When people see me with kids and see how much I enjoy them and how good I am with them, they cannot wrap their minds around the fact that I do not want kids. People assume that if a person likes kids, she must want them and that not wanting kids equals hating kids. For me, this is not true. I don't hate kids. I hate the lifestyle that comes with having them. When I tell people that, they look at me like I am speaking a foreign language. They just don't get it.
My very close friend Sara, who loves being a mom, demonstrates for me every time we are together why I do not want the parent lifestyle. We were together all day on Saturday at our house doing our annual holiday cookie bake - a tradition we have been enjoying for over 20 years. We start at 8:00 a.m. and go until well after dinner time, sometimes into the evening. Her kids stay home with her husband on cookie bake day (thank goodness) so we have the entire day together, just the two of us.
Even though Sara is sans kids for the day, she never escapes the demands of being a full-time mom, with her husband calling her on her cell phone every hour to check in and ask for her advice on every situation that arises with the kids. She's got to talk him through everything from what foods to feed them to how to get them to settle down for nap time to what time he should put the t.v. on, to who gets what snacks. He is helpless without her.
Last week, Sara and I went out Christmas shopping together at the local Target. I noticed that Sara always seems like she is on methamphetamines - she is always racing. While I am casually strolling through and aisles, browsing and looking at things in a leisurely and contemplative way, Sara is manically grabbing this thing and that, talking a mile a minute and making decisions quickly in a feverish rush, even when it's just the two of us and there is no reason to rush. I realized that her frantic demeanor has been honed from having to do shopping trips with her young boys who have very short attention spans that expire after 10 minutes a store, resulting in out-of-control temper tantrums. Sara has learned to think and act quickly and impulsively as a means of survival. Being with her turns my stomach in knots.
I have also noticed that with the onset of children, Sara has lost most of her attention span. When she and I are together and having a discussion, I have to get to the point quickly because she quickly loses her focus. She pretends to be listening, but I can tell her thoughts are elsewhere. Her brain has lost its ability stay with a train of thought for more than 1 minute. Again, blame it on endless hours of interactions with her kids who require rapid-fire responses from her - several per minute.I love Sara and our friendship goes back many, many years. I am sure our friendship will go on until the end of our lives, but being around her now gives me bad nerves. I keep telling myself to hang in there - that in a few years, when the kids are older, things will settle down and she will return to the calm and attentive friend I once knew. In the meantime, I just have to remember to take deep breaths when I am with her and try not to absorb the frenetic tension of her manic lifestyle.
I can 100% relate to this. Pretty much all of my "mom" friends have completely changed their personalities...not for for the better. Sadly, most of them don't even bother getting together or calling me anymore because they cannot DO anything anymore. I've really been mourning the loss of my old friends lately. And yes, it's the LIFESTYLE I don't want.
The whole children thing has changed so many of my relationships and it makes me sad...
Ditto on the changed relationships thing. It seems the majority of my friends with rugrats just don't consider friends important enough to make time for anymore. Sad.
And I don't see what's so hard about understanding someone liking children but not wanting them. It's exactly the same as someone who loves dogs and thinks they are so cute and loves to play with them but absolutely does NOT want one of their own - just doesn't fit into their lifestyle.
Seriously, it's no different. Well, I suppose the one difference is if it turns out to be more work than you expected, it should be over in about 8-15 years depending on what breed of dog you got. A child is basically a lifetime sentence...
I can also relate to this. The sad thing is, my mom friends don't even realize that they are the ones who changed after having kids, and as a result, our friendship has too. When the kids are suddenly the most important thing in their world, friendships ultimately suffer. When/if they do have time to hang out, and they aren't too tired, they spend the majority of the time talking to the kids and/or spouse. It's sad.
Good lord. My life is chaotic enough as it is between career, artistic pursuits, hobbies, husband, friends, etc. Don't get me wrong, I love it like this as it keeps me motivated and excited, but adding a child to that mix? Hell. No. I've had people tell me that they think I'd make a great mother because I obviously like to be busy and juggle a lot of activities at once so of course I'd be able to handle all the responsibilities that come with kids.
What I keep having to explain is that at least with all the things that keep me busy, I have the option to take an occasional break or put off a project or go into "hermit mode" if I need to. No can do with kids - you ALWAYS need to be on & attentive. No breaks, no breathers. There's a huge difference between enjoying being active with the understanding that I can take breaks when I need to (mostly - not so much with the work stuff but my point still stands since I can always shift other things to accommodate work) and dealing with the amount of chaos that I've witnessed in the lives of friends who've chosen to have kids - frankly, that level of insanity makes my life look like a day at the spa.
Luckily most of my parental unit friends still make a lot of effort to maintain our friendships with equal consideration, which makes me a lot more inclined to cut them slack when there's a last minute cancellation or change. But yes, there's a noticeable change in how they're able to relax and focus on themselves as adults, not just parents, much less maintain adult-centered conversation. I don't mind hearing a bit about how the kids are doing but jeez, how much time does it take to scan a news website/listen to NPR/catch clips of the Daily Show or something, anything to keep you even mildly connected to the greater world outside the nursery?
Although I have noticed that the level of frenzy does often depend on how many kids there are - the friends with a single child are a lot less frenetic than parents with multiple kids. Has anyone else noticed this?
Your second paragraph is the one I find most interesting. What we CF who happen to like being around kids, at least at times, is that we can give them back when are done. This way, we can avoid the downside (lifestyle) of kids but still enjoy being around them for certain times and activities.
This is true for me when I run school Scrabble tournaments, my volunteer work. I run about 4 tourneys a year (in addition to several other shorter visits to the schools). They are tiring both physically and mentally but I like doing it. But one of the best moments of a tourney day is when I step into my nice, quiet apartment afterwards and can take a nap or do anything else I like in peace and quiet.
Oh man! I'm a teacher so I also get that stuff: "But you like kids, don't you want them?" "You work with kids but you don't want any? What?" "Why don't you want kids. You know so much about child development!"
Yes I love children...from 8 to 4. If being with kids for just part of the day is draining enough and difficult enough for me, why would I want to come home to more? I get my kid fix daily, whether I want it or not. I don't need another set at home. Home time is my "grownup" time.
This is an AWESOME post. Love the thoughtful comments, too. CF folks write the best stuff because they have time to THINK. :)
Every CF person I know agrees wholeheartedly with the first paragraph. And we all know a Sara...at least one.
It's very hard to watch funny, interesting people become frazzled, humorless automatons due to parenthood. It's even harder to hear them prattle on about how being a parent has made them a better person. Uh, no, it's robbed you of your personality and now you're just on auto-pilot doing repetitive tasks at a manic pace every day of your life.
So well said--so many childfree people like kids but just don't want the lifestyle that comes with them. They may be part of their lifestyle if they have occupations that involve kids. I was surprised to find that this was true for lots of people I interviewed for my book Families of Two (www.lauracarroll.com). For these and other childfree who have jobs that do not involve kids, they just don't want children to be the central theme of their lives.
This is true for me too. I am a godmother and auntie to several kids and I love the role of the "wacky" aunt!
I guess I'm cheating or something, because my life isn't hectic or stressful at all, unless I try to do a million things at once or at the last minute.
The beauty of having an only is getting to dip my toe in the parenting pool without getting my suit wet, I suppose.*shrugs*
That awesome, HawkMom, that you've managed to keep you life low-key, even with kids. From what I observed, that is the exception to the rule. My friend Sara (the one I wrote about in this post) was just as frazzled once she had her first. It all started to go downhill right after he was born, and I've seen the same thing happen to others right after they had their first.
So kudos to you for not going down that path!
I've noticed the same thing happening with my childed friends -- although in most cases, it looks to me like their life after children is just an exaggeration of their basic nature.
That is, they always did enjoy noisy parties/talking over each other instead of listening and taking turns talking/didn't seem to mind messy stinky dorm rooms. Now their lives are like that 24-7. DO NOT WANT.
Dear lord haven't we all been there or witnessed this. If these people knew that just by observing them alone, its validation to those of us who are childfree to remain that way!
"And I don't see what's so hard about understanding someone liking children but not wanting them. It's exactly the same as someone who loves dogs and thinks they are so cute and loves to play with them but absolutely does NOT want one of their own - just doesn't fit into their lifestyle."
Oh my gosh! I said EXACTLY the same thing to a girlfriend about 10 years ago when I was trying to explain why I didn't want kids. She about bit my head off: "You are saying having kids is the same as having a DOG!" She missed the point completely.
I have since learned that my friends really don't get it. Some of them pretend they do. I used to have hurt feelings that they didn't understand me, but realized recently that I pretend I get why they DO want to have kids, so I guess we're even!
Ah, yes, this is familiar. It reminds me of another behavioral change. When my close girlfriend had her children, she became resentful of (what she perceived as) my vast amounts of free time. When I'd mention something interesting I'd read or suggested some fun event (often kid friendly ones), she'd snap at me, "I don't have time for that stuff!" There was a tendency to belittle my activities. As though they were trivial and selfish.
Yet, at the same time, she seemed envious and would lament not being able to participate in something. I never could figure it out. Apparently, I'm leading a self absorbed, empty life or a fulfilling, connected one. Take your pick, either way, she's angry at me.
She's a good friend in many other ways and fiercely protective of me, if she senses someone is messing with me.
If you're childfree and enjoy children, I liken it to working at the zoo. I love animals, I think animals are fascinating, I like to think I have a way with animals, and I think I would be a great zookeeper. Do I seriously want to take the tiger home to live in my house? Or take home the giant hissing cockroaches? Absolutely not!
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