Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Allure of the Expected versus The Truth

I mentioned to you last week that I had to fire someone recently. It was a pretty traumatic experience and the first time I ever had to do such a thing, but I made it through fairly unscathed. Fortunately I found what appears to be a good replacement for the person I fired. She's an interesting, intelligent young woman with a strong, outspoken personality and an opininated nature. She's not shy about telling us just what she thinks and seems to have no hesitation about being contrary when needed.

Yesterday, my staff went out to lunch together and in the course of our lunch conversation, the new employee, Charlene, asked everyone around the table if they had kids. Of course, I gave my usual answer, "yes, 2 cats", which elicited the usual laugh. After everyone else had answered, Charlene was asked if she had kids.

"Ugh - NO!" she exclaimed, with a look of intense disgust, as though someone had asked her if she would like a dog doo sandwich.

And then, immediately following her intense expression of disgust at the idea of having kids, she stated, "I'm not married yet. Once I get married, we'll see."

I have to admit that this type of instant 180 degree flip-flop is just fascinating to me. In the span of 2 short seconds, she went from sheer disgust to open-mindedness about the very same issue. It's an interesting thing to witness.

You may be thinking she probably made the second statement because she sensed the group was judging her negatively for the first statement and wanted to soften the blow. Nope. She got no negative judgement from anyone in the group. I've already broken them in to the concept of childfreedom so at this point the idea of someone choosing not to have kids is no longer a novel concept to them.

So why the stark ambivalance?

Over time, as I get to know her better, I am sure I will find out (and I will be sure to update you) but my suspicion is that she's taking the same approach that most people take when it comes to having children: you have them because that's just what you do. It doesn't matter if you like kids. It doesn't matter if you want to be a parent. It doesn't matter if you are happy just as you are. You get married, and you have kids. It's a prescription. You don't think about it. You don't question it. You don't consider whether it's the best or most fulfilling path for you. You accept it. It's your destiny. Go to school, get a job, get married, have kids. Period, end of sentence (or, from my perspective beginning of a sentence, depending on how one defines sentence).

I know approval feels really good. I know achieving what we're taught is a milestone feels really good too. And who doesn't want to be showered with praise, compliments and congratulations? Who doesn't want to be the center of attention and celebration; the pinacle of femininity and radiant beauty - the center of the universe, the creator of miracles, the madonna? Who doesn't want a life rich with activity and plans, with surprise and excitement? Who doesn't want to fit in as a bona fide member of The Club? Who doesn't want to make mom and dad happy and fulfill their dream of having grandchildren? Who doesn't want to look into the eyes of an adorable little mini-me who reflects back the most appealing vision of herself? Who doesn't want to be the god of someone's world - the ultimate power figure in someone else's life? The ego drinks this shit up.

The lure of approval and self-glorification is mighty powerful for sure, but I still find it fascinating that more intelligent and critical-thinking people don't stop and say, "yes, that's all great, BUT..." and really think through the huge costs incurred in this pursuing this massive ego stroke. What exactly is the huge price tag for being a card-carrying member of The Parent Club?

It's pretty easy to figure out why even the most intelligent and critical-thinking people never get to the point of seriously weighing out their options. Childfreedom is never presented as an option. It's rarely, if ever, mentioned by anyone, at any time (well, except on internet sites like this). How many adults (or anyone for that matter) did you know growing up, who presented the childfree option to you as an viable and attractive lifestyle path you might want to consider? How many times were you told that having children is a choice and some people choose not to have them and are happy with their choice? How many childfree role models did you have growing up? How many childfree-by-choice celebrities did you hear about in the media? How many childfree characters did you see on television or in movies (that were not psychopathic nut-jobs)?

Think about it. It's not hard to see why people like Charlene talk out of both sides of their mouths.


sara star said...

Most of my family is childfree. My father is the only sibling of four who had children. One aunt has a bunch of pets instead of children. The other aunt just doesn't care for kids that much, and my uncle is the same way. Although none of them are married either, and I got married.

My grandmother tried to guilt me for not having great grandchildren for her--I said, well that isn't my fault is it...

Jamie said...

As someone born, raised and still living in the Midwest, Childfreedom is never presented as an option. In the short 18 months that I've been married, I've faced countless judgments already.

At work, in a semi-professional setting, I have stated my desire to remain childfree. It's almost as though my colleagues don't take me seriously because I continue to get comments about how I'll change my mind, at least weekly. It's so irritating. So instead of becoming confrontational I likely come across as ambiguous towards the subject. I'm tired of having to defend my position. In truth, it's nobody's business and I don't owe an explanation.

Furthermore, parenthood is not for everyone, especially hubs and me! This delightful fact has been reinforced as we've witnessed friends and family reproduce at a rapid rate and face the consequences of burdening responsibility and piles of child-related expenses. No thanks!

Thanks for letting me rant!

Anonymous said...

"It's just what you do" seems to be the common philosophy. At 17, I told my mom I didn't want children. She scoffed and called me selfish. People just can't wrap their minds around not having children for some reason.

marin said...

I've always knew I didn't want to have children, but the lack of childfree role models and the maternal instinct brain washing made me believe there was a biological clock's hormone that kiks in at a certain age, at least for females.
That's why when asked I answered "two kids" instead of "zero", I didn't want them but I supposed one day I would craved to reproduce, like everyone.

Melinda said...

"Childfreedom is never presented as an option. It's rarely, if ever, mentioned by anyone, at any time..."

I didn't know it was an option. After almost 3 years of marriage I felt strange b/c I still didn't want to have children. Yes, I admit I don't want to make the sacrifices. My parents have 5 kids and it seemed growing up that it was all about sacrifice and little joy. So, it hit 3 years of marriage and I got asked constantly when I was going to have a kid. Ugh! I was so frustrated and alone. I began to wonder if anyone else thought like me. I Googled 'life without kids' and came across the word 'childfree.' A whole new world opened up to me. An option. An option I never knew existed. Now I have several websites and blogs about the childfree life bookmarked. I don't feel quite so alone anymore. So, thanks.

marin said...

I was 17 too when I told my parents I didn't want children and I would have had tubal ligation (I already knew what it was).
My mother didn't take me seriously and my father said that it would have broken his heart.

FreeAsAnEagle said...

I think the lack of role models is a result of the Media (once AGAIN) pandering to the lowest common denominator. Stuff about parenthood gets ratings and money, so that's what is shoved in our faces.

I knew from a very young age (7 maybe?) that having kids was simply NOT an option for me. And I have a strong enough personality that I just didn't give a twig if it's what everybody else does.

And, yes I've known people who have no true interest in children who reproduce anyway because it's just "what you do". These weren't just mindless "breeders" either. These were pretty intelligent people.

Oh well, whatever floats your boat.

redwings19 said...

I have known I didn't want kids since I was 12. No one took me seriously until about 2 years ago. I'm 37 now. The family at least is getting the hint.

HOWEVER, I had abdominal surgery this past week. I ended up loosing both ovaries due to cysts. Problem solved! My BF and I are both childfree and love it that way, but being here in the midwest it's not accepted, just like The Mrs. said. The nurse said to me prior to the surgery: "but what if you and he get married and he wants kids?" AS IF I CAN'T MAKE THAT CHOICE? WT...H? I just said "then we'll adopt" rather than slap her.

I think that we that are childfree end the conversation way earlier than we need to just to avoid the onslaught of ignorance. These people don't want to be open to your ideas, they just want to recruit you. It does no good to talk to them about it.

Unknown said...

I have talked out of both sides of my mouth to soften the blow, and am just now getting courageous enough to admit that no, I don't want kids, not now, not ever, no matter what people say. I guess I did it because I dislike confrontation, but I'm getting braver. My parents want grandkids, but I'm not the one who will provide them. My sister is gay and doesn't want kids, so I was the "great white hope" and now I'm telling them I don't want them, dashing their ego-driven dreams of being grandparents. But I have to make the choices that will make me happy. I'm seriously considering having my tubes tied, and being under the age of 30 with no kids already it's going to be a challenge to find a surgeon who will respect me and go through with the procedure. It's NEVER been presented as an option to me to be childfree, unmarried, non-monogamous, or anything other than doing the prescribed "American way of life" b.s. That is not for everyone, and I refuse to force myself to be like everyone else without thought. I will not be a mommy, I will be ME, and I will live a fulfilling life. I do have two aunts who are single and childfree by choice, and they run a preschool! They love kids, but they also love their freedom. They will both retire comfortably because of the profitability of their business. Having kids is no guarantee that you'll be taken care of in old age. Thanks for your blog, I love it! :)

Fanboy Wife said...

Since I've had the cognitive ability to think about my future and not wanting children, I've been scoffed at for that by my family, teachers, and peers. As a defense, I'd usually just say that I might adopt someday. As an adult, I've met a few people who are child-free, and it's nice to know I'm not alone!

Anonymous said...

So, here's my take...

The expected: A cycle that consists of your creation due to your parents expectation to start a family, possibly "putting on hold" your mother's dream of a career. Several kids and 20+ years later, these children grow up to dream of careers, travels, expanding hobbies, etc., much like said mom, and once a certain age is reached (mid to late 20s, lets say, or the onslaught of marriage) "the expected" starts to slowly eat at the grown children; some choose to continue the cycle by sidelining for 20+ more years to propagate, perhaps following lost dreams in retirement; other siblings might choose to break the cycle, and live a full life free of the cycle, where said aspirations of self-discovery and enrichment can take place over the lifetime, not merely at "the end."

Oh, and I hate when people use the term "duty" when referring to the necessity of starting a family.

cat said...

I'm so glad to have come across this blog! I'm sure this has been addressed before, but your point about the fact that being childfree is never even presented as an option really rang true with me. Not only that, but in my life even the suggestion of being childfree elicits a condescending attitude. I've been told I'm going to lead a very self-centered and empty life without anyone to take care of me when I'm old. I have only recently won the battle of getting my mother to accept that I won't have children--she always used to say, "You'll change your mind." I think some people only "change their minds" when all their friends start having children and making them feel guilty or like an outcast. The life of a mother sounds truly miserable to me. It only turns into a rewarding experience when you can congratulate yourself for getting through the hell of raising children when they're 18 and gone.

Unknown said...

I know this is 2 years later but I just stumbled across this blog and have been enjoying your older posts. To her credit, my mom always made it clear that I had a choice about what I did with my life... what career i chose, get married or not, have kids or not. She also made it clear that she hated motherhood but felt like she did not have a choice in the 60s and 70s when she had us. Well I took her advice and do not have kids, which I think pleases her, but not my dad. He really wants grandkids. Oh well, at least my sister has a kid.

I actually have not gotten a lot of flak for not having kids. I look a lot younger than I am, so I think people assume I am just entering my "baby bearing" years when in reality I am leaving them. Either that or I don't strike people as maternal? Who knows. Usually when someone asks if I have kids, I say no, 2 dogs, and then we start talking about pets. Rarely does anyone circle back around to grill me on the kid issue. I am a bit surprised at how common this seems to be, but I am glad I don't often have to deal with it.