Yesterday, a friend of mine showed me some pictures of her new grandson. (Who is, in turn, the son of another friend—I’m usually friends with my friends parents. Friend.) I politely oohed and ahhed over them and was struck in particular by one image of the baby, only a few hours old, resting on his father’s torso. The father’s expression is one of awe, delight, and joy—pure and unabashed on his face. It was wondrous. I have a sense that the child will end up independent and stubborn like his father, and will grow into a thoughtful and beautiful man as well. I was honored that she shared the images, which she had just gotten in the mail, with me, and I said as much.
And it got me thinking about an aspect of the childfree movement which actually really bothers me.
Because here’s the thing. I don’t like children, and I don’t want them. It’s just not my thing, and that’s why I identify as childfree. I also don’t like the special privileges parents get, and I am supportive of the movement by childfree individuals to demand equal vacation time and other things that parents get by default. I may not be saddled with a child but I also have needs and a personal life which suffer at the hands of coworkers with children, who always play the “childcare” card when they want to get out of working. So much, in fact, that when a parent has a genuine child related emergency I often have difficulty believing it since there have been four such “emergencies” already that month. Many parents abuse their position in society, and this is something that angers me. I think that all members of a society should have equal rights, regardless as to their marital status, age, sex, race, or number of children. Preferential treatment should never be encouraged.
However, I also have a lot of respect for parents and the challenges of raising children. I wouldn’t say I have respect for all parents, but I think a lot of them are working hard to raise excellent humans and should be given respect for that. This doesn’t mean I want their children on the same aircraft as me, running around my neighborhood, or seated next to my table at a restaurant. But it does mean that a friend can show me baby pictures and I can say “what a beautiful child,” or “you must be so proud.” It means that I can be excited for (and intrigued by) my pregnant friends, and while I am shy about touching their bellies* or oogling ultrasound pictures, I feel honored to be included in the pre-baby festivities. It means that I can respect parents and their children as fellow human beings, and I can treat them with dignity. There are a lot of problems and issues bound up in parenting for me, and that’s a topic for another post.
A lot of people in the child free movement apparently feel differently than me, however. Most childfree sites, for example, are simply collections of vile vitriol aimed at children and their caregivers. Childfree people who use terms like “breeder” and “rugrat” are undermining their entire movement—t’s fine to say “I’m childfree by choice, and I in turn respect your choices,” but I don’t think it’s acceptable to denigrate those who are making different choices. This is at the core of a choice-centered movement. Should we have support groups and meetings of like minded people? Yes, just as surely as parents do. But I don’t think our choice gives us a right to be assholes, sanctimonious in our childfree existence.
It amazes me to see the childfree saying things like “it angers us when people pressure us to have children,” or “I feel like a freak because of the choice I have made,” when these individuals are turning around and maligning parents. Can’t we all make our own choices, as fully cognizant human beings, and leave it at that? I’m just as excited for my friend due in August as I am for a childfree friend who is about to embark on a two year world tour (which, needless to say, couldn’t be accomplished if she was saddled with children). Both of them are going to have amazing, frustrating, and excellent experiences in the years to come, and I know I’ll be hearing about them. I imagine that having a baby and raising a child must be an awesome experience, it’s just not one I’m interested in.
I’m puzzled by why we always feel the need to force our own choices and activities on others. Recently I was talking with a friend about hang gliding, and how amazing it was and how if he was interested, I could have a another friend take him up tandem some time. Instead of saying “oh, no thank you, hang gliding sounds awesome but it’s not for me,” he spent the next forty five minutes trying to dissuade me from ever hang gliding again, declaring it dangerous and reckless and so on. We humans seem to have a passionate need for all those around us to be the same, and to hold the same ideas—goodness, how boring that would get. The joy in life for me is arguing over the pizza toppings, is jumping off mountains with an oversized kite strapped to my body, is not having children.
For me, children would be an albatross, but for others, I know, they are an empowering, liberating, wonderful, and awesome experience. I can respect that, just as I can respect a woman’s right to choose, or a personal preference not to hang glide. Movements on both the right and the left are guilty of wearing blinders, and I would greatly appreciate it if the left would start examining its motives more carefully, since it always touts itself as the voice of reason. Otherwise we’re just as bad as the other side.
*So maybe you all are experienced pregnant belly touchers, but let me tell you I felt my first one very recently and it was a surreal experience. It’s firm, for starters, which I have understood to be the case. But the being inside pressed out against me, shoving a fist (or maybe a foot) into my hand. It was extremely creepy, but at the same time very cool, the sense that there was something alive and vital under there.