Is there a backlash against mothers and kids? It sure seems that way lately.
Two weeks ago I suggested that childfree people support the family leave recently passed by San Francisco and New York City. That didn’t go over too well with a vocal childfree group on Facebook led by a woman whom I have quoted previously and whose work I respect, Laura Carroll, who linked to my article. Many people commented that rather than family leave, it should be universal leave, so anyone could take time off for anything. (No state has universal leave but Washington, D.C., is considering a universal leave bill that seems to be shrinking at each turn.)
As I wrote in my blog post they debated, rather than see it as time off for caring for a baby, see it as time off for caregiving, which all of us will most likely face at some point, whether we have children or not. Caregiving is an essential part of society and is considered a woman’s job, thus undervalued and unappreciated.
But some childfree people seemed angry. Perhaps that’s a result of years of having to deal, sadly, with the stigma of being childfree and the constant questioning and judgment against those who are, whether by choice or by chance. Whenever there are articles in major publications about how more people are choosing to be childfree, from Time’s 2013 cover story dedicated to exploring the childfree life to last year’s New York Times’ article about the childfree, there’s a flurry of commentary debating whose choice is more selfish. And that’s when the anti-kid vitriol heats up.
From maternity to ‘meternity’
Last week, it exploded again when former magazine editor Meghann Foye wrote in the New York Post that she wanted all the perks of having maternity leave — just without the kids, calling it “meternity,” which just happens to be the name of her new novel. Of course, it caused a major uproar across the Internet and with columnists, as did her follow-up piece defending her position (and, one suspects, buzz for her novel but, hey, more power to her). She’s jealous that parents have special privileges at work that the childfree don’t; however, as I mentioned before, the workplace is no friend to working mothers, who are held to harsher performance standards. And parental leave is hardly “me” time.
But before meternity came into our consciousness, I’d stumbled upon a podcast featuring a Canadian group known as the Halifax Motherhood Collective, which is organizing its third annual Alternative Mother’s Day event next Saturday — the day before Mother’s Day. There’s a growing intolerance for children in public spaces, which isolates mothers and other child caregivers, say Candida Hadley, Susanne Marshall and Andrea Smith, the group’s founders. And motherhood is isolating enough.
As I listened to the podcast, I vividly recalled my own experiences with that, being the mother of a crying child in the grocery store, in a family-friendly restaurant or on an airplane and then being a solo adult in a grocery store, in a restaurant or on an airplane listening to other people’s children cry — both of which felt just as horrifying and disturbing. Yes, children often behave poorly in public spaces. But so do adults. Is there really a difference?
“Single people functioning in society tend to look at children as a disruption, as a hindrance and as a bother, and to classify a set of human beings like that is a tremendous problem. If we expect certain kinds of behavior and we expect everyone to conform to them, that is a really narrow construction of society and it’s a really narrow conception of public space,” they say.
“What does that say about all people, whether they have children or not, to nurture, to accommodate people of all ages and abilities and sizes, and attitudes and functionalities within our social fabric?”
Are kids the only ‘problem’?
And that made me pause. If children are a disruption, hindrance and a bother, what about others? What about the elderly? What about the physically or emotionally disabled? What about queer, trans, gender-nonconforming people? Should we exclude them from public spaces? Are public spaces just for a certain types of people and, if so, what might those people look like? Society has slowly struggled to make accommodations so everyone can feel that he or she’s part of society — wheelchair access, Braille signs, service dogs, etc. — because everyone is. Are children any different?
“I hate your kids. And I’m not sorry,” writes Alanna Weissman in the Atlantic last year, and there are many other baby-haters she states:
[B]y denying that we exist — especially for women, society’s designated nurturers, who feel this stereotype especially acutely — we are denied the chance to prove that, contrary to what one may instinctively characterize us as, this particular facet of our personalities, our identities as baby-haters, does not make us bad people. tweet
I can understand that having kids isn’t for everyone and that we still have an unfair expectation that women should be moms and that they naturally would want to become moms. Many don’t. I also understand that people, especially women, who are childfree are subject to all sorts of stupid questioning and judgment. We are an increasingly judgmental society. And I also understand that what society considers “family-friendly” often offers a narrow view of family and shuts out those who have families but not kids; we need to be more inclusive of all sorts of families.
But what if we switched “baby-haters” to “autistic-haters” or “Jew-haters” or “visually impaired-haters”? Would we applaud articles like Weissman’s and encourage more, or publicly and unapologetically announce our hatred? Would we consider her and her fellow haters “bad people”? Is it OK to hate a certain type of people? What if those people are children? Are children any different than anyone else? Do children have rights, too?
You can decide parenthood is not for you without hating an entire subset of people who happen to be children. We all started out that way after all.
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