Monday, June 21, 2010

Prong 3: The Persecution Complex

Since I wrote my last post, I had an additional thought about why parents react so strongly against our declarations of childfreedom and wanted to add this addendum to my previously-posted Theory:

Prong 3: The Persecution Complex

When a person declares herself childfree to a parent or, if not using that specific term, states outright that she has chosen not to have kids, the parent hears an underlying negative judgment about having kids - that it is undesirable. While we may not state outright to the parent that having kids is undesirable (even though we may think it), they read between the lines that we are choosing not to have kids because we find it undesirable in some way. This is a negative judgment which parents are far from accustomed to being subject to, since in every other corner of the universe, they are lauded, worshipped, praised, adored and subsidized for having kids.

When a person perceives he is being judged negatively, he feels persecuted and the natural reaction is defensiveness and a shoring up of their position. This is why they attack our choice (defensiveness) or start reciting the joys of parenthood (shoring up).

What made me think of Prong 3 is a similar encounter I experience when I tell people that I do not eat meat. Almost always, the reaction is something along the lines of "Oh, I only eat chicken" or "I almost never eat red meat", as though they need to defend themselves against a perceived judgment they imagine I am making of them (shoring up their position). Or, they might get defensive by subtly attacking my choice, "So....what do you eat?" or "How do you know you are getting enough protein?", "Don't you get tired of eating vegetables all the time?"

Isn't human nature fascinating?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Beneath the Surface: A Two-Prong Theory

One of the frustrations frequently expressed by CF folks is that their decision to be childfree is not taken seriously. How often have you proudly declared your childfree status only to be told, "You'll change your mind" or "you just have to find the right man" or "you'll feel differently when you have your own"? How many times have you received looks of pity for your choice when you are actually quite happy with it? How many times have you been asked how many kids you have or plan to have in the future (instead of whether you have or want them)?

Did you ever stop to wonder why the childed put up such resistance to our choice to be childfree? Did you ever think about why our declaration of childfreedom provokes such shock and an insistent need to convert us? Why do they care so much? If they see that we are happy and satisfied in our lives and with our decision to be childfree, they should be happy for us, right? But they're not. Our happiness only provokes an urgent need in them to invalidate our choice and influence us to join their team.

I've thought about this a lot and I have come up with a two-prong theory:

Misery loves company.


Why didn't I think of that?

Prong 1: Misery loves company. Parents work overtime to convince everyone who will listen that parenthood is the greatest joy in life and that one cannot know true joy and fulfillment until one has had a child. This message gets passed down from generation to generation and each successive generation gets reeled right in - hook, line and sinker. Amazingly, very few people question this message. Problem is, the reality of parenthood falls far short from the nirvana it is purported to be. For the most part childrearing is a nightmare. Just look around you at the people you know with kids. How blissful does their life appear to you? Is their life better (or worse) since they became parents? Do they seem happier and more fulfilled than they were in their pre-kids days? Most of the people I know who are parents have suffered a serious downgrade in happiness and fulfillment since their kids were born. Research even bears this out. A small number of parents are brave enough to admit to the downgrade, but most, knowing there is no turning back, live in a perpetual state of denial, repeating the "parenthood is the ultimate fulfillment" mantra in order to convince themselves that they did the right thing by having kids, when deep inside they know they are screwed.

That's why they try so hard to convince us that we will change our minds, or that we don't know what we are missing. Misery loves company. It's not that they consciously wish us unhappiness, but convincing us to have kids keeps everyone on a level playing field. It's easier to delude oneself into thinking one is happy when one is surrounded by equally miserable people. But throw a happy, unencumbered, self-actualized, free spirit into the mix and the stark contrast becomes a reality smack down - like holding a mirror up to a train wreck.

Then there's Prong 2 of my theory: Why didn't I think of that? I truly believe that much of the parents' fuel to invalidate and convert the childfree comes from resentment that we had the independence of mind to evade the parental prison sentence, while the thought never occurred to them. The idea to forego having kids is such a great and simple concept that really only takes a couple of brain cells to put together. You mean a person can choose not to have kids? I've actually witnessed the stunned speechlessness in parents at the moment they realize that having kids is a choice. It simply never dawns on most people. So when confronted with this realization in the face of a person who has actually made the choice to be childfree (and is all the happier for it), the parent wants to kick himself for not thinking of this himself.

But since parenthood is irreversible and since nobody likes to feel badly about themselves, they don't kick themselves. They kick us, telling us we are confused, misinformed and selfish, will change our minds, don't know what true happiness is, don't know what we are missing, and don't have our priorities straight. It's jealousy disguised as pompousness, but sadly many childfree folks take these messages to heart, dragging themselves around with slumped shoulders, like they are human defects that owe the world a big apology.
Assuming there is truth to my theory, this is my message to you, my childfree friends: hold tightly to your convictions, stand up tall and hold your head high. Embrace with pride the life you have chosen, and give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back for bucking the status quo. Question the motives of those who would try to convince you to take their path. Sometimes their real motive lies just beneath the blustery surface and oftentimes, you will find that you don't even have to scratch too deeply to reveal it.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Play Dates: Reason Enough Not to Have Kids

I may not be a parent, but through my close friend Sara who is a mom (and like a sister to me), I am privvy to the nitty gritty of what it's like to be a parent. I truly get a bird's eye view because Sara holds nothing back, good and bad. Let me tell you folks, while there are many, many good, sound reasons not to have kids, especially in today's society, the requirement of today's moms to plan and attend PLAY DATES has to be reason enough not to have kids.

I am sure most of you know what play dates are, but in the event you are unfamiliar, essentially young children of today no longer go out to play like we did when we were kids (you know..."Hey Mom - I'm going over Suzy's house to play. I'll be back later for dinner"). No, their parents (usually mom) have to organize and schedule play appointments with other parents and their children. Children can no longer play without adult planning and supervision. Here's how it works:

Mother #1 identifies that Mother #2 has a child of a similar age and places a phone call to Mother #2 to schedule a "play date". This is done to ensure that her child has friends and an adequate amount of play time. At the appointed time, both mothers and their children meet at an agreed-upon place so that the children can play with each other while the mothers sit there and watch. During this time, the mothers talk about their children and usually one (or both) of the mothers tries to get a leg up on the other by talking up her child's achievements and development. The mothers also like to compare their methods of parenting, each positioning herself as the best mom with the best mothering practices. According to Sara, play dates are also used as a time for moms to bash their husbands and moms (like my friend) who are happy with their husbands and do not feel the need to bash them, are viewed suspiciously and are eventually wedged out of the play date network, hence resulting in a lonely child with no friends.

I was out with Sara all day yesterday (yes, she actually took a full day to herself away from the family!) and she spent a significant amount of time venting about the politics of play dates. I truly felt sorry for her and it broke my heart to hear the feelings of isolation she was experiencing, not to mention her concerns for her children who - because of her not fitting in with the other moms - are becoming social outcasts. Talk about mother's guilt.

I have to say - the thought of play dates instantly activates my gag reflex. Is there anything more awful to contemplate than being forced to socialize with boring yuppy moms that you have nothing in common with, in order to provide a social life for your child? And to bear the sole responsibility of your child's happiness and social development via fruitful political involvement with said boring yuppy moms? Honestly, I think I'd rather get a root canal. And is there anything more sad than the loss of childhood spontanaeity and the overscheduling of every minute of the modern child's life?

When it comes to play dates, nobody said it better than my favorite comedian, George Carlin (may he rest in peace). So today, I will leave you with George's take on play dates (and other modern parenting offenses).

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Invisible Woman Strikes Again

Recently I've been dealing with a medical issue that has required me to have more than one doctor's visit. Don't worry readers, everything is going to be fine, but I wanted to share with you another example of one of the many subtle ways childfree women are made to feel invisible in our society.

At the last two doctor's appointments I've gone to, I have been asked (during the usual question-and-answer segment of the consultation) at what age I had my first child. Did you catch that? I wasn't asked if I had children. I was asked when I had my first child. So here are the two assumptions made about me because I am a 44 year old woman:

1. That at some point I had a child.

2. That not only did I have a child, I had more than one child (asking about my first child presumes that I had a second child).

Seems to me, a more appropriate question would be "Do you have children?"

Now I realize that the majority of women my age have children, but many do not. While this question really annoyed me (a person who has chosen not to have children), imagine how it must make a childless woman feel, for example someone struggling with infertility or other issues.

How about you? Can you think of other subtle (or even not-so-subtle) ways the childfree are made to feel invisible? If so, post a comment.