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?
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