Just as people raised without religion don’t have to consider themselves atheist until confronted by religious people, I didn’t have to consider myself childfree until my friends started procreating. I’m not sure if it’s only because that’s when I had to look at like-minded online groups to get my bearings, but since I first started my research two years ago I’ve also seen a lot more childfree discussion in the public sphere than I had ever seen before.
Do I hate kids? No. Do I want them? Also no. Do I get along well with children? I generally do, and this may be in part to the fact that I have long hair and a beard and therefore can be confused for a Muppet by small babies. But to many of my friends and co-workers I am the guy who doesn’t want kids and probably doesn’t like them. Often I do nothing to correct this assumption.
It seems that when you’re childfree, it’s often regarded as a challenge. Not wanting kids means you must not like them and any hole in this blanket statement must be explored and exploited. Here’s an example:
A while back working with the public at my library I had a cute, funny, sweet encounter with a child and the next day I had another positive experience with a different kid. I then posted on Facebook about them and that was a huge mistake. You see, within days after posting of the positive experience I got all of the following reactions:
- See, they’re not so bad.
- Did you change your mind about having kids?
- Did your wife get pregnant?
- Did your wife get pregnant and have a miscarriage?
Here’s the truth: I don’t hate kids. I don’t even hate babies. I have a flat level of standards for behavior and decorum. If you live up to those, you’re generally fine, regardless of age. And the same goes for adults not living up to these standards. So no, I do not categorically dislike younglings, though I do constantly pretend to as a defense mechanism from adults. I put on that sour, grumpy, get-the-hell-off-my-lawn face almost every day because it’s easier than the alternative.
The alternative is to assume that people will think before they speak and respect my life decisions as more than a temporary flight of fancy. Because when I let my guard down and am honest and stop putting on my sour puss my entire foundation for my childfree position gets bulldozed and I have to reestablish myself all over again. Have you tried coming out as childfree? It’s exhausting. No matter how open-minded and supportive your friends and family may be you will still face people (friends, acquaintances, strangers, and co-workers) questioning your logic, fortitude, emotional maturity, and sense of self as long as you are between the ages of 10-45. Possibly longer. So with each of those above responses I had to say “no,” over and over again.
Which is ridiculous. In the post mentioned above I didn’t write a single word about changing my mind. I didn’t say “I had this good moment with a little kid and now I want one.” I just said that I had a couple of minutes where I was pleasantly surprised by a kid’s behavior and then that moment was over because it was one moment. OK, two moments. And even those short moments were not me wanting a child. It was me simply enjoying the company of a child, briefly. And rest assured that the moments were followed by many, many, many more moments of explicitly not enjoying the company of children.
But I’m used to those. I work with the public. Times of peace and calm exchanges, of good conversation and connections, are interspersed with shrieking and demanding and rudeness. That? That’s all part of dealing with people. So I expect those things throughout the day; the good and the bad. Another thing that helps is that I’m actually really good with kids when I put forth the effort. It probably has to do with my laissez-faire social attitude, the fact that I speak to children of all ages as if they were regular people (none of that mind-stunting baby talk), and that I have the hair of a living Muppet. Also? I don’t hate kids.
So why do I put on the act? Because I hate dealing with everyone else. When I interact with children I get the same fallout as I did when I posted that innocent update. I get reevaluated and my motives and integrity get questioned. I get reset. My wife has had the same experience of dealing happily with a kid, seeing the look of “I was right all along, and you were lying to me!” in the eyes of onlookers and having to retreat. Constantly reasserting one’s self regarding a minority position, and one that is currently still a societal taboo? It is exhausting. So instead of being kid friendly but childfree I pretend to hate kids.
I’ve done a lot of research on parenting. To draw on a previous analogy, in much the same way that atheists tend to be better educated about religion than religious people it’s likely that the childfree spend more time thinking about what having children entails than prospective parents do. That’s because when you’re in a minority that’s constantly on the defensive you have to know your facts and cite your sources at all times. There’s no going along with something because that’s what’s expected. Being childfree is distinctly what is not expected by society. Combine that with the facts that I have an almost pathological compulsion to do research when confronted with my own ignorance and that two of my friends have young children, I have done a lot of reading on parenthood. I’ve read quite a few books on both sides of the decision, as well as psychological papers, blogs, and forums. I did all of this so I could know and talk to people who are choosing to have kids as well as to know myself better. And with everything I’ve learned I can both understand my recently childed friends and am more secure in the decision to remain childfree. After years of telling people that, independently, we do not want children we think we’ve earned the right to assert our decisions.