Parents are from Mars, Non-Parents are from Venus

I’ve suffered from yet another Attack of the 50-line Comment, so I decided to make a post about it instead of cluttering Jenn’s comment box. Jenn has done what I’ve come to believe is tantamount to death in many feminist circles: she has spoken up for her rights as a non-parent in her post, baby wars. She was firm in her opinions, harsh (perhaps too harsh) in her judgement, and made the mistake of bringing up breastfeeding. Her criticism of our baby-worshipping cultures brought the attention of Dru Blood, a mother very much concerned about parental rights. If you can stomach the tense exchange, I recommend reading it. Just keep in mind that this post is a general response to the arguments, so I’m not pulling quotes or anything. Anyway, on with the show.

One of the main arguments from the non-parents is that we don’t hate parents (or kids), we hate bad parents. The kinds that refuse to teach or discipline their kids, who let them run wild in inappropriate places (sometimes to the point of endangering the kids and those around them), and who freak out at even the most polite suggestion that they, I don’t know, at least keep an eye on where their children are. Overall, I support this stance; kids are kids and therefore it’s the adult’s responsibility to make sure they’re protected and as well behaved as possible. This is, more-or-less, the stance that Jenn took. Dru, arguing for the parents’ side, pointed out that there’s a fine line between parents trying and failing and not trying at all. In many cases it simply is not easy, or possible, to tell which is which. And, she’s right. If the world were black and white, we wouldn’t need to be having these kinds of conversations.

Her point also brings up another issue. While I think that non-parent (childfree or otherwise) advice is valuable, since we offer an outside perspective, I acknowledge that it is that very outside perspective that makes it impossible for us to truly understand a parent’s situation. The same, however, can be said about parents talking to non-parents; yes, your kids may be your world, but that doesn’t mean that everyone wants to have a kid right now, nor or even ever. There is a point where parents and non-parents cannot truly understand the other, but I believe that, while it’s an important point, it is ultimately a superficial one.

In my studies on the matter as both a feminist and a childfree woman I’ve found that it is the very same parts of the patriarchy working against both sides of the divide: the institutions/social conventions that want to force mothers into some pre-conceived notion of motherhood (and punish them when they don’t fit into them perfectly) also work against childless and childfree women (and, to a lesser extent, they also work against fathers and non-parent men). One glance at the childfree livejournal community shows that, beyond the anti-[bad]parent venting, many posts are about the frustrations that childfree people face when total strangers shame them for not making the “right” reproductive choices. Having lived in mostly liberal areas, I haven’t personally encountered some of the worst horror stories, but I have had to get into more than a few terse conversations with my friends over my choice to be childfree. The worst I got was my uncle, who I love very much, calling me an “idiot” for wanting to get a tubal ligation.

Again, even though I tend toward the non-parent side, I fully believe that the parents’ arguments are valid, and furthermore I think it’s important for parents to bring some perspective to non-parents in this argument. But, just as I feel Dru Blood got hostile towards Jenn, so too have I felt in the past that many individuals in the feminist communities I lurk in are automatically hostile towards non-parents who are trying to understand but still refusing to slip back into the default value of acknowledging parents’ experiences as more valuable than our own. And, I guess, that’s what I feel feminist circles as a whole have a hard time understanding: individuals may get that the experiences of parents and non-parents are equally valuable, but society doesn’t.

No one is saying parents have it easy, far from it. The patriarchy is about control and it doesn’t care if the women are childed or not. But I would argue that the pervading opinion, in the US at least, is that having a child is the only way to become a 100% human being. And those without children are, by proxy, lesser and therefore we have to just suck it up and deal with it if our lives are intruded on by someone’s child. That doesn’t excuse some of the more extreme non-parent positions, just as the valid arguments of parents who want the ability to go out of their house with their young children doesn’t excuse the more extreme parent positions. All I’m saying is that the valid arguments parents have about their hardships are not exclusive of the valid arguments that we non-parents have.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t go to a park and expect to have a nice, quiet stroll sans-children. I wouldn’t expect to go to a matinee G or PG movie on a weekend and not be surrounded by kids of varying age and varying rowdiness. I respect family-friendly spaces; heck, I think we should have more of them. Referencing a point that Jenn made in her original post about flying with a kid kicking your seat (my experience is with a kid dropping hirs pacifier on my foot), I would absolutely love for airlines to offer three kinds of flights: normal (like they are now), family-friendly (designed for kids, with G-rated movies and stuff), and adult-friendly (no kids under 13 allowed, designed for adults with PG-13 movies). With three choices, I see it as a win-win situation. Of course, with the airlines in some serious financial trouble it’s not feasible at the moment (too many people would get shut out of flight times they need), but I hold out for one day in the future.

Bottom line: I want to respect the rights of parents without giving up my own. I think our problem right now is entitlement complexes on both sides, with society goading us to fight each other so we don’t notice how badly our governments are shafting us. The problem isn’t parents or non-parents, per se, but rather a society that wants to control our choices rather than help us make them. An example of what I mean is that when Katrina blew through Miami schools were closed but my friend’s company was not. Because of this, the parents who didn’t have the luxury of having a stay-at-home spouse had to bring their kids in. The workplace had no daycare facility and was obviously not set up to handle children. In my friend’s work area there were four or five children, bored out of their skulls, making a ruckus and making it very hard for anyone to work. I don’t blame my friend for being annoyed (I would be, too). I don’t blame the parents for bringing the kids in (what other choice did they have?). I blame the company and our stupid government for not mandating that a company of that size have a daycare facility for the children of its employees.

As long as we continue attacking each other, nothing will get done. It’s not helpful for us to get all up in each other’s faces about the little things because we’re all fighting for the same reason: we want to be heard and acknowledged. We want society to fix our problems because we can’t do it ourselves. Discourse is good, but not if all it does is divide us further. Neither sides can respect each other as long as we continue to fight as if we’re diametrically opposed. We need, as Jenn has proposed, to communicate with each other. There is common ground and both non-parents and parents alike need to find it. Because otherwise it’s just all of us being oppressed, inconvenienced, and just plain getting the short end of the stick.

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This entry was posted in Childfree Issues, Eradicating Divisive Discourse, Feminism, Gender Cultism, Personal, Reproductive Rights, The Evil -ism's. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Parents are from Mars, Non-Parents are from Venus

  1. Monkey! says:

    Ah, Dru… getting hostile with people rather than discussing rationally. Guess she hasn’t changed much over the past few years.

  2. tekanji says:

    Her response to my shortened version of this on Jenn’s blog was even worse than anything she had said to Jenn. At least with Jenn she would discuss the issue. She wrote me off because she has a problem with the word “childfree”. I was, heck still am, deeply offended by how she replied to me.

    I’m sorry to hear that this is a typical reaction rather than an outside incident. She does make some good points; if she could learn to be more civil I’m sure she could do a lot of good.

  3. Jenn says:

    Sorry that I’m late on this one, though I supposed I’m better late than never. I do agree that I might have been a little overly harsh in my original post towards parents. Originally, my intention was merely to present the point of view of a non-parent to parents as an addendum to the article that I cited. In this society, I sometimes feel (like I describe) that non-parents are written off because we have chosen to postpone or outright deny procreation. Just as we non-parents need to be tolerant of parental viewpoints, I think it’s important that non-parents be exposed to an undistilled reaction to a more-or-less child-friendly society.

    Strangely, I actually felt very gratified when I first stumbled upon the article in the NY Times. It was almost like I had been saying something for years and no one had been listening until just now. It was that reaction that I felt made the whole thing worth talking about — maybe they really don’t listen to us non-parents as parents would like to believe.

    That being said, I absolutely agree that this society is child-friendly only when convenient. While I don’t think parents are exactly oppressed in America, there is still some measure of inconvenience and intolerance towards certain kinds of parents (particularly poor, unwed kinds) that we must deal with. Though we’ve made great strides to make it easier for mothers and fathers to bring their children out in public, you’re right that we still have not found the right balance between adults and children. Certainly, one place that is a problem is the workplace, as you mention, with many companies wrongly believing that child-rearing can be completely divorced from a 9-to-5 workday and don’t provide means for people to both be good parents and good employees.

    The thing is, though, that I don’t think any non-parent disregards that. I don’t think that I, as a non-parent, think it’s easy to be a parent. Hell, I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) tell you whether breast-feeding is healthy or not, or how to schedule your life around your child. I’m not a parent. I don’t pretend to be. But that doesn’t mean that I can and should be written off as unimportant — that’s a lack of respect issue that shouldn’t go unaddressed. If I can respect parents enough to respect that how they raise their child is fundamentally their decision, they should respect me enough to be considerate when their child-rearing practices adversely affect those around them.

    I like your idea for the airlines, although I’m sure we both recognize the bad politics and inconvenience of it all. We’d be treading that separate-but-equal line that was first addressed with Brown v. Board of Education. But if there were a way to make such a system fair for all parties, I think it would be a good way of handling the current problem. I guess the kicker would be whether or not such separated flights would be mandatory or not.

    Overall, I guess I just wanted to reiterate that I think your criticism of my harshness is fair and, in DruBlood’s defense, I was interested in hearing the counterpart to my opinions. I do think it’s important that non-parents be just as open to parental experiences as I expect them to be of mine (even if I don’t really understand and sometimes don’t want to hear it), and so I think we shouldn’t begrudge DruBlood for at least speaking her mind. That being said, I think it’s unnecessary to be overly harsh, cruel and below-the-belt over this issue. It only shows how close-minded people on both sides can really be towards people, like you, tekanji, who’re looking for a real and fair compromise. In the end, I just wanted to thank you for keeping your head cool on all this and realizing that everyone’s point of view is going to be different on this topic, but that there can be some common ground that can and should be found despite that diversity.

  4. tekanji says:

    Thanks for your comment, Jenn! Overall it reinforced the impression that I got from your blog.

    Re: harshness – Coming from the non-parent part of the divide, especially the part that doesn’t want children ever, I understood what you were trying to say. I could just see, however, why certain parts of your post would make some parents bristle. Not because you intended them to sound that way, but rather that someone without an insider perspective would likely read it in a negative light. Does that make sense?

    The thing is, though, that I don’t think any non-parent disregards that.

    See that’s where my experience differs from yours. I have seen that kind of attitude. The “I’m never going to have kids, so why should any of my tax dollars/wages/etc go to fund things like childcare?” attitude crops up now and again in parents vs childfree debates. I’m going to stress that the attidue is not common to all, or even most, childfree people by any means, but it’s there. I can understand it, to an extent, but at the same time I don’t agree that it’s beneficial for us not to support a broader issue just because we won’t personally and directly benefit from it.

    You’d think that would be an easy concept for people to get, but it’s really not. I’ve seen that kind of attitude applied to anything from childcare to women’s rights. That’s one reason why I thought to bring it up as an issue of common ground – better societal support for parents does actually give a tangible benefit to everyone, not just the parents themselves.

    In the end, I just wanted to thank you for keeping your head cool on all this

    Hah. Well, I do try. My post on James’ blog got me into a mini-flamewar on marginal notations, which makes me feel bad. I had been trying to keep things civil over there because Dru had been playing nice with Nykol. I still don’t know why she decided to post there instead of James’ blog, which would have been more appropriate. Oh well. I’m just ready for that drama to be done with already, y’know?

    and realizing that everyone’s point of view is going to be different on this topic, but that there can be some common ground that can and should be found despite that diversity.

    That’s one of my basic philosophies in life. Assuming people are fundamentally neutral, but society in general encourages us to be good, I believe that most people’s viewpoints are not rooted in hatred but rather in a fundamental difference in seeing things. If we can see that 1) differences are ok, and 2) differing thoughts don’t always have to be mutually exclusive, then I think there would be a lot less intolerance floating around.

  5. Jenn says:

    This is so bizarre, tekanji. I feel like you and I have very similar viewpoints on a lot of issues and it’s nice to see someone else articulate exactly how I feel. While it was never my intention to incite parents with my original post, I could see how it might offend others in the sense that I did use a few turns of a phrase more casually. But then again, I’m not a parent, so I don’t exactly see raising children as a be-all-and-end-all so, again, I find the idea that I must hold childrearing in some kind of awe and reverence kind of strange. Insider/outsider language can be so tricky, especially in blogspace where you’re not exactly aware who your audience is.

    Regarding attitudes of non-parents, I suppose you’re right. If there are extreme parents out there who think non-parents are the kind of morons one best belittles or ignores, then there are extreme non-parents. I just know that my liberalism doesn’t allow me to be that kind of crazy non-parent. When my taxes leave my pocket, they are no longer mine and I don’t care where they go as long as they are benefitting society at large.

    I’m aware of the flame-war and again, I’m mostly shocked that people could be so uncivil over this issue. Some of the other posters who commented on this issue have been completely below-the-belt. When you have to resort to childish ad hominem attacks to “prove your point” then there’s a fundamental problem with what you’re trying to say. Personally, knowing what James has been trying to say on numerous blogs and reading what he actually said, I see no reason why others subjected him to the kind of derogatory, personal attacks that they did. While it may take some work to read James’ stuff, I think he’s clear on what his point is — and certainly he was not saying anything that he was being accused of saying. I took offense at the idea that just because he disagreed with public breast-feeding, that he was not a feminist, or even a misogynist.

    I guess others just didn’t want to put in the effort to understand a differing viewpoint. I don’t agree with James and his perspective (mainly because I wasn’t raised in the South and don’t really care about social propriety) but that doesn’t make his viewpoint any less valid in my mind.

  6. tekanji says:

    I feel the same way, Jenn ^^ That’s one reason I love reading your blog; oftentimes you touch on issues that I wouldn’t, but in such a way that I can relate to everything that you’re saying.

    I find the idea that I must hold childrearing in some kind of awe and reverence kind of strange.

    I 100% agree with you on this. I think childrearing is an important part of society, and should be valued on the same level as other work, but I don’t think that it’s a “miracle” or whatever.

    I guess that’s where my distinction between childrearing and childmaking comes into play. I see childrearing as the act of bringing up the child you have taken responsibility for and helping guide them into becoming active members of society. On the other hand, I see childmaking as thinking that you’re special becuase you made a baby and it can do no wrong, so you don’t have to do any more work. Obviously I respect the former position and not the latter.

    If there are extreme parents out there who think non-parents are the kind of morons one best belittles or ignores, then there are extreme non-parents.

    Agreed. And one thing I was trying to convey in this whole debate was that the extremists on both sides shouldn’t dictate the frame. We, the sane non-parents and parents, should be the ones who set the tone for the discussion – and that tone should be tolerance and understanding.

    Personally, knowing what James has been trying to say on numerous blogs and reading what he actually said, I see no reason why others subjected him to the kind of derogatory, personal attacks that they did.

    Aside from Dru and possibly Nykol (although, from what I read, the problems between them seem to be that they’re both reading in things in the other’s post that isn’t there), was there another place in the debate that James was getting slammed? I ask because I know the debate continued on elsewhere and I was curious if it was a prevalent attitude among posters, or limited to a few. Maybe it’s better if I ask James, though, LOL

    I don’t agree with James and his perspective (mainly because I wasn’t raised in the South and don’t really care about social propriety) but that doesn’t make his viewpoint any less valid in my mind.

    Exactly.

    Well, I think i’ve done a good job agreeing with your post LOL But there’s no harm in preaching to the choir, I suppose… ;)

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