At my book club a week or so ago, we discussed the use of the term “childless.” I say “we” but, actually, I started the discussion. Someone used the term innocently, in a comment, and I admit I ranted a little. I hate that word. And the slightly condescending implications it packs. Not that my friend was being condescending in any way. Not at all. Still… use of that particular term to describe a couple who do not have children always rankles.
Hubby and I do not have children, a fact I’m sure you’ve surmised if you’ve read my blog before. I don’t usually discuss the fact that we don’t have kids. Or the reasons why that happened, or didn’t happen as the case may be. It’s nobody’s business but ours. But what I am not shy about discussing are all the assumptions made by people, by society, if you will, about the state of not having kids. I’m sure that most people, friends, and even some family, have no idea why we never had children, or how I feel or have felt about it. They just think they do.
I love kids, don’t get me wrong. I especially love teenagers, which is a good thing considering I spent my entire professional life with them. I’m not terribly comfortable around babies, which is understandable according to friends who say that they weren’t either until they had their own kids. I particularly love my sisters’ and brothers’ kids, and my nieces’ and nephew’s kids, and the kids of close friends. As a teenager and a young twenty-something I always assumed I’d have kids. Someday. When I thought about it, which wasn’t often. There was a period in my early forties when I felt quite sad about the fact that Hubby and I were not going to be parents. But life goes on. And I have never felt that my life is in any way tragic because I’m not a mother. Not at all.
And I get miffed when people assume that should be the case. Or that not having kids imbues me with some characteristics which they assume I must have. Or other characteristics which they assume I don’t have. Or when they condescend to me and go all chatty, filling their awkward pauses because they assume I can’t bear to hear others talk about their kids.
Like one day many years ago when a group of friends were gathered for tea or lunch or something. They all talked for a time about their children who were still quite young, and then one friend put her hand to her mouth, and looked at me, embarrassed, and said,” Oh, so sorry, Sue. We’ve been taking up all the time talking about our children. How’s your cat?” I may have muttered an expletive there, people. In fact, I know I did.
And it was the best possible come back I could have made. We all laughed. And, after that, my friend and I quite often talked about her boys. One in particular was so like me as a child, that she used to laugh and say that knowing how well I turned out was her saving grace when dealing with him some days. Wasn’t that a nice thing to say?
When Hubby came in from the garden a few minutes ago, he asked what I was writing about today. I told him, and he said, “Oh, Suz. Just be very careful.” I took in what he said and then began to worry that I might offend many of you, especially as Mother’s Day is approaching. So please, please, understand that I’m not trying to make light of the sense of loss felt by those who long to be parents and are unable to have a child, or minimize the tragedy felt by those who have lost children. I’m not trying to say that being a parent isn’t a huge responsibility, and very difficult. In fact I sometimes wonder how my young friends who are juggling careers and children do it.
I’m just saying that we’re not all cut from the same cloth. And society needs to stop assuming we are.
And we should all stop using the word “childless.” Especially when it is such a loaded word, with all its attendant implications of loss, and less-ness.
Now if you’re interested, have a listen to this Ted Talk by Christen Reighter. It’s quite moving, especially when she talks about her choices (which while not the same as mine, have resulted in the same outcome), and especially about her experiences with a very paternalistic health care system.Phew. After that, I feel that it behooves me to say something silly. Or ironic. I’m not usually so ranty, nor so serious on my blog. Not because I can’t be serious… or ranty… but because it’s just how I roll. And how my family rolls. We’re the ones telling funny stories about the deceased at funerals. I remember at my grandfather’s funeral reception, my mother and her brothers were joking in the kitchen. Only the related by marriage types were looking dour. Ha.
So, if I always lighten the mood with a joke or a comment about lipstick, and if you don’t like that… well… take it up with my mum.
Now, it’s your turn. Have at it my friends. But be gentle if I’ve raised any hackles, okay?