Saturday, July 25, 2009

Childfree Assumptions & Stereotypes that (Usually) are Wrong

One of the things that can be annoying about being a childfree individual (or couple) is the host of automatic assumptions that are made the second someone finds out you don't want kids. So today, I thought I would address these stereotypes.

1. Childfree people are child haters: While certainly a percentage of childfree people do not like children, for many childfree folks, this assumption is not true. There are plenty of childfree folks (including myself) who like children, work with children, donate to children's charities, enjoy their time with nieces, nephews and friends' children, but simply have no desire to undertake the parental lifestyle and all the burden that comes with it.

2. Childfree people are selfish and their lives revolve only around themselves: If I had a dollar for every time this assumption is made, I'd be a rich woman. The idea that a childfree person's life is all about themself is completely false. Childfree individuals do not live an isolated life inside a bubble. We are spouses, significant others, sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, uncles and aunts, devoted friends, pet companions, employees and volunteers. The idea that the only way to be other-people-centered is to have a child is nothing short of ridiculous.

3. Childfree people are rich hedonists: Sure, because we don't have kids, we generally have more disposible income and more free time to do the things we enjoy than our child-encumbered peers, but I don't know many childfree folks who are throwing money around like it grows on trees, or spending their days prancing around naked at Club Med. We're struggling through the same recession as everyone else, we have rents, mortgages and bills to pay just like people with kids and only in our fantasies do we have unlimited vacation time.

4. Childfree people have no lives, or empty lives: In response to this assumption, I'd like to quote the very wise and eloquent Sharla, one of the women I interviewed for my masters thesis, because she really hit the nail on the head: "Yet another misconception is that childfree people lead empty, sad, lonely lives; we are missing out on children, and every adult's life should revolve around children. Because parents' lives are so wrapped up in their children (since children require constant time and attention) they feel as though a person whose life is not run by children would just have a big, empty space inside it. Of course, what they do not realize is that that space is filled up with things they have lost: friendships, hobbies, education, personal time, and career. Our lives are not empty; they are filled with the very same things parents give up before their lives become child-centered."

5. Childfree people are cold, unfeeling, uncaring, immature, underdeveloped human beings: Sadly, the erroneous notion persists that the only way to be a fully developed, productive, self-realized adult is to have children. In fact, often the opposite is true. Because childfree folks are not tethered to incessant demands on their time and energy (by children), they can devote more of their time to pursuing activities that enrich their personal growth and self-actualization, for example education, spiritual pursuits, civic involvement, charitable activities and substantial, meaningful personal relationships. Parents often have to toss these things by the wayside for many years on end just to keep up with parental demands.

6. Childfree people are lost, confused souls who don't know what's important in life: We know what's important in life. It just may be different than what's important in a parent's life. Most childfree people have come to their decision after very thoughtful deliberation and in many cases, have put more thought into the having-a-child decision than many parents who enter into it mindlessly simply because it's what's expected of them. While folks are busy piting us for how confused and lost we are, we're busy enjoying the fabulous lives we've thoughtfully designed for ourselves, most of which would not be possible with children. We often find ourselves pitying the parents we know who have sacrificed so much of themselves (and their lives) at the altar of childrearing.

7. Women who choose not to have children are career-hungry: While it's true that childfree women have a clear advantage over moms in the workplace, since they are fully present in their jobs and not constantly being whisked away by maternity leave, problems at home, sick children, etc., career is only one of a myriad of reasons women choose not to have children. It is erroneous to assume that because a woman chooses not to have children, that she must be obsessed with her career. There's a whole lot more to life than children and career and childfree folks embrace all of it.

8. Childfree people are not parent material: Of course if a person does not want to have children, she should not be a parent. But the assumption that childfree people are automatically not parent material is false. Many childfree people would make terrific parents if they chose that route, but they instead choose to do other things with their lives. For example, I am really good with kids, I like kids and they gravitate to me. People have constantly told me I'd make a great mom. But liking kids and being good with them is one thing. Choosing to be a parent is a whole 'nother bag o'worms. I like dogs too, but I choose not to have them because of the impact they would have on our lifestyle.

Can you think of other childfree assumptions and stereotypes that we need to address? If so, please post a comment...


7 comments:

firefly said...

Great post. Many points to agree with there -- especially that being a 'full, realized' person, a nurturing person, doesn't mean you have to have kids.

This isn't really a stereotype, but I have to say I think childfree people are far more in touch with childhood and the way it feels from that perspective than many parents are.

Once you have a child, you're expected to spend a lot of time looking out for risks and preventing infractions. I think people get into the habit of seeing life from that angle and then they get stuck.

Whereas I remember all the stupid things I did as a child without any tinge of worry about whether MY kid might do something like that and wind up in the hospital with a stitched lip.

I see a lot of adults automatically assuming the parent role when they encounter kids. They ask the stock questions -- how are you doing in school, how is summer going, oh you've grown!

It's an easy thing to slip into, far easier than taking the time to figure out if the kid is a nice person and you would want to relate to them on a human-to-human basis, not an authority-peon basis.

I always get along very well with my nephew and my employer's two children (who are now 20 and 17) and I believe part of the reason is I never try to act like a parent with them.

CFVixen said...

This is all so true. I clearly remember an encounter with a former co-worker that illustrates this. I hadn't seen this person in about 10 years and she and I were chatting about how our lives had changed since I had left that employer. She was convinced I would have changed my mind about having kids.

After she told me she was only working at my former employer's so that she could get her two kids through college, she started grilling me on what I've been doing with my life. Well, at that point I was working at a job that I really enjoyed, going to school at night, traveling with DH anytime we had the chance, building a new home, driving back and forth between states so that we could be involved in various family events, and overall really enjoying life. So why no kids? My answer was the same then as it is now - our lives are too full with the things that are really important to us. I have no desire to try to cram kids into the equation.

I'm at a point in life where I'm being very selective about how I spend my time. I'm enjoying a much saner schedule. My main commitment is my full-time job. After that, I just want to quietly enjoy my life. That means I'm saying "no" to a lot of other things. I want to come home, enjoy a nice dinner with my husband, take a walk, and then sit on the deck and read a book. I'm perfectly content.

That doesn't mean that we don't enjoy traveling and visits with our families. But I'm not as heavily scheduled or commmited, and I'm loving it. I cannot imagine coming home from a long day at work and having to drive around kids to all of their scheduled events, getting supper on the table, helping with homework, and fighting with them to go to bed. I like the tranquility of a simple, quiet life.

Insomniac Chef said...

I actually don't see what's so terrible about disliking children. How is it different than not liking pets or not liking rap music? It's a personal preference. Children are often noisy, messy, rowdy, destructive, needy. I understand that some people appreciate their joie de vivre but I just don't enjoy them. I didn't even like children when I was a child. I'm not mean to children or abusive to them, I just don't usually enjoy their company and prefer to avoid them. While I am sure there are some exceptions to this, most kids are totally annoying (usually due to bad parenting, but it doesn't make them less annoying).

I really wish people would stop worrying so much about whether or not the CF crowd likes their kid. I don't spend my time worrying about people who don't like my cats. Disliking kids is not a character flaw. The bigger problem is people who claim to like kids and then treat their own like crap, or worse yet people who like kids a little too much. Leave me alone and let me dislike kids. I don't impose my dislike of them on anyone, I just prefer not to be around them. It doesn't make me a bad person. I'm not hurting anyone by having my preferences.

Childfreeeee said...

Insomniac,

There's absolutely nothing wrong with disliking kids. The issue I have is the assumption that everyone who chooses not to have kids HATES them, which is false. Some people hate them, some people dislike them and some like them. It's a false stereotype.

But I do get what you're saying...we shouldn't feel apologetic if we DON'T like kids. It's a matter of personal preference.

Hm, this is giving me an idea for my next poll. I think it will be a poll for childfree folks and the question will be whether you like kids.

CFVixen said...

Childfreee:

I think that would be a really good poll question.

For the most part, I used to think of myself as ambivalent towards children. I neither liked nor disliked them. They are just people, after all. They don't get special points from me simply because of their age. Some are likable. Some are little assholes. And yeah, some of the asshole-ness comes from parents. Others are born assholes. Just like anyone else in the human race.

However, in the last few years I find myself becoming a little less ambivalent and a little more on the side of "I don't like kids." I don't know why, but I seem to being saying/thinking that more often. Their squeals and screams get on my nerves more often. The inane conversations seem even more tedious. I rarely see one that I find especially cute. I cringe more often when they touch me with their sticky fingers. Their snotty noses and dirty mouths are more repulsive to me. I feel more territorial when they get into my space.

I'm not sure what exactly has shifted in me, but I don't feel bad about it. It's just a preference to not put myself in a situation where I'm going to be exposed to those members of society. Obviously, you cannot avoid them entirely. But I find myself doing my best to limit contact.

tocophobic said...

I read a lot of childfree blogs and one of them had a commenter that said "disliking children is no different from disliking black people--it's discrimination based on age" and I can't stand that people have to say such inflammatory crap to try to scare folks away from people who aren't crazy about children. Disliking children doesn't make you sub-human or heartless and that stereotype really bothers me.

Me? I take kids the way I take adults--some are great and some are obnoxious and I have no issues about avoiding all people, regardless of age, who annoy me.

Sustantivo said...

"Maybe the reason you're childfree is because you have emotional scars from your own childhood that you haven't dealt with."

This is very frustrating on two levels.

1) My childhood was EXTREMELY happy. My parents are wonderful people and I feel as though it's an insult to all their hard work to suggest that there is some deep dark secret in my past preventing me from having kids.

2) If I WAS emotionally scarred, should I really be having kids then?