Sunday, March 13, 2011

Care to be (Childfree)

Lately my posts have been focusing on the downside of parenthood. Frankly, that's because there have so been many articles, research and discussions coming out about that topic in recent weeks that I have been jumping on them right away. The downside of parenthood has been kept hush-hush for far too long and I am just happy to see it finally getting the long overdue spotlight it deserves.

Today, however, I wanted to swing the pendulum in the opposite direction and talk about one of my favorite things about being childfree - being able to be a devoted, giving friend and family member.

Now, most people like to think they are caring, giving and devoted to the people they love, however, it should be pointed out that the childfree have a distinct advantage over parents in this regard. Let's face it - once people have kids, their love, devotion and attention get almost fully diverted to the new being they produced and away from the friends and loved ones who were there first. As childfree adults, we've probably all experienced the feelings of loss and mourning when our friends and family members become parents and we get left in the dust.

But the childfree person, by nature of being free of the constraints of childrearing, is able to remain a steadfast and devoted friend and loved one throughout life, which flies in the face of the critical judgements that parents like to hurl around about the childfree - that our lives are "all about ourselves"; that we're selfish and self-centered; that we don't know what love is. The fact is, we do know what love is and demonstrate it by being there and being truly present for our loved ones. I'm the daughter who takes my mom out for a "girls' day out" on a regular basis (do you think I could do this if I had kids?). I'm the best friend who opens up my guest bedroom so a friend can have somewhere to live for three months when she's going through a divorce and trying to reestablish herself (I wouldn't even have a guest bedroom if I had kids!) and years later opens up her home to this same friend's cat because she can no longer keep her, thanks to her allergic child. I am beloved by my friends' kids who call me Aunt Mandy and tell their mother she should buy the same perfume as me so she will smell like me. I am the aunt who dotes on her nieces and nephews with camping trips, day trips, craft days and cookie bakes (they wouldn't get any one-on-one time with me if I was busy with my own kids). I am the companion to 3 furry felines who get kissed and petted and loved to their little hearts' delight (maybe more than they even want). Most importantly, I'm the wife whose husband is number one in her life and whose position of importance will never be downgraded or compromised.

The fact is, my life is not all about me and never has been. It's about my husband. It's about my parents. It's about my siblings. It's about my nieces and nephews. It's about my friends and the children of my friends. It's about the people I work for. It's about my 3 moggies. It's about the childfree community I reach out to every day through this blog and other supportive means. I do not exist in a bubble. My life is intricate with social tentacles reaching out in many directions and in every direction I go I try to be thoughtful, caring and giving of myself. And I am sure you, my childfree reader, are similarly engaged in caring, doting relationships with all of the people in your life.

So when parents try to stereotype and dismiss us as materialistic, selfish, cold, uncaring, self-absorbed, misguided, sad, pathetic childless wretches, don't get hurt or angry. Smile, because you know who you really are and so do the people in your life who benefit from the attention you shower on them. And know that those critical judgements aren't about you, they are about them - expressions of the hurt they feel when they come face to face with someone who flat out rejects the very life path they have undertaken and enjoys a fuller, freer, more vibrant and giving existence because of it.

18 comments:

CFVixen said...

AMEN!!!

I see this so much in my own family. With my Dad passing away 3 months ago, my DH and I have become the ones that make sure my Mom is okay. We're the ones who live 150 miles away, but make sure to see her regularly and help her with whatever she needs as well as call her every day. My 2 brothers and sister live close to her, yet because they have kids, the expectations are completely different. Never mind the fact that four out of the five kids are completely GROWN!

Mom just told me this weekend that another sister (who lives across the country) calls "once in awhile." I asked what "once in awhile means. I guess that's every two weeks. Um, okay. My Dad just died, and that's all the more she calls? Mom started to defend her saying that she's SOOO busy because she has a toddler and is pregnant with her second. Too busy to make a phone call? And how does being pregnant make you any more busy?

For the longest time, I have heard that my CF-stance was "selfish." Even my mom used that term on me once (it didn't go over well, let me tell you). But recently, Mom was commenting on all of the things I've done to help her with this transition and she said, "I always thought you were a little selfish for never wanting kids, but now I see that you are the most caring and generous and unselfish out of all of my kids." And surprise: I'm the only one who didn't have any.

Moose said...

Excellent post! My favorite so far...I couldn't have said it better myself.

Spectra said...

I totally agree! I have two CF aunts and one of them is like my second mom. She was always the one that came to our school concerts when our parents couldn't go, she was always there when we needed someone to talk to, and the best thing was that she REALLY "got it" when we would complain about our mom doing/saying certain things because she grew up with Mom and knew her better than we did. I have 3 nephews and 1 niece, but I don't live close enough to see them every day. But when I do see them, I'm the "fun aunt" and I enjoy spending time with them. Growing up, I never felt like any of my aunts with their own kids really LIKED spending time with us because they were so worn out from being moms to their own kids.

GordonGartrell'sMuse said...

"So when parents try to stereotype and dismiss us as materialistic, selfish, cold, uncaring, self-absorbed, misguided, sad, pathetic childless wretches, don't get hurt or angry. Smile, because you know who you really are and so do the people in your life who benefit from the attention you shower on them. And know that those critical judgements aren't about you, they are about them - expressions of the hurt they feel when they come face to face with someone who flat out rejects the very life path they have undertaken and enjoys a fuller, freer, more vibrant and giving existence because of it."

Damn straight, Mandy!

Besides all that stuff about the selflessness and generosity parents just because they're parents is asteaming pile of bull - it's not real altruism if you're fulfilling an obligation you made for yourself. (And there are some things parents have to do for their kids so that Family Services doesn't take them away - again, not selfless or particularly generous).

Mali said...

It's a fact! More people without children volunteer in the community than people with children. The whole "selfish" issue is one that infuriates me, and is a completely myth. Especially when you hear the reasons people have children: to carry on their genes, to have someone who loves them unconditionally, to have someone who will look after them in their old age, to 'save' the marriage, etc etc. It's usually all about them, and rarely about the kids. How selfish can you get?

* Valerie * said...

Couldn't agree more; obviously a very heartfelt post and something we will all experience as we (and our family / friends) age.

Whenever my friends have a baby, I come over and cook them a big meal and meet the newborn. I figure it's one less meal that the new parent has to cook. They are always flabbergasted that I cook for my husband every night and have time to come over and cook for them. Duh, that's what you get when you don't have kids - free time to spend on anyone you care about, not just children.

Brandy said...

Wonderful post! It's so nice to hear this point of view, and I thank you for sharing it.

Zarina said...

This father is claiming child"less" people don't have a right to complain about being tired or busy. And get a load of what he said about his cat....:-(

http://www.straightdopedad.com/quit-whining-if-you-are-single-and-have-no-kids-i-dont-want-to-hear-your-complaining/

Temujin said...

I've noticed that may parents treat parenthood like a license or a "get out of jail free" card just because parenting can be so much work.

A parent can get out of just about any responsibility, even to other family, by claiming a family excuse. It's still a huge taboo to call anyone on this or to suggest that children are sometimes used as a ready-made excuse.

I wonder sometimes that maybe some parents exaggerate how hard it is to be a parent in order to make the excuses sound better. I would be curious to see how many employees leave early to take care of their kids but then actually go somewhere else instead....

flamencokitty said...

love this! Speaking of self-centered, I need to be more focused on self because I am lately off-center. With family commitments, leadership roles and work. I have overextended myself. I need to start saying "No," now, to give myself back the me-time I need! Thank goodness I don't have kids, or carving out time for myself would be even harder.

TLO said...

Since "Straight Dope Dad" could no longer take people disagreeing with him on his blog, I decided to send him a direct email. :) We'll see how that goes! I was quite respectful, in spite of my seething rage...

Great post here!! I do agree that we are far more likely--as CF folk--to "be present" for others in our life. That said, I'm not on board with doing anything MERELY out of obligation for others. I don't LOVE kids, which is partly why I don't have them, but I WILL send gifts to new parents/newborns, visit to help out when the baby is an infant, etc.. Beyond that, I only babysit for older, very well-behaved children, and that is only very rarely.

As for others in my family, I do make myself available when I am required AND want to help. I am learning, after years of feeling obligated, to say "no" more often, though.

Dave said...

Being childfree has enabled me to do lots of volunteer work with several area schools.

I am more than happy to put smiles on the faces of dozens of kids whenever I work with them so they can go back home to their parents nice and happy. Then I get to go home nice and happy. A classic win-win for everyone involved! :)

wavemaker said...

This is awesome! Thank you for getting the message out that we are not terrible people. In fact, I realized the other day that parents would not be able to function without childfree people. There are childfree doctors saving their children's lives because they aren't rushing to get home to their own, childfree teachers who are able to put in extra time because they don't have to worry about their own children's educations, and a whole slew of other childfree people helping to take care of other people's children!

redwings19 said...

And on TLO's comment ....

How often is it just implied that the child-free are roped into taking care of ma-ma because everyone else has kids?

But I do agree that not having kids will free me up to take care of the rest of my extended-family.

lauracarroll said...

Amen! When I interviewed couples for Families of Two, so many were out there contributing to their families, loved ones, communities and the world through various causes it was easy to see that "selfish" has nothing to do with not having kids. I still see it today--the childfree so often think far beyond themselved and the impacts of their actions. As they say "it takes a village" and those without the kids need to be just as appreciated as those with them....Laura http://laviechildfree.com

Lyn said...

A standing ovation for this post, it's so true and so well written. Am linking it all over the place. Thank you!

Childfree Travel said...

I too sent an e-mail to that ass of a Dad re: his blog post. It re-posted it here (hopefully it gets approved, LOL):

"Dude, everything is relative. You have no more of a RIGHT to omplain because you have kids and I don't. Everybody makes a choice, that choice affects life personally and only the person experiencing those effects can really comment on them.

So you were up until 4am with your sick kids?
I'm sorry, I hope s/he gets better and you get some sleep.
So I was up late last night having wild sex (thank God for that IUD)?
I'm not sorry but I am a bit sore.

End result, we're both tired at work the next day - why do you have more of a right than me to complain about that? You don't, get over it and yourself."

I think what pisses me off the most about people like him is he acts like we (CF folks) FORCED him to have a kids and THEN threw it back in his face or something. Um, no! YOU made a choice and now you live with it just like I made a choice and I live with it. Don't be all BITTER because I chose BETTER!!! LOL

seltzermint said...

This is an awesome post about a topic I very rarely see covered online or anywhere else. I feel that I am a better, more attentive, happier friend, daughter, sister, niece, etc...due to not having children.

I'm extremely close to my (divorced) parents and several of my older extended family members. My friends with kids rarely seem to spend true quality time with their extended families, particularly their aged parents, because it's all about the grandchildren. Not about the parent or grandparent and their relationships with each other. About Timmy's soccer game or Isabella's 3rd birthday extravaganza...consuming every moment of their discussions for decades. To me, that's VERY sad. Not to mention the disagreements and power struggles over child care in some situations.

My husband and I have a lot of friends who are single and we love to have them over and enjoy holiday celebrations with a smattering of various "misfit" adult figures, all gathered together with no children in sight. If we had kids, I have a strong feeling that our social lives might be less colorful and more traditional. I feel we would miss out on a lot of interesting people and would not have the time or inclination to be the friends we are to these people we cherish.