Parenting is not always like the cover of a magazine. I know that comes as a complete shock to everyone, since you all obviously thought that airbrushed models and perfect cakes and craft projects came with the package. Reality is closer to “Where the hell is my coffee?” said as one stumbles bleary-eyed over scattered toys while trying to convince the 10-year-old to stop reading a book naked in his room and the 8-year-old to stop singing at the top of her voice.
Even so, I love being a mom. I can’t really speak for my husband, but signs indicate he loves being a dad. Some days are easier than others. A lot of the time I’m glad my son goes to school and both kids have activities. Every night, I’m thankful I get to be with these kids, and I’m honored to watch them grow up.
I do not like being asked why I had kids.
The thing is, there’s no clear answer to that. And it always seems to be asked at my absolute worst parenting moments–when my daughter is simultaneously rubbing her head on my legs and covering her ears because she needs tactile stimulation but the auditory stimulation is too much. I snap at her to stop, and someone gets horrified that I would dare act like my kid is annoying me.
When you ask me at my vulnerable moments why I had kids, all I hear is, “YOU SAID KIDS ARE A BLESSING! YOU ARE NOT ACTING LIKE YOUR KIDS ARE A BLESSING! YOU SHOULD TREAT THEM LIKE STARS 24/7 OR ELSE YOU ARE A BIG, FAT LIAR!” It makes me not trust you (even if you have kids yourself, but especially if you don’t) with my shortcomings. It makes me feel like I have to tuck that part away and always show myself to be the best parent so you’ll believe me when I say I love it.
When you see people who are having a hard time, that’s not the moment to think, “People like that shouldn’t have kids.” You don’t know what kind of day those parents had or whether they are struggling with kids who have multiple issues. I completely understand that we’d like to just crush the reproductive organs of child abusers, but you can’t tell just by seeing someone for five minutes in Walmart. You also can’t tell sometimes even when it’s your friend who seems like the perfect parent.
Less-than-stellar parenting moments are only one time when no one should ever be asked why they had kids. I mean, sometimes, I’d like to just snap, “I don’t fucking know. Why don’t you take them for a while?” Some other times not to ask:
- When you have in mind a “correct” answer. You want to ask the question? Then get ready to accept any answer given. Period. Just like people need to accept any answer for not having kids.
- When a woman has a lot of children. Women get asked this all the time, as though they didn’t really want that many or are just really weird or overly religious. Guess what? You don’t know, so lay off.
- White women to women of color. Yeah, I went there. When I worked as a school nurse, we had a family with several children. When the third oldest, who had special needs, transferred to our school, there were wisecracks about how many different fathers there were and why this woman was continuing to “breed” (she had just had a baby). We had exactly one other non-white employee in the entire building, and she and I both told the others they were out of line with their comments. Guess who got labeled as “finding racism everywhere”? There’s a lot of underlying racism in grilling women of color about why they had kids. Just don’t ask.
- When a woman is in a lower socioeconomic bracket than you are. Again, there are assumptions made about whether or not “those people” should be “breeding.” When my husband and I had just had our first, I was told we shouldn’t have more than two because we only have three bedrooms in our house and couldn’t afford to move. I could already feel the questions building up should we have decided to have a third one. And we were by no means struggling–I was already a stay-at-home mom by that point and we were comfortable on one income, even if it wasn’t high. No one wants to feel like she’s being evaluated on whether she can handle (financially or otherwise) the children she wants or has.
- When a parent of a special needs child has one or more younger children. It implies she should be concentrating her efforts on caring for the child with the diagnosis. Actually, even if she only has the one or the special needs child is the youngest, it shouldn’t be asked. It’s insensitive to the fact that this wasn’t likely the life she imagined when she was pregnant and to the challenges she now has. It also comes across as suggesting children with disabilities are better off never having been born.
- When you don’t know someone. You don’t know their circumstances. Maybe a woman wasn’t planning on motherhood but got pregnant anyhow and chose to parent instead of another option. Questioning her may feel like a judgment, especially if she didn’t want to have kids in the first place–like a “how could you be so stupid” thing.
See, for me, asking a woman after the fact why she had kids is pointless. She already has them. What if she regrets it? All that does is fuel her guilt over wishing she hadn’t. So what if she didn’t realize she had other options at the time? There’s nothing to be gained by making her feel pressured to provide some answer she can’t give.
It’s also a question less frequently asked of men, same-sex couples, and adoptive parents. It’s assumed those people didn’t just have kids because they thought they were supposed to, whereas women who have been pregnant might not really have wanted kids but thought God wanted them to or something. That happens less often than you’d think, actually. Even if someone says she had kids to experience blessings or because it’s just what people do, that doesn’t mean she didn’t want to be a mom–it just means she didn’t need to think long and hard about it. Of course, it’s entirely possible she didn’t really want kids and didn’t believe she had another choice, in which case she may be trying to cover that or convince herself because she already has the kids and can’t do anything to change that.
On the other hand, there are times when asking why people had kids can be appropriate. It can even be used as a weapon in a healthy way:
- When you genuinely want to know the pros and cons of parenting because you’re not sure yet whether you want to parent. Just be honest about it so that it doesn’t feel pressuring or judgmental, and be willing to accept any answer given. If the answer doesn’t apply to you, just don’t put it in your “yes” column.
- When some jerk has just asked you why you don’t have kids. Like a stick to the eye.
- Within community. It does come up in parenting groups, believe it or not.
- Before a woman actually has kids, especially if she’s expressing that she’s unsure but thinks she has to. It’s never bad to let women know we have options and that tradition, the church, and men’s beliefs don’t need to dictate our futures.
Only you know if you have friends who won’t be offended by the question. Only you know what your motivation for asking is. I don’t think one needs to tread quite as carefully with this question as the previous one, but it’s still best kept to oneself in most circumstances.
Tomorrow I want to talk about how we see men who don’t (and some who do) want kids. Hope you’ll join me!