Thursday, July 18, 2013

5 Things Parents Need to Stop Saying to Non-Parents | John Kinnear

5 Things Parents Need to Stop Saying to Non-Parents | John Kinnear

This was posted on Facebook by a friend of mine, provoking some interesting comments.  My favorite was this by Vinny:
Speaking only for myself, it's the subtext of the "my life was meaningless before kids" that gets under the skin. (Warning: Long!)

Taking the statement on a purely surface level, if someone tells me their life was meaningless before having kids, I defer to their assessment. Yeah, I'm probably a bit skeptical, but not to the point that I'd prod them about it. Maybe it was relatively meaningless, maybe it was actually meaningless. I haven't lived that person's life. I'll take their word for it.

Usually underpinning that statement, though, is either "I thought my life was meaningful before kids, and it was actually meaningless," and the related "People who don't have kids who think their lives have meaning (of which I was one), actually don't, and they just don't know it." Like they somehow stepped out of Plato's cave, and are trying to tell the prisoners inside how things *really* are. And, taking it a step further, it's not simply "I know *different* now," it's "I know *better* now." A bitter pill to swallow, to say the least.

I completely understand that having kids is a transformative experience, and that parenthood has been personally beneficial for many. And I also understand that it's nearly impossible for most parents to picture their lives without their kids. In most cases, that's a thought exercise that's unproductive at best and nearly impossible at worst. If one's life would be better had their kids never existed, it doesn't change anything, as one can't imagine a person out of existence. And from my experience, people are generally poor at taking all factors into consideration when imagining complicated and complex scenarios (this is by no means limited to parents or parenting). Honestly, I think the best illustration of this concept was handled by Star Trek: The Next Generation, in the Tapestry episode. .

In any case, I'm fine with the concept that parenthood can change a person's perspective, change their priorities, and for many, make them "better people" by some reasonable metric. I'm slightly less fine, but still generally fine, with being told that certain things won't make sense to me because I'm not a parent. I'd prefer to be the judge of that, and will freely admit if I don't get it. I'm not fine with being told that my life would be more meaningful if I had kids, but after a decade and a half of being openly childless-by-choice, I've learned to ignore such statements. I, do, however, openly rail against the idea that somehow or another, parenthood has magically imbued people with special wisdom that gives them supreme authority on matters of legislative and social policy. That concept is a strong one in our society, and is predicated on the notion that life without having kids lacks meaning.

(Note that I'm not saying anyone in this conversation has suggested that, but simply that the idea that life before/without kids is meaningless touches a very wide nerve.)
I thought he made an interesting point.

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Friday, July 12, 2013

Kate Middleton's baby and the American way of birth

What if, instead, we saw parenthood a bit more realistically: as something that most people do and that's necessary to continue the human race; as a thing that is fundamentally difficult and deserving of strong social support; and also as something that shouldn't be an assumption or a cultural marker of adulthood.

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