Thursday, January 08, 2015

Semantics

This is a letter I've decided not to send, and it breaks my heart that I've decided it's just not worth sending. Once again, the same couple friends got into a semantic discussion about the word "childfree" and how, in their eyes, it means something inherently negative. They said they view people who define themselves by the "lack" of something with suspicion, but were quick to point out that this didn't include their friends "who happen to not have children and don't plan to."  But we've talked about this before. I've tried to reach them. This was going to be my attempt to do it again, but I've decided that maybe it's better left unsent. If I have to explain myself to this degree when someone hurts me, then maybe I don't need them in my life.


Do you have anything in your life that you have to hide from everyone you meet? Do you have to decide whether you trust a person enough to tell them a basic fact about your life? Do you have a topic you avoid, or that you bring up hesitantly with friends to see if they’ll still like you if you talk openly about it? Are you closeted about anything? Because I feel like I have to “come out” to everyone I meet and dread new introductions because I never know if they’re going to accept me, lecture me, or insult me.

Just yesterday I was trapped in an hour-long ride with a driver who chose that time to answer my response of “I have no children” with an hour-long lecture about how I’m living my life wrong. Then I got to the airport and saw your post. This is a normal day for me. It happens with 80%, maybe more, of new people that learn I’m 37 with no children. I’ve literally been asked to explain myself every day this week to new people who asked the question. The response is rarely casual. “Oh, I have 2 kids myself.” “Oh, do you have pets?” That’s what I’d love to hear. It’s usually met with pity, incredulousness, or demands that I defend myself. I don’t bring this up to people. They bring it to me.

I don’t mind people asking the question or assuming I have kids. It’s the norm for people my age and I don’t take offense to the assumption, or to that being the automatic “nice to meet you” question (though I wish it weren’t). But I would never dream of lecturing someone about how they’re doomed to regret their life choices, yet it’s okay for people to say it to me, and they do. They do ALL THE TIME. You guys don’t do that, and I applaud you for that. But this is a daily occurrence. The same people who would never condemn someone based on their religion, or their sexuality or choice in life partner will immediately launch into a diatribe at me. Complete strangers delve into my personal life. Workplace harassment on this issue — THAT I AM NEVER THE ONE TO BRING UP — is a big part of the reason I went into business for myself.


This is why we seek a sense of community. This is why we want to define ourselves but what we *are* instead of what we are not. You see the word “childfree” as defining something we’re not. That’s the heart of the problem.


This is where your semantic argument always begins, but I am telling you that reducing this issue to semantics trivializes it. If we chose a different, more semantically neutral word, I think you’d still have a problem with us choosing to build an identity around being non-parents.

Similarly, saying that we just didn’t check off a box in life’s list relegates us to a permanent “other”ness. It’s not a lack of choice. Childfree is not a default state. I’m not “abstaining” from something. I’m actively living the life my body and brain tell me is right for me, and yes, I want there to be a word for what I am. I need it.


Because it is an identity. I don’t need it to be a central part of my identity. People who question me and insist I explain myself make it so it has to be. Do you think LGBT people want to be defined by that label? Of course not. This is the same. And yes, I just made the connection. I believe very strongly that I was born this way. I have never felt the deep biological need to be a parent. Ever since I was a child who didn’t like playing with dolls, or a teen who never saw “have kids” on my life’s to-do list, before I had a word to define it, it’s who I’ve been. The only *choice* I’ve made is to trust my body and my brain and go against people who’ve incessantly insisted that I’d change my mind. The only reason that doesn’t happen anymore is that I’m too old. Now the narrative from complete strangers is that I’m doomed to an unfulfilled life full of regret.

I’m so much more than being childfree, but it is something that I have to be at my core. Otherwise I could never deal with people scrutinizing me, shaming me, dooming me. I would LOVE for the “do you have kids” question to just end at my answer and not be a THING. But it so rarely does, and it becomes how people define me. So, we adapt. We make it a point of pride instead of shame.


I understand you feel that your prejudices against people who identify as childfree don’t apply to us. I know that even though you don’t understand it yourselves, your hearts aren’t hateful to the idea that we don’t want to be parents. But you’re obsessing over semantics while we’re telling you that this is not a hateful word, and it’s part of our identity. It is the word we choose. Why isn’t that enough?

I realize I’m ending on a question, but it’s for you to answer for yourselves. 



16 comments:

dubliner in Deutschland said...

Wow, well said. People can be so insensitive sometimes

J.O. Raber said...

Hello Stasha,
I'm sorry to learn that you encounter so many rude people. No doubt, many of them are jealous of your freedom.

I have authored a book, Famous But No Children, and have just created a blog for this that I wish to bring to your attention, but I also want to post these comments for you and your readers regarding the childfree issue:

From Ch.2
An author's book is often referred to as his "brainchild." Creative people have that 'inner child' that often replaces a need for a biological child. Is it possible then that a biological child is often a substitute for creative self-expression?

From Ch.3
To say that childbearing is a woman's greatest achievement is an extraordinarily sexist remark. How many people would say that Mozart's greatest achievement was siring children?

From Ch.3
Parents may desire to control the lives of their children, but it is the children who control the lives of their parents.

From Ch.7
We hear from those who oppose abortion-on-demand, but it's time we here from those who oppose babies-on-demand. It's time to look beyond the smoke screens of religious conditioning and take a look at what's happening here on earth. A prerequisite of moral behavior is to take personal responsibility for an eco-friendly planet. To harm the planet is to vandalize the home of all living things we know; and overpopulation is certainly doing just that.

From Ch.9
The human population of earth roughly quadrupled in the twentieth century. And today [2014] there are over a billion more people on this planet than at the start of the twenty-first century. That’s over a billion more births than the number of deaths during this same period. A more intelligent species would surely wonder why we do this to ourselves. Intelligent members of our own species are wondering the same thing.
J.O. Raber,
http://joraber33.blogspot.com/

Jen said...

Great post, Stasha. It's wonderful to see you're back! I'm a 19 year old early articulator and your blog has been really helpful. It's nice to find someone so open-minded about being childfree.

Tanya said...

I hope it felt somewhat better for you after writing that and from having some time since your friends upset you.

The things you've written will help articulate ideas for people reading your blog, and that is the positive point I'll take from your post.

Have you considered saying (again from the sounds of it) that having to justify your choices against societal/biological norms repeatedly is exhausting. It is nice to have a word you can use and you'd like to be able to use that word without the judgement of your friends.

People just seem to struggle with people who live their lives different to their own, and different to the societal norms.

I've found that most of my friends become supportive (or pretend to be supportive - which works for me!) once they've had their 30 minutes of Q&A with me. They just have to check I won't regret my decision :). Love that one.

Thanks again for the post.

Olivia Kirkbright said...

Hi,

I have also battled against this. I found it particularly difficult when my brother's partner had a baby and people started comparing me to her. The most upsetting thing was that people seemed to automatically assume that, just because I am not a parent, this must mean that I am selfish and uncaring. I found that, for many people, the word "childfree" was a synonym for a deeply selfish person with no interest in helping or caring for anyone else. We seem to live in a culture that still reveres parents over and above everyone else. Motherhood is still viewed as being the ultimate way that a women expresses her worth and femininity. Any woman who actively goes against this norm my declaring that she doesn't wish to be a mother is viewed with suspicion, especially if she does not change her mind after a lengthily tirade about how being a parent is the most important job in the world. There seems to be no recognition of the fact that people can be caring and make a genuine difference to the world around them without having children.

Sorry about the tirade. I very much enjoyed your post :)

Anonymous said...

The solution to people asking you about having children or not, tell them you don't want to engage in a conversation on this topic. Just change the subject.

Kawshiki Nasser said...

the other day i told a woman who asked that i had never wanted children of my own, though now i engaged to a man with 2 children from a previous relationship. she was so stunned, i figured i may as well confound her a little more and so i said, i am too selfish to have children of my own, to which she then kindly replied, "but you are now caring for 2 who are not your own". i was too amused to set her straight.

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Anonymous said...

I would opine that if someone thinks it is selfish not to have kids then they probably shouldn't have had them. I hope the majority of people with children derive great joy from them. Since when is it selfish not to shower yourself with blessings. I love kids, I throughly enjoy talking to them. We are all lonely, happy, depressed, euphoric, angry and the whole gamit of emotions from time to time. I would hope that the percentage of people who have regrets about the truly big decisions in life is low. I suspect the percentage of people who regret big decisions in life is about the same for all sectors of people. I have no regrets regarding my choice as to have kids or not have them. I think kids are great, but I never wanted any. I don't remember it as a decision. I also don't remember making a decision not to become a mechanic yet I'm not a mechanic. And I have no regrets over not being a mechanic; never really thought about it to tell the truth.

Anonymous said...

Bingo, some people are just pompous asses, but they are amusing.

Lady MacGyver said...

I'm sure you've heard it said before, but what is MORE selfish than wanting to create a child with your own genes when there are so many in the world orphaned or without adequate care? This applies to IVF people particularly.

Just know that there are others who absolutely feel the way you do. I am reading and I am thinking of you x

Lynn Taylor said...

It's nearly your 10 year anniversary of your first post on here. I really hope we hear from you soon.

CMartell said...

Powerful, thank you for sharing!

:-D Bubble Bee said...

I agree it is exhasuting to keep explaining/justifying your stance to others (often complete strangers); I sometimes tell them I have 15 reasons not to have children and about 3 to have them. I feel lucky, however that I have chosen this way of life (I'm tempted to find out if I'm fertile just so I can ditch birth control :0)), as others have had the choice made for them...

It's also lonely as we are, sadly, in the minority. When all I can see is that it makes sense! My husband and I have an amazing life; a 2-seater car, a fur-baby kitty and are making our way around the world at our own pace.

Stay strong and surround yourself with people who make you feel good :0)

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