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Is There Tension Between Parents and Non-Parents?

Monkey in The MiddleRecently I found myself in a rather awkward conversation with two women concerning their decisions not to have children.

I know what you’re thinking: it was uncomfortable because we were approaching the discussion from opposite ends of the parenting spectrum.

I stood at one end, having dealt with infertility and wanting children desperately.

The others stood in the distance, never having felt baby fever or cried over yet another negative home pregnancy test.

Not so.

It was awkward because it was all so polite. So guarded. So careful not to step on toes, to offend.

There has never been a time in my life when I could conceive of happiness without children. Yet because of the invisible elephant in the room, I was able to pinpoint a specific source of social friction: the tension in the space between the parent and the intentionally childless. (I want to be clear that I’m not simply talking about the childless. I know far more people who would love to be parents, but for various reasons- primarily infertility and lifestyle issues- are not, than I do those who’ve decided not to have kids. This discussion centers on the latter group.)

When it comes to the open discussion of the intimate, the intersection of family and sex, judgement abounds. The decision to have or not to have children as the case may be, is not excluded.

While the current debate is over who’s happier- the parents or their child-free peers- the tension between them is nothing new.

I saw it in the workplace at a former job. A young mother was a target of open office criticism for using sick time when her child was ill, and for cutting corners on her day to attend to her child’s needs. Not yet a mother myself, I admit to being party to eye-rolls and snide whispers when I was left to pick up slack. It was even suggested- not openly, but behind closed doors, that she wasn’t being honest about her reasons for leaving work. In other words: that she was using her child as an excuse to play hooky.

What I didn’t know then was that as a mother, she and I were allotted the same amount of sick days, yet she had to divide hers by two.

What I didn’t know then was that as a mother, daycare called her to retrieve a feverish child before they called her husband. (After all, he was the primary wage-earner and that was their arrangement.)

What I didn’t know then was that as a mother, even calling her husband at work with a parenting dilemma- like the time my kindergartener had bleach sprayed in his eyes at school- would elicit criticism from his coworkers. Couldn’t she just handle it?

After almost a decade of parenting, though, there’s a lot I’ve forgotten about not having children.

I’ve forgotten how it feels to be viewed with suspicion when I’m asked the question: “Have any kids?”

I’ve forgotten the awkward pause, the anger that flushes the face when a casual friend asks when, not if, babies are planned.

I’ve forgotten about the assumption that people have that I can’t have children, that something is “wrong” or that my marriage is on the rocks.

I’ve forgotten about the stigma our culture attaches to those who choose not to parent.

So today, I’m choosing to remember.

Photo Credit: Pink Sherbet Photography/Flickr

Mary Lauren Weimer is a social worker turned mother turned writer. Her blog, My 3 Little Birds, encourages moms to put down the baby books for a moment and tell their own stories. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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