Obligations

I agree withNtodd that this piece is a giant guilt-trip, butthis also happens to be true:

I get asked at least once a week whether I’m having kids. (My male
friends don’t, but that’s another story). Other childless friends, who
also get asked, say that when they answer that they can’t have kids,
that they’ve tried, that they’ve spent their retirement savings and
house down payments on fertility treatments (and subjected themselves
to hormone treatments, torturous procedures and endless needle jabs)
people respond with awkwardness and pity, and emphatically tell them
what else theymust try.

And it’s never enough, by the way, whatever answer you give to the endless questions.

If you’re trying not to get into all the details of your personal life with people you see at Christmas and funerals and so you say something like, “Well, not yet,” you get “Can’t wait forever, you know!” or “You’re not getting any younger!” in that bright perky tone that makes you go home and research the justifications for self-defense homicide.

If you actually admit that you can’t have kids, no matter how painful that admission might be, you get admonitions to adopt, questions about when you’re getting on the waiting lists, an interrogation about exactly WHAT the doctors said and did to your vagina, and stories about how so-and-so took vitamins and took a vacation and — surprise! — got pregnant BY MAGIC BASICALLY. For which generously given information you are expected to be very grateful.

If after the 20th time you finally snap and say, “I should have kids? You should lose 20 pounds and put down that jug of chablis. What, it isn’t Very Rude Unsolicited Advice Day? Could have fooled the fuck out of me,” then you’re just an unreasonable bitch. Which is probably why you can’t have kids, “relaxing” being a key component of conception.

And forget about admitting you might not want to adopt, or even that you’re ambivalent on the subject. People look at you like you’ve just admitted to barbecuing kittens alive, and talk about the Chinese baby their cousins or co-workers or friends “just got,” as if you shouldn’t be allowed doubts and uncertainties and freaking time to make up your own goddamn mind.

WHAT?

My point, in amidst this ranting, is that the societal pressure to have kids is fierce, and that accounts for some of the defensive bitchery towards parents in this piece. That you must have kids, and if you can’t after a while, not only must you keep trying, you must avail yourself of every medical advance no matter how painful or humiliating or unlikely to succeed, you must go to any length possible including to the ends of the earth to have a child. And if you don’t want to do something, if you want to stop at one point and not another, well, then you’re just being selfish and childish and not trying hard enough, and maybe you don’t deserve a child, if you don’t want one enough to ruin your life over.

The rest of the piece is just stupid; of course you’ll have more money and sleep and sex if you don’t have kids. You’ll also have those things if you don’t have expensive hobbies, or don’t contribute to charities, or get a different job, or … And of course kids are a pain in the ass. Everything worthwhile that you love is, at one time or another, a pain in the ass. I spent the morning hand-feeding a sick weasel this goopy mushed-up food off my fingers because that’s the only way he’ll eat right now. We all prioritize the things we want. My personal opinion is that you
should have one kid, no kids, a dozen kids, you should do whatever you
want and whatever works best for you. I have a feeling people are smarter than the author of this piece imagines, and more able to handle the consequences of what they want.

Some people do desperately want children and are willing to do whatever it takes for them, including going to the ends of the earth. Some people don’t want any and don’t really want to get into it with you about it. Crabbing at each other about how your choices suck and mine are virtuous may support the bullshit-artist industry that is our relationship/parenting press, but it doesn’t do dick to help actual parents cope with the reality they’re facing, nor deal honestly with those who don’t have kids and wish you’d just stop asking.

A.

21 thoughts on “Obligations

  1. BuggyQ says:

    I was at a wedding Saturday, and the bride and groom (who are 50something and 40something respectively, and both on their second marriages) put out little cards for people to write their wishes for the couple. Last night, the bride told us that somebody had written “Consummate, don’t procreate” on a card.
    The hell? Apparently the unsolicited advice thing isn’t just limited to the pro-procreation crowd.
    Anyway, as one of the “not havin’ em, you can’t make me” crowd, I am, quite frankly, looking forward to menopause. Maybe then the nagging will stop. (Not from my mother, thank god–she finally gave up. The rest of the word, however? Sheesh)

  2. Aitch says:

    “Love” ain’t enough. Obviously that must be the case since to admit it would argue that same-sex marriage could be on the same level.
    Isn’t it amazing that, despite the fact that so many people seem to have THE answer for everything, there’s still a lot of screwed up in the world…

  3. Athenae says:

    Last night, the bride told us that somebody had written “Consummate, don’t procreate” on a card.
    CLASSY.
    (That’s a lovely idea for a wedding, but someone in my family would have done the exact same thing, if not worse. An open mic is just an invitation for trouble.)
    A.

  4. BlakNo1 says:

    I don’t have children. I don’t want children.
    Anybody who has a problem with that can simply go fuck themselves.

  5. ...now I try to be amused says:

    If only the ghost of Ann Landers could say “MYOB” to all of them.

  6. tata says:

    How’s the weasel?

  7. virgotex says:

    The several years that the Ex MRs. Tex and I spent wrestling with the Baby Issue was intense. She had the Baby Fever bad. I had the I’m Not so Sure About This for 27 Reasons Doubt bad. During the same time close friends of ours, a straight couple were going through a similar time. She wanted, he didn’t. The husband and I used to talk on the phone about the pressure, were we awful, were we crazy, were we the only sane people on the planet? The messages they as a couple were getting from friends and family were diametrically opposed to many that we were getting.
    What I emerged with and learned from that is that I believe these things are, in part, as you say, societal, but it’s more than that. Our biology as a species comes into play. Where those two forces meet is a fucking roller derby of surreality.
    All of that to say, there are so many factors involved for each individual, factors both primal and amazingly trivial, that there’s no possible way for any ONE choice to be right for anyone. I’m amazed so many couples can agree on these things, much less one extended family grouping. As for society, well, you described it well.
    So, it’s fraught with all kinds of crap. You as an individual and as a couple, have to make your own way. You know better than anyone else what will work for you. The other people aren’t going to change or go away, or get less obnoxious, it’s always going to be fraught, but if you can remain clear-minded about it, you are doing great just the way you are.

  8. Athenae says:

    tata, he’s doing better. Some kind of stomach flu or infection or something. This morning he started eating his own food, which is what passes for major excitement around these parts.
    A.

  9. The Dol says:

    I’m a mother of one (and ONLY, thank you), and I can assure you we get the same shit. I had the most godawful delivery anyone in the room had ever seen, and people were asking me within *days* when I would have another one. I wish I’d had the guts to squirt breastmilk into their eyeballs.
    People can be bastards with their opinions and advice.

  10. Athenae says:

    The Dol, oh, yeah, it doesn’t stop when you have kids as my friends with them have assured me. If you have boys people pester you about if you’re “trying for a girl” and vice versa. And God forbid you have what the busybody who’s bugging you considers “too many” children because then you get, “For God’s sake use some birth control” or some shit.
    IT NEVER STOPS.
    A.

  11. mothra says:

    Well, I don’t get the babies question, but every once in a while I get the “why aren’t you married” question. Which is just as annoying, of course. I always tell people that I was once going to get married, but I got a better offer that day and did that instead. The questioner gets a confused look and wanders away.
    I also have a friend who was in a relationship for 18 years and would get the “when are you having kids” question. She would always answer, “oh, I ADORE children–I just find I can’t eat a whole one.” That shuts people RIGHT up.

  12. FeralLiberal says:

    Child-free and my mother has finally stopped asking about children. I like kids, but have absolutely no paternal instinct.
    You’d think my fundie parents wouldn’t want me to raise kids as I’d be condemming my kid’s souls to eternal torment by raising them as godless liberals.

  13. Jim Pharo says:

    It ain’t just kids. Try telling people that you don’t have a job (tips on how to find one), are sick (tips of how to find good doc), or have just lost a loved one (tips on how to feel crappy).
    We live in a society that thinks any problem can be sorted with just the right advice. The idea that we would actually do something to help someone — well, that’s just SOCIALISM and such. Also.

  14. emptywheel says:

    This is one big advantage of having been diagnosed with cancer that would be treated for 6 years just 7 years before my fertility expired.
    I sort of figure if I say “because I had cancer” to enough people who simply cannot deal with that answer and melt like the Wicked Witch of the West, it’ll teach the nosy bastards to stop asking, and they won’t ask the rest of you whose reasons don’t make a scary 5-second soundbite.

  15. missy says:

    I wish I had a nickel for every time I wanted to punch someone in the nose when they said, “If you justrelax, it will happen.” Thanks, I was perfectly relaxed for the year that we spent happily having sex and not knowing we were infertile, and that didn’t get me pregnant now, did it?
    We got similar crap when we decided to spend $500 on thyroid surgery for our cat. Some in our family just couldn’t understand that there was an actual bond there, and a commitment – and while they might let their animal die a slow, wasting death so that they could afford a fancy flat screen teevee, we’d rather have our beloved Maggie around a bit longer.

  16. spocko says:

    When my unmarried friend gets asked, “Why is a nice girl like you not married?” Her response is, “Haven’t you heard? There is something WRONG with me!”
    That response deals with the underlying question. What is wrong with you?
    Don’t you like Children? “Yes. Fried” (-WC Fields)
    If you are interested in having a meta conversation with these people, ask them why do you want to know? Then you find out their deeper attitudes.
    We watch the movies and read the books about Victorian social control and it seems laughable, but these kind of questions were used to establish society norms. And if you are going up against the norms you MUST explain yourself. By turning it around you can point out to the questioner the role they play. And they may find that they aren’t really keen about it either.
    But sometimes what you really want is (as Mad Magazine used to say) Snappy answers to stupid questions.
    One of the race car drivers I coached got asked, “When are you going to win?” after he had come in 2nd place 5 times. His hostility came through in the answer. “What do you hate about that question?” I asked.
    “It is pointing out that I’m a loser. In my world 2nd place is 1st loser.”
    “Not really.” I pointed out. “To the person asking they just want to know how you feel your chances are for the future. They don’t see 2nd place as ‘1st loser’ that is YOUR interpretation you bring to the conversation, and they will wonder why the hostility to their, in their minds, innocent question.
    So 1st understand the attitude behind the question, it is NOT hostile, it might be ignorant, but it is not designed to piss you off. Second, if you respond in a hostile manner they will start to wonder what your problem is, and that might make them curious. Third, you can decide how to deal with it based on your relationship with them. I recommend with the superficial media, who just want a sound bite, to pull back and give them a sound bite. And I recommend a joke.
    “Sometime in 2014 I’m expecting a win.”
    If they are really serious about your chances of winning tell them about what you are focusing on to help, “Well of course I want to win, but each time I come in second I do get points and I learn something. Right now I’m focusing on …”
    Evaluate the person you are talking to, see what it is that you want to give them, what they need from you and if you want to expend time and energy on the response. Will a funny answer be better than a heart felt discussion? Will they get the point? Only you know how far you want to go with them.

  17. pansypoo says:

    kids are better broiled.
    i don’t get asked much. except do i have any. i say i have cats. but damned if i can afford one. and i paint/draw my babies.

  18. Elspeth R says:

    I’m SOOOO using the “Haven’t you heard? There’s something WRONG with me!” line!!!
    In that vein, I’m tired of the “You’ll find him when you aren’t looking!” spatter I receive. I tell them that “…most of my ex-boyfriends happened when I “wasn’t looking” so I’m definitely keeping my eyes open this go’round!”
    When I was younger, yeah – I wanted to be married & have kids…but heartbreak after heartbreak, I don’t think marriage is on the books for me and my ‘birthing window’ is starting to close. I’d be sad, but really? I’ve realized I have become very selfish in that after the 2 year ago heartbreak, I’m never going to treat a guy better than I treat myself and that my needs come first. And if I had kids, I wouldn’t have the time or the freedom to biff off wherever w/o just leaving a key for my friends to care for the cats.
    I love my faux-niece (my bellydance sister’s child) and I can spoil her when I want. It works for me.

  19. Interrobang says:

    I don’t have kids, don’t want kids, and don’t evenlike kids. Further, I’m phobic of pregnancy (no word of a lie — I still can’t quite figure out how or why anyone does that voluntarily!) and babies creep me out. I mean, isn’t that the worst thing about pregnancy? You go through all this trouble, hassle, and pain, possibly risking your life, and then what do you have to show for it? A baby! Because I’m wired differently from most humans, I’m kinda not exactly seeing the upside there.
    I actually liked that article; it’s kind of useful for even dumb stuff to be out there on the subject because apparently we still all live on Planet Have Kids or Else.
    My doctor, who is otherwise exemplary, still tried to run that “But you might change your mind!” number on me — I don’t think she’s ever met anyone before who’ll actually cop to not liking kids. Other than that, being as I haven’t been visibly in a relationship for like five years and don’t actually seem to be planning to get that way, I don’t get stopped for Existing While Childless by the Pregnancy Police.

  20. pansypoo says:

    OH! THAT”S my phobia too! but also that 0-5 time of wailing noise and sticky, moistness. they are never dry it seems.
    tho i woulda been willing to ‘experiment’ if somebody did the dirty work. pansypoo doesn’t do diapers. there, ANOTHER PHOBIA.

  21. Aaaargh says:

    Anyone who sees me or knows me knows better than to ask when I’ll get married or have kids. Ain’t happenin’.

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