Tuesday, March 11, 2008

If You're Child-Free, Does that Make Me Child-Enslaved?

Okay, yes, I do think that language matters. I am postmodern enough to believe that discourse shapes what we believe is natural, good, right, and possible. Consequently, when I sloppily used the term “childless” with a friend the other day and was resoundingly critiqued, I folded instantly. Of course… “childless” indicates that one is missing something and that is a notion to which people who intentionally have no offspring understandably object.

But, then, what does that make me? Am I childful? Child-restricted? Child-shackled? You can see where I’m going. I do feel rather “child-shackled” at this point in the process, actually, and it is not just because my children are young and needful. I feel that way because of this whole childfree movement that has emerged in recent years. Frankly, I object to the response of the childfree which seems to run something like this: you had ‘em, they are your problem, expect nothing from me, and by-the-way, could you make them shut up?

My hackles go up at this kind of sentiment. First, there is the obvious: we were all children once and a lot of someones had to put up with our less-than-stellar public behavior before we knew how to behave any better. Second, what kind of fucked up society am I living in if the other folks who are theoretically in it with me feel no responsibility for the youngest generations? I know they are my kids and I bear the lion’s share of the responsibility for them, but, yeesh, can’t I count on the rest of you -- people to whom I am bound by various social strands and shared humanity -- to at least pitch in a little?

How about you at least stop staring at me like I am some sort of blemish on society if my kid cuts in front of you in line or steps on your toes while trying to race out the door of the library? You might even consider seeing if you could muster the patience to not be angry (something I do a dozen times a day, at least) but instead calmly tell Janie that we all have to wait in line and the end of the line is back that-a-way. You see, I told her that already. I told several times. But then I tell her lots of things, all day long, and she has grown adept at tuning me out. But attention from another grown up… now that is new. She just might pull up and listen… or she might not, and then you and I can look at each other with understanding and support instead of one of us looking angry (you) and the other looking guilty (me).

I’ve often had trouble putting my finger on it, but ever since I had children, I’ve felt that we live in an amazingly child-hostile society. Yes, we have lovely things like family leave and children’s play areas at the mall, but all of these things leave me feeling like I can have children, but I should have them “over there,” out of the way somewhere, where they won’t be a bother to anyone. The rub, of course, is that children do not move quietly through the world, they are not always easily contained, they are, in short, a pain in the ass (but yes, a lovely, adorable pain in the ass). And yes, I could use a bit more help as we move from the pain-in-the-ass phase to useful member of society. Think of it as a long-term investment.

The rampant individualism that too often comes out of the loud ‘n proud childfree folk actually scares me a little (it doesn't just come from them, of course). What does it say about the general health of our society if we shun any but the most direct and inescapable responsibility for one another?

10 comments:

biscodo said...

"But, then, what does that make me? Am I childful? Child-restricted? Child-shackled?"

...it makes you a Mother. It is not a perjorative. You have a whole day named in your honor. There is a Commandment that requires the faithful to respect and obey you. There's a whole section of the greeting card and gift balloon industry devoted to praising you.

Childfree people have been pitied ("oh, I'm so sorry for you") for long enough that they decided to take the language unto themselves. It's not necessary to take double-backwards-reverse-offense at a minority of adults who chose to identify themselves in a way that is positive instead of pitying. Can you think of a term that no one, ever, could possibly think of a reason to take offense at?

"Frankly, I object to the response of the childfree"

... who object to your objections of their objections. Ha! ;)

"you had ‘em, they are your problem, expect nothing from me, and by-the-way, could you make them shut up?"

You get a deduction on your taxes that the childless/childfree/childwhatever don't. The property taxes of the childfree pay for schools that they receive no services from. No children will tend to childfree seniors at the end of life. Child birth in a hospital costs $10,000-50,000 - the single biggest healthcare cost that taps the risk pool, but that the childfree pay into but are excluded from.

As for public disturbances - public space is shared, and there are certain inherent courtesies expected. Screaming children will get glared at just like a raving lunatics will get glared at. The case of a public disturbance is not especially prejudicial - it's just that you are expecting special treatment just because they're children. Without that Expectation Of Privilege, the responses of passers-by or storekeepers to noisy outbursts aren't unreasonable. If an adult was incessantly screaming at the top of their lungs, that adult would be asked to quiet down, or leave. Since the child isn't responsible for themselves until 18, you are expected to be responsible for them - thus the glaring at you.

I don't see why it bothers you so much that this minority of people has chosen to Be Themselves And Not Apologize For It. It'd be like the 85% of religious people in this country complaining about how the 15% of the non-religious are making them feel bad because the 15 percenters aren't doing when that 85 percenters are doing.

The minority doesn't think that the outrage of the majority is justified.

Zoe the Wonder Dog said...

Well, you are pretty much making my point for me...

You really believe that you don't receive any services from a public school system? That right there is my issue. Yep, there is that Progressive (reference to the Progressive Era reformers) streak in me that believes there is and should be some attention to the civic good, that we should all be (small "r") republicans, that we should suck it up and think about the greater good more often.

Oh, and yes, I am expecting some "special" treatment because they are children. Or at least recognition that they are children and not just small adults. Public space isn't only for adults, right? Negative responses from people around us teach us all the rules, no doubt. But how are those responses crafted... are they "you (child) will need to learn this" or are they "how dare you (parent) bring someone into this space whose sole purpose is to annoy me?" (ok, yes, a bit overly dramatic there, but whatever)

By the way, my thoughts were inspired by the conversation about "childfree" language but the larger rant was really meant to take on the rampant individualism that I feel most acutely as I move through the world as a parent. And just because I find it most often attached to my experience of parenting, does not mean that I am blaming the childfree for all the selfishness in the world (my apologies if it came across that way). Us breeders have been known to be shitty and self-centered as well.

LW said...

Awwww... poor you.

You're NOT getting anything extra from me. You TAKE too much already.

I pay for your kids enough already. We always have to have THE BEST for the chyldren, don`t we?

How much money is wasted, to spit in the face of Mother Nature to help the infertile spit out another little replicant? Then the kid is Spechul Needs, and we can toss little Kayaliegh into the class to drag the other kids to her low level.

When the breeder has to leave work to go to the concert, the ball game, the doctor, the parhunt-teacher conference, the closing daycare center... who picks up the slack? The childfree, that's who.

KEEP YOUR BRATS QUIET! We don't let our dogs howl in public, so let's just hold "the most precious thing in the World" to the same standards as an animal, and you can work your way up from there.

I don't have to parent your kid. You don't have the right to restrict the way I define yourself.

Keep it up and I'll start letting the authorities know you leave the kids in the car and the pool uncovered. That will thwart your plans to be chyldLESS. Yeah, we know the Lil Sizzlers, the SUV toddler squashes and the pool drownings are your ticket to freedom and insurance payoffs.

LW

Zoe the Wonder Dog said...

Surprising amount of hostility on this one...

http://groups.google.com/group/alt.support.childfree/browse_thread/thread/844eae0e8cabaf85/53f3b036631b99c8

And I have to admit that it is taking some effort on my part not to stoop to the level of LW et al and let fly with my own over-the-top half-baked ideas of how the childful are persecuted. But of course that won't go anywhere, ultimately.

I am baffled by the unstated notion in many discussions of this topic (this one included) that just because I have children, I somehow have nothing but animosity toward those that don't. Of course they seem to have plenty of animosity toward me... I'm not asking anyone else to raise my kids. All I really asked for was a bit of more kindness toward fellow humans. And just for the record, I support being kind to puppies and the elderly, too.

I realize that the alt.support.childfree google group is a support group for those that feel embattled by their childfree status and if my post helps build connections over a shared identity, more power to them/you, but keep it there. Trotting out tired rants about the cost of special education or conspiracy theories of insurance scams has nothing to do with what I actually posted.

I'm happy to engage in real conversations where we actually listen to each other -- even if we don't agree. Otherwise, keep to your group.

queenb said...

1. No. You can't count on me to help. At least not they way you want it. It kind of defeats the purpose of not having kids. I think that's what you're overlooking here. One of the million reasons I don't have kids because I don't want to have to teach them manners. So why on earth am I going to help teach other people's kids manners?

2. You know what's strating to annoy me. As soon as a parent learns the term "childfree" they use it as a scapegoat to make themselves feel better about glares they get in public. I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Many of those people glaring at you because your kids are too loud? They're parents. And they're annoyed just like me. And they want you to make your kid hush just like me. And they don't want to help...just like me. Just because a person doesn't have their kids with them doesn't mean they don't have them.

3. As others have said, we help enough. It's just that the help is built in to the system. You feel taxes for schools are for the greater good? So do I. There's your help. There is a long list of considerations parents get that the childfee don't. Stop asking for extra.

4. Stop playing the martyr. Society is a heck of a lot more hostile toward those that don't want kids than to those that have them. It like the other poster said, you sound like the 85% majority of religious people who feel "persecutd" because the non-religious won't indulge them as much as they'd like.

biscodo said...

Actually - you are making my point for me.

You lament the animosity so-and-so has for so-and-so. But the thing of it is, identifying as childfree is relatively recent response of people who have felt trodden upon. The use of the "parent" title to demean/insult those that aren't, is much older. (i.e. "I'm a parent, you aren't. Your opinion is less valued.")

And while the childfree are in little groups, happily content to self-identify, and self-name, and bitch and moan to each other, it was your perception of persecution that got this all started. You just didn't know that there are people out there (childfree people) that have been feeling this way all along. You just happened to tap into it.

"Thinking about the greater good more often" You are forgetting that children are used as weapons, too. Emotional, political, rhetorical weapons. If everyone is thinking about the greater good, then why are children being used as weapons? Surely there is a way people can make their point without having to stoop to "it's for the children".

While I wouldn't agree with the spit flying from LW's comments (dude... angry much?), LW makes points about the childfree experience that parents never experience. That parents never realize they are doing as they tromp through the world. How many times have I had to be the guy to get on a plane, give up my weekend, stay and clean up - all because everyone else has "got to be at my kid's soccer game". Which is the rampant individualism? Abandoning your co-worker/group, or happening to be child-free?

The financial complaints are real and not just conspiracy theories. How much is spent on fertility treatments for one couple because they "really want to have children"? Those two people don't need to have kids for the survival of humanity. It's an optional, expensive procedure. It should be treated like breast/pec implants - if you want it, pay for it. Individual infertility is not a disease that affects quality of life any more than small breasts/pecs do. And there is no epidemic of infertility plaguing the planet.

There are a million little slurs of the "I'm a parent, you aren't. Your opinion is less valued" that happen every single day - you just don't experience them. This is where the pent-up hostility comes from.

Look to your own fields of study and the subtle differences in language that offend the sensibilities of minorities. Insert "childfree" into a sentence that addresses the merits of "genderqueer", and the arguments for using the new language would be completely understandaable.

"You really believe that you don't receive any services from a public school system?" Correct. I have received no services from the Ann Arbor public schools (to whom I pay property tax).

And as far as "stooping to the level" goes, well... YOU started it. So there. Nyah.

Zoe the Wonder Dog said...

Still waiting for actual conversation.... instead of generic rant #79.

"children used as weapons" ...see I can't believe you would trot that out with me. We've had that conversation, we bemoaned the misuse of that together. Oh yeah, you aren't talking to me, you are expounding on a "larger issue" and I've allowed you this platform.

Just for the record, my post opened with conceding point on the language. Yes, I understand the politics of language. "Daycare" is caring for the day, "childcare" is caring for the child. You are not "less" of an adult because you have no children, therefore you are not "childless." Yes. Fine. See, I said that.

And queenb... yes, many people glaring are parents. I agree. I think we could all stand to be a bit more generous in our approach to each other. Though there is nothing in this comment string to indicate that we are anywhere near that happening -- other than your support for public schools.

Eh, whatever, this was annoying and now it is just getting silly since even the one person who actually knows me and knows that I don't fetishize my mother status, intentionally try to game the system through emotional manipulation using my children, or even support hospital births for most pregnancies is on here going on and on about how he has been financially reamed by property taxes (though most school funding since Prop A actually comes through the sales tax, btw) and insurance companies. Do I need to point out the privileges you carry that allow you to so cavalierly adopt those stands? How is that university education working out for you? How do you like being able bodied and young? That white skin... it working out for you okay? There, you got my generic rant #3... And really none of this gets us anywhere.

One bit of all this giant time suck that has been interesting is to realize how easily one can get someone's attention on the internet through a simple link. I don't have to argue with you/them, I can get you/them to come to me. Of course, the people who are paying attention to such things are quite possibly folks who are just itching for a fight anyway, but you never know. There might be a way (and this post/thread is not an example of it) to have a real exchange of ideas. Ask questions... and listen to the answers.

To be honest, if I'd thought I'd get such a committed/interested audience, I might have framed my comments differently (though the basic argument for civility wouldn't change). Hmmm... maybe I'll do that. Rewrite the post (need to delete all humor and possible trigger language) and link to all the childfree groups I can find out there just to see what happens.

Or maybe I'll just go ride my bike before the children get home from that lavish public school that your purchase of toilet paper helped to fund.

Puppet_Sock said...

Zoe the Wonder Dog posts:
"You might even consider seeing if you could muster the patience to not be angry (something I do a dozen times a day, at least) but instead calmly tell Janie that we all have to wait in line and the end of the line is back that-a-way."

Do you have any idea what the childed do if you dare speak to their charges? It matters not whether you have something useful to say, whether you are a parent or childfree, even whether you are Joe-citizen or a cop. It matters not *how* you speak to the child, nice, pleasant, firm, or nasty. You better *NOT* dare speak to their child, or you are gonna have a rottweiller chewing on your leg.

Your entire post smacks of entitlement. Not only do you want all the support and allowances that society can possibly be connived into giving you. You want everybody to be happy and polite about it.

I'm afraid you are going to have to live with being glared at.

Gwenhyffar said...

Pitching in would defeat the purpose of not having any of my own.

Sorry hun, but if you need help, hire someone. The childfree aren't childfree just so that they can have the time to cater to other people's children.

You breed 'em, you feed 'em. And the rest.

Zoe the Wonder Dog said...

I'm going to close the comments on this thread after letting it have its run. I have other things to do with my life and so do you.

While I am feeling somewhat more dispassionate this morning, however, I will make a few final observations:

1) I am surprised to learn that folks in the self-identified childfree community have such hostility toward paying for public schools. I'm not surprised that the tax breaks raise ire, but schools? Really? (and obviously this is not true of all folks... a few here and on the list that picked up this blog post said that they were willing to help and that help came in the form of the taxes they paid to support public education).

2)The whole exchange has me concerned as ever about that quaint old idea of civility. The competitiveness and individualism evident in these comments and the google list just flat out saddens me. Again and again the message seems to be, if someone gets more, then I must be getting less. I was amused by the poster who said if I wanted any help with my kids I should come shovel their walks and then we could talk. See, I'd like to think that I am the kind of person who would help you shovel (and I have two little helpers!), but s/he seemed to think that was a outlandish suggestion. If I can do on my own, I should, is the message. No wonder we are such a resource-suck of a nation.

The folks who noted that they don't feel they can talk to children in public for fear of parents going nuts are probably right (note to the person who "finally exploded" in a Barnes and Noble: you have fared better if you could have done it before you reached the explosion point, while you could still muster some sympathic rationality). That well-intentioned assistance is rejected is further evidence of the incivility and paranoia of our society -- only coming from the "breeder" side of things. I know, it is all around us, this tendency to assume the worst...

3)I do have to wonder about the strategy of the militantly childfree. Those who threaten me, call me a bitch, and spew anger without any rational thought behind it, aren't doing much for the cause. What I saw in the last day certainly explains why the movement gets such a bad rep in the media. Naming the harm, finding your voice, creating an ideology are all vital pieces of creating a social movement, but doing it for the world to see leaves you open to being dismissed as irrational whiners. Go ask feminists about that one... that movement still hasn't recovered in some ways. The childfee by choice website, however, was actually pretty well done -- granted the info on there is a little light (the quotes section, for example, doesn't add much) and very much focused on the emotional/social side of issues but it assumes that people reading it are more clueless than evil and there is merit in that approach -- at least if your goal is to build recognition and sympathy for your cause. One potential issue is that there isn't much on the economic side -- yet those arguments were prominent here. Why?

Oh, sure, I could keep going but as I said, there are other things to do.