Saturday, December 18, 2010

Childless by Choice? Really, I don't care.

This morning while procrastinating on the millions of tasks I have on my to do list, I came across this article at the Star. It's nothing I haven't read before from Childless by Choice authors. Kids are all out of control, parents are selfish, every parent they come across is astounded by the fact that they don't want kids, and people hate their cats. Let me address this one at a time.

Kids are all out of control. Bullshit! That's it. I call bullshit. Yeah, everyone has come across a kid melting down at the grocery store, restaurant, mall, school, park. Does that mean that they're out of control? No, it means they're tired, angry, frustrated, hungry. You can easily tell whether that kid is out of control based on what their parents are doing. Are they addressing it? Talking to the kid, hugging them, marching them out of the facility willingly or backpack style? But you know what? As someone who's ears are finely tuned to hearing meltdowns and someone who frequents places where parents and kids frequent, I don't hear that many meltdowns. I heard a newborn crying at the grocery store a couple weeks ago. Mom was wrapping up her purchases and heading out. See, parents who are addressing kids needs, are not letting kids out of control. If you're going to classify out of control by a child talking a little too loudly for your taste, well then I can't help you there. Some kids are quiet, some aren't. Some people are quiet, some aren't. Go to any trendy restaurant after work on a Friday and I will gladly point out patrons who are loudly putting my kids to shame.

I can count on my hands the grand total of kids I've seen out of control at a restaurant. One! I was appalled. I was pissed because Dearest and I were out in a rare opportunity without our kids and just wanted a meal and some conversation. This kid was screaming and the parents weren't doing a damn thing. (This wasn't a family restaurant) I actually said something to them to the effect of they need to take their little guy out to calm him down and stop disturbing everyone. So yes, there are out of control kids, however considering I've been at family restaurants for the past 5 years or so and have only encountered one, says a lot.

If you're upset about a child trying to get their parent's attention while you're trying to have a conversation, seriously? Deal. You can't have it both ways. Inattentive parents have out of control children, attentive parents do have the snafus, but they are monitored and extinguished as quickly and humanely as possible. I might tell my kids to stop interrupting. That works great for my particular 5 year old, not so great for my 3 year old. Age and impulse control isn't a myth and so your expectation that they should be perfect little beings, is going to be sorely disappointed at some point. But guess what? Most parents don't enjoy behaviour snafus. We're usually tired, mortified, frustrated and trying to quickly find a way to diffuse the situation ASAP. If I could snap my fingers and have perfectly behaved little kids, I'd do it. But I have to admit, it'd get a little Stepford-y and boring quick.

Again, it boils down to standards. Children have to be taught. Unfortunately they're not programmable machines that you can set to perfect. Occasionally, one of mine might speak a little too loudly or excitedly in a public place and they are automatically told to talk more quietly. If that offends you, sorry, can't be helped, but consider your meaning of out of control, because that ain't it.

Parents are selfish. Sure. While wiping my butt in my old age wasn't the reason why I had kids (it's that spare kidney or chunk of liver) I reckon it's more altruistic to adopt kids given that there are so many unwanted. But like many people, I chose to have my own. And like many people, I chose to take care of my own. I've worked for child protection agencies, I've donated in spades to children related causes, hospitals, education (and don't start whining about tax dollars going to education when you don't use it, because there are a million other things your tax dollars go to that do not benefit you directly). I teach my kids to care about the world. My oldest donates his piggy bank money regularly to needy causes. You'll find that while parents with larger families might be driving those Godawful minivans (guilty!) we are also whizzes at stretching a buck and lessening our economic and ecological footprint. I know it's hard to believe sometimes, but go ask a family with 3-5 kids on whether they buy tonnes of new clothes/toys/supplies for their younger children. There's a reason second hand clothing stores specifically for children make a rather tidy existence. Reusable bags are essential, as are containers, paper towel is too expensive, hell I even reuse storage bags for dry goods. Nothing is written in stone and there are checks and balances. Yeah I drive a minivan, but my inlaws who have no kids living at home drive an aging SUV for their trailer they use twice a year for two-four weeks which is way less efficient than my minivan. They use paper towel and my MIL insists on shrink wrapping everything from clothes to photos in those bags and then they are tossed. They easily go through as much as our family of five! I wish I could say they're the exception, but you very well know they are not.

The last point, be prepared for this. I have never come across a parent who gave a flying fig about whether someone else chooses to have kids or not. Really! I don't care, if you don't want kids, don't have them! I'm glad you've taken the time to think out your choice. It's an incredibly hard and demanding job, it's very fulfilling for me, but I can easily see how that wouldn't be the case for everyone. I understand the beauties of quiet alone time, probably far more than any Childless by Choice couple ever will! There are times I'd love to grab Dearest, pick up and travel somewhere warm sans my little entourage and I can't though we have the means, so it means when we do slip away for a weekend, that time is treasured. Sleeping in, sick days, a chance to read uninterrupted, all great and I can understand (easily!!!!) how people would want this. Believe me, any parent would and those who say they don't, are lying! I'm sure those astounded folks are out there, but I really, really, really do not think they are in any way near a majority. I've never come across any, and I come across a heck of a lot of parents. Because you know what? Parents are too freaking busy to care about your fertility choices, we have much better or pressing things to occupy our time with, trust me.

I gave my 5 year old the run down of the article and he said "That's not very happy about kids." While I'm sure many people don't care what he thinks, a lot of what children say can really be profound. Essentially, if you're going to look for the negative in everything, you're going to find it. You don't have to like kids, I'm not suggesting you start, but take your own opinion with a grain of salt. I don't like cilantro, hate it, loathe it. Am I ever going to find a redeeming quality about it? Not likely. Whereas with onions, it's something I've been opening up about. I can tolerate them in my food in small and finely diced doses. I'm not about to eat a hunk of one or even medium sized caramelized onions, which I'm told are wonderful, but I can see how they work great in some dishes.

So keep on your beaten path or not, I don't care, not maliciously not caring, but it's really a non issue for me. What I do care about is your generalizations and your interactions with me and my kids. If you're going to generalize about my kids, I'm going to be there contradicting you with the vehemence of a 3 year old. No, they're not angels, but they are pretty well behaved at least in public and if they're not, I'm the first one riding their behinds, so you can save your glances and tsks and chuffs for something else. Better yet, find a better use for your energy because while I'm my children's biggest fan, I'm also their biggest critic and will ride and fine tune them into super human beings come Hell or highwater. However just like me, you're going to have to be patient, because it's an art and like most great works of art, it's going to evolve, take shape, be corrected and most of all, take a few years.

And for the record, while I'm pretty allergic, I do quite like cats. Honest! And since I'm allergic, they loooove me and I will oblige them a tickle or pat despite my allergies. In fact this might surprise you, but most of my friends with kids, also have a cat or two or three hanging around as well.


frannyharp said...

Thank you Joy. As a parent who raised four boys, I can remember a couple of temper tantrums - but at least one of them was deliberate to see what I would do. And he found out, and never tried it again.

I didn't read the "Childless by Choice" article since I haven't seen the Star (better go read it), but I can say I'm glad this person didn't have kids - some people absolutely shouldn't have children.

There are at least two families in my current congregation who are NOT childless by choice. They have adopted and have all the same issues to deal with that biological parents do - including meltdowns. They have children by choice, knowing what they are taking on, and willing to do it.

Ms. Neurotic said...

Here, here!

Anonymous said...

I can say I have personally experienced significant criticism for my (and my spouse's) choice to be childfree. It largely seemed to be persons who, for reasons I still do not understand, viewed my choice as inherently a criticism of their own.

It has not happened since I moved to the Research Triangle area. This does fit with a theory that it seems to be more common in less the less urban areas. Since moving I have never been asked, "how many children do you [plan to] have?" while I was asked that multiple times when I lived in the Scranton area, not infrequently by someone who was a stranger I had just met moments earlier. For the record, this was the way any discussion of my choice ever began; it was not something I ever volunteered without being directly asked.

Anonymous said...

Funny how experiences can differ. I have had a rather nasty person suggest I divorce my wife "and find some young chickie" to have my babies. This was some very rude individual who I had just met.

As for that lame old saw about "who will be wiping my ass when I'm old" well I am a nurse and paramedic. Guess who is wiping the ass of so many elderly people abandoned by their children in nursing homes right now? Yup that would be me. I am currently in Emergency Room nursing and also in Emergency Medical Services. This is also the time of year - in my experience - when families tend to dump off grandma and grandpa in the ER and do their level best to get them admitted so they aren't around to be needy for the holidays. I've seen this cruel practice far to often. Yes kids sure do take care of you when you are old.

In regards to you were a kid once. Yes and we were trained and educated how to act in public before we were taken out. And we were exposed gradually, not hauled out to the wee hours of the morning tired or not. I've been on EMS calls for kids that were injured due to natural fatigue at well past midnight because the parents did not want to take them home. I've also been the calls and seen in the ER kids injured and burned from being uncontrolled in restaurants and bars. I am sorry - I don't care what hipster parents think. Children do not ever belong in bars. I've worn home the blood.

Just because you haven't seen it does not mean it doesn't happen. Neither side can claim sainthood here, but to be condescending and dismissive hardly leads to understanding.

Joy said...

I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but I do have a hard time believing it happens in the large doses that folks are saying. That said, please keep in mind this is a personal blog about personal experiences and personal opinions. Is there bias? Sure! Take it for what it's worth. Also keep in mind that I am commenting on an article, that context is pretty important. One the author in technorati seemed to leave out. No hard feelings though, it did generate a lot of traffic. :)

I'm also trying to put some perspective into people's day from the POV of a parent. Exactly what is in control and out of control when it comes to the pint sized set.

As for Anonymous, I'm not sure what blog you're reading because I didn't really make any of the points you're on about. I have three kids, I'm sleep deprived and running on empty, so I confuse easily. Help a gal out!

Anonymous said...

I have no difficulty believing interrogation of another's choice to not have children happens with the frequency as that was very similar to my own experiences. I'm not saying it was a majority of people, but that the way they operated required only one in a group - decorum was abandoned with that topic and the only way to end it was for me to leave. There were enough that the odds weren't in my favor. Of course evenings free of it happened, but I was typically surprised by that fact.

There is a soft spot in my heart for NoKidding!. When it existed years ago, I was a member of the Delaware Water Gap chapter, which was in the PA/NJ area. I drove hours to the meetings because being able to have conversation in which I knew that wouldn't happen was simply invaluable to me. There is a chapter of NK! where I live now, but I'm not involved as here that issue is gone.