Last week, I was in a conversation on Facebook in which I admitted to not liking kids. (My comment: “Real talk: I don’t actually like babies, actually, or children.”) I thought about taking it down as soon as I posted it. An hour later, I was still thinking about taking it down. No one paid much attention to the comment; it’s not really a secret among my friends that I feel this way, although one friend wrote “Yikes,” which I’m still not sure how to respond to. Nevertheless, I felt like I had crossed some serious line. I post everything I write — mostly personal essays that connect to my political beliefs — on social media. As such, this status is definitely not the first time I’ve insulted someone with my beliefs. Yet affirming my dislike of children on Facebook seemed like a whole new level of evil.
But still, I didn’t take the status down.
Ellen Degeneres, who was recently asked for the 300th time if she and Portia DeRossi are going to have kids, said, “They’re precious to look at and I love them; we have nieces and I love them very much. [But I] don’t want ‘em.” On one hand, awesome: Ellen and Portia don’t want kids and they’re saying it publicly. How often do we hear a famous woman say such a thing? On the other hand, I thought, does she genuinely love kids or is she saying so because it’s socially unacceptable to say you don’t like kids, especially if you’re a woman?
When people who don’t know me find out I don’t like kids, they’re surprised. I mean, who doesn’t like kids? The tininess! The things they say! The un-self-conscious way they interact with the world! What’s not to like? When I have my own, I’ll understand! (Spoiler: I’m not going to have my own.)
In her most recent Hitched column, “What Not To Say To People Who Don’t Want Kids,” Andrea Grimes wrote, “I am not a secret baby-hating ninja bitch with nefarious intentions.” So I might be a secret baby-hating ninja bitch, if not liking children equals that. I’m not only thwarting my role as a woman by not having kids, since my most important job as a woman is to produce and nurture the children, but not liking them means that I dislike them so greatly I wouldn’t flinch if I saw them harmed.
If you’ve already decided that I’m a monster, I can’t help you. The simple reality for me is that I’m not into the chaotic, noisy, unpredictable and demanding nature of babies and children. When I’m around them, I get uncomfortable, anxious and frustrated. A lot of my friends have kids, and they know (or, at least they do now) that I’m not going to reach for their baby when I come into the room. I’m not mean to children, but I don’t have the energy or the desire to constantly engage with them on the level that they require.
A while ago, a very close friend of mine and his husband became parents. When they came to New York, they had a big open house so that that people could meet their son. Folks predictably cooed and squealed over the baby, who, admittedly, is pretty cute, but the expectation that I would feel a certain way about the children in the room (in addition to the new baby, there was a gang of six-year-olds banging on a piano, which made me want to rip my hair out) made it hard to interact with the adults.
G, a friend of my friends, came in and hugged them and smiled at the baby, but, unlike almost everyone else in the room, did not ask to hold him. “He’s beautiful,” he told my friends. “But I’m not a kid person.” I’m not close with G, but in that moment, I wanted to hug him and feed him all the cheese that was spread on the table in the other room. Of course, being male means a different set of social norms around kids — you’re not necessarily expected to grab them and emote. In fact, it might be seen as suspicious if you do, such is the way we construct and police masculinity.
Still, I envied the ease and grace with which he handled the situation, and I made a mental note to apply in future situations: Don’t pretend. Don’t lie. Be real. In this situation, and in all others.
[Image of child screaming via Shutterstock]