We all like to join tribes. Whether we’re joining online groups, heading to a meetup or even just gossiping with friends, we like to divide the world into ‘them’ and ‘us’. I’m certainly not the first person to observe this and I undoubtedly won’t be the last. What baffles me (and, I’m sure, myriad others) is why you would make a tribe out of something that is an individual choice…
I guess stories about kids are interesting me more than they otherwise might because I’m getting closer, slowly, to making a decision about when to have them myself. I’ve known for years I want to be a mother, and apart from some vague feelings of uncertainty in my early 20s, I’ve pretty much never changed my mind. I have known people to be obsessed with having kids from childhood, or resolutely uninterested in breeding for years only to change their minds and I know people who will undoubtedly stay sans littleuns for all their lives. Somehow I’ve been friends with all of them without it really becoming an issue. But if you do a quick search of the web it’s apparent that there are entire movements on either side of the equation. How utterly bizarre.
For example, I was followed by @childfreeonline on Twitter. Strange, but hey, I get followed by a lot of random peeps; it’s all good. On the first page of tweets I saw, they claimed not to ‘hate kids’ and just to want respect for a childfree choice. But also tweeted “I am pregnant” and “I mommy blog” (do you have to read it) as turn-off words, and linked to articles all about how terrible parents are for nicking all the best holidays at work. Today they link to a story about a man not loving his child.
Now, here’s the thing. I understand that it’s got to be extraordinarily annoying and insulting to be questioned on your choice of whether or not to have children by other people. But… who the hell DOES that?! I can only assume that I’ve never come across such outstanding rudeness because, if the subject’s come up at all, I’ve always said I do want kids one day. Seriously, I can’t blame childfree parents for being affronted by such behaviour. But there’s no need to take it out on all parents either, guys. After all, you don’t like all being tarred with the same brush based on your choices, right? Blaming every mother for Carol Sarler’s ignorance and extreme inanity is taking a pot and kettle and comparing dark colours.
Equally, I see plenty of comments from people going “I couldn’t care less about babies / children etc so don’t tell me about it”. Well, children are a huge part of any parent’s life. Not all your friends are going to have exactly the same interests as you all the time, and major life events are going to colour what they talk about. Any friend who goes on about themselves all the freakin’ time is worthy of a sit down and a chat about narcissism – people who talk about children incessantly included. I mean, I want them but you think I want to hear about them constantly? A good, non-self-obsessed friend will stay that way, no matter whether they (or you) have no children or six.
The third line of anti-parental (and sometimes anti-kid) attack seems to be at work. Carol Midgley (what is it about being a journalist called Carol and writing nonsense about parents?), a mother herself, wrote an article about the childless being the core of the workforce. This was almost, though not quite, as daft as Carol Sarler’s assertions, because it basically complained that childfree people have to work extra to make up the workload for parents who swan off on holiday all the time. One might argue that at least the childfree don’t HAVE to travel during school holidays, but given it’s a choice to have children I’ll throw that argument out of the window. The fact is, if the parents in the company are bagging the holidays first, you’re too slow. Whatever happened to first-come, first-served? If they’re not planning for a holiday absence, they should be disciplined – at work you’re an employee, and the fact that you’re a parent should only be important in a true emergency; just as a childfree person would be sent home if their partner were unable to care for themselves, so a parent needs to be excused in those situations. But not doing your work or adequately preparing for planned absences is terrible, whether you have a brood or not. Finally, if you’re working Bank Holidays, it’s probably not because you’re not a parent; I’ve never had to work a Bank Holiday because someone with a sprog wouldn’t.
My manager has a theory. If you can’t get the job done in the time allowed, then you need an assistant or a time management course. Sounds like people working all hours need to blame either the lack of staff or their poor organisational skills, not the parents in their office.
Pretty much the only criticism of parents I’ve heard recently that had any leg to stand on was someone commenting on Twitter that bringing an infant into the office is distracting and annoying. That’s true, it is. And the blame there has to fall with both the parent and the office managers. The parent should be more thoughtful, and the managers should insist that if you come in to show off a child you do so in a non-work area – a kitchen, a meeting room – and people come to you rather than disturbing the work environment. But I’d still lay the blame on the parent more.
So coming back to tribes. I believe it’s counterproductive to have a Child Free Month / Day whatever, and to form a tribal unit. Because instead of putting your decision about children back where it belongs – in private, where no-one has the right to comment on it – you’re making it into the definition of who you are. Then, of course, people WILL be lead to criticise, debate and comment. It’s like Peter Cook in his Greta Garbo parody, being wheeled down the street on a flatbed truck shrieking “I vant to be aloooooone” into a megaphone. And if you want respect for your choice, then try respecting parents. You had some, after all, and I don’t think you’d appreciate anyone being so dismissive of THEM. If they refuse to return your respect, then walk away – you don’t need rude and impolite people in your life.
Parental tribes are, of course, far less interesting. I’d be just as perplexed if parents formed support groups that indulged in sly asides at the ‘barren’ (that was deliberate – I don’t really think of childfree people as barren. Tone of voice is a challenge when blogging). But, I guess, in the end I’m always confused by any group of people who want to band together to advertise a personal choice. The only tribes I want to join are about work, play, pets or other interests. Flying the banner for being a potential mother or not being a mother at all is bewildering, because that’s too personal to want shared ownership with anyone but my partner for life.
Live and let live, say I. Or, at least… try?