No kids at 40
August 26, 2005 5:15 AM   Subscribe

I'm a 40-ish woman, intelligent, fun, interesting, married, a home owner, have a lot in common with women I meet. You like me when you meet me...why do you turn off when you learn I have no children?

I chose long ago for my own personal reasons not to have children or even to adopt. I've always had very solid reasons for this and still feel strongly that, for better or worse, I've made the right decision. But now I find that my peers are very put off when they learn I don't have chlildren. (I moved here from another state, if that helps...). It seems like they are making some automatic assumptions about me, and don't have the nerve or gumption or (expletive deleted) to ask me about it...they'd rather just exlude me from their social lives, while giving me the goold ol' superfical air kisses when they see me. I'm starting to feel resentful of them, but would rather have some insight into their thinking. So, what are they thinking about me, the childless one? Anyone?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (40 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Sometimes people I've met that have chosen to not have kids throw off this "former alcoholic" vibe, i.e. they want to talk about it all the time, or they often make comments like, "I'm sooooo glad I don't have kids" which feels akin to saying, "Gosh, you child-bearing people are red state breeders!"

The second possibility is that it might be guilt, people thinking, "oh crap, x can't have kids, she's torn up inside, and everytime I accidentally mention my kids it must feel like a knife in her heart." Similar to avoiding people who have lost a loved one, because you don't want to soak up any peripheral grief.

Thirdly, it might be like married people who don't hang with their single friends as much, because frankly they are two different worlds, so different that single people can often get annoying, i.e. "just drop what you're doing and swing on by!" and it feels odd to see them obsessing about getting into a relationship while you're trying to deal with the reality (the banality, the responsibility) of the one you're in.

Apologies if this is too blunt, and I have perhaps over-exaggerated slightly.
posted by mecran01 at 5:33 AM on August 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

Oh, and also resentment--because you've got free time and a mini-cooper, and we're changing diapers and driving the hyundai accent.
posted by mecran01 at 5:42 AM on August 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

But at 40s, surely some of your peers aren't too far from emptying their nests? The kids vs. no-kids thing is most pronounced when those kids are young. Do the folks with teenagers act any differently?

FWIW, I have the opposite problem. I was a teen parent and had been completely unable to relate to my carefree college-aged cohort. Now that my kiddo is nearly eight and they're all starting to get married, it's starting to become easier.
posted by Eamon at 6:03 AM on August 26, 2005

mecran01's third reason is by far the most common one in my experience. Most people with kids have a fundamentally different idea about what life is about, and that often makes it really hard to communicate or do things together. Those people are thinking "she lives on another planet, what would we talk about?"

Maybe sometimes you're thinking similar things about them? Can you get interested in listening to a parent talk about their kids for hours, or spending an afternoon hanging out with them and their kids? If you want to be friends with parents, you have to care about the details of the most important thing in their lives.

Here are some other less common ones (mecran01's caveat about over-generalization still applies):
Enthusiasm. Some people are so transformed by the experience of having kids that they just can't imagine why anyone wouldn't want them. Those people are thinking "she hasn't understood anything about life", "what a sad person, she's missing out on so much", or "she's crazy".

Envy. The ideal of parenthood is that it's the most worthwhile thing anyone can do in life, but for some people, it doesn't turn out that way. It's completely unacceptable in our society to say that you regret having had kids or that you are suffering from having made that choice. People in that situation can commiserate with other parents about the difficulties, and then fall back on agreeing that "in the end it's all worthwhile". People without kids can challenge that reasoning, either openly or just by their existence as happy non-parents. Those people are thinking "I feel bad when I talk to her", or "look at her, she thinks she can do anything she wants whenever she wants".

Morality. I've met people who are not particularly religious, but believe that having kids is a moral imperative. Those people are thinking "she's selfish".

I've found that when one of my friends has children, the only way I can keep the friendship going is to be genuinely interested, curious, and open to what their experience as parents is like. I don't feel that way very often, and all of my really close friends are childless by choice, like me.
posted by fuzz at 6:10 AM on August 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm not a woman and I don't have kids, so all I can do is offer an observation:

Raising kids is hard. It takes a lot of time, energy, and committment. It costs you your money and your freedom. When you're making those kind of heavy sacrifices, and you want to feel good and happy about your decision, it's helpful to surround yourself with other people who have made the same decision, and who want to feel good and happy about their decision too. You can then tell each other how happy you are to have kids, and how worth it it all is, and you can relieve stress by complaining about the same things.

Enter, now, someone without kids. She's free, she has (more) money, she's had a better career, she's happy. And now your carefully constructed picture is blown. Is she happier than me? Would I have been better off without kids? Are these little (expletive deleted) really worth it? Now you have doubts. Doubts make you uncomfortable, and it's easier to just avoid the source of the challenge to your worldview.

Now, I have *no* idea if that's what's going on. But here's how you might find out: when you talk to these women, talk about how much you wish you had been able to have kids. I'm not suggesting that you be dishonest, only that you emphasize and focus on the good things that you're missing and forget about the good things that you've gotten in return. If these women start to see you as confirmation of their worldview ("look how unhappy she is without kids, I sure am glad I made the sacrifice") then they might feel more comfortable with your friendship. (Once you know this, you should drop these women and find other friends, because they obviously don't have very open minds).

Anyway. It's just a thought. Like I said, I'm a man and I'm without kids, so take it with a grain of salt.
posted by gd779 at 6:10 AM on August 26, 2005 [2 favorites]

If you want to be friends with parents, you have to care about the details of the most important thing in their lives.

Really? Because from my point of view, as a 38-y.o. woman who's childless by choice, women who become parents generally cease to care about the most important thing in my life. Perhaps the OP lives for her art, or her career, or her gardening hobby, or her ant farm. If OP is to express interest in her friends' kids, those friends, to be true friends, must continue to express interest in her thing, whatever it may be.
posted by scratch at 6:26 AM on August 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

I know someone who piously believes in the proper flow of how to people should live their lives: meet someone, get married, buy a house and have kids. He believes that anyone who doesn't follow that has got something "not right" about them going on. He's an ass and I don't talk to him anymore.
posted by KathyK at 6:27 AM on August 26, 2005

Society is profoundly but insidiously prejudiced against the voluntarily childless - especially, but not exclusively when they are women. We've recogised sexism, racism and homophobia but this one still pretty much gets a pass - possibly because the negative feelings directed against the voluntarily childless are more subtle and understated than those other more overt antipathies. We still regularly see comments in the media (and here on Mefi, I seem to recall) about the "selfishness" of the voluntarily childless.

That's part of it. Some of the other answers here raise the other part - that choosing to have children takes you onto a very, very different life path to the childless person. When people's fundamental life interests and concerns diverge so much it definitely makes friendship more difficult , often to the extent where it doesn't seem worth it to the party whose life choice necessarily involves a primary dedication to their offspring.

I, like you, chose to remain childless. I have never regretted it for one microsecond. My reasons for doing so were partly selfish and partly altruistic. I am concerned about the number of people on this over-exploited planet of ours. I was concerned about my abilities as a parent. On he other hand, it absolutely rocks to be able to come and go as I please, take a holiday whenever I feel like it, stay out late and get drunk on a whim and have lots of spare cash to do all that with.

I suggest you meet some other people of your age who have also chosen not to don the infant millstones. We're not so rare, I think. I have one other single male friend in this position, two female friends and I know four couples who chose not to spawn. We are all in our forties. Seek out like-minded people and to hell with what unfriendly breeders might think. You'll have fun.

Finally, I absolutely and violently disagree with the person who said you should "talk about how much you wish you had been able to have kids". That IS dishonest, and it is pandering to precisely the prejudice I mentioned in my first paragraph. To hell with that. They have to learn to accept us for what we are. If they can't, they're not worthy of our friendship anyway.
posted by Decani at 6:36 AM on August 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm 30s with 2 little kids, but I don't think gd779 is being too helpful.
I guess some parents are questioning their choices, but I would suggest that is a point of commonality rather than a differentiation. I'm 100% into kids and my family life, but I still wish to jet off for a weekend of drunken debauchery every now and then, and I know from friends who have chosen no kids they sometimes wonder what could have been in that area.
I guess I don't turn off childless people, so I can't see why your peers are doing so, unless they find you hard to connect with. I don't think this is entirely about your choice on kids. For example, if I look at my neighbours I have singles, couples and families, and don't feel any closer to one than the others.
Are you meeting these people in a place where having kids is expected (and perhaps the only thing in common) like at a school or scouts/guides?
One thing I do notice with my childless friends is a flexibility I don't have. If we want to go out for dinner I need weeks not hours notice, so perhaps there are elements of your own approach that you have unconciously made hard for the kidded. Your idea of popping out for a quick coffee might be appreciated but unpractical, for example.
If you are getting the brush off I'd be inclined to give them a go by trying to fit in to the peers schedule etc. but if you still get nowhere, just give them up and seek some more considerate friends.
posted by bystander at 6:39 AM on August 26, 2005

Seconding what people said above about how the kid-having and the child-free have fundamentally different priorities in their social lives.

But also - I have a few friends who have kids who are delighted to have some time off from time to time to do things they used to do before the sprog showed up. I see them less often than my core pals, but they can be delightful social acquaintances. Is there a way you could cultivate some of this type of acquaintance? (Mind you, I am in an urban location in a coastal [blue] state, so people like this might be less thick on the ground where you are.)
posted by matildaben at 6:44 AM on August 26, 2005

Here's something I've noticed about many older women who never had children: they have aged with the luxury of not having to constantly change and compromise for the sake of others. (Decani's comments ring perfectly true to this fact.) Universally, the older we get, the more accustomed we become to always having our own way; parenthood tempers that belief, and replaces it with the understanding that your children are more important than yourself, that they are more important than anything else. Women without children can be good and kind and wonderfully empathetic, and yet they lack this quality of being capable of sacrificing every part of self for another person, which women who raised families possess in abundance.

For a person who lies awake at night worrying about what she would do if her son were diagnosed with leukemia, or if her daughter disappeared on a school trip to Aruba, or if her husband died on the commute home from work and she was left alone -- it would be hard to sit across a kitchen table and relate to someone who simply "chose not to don the infant millstones." Her worries are not your worries; her fears are not your fears. It's not making assumptions about you, it's a simple fact of circumstances.
posted by junkbox at 7:09 AM on August 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

Bear with the parallel here, but I think being childfree is sort of like being vegetarian/vegan, or being Xian, and so on. The loudest exposure many people get to these ideas are from people who are very in-your-face about it, critical or disparaging of those who don't make the same decisions, and then it's easy to assume that everyone of the same label is going to act like that.

When people hear I am vegetarian some of them don't react very well at all. I think sometimes they think my decision automatically implies criticism of their own, or maybe it makes them feel guilty and they don't like that, who knows; so they put me down or write me off. You say you feel very strongly about your decision to be childfree; how are you expressing it to other people? I find that before I know someone well I have to be careful about talking about being vegetarian, I have to go out of my way to express that I don't care if you haven't made the same decision I have, that I'm not critical of you, that we can talk about it, that I'm not going to jump down your throat when you don't agree with me, that I'm not going to snark you over it, and so on. It's a pain, and sometimes bugs that I have to do this legwork to overcome their issues, but most people tend to group with others that have made similar decisions as they have, and somebody who is different is perceived as threatening if you don't take that time to defuse it. Because they will assume, they won't ask - you have to open it up. People bond with people they understand and feel understand them back, so if you are different in a major point you have to show you still understand their POV.

Another point is that they may not be excluding you from their social lives; they might be unable to do the social things you can because of the kids. Or they might assume you wouldn't be interested in doing anything that involves the children, or that you'll be cranky if they talk about their kids. Some childfree people are very pointed in their dislike of ever being around, dealing with, or discussing children which of course makes a parent very uncomfortable. Maybe they even think you wanted kids but couldn't have them, and that makes them uncomfortable, they don't know how to deal with it, so they avoid it. If you're in a conservative sort of area, maybe they haven't met someone like you before and have no idea how to approach it.
posted by Melinika at 7:26 AM on August 26, 2005 [2 favorites]

Is it possible you're projecting some of your own feelings or insecurities onto these people you're meeting? In general, you care about you and the decisions you've made way more than they care about you and the decisions you've made. So, if you get a weird vibe from them about a decision you've made, it's worth at least considering whether that vibe is originating in you in some way.

Also, is it possible that your expectations for people are off? I don't do people very well (so it may just be me), but I have found it's difficult to develop meaningful relationships with people once you get out of college. Everybody seems to be busy leading their own lives, and nobody seems to have time for much more than superficial air kisses.

I don't know if that's just my experience or everybody's experience. To judge by movies and TV shows, I'm some kind of socially isolated freak who doesn't have the deep and meaningful friendships that everybody else has. Now, I don't really trust the media to represent life accurately, but if somebody did, I can see where it would be easy to feel like there was something wrong. Given that feeling, you might start looking around for reasons and blame whatever it is about you that seems to be different.
posted by willnot at 7:28 AM on August 26, 2005

I'm married, 40's, mom of 3 young children, and you're right - if I met you, I'd have assumptions. #1 being that we exist in different worlds and that it would be difficult to merge those worlds. I know that other mothers understand my particular social difficulties, but I'd feel that a child-less woman possibly wouldn't. At least not at first, and to get to that understanding would take 'extra' work and getting to that point can take time. Basically I'd think (assume) that you'd think socializing with me would be a pain in the ass.

Btw, this is a learned assumption - learned when becoming a parent means your single friends stop calling because you can't drop everything and come over in an hour for the impromptu dinner - or even the dinner scheduled for next Saturday night.

Sorry to say that the burden mostly lies with you - to show that you are willing to put up with the inflexibility of their schedule. Try calling and saying, "I'd love to go to the art show with you, do you think you can arrange child care during one of the next four weekends?"

We need an excuse to get out, so your call would be appreciated!
posted by LadyBonita at 7:32 AM on August 26, 2005

Around here my partner and I are the only straight couple our age who don't have kids or who aren't both full time students. I don't find that getting to know people is weird, but there is definitely a feeling that us and the couples with kids don't have as many commonalities. You would probably have this double if you don't have kids and don't have a partner. So, in a busy world where there isn't as much time to socialize in the first place, their priorities often lean towards things the whole family can do which often means doing things with other families. It seems harder to break up a family unit to do some one-on-one socializing; not that it's difficult, but often people just don't want to do it. They like their kids and want to hang out with them all the time, in a different way than you would with, say, a partner where you each do together things and separate things. I don't have this issue with people who were my friends before they had kids, I just hang out with them, their partners, their kids, their friends' kids, whatever, but we usually do what they want, because the kids are the center of their world.

Another issue is the possible mystery. My friends know why I don't have children. The new folks in town don't. Since it seems like a weird thing to talk about when you first meet someone [see mecran01s post], people may assume there's some horrible secret. Also, like going to the dog park, people with kids meet other people with kids by going places with kids and talking about kids. People without kids often don't learn how to do this as well. I don't know your situation, but do you talk to the folks with kids about their kids? Are you kid friendly at the same time as you are kid free?

Her worries are not your worries; her fears are not your fears. It's not making assumptions about you, it's a simple fact of circumstances.

Junkbox's response may shed some insight as well. I don't think of myself as that different from my friends with kids, and treat them accordingly [though I give them way more time for scheduling, etc] Many of them at least seem to feel the same way about me. However some of them may feel, as she does, that there is something fundamentally and factually missing from my life as a result of not having kids and I'm not sure what you do with that.
posted by jessamyn at 7:46 AM on August 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm near 40; my wife is 40. We have no kids, and lots of friends around this age, single and married, who have no intention of having kids. So we haven't been as acutely conscious of this issue.

I think previous posters have more or less answered this. My wife's sister (with a 6yo) comes across as unabashedly envious.

My own take is that parenthood is sort of like a sport or hobby that you get enthusiastic about it and encourage your friends to try out; it gives you something to bond over.

My wife's take is more acidic: she has two comments. 1) People without kids come across as thinking for themselves and not doing what's expected of them, and so those with more conventional thinking are suspicious of them; or 2) People with kids think the urge to reproduce must be universal, and anyone not doing it must be broken somehow.

But I'll finish with another comment from my wife: "she's hanging around with the wrong people."
posted by adamrice at 7:53 AM on August 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

It's different places. That's all it is- we live in different places. You can go anywhere you want, anytime you want- I can't. And that's not to say I wouldn't love to go to dinner tonight, come have coffee right now, jog down see a movie this afternoon, or even swing by and just have a chat with you. I would love to do those things. But I can't. I have to wait for my daughter to get home from school, or I have to get a babysitter, or I have to get her ready and then spend the entire chat time making sure she doesn't get into or damage your things.

And I hate to tell you no all the time, because I know it makes you feel bad. It makes me feel bad too, because I would love to go out for dinner, a movie, some coffee, or just come over and look through your books. I like you; I am interested in you!

And I would love for you to come to my house, but I have to clean up as if I would for the in-laws, because you don't have kids. Your house is no doubt immaculate. Full of gorgeous, fragile things. I'm afraid you will judge me poorly if you see the pile of dirty laundry in my laundry room, or the bowl of Cheerios still on my coffee table from this morning when the kid just wanted a snack with her Jimmy Neutron. I'm afraid you'll judge me poorly because my furniture is worn, the slat on my kitchen chairs has to be replaced manually to steady it, none of my cups match, you'll have to stir your drink with a Spongebob Spoon. And, well, my kids are *also* there, and even as I teach them to be civilized beasts, they will still interrupt and be loud and limit what we can talk about if they decide to play within earshot.

So I'm afraid to make the invitation, because most days, I'm not ashamed of my soccer mom car, or my Early Kindergarten style of decorating, or my kids- but I will feel ashamed if you come into my house and find it wanting. I will feel ashamed if you secretly harbor the notion that I'm some lesser, backwards kind of woman for enjoying my babies and my breadmaking.

In short: it's easier to avoid telling you no than it is to keep telling you no. It's easier to avoid you than face all the fears and insecurities that would come with inviting you to my house.
posted by headspace at 7:53 AM on August 26, 2005 [2 favorites]

Junkbox, how dare you assume that childless people are incapable of sacrificing every part of self for another person. So a childless woman can sacrifice everything in their life for another person, but if that person did not spring from her womb, the selflessness is not as great as a mother's sacrifice for her children? Talk about self-centered!

In my experience (I am in a very similar situation as you, anon, btw) for some women, having kids is the pinnacle of existence. Their whole view of adulthood is "married with children." Without kids, you haven't earned your seat at the adult table. Because their life choice is the common and "acceptable" one, your choices in life don't measure up. Even if you made them with as the same amount of conviction and pride. Your marriage/LTR is not equal or as valid as their marriages because you do not have children. It's not that they can't relate to you, it is that they don't want to.

Most of the comments here seem subtly point a finger at you, for instance, they imply that you are not aware of/don't respect a mother's time constraints, schedules or preferred activities. But I've got to believe you are aware and would respect these things if they would give YOU a chance and get to know you. But you don't even get that far. Again, it's not that they can't relate, they just don't want to.

I am willing to accept that a tiny minority of the mommy-types who snub you are uncomfortable around you and assume that you view yourself as the "modern woman" and look down on them. But this is a minority, a total exception to the rule. The majority are looking down on you.

From experience, the most productive thing you can do is talk to breeders about how you feel. Their bias might be so subconscious, they might not even realize it. Maybe it will open their eyes to see you for who you are and not a childless woman.
posted by necessitas at 8:12 AM on August 26, 2005 [3 favorites]

I wonder how different it is for women than men.

I live in Utah and therefore most of my friends have at least two if not more children. Most of my friends here are male and they don't even raise an eyebrow at my childless status.

I always make a point to ask them about their children and to dote on them when I go visit. Perhaps that would help in your situation. I know some parents automatically assume the childless/childfree aren't breeding because they dislike children. If you can show yourself to be fond of children, especially _their_ children, then I think they would warm to you.

The relationships still wouldn't be as close as the relationships they have with fellow parents, but at least some of the barriers would be lifted.
posted by pandaharma at 8:26 AM on August 26, 2005

I suspect it's mostly a perception on their part that friendship with the child-free doesn't work, perhaps born from personal experience of friendships dissolving after they had kids (for reasons that could reflect poorly on the child-free party -- unwillingness to make any acommodations to the fact that their friend's life has changed in a big way, or that could reflect poorly on the child-ful party -- inability to talk about anything but how little Wuzzums sat up by himself a full week before the books said to expect it, or other things, or a combo of all of the above.)

It could also be, in some cases, being convinced you're some kind of fundamentalist about being child-free, or they're some kind of fundamentalist about being child-ful, as others have noted.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 8:47 AM on August 26, 2005

"With the guys who are parents it's not that way at all. They still want to talk about movies and sports or whatever. They adore their children, but it hasn't meant they don't have any outside interests."

Perhaps that's because men aren't usually the ones who are responsible for all the childcare. In other words, they get the best of both worlds -- the connection with their children and the ability to exist in the adult world. They can shape-shift better than mothers, because less parenting is required of them. Those fathers that are not the primary caregivers get to go to work every day and spend a few hours with the kids before bedtime. Plenty of time for thinking about "movies or sports or whatever." For many mothers who are at home with their children, they have no time to concentrate on anything else except getting through the next 16 hours until bedtime. Maybe the reason that "everything they talk about is baby-related" is because that's their whole fucking world, at least for a few years. That doesn't mean that all women with children are "breeders" who are judging anyone without children; it may mean that some women who have children are desperate to talk about their daily existence with other people, because it is fundamentally lonely being a new mother.

To the original poster, it may be that the people who seem skittish around you once they discover you have no children may just be protecting themselves from the kind of "breeder" "spawn" judgment that seems to come from the "fundamentalist child-free," as Zen_Lopez termed it. Just look at some of the judgment here in these posts.
posted by youarejustalittleant at 9:23 AM on August 26, 2005

Did you ever get any of the responses in "Breeder Bingo?"

I feel like these answers are all very valid reasons as to why it's common for people with kids to shun the childless.

And I want to say, hurray! I am not planning on having kids, no sir. It's nice whenever I come across a like-minded individual. Not much advice in my corner, just a big smile. There are more of us out there!
posted by agregoli at 9:31 AM on August 26, 2005

Now, I have *no* idea if that's what's going on. But here's how you might find out: when you talk to these women, talk about how much you wish you had been able to have kids.

Oh, and I think this is the worst advice. It also does a great disservice to people who don't want kids - reinforces the stereotype that people with kids have that all childless people must be dying to have kids - they just haven't had the opportunity. Yuck.
posted by agregoli at 9:33 AM on August 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

Youarejustalittleant - Not all women with children are "breeders" (in the derogatory not literal sense) and many do long for adult conversation about stuff in the real world. But these women are not the ones snubbing her. I don't think anyone's comments targeted ALL women with children. There is a big difference between the mommy-types who don't care about anything but their children/all things related to children and women who have some concept of the world outside of beyond their children.

For the latter, their children are no less important but they are aware and accepting of the fact that people make their own choices either similar or different than the ones they have made themselves. Just because someone resents former type of mothers because they snub and shun the childfree, it is not a judgement about the woman's choice to be a mother, it is a judgement about the woman's choice to snub the childfree.

In other words, don't assume that ALL of us who have disparaging words about the women who don't even bother to get to know childfree are judgemental and "fundamentalist."
posted by necessitas at 9:42 AM on August 26, 2005

Junkbox, how dare you assume that childless people are incapable of sacrificing every part of self for another person..... Talk about self-centered!

Hey, I'm a young woman without kids, as self-centered as I can be -- so I'll dare what I like, thankyouverymuch.

I was trying, perhaps poorly, to express the idea that motherhood is a magical quality; I envy it and am terrified by it at the same time. You refer to people with children as "breeders;" perhaps you don't share my own sense of wonder. Sorry if I offended.
posted by junkbox at 9:45 AM on August 26, 2005

I want to make clear that by linking to "Breeder Bingo" I in no way think that all parents are like that, nor do I really particularly like the term "Breeder." But some people do seem to think that's all they are in life - a parent. It makes communication with them very hard.
posted by agregoli at 9:49 AM on August 26, 2005

You refer to people with children as "breeders;"

I don't refer to people with children as breeders, I refer to breeders as breeders.
posted by necessitas at 10:01 AM on August 26, 2005

"There is a big difference between the mommy-types who don't care about anything but their children/all things related to children and women who have some concept of the world outside of beyond their children."

Yeah, but I'm not getting that from commenters like missmerrymack.

"the idea that motherhood is a magical quality"

That's a nice sentiment, but I think that kind of attitude goes a long way toward furthering the divide between the child-ful and the child-free. Motherhood is not magical any more than choosing not to have kids is magical.

I think both sides bring a huge amount of fear of judgment to the discussion -- mothers who fear being judged as "breeders" and women who fear being judged as fundy about their decision to not have children. Maybe the OP is judging the reactions of the people who seem to not be connecting with her as much as she fears they are judging her for not connecting with them.
posted by youarejustalittleant at 10:01 AM on August 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

Simply seeing that this AskMeFi question has generated a ton of responses, it's clear that there seems to be a disconnect, however subtle or overt, between those w/ kids & hose w/o. Even further than that, there's an issue of choice - some people choose be remain childless, some are childless because of external issues. The same thing goes w/ kids - some people have the choice and some people don't.

My partner and I choose to remain childless, and we're at the age where our friends and peers are marrying and having kids, and so far it's been easy to navigate the issue, but there are some times when we have to make compromises. I can foresee a time when it'll be more difficult to navigate that space, but we'll manage. For now, though, I don't mind being the friend w/o kids. I feel like my friends can visit and spend time with me, away from their kids, and regain some of the adult life back.
posted by itchi23 at 10:37 AM on August 26, 2005

I heartily disgree about that disconnect between parents and childless people.

Sometimes it hurts my feelings when parents assume I don't want to be around them, their messy houses, and their kids. I have pretty clear memories of being a kid myself. I won't say "I like kids" across the board -- I don't like adults across the board, either -- but I'm pretty easygoing and I can enjoy the company of all kinds of people, even ones who haven't yet figured out how to talk.

None of my friends had kids early, but the post-September-11th baby boom spurred lots of them into action. It was a lot of fun, vicariously. I enjoyed listening to their experiences and helping them out in small, friendly ways.

I'd have liked to, but I've been single for a long time, and I feel strongly that kids should have two parents whenever possible. Theoretically I still could -- I come from a family with alarmingly durable fertility -- but at this point it's looking very unlikely.

Assuming I don't, it'll be one of those absorbing, life-changing experiences (like a concert career) that some of my friends did at the expense of other experiences they didn't have. I might envy them occasionally, but we're still close, with lots to talk about, and my life continues to evolve in other interesting ways.
posted by tangerine at 10:55 AM on August 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

Awesome, tangerine.
posted by youarejustalittleant at 11:23 AM on August 26, 2005

I'm 36, single, and childless -- about 60% by circumstance, but about 40% by choice. I may very well still want to have kids in the future, but for now I can say that I like the current status of my life.

I am the target of some envy/resentment (usually mild or vague; occasionally, though, it's painfully obvious) from the women in my day-to-day life with kids -- namely, my sister and three very close female friends. There are small things in my life that I take for granted, but which none of them any longer has the freedom to do: I can go to a movie at the spur of the moment. I can sleep in as late as I want on the weekends. I can read a book for hours, undisturbed. So the day-to-day flow of my life is wildly different, and some of the concerns/priorities of my life are quite different too.

But we work it out. I am genuinely interested in their kids (I actually moved to L.A. after Nephew 1 was born in large part to be a hands-on auntie) and respect their parenting, and so am honestly happy to hear all about what's going on with them. I also volunteer for babysitting, or to get together for activities that are kid-friendly. This is partially out of altruism (see "I am genuinely interested in the kids," above), but also partially out of selfishness -- that is, because I'm willing to put in a certain effort to be actively involved in their kids, it "buys" some time down the road for us to spend together just as adults when the kids are either asleep, in school, or being taken care of by someone else. For example, a good friend (single mom with kid) and I have worked out a more-or-less ongoing weekly "girl date" together -- if her ex has their boy for that evening, she and I go out dinner/movie; if he doesn't, I come over for dinner early enough for bath/storytime, and bring a movie and bottle of wine. She gets to share both her parenting and her non-parenting "selves" with me, in a way that might be harder for her if I wasn't playing some sort of role in her son's life.

Of course, YMMV if you genuinely aren't interested in your friends' kids or don't feel like kind of "folding" them into your friendship -- which may mean that, indeed, your close female friends may have to be with the similarly childless. I guess it's not really different than starting out in a romantic relationship at this age -- some people don't mind dating others who already have kids; some do. They're both perfectly legitimate responses; your dating (or friendship) pool is just altered depending on which side you're on.
posted by scody at 12:40 PM on August 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

And I would love for you to come to my house, but I have to clean up as if I would for the in-laws, because you don't have kids. Your house is no doubt immaculate. Full of gorgeous, fragile things. I'm afraid you will judge me poorly if you see the pile of dirty laundry in my laundry room, or the bowl of Cheerios still on my coffee table from this morning when the kid just wanted a snack with her Jimmy Neutron. I'm afraid you'll judge me poorly because my furniture is worn, the slat on my kitchen chairs has to be replaced manually to steady it, none of my cups match, you'll have to stir your drink with a Spongebob Spoon.

As Tangerine said, this kind of thing hurts my feelings -- it's as if other people are punishing me because their houses aren't the way they would like them. It makes me a bit angry when someone assumes I'm that meanly judgmental. It's that kind of assumption that would make me not want to be friends, and that has nothing to do with anybody's children.

I was also amused by the assumption in some of these responses that people with no children have lots of money. I make far less money than all of my friends who have children, and they all drive way better cars. I have the freedom, yes, but the money, she ain't there.
posted by JanetLand at 1:33 PM on August 26, 2005

One thing I've found is that often mothers get cut off from the outside world, so to speak. Caring for their children takes so much time and energy that they don't have time to keep up with the things they used to be interested in. This goes double if they have a job outside the home. So it's not that they don't care about anything outside their family, just that they have been forced by circumstance to narrow their focus and they have little else to talk about.

With some of my friends with kids, I've taken on the role of keeping them connected to their former interests. I send mixes of new bands I think they'd like to the friends I used to see concerts with, throw potlucks at the park (aka, opportunities for oneupmanship) with friends who wowed us all with their dinner parties before they had kids, etc. Sometimes I feel like these are the only things that still connect us, and it's hard to think of things that aren't just another burden on their time. But the "I just need to talk to a grownup right now" calls let me know that it's appreciated.
posted by cali at 1:58 PM on August 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

As Tangerine said, this kind of thing hurts my feelings -- it's as if other people are punishing me because their houses aren't the way they would like them. It makes me a bit angry when someone assumes I'm that meanly judgmental. It's that kind of assumption that would make me not want to be friends, and that has nothing to do with anybody's children.

I don't know why it would hurt your feelings that I would be ashamed for you to visit my dirty house. You make it sound as though you're entitled to visit whether I am comfortable or not. I wouldn't want to have any guests (parents or childfree) over without cleaning the house, but at least other parents are guaranteed to understand why I'm serving cookies on a plastic character plate.
posted by headspace at 2:08 PM on August 26, 2005

Having guests over only when you're comfortable is fine (then again, I assume pretty much everyone feels that way, kids or no); I don't think anyone's making some assumptions about "entitlement" to your personal space. What seems hurtful is this apparent notion that the childless are too smug and/or stupid to get why we're stirring the coffee with a Spongebob spoon if and when we do visit, and that only having a child of our own will confer this understanding. I totally get it, and I totally don't mind.

Besides, I've got dishes stacked in the sink at home right now, too, and my sole excuse is laziness! :)
posted by scody at 3:34 PM on August 26, 2005

forced by circumstance to narrow their focus and they have little else to talk about.

wrong-o. they volunteered.
posted by pieoverdone at 4:04 PM on August 26, 2005

it's clear that there seems to be a disconnect, however subtle or overt, between those w/ kids & those w/o

There sure does. I must confess I hadn't realized the extent of it, but then as a guy, I wouldn't. Having acquired a stepson and -daughter, I'm suddenly very aware of the importance of children in a parent's life, but I'm still baffled by the attitude a lot of mothers apparently have towards the childless. Can't we all just get along?
posted by languagehat at 4:09 PM on August 26, 2005

I'm more baffled by the attitude towards mothers.
posted by youarejustalittleant at 4:27 PM on August 26, 2005

I like tangerine's response, too.

...married, a home owner, ...

why include these descriptives if you can't relate to the idea that people think they'll get along better with others in similar circumstances? If you think you fit into their world because you're a married homeowner, why are you surprised that you don't fit into it because of your childless status? Having a family seems far more central to identity and lifestyle than getting a mortgage, to me.

I don't know whether I'll ever have children - I can imagine things going either way, and both ways seem like they would have pluses and minuses. But I hope whatever happens that I don't wrap my identity too tightly with that status. Motherhood is not magical. Motherhood is another adventure you can go on, but which may prevent you from going along some of the other available paths. But being childless is not righteous and revolutionary, either. People who are too "out & proud" about childlessness seem to be imagining persecution I just don't see (but then I live in the city, where it's normal not to have kids).

All of them might be interesting, and none of us get to go in every direction. The thing is not to get caught up in the "role", I think - that's annoying, when someone identifies so strongly with a given role that they seem not to have a personality beyond it (whether as "Mother" or "Professional" or "Christian" or whatever...)
posted by mdn at 9:56 AM on August 27, 2005

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