Monday, August 14, 2006

Leave 'Em Home

I know it’s not their fault—most of the time—but dammit, I really don’t like kids. I know it’s politically incorrect. I know they are the future (or so the song goes), and as a society, we need to do the best we can to bring them up properly so that our culture and species can continue to thrive. And some of them—the exceptions, I call them—are actually kind of cool. But in general—and I know I am not alone in this—I just don’t like them.

I work in a bookstore, where shelf upon shelf of books about parenting confront me every day. Earlier in my life, when the parenthood choice still loomed, I remember looking for books that would help me make the decision easier. I had never had a natural affinity for kids, never felt the parenthood instinct, and so I looked for books that would confirm that I was not alone. There weren’t more than one or two amongst the literally hundreds that crammed the shelves. I wondered what was “wrong” with me, why the gut instinct I had that children would be wrong for me was not something more people felt. I remember feeling even more desperate and alone than I had before. Was I really that much out of the mainstream?

Well a few years have gone by, and my decision to remain childfree proved to be the correct one for me. With my personality, inclination towards solitude and quiet, and with the odd trajectories my life has sometimes taken, there is no way that I could have been a proper parent. Some people are just not cut out for it, some people do more harm than good in rearing their children, and I just don’t want to be one of them. I have since found a couple books that confirm what I thought—that there are more than a few people out there who feel as I do about children and parenthood, that I am not alone in my revulsion toward the little humans. Indeed, the vast majority of my friends do not have children, and I often wonder why it is that we have mysteriously gravitated toward each other over the years. We never talk about it, but it’s definitely a part of why we are friends.

I also wonder about why it is that human society continues to celebrate parenthood to such a degree when there are so many overwhelming reasons not to procreate. The globe is heating up at an alarming rate; there is trash everywhere, and pollution and greed continue to destroy what’s left of our bounteous landscape. Where will these children go, I wonder, to enjoy the carefree aloneness that I felt growing up? Mankind has a lot of catching up to do in the procreation department. There is no reason to keep spitting out the puppies, and yet we still do. There are powerful forces that create the cultural zeitgeist, that control the advertising with which we are inundated on a daily basis, and they make money by reinforcing cultural norms, and more importantly, by creating new consumers. Yes, that is what we are, and that is why our earth is so much trouble. The sad truth is that the huge multinational corporations that dominate our world on both a personal and global basis make too much damned money from people’s procreation, and it is not until it becomes an enormous burden upon most people that things will begin to change.

The truth is that people have children for many reasons, and many of them aren’t any good at it. Parenting is as much instinctual as it is a skill, and like any other human trait, some of us are better at it than others. That’s just the way it is. It’s so easy to mess up childrearing—a fact that always terrified me back when I was still thinking about doing it—that I wish more people would think a little bit harder about what their real priorities are in becoming parents. (You can really mess up your kids, and while some may still thrive, some may never recover. Do you really want that hanging over your head your whole life? I don’t.) Do the parents out there feel a natural affinity for kids, or are they just doing it because “everyone else” is? Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. And you know what, I refuse to be made to feel inadequate, like less of person, because I have made the (very wise) decision not to be a parent. It’s not “greedy” or “selfish” to not want kids. On the contrary, I think it is both those things to recognize how messed up our planet already is, and to go ahead and bring children into this overpopulated, overburdened world in order to be one of the Joneses so one can “fit in” at the office, at the club, at the supermarket, is just plain asinine. If I want to look after someone else’s wishes beside my own—an argument people always use to slander the childfree is that we are too self-absorbed—I can go volunteer in a hospital, a nursing home, a school, a community center. I don’t need to bring a new life into the world in order to become less obsessed with mine.

Which is not to say that I don’t respect the choice to be a parent. I am in total awe of those of my friends who have chosen to make this leap. It’s a huge responsibility, and an irrevocable decision. And even those who didn’t do it by choice always say that they don’t regret a thing. But I know that sometimes people do, and that there are powerful social norms that keep them from ever saying anything. I know there are people out there who just should not have had children, who were forced into it by carelessness, by their parents and relatives (who, by the way, are not the ones who have to assume the physical, psychological and financial burdens of childrearing), and who often wish they had not become parents.

So modern society lies to us with all those books on the shelf. I know that there are people out there like me who are afraid to stand up and be counted on this issue. But I know that I am not alone, and I am not afraid. I have worked too long and too hard to discover who I am, to piece together the person I have become. And I know deep within myself that kids are not for me, and that this does not make me less of a person (though those who are secretly jealous of my childfree status constantly try to make me feel otherwise). And I will not apologize, and I will not explain. I don’t like kids, and I don’t want to be a parent.

So when I am out enjoying myself at an adult event in the adult world, I do not want kids around. You guys made the decision to have children, and it comes with a price—your freedom of choice and flexibility are gone. You have to plan, you have to hire a babysitter, you have to spend money to leave them behind. And that’s not my problem. If you can’t afford a babysitter, if it’s inconvenient, well that’s too bad. That’s the decision you made. I made mine, and I’m comfortable with it. You guys seem to be really good at making me feel selfish for being childfree. Well I think you’re selfish for dragging your kids every damn place where they don’t belong and obviously don’t want to be. One of the things about parenthood that so turned me off was the idea that you always have to put someone else’s needs ahead of your own. (This never seemed fair to me. I mean, you work hard all your life to get somewhere, to become who you are, and then suddenly this person you’ve become takes a back seat to the whiny little entity who wants to dump sand down his sister's shirt in the playground.) But that’s the choice you made. When you get up in the morning, and as you go through your day, that’s the priority you chose. So you know what, live with it. You can’t have it both ways. Children don’t belong in expensive restaurants, in bars, at loud rock shows. They don’t belong in R-rated movies, in strip clubs, or in casinos. That’s life. I mean, I made the choice to not have kids—don’t really like them—and yet they’re all around me. I don’t have a choice about that. But I do have a choice to sometimes go where children are not wanted, where they are not expected. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to be happy about finding a five-year-old running around underfoot whilst I’m trying to get my drink on. Life gives us more than enough crap to deal with—do we have to raise your children for you too?

Human society doesn’t have to be a war between the parents and the childfree (not childless—there is a difference). We really need to take better care of each other, and that only comes from—surprise, surprise—thinking about someone besides yourself. So you parents out there, hey, I know you’re desperate sometimes and you just want to have a little fun adult-style. Well guess what, so do I. As Bruce Springsteen often says, life is the series of choices you make and how you live with them. I’m living with mine, so please, you live with yours, ok? Leave ‘em home.

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