December 24, 2007

The Common Ground

Purple WomenTM new to this blog and parents alike may be surprised at its tone when they first discover it. We have been blogging on a controversial topic of "being a childfree woman" for going on three years now. It's a topic that draws extreme points of view on a very personal and sometimes controversial choice, to child or not to child. We explore the topic with tact, reason and some grace and we hope it supports and enlightens those who land here. All are welcome, that's why we call it Purple Women & Friends.

It's perhaps too easy to focus on what separates us.
Women empower themselves by acknowledging their choice to remain childfree, regardless of what circumstances, or at what age they make the choice. As time goes on we realize we must arm ourselves against the thoughtless comments of others, and sometimes our own family. If we are really skilled, we develop a sense of humor about it (I truly believe it's the best defense of a lifestyle choice that should need no defending.)

As our friends have kids, we have to change our expectations about those friendships and put some thought into the structure of our social life, one that will not revolve around the school year, unless we enroll, or become an educator ourselves.

Parents deserve our respect, support and understanding. Sometimes they just need a "wider berth" to get through the difficult years with younger children. Have patience Purple WomenTM, because it's really fun to reconnect with parents who have older kids. They are ready to socialize and have some adult fun again. They have served their time, focused on their kids and now they are ready to explore who they are again. People really connect on their common interests, not their family status, though parents of young kids are in a totally different social state.

My husband and I moved to his home town in Northern California one year ago. I'll admit, I was a little nervous about being back in mainstream suburbia, (read my post about it: Purple Haze) but things are really working out okay. I started a No Kidding chapter for my area and have also made a lot of friends by getting involved with the local opera company. We just hosted our first ever holiday party combining these two groups of friends in our new home and we were very pleased that our mix of interesting, artsy childed and childfree friends found each other so fascinating. It left me with the feeling that really we have more in common than not. It's perhaps too easy to focus on what separates us.

The childfree path is the one we walk, but we are not alone, there are lots of potential friends along the way and they are not all childfree. On this topic, I would like to turn your attention to a beautiful post written by AlphaGirl about her best friend and mother of three grown kids: Maria. It is buried in the archives, and one of our best contributions. Please take a moment to read it.

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M said...

I can def. relate to a lot of what you say in this post.

I think you're right in that parents of younger kids are often
way too busy and consumed with raising their children to make the best social companions for those of us without children.

Of course the above is a generalization with many exceptions, but often young children, esp. if they are the first for that family, take a lot of time, energy, and thought, and new parents often seem to disappear (at least in my exp. and that of many people I know) from their usual social circle (and maybe even more so from some of their childfree friends, in some cases) for a while after giving birth.

But I agree that parents of older kids seem much more available, and that you can't form a bond of friendship simply on being childfree alone. There has to be more common ground than that and often that common ground will be found with someone who does have children (if we let it).

As childfree people, we do share many experiences and sometimes beliefs that we can relate to one another by, but there has to be more there for a real friendship to develop. There is certainly no rule that those who we will relate to will end up being people who have also chosen not to have children.

Finding good friends or even good acquaintances is not always easy; I certainly don't wish to limit my options by limiting myself to one small portion of the population.

And besides, I believe that we probably have more in common with other people, parents or no, than we realize, seeing as how we are all simply trying to make it joyfully and successfully (whatever that means to us) through this life (in fact, my post from when we all wrote about our experiences as childfree individuals in society as well as in the blogging world, says pretty much the exact same).

Being human binds us; being childfree is just one component of the human experience, just like parenthood is. Great post, Teri.

Britgirl said...

"Parents deserve our respect, support and understanding. Sometimes they just need a "wider berth" to get through the difficult years with younger children."

While I'm all for having similarities unite, respect should be mutual, based on who we are as people rather than our reproductive choices. Society is currently based on just that premise - that parents somehow deserve more respect, more accolades, more preferential treatment than those who are not parents. They are both choices.

People who have decided not to be parents also deserve respect, understanding and support - but very rarely get it from the childed and their sense of alienation indicates that it isn't forthcoming from wider society either.

On the other hand from the time we could understand, the importance of having children, how much people respect once you have them, what a hard job it is, how much better, more evolved, more fulfilled it makes you - and of course how it makes you "a woman" - or in the case of men How children make you grow up - how you're doing your duty for society - are steadily force-fed to us so that by the time we grow up we more or less believe it and have a hard time thinking any differently without a great deal of angst.

I believe the vast majority of Childfree people are patient with parents whatever age their children are (even though some are probably losing patience with the constant implication that they are deficient in more ways than one and the feeling of our needs being less important than a parents). We really have no choice since we're vastly outnumbered anyway, and the fact that many of us have friends who are parents or work in childcentred environments. We've seen how hard a job it is to be a parent - that's partly why many of us decided against doing it ourselves. I'm not interested in hearing about it ad naseum at work, at business meetings at social gatherings etc.

I'm more interested in the person as a person.

I'm not interested in being asked whether I intend to have kids or if I have them. I only get asked those questions by the childed.

I'm all for common ground. I think. But it's a two way street.And it's not just about who your friends are.

If I can appreciate the choice to parent and accept it(even though many time the reasons are scarcely believable) then there is no excuse for the childed not to appreciate my choice not to parent, and, even if they don't know me extend the same respect that I already do them.

Maureen said...

Of course, it's always the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. It's always the person who has a strong opinion who bothers to blog or talk about it. People who hold a middle ground usually don't speak up until they feel it's necessary to present a calming voice to the subject. So, here on the internet, the voice of the childfree is one that seems to demand respect for their decision not to parent, but that does not seem to respect the choice that others make when they decide to parent.

I cringe every time I see the epithets & stereotypes hurled at all parents on some childfree websites. Not only does it make me feel disrespected as a parent, it also makes me feel embarrassed about whatever someone (most likely a parent, because why else would they be so angry at parents in general) did to that person to make them so angry that they would call names like that.

It is nice to come across a place where people are not stereotyped at all by their choices of what to do in their lives, but, instead, are respected as individuals.

M said...

I'm struck by how these two sentiments are part of the same comment:

"It is nice to come across a place where people are not stereotyped at all by their choices of what to do in their lives, but, instead, are respected as individuals."


"Here on the Internet, the voice of the childfree is one that seems to demand respect for their decision not to parent, but that does not seem to respect the choice that others make when they decide to parent."

Why is it okay to stereotype about the childfree "voice" online (as the comment above does), but not to do the same about parents (as the comment above complains about)?

In my view, this type of double standard does not help further the cause of working for unity and finding common ground. In fact, I believe it can have the oppositve effect.

And I very much agree with BritGirl that while we all will do well to respect and be considerate of one another, I see no reason for any additional respect or extra consideration to be given to parents beyond what we give to any individual.

And of course as she pointed out it is nice to see that those you accept and treat with respect do the same for you. Some people insist on being treated in a way that is far superior to the way they themselves treat others. To me, that creates and adds to problems rather than solutions.

LauraS said...

I agree respect should be mutual. Ninety percent of my close friends have kids. All respect my decision not to. Otherwise they wouldn't be my best friends.

Anonymous said...

The comments on this post have been most interesting. I find myself decidedly stuck in the middle.

I know about the kind of language that disrespects parents and their offspring. It baffles me as well. I know that the kinds of reactions that childfree adults get are not all respectful. Equally baffling. The anonymity of the blogosphere (Internet) really does not promote manners in general.

I want to thank Maureen for being brave enough to self-identify as a parent and leave a comment here, and for acknowledging that we do it differently here.

I am going to close the comments on this post as I think all sides of the topic are well represented.

Thanks also to BritGirl, M, and LauraS for their contributions. You are some of the smartest, most polite, reasonable women bloggers I come across in my blogging travels. I am proud to call you friends.