Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Bitch & Backpedal

Here's something that I find utterly fascinating about some parents - perhaps you too have witnessed this. I call it The Bitch & Backpedal. This is how it works.

A parent is bitching and complaining about their kids and about being a parent. They're really letting loose and spilling all the beans. You know the scene. You're quiet and listening and letting them vent. They are going on and on full steam about how exhausted they are, how their kids suck the life out of them, how they are a shell of their former self. The venting feels good, so they keep going. They proceed to detail the sorry state of their financial affairs - the criminal cost of day care, having to hold down two jobs so they can pay the bills and save for their kids' college educations, how they can't afford to go out to dinner anymore and no longer have the time or money to do any of the things they love to do. And the kids are so damned UNGRATEFUL! They just take and take and take and take and don't appreciate a damned thing. You nod in sympathy and your compassionate response elicits further revelations. Their sex life has gone to hell. Even if they wanted to have sex, there's no time or energy left at the end of the day and both of them collapse into bed exhausted or too angry at each other from fighting over the kids. Parenthood has sucked every sexual impulse out of them.

You suggest that maybe they should schedule a "date night" or spend some time doing adult things together on the weekends. "Ha!" the parent laughs. "We're chauffeurs every weekend - Johnny has soccer on Saturdays and karate on Sundays, Belinda has art lessons on Saturday morning, fencing Saturday afternoons and Girl Scouts on Sunday - oh and on Tuesday nights we have PTA, on Thursdays the kids both have swim meets and Friday night is when we schedule play dates for them. We're running every day and night of the week!"

Now the parent is on a roll, ranting about their home being something akin to a war zone with toys and clothes everywhere, constant bickering and fighting, power struggles over chores and homework, evenings spent patrolling television, internet and cell phone use. And the back talk! They are at wit's end - every type of discipline they have tried has failed. The latest news is that 11 year old Belinda has been caught "sexting" nude photos of herself to several of her male classmates and has been suspended from school. The parent dissolves into a puddle of tears.

And then, without thinking, it slips out of you. "Man, I am so glad I don't have kids."

That is the trigger for The Backpedal. Abruptly the gears come to a screeching halt and the parent reverses into an alternate self, like the little girl in The Exorcist after the demon is exorcised from her, or Sybill when she switches between her multiple personalities. Their entire demeanor changes. Their face softens and takes on a glowy hue. Suddenly parenthood isn't bad at all. In fact, it's downright peachy! It's the most important job in the world and they can't imagine having any other life. You really don't know what you're missing. Those little moments when the child says, "I love you mommy and daddy" make it so worth it. There is nothing like the feeling of those little arms around your neck. It is a love that is stronger than any love they have ever felt. They are a better person for having kids - they have grown so much as a person and aren't so selfish anymore. The entire human race is better off because they have kids. Being a parent is so wonderful and their most important and gratifying role in life. (At this point, they're worried you aren't buying it, so to bolster their position they whip out the photo album - and immediately flip to the most heartwarming photos in their collection - photos you might see on the front of Hallmark cards with the child and parent gazing adoringly into each others' eyes, the proud daddy carrying his son on his shoulders, parents, kids and dog wrestling in a pile of colorful leaves on a crisp, autumn day).

I've witnessed the Bitch & Backpedal so many times at this point I can almost recite the script by heart. The Bitch & Backpedal is truly fascinating. It is like watching a glassy-eyed cult member rattle off the dogma of his leader, or a Stepford Wife robotically praising and complimenting her husband as she obediently serves him a martini like a remote control mannequin.

When I try to dissect this perplexing behavior, I can only come up with this theory:

Parenting, for the most part, sucks. Sure, it has some redeeming elements (like those little "I love yous" and arms around the neck - which, by the way, you can easily get from your nieces and nephews if you crave it) but a much higher percentage of parenthood is drudgery than pleasure. Of course, nobody tells people this going in because our pronatalist culture is laser beam-focused on beating us over the head with messages that unrealistically glorify and glamorize parenthood. Since most people are sheep and don't know the slightest thing about independent thinking, they blindly buy into every lie they are spoonfed. And let's face it - when it comes to parenthood, there are plenty of lies to go around.

So then, like good little automatons, they have children and reality hits. What?! It's not a picnic!? It's not sugar and spice and everything nice!? It's not puppies and rainbows!? It's not a life overflowing with Kodak moments!? No, for the most part, it is hours upon hours of drudgery puntuated by rare, fleeting moments of joy. Not what you bargained for? Sorry, you can't give them back. Becoming a parent and hating it is not like having a job you hate. Don't like your job? Quit and find another one (okay, maybe not too easy in this economy, but you get my point). You can even go back to school and change careers completely! Don't like your kids? Don't like being a parent? Miss your spouse, your friends, your hobbies, your love life, your personal identity, your peace of mind? You want your old life back? Tough bananas. You're stuck for at least 18 years (usually more) and there's no way out. Yes, I know it's a cliche but Sonny, you made your bed.

This is what I believe is at the root of The Backpedal. Simply stated, it is a coping mechanism. It is a form of self-delusion - a facade many parents try to uphold to avoid truly facing the harsh reality of what they have done - the fact that like all the billions of suckers before them, they were hoodwinked into a life of voluntary incarceration. So when in a moment of overwhelming frustration they inadvertently let the cat out of the bag to someone who is brave enough to acknowledge the suckiness of their life, it sends them into a tailspin. They simply cannot endure it because it confirms their deepest fear - what they know deep inside but do not want to admit - that parenthood is a prison they have no means to escape. Since they are going to be locked up for a long, long time, they might as well paint their prison in the prettiest, most uplifting shade they can find. Takes their attention off the bars.


CFVixen said...

OMG....Great post! I've been through this countless times myself! You nailed it perfectly!

WhiteRaven Slade said...

Damn Straight!

Bitch & Backpeddle....nice!

It's like watching someone try to Rewind and Record over Real Life. As though the Backpeddle means the Bitch never happened, or that they suddenly try to play it like the Bitch is the rarity and not the regular drudgery they made clear was practically neverending just moments ago.

Be interesting to see some parent comments. Affirmation or Denial?

Any bets? (Yeah Right!)

Anonymous said...

The person I had this similar experience with was my beautician. She got pregnant unexpectedly by her boyfriend who isn't too keen on fatherhood and regularly spends long, late nights out with the boys (and an ex-girlfriend who is single and rather frisky). She was whining to me about how awful he is and doesn't take much interest in his son, how she hated her son when he was first born and wanted nothing to do with him, etc. She then goes on to tell me that she had seen a psychologist and now she realized that she had to step up and be a parent and how wonderful her son is and how much she loves him. Although she made a shiteous decision of having a child when she (and the sperm donor) clearly weren't ready to have one, to her credit I have to say that she really has stepped up and is trying to be a responsible parent. Granted I think her psychologist along with her mom and the rest of her family, brain washed her into thinking it was a wonderful decision, but at least the end result is that the kid is going to hopefully have a halfway decent mother. All bets are off on the dad.

I think you're entirely correct when you say that they use the Backpeddle as a psychological coping mechanism. How else can their psyche keep it together but by telling them that those 1 in a 100 moments of bliss make the other 99 moments of hell worth it? The problem with the Backpeddle is that women use it to recruit others into the cult of Mommy. For us CF, independent minded folk, that kind of Kodak-moment speak doesn't work on us. It's the women (and sometimes men) who can't formulate their own opinion who are trapped by that kind of rhetoric.

What a wonderful post! Thanks for sharing. :)

Anonymous said...

Well done. So very true. Those of us who became parents for the right reasons don't fall into this category. I apologize if that came off as smug, but the people who find themselves in B&B mode are the ones who pretty much planned out their kids' lives before they were born and are now overwhelmed and regretful. Those Kodak photos are the only semblance they have of that picture-perfect life they planned out: "Look at us smiling in our colorful sweaters! Look how happy we are!" *rolls eyes*

I think we parents of onlies are treated slightly better than CF-ers, but believe me, you're not the only ones who are judged. I get told all the time how I'll change my mind or I'm being selfish by not giving HawkBaby a sibling. That's why I like this blog so much. Nobody's beating the door down to repopulate the earth just because they can.

Phoena said...

You're spot on! One minute they are offering their kids for sale because it's such drudgery. The next three days they are trying to convince themselves and anyone who will listen they didn't mean any of it.


Childfreeeee said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone.

WhiteRavenSlade, yes it IS like they want to convince you that the drudgery is the rare exception and the joyful bliss is the everyday experience. Yet, with many parents, when we watch them in action, we're LUCKY if we witness even a GLIMPSE of joy. Right now I am thinking of my sister-in-law who I swear, I NEVER see a glimpse of joy from when she is with her kids. The entire time she is with them she is aggravated...nattering, correcting, scolding with an angry expression on her face (and these are honestly good kids). Although in the very same moment, hubby and I are laughing and having a fun time with the kids and finding them utterly adorable, she barely can crack a smile.

Serafina, sounds like your friend is making the best of a very bad situation. I am sure I would do the same thing if I was in her shoes. I would do my best to come to terms with the situation and make the best of it. What I would NOT DO (which a lot of parents do, and which is the subject of this blog entry) is go around lying to everyone about how blissful parenthood is in one breath, after I just spent the previous 100 breaths blasting it to hell. To say it is hypocritical is an understatement. You are right that moms use the backpeddle as a recruiting mechanism. This is another aspect that I did not get to, but maybe I will write another post about it: misery loving company. Why are mothers, who clearly are unhappy in their role, so worried about recruiting others and so fervent in their backpeddling when others notice how unhappy they are? Could it be that misery loves company and they can't stand to see others who have a made a different choice because it reminds them of the choice they COULD have made?

HawkMom, yes it is true that parents of only children are not given a free pass either. There's this very strict formula you are held to and if you don't choose to do any part of the formula you will be criticized, judged, pitied, look down on and worse: you must get married. You must buy a house. You must have more than 1 kid. Do all of the above and instant acceptance and validation. Skip any of these steps and prepare to be treated as a loser or a misinformed idiot who doesn't have her priorities straight.

Phoena - nothing gets past you ;)

Childfreeeee said...

A reader, Amie, forwared me this link. Check it out:

Notice the percentage of the article that is comprised of bitching about motherhood/the kids and what percentage is about praising it.

A little backpeddling at the end.

(Thanks for the link, Amie)

Anonymous said...

Let me add, Childfreeeee, that you must also have a driver's license, own a car, and own every electronic gadget on the market (cell, computer, iPod, etc.) in order to be accepted, as well. You wouldn't believe how much crap I get just for not having the things mentioned above, let alone for not conforming to what you listed! It seems very few people are capable of independent thought.

A. Hidell said...

Excellent post, one which I would immediately post to Facebook were I in the mood to dodge a shitstorm of backpeddling from my constantly bitching mombie friends. I also went and read the Oregonian article you noted in the comments, so thanks for the extra dose of birth control today as well.

The Pint said...

"Bitch and Backpeddle" - that's hilariously perfect alliteration. I don't mind at all when my parent friends want to bitch and blow off steam if they've been having a particularly hard time of it - my friend with the twins usually has us both in stitches with horror stories about life as a suburban mom - but I'd have far less respect for her if she immediately followed it up with the "but it's all worth it, I swear!" caveat. What she usually says is, "Raising kids can be shitty and I hope it's worth it and I'm not screwing them up for life!" I'm pretty sure she's doing a good job of not screwing them up thus far. :-)

Compared to that, every time I hear a parent follow a bitch session with the "but I love my kids so much and it's so worth it!" it sounds like an overzealous protestation meant to mask the fact that they don't love their kids as much as they feel they should and that they're worried it really isn't worth it and feel horribly guilty about their negative feelings and so must shout the opposite louder lest someone figure out how they really feel.

Seriously, people, it's OKAY to feel frustrated with being a parent - admitting to that doesn't mean you hate your kids, no need to slap on the flimsy see-thru excuse that "it's all worth it." I can get horribly frustrated and exhausted by my job and have days where I dream of quitting - doesn't mean I love it any less, but it can't be perfect all the time and I'm allowed to say so. It's a shame parenting isn't given that same amount of latitude in this culture - if it was, maybe we'd be subjected to less of the Bitching and Backpeddling.

Jamie said...

I think I am in love with you.

Unknown said...

I'm a parent and I have to say, you are dead-on. I DO love my kids, and I owe it to them to do the best I can... but i had no idea 14 years ago what I was getting into, and by the time I realized how much I was sacrificing, it was too late. I wish society would hone the message you've relayed here.

Ellie said...

If only I had a dime for every time I'd witnessed this phenomenon.

"...parenthood is a prison they have no means to escape. Since they are going to be locked up for a long, long time, they might as well paint their prison in the prettiest, most uplifting shade they can find. Takes their attention off the bars."

Yes, yes, and more yes!!

Dave said...

First time writer here, but hardly a first-timer to CF boards (a regular in bratfree for about a year).

That "Kids for Sale" blog was the ultimate "Bitch and Backpeddle" if you ask me. One thing you will never see from a CFer is a B&B.

I retired last year at the age of 45. One big reason is that I was CF. No bitching or backpeddling from me EVER!

[BTW, I am not the same "Dave" who has posted before. But that is my screen name in my Google account. Any way to distinguish one from the other?]

Vibrant Ireland said...

I agree with Michi! I think one of the last taboos is to admit(if it is true for you) you don't really like parenting or actually wish you hadn't had children/so many children, (even tho you dearly love them.) It would probably draw alot more fire than the flak we childfree people sometimes get for our choice.

Wag the Dog said...

@Childfreeeee: You should do a post on how recent research into the kids-happiness link is being spun by the press into a pro-natalist pro-marriage position.

You can even download the original research to read it yourself and see how the media has twisted it by claiming it challenges previous research that shows kids have little effect on happiness and perhaps even negative.

Table 7 in the paper only confirms this previous conclusion.

Furthermore, the difference in the effect kids have on the happiness of the couple depending upon marital status is actually in agreement with what the childfree have been saying all along -- that you will be happier if you only have children when you are absolutely positive that you are ready for them. The key is in the dataset that the researchers used - British adults after 1996. Birth control was already widely available and organised religion was losing influence. Unmarried parents tend to be an indicator of inexperience with birth control -- a greater likelihood of unplanned kids. Marriage tended to happen after a lengthy period of cohabitation so the married couple would be very experienced users of birth control. One could infer that any married couple having kids have made conscious plans to start a family. It is no wonder that the unplanned arrival of kids tends to reduce the happiness of the couple, whereas well planned-for children can boost the happiness of couples. Even the researchers state this in the conclusion.

Pity that the press have fallen back to the old narrative that the surest way to be happy is to get married and then start breeding.

goddiva-11 said...

((((( Standing Ovation)))

I've come to the conclusion that parenthood is a cult and they thrive on misery loves company and they sell the bull about the "joys" so few in order to recruit, recruit!

I have more respect for those who keep it real and don't back pedal and yes, I have been fortunate enough to have some, very few commend for not having or wanting kids. All others either try to convince me or commend me but think I'm only delaying. Here is one thing I know to be true if I would ever have a moment of insanity and had a kid I can tell you now IT WOULD BE THE BIGGEST MISTAKE OF MY LIFE I'm not designed for servitude, I believe in corporal punishment, my solitude is more important than entertaining some ankle biter, and I tell my damn self I love you, I'm not too fond of many people hugging me especially with sticky dirty no! No kids for me. I've observed parents with children long enough to know its a TRAP!!!!

Chunking around Liverpool said...


I've been reading Childfreedom for ages but this is the first time I've commented. This is such a great blog post and I've probably read it over a dozen times - I even bookmarked it in my favourites :)

I've never experienced the Bitch and Backpeddle myself, but I imagine it's only a matter of time.

A while after reading this I came across an article entitled 'Gisele Bundchen might claim giving birth didn't hurt - but here's a REAL account of what it's like to become a mum'. Long winded I know, but I thought maybe it was going to be good, and it was... until halfway through when it backpeddles slightly.

I thought you might want to take a look so here is the link to it :-

I hope you can access it, it's a British newspaper website and I'm not sure if anyone outside the UK can view it.

Thanks again for the killer blog post and keep writing more!

Soulie x

MandyB said...

Dave you are living my dream!!! I too want to retire at 45, thanks for confirming it really can happen if you plan for it!

Sharonkay said...

Brilliant post. I have seen this myself on previous jobs that I've held. One minute these women are constantly complaining how hard it is to raise kids, and then when they see someone like me who has no kids, they do an 180 degree turnaround. Since I am also single, they'll say b.s. like "oh you'll be lonely in your old age". I don't feel sorry for none of these women. They had a choice and they have to live with it. Don't get mad at people like me and childfreee because we were smart enough to think it over before making the big mistake of having kids.

Anonymous said...

I know it's been a while since this post has been out, but well written! My wife and I are Christians who made it perfectly clear at the beginning of our relationship that neither one of us wanted kids. We've been married for 8 years and still have not budged in our stance. My brother in law insist on having a gaggle of children and has been trying to convince us to have kids of our own. Problem is we both watch him and his wife constantly yelling at their kids and don't get me started on the fatigue that is ever present in their faces. They ALWAYS use their kids as a scapegoat as to why they can't do things. One time I tried to convince him to get a PS4 so the four of us could play online when the kids were a sleep. His excuse to this and virtually everything else is a cliche at this point, "I can't, we don't have the money".

Another thing many parents continue to do that really doesn't fool anyone is the fake know the one that says, "while my life seems like it sucks, this lil shits are totally worth it." I love kids, don't get me wrong, we just love other people's kids and the thing we love most about them; we give them back once we've had our "fix". Great post and we're both very happy that we now have a term to use in the future, LOL!