Tag Archive | The Baby Question

The baby question, part 3

By Elnaz6 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve spent the last couple of days talking about the appropriateness of questioning people’s choice to parent or not parent.  You can read the previous entries by clicking the link on the Blog Series menu to the right.  There are so many off-shoots of this, and I could spend many more days going through the rest of them.  Today, though, I want to talk about men.

I’m not a guy, so I don’t know what men really think about this.  My husband assures me that “So, when are you going to have kids?” is not a typical staff room conversation among men.  I’m not sure that he was never asked that question before we had children, but he doesn’t recall anyone prying that way.  Probably some men have to field those queries, but my guess is that it’s far less common.  Someone else can set the record straight on that for me if I’m wrong.

Anyway, while I’m not a big fan of “what about the men,” I think we sometimes get confused about what that means.  It definitely doesn’t mean that men have no stake in important conversations about roles and expectations.  I can’t understand why more men aren’t horrified at the way they’re portrayed, particularly when it comes to love, sex, marriage, and family.  Why the heck aren’t you guys out there protesting having media and the church imply that you’re crazed animals or cavemen who can’t control yourselves?  That would seriously piss me off.

A similar bad stereotype is that men don’t actually want kids–they have to be forced into it by their wives.  And if they don’t have wives, so much the worse for them, because then they will obviously never, ever want to have kids.  Apparently, men are too self-unaware (or self-absorbed, maybe? I dunno) to know whether they want to be dads.

This is genuinely a thing I remember being told by other Christian women.  I first heard it in college, which makes very little sense to me.  I mean, no kidding that an eighteen-year-old college student doesn’t want kids right then and doesn’t know if he ever wants them.  I don’t think I knew at that age, despite the fact that I’m supposed to be in possession of a biological time-bomb clock.  I heard it again after I was married, and I distinctly recall finding out that some women purposefully did things to mess up their birth control so they’d get “accidentally” pregnant and their men would have to learn to be dads.

Yeah.

Of course, this totally makes sense, because men can’t be nurturing the way women can, right?  It’s God’s design!  Women obviously all want to have babies and are natural caregivers (whoever wrote that has never met me).  Without us, men would have no clue at all what to do with a baby.  Left to their own devices, they would diaper the wrong end or feed the kids Jell-o and ice cream for dinner or ignore them while they hit each other in the head with sticks.  That’s why when we women go out and leave the kids home, it’s perfectly okay to refer to our husbands as “babysitters” for our kids.  They’re not really parenting, they’re just watching the kids.  If we left them to it for too long, they would revert to being irresponsible people who let the children run wild.  We must be sure to keep a close eye on things.

Maybe this is what people worry about if two men are parenting together.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen this happen.  When I’m out at rehearsal, I come home to a clean house and two sleeping children (and sometimes a sleeping husband).  Guess what?  He actually knows how to take care of things because he’s an adult.  Shocking, I know, but it’s true.  I don’t feel like I’m leaving the kids with a babysitter; I feel like I’m leaving them with their other parent–probably because I am.

I understand the issues involved when there’s an unintended pregnancy or a divorce/break-up in which a man needs to take responsibility for the child or children he’s fathered.  But that’s not what I’m talking about here.  I mean the knowledge, before there are any children involved at all, that a man does or does not want to have any.

Men really do know.  Those who do want to be dads may not feel ready yet or may have their own set of anxieties about fatherhood, some of which are similar and some of which are different from women’s feelings.  Those who don’t want to parent are just as clear as women who don’t want children.  They have their own reasons, and it’s not as simple as “I’d rather have a career” any more than women’s reasons can be reduced to a single factor.

Think about it.  If it were really just about men who didn’t want to “grow up” (as though being a parent magically makes one an adult), would you honestly want to have a baby with someone like that?  Or adopt a child?  I know I wouldn’t.

Not being a man, I don’t know that there’s more I can say about this other than wishing culture wouldn’t portray child-free men as immature or self-centered.  I guess the only other piece of advice I have is that if you don’t want to be a dad, then make sure you’re having that conversation with potential partners–not only to find out if you’re on the same page but to actively take steps to prevent parenthood (if you’re straight-cis, that is).  If there is any chance that you and your spouse/partner could get pregnant, don’t just leave it up to her to do all the preventive measures.  Oh, and make sure you’re using the condoms correctly, folks.  User error is the largest cause of failure–when used right, they’re one of the most effective methods of birth control available.  (The myths spread by the Abstinence Police make me ragey.)

Please don’t feel obligated, but I would love to hear from some men on this topic.  As a rule, I think men are pretty awesome (especially my husband), and I like learning about how men think about these things.  You don’t have to share your personal story, but I’m definitely interested in your thoughts about the cultural view of men, particularly when it comes to relationships and family.

Hey, thanks for coming along for the ride during this series.  Tomorrow, I’m rounding up my favorite (and not-so-favorite) posts of the week.  If you’ve read something interesting or want to have yours included, shoot me a message through my contact form or leave me a comment.

The baby question, part 2

By Elnaz6 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday, I wrote about how obnoxious it is for people to question why others don’t have children.  Today I’m going to address turning that question around.  I have a lot more personal experience with this one, so please forgive me that my response to this is somewhat more passionate than yesterday.  Being asked why I had kids is one of the reasons I really hate when people ask why others don’t have kids, so I hope you read this with that in mind.

Parenting is not always like the cover of a magazine.  I know that comes as a complete shock to everyone, since you all obviously thought that airbrushed models and perfect cakes and craft projects came with the package.  Reality is closer to “Where the hell is my coffee?” said as one stumbles bleary-eyed over scattered toys while trying to convince the 10-year-old to stop reading a book naked in his room and the 8-year-old to stop singing at the top of her voice.

Even so, I love being a mom.  I can’t really speak for my husband, but signs indicate he loves being a dad.  Some days are easier than others.  A lot of the time I’m glad my son goes to school and both kids have activities.  Every night, I’m thankful I get to be with these kids, and I’m honored to watch them grow up.

I do not like being asked why I had kids.

The thing is, there’s no clear answer to that.  And it always seems to be asked at my absolute worst parenting moments–when my daughter is simultaneously rubbing her head on my legs and covering her ears because she needs tactile stimulation but the auditory stimulation is too much.  I snap at her to stop, and someone gets horrified that I would dare act like my kid is annoying me.

When you ask me at my vulnerable moments why I had kids, all I hear is, “YOU SAID KIDS ARE A BLESSING! YOU ARE NOT ACTING LIKE YOUR KIDS ARE A BLESSING!  YOU SHOULD TREAT THEM LIKE STARS 24/7 OR ELSE YOU ARE A BIG, FAT LIAR!”  It makes me not trust you (even if you have kids yourself, but especially if you don’t) with my shortcomings.  It makes me feel like I have to tuck that part away and always show myself to be the best parent so you’ll believe me when I say I love it.

When you see people who are having a hard time, that’s not the moment to think, “People like that shouldn’t have kids.”  You don’t know what kind of day those parents had or whether they are struggling with kids who have multiple issues.  I completely understand that we’d like to just crush the reproductive organs of child abusers, but you can’t tell just by seeing someone for five minutes in Walmart.  You also can’t tell sometimes even when it’s your friend who seems like the perfect parent.

Less-than-stellar parenting moments are only one time when no one should ever be asked why they had kids.  I mean, sometimes, I’d like to just snap, “I don’t fucking know.  Why don’t you take them for a while?”  Some other times not to ask:

  • When you have in mind a “correct” answer.  You want to ask the question?  Then get ready to accept any answer given.  Period.  Just like people need to accept any answer for not having kids.
  • When a woman has a lot of children.  Women get asked this all the time, as though they didn’t really want that many or are just really weird or overly religious.  Guess what?  You don’t know, so lay off.
  • White women to women of color.  Yeah, I went there.  When I worked as a school nurse, we had a family with several children.  When the third oldest, who had special needs, transferred to our school, there were wisecracks about how many different fathers there were and why this woman was continuing to “breed” (she had just had a baby).  We had exactly one other non-white employee in the entire building, and she and I both told the others they were out of line with their comments.  Guess who got labeled as “finding racism everywhere”?  There’s a lot of underlying racism in grilling women of color about why they had kids.  Just don’t ask.
  • When a woman is in a lower socioeconomic bracket than you are.  Again, there are assumptions made about whether or not “those people” should be “breeding.”  When my husband and I had just had our first, I was told we shouldn’t have more than two because we only have three bedrooms in our house and couldn’t afford to move.  I could already feel the questions building up should we have decided to have a third one.  And we were by no means struggling–I was already a stay-at-home mom by that point and we were comfortable on one income, even if it wasn’t high.  No one wants to feel like she’s being evaluated on whether she can handle (financially or otherwise) the children she wants or has.
  • When a parent of a special needs child has one or more younger children.  It implies she should be concentrating her efforts on caring for the child with the diagnosis.  Actually, even if she only has the one or the special needs child is the youngest, it shouldn’t be asked.  It’s insensitive to the fact that this wasn’t likely the life she imagined when she was pregnant and to the challenges she now has.  It also comes across as suggesting children with disabilities are better off never having been born.
  • When you don’t know someone.  You don’t know their circumstances.  Maybe a woman wasn’t planning on motherhood but got pregnant anyhow and chose to parent instead of another option.  Questioning her may feel like a judgment, especially if she didn’t want to have kids in the first place–like a “how could you be so stupid” thing.

See, for me, asking a woman after the fact why she had kids is pointless.  She already has them.  What if she regrets it?  All that does is fuel her guilt over wishing she hadn’t.  So what if she didn’t realize she had other options at the time?  There’s nothing to be gained by making her feel pressured to provide some answer she can’t give.

It’s also a question less frequently asked of men, same-sex couples, and adoptive parents.  It’s assumed those people didn’t just have kids because they thought they were supposed to, whereas women who have been pregnant might not really have wanted kids but thought God wanted them to or something.  That happens less often than you’d think, actually.  Even if someone says she had kids to experience blessings or because it’s just what people do, that doesn’t mean she didn’t want to be a mom–it just means she didn’t need to think long and hard about it.  Of course, it’s entirely possible she didn’t really want kids and didn’t believe she had another choice, in which case she may be trying to cover that or convince herself because she already has the kids and can’t do anything to change that.

On the other hand, there are times when asking why people had kids can be appropriate.  It can even be used as a weapon in a healthy way:

  • When you genuinely want to know the pros and cons of parenting because you’re not sure yet whether you want to parent.  Just be honest about it so that it doesn’t feel pressuring or judgmental, and be willing to accept any answer given.  If the answer doesn’t apply to you, just don’t put it in your “yes” column.
  • When some jerk has just asked you why you don’t have kids.  Like a stick to the eye.
  • Within community.  It does come up in parenting groups, believe it or not.
  • Before a woman actually has kids, especially if she’s expressing that she’s unsure but thinks she has to.  It’s never bad to let women know we have options and that tradition, the church, and men’s beliefs don’t need to dictate our futures.

Only you know if you have friends who won’t be offended by the question.  Only you know what your motivation for asking is.  I don’t think one needs to tread quite as carefully with this question as the previous one, but it’s still best kept to oneself in most circumstances.

Tomorrow I want to talk about how we see men who don’t (and some who do) want kids.  Hope you’ll join me!

The baby question, part 1

By Elnaz6 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

This seems to come up every time there’s something in the media about women and reproductive rights.  While it’s not the big news of the moment today, this is something I’ve been thinking about.  Invariably, some (possibly) well-meaning person will write a (not) well-meaning blog post or op-ed about how awesome babies are and what a blessing they are.  I like to hope (sort of) that these writings are just not coming across the way they were intended, but I doubt it.  Anyway, today, I want to explain why you should probably (okay, definitely) not ask/pressure your child-free friends regarding their status as non-parents.  Bear with me, I’m going to use a somewhat silly analogy, but I hope you’ll get my point.

I happen to like burritos.  Specifically, I like Taco Bell 7-layer burritos.  They are like a $2 bit of joy in my mouth.  It’s kind of weird, as I usually dislike beans, and Taco Bell burritos are full of ’em.  If you ever come out to lunch at Taco Bell with me, and you happen not to like burritos at all, I promise our conversation will never look like this:

Me: Ooh!  Burrito!  Want one?

You: No, thanks.  I really only like the tacos.

Me: But…but…burritos!  They are super awesome!  Don’t you want to experience the awesome?

You: Not really.  I’m sure I just want a taco.

Yet that’s exactly how a lot of these conversations go when someone who is a parent can’t fathom why anyone would not want to have kids.  There is always someone who finds it necessary to say, “But…but…babies!  They’re so cuuuuute!  And they’re little blessings from heaven!”  Okay, maybe not quite like that, but you get the picture.  Not only that, but there’s this belief that the reason people don’t want kids is because they just haven’t tried it yet–like they couldn’t possibly know what they do or don’t want.

I have some news for you.  Your friends who have chosen not to have kids (or have chosen not to have biological kids) have probably given a lot more thought to it than, say, whether or not they like burritos.  Unless they are very weird, like me, and spend time thinking up odd analogies for their blogs–in which case they might think deeply about burritos.  I mean, eating the burrito or the taco (or skipping both and eating somewhere else) is a momentary decision based on current taste preference.  Whether or not to parent is a pretty big decision.  Sometimes it’s made for us by circumstances, but when it isn’t, it’s not really something people come to lightly.

The other thing you should know is that it’s not really okay to ask strangers on the Internet or friends in your offline life or people you meet at parties why they don’t have kids.  You don’t know their story.  It might be by choice, but it might not.  You probably wouldn’t grill your friends and acquaintances about why they don’t like burritos.  If you wouldn’t pressure them about something that innocuous, why do it about big things that clearly require more thought and attention and come with a lot deeper feelings?

See, here’s the deal.  It’s not about you.  Someone choosing not to have kids isn’t about thinking kids are awful or parenting sucks in a general sense applied to all people for all time; it’s about not wanting those things for oneself.  Someone who cannot have children doesn’t need your “magic” advice about how to make it happen.  Pretty much you should just lay off the judgment, and you certainly are not invited to ask nosy, personal questions about someone else’s life.

It’s also not okay to suggest that a person might not know what he or she wants or how to achieve that.  It’s not okay to tie a person’s worth to the children he or she has (yes, I know this happens more with women, but I’ve seen it happen to men–why, hello there, “children are like arrows; blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them”).   It is never okay to believe that your personal preference or lifestyle is best for everyone.

Not only that, but even if you’re right–even if someone might later on change her mind–it’s not up to you to push that to happen or even decide that it will.  Sometimes people change their minds; sometimes they don’t, even about big things like children or career or where to live.  It’s true that someone who really doesn’t want children at one time might decide later on that she does.  But similarly, someone who always thought she wanted to be a mom might discover that she doesn’t want to after all.  Among my offline friends, I’ve seen both things.  I’ve also seen people who desperately wanted to parent and couldn’t and people who didn’t intend to have children suddenly finding themselves doing so.  Life is life, and it happens.

Because I have kids, I don’t really know how it feels to have made a choice not to parent or to be unable to have children.  I have, however, been asked why we stopped at two (which is also a rude question that shouldn’t be asked).  People seem to think that if one baby is cute, two are cuter, and more are cuter still.  Yes.  Babies are totally adorable and special.  That might be a good enough reason for people who are not me, but I was done after the second one.  I did not want more then, I don’t want more now, and I don’t see myself wanting more in the future.

Perhaps that’s why I can understand why being grilled and pressured is so hurtful.  Or maybe it’s because I was so certain that I did want to be a mom that I can completely understand the certainty of not wanting to be one.  It might be because we went through the challenges of diagnosing fertility problems, and I know just a fraction of the sense of loss.  Whatever the reason, it’s why I don’t assume I know anything about a person and her own choice.  I don’t question it.

There are, of course, times when it’s okay to ask people why they don’t have children, but unless you meet the criteria, you just shouldn’t ask.  If your friend is close with you, chances are good you’ve had the conversation.  Hopefully, you were a decent friend and just listened without making assumptions.  Here are some examples of when it’s acceptable or even expected:

  • When you are in an intimate relationship with someone.  Naturally, you’ll talk about these things.  If you don’t want kids, and you’re two cis-het people, you need to have that conversation and you both need to agree on what you’re going to do about it.
  • Within a community.  If you’re part of an online or in-person group for people who don’t have children (for whatever reason), you and others will likely have shared your stories.  Of course, that’s not all you’ve shared, I’m sure, but most groups built on a specific premise do tend to discuss it.
  • If you’re unsure what you want to do and are looking for a mentor/advice.  It has to be done carefully and in such a way that the person understands your reasoning, but I don’t think it’s unfair for someone who isn’t sure to seek out others who have made decisions.  In that case, it may be a matter of framing the question so that it doesn’t come off as judgmental.  It also helps to be transparent about your objective.  You must be prepared to accept any and all answers given–even if they surprise you or confuse you.  They don’t have to be your reasons, but they are someone’s reasons and are therefore valid for those people.

So there you have it.  I hope that next time you’re at Taco Bell (or wherever) ordering your next burrito (or whatever) you’ll consider what I’ve said here.  All people deserve care and respect, and I hope that what I’ve said helps foster that.

I’ll be visiting this topic in other ways this week, including reversing the question and how we view men who don’t want children.  Stick around and share your thoughts.  I’d love to hear from some of you on how you handled these nosy questions, if you feel like sharing, and what other advice you would give to inappropriately curious people.