Comments That Hurt: "You never know true love until you have a child."
September 14, 2018 10:29 AM   Subscribe

Each day of World Childless Week 2018, writers in the childless-not-by-choice community have responded to a different theme related to involuntary childlessness. Today's theme is "Comments That Hurt," specifically the comment, "You never know true love until you have a child." There are essays, video responses, and survey results that end with an email from a supportive parent.
posted by Secret Sockdentity (120 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
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posted by Melismata at 10:40 AM on September 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


That's hurtful to childless-by-choice people, too.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:45 AM on September 14, 2018 [95 favorites]


That's hurtful to spouses and partners!
posted by explosion at 10:52 AM on September 14, 2018 [16 favorites]


True, The Underpants Monster. Sarah Chamberlin addresses that (childfree by choice) in her essay The Many Faces of Love: "In addition, love - “real” and “true” love - does not necessarily need to involve parenting living children or embryos or even dreams of children. Many express the love inside of them in ways not related to parenting at all. I just so happen to experience an incredibly profound love as the result of non parenthood."
posted by Secret Sockdentity at 10:55 AM on September 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


If someone has said “you never know true love until you have a child” directly to you, how did you respond and why?

Oh my god. Is this something people really say in conversation? It's appalling. I imagine the best response is "Why would you say that?," partly because I'd really want to know why they said that.
posted by witchen at 10:57 AM on September 14, 2018 [18 favorites]


The one that gets me is "It was your wife that had the miscarriage, what are you upset about?"
posted by Quonab at 10:59 AM on September 14, 2018 [7 favorites]


That statement is an easy way to determine someone who should not be in your life in any meaningful way. If they are family or coworkers, I am sorry. What about someone who cannot have their own biological children but wished she could? SMH
posted by greatalleycat at 11:02 AM on September 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


As someone who is that way by choice, even if I'm not always happy that's the choice I had to make, I see it like standing in front of someone with a serious peanut allergy and going "oh man but peanut butter it's amazing I couldn't live without it, there is no food in the universe that can possibly equal peanut butter". Saying that to a person who just doesn't like peanut butter is still super rude but not quite actually horrific.

I made my life choices. I considered the emotional stuff I'd be missing out on as a part of my life choices. Telling me I'll never know true love is awful, but I'm able to be reasonably confident that you're wrong in a way I wouldn't be about things I didn't pick for myself.
posted by Sequence at 11:08 AM on September 14, 2018 [19 favorites]


Oh my god. Is this something people really say in conversation?

I am childless by choice and it's absolutely been said to me. I can just roll my eyes and be all "sure, champ." I can't imagine how much it would hurt for someone who wants a kid but can't have one to hear that, though.

And the thing is, the people who say it (usually) don't mean anything by it. It's a thing Western culture has taught us to think and say. No romantic relationship on a TV show is really Solid until you get the hackneyed "I'm Pregnant" scene. That's how the media teaches us the love is "for real" whatever the fuck that means. It's just a brain worm that's there and I guess articles and conversations like this are the best we can hope for.

It may be true that the love a parent feels for a child is different than the love one feels for a romantic partner, but your abillity/willingness to have children has no bearing on your capacity to experience love. And don't let any chucklefuck tell you different.
posted by East14thTaco at 11:12 AM on September 14, 2018 [55 favorites]


People don’t just say it explicitly. Sometimes it’s twenty minutes of all the ways they never knew you could be close to someone before they had a child.

People are a LOT happier to have that conversation with young women than an honest conversation about pregnancy and birth. Luckily I’m at the age where people stop, uh, lying to me about it, I guess. Unluckily it means holy shit every woman I know who’s given birth has PTSD from it. So...there’s that.
posted by schadenfrau at 11:18 AM on September 14, 2018 [19 favorites]


It's surely an insensitive thing to say to someone you know is childless. However, as an objective matter, the vast majority of parents would attest to the parent-child relationship being unlike any other they've had before, and generally they would describe it as more intense and encompassing. Possibly not "true love," but definitely a different category of relationship that was unknown/unknowable prior to parenthood. That's just the lived experience of being a parent; not an insult, as long as your interlocutor is interested in your experience as a parent (which they may well not be.)
posted by yarly at 11:19 AM on September 14, 2018 [11 favorites]


who are you explaining that to
posted by griphus at 11:21 AM on September 14, 2018 [113 favorites]


I don't know about the "true love" thing but becoming a parent is definitely a unique experience. If you want your entire life turned upside down and both randomly and permanently rearranged, a kid is definitely the fast track. Overall it was positive but I do remember my wife and I leaning over his crib and saying with a smile, "_____, you're going to be an only child..."
posted by jim in austin at 11:22 AM on September 14, 2018 [7 favorites]


I find it helps if I mentally translate this kind of thing into "HAHA I AM REALLY GLAD I HAD KIDS NO REALLY I AM"
posted by aubilenon at 11:24 AM on September 14, 2018 [64 favorites]


Like my love for my husband is different from my love for my parents or my pets, but I would never, ever say to any single friend "Gosh, you just don't understand true love until you've been MARRIED!" even if they asked. They have some understanding of romantic love because it's fucking everywhere, and I have some understanding of parent-child love because it's fucking everywhere. I don't need to experience being shot in the stomach to know it's going to hurt in a different way than any other pain I've experienced.
posted by muddgirl at 11:25 AM on September 14, 2018 [75 favorites]


Yes it is something people actually say. They will tell you that you are somehow betraying nature by not having a child. That you are something you should be doing. That you need someone to take care of you in your old age, that you need a child to carry on your family legacy. They will tell you all these things.

And then they get very, very angry when you ask them one question:

"Why?"

It has happened to me. (For me, the reason is my own physical and mental situations.) I've been accused of being a horrible person for 'not understanding how hard it is for a parent'. Told that "it's so sad my later years are going to be sent without a family". These have been said to me by people I am related to.

I'm physically disabled. People on public transit won't offer my cane-using self a seat, but I swear they break speed records giving up seats to people with kids, while I get more and more pain in my arthritic knee. But I'm supposed to be totally okay with pain because of how hard it is for a parent.

And then people wonder why I'm so bitter.
posted by mephron at 11:25 AM on September 14, 2018 [54 favorites]


In retrospect I'm probably too raw to participate in this thread.
posted by muddgirl at 11:26 AM on September 14, 2018 [8 favorites]


Welp. My instinct as a parent right now is to back out of the conversation and not explain how I feel about my kids.
Everybody knows the dominant narrative. There‘s more value to be had listening to what non-parents have experienced.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:29 AM on September 14, 2018 [48 favorites]


I have a lot of heartfelt compassion for the people who want to have kids but for myriad reasons, literally can't.

I personally feel so damn denied by own biology and I can't imagine what it's like for other people. Several friends of mine want children for reasons yet are physically unable to do so. I don't think it's fair to share their trauma resulting from attempts, but I will say that what "childless not by choice" people experience is a unique pain that deserves holding a special place in our hearts for.
posted by nikaspark at 11:30 AM on September 14, 2018 [16 favorites]


I don't know about the "true love" thing but becoming a parent is definitely a unique experience.

Yes. I think rather than "true love" the correct way to explain it is like entering into a "total institution" like med school, military bootcamp, a solo sailing trip across the pacific, or the like.
posted by yarly at 11:30 AM on September 14, 2018 [6 favorites]


There's a huge difference between choosing not to have a child and wanting one but being unable to. Through infertility or another issue. Adoption is not available to everyone. It isn't always an option.

May I respectfully suggest that people consider those differences before commenting with comparisons, or casually asserting that those circumstances are equivalent? Please?
posted by zarq at 11:30 AM on September 14, 2018 [48 favorites]


Hell, people here on the blue have said this kind of thing.

In a thread about the chaos of raising toddlers, someone came in to say "yes but then there are moments where they cuddle up and say 'i love you' and I can only feel pity for the childless people who will never, ever experience anything like this."

My in-thread response to that is here.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:33 AM on September 14, 2018 [37 favorites]


It is unfortunately extremely accurate to the involuntary childless experience to sit through a lot of attempts by other people at redirecting the conversation to somewhere more comfortable for them.
posted by griphus at 11:34 AM on September 14, 2018 [48 favorites]


I don't know about the "true love" thing but becoming a parent is definitely a unique experience.

Did you read the link? It's not arguing that there isn't something unique about the experience, it's arguing that saying this to people who cannot have children is tremendously thoughtless and hurtful.
posted by maxsparber at 11:34 AM on September 14, 2018 [27 favorites]


Yes, I read the link. I'm making a comment about the comment, and how I think it does and does not accurately reflect parenthood.
posted by yarly at 11:40 AM on September 14, 2018


Not having children when you don't want to have children is pretty great because you got what you wanted.

Not having children when you very very much do want to have children is a form (often multiple forms, along the way) of trauma.

It is not for those of us in the first group to control or redirect the narrative of the second group.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:41 AM on September 14, 2018 [50 favorites]


[While I, with vast eyerolls, am inclined to leave the examples of exactly the assholery the article is about here in this thread, I do not want to see any more of them. Thank you. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 11:41 AM on September 14, 2018 [46 favorites]


Casual cruelty toward the involuntarily childless is normal.

If it's not the innumerable invites to niece and nephew birthday parties, if it's not the dismissal of opinion and input because "you'd see it differently if you had kids", it's the algorithms around the world taking the short way out, and suggesting things you might "also be interested in...", or the "On This Day" and "TimeHop" type things that hold many nightmares.


PS: Thanks for this post, sockpuppet, I hope the other pages on it provide some comfort and community to the folks I'm forwarding it to.
posted by DigDoug at 11:42 AM on September 14, 2018 [8 favorites]


I love my cats more than I love any human on this planet, mainly because my cats would never say such a terrible thing to me, even if they *did* possess the power of speech.
posted by NerdtoriousBIG at 11:44 AM on September 14, 2018 [18 favorites]


“Maybe. But now I know what true hate is!”
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:45 AM on September 14, 2018 [15 favorites]


I guess, I kind of fall in the middle between "choosing" and "unable to." In an ideal world, sure, I'd probably be a parent. However, becoming a parent on my terms would have involved huge fights for mental health care, preventing a cycle of multigenerational abuse, a legal system where practically anyone could challenge my parenthood, and a whole mess of gender bullshit. After having those doors rudely slammed on my foot multiple times, I "chose" to back away from those fights, and the window is gone. I don't regret those choices, because I suspect that my partner and I are healthier for it. I am pissed off at a lifetime of bigotry that I'm bad for kids, only to have that relationship put on a pedestal as something I'm lacking.

When people say those sort of things, it's frequently the assumption that white, straight, neurotypical, and cisgender women should experience that. Other people, not so much.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 12:00 PM on September 14, 2018 [28 favorites]


If it's not the innumerable invites to niece and nephew birthday parties

One of the woooorst parts for me is not being able to hang out with friends with new-ish kids because of how much just really bad feelings it brings to the surface and in the meanwhile youre expected to sort of nod sympathetically to the parents and let them talk about, well, literally the most important and overwhelming thing in their life. At this point we asks hosts of social stuff we’re invited to if anyone is pregnant or announcing they’re pregnant or bringing small kids and then doing some hardcore emotional calculus as to whether it’s worth it to even try to go.

The dumbest part is that my brain just sort of decides on its own whose kid-situation will bother the hell out of me and whose won’t and doesn’t really let me in on that decision making process. so now I just have a bunch of social aversion to people i genuinely like. Like am I mad at a baby? Have I just completely snapped? What the hell is even happening up there.
posted by griphus at 12:04 PM on September 14, 2018 [66 favorites]


Yes, people really have said this (and other hurtful things) to me. Both strangers who know I don't have kids, but not the reason why, AND people who are well aware that I wanted kids, had two wanted pregnancies go awry, and have no living children.

Not only has it been said to me directly, but as someone above mentioned, it's a really common sentiment in popular culture. Try googling the phrase as an image search and you will see plenty of people blithely repeating it as an inspirational phrase meant to evoke warm fuzzy feelings.

Not only that, but on the world stage, people like Andrea Leadsom will flat out say that because non-parents don't know real love they are also inferior candidates to lead a country:
...I don’t know Theresa [May] really well, but I’m sure she will be really sad that she doesn’t have children so I don’t want this to be 'Andrea’s got children, Theresa hasn’t' – do you know what I mean? Because I think that would be really horrible. But genuinely I feel being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country. A tangible stake. She possibly has nieces nephews, lots of people. But I have children who are going to have children who will directly be a part of what happens next. So it really keeps you focused on what are you really saying because what it means is you don’t want a downturn - but then 'never mind let’s look to the ten years hence it will all be fine'. But my children will be starting their lives in that next ten years so I have a real stake in the next year.”
There's so much wrong with that statement, starting with Leadsom's assumption that May is sad that she doesn't have children. I mean I have no idea, maybe she is, but maybe she isn't!

I have no love lost for Theresa May, but I doubt her inadequacies as a PM are because she's not a parent. I think we have plenty of examples of parents who were/are terrible world leaders.
posted by Secret Sockdentity at 12:05 PM on September 14, 2018 [29 favorites]


In retrospect I'm probably too raw to participate in this thread.

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posted by Melismata at 12:06 PM on September 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


Or rather, I choose to back away from those fights with respect to parenthood.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 12:10 PM on September 14, 2018


Very timely for me as I just finished reading the novel The Red Clocks. One of the primary characters is a woman who is childless not-by-choice and her interactions with her friends who are parents are excrutiatingly realistic.
posted by tofu_crouton at 12:13 PM on September 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


I think we have plenty of examples of parents who were/are terrible world leaders.
/looks at the White House and sobs

And meanwhile, childless Governor Jerry Brown of California is a climate hawk and has just signed a sweeping new renewable energy target. So I'm very, very skeptical of this "having kids means you care more about your country and the planet" idea.

I'm very much childfree by choice and believe that you don't know true love until you've had a cat.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:15 PM on September 14, 2018 [31 favorites]


I am sorry for what you and your partner are going through, griphus. I have done that emotional calculus myself, and then I beat myself up afterwards for being, as you put it, "mad at a baby" or a pregnant woman, whom I usually genuinely love and am happy for. For me, I'd also feel bad if I were excluded from kids' birthdays etc. Ah, involuntary childlessness is such a mindfuck.

I'm much less raw these days, but the grief is there right below the surface, waiting to pop up and smack me in the head--and these kinds of hurtful comments can bring me from a pretty happy, content place right back to the rawness of that infertility and fresh loss. It's so exhausting.
posted by Secret Sockdentity at 12:15 PM on September 14, 2018 [16 favorites]


"You never know true love until you have a child."
"Really? You never had true love with your own parents? Then how would you know?"
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:16 PM on September 14, 2018 [4 favorites]


I dunno if this is just me trying to make myself feel better, but so far my experience is that the people who are most invested in life...situations? As magically fulfilling or elevating or whatever — and this is really common for becoming a parent, but also for getting married — are the people who really, really need that to be true.

It does kind of help to know they’re not reliable narrators, and that their assholery often comes out of their own fear.

But they’re still assholes.
posted by schadenfrau at 12:17 PM on September 14, 2018 [41 favorites]


I was in a Kohl's store this morning buying sneakers when I heard a pre-recorded message over the PA system about something in the maternity department, and about mother and baby and before and after the birth. It just seemed to just go on and on forever. I can't imagine how that message could have been heard by someone struggling with fertility issues or who had just lost a pregnancy, especially someone who just went shopping and thought they would not have to deal with this. I don't think they thought through it.
posted by 4ster at 12:19 PM on September 14, 2018 [5 favorites]


I thought that phrasing, the "you've never known" thing, was cliche and terrible before we had kids.

Now that I have kids I am smart enough to know that it's an asshole thing to say, both due to inaccuracy as well as possible hurtfulness reasons. It's like a Dunning Kruger type assumption by the speaker, not, as they may be implying, the non-kid having listener.

If/when it comes up with my no kids friends, the ones I know well and bring it up themselves, I mostly just shrug and say that it's intense or different or hard. Then I tell them that I hope I don't anger/part ways with my kiddo so they can wipe my butt when I'm older and incompetent or at least make sure the nursing home I end up in is doing a good job of the same.

I do make casual reference to the fact that I never really had to be an actor as much as when MsEld was in labor during the part where we were not so keen anymore on this whole natural childbirth thing. It's the husband's job to be there and be helpful and not be a burden on the lady doing all the work and, boy, let me tell you was that hard to not freak out and make bad matters worse. Again, not saying it's this unapproachable thing, people have different experiences, but by golly that was one for the books for me.

The midwives said I did a great job, also one of the compliments I'm most proud of in this life.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:20 PM on September 14, 2018 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: It does kind of help to know they’re not reliable narrators, and that their assholery often comes out of their own fear. But they’re still assholes.

Actually schadenfrau your comment helps a lot and I'll remember it the next time I have to deal with assholes thank you
posted by Melismata at 12:21 PM on September 14, 2018 [5 favorites]


Just to be clear: I can't have children and most likely never could have, but almost certainly wouldn't have if I could (for many reasons). I absolutely love other people's children, and I would have loved to be invited to niece/nephew birthday parties. But those seem to be Parents Only, No Seriously Fuck Off You Unnatural Monsters How Dare You Exist events in my circle.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:23 PM on September 14, 2018 [5 favorites]


I am childless by choice and while I do believe it is a fairly unique experience, when people say this stuff I make a few assumptions:

* Some people need to believe that such an all consuming choice as having children in the modern world can only be our sole and morally correct purpose in life
* This world is really competitive and they're just trying to 1-up you
* They probably haven't had any other "peak experiences" in their life (christ, just do MDMA sometime and experience intense love for the entire world for the evening, why stop at a few bio children)

Humans can experience this kind of love for any child in their "tribe," they don't have to be biological. A lot of this gets wrapped up in the culture of the nuclear family and parentage, which also ties into property and ownership.
posted by MillMan at 12:24 PM on September 14, 2018 [34 favorites]


But those seem to be Parents Only, No Seriously Fuck Off You Unnatural Monsters How Dare You Exist events in my circle.

Man, I'm sorry that you're facing that. We love people that don't have kids that are willing to put up/come to kid events. Come see us. You don't scream or need attention at all the wrong times and you hardly ever poop yourself, well I'm assuming but here's hoping that's true anyway, and that puts you head and shoulders above most of the folks at a kid's party for the circles we're stuck in these days.

Seriously, come see us. It's me, yo internet cousin.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:26 PM on September 14, 2018 [15 favorites]


Have I just completely snapped? What the hell is even happening up there

You're experiencing alienation and otherness from one of the dominant fundamental narratives of our cultural construction that builds our ideas of family, lineage, heritage, community and genealogy. You are experiencing a very real and valid trauma that is way bigger than just you and your partner, and goes to very deep places in our psyches of who we are and who we are allowed to be in the world. What you are experiencing is real and appropriate given the world we live in.
posted by nikaspark at 12:35 PM on September 14, 2018 [35 favorites]


Yeah, schadenfrau's comment. I struggle with seeing people being assholes out of their own faults a *lot*. Sad, and a lot of times (me too) out of ignorance but they're still being assholes. Like that other thread about the judge on the dancing show gradually getting not ass-holey over the years. It is good they're learning but ghod, all the damage they did on the way.
posted by aleph at 12:36 PM on September 14, 2018 [4 favorites]


(what I'm trying to say is that you haven't snapped, griphus, and it pains me to read your comment but you're most certainly warranted to feel how you feel and please don't second guess yourself or beat yourself up or feel like what you're feeling is somehow a wrong reaction)
posted by nikaspark at 12:39 PM on September 14, 2018 [5 favorites]


I think the other side of this coin (and I'm still reading through all the articles from this past week so I don't know if any of the other bloggers brought it up) is the idea that, for people who have biological or social barriers to parenthood, it's wrong for them to want or try to have children. And I hear this argument both for religious reasons (like "Everything happens for a reason!") and also like cruel social darwinism.

So pairing these two concepts up. It's not just that I will never experience true love, but I don't deserve to, either.
posted by muddgirl at 12:42 PM on September 14, 2018 [21 favorites]


I'd probably be considered part of the "childfree-by-choice" category, but I don't really think of myself that way. I've never wanted children, just as I've never been gay, and I've never held any religious beliefs. Did I choose those qualities about myself? No.

This is definitely different from the experience of those who do want children but are unable to have them. But I don't feel like I've made much of a choice about it, at least not in that carefree "I'm not going to have kids because my life without kids is too amazing and I'm so busy traveling the world etc" way that a lot of people seem to think it is.

So I don't even know where I fit in with discussions like this, other than that I, too, hate it when people think that you need to be a parent in order to know real love or to care about the future of the world.
posted by wondermouse at 12:43 PM on September 14, 2018 [5 favorites]


I exist in the gray space between voluntary and involuntary childlessness. I knew from a very, very small girl that the one thing I wanted to be was a mom. Found out in my teens that my ovaries are apathetic too, turning the difficulty up to 11. I shrugged, and figured I had time to work that out and hey, at least it's not gonna happen accidentally.
Then life took a series of unexpected turns and kids just.. haven't happened. I've never been stable enough (financially or personally) and definitely never had a relationship long enough to even think about kids with. By my mid-30's, I looked at my family history of mental illness and cancer and realized that it just wouldn't be fair to stack the DNA deck that hard against a new little person of the world. I figured, if I ever am in a stable place to raise kids, there are plenty of kids that need love, right?
And while the Me that lives today is largely at peace with that, the Me-That-Was is still heartbroken over the loss and cries when I think about my Dad not getting to be a Grandpa, and is paralyzed when faced with the question of what to do with all this stuff my parents and I were saving "for my kids, someday". Because deep down, the Me-That-Was is still clinging to this tiny, tiny, hope that it could happen for me, DNA be damned, and refuses to let go.
It's complicated and painful, and I appreciate this post very much. Thanks for posting.
posted by ApathyGirl at 12:48 PM on September 14, 2018 [44 favorites]


So pairing these two concepts up. It's not just that I will never experience true love, but I don't deserve to, either.

You're not a complete person if you don't have children, but if you have children without a substantial income, support system, functional extended family, and the privilege to relocate to "good" communities, you're a selfish person for bringing a child into bad circumstances!
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 12:49 PM on September 14, 2018 [26 favorites]


"Maybe it feels like such a strong and intense love because your relationships to the rest of your family and friends is shallow and weak."

Followed by flat staring.

It does feel that's true for many people, if someone isn't close to their siblings, has a tense relationship to their parents, difficulty in maintaining relationships in adulthood and then gets divorced, all things that happen very commonly and certainly together, then their relationship with their kids IS the only strong one they have.
posted by Dynex at 12:54 PM on September 14, 2018 [20 favorites]


Yeah it feels more like I haven’t actually had the choice, yet. I’m more involuntarily single, and even if I was financially in a position to have kids on my own, I would not be a good single parent. Like those exist in the world, but I am not one of them.

So I get the version that’s a mix of “you better get on that!” and a sort of suspicion that there must be something really, really wrong with me. The first is more tolerable to me; it comes with an expression of discomfort, the way we feel uncomfortable with someone else’s perceived vulnerability or suffering.

But the ones who think something must be wrong with me fuck me right up. It’s the brief look of disgust and alarm on their faces that does it. Everybody always covers it up, but it’s there. And there’s something weirdly primal about it. It’s more alienating and isolating than being in the closet was.
posted by schadenfrau at 12:55 PM on September 14, 2018 [14 favorites]


Thankfully, the "You'll never know true love etc." thing eased up a lot once I turned 45 or so. I wish I hadn't had to wait that long, but hey, at least it's been a quiet past few years.

And yes, when I was in my 20s and 30s, many, many people said stuff like that to me. A colleague of mine once got genuinely angry at me when I told him I didn't want children; he kept shaking his head and saying, "No. No. You can't not have children!" It was...bizarre. He was really weird and awkward with me afterwards; I was never quite sure whether it was because he was embarrassed at how he acted, or whether he just thought I was a monster and he didn't want to be in the same room with me. (My money is on the latter.)
posted by holborne at 12:56 PM on September 14, 2018 [5 favorites]


Humans can experience this kind of love for any child in their "tribe," they don't have to be biological. A lot of this gets wrapped up in the culture of the nuclear family and parentage, which also ties into property and ownership
One of the surprising things about having a kid and being around others who do is the insanely high numbers of people who straight up think they own their children.

As to the only kids can let you feel true love bollocks, how would anyone know?
Like, I am a parent, and my child is my world but how the fuck would I know if this is the only form of "true" love? There isn't a control group version of me which spent my life with a soulmate completely devoted to them and they to me and perhaps that is true love. Perhaps living a life of monastic solitude is true love! Nobody has a frame of reference, there's only one life we live.
posted by fullerine at 12:59 PM on September 14, 2018 [19 favorites]


The concept of "choice" is kind of a loaded word that a lot of the bloggers explore on Day One.
posted by muddgirl at 1:02 PM on September 14, 2018 [5 favorites]


So I get the version that’s a mix of “you better get on that!” and a sort of suspicion that there must be something really, really wrong with me.

Living in a bleeding liberal area, I don't get the "there must be something wrong with you" in the sense that I can't attract a partner, but more like there must be something wrong with me because I want(ed) a partner and children in the first place. Shouldn't I be content in my single life, volunteering to save puppies in Africa? The internet is full of articles celebrating singlehood, after all. For 95% of these people, I just say "spoken from someone who already has or had a long-term partner," and to 100% of them I say "you know, some of us just want a partner. We wouldn't be here on this planet if we didn't." That generally shuts people up, thank Christ.

Oh, and don't ever, EVER say to me, "why don't you just adopt?" Just don't ever say that. Ever.
posted by Melismata at 1:03 PM on September 14, 2018 [6 favorites]


The concept of "choice" is kind of a loaded word that a lot of the bloggers explore on Day One.

Can you be more specific? The way that page is organized it’s impossible to tell which post talks about this, and I’d like to learn more about the loadedness.
posted by schadenfrau at 1:06 PM on September 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


Melismata: from last year's WCW survey--Have you considered adoption?
posted by Secret Sockdentity at 1:08 PM on September 14, 2018 [4 favorites]


Ooh that you for that SS, more ammunition against the assholes! :)
posted by Melismata at 1:12 PM on September 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


The concept of "choice" is kind of a loaded word

yeah the choice narrative works for people who are Extremely Sure and then successfully do (or do not do) the thing they’re sure about and then it just gets less and less accurate from there.

Like, if you stop trying after X pregnancy losses, did you choose not to have kids because someone who had the capacity for X+Y successfully had a kid? Does it depend on the diagnosis, which if you’ve have multiple unexplained pregnancy losses you probably know can be p much “shruggo”? Are you delusional for keeping trying? Are you not wanting it badly enough to have it if you stop? The questions are unanswerable of course but boy howdy if they don’t burn themselves into your brain.
posted by griphus at 1:13 PM on September 14, 2018 [17 favorites]


Somewhat tangential, I've been consistently irked by two things in the professional workplaces I've inhabited over the years. Conversations about one's kids have a default gravity that no other personal-ish conversation does. Someone will blather on about something their kid did for tens of minutes and will expect your rapt attention but as soon as you start talking about something important in your life, their eyes glaze over and you get a bit of a "why are you talking to me about this in the workplace?" vibe.

The other is that people with kids, in my experience, are given much more leniency with regard to flexibility around personal schedules. Granted, there are very practical reasons for this, and I would never want someone who has to pick up their kids NOW to be prevented from doing so. But dammit, I have things and people that are fucking important to me in my life too. Yet if say, I need to go NOW because my partner is doing his first drag show in a new venue and he needs my help getting there and this is incredibly important to him and our relationship, I feel like I'm given a bit of the side eye -- like I'm not really committed to the job or I'm just wanting to cut out of work early.

I've basically learned that the much of the world considers my life and my concerns as fundamentally less valid, like I'm only half of a person. But as a queer person, I got used that long before people my age started having kids.
posted by treepour at 1:24 PM on September 14, 2018 [39 favorites]


people who sincerely think love for their children is much truer and deeper than and qualitatively different from any other love -- they damage their children even more than they damage the hypothetical partner or spouse who foolishly believed they were loved until informed otherwise. believing this goes along with telling your own child that they won't really know what love is until one day they're parents themselves and retroactively understand, because parents give & children take. for children, conditioned by upbringing and biology to love their parents helplessly, to have the objects of that love deny its comparative importance really screws with their heads.

more importantly, learning that you're the only person on earth your parent really truly loves and values to the highest degree is like finding yourself alone on a tiny island with dark water around you and no people as far as the eye can see. a fantasy when imagined, a nightmare when real, much like being the thing your parent's life revolves around. it is a forgivable platitude from people who don't really mean it or don't understand what they're saying or have something to prove, but people who really do mean it and have thought about it, boy, you want to watch out for those types. neither they nor their children have a love to be envied.
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:24 PM on September 14, 2018 [63 favorites]


I have had this said to me by a coworker after having expressed disinterest in having kids & a general ambivalence to the idea. In reality our job wasn’t paying me enough to support a kid so I left that part out. But when she was saying it I think she was coming from a culture where this is just the gospel truth and she just believed it unquestionably. (She had told me that she had only recently begun to question the assumptions she had grown up with). She kind of said it like someone telling someone else the good news about Jesus Christ as heartfelt assistance.
posted by bleep at 1:35 PM on September 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


After a first marriage that took over my 20s and a divorced single period that took a chunk of my 30s I was diagnosed with unexplained infertility a few years ago. Which, Duh! Because of my age (slightly over 40 at the time) we decided not to move forward with IVF with its pricetag and slim chances. The pricetag for adoption also being high, we grieved and came to grips with the cards we were dealt. Somehow, somehow, this is often seen as being childless by choice.

But I get the true love comments (I love and am loved) and Christmas is NOTHING until you see it through the eyes of a child (my Christmases are great, thanks) and why do you go to Disney if you have no kids (I love Disney) and your dogs are your kids (I love my dogs but nooooooo) comments. And I move through seasons where everyone is pregnant (oh Kylie too?) and then someone tells me to have faith because their great-aunt Maeve had her tenth child at 47 years old (I don't want to be a 47 year old first time mother) and then someone else says "you would have been a fantastic mother" (yes I would have) then I read yet another "my life is a disaster and oops I'm pregnant!" AskMe and I realize that I lied up there when I used grieved in the past tense.
posted by kimberussell at 1:42 PM on September 14, 2018 [45 favorites]


I'd probably be considered part of the "childfree-by-choice" category, but I don't really think of myself that way. I've never wanted children, just as I've never been gay, and I've never held any religious beliefs. Did I choose those qualities about myself? No.

Right? We're all childless by default.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:48 PM on September 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


So as another twist of the knife in the "childless-not-by-choice" category; my wife is infertile, I'm not. People have asked if I've considered leaving my wife so that I could have children with someone else.

Just, WTF people? What. The. Fuck.
posted by KirTakat at 1:53 PM on September 14, 2018 [42 favorites]


I can’t carry to term. that was the hardest thing I ever said in my whole life when I realised me and mr. lemon_icing had become a thing. he said it didn’t matter and our life is fine. but every now and then, i’ll meet a baby and burst into tears so quickly that i don’t know it’s happening till long after my shirt has long wet streaks. i wonder how much longer this will hurt.
posted by lemon_icing at 1:54 PM on September 14, 2018 [17 favorites]


KirTakat, there was a guy on Ask Metafilter a few years ago who wanted help with his dating profile; he wasn't sure what he wanted in a partner but did want to mention that he'd left his wife because she couldn't have children.
posted by Melismata at 1:59 PM on September 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


Melismata - I honestly.. I mean.. I can understand how devastating finding out you can't have children is, but damn that's not a choice I could ever make
posted by KirTakat at 2:04 PM on September 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


Yes, but it’s a question on dating sites because many people can.
posted by schadenfrau at 2:11 PM on September 14, 2018


You never know true love until you have a child

Makes about as much sense as "you never know true lunch until you have dim sum."
posted by sfenders at 2:11 PM on September 14, 2018 [14 favorites]


By the way did everyone know there are basically no real resources for men who have to deal with this stuff within themselves in re miscarriages? Like there’s articles which will read your trauma back to you and tell you how bad the world is for ignoring your pain, websites (etc) that will call you “Dad” and tell you to keep your chin up while you keep trying and other articles on how to support your partner who is, obviously, bearing the brunt of it but good fuckin’ luck if you’re a dude and have enough emotional intelligence and investment in your family to be legit devastated by this stuff and need an actual Resource that doesn’t require the time and money therapy does.

And like I understand why that is, and on top of that I have a severe aversion to Men’s Groups (or groups of men, honestly) and “well what about MEN”-type kvetching but like, if you are again an emotionally healthy dude you prob know this isn’t a situation where you can really lean on your partner for the emotional support you need because you gotta be a rock for that exact person who just went through something a lot worse than what you are. But it sucks, especially when you need something a little more substantial than a sympathetic ear (those run out real quick too but that’s a different story of alienation for a different comment.)
posted by griphus at 2:12 PM on September 14, 2018 [39 favorites]


People have asked if I've considered leaving my wife so that I could have children with someone else.

Oh, I know someone who did this. The punchline is that his second wife, with whom he wound up having two children, left him because he was a horrible human being (and needless to say, the idiot never stopped complaining about how he got screwed in the divorce). I felt terrible for the poor kids, who not only had to go through their parents' acrimonious divorce but also had a rancid shithead for a father.

Makes about as much sense as "you never know true lunch until you have dim sum."

Well, but this statement is, um, true.
posted by holborne at 2:14 PM on September 14, 2018 [6 favorites]


The casual cruelty comment really hit home. I never knew how to describe it but it's exactly that. I'd like to think that it's unintentional, but it hurts all the same. A friend called to comfort me after a loss with her crying infant in the background, and a third of the conversation revolved around the baby. Which...I love her and I love the baby but it just wasn't the time. I felt so hurt and betrayed and couldn't really put into words why I felt that way.
posted by BlueBear at 2:16 PM on September 14, 2018 [16 favorites]


People have asked if I've considered leaving my wife so that I could have children with someone else.

The only reason I would not swing on a motherfucker who said that to me is that my (future) wife would not like it and I disappoint her enough.

But holy shit.
posted by East14thTaco at 2:19 PM on September 14, 2018 [5 favorites]


I am in the "grey area" of childlessness several here have already described. It feels like grief, a kind of grief you can't really share with anyone. I deeply appreciated this article + thread.
posted by sc114 at 2:24 PM on September 14, 2018 [20 favorites]


Griphus - yeah, I definitely know what you're talking about, it's... really really hard to explain to people. Adding to the difficulty was that, after the first miscarriage I didn't want to tell anyone that she was pregnant again until things got further along (I voted to wait until the kid's second birthday...), whereas she wanted/needed to be open about it from the beginning. So when there was a second miscarriage it was a very open thing and she got support in the way she needed it, whereas I really just wanted to slink into a dark corner and lick my wounds as it were. And because of the public nature, I was used as a conduit by others to provide sympathy to her.

To be clear, she and I had some very honest and open conversations about this. We chose the more open route because no matter how hard it was for me, it was immeasurably harder for her, and frankly her route was the healthier of the two.
posted by KirTakat at 2:28 PM on September 14, 2018 [9 favorites]


I didn't really want kids in my 20's and 30's preferring to live the DINK lifestyle and focus on my career and girlfriend. Now that both are in shambles or non-existent, I find myself desiring a child, but the prospects for a guy pushing fifty are slim at best.

Now that my younger brother has recently had two kids, I find myself envious of him and them, yet am shackled by the decisions I made earlier in life. Listening to people say that one can't experience true love until they have children doesn't make that an easier row to hoe.

But hell, I made this bed, I guess I have to lie in it.
posted by Sphinx at 2:33 PM on September 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


This has happened to me IRL a few times. On most of these occasions I was feeling agreeable and just mumbled some vague assent, but one particular case from someone I didn't particularly like really rubbed me the wrong way. Rather than just let it slide, I responded with "Keep telling yourself that." It didn't go over well, and I didn't mind one bit.
posted by HillbillyInBC at 2:35 PM on September 14, 2018 [15 favorites]


People love telling gay people that they can "just" adopt if they want to be parents but the more I read about it, the more I feel uncomfortable participating in a system with such close ties to essentially trafficking (international adoption agencies) and/or shaming mothers into thinking their only choice is to carry a baby to term and then give them up to a stranger when what they really need is either support or an abortion (domestic). There's egg donation and surrogacy but that feels kind of exploitative as well for obvious reasons - those are big asks to make of a stranger's body. That's not even getting into the crazy expense. People then sometimes blithely recommend being a foster parent, but while I think that's admirable, I also think people can be really disingenuous about the difference between raising your own child in a stable environment from infancy and acting as a parental figure to someone who almost certainly has already experienced substantial childhood trauma. I'm not saying I would never ever parent through one of these avenues, because it may be possible that in the future I find some specific situation that I don't feel gross about or overwhelmed by the prospect of, but can people at least honor my ambivalence? idk. There are other ways to leave a positive legacy.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:47 PM on September 14, 2018 [23 favorites]


One of the lessons of love ... however we might experience it ... is the importance of empathy. I think this sort of comment that dismisses the experience of others shows a lack of empathy.

I also feel a bit ... nervous? ... about the burden this kind of societal messaging places on children. Kids don't exist to fulfill their parents' needs for love. Parents also have varied experiences and sometimes it is not ideal.
posted by chapps at 2:54 PM on September 14, 2018 [12 favorites]


This claim is both cruel AND stupid and the fact that it is believed by a not-ignorable number of people seems to me to be evidence of a really fucking depraved society.

Also, queenofbithynia hit the nail on the head re: how deeply unnerving a sentiment it is when you hear it from a parent, and know that for that person it is true, you are all there is.
posted by eirias at 2:54 PM on September 14, 2018 [8 favorites]


I hear this frequently, I come from a family where being a mother is the best thing a woman can aspire to be. When I found out that I couldn’t have babies it was a devastating blessing. I was happy because I knew I didn’t want children.
When the rest of my family found out all I got was platitudes about how I would never know true love like that of a child or how could I kiss out on such an important bond?
Even now it’s hard to hear, especially after I got married in July.
posted by mrs_smiththebookgirl at 3:08 PM on September 14, 2018 [7 favorites]


This thread is such a relief to read, thank you for posting and thank everyone for commenting.
I am right now kind of halfway between childless-by-choice and childless NOT by choice, and you can't talk about it here, because people with children say--meaning to be kind and helpful--"Oh, my niece had a baby by IVF, don't worry!" or "I had my second child when I was older than you are now!". I know childless women my age, but I can't ask them about it, because I don't know who chose it and who didn't and I don't want to force them into talking about something painful.
Here it's not even so much "you'll never know true love until" but "you haven't collected all the Necessary Adult Tokens until". Viewed from people in the standard narrative, you're not quite real until you've checked off all the boxes, husband, child(ren), house, etc. Your life is too easy so it doesn't count as anything but a kind of extended adolescence, even though that's not what it's like from the inside.
posted by huimangm at 3:42 PM on September 14, 2018 [26 favorites]


I'm childless but I get no flack over it. People do sometimes ask if I have kids, I say no, the conversation moves along.

I didn't exactly chose childlessness. For a long time I figured that everyone else meets someone, gets married and has kids, and so would I. And then I get not getting married or having kids. In my late 30s I realized if I really wanted to have biological kids I needed to start making decisions - and I made the decision not to, primarily for financial reasons. Also because while it does cause me some grief to not have children, I don't yearn for children in the way that many people seem to. I wish my parents could have grandchildren and I feel guilty and sad that I can't (won't) do that for them, but I don't imagine parenting being a joyful experience for me.

My community being what it is, it's harder to form connections as a single kidless woman, and I don't feel like a real adult at all.
posted by bunderful at 3:58 PM on September 14, 2018 [12 favorites]


[oneswellfoop, that was wildly inappropriate and hurtful and not every conversation is the appropriate place to drop a loosely-related cartoon.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 4:15 PM on September 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


For us not having children started as a sort-of-by-choice thing (along the lines of maybe later/maybe someday/who knows rather than a big decision) but then became a medically-determined "nope, not going to happen" thing. I totally get that people mostly mean well with their comments but it is hurtful and disrespectful and I wish social norms would shift to make those comments less acceptable.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:40 PM on September 14, 2018 [6 favorites]


What I fundamentally don't understand about this is the assumption that "true" love comes in a limited quantity. Parenting is incredibly difficult and the more individualized and isolated small families become the harder parenting becomes. That a significant percentage of parents would know adults who desire children in their lives and harm them for that desire, rather than invite them to share in their own children's lives... it's self-defeating.

I'm proud to be the weird aunt without kids. I love being there for the children of my friends and family, and can't wait for more of the little sprogs to grow up into more adult friends and family. I'm currently at the stage where everyone I know is either pregnant with a toddler or two already, trying to figure out kids when you're in a gay relationship, or repeatedly traumatized from miscarriages and other horrible events. The later two categories of friends - nothing makes less sense to me than the way they've become disinvited from the be-childed people's lives. It's fucking excruciating, in fact. Sometimes I've served as a bridge, and I'll continue to do so when I can. Sometimes it's too much, though. I'm not a trauma specialist, after all. It shouldn't be so bizarre for kids to have multiple adults who they know love them and are involved in their lives, but the way society is currently structured it's an outlier, an exception to the rule.
posted by Mizu at 4:45 PM on September 14, 2018 [14 favorites]


I know my parents love me in a powerful way but other adults in my childhood were able to love me in ways that were more healthy and helpful. I still love them in a way that feels a lot more true and less complicated, especially my childless aunt.

I can't find the source just now but I meant to put the quote "The biggest lie we tell ourselves is that our parents love us" in my prior comment. Might have been M Scott Peck.
posted by bunderful at 4:55 PM on September 14, 2018 [4 favorites]


So as another twist of the knife in the "childless-not-by-choice" category; my wife is infertile, I'm not. People have asked if I've considered leaving my wife so that I could have children with someone else.


KirTakat, that would be what my ex husband literally did. After a late term stillbirth and 9 miscarriages. And his family, who for 15 years had been my family, felt sorry for me but were relieved they were finally getting grandchildren.

Variations on a theme of cruelty: When people hear I've had an over 40 divorce, they say: "At least you didn't have children".
posted by frumiousb at 5:01 PM on September 14, 2018 [30 favorites]


And I wonder when I'll ever be not too raw to participate in this kind of thread.

frumiousb's rules for friends with pregnancy loss or involuntary infertility:

Don't roll your eyes because they don't want to go to your baby shower or kid's birthday or or or. On the other hand, don't automatically shut them out of your lives because they don't have kids. If you really care about them, see how they can be integrated in a way which is comfortable for them.

Do remember them on mother's day if they suffered stillbirth or infant death. Loss of an infant or a baby still makes you a mother. I have a few friends who do this, and I love them for it. (OTOH, if they tell you not to do so, stop.)

Don't suggest they give up their job and have less stress and then it might happen naturally. Really. I can't tell you how many times people have made that suggestion. You don't know what you're talking about.

Don't tell stories about this one cool trick you read on the Internet which helped you fall pregnant after an anxious six months between child one and two. Leave it out. We've all desperately tried cough syrup and standing on our heads and charting and literally everything else.

Don't ask them why they haven't adopted. Many of us have financial or ethical barriers to adoption. And FFS don't share stories about people who adopted and then magically fell pregnant.

If you find the words "You never know xxx until you have children" coming out of your mouth, shut your mouth.

Don't assume everything in your life is more important in everything in theirs because Children.

If you're childless by choice, don't assume everyone is there by choice. I wince when people refer to people with children as Breeders. What does that make me? A defective breeder? (The same is true the other way around, I assume.)

Don't make snotty rude remarks about the cost of IVF when there are children needing homes yadda yadda yadda-- see comment above about adoption.
posted by frumiousb at 5:20 PM on September 14, 2018 [34 favorites]


Variations on a theme of cruelty: When people hear I've had an over 40 divorce, they say: "At least you didn't have chinldren".

Oh fuck yes. And the corollary: a young woman does in an accident or of an illness. First question most people ask: “Did she have children?” and when the answer is “no,” they give an audible sigh of relief. Yes, that’s right, folks: no need to mourn a woman’s death if she didn’t have children. Fuck the people who do that.
posted by holborne at 5:33 PM on September 14, 2018 [35 favorites]




Similar: being asked constantly to cover for other female colleagues, or worse yet, when they come to you and ask to switch call to cover their holiday "because they have families."

I know that they mean "children," but not having children does not mean that I don't have a family. I have a partner, two parents, two in-laws, several siblings, a dog, and two cats. If I never had a kid, I still know very much what love is, and screw anyone whose definition of true love is so narrow that it doesn't include being knocked over by a puppy who is so happy to see you at the end of the day that she literally can't contain herself. Or cats who want to make biscuits in your lap atop a warm afghan.
?also, my husband is pretty great.
posted by honeybee413 at 8:33 PM on September 14, 2018 [25 favorites]


I know that they mean "children," but not having children does not mean that I don't have a family

Very much yes, "family" does not equal "has children." And some people don't have families either, and still have better things to do than work longer hours covering for other people.

For me, a lot of the specific challenges dealing with parents as a person without children can be boiled down to this: Don't assume everything in your life is more important in everything in theirs because Children.
posted by Mavri at 9:34 PM on September 14, 2018 [15 favorites]


I know that they mean "children," but not having children does not mean that I don't have a family

I understand that there needs to be a shorthand way to say "people with kids" but that shorthand should be a different word than "family."

Kids or no kids, we are a family, and personally I find the use of the word in that exclusionary way really offensive. I know it isn't going to change and it isn't a useful battle to have, but it's never going to stop bothering me. Families include all kinds of arrangements, kids and no kids, one or more spouses/partners, pets, and all the varieties of families of choice that people create.
posted by Dip Flash at 1:43 AM on September 15, 2018 [13 favorites]


My esprit d'escalier response to casually cruel remarks is a quiet “We lost the twins to a drunk driver in 2004”
posted by scruss at 5:24 AM on September 15, 2018 [4 favorites]


[One deleted; "this isn't a problem in *my* life, so I recommend getting over it, since it's surely not a real problem in your life" -- to paraphrase -- is almost always the wrong approach in a thread like this. Please just skip it.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:34 AM on September 15, 2018 [12 favorites]


As a Childfree woman of the very early articular variety, I just tell people that my birds are are my kids. No one bats an eye at this.

Also, I really, really loathe the term "Childfree by choice." This goes way beyond choice for me. It's more like something that was meant to happen.
posted by Delia at 7:56 AM on September 15, 2018 [6 favorites]


This was on my mind last night, at a birthday thing. Most people there seemed to have kids. But what struck me most was that it was also all they could talk about. Like, they seemed flummoxed and alarmed by the apparent extra effort that talking about anything other than their kids requires and then immediately defaulted back to thing that was easiest for them, personally, to talk about, which was sharing already-practiced (and honed) war stories about parenting.

It's like it becomes their small talk -- something you can do on automatic that is socially "safe."

Only the whole point of this article, and this thread, is that it is not all that emotionally safe for a not insignificant and growing part of the population.

My feeling is that people who react really poorly when you point this out are the people who don't want to face the fact that maybe they don't have anything else to talk about. Which I know is its own thing! but where the brunt of that emotional labor falls is telling.
posted by schadenfrau at 8:09 AM on September 15, 2018 [17 favorites]


I think it's so very important to have what Captain Awkward calls a "Team You." One reason I've never really felt beleaguered in my childfree-by-choiceness is that I am able to surround myself with others who are either CBC as well or parents who Get It. One of my dearest friends is an adoptive mom, and I think the fact that it was such a difficult, expensive, heartbreaking process for her and her husband made her Get It in so many ways. Living in the Bay Area helps, too, because it's always been a hotbed of "alternative" lifestyles and choices, and being a lifelong single and/or childless/free is normal here.

A couple of points raised in discussion here that I want to chime in on:

"If you don't have kids, your time is not valuable and you should be an indentured servant to the company." Even in the Bay Area, I get this! And it's something that childless folks really have to push back on. My time is valuable even if I'm just sitting on the couch, eating ice cream out of the carton and binge-watching the Hallmark Channel. FFS. This is obviously a much larger issue than just childlessness, and one reason I up and joined the DSA. Our culture of overwork sucks.

"Just Adopt! There are millions of kids who need homes!" AKA the Kiddie Shelter mentality. Want a kid? Go to the Kiddie Shelter and pick out the cutest, fluffiest one! No, there is not a surplus of children who need homes - there is a shortage, especially of infants. And many moms who give up their children would rather keep them, but they are poor and have no support system; many have disabilities. There's been a lot of contributions from birth moms and adoptive moms on Metafilter that have been enlightening for me to read.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:15 AM on September 15, 2018 [11 favorites]


“Just adopt” or “have you tried X” or “here is my third hand story of someone who just stopped worrying and magically had a boatload of kids”— are all just variations on attempts to quickly solve their own discomfort. “Try taking a prenatal, BOOM, now we can talk about something else, right?” If they can’t turn off the discomfort by telling you how to simply get a baby by doing X, they switch tactics and pivot to why our desire for children is fundamentally flawed.

Professionals are not immune to this- I’ve had a therapist tell me- after seeking help for my new fun panic issues around medical care- that my desire for children was the core problem and ask if I had thought about what I’d do if I had a successful pregnancy and we had a child with sever disability. No, Karen, after four miscarriages we have not at all considered the 8 million other ways this can go horrifically wrong. Christ.

For the people trying to explain this kind of casual cruelty (I love this term!) away by saying that the parent-to-child is, in fact, an objectively unique experience and it’s just like, stating facts or whatever: thanks, we get it, but maybe we don’t have to rub my nose in it more than the entire culture already does?

I’m getting a thicker skin now, and I’m better at punishing the worst offenders, but it still stings when people lay out the ingornace.
posted by Blisterlips at 10:46 AM on September 15, 2018 [16 favorites]


(from up thread) "It's surely an insensitive thing to say to someone you know is childless. However, as an objective matter, the vast majority of parents would attest to the parent-child relationship being unlike any other they've had before, and generally they would describe it as more intense and encompassing."

Yes, this is absolutely true. Which, of course, doesn't mean one should say it.

Also, my experience isn't just parents saying, "you don't know what it's like to be a parent", but also acting like I've never even met a child (in real life, not this thread). I've taken care of children, and I'm not an idiot.

The hardest part in my life has been as every one else in our generation in our family has had children, and we are more and more excluded from the conversations. Nothing like spending the holidays with parents and doting parents and small children who barely know us to feel alone.
posted by jb at 2:32 PM on September 15, 2018 [6 favorites]


So as another twist of the knife in the "childless-not-by-choice" category; my wife is infertile, I'm not. People have asked if I've considered leaving my wife so that I could have children with someone else.

When our infertility as a couple was diagnosed, my wife tried to convince me to divorce her and marry someone else. Someone who could "give me a child." That was never going to happen, and I said so emphatically. She was devastated, hurt, wounded and not thinking clearly. She was also completely, absolutely heartfelt. It utterly broke my heart. That conversation was just awful. I can't even think or talk about it without crying.

There are deep emotional layers to infertility and miscarriages that are not always apparent to outsiders. And at least for some people (some? most? all?) they can be deeply traumatic. As so many have mentioned, our culture freakin' worships children and shames and dismisses people who don't have them. That damned diagnosis caused my wife to second guess everything about herself. Her womanhood, her value as a person and a spouse. Our marriage and more. Don't know how to explain this to people who haven't been through it. People will say the cruelest, most godawful things without thinking. They take a lot for granted, I think. To some extent I used to, too.

We're still married. We went through infertility treatments and they worked. From beginning to end, that journey was hellish and I don't wish it on anyone.
posted by zarq at 3:03 PM on September 15, 2018 [21 favorites]


I know that they mean "children," but not having children does not mean that I don't have a family

Yeah, when the "people with families" is trotted out at workplaces as a way to prioritize who gets to take time off and who doesn't, I always wonder - what if you are an unmarried childless person looking after her own parents? That's family too, isn't it? Or even if you just want to see them for Thanksgiving, and you need the time because they are a 3-hour train ride away?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:18 PM on September 15, 2018 [14 favorites]


As someone childfree-by-extremely-sure-choice, I've tried to push back on this "true love" bullshit when it's been directed at me. I'm on the privileged end of the childfree spectrum so I can hack a bit of huffy disapproval or awkward conversation. And I can let my genuine anger show but don't have any grief or trauma to manage.

I hope I've stopped a few people from continuing to say it but I'm not sure it's had any impact. I think I've had more luck with people who want kids but haven't had them yet, because they haven't put their fertility to the test yet and are still mentally exploring the concepts of being a parent. I dunno. I just wish people had more empathy.
posted by harriet vane at 6:42 PM on September 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


@zarq, the same thing happened with a couple I know after the wife survived uterine cancer. Their marriage didn't survive the situation, and I'm so glad to hear yours did.

My mother lost her first baby to SIDS. We still acknowledge his birthday; we don't have a party or anything like that, but we make sure to talk about him (what he was like as a baby, how old he would be and what he might be doing now, etc.) I know it might seem morbid to some people, but I think it's been good 4 her state of mind.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:25 PM on September 15, 2018 [5 favorites]


I don't know how I would have survived parenting infants and small children without my friends who weren't parents. They kept me sane. They talked about stuff other than kids. They reminded me that I wasn't going to be in the parenting trenches forever. They still liked me for me, not for whether or not their kid wanted to play with my kid. They gave my children valuable relationships that they still have to this day.

I am so grateful for the mix of people I have in my life. And I'm so, so sorry that some of y'all have had to deal with such cruelty. It's not fair and people shouldn't be so cavalier with other peoples emotions.
posted by cooker girl at 8:30 AM on September 16, 2018 [4 favorites]


"However, as an objective matter, the vast majority of parents would attest to the parent-child relationship being unlike any other they've had before, and generally they would describe it as more intense and encompassing."

I mean, I'm a sole opinion, not the "vast majority of parents", but unless you've got a statistic backing up your super confident assertion I'm gonna go with:

ehhhhh... naaah...

---

"never known true love before this" pissed me off before I had kids and continues to piss me off now, although I guess I also see it as a slightly sad testimony to the state of the speaker's other relationships?

the only really, truly unique feeling I experienced as a parent, that I didn't have in any other relationship or in any experience with other kids who were not mine that I loved, was a really deep, intense, unreal level of terror, which is I guess anthropologically/biologically interesting but not exactly something you've missed out on the fullness of the human experience by not having. (and i doubt kids are the only way to experience it =/)

and it is an intense experience that can push you towards maturing and becoming a less selfish person but not really uniquely so. also: all the selfish parents out there, and all the incredibly wonderful people without kids
posted by Cozybee at 8:39 AM on September 16, 2018 [11 favorites]


This thread is making me feel better about how much my life echoes the McSweeney's article Maybe I Should Stop Bringing Up My Cat So Much When People Tell Me Stories About Their Kids.
posted by nicebookrack at 4:34 PM on September 16, 2018 [12 favorites]


NBR, dear God. As slightly later and slightly unanticipated kid-havers to be, my partner and I have often discussed how there's now a countdown clock on us reflexively and inappropriately comparing our cat to people's children whenever they relate anecdotes about them... We'll presumably just talk about the kid? I hope sometimes we still do it out of habit.

To the more general point - it's not even just people, individuals, is it? The last few years we spent struggling I lived grateful for Netflix and other steaming services, and I knew we'd never end up in front of yet another advert trying to sell us shit by showing generations of a person's life as they had a family and grew old joyously around them, or similar. As mawkish as they were they were like a knife to the gut.
posted by ominous_paws at 10:53 PM on September 16, 2018


This is from a few years ago, but I just remembered this infamous piece by Amanda Craig that ran in The Telegraph after novelist Maeve Binchy died: If Maeve Binchy had been a mother: Does a female novelist need to have experienced motherhood to truly understand human emotions? Uh, what??

Luckily, Jezebel was there to deliver swift, righteous vengeance.
posted by Secret Sockdentity at 1:13 AM on September 17, 2018 [6 favorites]


@zarq, the same thing happened with a couple I know after the wife survived uterine cancer. Their marriage didn't survive the situation, and I'm so glad to hear yours did.

Thank you. I'm so sorry about theirs.
posted by zarq at 9:38 AM on September 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


I had to take a few days to process this thread.

The pain, the trauma. Being invisible, because most people have just seen a single nearly-40 woman they assume either doesn't want or has given up on the married with kids thing.

It's the excitement of other people's pregnancies and births causing you grief. It's seeing babies and families everywhere. It's being confronted with a surprise pregnancy in a novel.

It's the emptiness inside, the feeling that your life will always feel incomplete. It's seeing women join a club that you can't be a part of, and feeling you are missing out on some essential part of being female.

It's a grief and as some have said, a trauma. But I'm healing.
posted by daybeforetheday at 3:37 AM on September 18, 2018 [5 favorites]


I never really wanted kids in the way that many people do, as I posted before. But I lost an older relative recently and it's hit me - I will probably not have any family with me when I die - I do not have children, nieces or nephews. It's very likely that the only people to even notice when I go will be caregivers and possibly peers.

No one will wonder what I was like when I was young and wish I had kept a journal, unless I become a "person of significance" who merits bios and term papers - unlikely.

I don't know why this seems so hard all of a sudden. Maybe it's part of the grieving process, the realization that we're all aging and my parents generation will be next. I'll take care of them as much as I can. I won't have anyone to look after me. Having kids just to have someone look after you when you get older seems really selfish. But not having anyone to notice whether the nursing home is feeding you regularly seems really hard.
posted by bunderful at 6:17 AM on September 18, 2018 [10 favorites]


Bunderful: I'm in the same boat, and that's why I've started looking into the concept of the Village Network (previously). "Family" can be your community too. And as luck would have it, there's a volunteer organization in my neighborhood that's affiliated with the Village Network, and I've been thinking of volunteering now and then becoming a member when I'm old enough.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:28 AM on September 18, 2018 [8 favorites]


The thing about unsung heroes is that they're unsung.
posted by East14thTaco at 8:51 AM on October 3, 2018


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