Being Childless: Prejudices and Pitfalls

Note: This post is very much an exploratory post for me about a variety of issues. I’m taking some time to examine how I feel about children and try to understand what about my behaviors might be disrespectful to children. I’d really appreciate it if you find something offensive in this post if you were polite about it and helped me come to a better understanding of why it might cause harm. I’m also going to be using childless and childfree somewhat interchangeably here, although I know that that’s not the most appropriate. I’m aiming to stick with childfree when it’s a choice and childless for an overarching term of those without children.

Somehow children and having children have decided to take over all of my blogs and twitters and internet haunts and have become the topic of the day. This is weird. I don’t really have any friends with children, I don’t have children, and I have no desire to ever have children (and if you tell me that it’s just because I’m young and some day I’ll want them and it will be great you can just leave now). I’m not used to thinking about children or the difficulties and questions surrounding raising children. And I particularly found myself challenged by a few posts by Libby Anne about prejudice against children. Many of the things she was saying were attitudes that I held: I don’t particularly like kids, they make me uncomfortable, I often find them frustrating when they’re in my spaces. Generally she suggested that people who hold these types of attitudes are “childist” and are discriminating against others. I’d like to delve into some of the nuances of what it means to be childless and still respect children and their parents.

Let’s start with a fact: children are an imposition. They are in fact a burden. Many people would argue that that isn’t the case because they provide so much back to us and they are human beings that are deserving of respect and love. I’m not trying to say these things aren’t the case, but they are human beings who are not capable of caring for themselves, or even of fully processing their world. This means that they impose upon adults in order to survive: they require the time, money, and resources of adults. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many things in life involve some sacrifice and imposition and a whole lot of joy, and kids are probably one of those things. It doesn’t seem to me to be prejudice to recognize that fact.

Children are also different from adults. Yes, they are human beings, yes they have legitimate emotions, and yes they are fully autonomous. However their brains have not developed completely, they don’t know how to manage their emotions or their world yet, and they often simply view the world differently from adults. Again, this is not a bad thing, but it is not prejudice or stereotyping to say that children’s brains are different from adults’ brains. That’s a fact.

As someone who is child-free on purpose, I have taken these elements into consideration. I am not very good with children because of those reasons. Realizing that another being is wholly dependent on you is a scary proposition, and as a responsible adult I know I’m not cut out for it. Because of that, I avoid children. I’m not good with kids and so I don’t want to be around them because I don’t like being around people who I cannot socialize with. Interestingly, to many people this would be viewed as a prejudice, or as discrimination against children.

It’s widely recognized that childless adults, particularly adults who choose to be childless are often badgered and sometimes oppressed or discriminated against by the people around them. Many people with children want to say that the childless have turned things around and begun acting the same way towards them and their children. Of course there are some childless individuals who treat children poorly, just as there are some people with children who treat children poorly. But making statements about disliking children, about wishing children weren’t in your spaces, or about preferring people not to talk about children are not prejudice: they’re preferences. Children are a very different type of being, and each of us gets to choose what sorts of people we have in our spaces. For those of us who are childless, children can be difficult and scary. Wanting to avoid that is 100% logical.

Just the same as I choose my social spaces so as not to be around racist or sexist people (who I don’t know how to be around), I choose my social spaces so as not to be around children (who I don’t know how to be around). (This is not to say that I am equating children with racists and sexists, but rather that they’re both groups of people whose brains I don’t understand). It’s frustrating to me that I’m expected to coo over small people who confuse me, rather than running for the nearest exit as I would with anyone else that I’m afraid of (yes children scare me. I don’t like being confused). I’m frustrated that it’s labelled as “prejudice” when there are in fact major differences between the brains of children and adults and I don’t know how to bridge that gap. It’s frustrating to me that when I say kids are LOUD and I don’t really want to be around them, I get labelled as someone who thinks kids don’t have humanity or don’t deserve my respect.

While the world is not my personal garden and I can’t edit it to my taste, I should get some choice in the question of who I am around, particularly whose noise and body are in my space. We accept this with adults. And yes, kids don’t understand it, but I’m still allowed to make adjustments for myself and to request that the parents make adjustments. Particularly because children often don’t understand boundaries and more often don’t understand auditory boundaries, it doesn’t seem out of line for the childless among us to avoid them because we like our boundaries.

Now I will in no way defend people who call kids scum or evil, but I have been known to call them (to steal a phrase from Tennessee Williams) no neck monsters. But I’m going to level with you: I would call anyone who was screaming on the bus a monster. It’s not about dehumanizing the kid, it’s really just about me and my desire to express my discomfort. Like I said, kids are a burden, and I think we get to recognize that, particularly those of us who didn’t choose that burden but sometimes get saddled with parts of it simply because we’re out in public.

Of particular note here is friends with kids. I love you. I have no problem with your kids. But I want no part of the responsibility of children because I might break your kid so please don’t put your kid near me or in my lap because I will freeze up like a deer in headlights and start wondering what would happen if I accidentally dropped them. If I’ve made it clear that I am not comfortable around children, please don’t expect me to be overjoyed when you bring your kid over, or when you ask me to come over and be around your kid.

With all these thoughts in mind, I do still have some questions: Is it prejudice to recognize the differences in child and adult brains and have a preference between them? Is it a privilege to be childfree and to be able to avoid children? What are the potential oppressions that the childfree can enact on those with children? I’m not sure about many of these, but I suspect that there are some great privileges that people without children get, and which they often expect people with children to have (like time, flexibility, etc). I do suspect that we need more communication on all sides, and more exploration of what the needs and wants of all parties are so that public spaces can better accommodate everyone. And more than anything, the question that has been looming in my mind through this whole post is whether or not it’s prejudice or disrespectful to avoid children. I’d love some feedback.

5 thoughts on “Being Childless: Prejudices and Pitfalls

  1. Fay says:

    ESPECIALLY the bit about “friends with kids” hit me. Yes, yes yes yes yes yes. Lovely, I appreciate that you want that responsibility, but until that child can understand “no” and tell me why s/he is upset/crying etc, I want no responsibility, and even once they’re at that point, I still pick and choose which children I let into my space very carefully.
    I also really don’t appreciate people telling me “it’ll change when you get older/meet the right person” and similar things. I wish people would bug off… >.< We're not all cut out to be parents, and I'd rather we figured that out now rather than after we have a kid.

  2. Lecretia W says:

    Yes I totally agree, people seem to equate not liking children or not having them around as not liking humanity or you yourself are missing humanity. It’s like “how could you not like these perfect little people who are innocent and know nothing of the adult world, its like not liking the essence of human kind?!” and that really bugs me. It makes me feel like a monster. I think it’s society’s feelings that are wrapped around children (youth, vitality, promise) that when people say that they believe you are rejecting those rather than the children themselves. It’s no longer the dark ages people children live much longer and do we, instead of counting on them to be inspirational, how about YOU do some work? At this point (24) I’m about 90% child-free by choice. The other 10% are those “kodak” moments, those feelings of “what if” from time to time, or if I meet a particularly insightful young kid (6-12) I can’t abide by teenagers, or if I don’t think I’ll be able to hold up to scrutiny of my life choices until I’m 45. Overall those are terrible reasons to have children so I’m fairly certain I’ll remain child-free. Anyhow, I’m glad to have found your blog, usually most child free people have said they knew they were child-free when they were like 5. What about the rest of us who decided 16+ or 30+ and have those moments of doubt (which I think is completely normal, I’m sure parents doubt their decision too). I look forward to reading more!

  3. I find this entire subject provocative in a really interesting way. I am child-free (I really like the distinctions you made between child-free and childless, btw) and have been having conversations on this matter with friends recently. Specifically, it has come up surrounding the issue of the interactions and expectations of the child-free and parents in non-traditional educational settings such as community colleges (where a large percent of students are non-traditional in some manner). To sum up, I had a friend tell me I was waving about my privilege when discussing my discomfort of a situation where a classmate brought her kiddo to our midterm for a 10 day philosophy intensive, and because of positive immediate reaction from a handful of classmates, it became really uncomfortable to disent from the social fear of sounding like a baby hater, a feeling that a few classmates expressed afterwards as well (to note, some of these folks were not childless) and the kid was initially allowed to stay in the testing room. When it became obvious that the kid was not the rare quiet toddler, but rather playful and cranky about the situation, I spoke up and asked for a change. But the feedback I received when I shared the story later with friends was that I was being unwelcoming to single parents and rejecting that children have a place in post-secondary classrooms. I’m still really wresting with how privilege and accessibility and education intersect, and so (long story made short) I really appreciate that there are other child-free folks out there who are also evaluating and trying to address this issue with sincerity. 🙂

  4. Bob Uppala says:

    Not all children are the same. Not all adults are the same. So, to me, it doesn’t make sense to simply say adult brains are different from child brains. We all know that some adults are really immature, and some children are really mature.

    But everything else makes sense.

  5. KatyL says:

    I don’t get what the big deal is. You must know people who are entirely different than the ones I know; I can count on the fingers of one hand the times anyone questioned me about not having kids, or try to mush me over with the joys of childbearing.

    I don’t hate kids. I usually just hate their parents, who refuse to discipline them or teach them how not to be a nuisance to other people. Having kids is a huge responsibility. I wish the people who bear them would take it more seriously, before their spoiled brats grow up into the state penal system.

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