot of emotional issues that are unaddressed and are in denial. Look, if you don't want kids, don't like kids, don't want to have them--fine! Live your own life, but why are folks such as yourself obsessed with something you claim not to care about? You could have written a blog post about whatever it is that actually interests you--your career, cooking, charity work, hobbies, politics etc.--but you chose to obsess about not having children.

Why is that?

I don't believe that Jesus Christ was our lord and savior but that doesn't force me to get into endless quarrels with those who do believe it, nor to feel offended by them.

Why don't you spend your time on something that actually interests you, rather than obsessing over what you think other people think of you based on something you claim not to care about?

Anonymous said...

I suspect your lord and savior wouldn't like to see you bullying people on Christmas, but Merry Christmas to you regardless. I suggest you familiarize yourself with the term "irony".

--Stasha, who can't figure out how to log in on my phone

The Blue Butterfly said...

Stasha, couldn't agree more. My husband and I are still on the fence about having children but what amazes me most is how some friends with kids act about our lifestyle choice. I've always been a caring friend and family member, I'm a good partner and have a great career. I'm amazing with children and enjoy being around them, but that doesn't have to mean I'm meant to have one of my own. Choosing a path other than children is not the same as an absence of something.

I think that as more women are open and honest about their life choices, we'll hopefully pave the way for future generations to choose between all their paths, not just particular ones that most people are comfortable with.

Love the blog!

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous with the three really funny conversations : you're mom is awesome :)

Anonymous said...

Oups! YOUR mom. Not you're lol

Anonymous said...

I just saw this and thought you would enjoy... :)

Anonymous said...

If a character was more like you, what would she look like?
What about Amelia Earhardt? Most romance stories end before the kids come along anyway.

Anonymous said...

"It sucks that is has to be that way, doesn't it? But as much as I'd like to be as open about my choice, about how it affects my feelings and the way I experience the world, I also know I make concessions with other things I believe in based on my company. Just as I can't talk religion or politics with some people, with some, this issue is off-limits. Even though I still believe they respect my decision and respect me, it still makes them uncomfortable. I save it for this blog, or for talking with my childfree friends."
You are right there are lots of subjects we feel passionate about that we limit in some social settings. I have to limit talk about organics and environmentalism at work because it really winds people up, such a seemingly harmless thing. It's fear of a challenge to the status quo, and I think that is very similar to what you are talking about, being Childfree in a world where the status quo is children. Another example of where we should learn to accommodate each other.

Anonymous said...

I have a friend with three kids. She loves being a mom. She has also thanked me for not being a mom. She notices people that are totally uninterested in being parents all the time and is glad there are people like me that realize we don't want to be parents before we have kids.
I also have two friends that didn't want kids, but got pregnant accidentally. They both tell me I was smart to be sterilized (love Essure!).
Everyone else depends on my relationship with them as to how I respond. I think now I'll just tell people, "So, if I don't like parenthood, are you offering to raise them?" or "If you could go back would you tell Andrea Yates, Susan Smith, Debra Downs, Casey Anthony, et. al. to have kids?"