Kids, man. Sometimes they can be really overwhelming. If you’re not a pro with kids (who is? Kindy teachers? Parents of 10?) it’s really easy to feel out of your depth when they’re around.
They might ask you loudly in the supermarket while pointing at your soft belly if you’re having a baby. They pick their noses and wipe it on stuff. They might tell you, apropos of nothing, that they have “a penis!!!” Maybe they’ll cry if you smile at them wrong.
They’re loud and weird and emotional and needy.
But, that’s kind of the point, right? They’re tiny people learning how to person. It’s ok if you don’t want to take part in that sometimes gross ‘please-don’t-eat-that’ learning. But what isn’t ok is saying “I don’t like kids”.
There’s a societal expectation for women to be maternal. We’re made to feel like there’s something broken inside of us if we don’t want kids. Some of us feel angry at the expectation we’ll even like kids in the first place. I understand that sentiment, but it’s actually a bit shit, and here’s why:
Women with kids are marginalised. Kids are marginalised, globally and locally. Proudly declaring you “don’t like” an entire section of the population under – 12? 16? What’s the cut off? – isn’t a reclamation of your autonomy, it’s just being a jerk about tiny humans.
Is it all children you don’t like? Or just most children? Do one of your friend’s kids get the auspicious title of the One Child You Like? How do you think that makes them or their parents feel? Because the answer isn’t always what you’d think.
No one is saying tiny humans aren’t overwhelming sometimes, no one is suggesting people with childhood trauma or similar have to feel GREAT about kids at all times, and no one is disputing how hard it is (especially for women) to live a life that doesn’t involve caregiving without being made to feel awful. But what people hear when you say “I don’t like kids” isn’t “man, it’s hard to want to be childless, please respect that”. They hear:
“I lack empathy for people who don’t have the social skills I have”
“Your children, the ones you put all your time and energy into, are super annoying”
“I’m the person who pointedly rolls my eyes in the cafe when your toddler gets upset”
“I didn’t say I hated kids, so you can’t get angry with me”
“I probably won’t hang out with you if you have kids”
“If you bring your kids over, I’m going to resent you for it”
If you genuinely dislike kids, that’s another story*. But if you’re actually just trying to throw off the expectation you’re in a wistful misty-eyed limbo until you achieve parenthood, say that. Say:
“I don’t want to be a parent”
“I’m not confident around kids”
“I’m impatient and I struggle around kids sometimes”
However, sometimes you’re gonna get a less-than-warm response even to saying that. And that blows. It doesn’t mean you owe anyone your story, but it’s not always because of sexism or social norms.
The desire to go to a cafe and have no noisy children in your vicinity is simultaneously understandable, and part of a crappy Victorian-era-hangover about who has priority in public spaces.
Being frustrated and overwhelmed when children are around is simultaneously totally normal, and part of what happens when a society becomes inwardly focused and loses a sense of collective care and responsibility.
Not wanting to be a caregiver is simultaneously your undeniable right, and a desire that can line up with the harmful view of children and parents as less valuable members of society.
So yeah, you do have to work harder to articulate that you’re not contributing to that harm. And I’m sorry that you have to work hard on that, especially if your reasons for not wanting kids are because of your own fucked up childhood. Because that’s no one’s business.
I’m sorry that we live in a society where anti-child and anti-mother sentiments still fester quietly in the darkest corners of how we treat children and parents and how we (fail to) legislate to protect or value them. I’m sorry that means you might have to spend energy articulating your desire not to parent further than just saying you don’t want to.
I don’t have all the answers about how we can achieve equal respect for people who want kids and people who don’t want kids. But saying “I don’t like kids” isn’t a step in that direction, it’s a step away from it.
You can claim your autonomy without proclaiming your dislike for a large segment of the population. I promise.
Huge hat tip to Emily Writes who’s also written about people saying they don’t like kids http://www.emilywrites.co.nz/i-love-children/
Image by Jim Cooke originally used on Jezebel