July 23, 2007

To Be A Woman

Guest Post by LynnS

"It is insulting and condescending, not to mention untrue, to claim that a childfree person is somehow incapable of understanding and experiencing the depth and variety of emotion a childed person does."
Last month, I bumped into an old friend of mine I hadn't seen for several months. She looked pale and haggard and a good deal thinner. I suggested we go for lunch to catch up. On our way to the cafe, she told me that she'd taken a leave of absence from her job to care for her elderly father, who'd been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. All I could do was listen as she confided in me about her father's deteriorating condition - she was finding it increasingly difficult to care for him though she's a nurse, yet she wouldn't hear of him being put into a home.

In the meantime, two women were at the table behind us - one of them had a baby aged about six months. I couldn't help overhearing the mother say to her friend "You don't know what exhaustion or sacrifice is till you've had a baby".

Uhmmm . . . excuse me? Isn't what my friend doing a sacrifice? She also looked pretty exhausted to me!

I was offended by her comments but it got me thinking. Why do some parents feel the need to hijack emotions in this manner? It's not just exhaustion or sacrifice the childfree apparently don't understand.

It's unconditional love. It's true happiness. It's selflessness. It's responsibility.

What does this mean?

Are we to believe that our own experiences and feelings pale in comparison to those of parents? Are we to believe that every life experience, no matter how good or bad, no matter how ordinary or extraordinary, can't possibly compete with the exalted state of parenthood?
As for parents themselves, why are they so quick to dismiss and invalidate their lives pre-children?
Irritating as this is, there's something else which disturbs me: the sometimes spoken, sometimes implied belief that you have not fully lived life until you become a parent.

The belief that as a childfree person, you are in a state of arrested emotional development. The belief that raising children is the only worthwhile thing doing in life. The belief that simply by reproducing you automatically become a complete person. The belief that children are necessary to allow you to fulfill your potential as a human being - which includes living through the whole gamut of human emotion.

Hogwash, I say.

Parental hijacking also makes me suspicious. If you are at peace with the decisions you make, it should not be necessary to "big yourself up" by dismissing and invalidating your life pre-children. It is insulting and condescending, not to mention untrue, to claim that a childfree person is somehow incapable of understanding and experiencing the depth and variety of emotion a childed person does. It is not the job of the child to help you fulfill your potential. That responsibility is yours and yours alone.

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Ashley said...

The problem, in my opinion, is that these parents assume that the love they have for their spouses, parents, siblings, etc. is equal to the love we have for ours. Therefore, they assume that if they now love their children more than that person, we would too and so we must be missing out. Or not be able to understand.

The problem with that is, it's entirely possible that a particular childfree person loves their spouse more than said parent could ever even comprehend (to steal one of their lines). Perhaps the love they have for their spouse never compared to that a childfree person has for their own.

Since one can never know how someone else truly feels about their loved ones, it's silly to try and compare.

Anonymous said...

Best post here yet. Amazing!

LauraS said...

You beautifully articulated what many of us have experienced.

I feel that I am a responsible, mature adult. My life is rich and challenging. I love deeply and I am loved. I am happy and content.

Yes, I have never had the experience of birthing and raising a biological child. So does that mean I am in "a state of arrested emotional development?"

"Hogwash" is a good synonym for my response.

I also don't think that assumption is supported by research. In 2000, 42 percent of women aged 15 to 44 were childless. Are we all in a state of arrested development? I think not.

The idea that we must have children to be fully-realized adults negates our lives pre-children and marginalizes those who are childless and childfree.

Elise said...

To quote a lyric by Todd Rundgren, one of my musical heroes:

"Am I the only one to feel the sun
Exactly the way I do?"

Apparently, such questions never even occur to some parents. They're too busy making another PB&J sandwich while the kid is parked in front of the Disney channel. Which is as it must be sometimes, but...sheesh, the judgment!

AlphaGirl said...

Johnson& Johnson's "Having a Baby Changes Everything" campaign really underscores the condescending attitude toward childfree life. Activities such as a night out with friends, appreciating fine art and other "grown-up" thing are quickly minimized and demeaned once Precious comes along.

Because, yanno, things like a night out with friends, etc. are just trivial adolescent prusits once you become a parent. /sarcasm

Excellent post. I hate to break it parents, but they do not have the market cornered when it comes to love....

Lynn said...

Thanks for the kind words, people!
Alphagirl - I haven't actually seen this campaign. From what you describe, the implication seems to be that nothing else matters once kids come along, and grown-up activities should be sacrificed.
Am I the only one to think that's unhealthy?!

AlphaGirl said...

Hi Lynn-
The Johnson&Johnson campaign ran in print and TV about a year ago.
Yep, the inherent message was that once the kids come along, nothing else matters. It was one of the most condescending, syrpy campaigns I had seen in a long time, and it did promote that unhealthy balance.