A few thoughts on social expectation

Strolling through the library the other day, looking for some light reading (I left with betrayal of Trust, The Ostrich Factor, and Behind the Veil in Arabia), I stumbled across The Worst Loss: How Families Heal After the Death of a Child. Now let’s just say right now, for the record, for those of my readers who have lost children: I am terribly sorry. This writing is not intended in any way to belittle or marginalize your loss, and I cannot imagine how difficult is must have been, and still is for you.

And to all my pregnant lady readers: congratulations! I in no way am passing judgment on your personal choice, simply explaining the reasons for my own. And if this goddamn fuzzy wool I ordered ever gets here, I will make you disgustingly cute little baby hats. ’cause I like knitting, even if I don’t like babies. Also, pregnant ladies are hot. And I’m sure you ladies are going to be kick ass parents because you are kick ass ladies, and you will raise awesome wonderful people who will work positive change in the world.

That said.

The title of this book raised a lot of thoughts in me about an issue I’ve been pondering lately. And that issue is the social (and somewhat biological) expectation that we all will have children. It’s such a universal thought that when I was stuck overnight in the Manchester Airport with a gentleman whose name I cannot remember (and yes, we hid from the nightly lockup patrol in the bathroom so we wouldn’t have to be outside in the snow), our varied conversation turned at one point to children.

“So you got kids?”

“God, no.”

“When do you think you’ll have ’em?”

This attitude is alarmingly widespread in this country. As a vagina owner, I am expected to pay my dues by popping out a few at some point, as a general social duty. My right to have an abortion is increasingly under threat. Women of low income are encouraged to have children, and not provided with an infrastructure to take care of them. Because, you know, everybody has kids. That’s just the way it goes.

Books like this enforce this attitude, and other ideas which I am uncomfortable with. I am not a woman until I have children, I will never know what it is to be complete without children, and I in turn can never experience “the worst loss,” the most devastating loss ever, if I don’t have children.

I think, partly, where this book is coming from is the idea that children are not really supposed to die. I might argue, for example, that my father and I have a very close relationship and that I will be devastated when he passes, but the author would probably retort:

“Listen to that language! ‘When he passes!’ You expect him to die.”

Well yeah. My dad’s getting older. As am I. I’m expecting to get another thirty or so years out of him, maybe longer, but that’s the way it goes. Both of us, inevitably, are going to die, because it’s a natural biological process. But he is supposed to be more deeply wounded if I die before him that I will be when he dies. Although maybe not. I’m getting pretty old, I’m not so cute anymore, maybe he’d get over it. Although he’ll be pissed when he sees the credit card bill.

What about the loss of a sibling? Nope, the parents have to be more sad than the surviving sibling, because there’s a hierarchy of grief here, people. The loss of a partner? Maybe a partner you’ve been with for fifty years? Even in a totally unexpected car accident? When they were otherwise healthy? Not as tragic as losing a child, sorry, move along.

And of course, the loss of an infant or fetus is supposed to be the most harrowing at all, because here’s this perfect innocent little being who never had a chance at life! Who could have been so wonderful! Well, I’ll give you the advice the veterinarian gives to the little old lady who just lost her 14 year old poodle: get another one. It will help the healing process.

It bothers me, deeply, that those of us who make the choice to live child free are condemned for it. I am constantly told that I will “change my mind” about kids when I get older, that I will want to experience the “joys of motherhood,” and that I won’t really “understand what it’s like to be a woman” without kids. Well, honestly, I’m not so concerned about understanding my womanhood, since I am genderqueer. But I don’t expect people to know and understand that. I biologically present female. I have big tits and big hips. I must be planning on having kids someday or it would be a waste of perfectly good (on the surface) apparatus. Should I choose to have an abortion, I will be scolded, even if it’s to protect my own health.

There are a fair amount of childless people out there. Some of them are childless because of fertility issues, and would very much like to have children (for the love of Pete, people, adopt rather than having more more more more children). Some of them haven’t had kids yet. Some of them are fairly certain that they don’t want children, and have taken surgical or chemical steps to ensure it doesn’t happen. Some of them are members of VHEMT. And some of them just don’t want children, for a variety of personal reasons. We like to call ourselves “childfree,” rather than “childless,” because we’re not missing anything. We are making a conscious choice to live lives without children. And we are doctors, nurses, artists, bank tellers, veterinarians, business owners, web designers, investment bankers, airline pilots, writers, teachers, librarians, police persons…we are all around you. When we are not forming intentional communities, that is.

So why am I child free?

1. I don’t like them. I find children foul and repugnant, and I strongly dislike the fact that this society is constantly forcing them upon me. I thank my stars every day that I work in a child free workplace. (In practice, though not in posted signage.) Although we like the pregnant ladies just fine*. Just not the immediate result. Of pregnancy.

2. Human overpopulation is a serious problem. An alarmingly small percentage of the population controls most of the world’s resources. What I spent on dinner last night** would free two enslaved families in India. That’s wrong. It’s wrong that humans elsewhere on Earth live in abject misery. Our overall population needs to shrink, because we are facing dire consequences. Not only am I uncomfortable with adding to the population, I don’t know what kind of world children will face after I die.

3. I really dislike the social expectation that I am going to have children. And as well all know, when people expect me to do things, I usually don’t do them. Unless it’s eating. Babies. (Just kidding!)

4. It would probably kill me. ’cause I have special anatomy, that way.

And you know what? I have a lot of respect for parents. It takes a lot of work to raise a child, a lot of energy, and a shocking amount of money. Personally choosing not to be a parent doesn’t mean that I have to be an asshole about it. I love working with and mentoring youth (of high school age) and I’m glad to have that as part of my life.

But I dislike that American society is so prejudiced. Parents get more tax breaks, I pay for services that I don’t use because I don’t have children (and given the fact that my taxes are always rising, I’m fairly certain that I will have paid for the services I used as a child in a short amount of time). I have to tolerate a society which censors itself “for the children,” I have to struggle with child-proof lighters and medication, and I have to deal with a country which is geared for and centred around children. I have to deal with the expectation that someone who looks like I do will like babies, will enjoy having them thrust in her face, and will coo and giggle at the thought of children.

It’s people like me that drive the economy, because we have “disposable income” that we aren’t spending on children. (Although mine is being spent on repaying student loans for a long time in the foreseeable future.) Do we get any credit for this? Do we get credit for the work we do in our communities? Do we get any apologies for having to deal with a spawn-oriented society? No, we are condemned for not having children, and told that “when you’re older, you will change your mind.” Right, because people change their minds about other issues integral to their identity, like sexual orientation and skin color. And God forbid that you be a childfree straight couple, because all of your friends will be asking you “so when are you having kids? Stopped taking the birth control yet? When’s the happy event?” God forbid you choose to value your career over children, your cats over children, or your own health over children.

American society in general is filled with snoopy, prying people. Hell, I’m one of them. But about children in particular, there is an attitude that you should be telling complete strangers about the reasoning (or medical reasons) behind an ultimately personal choice. This country seems to have a sense of ownership about women, where every responsible person over age thirty is expected to have children and harry the childless. Is it any wonder the childfree form intentional communities? It’s not just to get away from children, it’s to get away from the constant questioning of a decision that, ultimately, is no one else’s business. Women are more than their anatomy, and I would have thought by now that the accomplishments of awesome ladies all over the world had proven that.

Elizabeth I was one of the most influential people in British history. She changed the shape and course of her nation under her rule. She fostered exploration, some dirty wars, and the arts. She was also childfree. And I don’t think anyone would care to argue that she was half a person because of not having children.


*Hey, just to make sure we are clear on this: I do not have a pregnant lady fetish, ok? I just think that pregnant women are really, really beautiful. I don’t want to be one, although I would like better skin.

**And yes, the crabcakes were delicious. Shocking.