The weird part is, I don't think, or at least to me it does not seem like, anyone actually disagrees with what Lauren wrote:
My identity is not defined by my parenthood, but my life is. Without a child I wouldn’t feel as obligated to work as much as I do, to avoid such debt, to secure meaningful assets, or to better myself or the world. I’m naturally one selfish wench who would rather not be bothered by real world ephemera, and I recognize that having my little one in my life makes me a better person even if he isn’t the only thing I strive for. As for other adults in my world, I hope that they have the decency to well-wish my child even if they don’t care for or love him. My parenting theory does not obligate a random adult to a stranger’s child, just hopes that they recognize that children are indeed little people who haven’t yet grown up and thus continue to make bad decisions.
So why are the comments shaping up to be such a battleground? I have no idea. I don't even know what to say about most of them, and when does that ever happen? I ALWAYS have something to say in the Feministe comments.
This time, not so much.
It's weird. I guess what I'm getting from it is that the difference between parent and nonparent is more one of identity than I'd realized--and yes, I say that despite Lauren's quote above. I don't think parenthood defines identity, I agree with her about that, but it sure seems to influence the daylights out of it, and, here's the thing, I don't see anything wrong with that.
I'm not doing well at explaining this, but let me keep trying: One thing I hear and read from new parents a lot is that becoming a parent is like crossing a great divide. There was you before the kid, on one side of the Grand Canyon, and there's you with the kid, on the other side, and it's difficult to connect with, relate to, or sometimes even remember that other you back there on the southern rim. Who WAS that person?
This process seems to be necessary, necessary to helping little people make less bad decisions, necessary to the process of bonding, of obligating the parent to the child. I think some of the commenters here were trying to tell me as much.
Anyway, I don't fault the process. I don't fault parents who tell me, you don't know what it's like. You're right! You're absolutely right, and I am not being sarcastic: I don't know what it's like. No clue. No idea. None. To the extent that I am able, then, I will get the hell out of your way while you go about that crazy parenting stuff you do, and I will do my best not to add to your guilt, your anxiety, your fears, or your problems. Honest. That's a promise. I cannot guarantee that I will always succeed, but I will always try.
The identification, though, runs deep on both sides: There are nearly as many nonparent commenters feeling unjustly maligned in that thread as there are parents feeling the exact same thing. Someone says, "I don't think you need to bring the kid to a bar." Someone else says, "I don't think you need to judge parents who bring kids to bars." Someone else says, "I don't have to like children, you can't make me." Someone else says, "Why do you hate children? That's despicable." And so on, and so on.
My friends who are mothers, I don't ever want to hurt them. I do need them to understand that just as parents identify as parents, I identify as a nonparent. That's why, when zuzu wrote this:
I should really just stay out of this topic because it’s really pissing me off that I’m apparently not only a bigot, but self-righteous.
You come sit here by me, honey.
I didn't write that because I hate parents or children. I wrote that because I sympathize. And I sympathize primarily because, like zuzu, I am not a parent. I don't want to put words into her mouth, but for me, identifying as a nonparent while having the nerve to object to some things that some parents do is just asking for an ass-kicking from most parents sometimes. It's like, "Wait, so you mean I must never say anything critical of ANY child's behavior? I can never judge any parent? I can never wish for adults-only space? I'm a bigot who hates kids because I'd like the one behind me in an airplane to quit kicking my damn seat? What the fuck?"
Not having kids limits my understanding of what goes on in the lives of those who do have them. I am quite willing to acknowledge that up front. But you know something? I still don't want to see your toddler in the bar. As I noted earlier in that same comment thread, I've seen it happen. What I failed to note was that I'd seen it happen more than once (three times, actually). What I failed to note was that each time the child was under 5. What I failed to note is that my problem was with the parents who got angry at the other patrons for not modifying their behavior to suit the child--not with the child him/herself.
If you really think a preschool-aged kid belongs in a smoky bar with loud music around midnight, that's your business. That's your parenting decision. But for crying out loud, sack up and accept that some of us nonparents will never quit thinking your decision sucks. It doesn't mean we're evil, awful, wicked, antifeminist, child-hating bigots. It doesn't mean we're wretchedly intolerant. It means we'd like a little fucking time to ourselves among grownups, and only grownups. To, uh, make some spectacularly bad decisions.
The weird thing about that is, I've heard and read so many parents talk about the exhilaration of having a rare night out with adults that I know most, if not all, of them sympathize with the need for that space, that kid-free space. It just seems at times as though it is only okay for parents to want that space; it's selfish and hateful for nonparents to want it. Because really, what have we got to get away from? We don't have kids at home, so why didn't we just stay there? What are we complaining about? It isn't like WE have to spend all day with children. How spoiled of nonparents to whine about any invasion of adults-only space. If we only knew! What parents go through! But of course we don't, because we're horrible people.
I don't know where I'm going with any of this. I'll turn it over to y'all, I guess. Or you could read this father's defense of mommy-blogging, which I like very much, and yes, that URL is work-safe. Honest!
UPDATE: Well, I'll be damned--if it isn't the New York Times Sunday Magazine! What would I do without you?
It is tempting to link the popularity of active-adult housing to the bigots, contrarians and attention-seekers of the “child free” movement, who rant quotably on their Web sites about the favoritism accorded to “breeders.” But few people in age-restricted communities give vent to any such feelings. “I love children,” one fairly typical homeowner in Delray Villas, Fla., told The South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “But when you get to be a certain age, you want to be in a community where people around you are the same age you are.”
“I just want to be with people like me” is the argument made in favor of every kind of segregation. It was not an unreasonable-sounding argument even when it was being made by Alabamans and Boy Scouts and club men. But it wasn’t a winning argument either. What explains our sudden readiness to make moral exceptions when children are the ones excluded?
In part, this is the final chapter in the story of the baby boom. The 78 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 used their clout in the market and in the electorate to twist all of society’s institutions into the shape of their needs at each given stage of life — freedom in the 60’s and 70’s, money in the 80’s and 90’s. From here on out, their priority will be leisure. Therefore everyone else’s priority will be leisure, too.
We have the trifecta: Racism, homophobia, and sexism. But don't get distracted from the main point, which is that the real bigots are those child-hatin' Baby Boomers. With their leisure!
You know, if you know anything about me at all, that there are few things I love better than blaming shit on Baby Boomers. But even I can't pin this on them, or at least I wouldn't do it as harshly as Caldwell does. It isn't "twist[ing] all society's institutions into the shape of [your] needs" when your demographic is that large--at that point, your demographic IS society. Why shouldn't institutions adapt to it?
Here's where my libertarian side takes over: If someone can make money guaranteeing residents a community free of children, why shouldn't they? (And conversely, why couldn't you have a community for families ONLY with children? Once the kids move out, you'd have to move too--that'd be one big problem.) What's the negative impact on society if this occurs?
Personally, I think if I had young children, a community of cranky-ass seniors is about the LAST place I'd want to live with them, but what do I know? And I realize that statement is uncomfortably close to "why do [subset of people] want to live where they're not wanted?" and I realize that's a perennial favorite question of, well, bigots, so maybe I've found my argument against child-free communities already.
Anyway. I expect people to let me have it on that one, so start loading the cannons. This ought to be something.